I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness. Isaiah 61:10a
When Joel arrived home from school today I wrapped a tangible answer to prayer around his bulky, eighteen-year-old shoulders.
A prayer quilt, stitched and knotted with prayers for peace; for physical, mental and emotional healing; for wholeness as only the Lord knows wholeness.
“This is a prayer for you,” I tell him. “Prayed by people we don’t even know! They’ve been praying for you while they sewed this quilt.”
“Basketballs,” Joel says with a grin as he fingers the fabric.
The story of how this prayer quilt made its way to our home began months ago with an anxiety-venting e-mail I sent to Barb, my cousin Jeff’s wife, 300 miles away in Brighton, Michigan.
“Dear Barb, the orthopedist has recommended surgery for Joel’s spine. His kyphosis, which is a C curve of the spine, is getting worse, and the doctor says there will be a lot of pain and physical disability down the road if we don’t do it. The surgery is major. It actually involves two surgeries, and for more than a week between the two he will be in traction as they slowly straighten the spinal cord. Several vertebrae will be fused, and rods will be inserted down both sides of the spine. Basically, they’ll take him apart and put him back together again.
“We don’t know what to do. Because of his autism and intellectual disability, we’re not sure he can handle this emotionally much less physically. How do we even begin to explain to him, in a way he can understand, what will be done?”
It wasn’t long before I received Barb’s reply.
“There’s a quilting group at my church that gets together to pray as they make quilts for people in crisis. I’ve told them about Joel. We’d love to make him a quilt. Even if you elect not to do the surgery, we will pray for emotional and mental healing.”
I hit the reply button immediately. “We’d be honored.”
The small package that arrived today was wrapped in brown paper and criss-crossed with masking tape. It took some tugging to remove the quilt from the box where it had been stuffed like sausage in a casing. Finally, out it popped, unfolding in waves of royal blue and sunset orange.
The quilt is sewn in a kaleidoscope of triangles of orange and blue, interspersed with patches of bright orange basketballs on a black background. In contrast, the backing of the quilt consists of a beautiful material resembling the sky on those days when the weather rapidly alternates between bright sunshine and racing clouds of gray.
Pinned to the back is a tag that reads, Each knot on this quilt represents a prayer that was said especially for you. We hope this quilt comforts you, both spiritually and physically. The pattern of the Kaleidoscope is made entirely of triangles, symbolizing the Holy Trinity. The light and dark colors represent the light and dark periods of our life that form the overall design when seen as a whole. Brighton First United Methodist Prayers & Squares, the Prayer Quilt Ministry.
Further investigation into the box brings forth a sheet of poster-paper folded in half. The front of the card reads, I tied a knot in prayer for you today. Inside are the signatures of more than one hundred people my family had never met.
And now, as I tuck Joel into bed, I cover him with a prayer that is as real and soft and warm as the arms of the Lord. Joel’s hands rest on top of the quilt, and his beautiful smile beams up at me from the pillow.
I stand and gaze at him, transfixed.
How did the men and women of this far-away church know that the prayer I have uttered most often for my son is this: “Lord wrap your loving arms around Joel. Make your presence as real and palpable as a warm and comforting shawl draped around his shoulders. Still his agitation Lord, and bring him peace with your presence.”
How often do we see our prayers answered in orange and blue? In knotted triangles and bright orange basketballs? How often do we tuck our prayers around our children’s bodies?
I bend down to kiss Joel goodnight, then linger a few minutes longer, contemplating the visual image of a prayer spoken so many times over the years. A prayer stitched together and knotted with tears and laughter and prayers of friends in Christ we’ve never even met.
Lord, thank you for this gift from the Prayer Quilt Ministry of Brighton First United Methodist Church. What a blessing, to see my prayer answered – your presence as real and palpable as a warm and comforting shawl draped around Joel’s shoulders. Still his agitation Lord, and bring him peace with your presence. Amen.
The above story is excerpted from Autism & Alleluias (Judson Press, 2010), a book I worked on throughout Joel’s adolescence. During those years I navigated stormy seas by the North Star of God’s presence in our daily lives. Today, several years later, I find the little boat of my life battered by wind and waves. Six weeks ago I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. As you can imagine, there has been a bit of a struggle going on around this diagnosis, the resulting surgery and the unwanted news that more treatment (chemo or radiation or both) is needed. There are days I worry my boat will capsize in this stormy sea
A week or two after I sent out an e-mail about the diagnosis, I received a Facebook message from my friend Margaret:
“I have been praying specifically for you the past couple of days as I made this microwaveable prayer shawl. I made it for you with love, concern, appreciation for the friend you are in my life, and as a reminder that no matter how “patchy” our lives may be, God, our Strong Tower is still in control.”
The prayer shawl is gorgeous, and has warmed my shoulders as well as my soul.
And then, just a week ago, I received an e-mail from my cousin’s wife, Barb – the same Barb in the story above:
“Hi! Just read your pathology report email and had an idea…would you like a prayer quilt? I’d love to be able to wrap you in prayer.”
My heart sings. Ten years ago God wrapped my son in tangible prayer. Today He wraps me in hands-on prayer as well.
Lord, you are so good. You never cease to look for ways to comfort us, to encourage us, to lift us out of the pit of self-pity, depression or fear. May our eyes stay fixed always on you, and may the eyes of our hearts remain open to the ultimate Comforter – the Holy Spirit – sent by you to reside within us.