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Prayers of the fateful.

It's OK to make deals with God. But as one mother came to realize, the terms are God's, not ours.

FOUR MONTHS AGO, MY SON WAS SHOT. A TEENAGE boy demanded money from him on a street in Charleston, South Carolina. When my son said he had no money, the boy shot him in the face with a .38 caliber pistol. Stephen turned his face from the gun, and the bullet went through his chin, and so he was saved.

My son was not paralyzed and his jaw was not shattered. He was not disfigured but he will have two small scars, the doctors say. And then they shake their heads and say: "It's a miracle."

This is what everyone says, after they say: "Oh my God. Someone was watching over him." "His guardian angel was on duty" or "God was taking care of him."

Here is what I said to God the night the phone call came: "Of course, he is spared. We have a deal.

"I keep the faces of my children before you. I pray for them morning, night, and anytime they come to mind during the day. And you keep them safe. Deliver us from evil. That's the deal, and up to now, it's worked fine."

Only now it seems the terms have changed. Because if that was the deal, why was Stephen walking down Morris Street? Why wasn't he on the next block, or in his car, or working late, or anywhere except there--at twilight on a January evening, facing death?

I should be grateful. I am grateful. I am also confused. I know about free will. I know people choose to do bad things and God does not interfere with their choices. He cannot ravish, wrote C. S. Lewis. He can only woo.

So on a winter evening in Charleston, a 16-year-old boy's free will crashed into my son's decision to take a shortcut. And then what? Then angels appeared. Or quick reflexes kicked in. Or prayers were answered. Or something.

I puzzle over it, clinging to my deal. Like most mothers, I believe that the love that brought my children into the world is enough, on any given day, to keep them in it. When children are small and require our daily, unflagging protection, that conviction may stand between them and harm. When they are grown and embark on their own paths, the certainty wavers.

I know where my children came from. I know to whom they ultimately belong. I know this, but the knowledge does not loosen my grip. Is it spiritual pride, or am I just a slow learner?

I return to the stately, sonorous prayers of my 1950s Catholic childhood: "Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. We fly to thy protection, O Holy Mother of God." In Latin, it's sub tuum praesidium confugimus-- a walled city, a refuge. And it is a walled city that I seek now. I want the drawbridge raised and the moat filled. I want the language of absolutes. It seems all bets are off, but I repeat the prayers, trying to lure God back into my deal.

We went to Charleston when Stephen was shot, tearing over interstates in driving rain to quickly reach him, to see him whole. His friends had already formed a tight little circle of safety around him.

That night we killed the fatted calf. We barbecued on his rickety wooden porch, set out food on his kitchen table. Later, we balanced plates on our laps, juggled sodas and bottles of beer. The decibel level soared. Then Stephen crumpled his napkin and pushed his plate away.

"I would just like to say that I feel like a puppy," he told us. "In a minute, I may start running in circles. I am glad to be here. I have no idea why I am here, but I know I am glad."

I think now of those words, and the vases of carnations, the floating Mylar hearts and teddy bears. The worst happened, and yet it didn't. My son met death on a Charleston street. Death passed him by. It wasn't up to me. It never was.

And I wonder, hesitantly, if this may be the deal, the only one God ever makes. Not my airtight contract, but a different arrangement altogether. Messy. Complicated. Heart-stopping. Alive with mystery. And in this moment, blessed.

STEPHANIE PIPER, a columnist for Metropulse, a weekly publication in Knoxville, Tennessee, and a freelance writer.
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Title Annotation:God's protection
Author:PIPER, STEPHANIE
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U5SC
Date:Feb 1, 2001
Words:748
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