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The Real Power of Prayer
Why I Pray
I have had a heck of a couple of weeks-- most of that time spent in the hospital. I feel like I was in a lost episode of House.
During this incredibly scary, incredibly difficult time, I fell back on my faith the way I normally do in times of adversity. I usually pray at least a couple of times every day... in that time, I probably prayed a couple of times every hour.
Once I got home, it got me really thinking about prayers. People have challenged my on my believe that there is power in prayers-- they have pointed to studies saying that prayers are 'ineffective' and make no difference. Even Christians have challenged me because I am not Christian, and they've told me my prayers are futile because they are not directed at the Christian God.
These are things I've always tended to shrug off. But after the last couple of weeks, I can honestly argue back that prayers are more powerful than I thought-- and yes, that includes Wiccan prayers to Pagan Gods.
Power of Prayer
It started out a normal day...
Monday, August 19th was my birthday, only instead of celebrating my husband dragged me to the Emergency Room.
For months I'd felt run down and tired-- no surprise. I have been working a lot this year, my husband having trouble finding steady employment ever since his regular job had mass permanent lay offs. Between 70 hour work weeks, homeschooling and both of us trying to keep up with the house. It was not a surprise at all I was fatigued for months.
But in July I had developed a persistent, dry cough. After a couple of weeks it was followed by shortness of breath. Then heart palpitations. Then extreme fatigue... like, hard to get out of bed or keep my eyes open for more than a couple of hours. It was going downhill.
I tried to get a doctor's appointment in August, but couldn't-- my husband's job switches recently caused insurance switches, I lost my Primary Care Provider and have been having trouble finding another.
After a particularly bad weekend, he dragged me in kicking and screaming that Monday morning.
It's worse than I thought-- they admitted me!
Crap, I'm thinking. Do I have walking pneumonia or something?
I Hate Hospitals
Hello! You've Got Cancer
At some point a doctor bursts into my room, talking fast, looking like he was in a rush-- he looked like my husband does when he runs back in to find his keys, tell me something he forgot and then runs out again-- but he's talking about cancer.
"Non-Hodgekiins Lymphoma, looks like... probably treatable... after chemo, people can live in remission for years..."
He's racing ahead with his talk but he lost me a while ago, I'm still down the road, tripping over the word 'lymphoma'.
I sit up in bed. "Are you saying... I have cancer?"
The doctor slows down and backs up a bit, but is still talking in a rushed, casual tone, "it looks like it, your chest is full of swollen lymph nodes..." he's going on, but I'm losing him again.
His words are washing over me like ice water. My mind is going numb. I think my husband grabbed my hand at some point, but I didn't notice until I started coughing and tried to cover my mouth.
It came down to needing more tests. My husband was in denial (no, he said more tests, let's not jump the gun. You're probably fine). Eventually he has to leave, and I'm alone save my snoring roommate.
A Dark Night of the Soul
The worst night of my life
I spent that night in the hospital. I couldn't eat. It was dark. It was cold. It was my birthday -- why did I always brush off and ignore my birthdays? -- And I probably had cancer. Maybe it was bad. Maybe I was dying.
To be honest, what I was thinking of most of the time was-- song lyrics. Yes-- Beatle's songs, in particular. I Wanna Hold Your Hand. Paperback Writer. Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds.
If I said the lyrics in my mind over and over I didn't have to think about anything else. But fleeting thoughts did occasionally creep in. Fragmented thoughts in the forms of questions would zip through and be gone as fast as they came, like speeding cars on a lonely highway: Lymphoma? Stage 1? Lung cancer? Chemotherapy. Am I going to ever finish the family scrapbooks for them? Stage 2? Remember dad wasting away on the couch? My uncle being consumed alive by cancer? Stage 3? Good enough insurance? Taking Care of the kids? I think I'll leave my Book of Shadows to my daughter. Stage 4? Will this kill my mother? How is he going to raise them alone? Quality of life? Survival?
And every now and then, I prayed:
My Dear Goddess and God, you have been there with me-- been there for me-- for so long and through so much. I know death is a natural part of the life cycle, and I do not fear what is on the other side. But I'm not ready to go-- I'm not ready to leave my family. They need me still. And I am loving this life with them. Please, help guide me through this. Help me find the strength to endure whatever is to come, comfort me and comfort them so that we may not waste time in dark, negative places. If it's my time to go I'll accept that, but if I have any chance, please lend me your strength to fight!
The Benefits of Prayer
Living on a Prayer
Most tests I needed were getting backed up-- the hospital was apparently unusually busy, and somewhat understaffed, in the midst of some major switch from public to private.
I sat, unable to eat, dozing in and out. More song lyrics. More worries and crazy thoughts interrupting.
Many, many more prayers.
My husband comes in, still in denial. Denial is his biggest defense mechanism-- when bad things look to be brewing he ignores them until they're dumped on him steaming hot. He's trying real hard to stay in denial, too, I can tell. He's being very quiet.
A chaplain comes-- tries to talk to me, wants to know how I'm doing, if I want to pray.
"I do want to pray. I'm Wiccan, though. I'm not sure if you want to pray with me."
"What's a 'Wiccan'?"
"A Pagan religion... I worship a Goddess and God."
"We can still pray if you like..."
I sigh with relief. She's trying to be understanding and accommodating. "Thank you, yes, I would really like that..."
The three of us take hands. She begins:
My hand and posture drops. "Thanks, but never mind. I told you, I'm Pagan. I'm not Christian, I don't believe in Jesus... praying to Jesus isn't going to help me, it's not what I need."
"I'm sorry, that's fine... we don't have to pray to Jesus." (she tries again), "Dear father God in Heaven..."
Sigh. I let her continue, ignoring the "Father God in Heaven" part, instead thinking, My Dear Great Goddess and God...
She goes on through a particularly nice, comforting prayer otherwise. Ending with a ".... in your name, Father God, Amen."
"And Mother Goddess, So Mote it Be," I finish.
She looks confused or nervous for a second, but recomposes herself. Oh well-- I appreciate the effort but it wasn't what I needed.
She leaves... my husband and I take hands and pray to our Gods some more.
My children call me-- they tell me they're praying for me. I tell them to pray for themselves and each other, too.
"If I pray hard enough, will the Gods make you better?" my 12 year old asks.
"Kind of, honey," I say. "It won't make me not sick; it will help us deal with it, no matter how bad it is."
I Needed House
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Nelson Santos
Calling Dr. House
After that came the ups and downs that made me feel like I was on House. More than once in my dazed stupor, I dreamed there were cameras behind the curtain, and that the hospital security cameras were actually broadcasting this live.
I'm Waiting for Wilson to walk in or discuss my chemo options. Or Chase to come in so I can get a little eye candy.
Maybe Foreman will come in and tell me I have sarcoidosis, I joke to myself.
If you're a House fan, you probably know that it's an inside joke from the show. In every single episode, someone suggests a diagnosis of sarcoidosis. It's a drinking game. Dr. House himself even retorted what became a popular tag line for the show: "It's not sarcoidosis... it's never sarcoidosis!"
So I waited around a lot, and when I could get in for a test I would.
They started checking me for one thing after another. A lot was thrown around.
Pulmonary embolism?... (injecting me with hot stuff that makes me feel like I peed myself). Nope, not a pulmonary embolism.
Carcinogen or melanoma that's spread to the lymph nodes? Possibly.
Let's schedule a surgical procedure that she couldn't pronounce in a million years to find out.
I come down with wicked back and abdominal pains-- oh no! New symptoms! I'm in agony through one night.
Big flurry of activity-- turns out I got a wicked UTI that went to my kidneys, probably from the stress and not eating/drinking right and Goddess knows what kind of germs are crawling around my room. A little antibiotic clears it up.
Now that we've had our little mid-show plot twist, big diagnosis.
One doctor comes in and says it's possibly sarcoidosis.
I laughed and mock taking a shot. I said, "It's never sarcoidosis."
He looked confused.
"Don't you watch House?" I asked.
He laughed politely, probably thinking I was crazy. But he looked about 15 years old, so maybe he wasn't allowed to stay up late enough to watch the show when it was on.
Into the darkness...
So Friday I get this big surgical procedure done, and am lucky enough to get this big-wig surgeon who is like the surgeon that all the other doctors want to operate on them when they're sick. The operating room is hopping-- everyone is there except the surgeon, and they're quite chipper in their work as they're rolling me around, strapping me down, stripping off my clothes and painting me up with iodine.
I'm laying there... but I'm not there. I'm in my sacred sanctuary-- the temple I created more than 20 years ago, in detail, in my mind. it's the place I visualize myself going when I need to talk to my Gods, when I worship them in meditation or seek them for guidance.
Mother Goddess, Father God... I know they said there were risks. Please watch over me. Please guide their hands and help them think clearly. I'm not ready to leave this world yet. If my time is coming, I will prepare, but please... give me time to prepare before you bring me home to you to rest from this incarnation.
Don't do it for me... do it for my husband, my kids, my mom... they can't lose me like this. They need me back; if I have to go, they have things they need to say, and things they need to hear. They need me to help prepare them.
But if I don't have to go yet, please be with me and bring my body the endurance to get through all this so I can go on with my life.
They are there... in my sanctuary, with me, holding me. I'm leaning on them-- they're so strong and supportive. They're comforting me, whispering soothing words into my soul.
Stay with me I ask them.
Of course they say.
The anesthesiologist hangs over me. "Are you ready to go?" he asks.
"I've already gone," I tell him.
He puts something over my face, and then I'm really gone for a little while... into that bliss and darkness, where there is no pain and no worry, and I am one with my Gods and the universe, and I know that no matter what-- live or die-- I am going to be alright.
Praise the Gods!
The Finale... and Roll Credits
I wake up hours later in recovery. I spend a few days in the ICU. Surgery went really well-- none of the potential complications came up. It's all smooth, and I have a 2-inch scar at the base of my throat as a souvenir.
I've also improved this week-- my heart palpitations have stopped. I'm much more rested. My blood-oxygen levels are up. I may even be able to go home in a couple of days.
The doctor comes in with the final results of the procedure.
"It's not cancer."
(cue the chior of cherubs singing songs of praise in my head)
I make him say it again. I ask it in three or four more ways, just to be sure... No lymphoma? (No). No carcinogens? (Not that we could find). I don't have cancer. (You don't have cancer). No chemo? (Not necessary).
"So what is it?"
I throw up my arms in victory! Finally, Dr. House... it is sarcoidosis!
All those years of watching House, I never thought I'd be bouncing for joy to be told that I have sarcoidosis.
Sarcoidosis is treatable and rarely fatal!
After the doctor leaves, I'm flooded with relief and thankful for life, and prayers continue to pour out of me:
Great Goddess and God... thank you, thank you. Your blessing in life are abundant and I will never take them for granted. This is a lesson I'll learn well. I can't thank you enough for your support, I feel as though you have been at my bedside this whole time. I can't thank you enough for keeping my family together and their spirits up. I can't thank you for not letting the word "cancer" kill my 85 year old mother. I can't tell you how grateful I am for the strength that you have given me to get me through this.
So, do I think prayers stopped cancer?
No, actually. I don't. I don't think prayers change the courses of nature. I don't think they make a difference between life and death. I don't believe the Gods move heaven and earth because you asked them nicely to extend your life. When you're sick, you are sick. When it's your time, that's it.
But to say that prayers don't help just because they don't change a biological outcome is missing the point of prayer entirely.
The real power of prayer is that they got me and my family through this-- it gave me the things I needed -- emotionally -- to deal with the difficulties we were facing. I don't know if I could have gotten through without that kind of support. Whatever I needed-- strength, comfort, love, compassion, affection, guidance, energy, determination, patience-- I could get at any moment, drawing it from my Gods, through prayer. They did make a difference-- a major difference to me. It was like a life line, and I clung to it.
Now I am home, ready to face and beat sarcoidosis, and determined to never let another birthday go by unnoticed again.