Accepting a Miracle

My wife, Beth, talks in her sleep. She drifts in and out of consciousness like a cat under a sunbeam on a living room floor. One night, early in our marriage and after a long day of desperate job-hunting, she said a prayer before bed. “Dear God, thank you for the nice day, and thank you for all that we have. Please help my knee feel better, and if you could get back to me at 618–688–5048 I would appreciate it and hope to talk to you about this opportunity at your soonest convenience.”

I looked over at my wife — her eyes already shut and her hands still folded by her head — as she was completely unaware that she had just left a voicemail to God.

When we first started dating she scared me with a real voicemail. She mentioned that she had to go in for chemotherapy. According to her, when I called back I sounded so stunned that she wasn’t sure she’d ever see me again. After a little more communication, she explained that every six months or so she has chemotherapy to battle her rheumatoid arthritis. It wasn’t a big deal, and she got the next few days off of work, but if our relationship was to continue, it was something I needed to be able to deal with. I assured her a disease would never sway me from her because I was in love.

As Beth became a bigger part of my life, so did her condition. Bottles and bottles of pills, doctor appointments and blood work, and the grinding and cracking of joints whenever she walked around the apartment were all part of the norm. Her arthritis was a secret to others, because she was more active than anyone I’d ever met. When we did tell close friends and family, they were surprised, but no one ever doubted the terrible news.

Her disease was not contagious, but her spirit was. On Saturday mornings I found myself gasping through her fitness classes. On top of her new full-time job, she also taught Pilates, spin, and my personal favorite, 5:45 a.m. boot camp where she let us experience pure pain while she howled her enthusiasm. “Just five more! You can do it!”

Around the time we were married, Beth ran her first half-marathon. I watched as she sobbed with pride on the homestretch during the final mile, the Arch guiding her towards the finish line.

Life isn’t a Nike commercial though. Eventually her joints worsened. We were terrified when her neck became infected and stiff. Her elbow no longer allowed her to continue the new hobbies she tried to pick up like golf and fencing. And her right knee — it was the worst. If her rheumatoid arthritis had a ground zero, it was her knee. “You shouldn’t run, you shouldn’t wear heels, you’ve got to take it easy,” and other requests by her doctor were usually ignored, and I wasn’t about to ban my wife from wearing her favorite shoes.

Beth still got up sometime in the four o’clock hour for her morning workouts. “It keeps me loose all day,” she explained. After work it was the same thing. “I don’t like to sit still. I lock up.” Despite all this fitness, her condition grew worse, and she had to have elbow surgery to move a nerve back into place.

Life continued, and long gone were the days of teaching fitness classes and running races. Doctors couldn’t help her knee. It was out of cartilage and filled with bone spurs. It swelled and her limping became more noticeable. Finally, as the leaves fell in 2016, she had it replaced. When we told people about it, they sympathized but never doubted the awful news.

My poor Beth was more than sure she wouldn’t survive the operation. “Am I dead?” were her first words upon waking up from the anesthesia.

I didn’t think I’d still be in my thirties when I finally had to attach tennis balls onto my wife’s walker. For weeks and weeks she suffered through the worst pains of her life wondering if the surgery was even worth it. However, the walker was replaced by a cane, and then eventually she was able to walk on her own again. After almost twenty years, she would be able to get from point A to point B without any discomfort. Or so we thought.

A month later with a new stride, she found the arthritis had been in her right foot all along. Previously masked by the limp of her knee, it was now ready to take its turn on her spirit. “I just wanted to be able to walk without pain,” she said. We were both devastated, but not surprised at the disappointing news.

In our culture, when you have a condition, you gain the “benefit” of everyone else becoming your medical advisor. Miracle cures, diet changes, and breakthrough science worked for so and so, maybe it would work for Beth. For two decades she was willing to try anything: a water diet that locked her body up for three days, holy water from a holy spot that did holy nothing, probiotic supplements, and even the frigid cryotherapy which led to an entire month of battling pneumonia. And yes, she tried going gluten-free. It fascinated us how many people believed they had the answer.

Last December we attended mass on a Saturday evening at our usual church. The priest announced that anyone who wanted to, could stay for the anointing of the sick. My wife and two dozen senior citizens all took part in a brief ritual where the priest put oil on each person’s forehead and wrists, followed by a short prayer. He delivered each blessing with a precise sincerity.

On the way home Beth became emotional, so I asked why she was crying. “All of those people are sick,” she said. “They’re so old, and have so many things wrong with them. They’re the ones who needed it.” I tried to comfort her, but she couldn’t get over how many of them there were among us.

The following day, which was a Sunday afternoon, we relaxed by watching NFL games and drinking wine at the bar in our basement. Though we’ve discussed them, kids were never really part of our plan. Beth reiterated that she would never want a child to suffer through the daily pain she endured. Mid-sentence, her words froze and her fingers started tapping on the bar. Her hand began to fan the surface in front of her like she was wiping something away. “He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone,” she repeated as the swiping of her hand increased. Finally, it reached her wine glass, knocking it to the floor. Stunned, I tried to get her over to the couch. She began to babble and could no longer form a sentence.

“W-w-w-what?” and other broken words spewed from her mouth.

We’ve done some crazy things after drinking on vacation over the years, and like I said, my wife talks in her sleep, but this seemed more intense. One moment we were at the two-minute warning of a game, the next, she was convulsing on the couch. Her back arched and her feet kicked while the stuttering words continued. I thought she was talking in her sleep, but this was much more hostile.

I held her hand and then helped her upstairs, but she only collapsed on the living room floor. She stared through me and continued to babble.

“Did you eat anything? Are you going to be okay?” I asked, but I was no longer there. She pushed past me and stumbled into the bathroom where her stutters became shouts of more shattered syllables.

Something was terrorizing her. “W-w-w-why? W-w-what d-d-do you w-w-want?”

A smart husband probably would’ve called 911, but for some reason it never felt like an emergency. I still can’t explain that to myself. The thought to call for help never felt like the right thing to do. I just had to get her to fall asleep. Minutes later I heard her moving around in the bathroom. Her gibberish continued and it was even louder, “B-b-b-b — ” and the same noises poured from her mouth. She was awake during a nightmare. I opened the door and guided her to towards our bedroom. She was aware of me again, but seemed extremely frightened. Why can’t she fall asleep and let this pass over?

“Don’t leave me,” she cried as I placed her head on her pillow. I held her until the trembling stopped, and then sat down as close as I could. Her body convulsed as if her waist was being pulled by strings. I held her hand as her back arched again. She was still fighting.

I thought it was over when she fell asleep. A few minutes later, it all continued. Babbling, convulsing, and shaking. This went on for almost an hour though not as intense each time. Whatever she was battling might have been winning at first, but was starting to weaken.

I did my best to comfort her, and I never let go of her arm. She still couldn’t form a sentence to tell me what was wrong.

At last, she sat up. “He’s gone. He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone.” The same words that opened this spell, but this time she was lucid. I told her she was okay, and she finally fell asleep before the sun set on that Sunday in December.

We both slept through the night, and I woke up to my alarm at six to find her midway through her morning routine. She had woken up at 4:30, completed her workout, and was getting ready for work like any other weekday.

“How are you feeling?” I asked. Somehow I already knew the answer.

“Well, I finally stopped having those weird dreams.” She went to pick out the day’s shoes.

“That wasn’t a dream, Honey. You went through some really weird stuff yesterday.” How could I even explain it? “I bet you feel great though.”

“I do, how’d you know? I haven’t felt this good in — ” she looked up to the ceiling, “since I was a kid.”

I confirmed my theory. “How are your joints then?”

She started bending her elbows and wrists. “I really don’t feel any pain today. At all.”

I decided to explain the events of yesterday with a little more detail. She kind of remembered a little, but didn’t know what to think of it.

“Do you think it has anything to do with the oil the priest put on you?”

Her eyes widened as she raised her hand to her mouth. “I didn’t even think about that.” There was no placebo effect.

After twenty years of suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, my wife was now in remission.

Beth refused to call any of her physician, because she wanted to see if she noticed anything different in her upcoming check-up. Her x-rays came back surprising her doctor. “We hadn’t x-rayed you in a decade, and not one thing looks any worse than it did back in 2006.” There was no medical explanation.

What were we missing in all this? How did it happen? I wanted to believe it was as simple as it felt, but the reluctance was there. It’s not like God bats 1.000 for us in prayer requests. We’re told everything happens for a reason, but we’re never told why this time, but not that.

It felt like there was more to do. Do I share it on social media? Do I write to Guideposts? Do I find the lawn of a local university and start preaching the good word? What are we supposed to do with a miracle?

I tried to contact the priest from the service that night, but only got an email back from the deacon. He chatted with us the following week after mass. “These things happen sometimes, but I’ve never heard of anything this dramatic. Just like accepting bad news, you have to realize to accept the good.” Why did we need further explanation?

I’ve told this story to close friends and family, and Beth is only recently more able to talk about it. Even our inner-circle of people showed some skepticism. It was a coincidence. There’s always a scientific explanation. The mind is a powerful thing. Whenever I shared the bits of bad news about Beth’s health, no one would ever debate the facts. Bad things happen all the time, right?

Had I told them all it took was a gluten-free diet or a really good chiropractor, they would’ve all nodded along and said, “Of course!” That would’ve made sense to me too.

But what happens when that voicemail we leave is answered even when all we did was ask? Why are we afraid to share a miracle? Can we accept it as easily as the bad news? Are we afraid to jinx it? If we can’t accept when good things happen, why do we ask for them in the first place?

No matter what you believe in, the tendency is often to think you don’t deserve a lot of what happens unexpectedly in life. We’re led to believe that the universe is on some karma payment plan to logically reward or punish us based on our actions. You can’t guess as to what or when it will happen. Miracles will be given to you, but at their soonest convenience.