I’ve experienced one miracle in my life. Maybe. Sometimes, I even think probably. Of course, it’s possible that I’ve witnessed many others but missed them because of my own doubt or blindness. But there’s one I’m pretty sure about. And ironically, this miracle involved the hands of a deceased mentally disabled child.
Our daughter, Megan, was a tactile child. Her vision was impaired; and there is evidence that her taste buds were off. But she loved to touch. And that touching was done with hands that were lightning fast.
I still wince as I remember the time one of our elder’s wives came up to us in the foyer where I was holding Megan. She said, “She is just the most precious girl in the world.” I can almost see it happening in slow motion, though at the time it was anything but slow. Like a mongoose with a cobra, Megan snatched the glasses off her face and tossed them across the foyer. It was the last time this wonderful woman got so close to us.
There wasn’t an evil bone in Megan; she just liked to grab and touch. She loved to snatch glasses and jewelry; she could snag flowers and have them in her mouth before you could say, “She loves me, she loves me not.” And she liked to grab hair. The longer and thicker, the better.
As Diane and I looked back through our Megan albums, we got tickled noticing how often one or both of us was holding her hands. Either that or we had something in her hands. As long as her hands were busy, she was fine.
We laugh as we remember how much she loved presents for Christmas—but not what was inside the packages; rather, she loved the wrapping. You had to coax her to go ahead and open the box to see what was inside. She’d quickly lay it aside and go back to the real treasure: the wrapping.
And we giggle nervously as we remember the time we said a prayer before lunch at a pizza place. One of us forgot to hold on, and before we knew it, she’d stripped the part of the pizza she liked—the layer of cheese on top—and tossed the rest, which landed tomato paste side down on the white blouse of a young woman.
One of my favorite memories of Megan is around our table. She loved to hold my hand while she was eating. I panicked this week as I tried to remember just how our hands fit. She didn’t go for interlocked fingers; and it wasn’t exactly like a normal hand-holding. But with a crooked twist that I learned to mirror, she made it work.
Megan’s hands were often dirty but always pure; they were strong, yet gentle; and, of course, they were fast and busy.
As she took her last breaths one November morning in a pediatric ICU, we were on either side of her bed, holding those precious hands. As she quit breathing, I remember thinking about Jesus’ final words: “Into THY hands, I commit my spirit.”
Having gone the ten years of her life with very little sleep, we tried to catch up. But the rest wasn’t deep, for it was filled with darkness and grief—which kept coming in waves. Five years later, we were inundated again when my 15 year old nephew died suddenly, having to watch the searing pain of my brother and sister-in-law and of my parents as they buried a second grandchild; and then another five years later we got hit again when our younger son nearly died in a rollover wreck on I-20 that claimed the life of his friend sitting next to him.
And it’s sometime after that third tidal wave that the dam broke—the dam holding back all my depression, doubt, and grief. It came flooding in, mixed with toxic streams of anger and shame.
It’s a time that I refer to in my prayer journal as TGD . . . The Great Darkness. I was riven, broken, shattered. I found myself in Jonah’s predicament:
The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
And on top of all that, a dark, crusty melanoma popped up on my bald crown as if to mark a broken man.
I’ve reflected many times on the question: how did that happen? Was it lack of spiritual disciplines? Perhaps, but all through my years of ministry I prayed, journaled, and lived in scripture. Was it isolation? Sin? Self-pity? Probably yes, yes, and yes.
But even without a definitive answer for HOW it happened, this is what I know for sure: the dam broke and I was close to drowning from the depression, the doubt, and the grief.
Fast forward many years to today. “These are the good old days” — in family, in friendships, in purpose, and, especially, in marriage. (Our younger son just said to me, “You two are like teenagers.” As a 20-year-old, he probably didn’t mean that as a compliment!) These last several years have been full of joy.
So how did that healing occur? Some of the answers you might expect: therapists, friends, shepherds, prayer, etc.
But I mark the healing from—what?—a vision? a dream? Dare I say, a miracle? This is outside my experience as a winter Christian. I don’t hear directly from God or get special instructions or enjoy a miracle a minute.
If this was a miracle, it’s the only one I’ve experienced that I know of. I put it in the “maybe” category. Somedays even in the “probably” column.
It crept up on me in my sleep. It was a light, fitful, restless sleep, however, as I wondered if I’d ever live again. And then, in my dream—I call it a dream though it was more real than most of my waking hours!—Megan sat down by me. It wasn’t a quick dream that flashes by. It seemed to last the full night. She kept patting me with her hands saying, “You will be ok, Daddy.” When I woke up, I had to think long and hard about whether it had really occurred or not.
I’m still not entirely sure.
The truth is, she didn’t even have to speak those words. Her familiar hands said it all.
Later I heard a story of John Westerhoff that resonated with me. He was with a man who was desperately sick, whose daughter reached over and hugged him hard. He said to her, “You’re going to hug me to death!” She responded, “No, daddy, I’m hugging you back to life.”
. . . Which is why many of you have such clear memories of the hands of your mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers—even those long gone from this earth.
For those hands are much more than appendages to operate a fork or a pen. They are extensions of the grace of God. They bless, encourage, welcome, and remind us that no matter how broken we may feel, we will be well.
They remind us that one day God will take his own hands and wipe all tears from our eyes. And all will, indeed, be ok.