Angry prayers

This is Margaret’s story.

Margaret recently discovered that she has ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s a progressive and terminal disease. Initially, Margaret experienced diminished use of her hands. Now, however, some medication and therapy have helped her to basically live a normal life.

Margaret has some concerns as she comes to grips with her diagnosis. First, she’s worried about caring for her grandson, Eli. Her daughter depends on her daily to help with his care. And Eli is a joy. He’s a bright-eyed four-year-old with whom Margaret has had a special connection since his birth. Eli still has nearly two years before he will go to school every day. Margaret’s daughter could not afford to pay a daycare service. Besides, no one can replace Grandma.

She’s also very used to being part of the weekly services at her place of worship. She wonders if she should tell the pastor to take her off the schedule. After all, it may become more difficult for her to usher without drawing attention to her ALS.

Lastly, like many people with ALS, Margaret is worried about her breathing. She’s been told that most people with ALS die when their ability to breathe finally fails. ALS affects the muscular system, which is needed to get a deep breath. Margaret is anxious when she thinks about this future possibility.

Happily, although she had a couple spells where her daughter had to make other arrangements, Margaret was able to care for Eli for quite some time. It gave her great joy. Even when he went into school, she picked him up three days a week. His special “Grandma time”, as Eli called it. Their favorite spot to visit was a soft-serve ice cream shop. Margaret always got the low-sugar, fruity flavors, but not Eli. He piled gummy worms and sprinkles on his chocolate ice cream.

As happens for most ALS patients, Margaret’s capabilities began to wane. Eventually, she could no longer drive. That’s what really broke her heart. Grandma time started to be hard to come by. But Eli and his mom visited often, even when Margaret needed to move into a nursing home. She could no longer get around the home she had lived in for 25 years. Margaret could no longer scoop Eli into her arms. Part of that was because he was growing like a weed. But he would still come and sit by his grandma and snuggle close.

Margaret had led the usher team at her place of worship for years. She and others would walk down at offering time, once the prayer requests had all been prayed over, and she would simply pass the offering plate. But handling the plate became difficult pretty quickly--long before she moved out of her home.

At that time, Margaret decided she was going to quit helping at church on the weekends. It was a huge deal to her. It seemed to symbolize her illness. She hated how ALS affected her dexterity, and this was a public way that her incapacity was beginning to show.

After a visit with her pastor, Margaret receives a much-needed boost. Her pastor told her she had been promoted.

The next Sunday, when the ushers headed to the back, Margaret stood as well. But she did not go to the back of the sanctuary.

She began walking, with a little difficulty, to the front.

The pastor, who usually led prayer time before offering, nodded at Margaret and sat down.

Margaret turned slowly on her heel.

“For what needs can our church be praying this morning?” Margaret asked.

After the service, Margaret was beaming. She had always been a person who loved to pray. When she’d tried to tell the pastor that she couldn’t help any more, she’d broke down in tears right there in his office chair.

That’s when the pastor said, “Margaret dry your tears. God is not done with you yet.” He invited her to take over the prayer time. Though she didn’t know how long she’d be able to keep it up, she sure was glad to be included. She even hoped she could be a blessing to people facing their own health struggles.

At first, it was a little uncomfortable when Margaret led the prayer time at church. Margaret wasn’t used to speaking, and her ALS made her speech difficult to understand. But she stuck with it, and the pastor was gracious. People started to bypass him to ask Margaret for prayer directly. Eli had lots of friends at church, and he started bringing kids with problems to his Grandma for prayer. Margaret was praying for everything from a sick Labrador puppy (belonging to Eli’s friend, Sarah) to families grieving the loss of their loved ones.

One week, though, something amazing happened. Margaret was having more trouble than usual getting her words out because of the progression of her ALS. Heads started to un-bow, and eyes started to open as they looked up at the leader that they loved a little more every week. Tears started to flow down Margaret's cheeks as she changed her prayer focus.

She was angry.

She started to tell God how much she hated having ALS. How she just did not understand why he hadn’t healed her.

Eli later said, “God understands, even when other people can’t.”

The next 10 minutes of the service were spent with everyone encircling Margaret and hugging her.

That experience didn’t stop her, even after she had to move into the nursing home. And it certainly didn’t stop people from asking her to pray for them. In fact, if anything, Margaret’s “angry prayer” made her even more popular. Now she was getting more requests for prayer than ever before. As her capacity to speak continued to wane, you and others started to feel that her unspoken connection to God was greater than anyone could imagine.

The first week that Margaret could not attend service was hollow and sad. Her prayer-time presence could not be replaced when the pastor filled in for her.

Margaret died late on a Saturday, surrounded by family.

Most people from church heard the news of her death for the first time when the pastor announced it during prayer time the next morning.

Tears flowed.

Eli’s friend, Sarah, whose puppy was healed by now, cried the rest of the morning.

Eli did not cry at church. Maybe it was because he had cried plenty the night before, at Grandma’s. After all, he was in her room at the nursing home when she died. His mom wasn’t sure that was a good idea, but Eli would not take “no” for an answer.

“I need just a little more ‘grandma time’,” he said.

At Margaret’s funeral service, many people recalled the week when she prayed her “angry prayer”, and Eli reminded people, “Remember, even if other people can’t understand you, God understands.”

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