I don’t think I ever prayed for anything as regularly or as fervently. Since last Christmas, when my sister told us she and her husband were expecting their first child, the constant petition on my lips was for the health of mother and baby. “For my sister and all pregnant women.” I said it a lot.
And I meant it.
I knew my sister was in good hands with my brother in-law and mother around, and since I live far from them, I couldn’t do much anyway. But I could pray. When I have nothing else to offer, I can at least do that. So I prayed for my sister at staff meetings, at Mass in my community, during my personal prayer times. I invited others to pray with me for her and asked God to direct it all, as God willed it.
And I waited.
I was somewhat anxious about the whole thing. I know women have been having children for millennia, but pregnancy is risky and it just seems like so many things can go wrong. I have friends who have had trouble conceiving, have had stillbirths or babies with severe health impairments. I know women who have been struck with gestational diabetes and others with debilitating and dangerous high blood pressure which confined them to bed for the last several weeks of their pregnancies. Plus, there’s that whole labor and delivery thing.
With all that in mind, I was worried about my sister and about the young life she was carrying inside her. Some people told me I was being alarmist and worrying needlessly, and maybe I was. But she’s my sister, my twin actually, and I wanted good for her, that her pregnancy might go well and that her baby would be healthy. I wanted that more than anything I can ever remember wanting.
All went fine.
A few weeks ago I went to meet the baby for the first time. I traveled home to check on my sister and meet my little niece, all 7 pounds of perfection. I found 10 fingers, 10 toes (I checked), her nose wrinkled just like it was supposed to be, like I prayed it would be. I watched my sister and brother in-law dote on her, change her, and feed her, conscious that their tired eyes would remain so for the next 18 years or so. I saw my older brother hold her, sniffing the top of her head, and watched my proud parents with her, my father juggling baby and remote deftly. Mom and Dad have practiced hands.
After teasing my mother that she was monopolizing the newest member of the family, I finally got to hold her. She was perfect. She cooed softly, her short little breaths pushing her chest against my hands. “I prayed for you,” I whispered. “A lot of people did.” I looked up at my mother and sister and cried as I held her. I cry so easily these days. I’m crying even now as I write this.
My tears were tears of joy, of course, for my sister and brother in-law, for my parents, themselves first time grandparents. I cried because of the promise of the life I was holding, for the gift that she will be for so many in the years to come.
I cried because I was holding in my hands the answer to my prayers, an uncommon experience for me.
Over the years, I have grown accustomed to offering my prayers up to God, lobbing my needs and the needs of others up into the ether, barely waiting for a response before my next petition is hurled heavenward. What does an answer look like anyway?
Yet, here was God’s response: holding my niece in my arms was the answer to my long-standing petition. And it felt like a prayer well-answered. Her life will continue to be a mystery, full of risks, but it’s here, in our arms, and pushing itself into our hearts with every little breath, with every coo and cry.
Never before had I held the fruit of prayer in my hands like that, never held so closely such a rich manifestation of God’s amazing, creative work. There, in my arms, was the answer to my prayers; there, the work of a God who listens intently and loves generously; there, a gift so close I could kiss it and whisper to it – to her – my prayers of love and gratitude.