A Prayer from the Lady in the Tollbooth

The first-place winner of our 2006 Young Writers Contest on discovering the power of prayer

by - Posted on Jun 1, 2006

Alyssa Staley

The slide had a tunnel covering the top. None of the other kids played on it, so I decided to hide in the tunnel. We had just moved to Illinois because my dad had been asked to pastor a local church. I was not adjusting well to the small, rural school where I was now enrolled. At my old school I had been the vice president of my class. Here, the other girls laughed at me and teased me about my clothes and shoes. At my old school our teacher had stood at the back door of the classroom and hugged us goodbye every day. Here my teacher was strict and gave so much homework that my dad called her "the queen of the worksheets." I don't think she liked me. However, I was not in the tunnel to hide from the Worksheet Queen or the other girls in my class. I sat in the cool, dark tunnel to mourn.

My mom had been extremely sick. She would just lie in bed. She didn't say much or get out of bed. The only time I ever saw her was when my dad made some soup and said, "Here, honey, give this to your mommy and maybe she will feel better."

Well, she didn't get better. Finally, a family friend helped my dad get my mom into the car and drive her to the local hospital. The doctor immediately put her on a helicopter and sent her to Deaconess Hospital in Evansville.

The next several days were a blur. I didn't care that nobody wanted to play with me or that my teacher didn't like me. I just sat in the tunnel and thought, Where did Mommy go? Is she ever coming back? My ninth birthday would be in a few days. How could I have a party without my mommy? In class I couldn't pay attention. I looked out the window, wondering why this strange school only had cornfields outside the classroom.

My little sister, Amy, was only 6 years old but she also knew something was terribly wrong. She and I talked. We decided we had to ask. Hand in hand, we walked into our parents room and said, "Daddy, is Mommy going to die?" Then we heard that awful word: Yes.

Amy said, "Daddy, what does that mean?"

My dad has a master's degree in theology and had even taken a graduate course in the theology of death and dying, but nothing could have prepared him to look into the face of a 6-year-old and answer that question. He started to cry so hard that we could barely understand him when he said, "It just means that she gets to go to heaven first."

He wrapped us in his arms and the three of us cried. It seemed like our tears would never stop. Mom had been in a coma eight days by the time he told us this.

On the ninth day Grandma and Grandpa came. I guess they were coming for the funeral. They didn't go to the hospital that day. They came to the school in the middle of the cornfield. When my grandma came to meet me at my classroom door, I took her hand and walked out of that room full of strangers. I was comforted by her cool, wrinkled hand that connected me somehow to my mommy.

On the 10th day a board member from our church and his wife drove to the hospital in Evansville. As they stopped to pay the toll before crossing the river, the deacon said to the lady in the tollbooth, "Ma'am, do you believe in the power of prayer?" She replied, "I certainly do." He then asked her if she would pray for his pastor's wife, who was dying. She asked for my mom's name. When he told her, the lady in the tollbooth said, "Oh, sir, I am already praying for her."

The lady in the tollbooth and many other people who had never met my mom were praying. Pastors in our own denomination as well as pastors in the local ministerial alliance asked their congregations to pray. Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals and Presbyterians all offered heartfelt prayers and called their families and friends to ask them to pray for my mom. The lady in the tollbooth had received one of those calls and so she prayed.

On the 11th day, while Amy and I were still in school, my grandparents went to the hospital. While they were in my mom's room, Mom opened her eyes and said, "It's my little momma. What are you doing here?"

The 12th day was the day I turned nine. My mother was still in the hospital, but she was off the ventilator and her doctors told us she was going to live. It was the first and only birthday I have ever spent apart from her, but she gave me the best present I have ever received.

On the 14th day she came home. Her battle with pneumonia had left her so weak that she could barely walk from the couch to the bedroom. She could not cook or do laundry or even blow-dry my hair. She had been given so much medicine that she was sometimes confused and could not remember even simple things such as our telephone number. However, she was home and Amy and I could snuggle close to her side again as slowly she got stronger and stronger.

We have stayed at her side for more than eight years now. We've been at her side walking on the sand at Virginia Beach. We've been at her side as we toured the battlefield at Gettysburg, the museums in Washington, D.C., and the ships at Jamestown. We have camped in a cabin in the mountains of West Virginia. We have been to Niagara Falls and climbed the steps at the Cave of the Winds and sailed by Horseshoe Falls in the Maid of the Mist. We have been trapped in an ice storm and spent Christmas Day in a heated pool covered by a glass dome, watching the snow fall.

More important than the memories of the great trips we have taken are the everyday memories of her helping us with our homework or taking us on shopping trips. What if my mother had not been here to tell me about love and marriage? What if I had missed out on her advice about how to find a husband? (Study hard. Go to college. Find a husband. In the library.) I do not know how many times I have laughed about that little formula. I plan to spend a lot of time at the library.

Who is responsible for her amazing recovery? Some people say it was the great team of doctors who never gave up. Others say that it was the lady in the tollbooth and all of the others in and beyond our new community who prayed. I believe God can use anybody, and everybody, and in this case, I think he did.

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