There can be no other story than this one, to end my journey through the culture of public experience in 2012. More than any other event in the last year (save two ordinations I was a part of), the recovery of Lydia Herrle, after having been hit by a recycling truck on May 17, and the blog maintained by her mother Michelle Herrle throughout the ordeal of her daughter's recovery, have deeply moved me. It has stirred and strengthened my own sense of what it means to share one's own suffering in community as a form of witness to the kingdom of God. From the time she began posting the blog only days after Lydia's injury, until late in December when she drew it to a close for now, Michelle Herrle has painstakingly shared with the world the sorrows and the setbacks and the breakthroughs of Lydia's progress, not with the kind of desperation or cloying religious aphorisms and platitudes that one might hesitatingly anticipate in coming to a story like this one, but with profound grace. I was already pretty invested in prayer, in the form of daily prayer offices I observe, devotional projects I create, and I also study prayer as part of my doctoral programme. But they pushed me further. By looking at all times to the transformative and healing aspect of community in prayer, Michelle and Lydia Herrle have led large numbers of people closer to God. And I am one of them.
This is indeed a story about prayer. It is not about miracles or the consequences or results of having faith (though certainly that is there). As we all know, there are millions of people in horrifying realities who pray and whose lives do not find change. It is not my theology to believe that the harder you pray the more likely it is that things will change. But it is within my understanding to believe that the more you pray, the more likely it is that you will experience what it means to live inside God's embracing love, come what may. And I do believe that holding people up in prayer accomplishes restoration in ways unknown to me for that person, for me, for creation, in ways that only God can effect. Michelle Herrle offered us ways to pray, with attention not just to her daughter's well-being but to our sense of how God's restoration works: we open our hearts to God and God enters in. Nearly every day she offered scripture and songs to attest this. These came from the world of her own Mennonite Brethren formation yes, but demonstrated a remarkably open theological manner and beautiful writing style that seemed to come naturally to her. She made it possible for all of us, no matter where we come from, to hear and understand how the Spirit was moving in her.
Healing occurs in the mind and the heart, and also sometimes, in the body. Lydia Herrle herself describes how Jesus spoke to her from inside her coma - convincing her to hang in. In my own life, I once experienced this also: when my lung collapsed from pneumonia at age 5. Within an oxygen tented world, I heard God speaking plainly to me that everything would be all right. I came out of the tent telling and writing stories about God; the memory is as vivid now as then. While Lydia was emerging from her coma, I myself experienced a concussion and was bedridden for a few weeks. I continued to pray from that place for Lydia, but also alongside Lydia, and took strength and inspiration from her whole incredible family, whose market I visit daily in the summer. When I was finally able to move around again on my own, my first solo trip in a car was to the Herrle's market - I remember how intense the colours of the produce seemed and how happy I was to have made this small victory.
A young friend of mine from church, who was on Lydia's school bus and got off ten minutes ahead of her accident, told me that sitting next to Lydia at a recent assembly she heard Lydia tell her how Jesus had accompanied her through the storm. It was Lydia's soccer team who helped originate the green ribbon campaign that went on to lace the doorways, fenceposts, hydro poles, trees and farms of an entire region - children listening to the words of God pushing them forward. When I finally took my green ribbon off my rear view mirror this past November, I hung it on my prayer room wall, where it still is. I will keep it there as a continuing reminder of how God wants us to live: in community, in love with each other, in desire for the restoration of all people. One prayer at a time.
Michelle Herrle's blog: prayforlydia2012.blogspot.com
Most Magazine profile of Michelle and Lydia Herrle: http://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/launch.aspx?eid=30dd07a7-17f2-41b7-bed5-1d576fa82787