when anxiety was great within me
She comes to find me on the porch, settling lightly on the double rocker next to me, shimmying her body close to mine. The warm wind picks up a stray piece of her hair and plasters it across her forehead. She leans against the pillows, considering me briefly, reaching up to tuck that wild strand back behind her ear.
“Mom, did you tell Grandma and PaPa about my anxiety?” Her tone carries the words sweetly, that way she always does; no disappointments, only facts. She’s not self-conscious the way so many of us are, not embarrassed about her own realities.
“Of course I did.” I reach out to touch her knee, to smooth my thumb against the knob of bone, and she laughs, a feathery, relieved sound that flies away just as quickly as I hear it. Immediately I remember this verse; it comes as a strong comment: When I said, “My foot is slipping,”your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.
“Are they going to pray for me?”
“They are. They do; every day.” It’s a powerful fact.
“Yea!” She says, leaning into me, lifting one arm in victory. She’s keeping score, and she has the advantage.
Her celebration surprises me a little, since this news isn’t really an unknown. She has carefully held the gift of her grandparents’ prayers for a long time. It’s a truth she sometimes rehearses out loud, remembering. But it seems as though each time she hears again that someone prays for her, the words come as a fresh blessing, and each time we pray with her, the amen brings an expression of such utter joy, such relief, even if she continues to struggle.
“Will other people pray for me too?” She looks out across the porch, watching a bird hop along the top of the fence, and I pull myself up straighter to get a better look at her.
This morning, when I walked into the kitchen, I found her sitting at the bar, her eyes all wet with tears. A few lingering drops rested on her lashes like dew, and she smashed her palms against them as she told me that she’d had an anxiety attack before breakfast–first a “tensing” head, then coughing, then the gagging she fears. The last words she couldn’t say. She just stretched her mouth into an ugly oval and pointed at her tongue, and her tears fell freely without her hands there to catch them. And of course, I didn’t need the words anyway.
This fear is one she’s had for a few years now; conjured up during some nasty illness and escalated into a trigger by sensory stress and hormones and probably a whole slew of other things we don’t even know how to decipher. Anxiety is a chronic problem for individuals with autism, and epilepsy just makes it worse. Off and on that first year, she lost weight, unable to eat faster than a snail crawls and mostly just to afraid to try. She gave up some of her favorite foods. Slowly, we watched her curl into herself. We taught her to pray; huddled around her during the worst of her struggle. We removed every stressor we could identify, starting with the overstimulating, student-clogged environment of traditional school, where the pace moved too fast and the words too many. We put her in a homeschool co-op for exceptional teens where she found a whole pack of real friends. And she has thrived for a long while and learned to be silly again. But last week, she choked a little trying to swallow a vitamin at breakfast, and this ugly fear gripped her again like a sharp-clawed demon.
So, I lean forward to get a good look at her, thinking maybe we’re in the aftermath of another attack. But her eyes look clear—bright and sparking, even—and she grins. I am not as good as she is at asking for prayer, though I need it just as much. Until she asked, it hadn’t even occurred to me to gather up an army. God is swiftly changing this about me, and He’s using her to help me do it.
“Well, I can certainly ask other people to pray,” I tell her. “I can send out an email to our church family; I can ask our other friends. Do you want me to do that?”
“Yes, I do want you to do that,” She says, turning to look at me, letting her eyes rest on mine. Her certainty teaches. She doesn’t pause even to wonder if her vulnerability will be received with the significance it deserves.
So I send the email, typing while she stands behind me watching. I turn to look at her, and her expression only registers triumph. Responses roll in swiftly, and with each one, she raises her arm again in victory, offering up an overcomer’s faithful shout. I know what she will do with these, how each morning she’ll tell me the names of people praying for her, how she’ll assemble her own rescue ladder right out of the list. And I don’t know what God’s answer to our prayers for her will be—whether He’ll remove her anxiety completely or point us toward treatment (because I do believe that the medication and resources we have available to us are also part of His provision). But I do know this, with confidence: what has happened to my daughter will bring glory to God, and one way or another, He will deliver her right through it.