I sit in the late afternoon sun and watch my son load leaves onto his tractor. The same son who told me in no uncertain twenty-two month-old terms last night “Ear, Hurt. Docka.” It was late. The local pediatrician’s office was closing. We would have to drive to the on-call office 40 minutes away. My husband wasn’t home from work yet. I was tired. I was sick. My four-year-old did not want to get back into the car after just arriving home from preschool.

But there was Micah, clutching woobie, pacie and bottle standing at the door like a dog whining to be let out. He was certain. “Docka! Ear. Hurt.” I believed him. We packed up into the car, cruised through Mickey D’s, and stationed the mini DVD player between them and their chicken nuggets.

I prayed. For clear roads and unmissed exits. For parking and a pharmacy that would still be open by the time all was said and done. In the background, over the noise of Winnie the Poo I heard Jackson exclaim – SUNSET. And then explain in the patient practiced tones of the older brother what a sunset is to his baby (by very few pounds less) brother.

Purple and pink streaked the sky. God, above the gridlock. God, in the midst of my jostling for position to hit the right exit. God, with the best view by far of how the evening would end.

We pulled into the parking lot a half hour early. The boys played and the doctor kept us waiting and waiting and waiting. But brothers – oh the sheer joy of being someone’s brother! They loved on each other with laughter and tackles and much more of the paper examination sheet draping the bed than we probably should have pulled from its roll.

And when the doctor finally joined us Micah pointed to his ear and announced HURTS and she was delighted by his impish smile and firm assurance. And she declared him absolutely right. Layers of puss and infection confirmed it must certainly have hurt quite a lot.

Freeze frame.

Right there, moments like that, is when I start experiencing the attack of the killer what-ifs.

What-if I hadn’t believed him? What-if we had waited till the morning? What-if I hadn’t understood what he was trying to tell me? What-if there hadn’t been a late night office open? What if I’d gotten lost or missed an exit?

I am very good at this game. Give me a late night and little sleep and the what-ifs will ratchet up in intensity directly proportional to my absence of peace.

What-if I didn’t work full time? What-if Micah wasn’t in daycare? What-if Jackson had the same thing last week and I just wasn’t paying enough attention because I was too tired to notice? What-if Micah gets a roaring diarrhea rash again from the antibiotics? What if ….

Yea, you’re a mom, you know how it goes.

I have a lifelong best friend who is also South African. We have known each other since we were six. Now she lives in Pretoria and I live in DC. But when we catch up there’s never a bump in the road. We just pick up where we left off last. She has also suffered from attack of the killer what-ifs. But on a scale much worse than mine. Two years ago the neighborhood where she lives with her husband and two daughters was being nightly attacked by gangs of violent thieves. Her what-ifs were matters of life and death. And many around her were leaving the country in droves. It was the first time in my gypsying life that I had ever felt relief at not being in South Africa. But then this is what she told me,

“Lisa-Jo, the safest place for us and our families to be is in God’s will. If God wants you to be in South Africa and you disobey him out of fear, then you are no longer in the safest place possible. If God wants you to be in the States and you disobey him out of fear, then you are no longer in the safest place possible. God’s will is the only place where I know my children will be absolutely safe. And I believe that God has called us to live here in this time and place and neighborhood.”

So they didn’t leave. They stayed. And they prayed.

Yea, prayer doesn’t sound like much of a response does it? But I tell you what, they didn’t pray alone. They got hundreds and hundreds of people from their neighborhood to join together in community prayer meetings. They wrote newsletters, they got in touch with the local police, they raised awareness and they organized a community watch.

And then they prayed some more.

The gangs moved on. The police told them they had never seen such a dramatic drop in crime in such a short period.

They walked boldly because they knew they were in God’s will. And in so doing they changed the landscape of where they live for many, many families more than just themselves.

She is my what-if antidote. Because she points me back to the only doctor who truly matters. In Afrikaans we call him “die Groot Geneesheer” – the Great Physician.  He listens as the what-ifs wash over me and then he offers me peace that transcends understanding. And he gives me a pool of sunshine on a fall afternoon for reflecting on all this as I watch my son pick up red, gold, and burnt umber leaves.

I realize that there are much bigger What-Ifs out there than yesterday’s. But I have found that until I can trust him with the small ones, the big ones are out of my league entirely.

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