Pray for Emily 3

Give me a sign of your goodness . . . for you Lord have helped me and comforted me. (Psalm 86)
I first wrote of Emily Crikelair in early 2011 – and have been meaning to write an update ever since. Much has happened in the intervening months, and I’ve been urged to go back and recreate that chronology. (That will be Pray for Emily 2, if I ever get it done).

Some stories play out in quick, easy scenes. The story of Othniel, in Judges 3, takes exactly five verses. The story of Shamgar takes one.

Other stories take longer: Gideon gets three chapters. Moses spills across most of the Pentateuch.

We live in an easy-fix culture: if you can’t make your point in 144 characters, don’t bother. If the resolution takes longer than the twenty-three minutes from first commercial to closing credits, maybe the story’s too long.

It’s been over four years since Emily was struck by lightening, and over four years since I first gathered a group to join me at her bedside to pray for complete healing. We were longing for a complete, sudden, startling resolution: the sudden reappearance of the old Emily, lively, strong, healthy, a young doctor in the making. Get up, little girl!

The story has continued across time in ways we didn’t envision, an accrual of small miracles, sometimes overlooked, sometimes puzzling. Discouraging plateaus give way to surprising successes; weariness yields to wonder, then dissolves in weariness again.

A small group of four has been driving from Paoli to Stroudsburg one Friday a month to pray with Emily and her mother, asking God to teach us, working hard to listen. This past July, one of our group called attention to a retreat center in the Adirondack foothills: Christ the King Spiritual Life Center, a retreat center owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, home to a healing ministry directed by Nigel Mumford. Father Mumford served six years in the UK’s Royal Marine Commandos, spent two years as a drill instructor in the Commando Training School, then, after witnessing a series of miraculous healings, became involved in healing ministry himself, and went on to ordination as an Episcopal priest.

My husband visited Christ the King several years ago and had glowing reports of the ministry he saw there. Still, did it make sense for Emily and her parents to go there for a visit?

Just days after we’d raised the question with Emily’s mom, I attended a reunion of staff from a camp I was part of back in the mid seventies. I sat down to lunch the first day next to someone I hadn’t known and she turned to me with a greeting, then asked “Have you ever been to Christ the King near Albany, New York?”

Sometimes I’m accused of interpreting coincidence as God’s intervention in my life. That may sometimes be the case – but this was no coincidence. As I ate my lunch, this woman I barely knew explained how important the ministry of Christ the King had been in her life and in her husband’s, and the way the center had been an instrument of significant emotional healing for them both. I munched my sandwich and listened: I hadn’t mentioned the center, hadn’t mentioned that I was Episcopalian, hadn’t mentioned that I was from New York, hadn’t asked her anything about healing, ministry, prayer, the gifts of the Spirit. I’d simply said “Hi,” and here was a strong, uninvited, personally revealing endorsement of an idea I’d been praying about.

The day after I got home from the reunion, I gathered more information about what would be needed for Emily and her parents to go, and just weeks later they traveled up to spend several days at Christ the King. When our group gathered for prayer several weeks later there was no dramatic change in Emily that we could see, yet in both Emily and her mom there was clearly a lifting of discouragement, a sense of vibrancy and hope, and this idea: could we go back as a group?

As we talked and prayed together, agreement came quickly: yes, we’d go. Soon. September? There was a conference on forgiveness and healing the last Saturday of September. Maybe we’d go for that, stay for the service and a time of prayer on Sunday, come back Monday. Calendars were consulted. Funds pooled. Yes, there was room for us all. Yes, we were all free, and eager to go.

Preparing for our time away, I found myself thinking: “wild goose chase.” The phrase floated through my mind as I booked our rooms, studied the map, prayed. I felt like I was following a series of indecipherable clues, leading us toward – what?

A wild good chase is “a futile search or fruitless errand, a task inordinately complex relative to its outcome.” Another definition describes it as “a fool’s errand.”

Sometimes when I attempt to tell this story, it sounds like that: a fool’s errand, a strange, fruitless pilgrimage in search of an elusive solution. The story takes strange twists and turns. The outcome is uncertain.

Yet, Celtic Christians have called the Holy Spirit the Wild Goose: mysterious, unpredictable, hard to follow. DC pastor Mark Batterson digs into this image in a recent book, Wild Goose Chase; a growing annual gathering, The WildGoose Festival, offers community space for this journey of exploration.  The Wild Goose Festival 

Our own journey led us to Christ the King this past weekend. We heard wonderful stories of healing, reconciliation and forgiveness from conference speaker Russ Parker, director of a healing ministry in the United Kingdom and deeply involved in the ministry of reconciliation in Ireland, Burundi, Rwanda, South Africa. Emily, and our group, received prayer from a wide mix of ministers, prayer ministers and others. We sang, laughed, prayed, rested, ate too much wonderful food lovingly prepared and served by the kindest retreat staff I’ve ever encountered.

Did we see great improvement in Emily? Not in ways we could document. Yet she stayed alert, and interested. She walked around the great room each evening with support from her mom, and on the last night took another lap around the room while we cheered her on.

That last evening, she sat on the floor on her own, unsupported, for far longer than she’s ever done, and worked hard at taking a small ball from one of us and giving it to another. When we sat at the table to play Uno, she sat on her own on a chair between her mom and me, and with encouragement picked the right color cards from my hand and then dropped them toward the table.

Small marks of progress on a long long road. As her doctors have explained, they’ve never worked with someone who was without oxygen as long as she was: thirty minutes. They’ve never tried to rehabilitate someone as shattered by electrical shock. It’s all uncharted territory. Every improvement is a monument to prayer and perseverance.

Was God at work in our weekend away? In more ways than I can explain.

Building deeper community within our group, but also between us and those we met along the way.

Deepening our unity and compassion, and our understanding of what it means to bear each other’s burdens. While her parents and siblings carry the day to day burden of Emily’s afflictions, it’s increasingly clear that the weight is lightened when we pray, hope, cheer her on together.

We continue to see God weaving us together and repairing us for ministry, in a way I’ve described as “katartizo.” It would take far too long to unravel all of the strands woven into our time together, but one sure theme was “the ministry of blessing.” I’ll develop that at greater length sometime in the future, but we certainly experienced that blessing, in ways large and small, through the kindness of others, the beauty of our surroundings, the unity we felt together, the laughter and fun that bubbled up in unexpected ways.

On Sunday afternoon, while most of our group went to nap, pray, or process the events of the weekend, I set off down a grassy path to find the center’s lake, hidden beyond a series of pastures, hills, and woodlands. As I hiked up into the woods, I heard an unexpected sound, like a rushing wind, or flowing water. The sound came closer, as just up the path leaves shuddered in a sudden, fast-moving downpour. The rain came pelting down, and after a few minutes of trying to find shelter, I gave up and started back on a path that now appeared more like a muddy stream.

I left the woods, crossed a bridge, and headed up the sodden hillside back toward the lodge where the rest of the group was dozing. As I looked up, toward the chapel on the hill and the lodge beyond it, the sky cleared and a rainbow appeared: a perfect arc, with all its colors, spanning the hill before me.

I paused there on the hill, dripping wet, surrounded by beauty, delighted to laughter by the unexpected grace of the rainbow. And there, calling to each other, went a small flock of geese, dark shapes against the darker sky, winging their way across the rainbow’s span. The rainbow, the geese, the lake I didn’t get to see: all signs of God’s goodness, reminders of his blessing.

I was muttering to myself, at one point in the weekend: why do we have to drive six hours to find a place where the ministry of healing is taken seriously? Why can’t we find this closer to home?

We can. And we will. As several of our group pointed out when they heard my mutterings: the conference speaker, Russ Parker, will be leading a one day conference on healing in Pottstown, a half hour from my house, on October 13. I’ll be going.

The story continues, with new chapters out ahead, communities woven together, adventures still to come. Your prayer, encouragement, and participation are welcome. May manifold blessings abound.
Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may fear your name.
I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;     I will glorify your name forever.For great is your love toward me. (Psalm 86)