A Prayer for Lillie
By Kimberly Diaz
Lillie was always praying for me. She told me so. About every two or three weeks she’d send me a little card in the mail with pictures of cute kittens or bluebirds or flowers on the cover and random bible verses and notes like “Keep the faith” and “I’m praying for you” scrawled inside. I thanked her but wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the prayer thing. A neighbor I jogged with breathlessly told me that she was praying for me all the time. Yet one thing after another kept going wrong. The kids were always sick, my husband didn’t love me, our dog died, I lost my job, and the bank was preparing to foreclose on our home. I knew she meant well but I was tempted to ask her for a transcript. What exactly was she praying for?
Lillie and I met when we worked at the same school. We were randomly partnered at one of the school’s many mandatory trainings. We laughed a lot that day as we acted out scenarios designed to teach us techniques for dealing with severe behavior problems — none of which had a prayer of working in reality.
I did learn a lesson that year though. And it was that people who go into a profession meant to help children are not always the kind-hearted folks you might think. After a year of being unfairly targeted by my principal encouraged by a clique of vicious coworkers, I was fired. The principal knew that I was on the verge of losing my home. And how thoughtful to be given the news on Teacher Appreciation Day! I’m not saying I was perfect, but that was mean-spirited and cruel.
It was hard not to feel depressed the next school year when everyone else was back at work and I was collecting unemployment and fruitlessly searching for jobs. Who wants to hire a fifty year- old fired from her last position? Um, nobody? I cried a lot. Some days I just wailed on the couch or lost it driving in the car.
I tried to be positive. I read The Secret and books by Louise Hay and practiced positive affirmations. I read Eckhart Tolle and thought about my purpose in life. I watched What Not to Wear and wondered how Bank of America could be giving all these poorly-dressed women $5000 for new wardrobes when we were in pre-foreclosure and they couldn’t work with us to reduce our monthly mortgage payments to keep our family from being tossed out on the streets.
When Lillie’s first card arrived I was shocked. We’d only interacted for a few hours one day. Why did she concern herself so much for me? I thought it was sweet that she was praying for me and wrote back thanking her, but didn’t hold my breath for any miracles from God. The church I knew growing up taught me that God was a dude with long flowing robes and a short fuse. Jesus was the nice one and look what happened to him! I did not share in Lillie’s belief but figured Lillie’s prayers couldn’t hurt me.
All that year Lillie’s cards kept coming. Since I had so much time on my hands, I’d write her long letters back which Lillie let me know she enjoyed very much. She would tell me when someone would ask about me or say they were sorry about what happened. Or when she’d talked to this person or that person and they’d said I was so nice to everybody or commented on how good I was with the children.
Finally, after a year of unemployment, I got back to work again teaching reading in small groups. It was only part-time but it was rewarding helping kids. Since Lillie and I were both busy we stopped corresponding but every now and then she’d text me, “How’s the family?” Or “U doing ok?” And I’d let her know we were fine.
We had lost our house but a family member helped us get a fixer-upper so we didn’t become one of the thousands of families left homeless due to the crashed economy.
About six months went by with no word from Lillie and then one day a card arrived. As always it had a cheery illustration on the outside and a bible verse and short note scrawled inside.
“I hope you and the family are well. I’m glad God put you where you needed to be. I know you are doing those kids a lot of good.”
She signed it the same as always, “Love, Lillie.”
But this time beneath that she wrote, “I have breast cancer. Please pray for me.”
I couldn’t believe Lillie had cancer! She was so sweet, so selfless, so good. She didn’t deserve it. I was struck by how incredibly thoughtless I’d been. All this time she had been praying for me and it had never once occurred to me to even attempt to pray for her.
If I did pray, who would I pray to? Would anyone listen? Would it work? I wasn’t sure, but I knew I had to try.
Lillie said she was scheduled for surgery in a few weeks. She told me she wasn’t worried, even though the doctor said it was hopeless, because God had a lot of angels watching over her and she said I was one of them. Me? An angel? I wished I was one for Lillie’s sake.
I know there have been studies done that suggest prayer works. Maybe it’s just that enough people concentrating positive thoughts and energy on a specific goal can make something happen. For Lillie’s sake I gave it a whirl a few times. People from her church were praying for her too. Her cancer was Stage 4 but she beat it.
At one point, I had not heard from her in several months and got worried. Had she relapsed? The next day, I got a text, “Good morning. How’s the family?”
Kimberly Diaz studied creative writing at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Montana Mouthful, Eckerd Review, Fleas on the Dog, Dead Mule of Southern Literature, Sunspot Literary Journal and anthologies. She is currently working on a collection of creative nonfiction and maybe a novel.