Today’s guest post comes from writer Susan Marquez. This brave, honest post on wrestling is an excerpt from a book Susan is writing. In the midst of a life-altering event, her faith was both challenged and strengthened.
“Lord, where ever she is, whatever she is doing, please take care of her.”
I realized the prayer I said each night was as much for me as it was for her. I felt I was buying peace of mind by sending a prayer up to God to protect my firstborn child as she was having the time of her life in a study-abroad program in France. Nicole always loved to spread her wings—a trait she inherited from me.
Although I didn’t realized it at the time, that prayer became the norm to carry me through major, life-altering events.
Only two weeks into her first semester in college, Nicole announced she wanted to spend a semester in France. After weeks of pleading her case, my husband, Larry, and I agreed that it was an opportunity of a lifetime. In January, we loaded Nicole onto a Delta jet to Atlanta. Next stop: Paris.
Students in the program were given a cell phone with 20 minutes of international talk time for the whole semester. I wasn’t able to pick up the phone and call her any time I wanted. I didn’t know where she was, what she was doing, or even what country she was in, as she had a Eurail pass for weekend travel to places like Amsterdam, Rome and Barcelona. She would communicate with me from internet cafés when she thought about it.
Nicole was doing what we wanted her to do–experiencing the world and living a wonderful life. But still, I worried. My way of coping was saying my nightly prayer, asking God to keep her safe no matter where she was or what she was doing. It helped me sleep better.
After her return from Europe, Nicole continued college, majoring in theatre and minoring in dance, always finding excuses to travel to New York. I realize now that she was learning the city, and making long-term plans to live there.
She graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2005 and went to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where she had a prestigious acting internship at the Berkshire Summer Theatre Festival. Again, I said my nightly prayer, and all was well.
Nicole had another acting internship at the Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky. She spent ten months there, living in a ten-story building in downtown Louisville, and walking as many blocks to the theatre, through some pretty seedy areas. I cautioned her to always walk with a buddy, to be aware of her surroundings and to be safe. I made card for her wallet. “My name is Nicole Marquez. My parents are Larry and Susan Marquez. In case of an emergency, please call…” It listed our cell, home, and work numbers and our email and home address. When I gave the card to Nicole she rolled her eyes and said, “Mom, you worry way too much.” But that little emergency card made me feel better. I still said my little prayer faithfully each night. “Take care of her.” And I slept well.
I was totally unprepared when the phone rang in late August 2008. Nicole had finally made her long-planned move to New York in January of that year, and she was living the life she felt she was destined to live. She lived on the top floor of a five-story walk-up in Harlem. She earned her Pilates certification and got a job as a personal trainer. She was constantly auditioning, and going to dance classes. She had never been happier.
I was nervous about her living in New York, and I worried about the craziest things, none of which came to pass. I continued to say my prayer for her nightly, including the night of August 29, 2008.
The next morning the sun was shining and I got busy cleaning the house. Larry’s birthday had been on August 27, and we had plans to celebrate over dinner. About 2pm, I was heading back to my room to take a shower and relax before he got home from work when the phone rang. I almost didn’t answer it, but when I saw “NYPD” on the caller ID, I was curious.
“My name is Detective Hall, with the New York City Police Department. How are you this afternoon?”
“I don’t know. You tell me. Why am I getting a call from the New York City Police Department?”
The mannerly detective proceeded to inform me that Nicole had been found outside her apartment building that morning. Apparently she had fallen off the roof. He told me she had been transported to Harlem Hospital, and gave me a telephone number for the emergency room. I quickly called the hospital and was told they did not have a patient by that name.
Was this a bad joke?
“I’m calling from Mississippi, and I’m about to have a heart attack. I need some answers—now.” I was transferred to a Dr. Carbajal, and I started giving a description of Nicole. He asked if she had any “distinguishing marks.” I remembered the star tattoo on her wrist. I was furious when she got it during college. I mentioned the tattoo to the doctor, and he asked which wrist. “I CAN’T REMEMBER!” I shouted through sobs. “We have your daughter,” he said, almost apologetically.
I quickly went into “mama mode.” I booked the last seat on the first flight out on Southwest for 6:30 Sunday morning. We were able to book Larry on a Delta flight at 11am.
We were up all night, talking with doctors. Broken neck and back. Broken pelvis. Broken ribs. Punctured and collapsed lung. Over the next several hours there were Xrays, MRI’s, CT scans. No apparent brain trauma. Erratic vital signs. Now on a ventilator.
As my flight reached its cruising altitude, my mind began to slow down, and I remembered the prayer I always said for Nicole. But instead of praying the prayer, I wondered how I could have prayed that simple prayer so faithfully, each day, and instead of “taking care of her, where ever she is, whatever she is doing,” God blinked and when He did, Nicole fell off the roof of her apartment building. Not only that, he let her lie on the ground in the filthy air shaft of her building for over eight hours before being discovered.
I chastised myself for questioning God, yet the thought lingered off and on for the next few critical days in the Neuro ICU at New York Presbyterian Hospital. She had been transferred there about the same time my flight landed in New York.
In that hospital room, filled with a maze of tubes and blinking boxes, I couldn’t pray. My mind was focused so intently on Nicole that I couldn’t wrap my mind around prayer. Whenever I tried, I had the nagging thought that I had been let down by God, especially since I had been so faithful to pray the same prayer each night before I went to bed.
Two weeks into the ordeal, I was sitting in the corner of Nicole’s room when suddenly I had the most clear thought. “I did protect her.”
Huh? Where did that come from?
“I did protect Nicole. I carried her down as she fell. I lay with her on the ground and made sure she was breathing. I made sure someone found her. I made sure the most competent EMTs carefully carried her out, and I made sure she went to Harlem Hospital—the only level 1 trauma center in Manhattan so that she could be stabilized enough to go to New York Presbyterian Hospital, which is one of the best Neuro hospitals in the country, and I made sure the best (top of his class!) surgeon would repair her broken neck and back.”
Suddenly I was filled with peace. At just two weeks in, I could see how the pieces of the puzzle were all beginning to fit together so perfectly, with each piece going in at the right time, making it possible for the next to fit. Slowly, His perfect planned was revealed.
For the first time in my life, I learned to really let go and trust God. I realized that all those things I worried about happening to Nicole in New York never happened…and the one thing I never even dreamed of worrying about did happen, but God was with her, every step of the way. And to this day, I still pray my little prayer, for both Nicole and my son, Joseph. But when I do, I know that even if something happens, God will always be there with them.
To read more of Nicole’s story, visit her website at www.youcantstopthisdancer.com.
Susan Marquez earned her degree in Radio-TV-Film from the University of Southern Mississippi and has worked as a copywriter/producer at two NBC affiliates, an advertising agency and for a major department store. For ten years, she served as the marketing director for a regional shopping mall, during which time she was very involved with the community, sitting on the boards of several non-profit and professional organizations. She’s received many honors and recognitions over the years. Since 2001, Susan has had a successful freelance writing career, writing for several local and regional publications, and handling public relations and marketing duties for select clients. Read more of her writing on her blog, www.susanmarquez.blogspot.com.
Although I already knew Nicole’s story, your writing it is improving and the emotional impact only grows stronger. Keep it up, Susan!
Thanks, Susan. I’m focused on finishing the book this year!
I appreciate this story. I got chills when I read about the card Susan made for Nicole to carry around. This story has me thinking about being a parent and my worry.
Bill, a wise man once said: “Don’t Worry! Be Happy!”
The card was for ME, one more thing to help keep me from worrying. I guess it did it’s job. Someone told me that worry is showing lack of confidence in God. Still hard not to do it, but I don’t “project” my worry much as I used to, Your girls are so young you are still using training wheels! You’ve got this!
I don’t actually have words to write at this point beyond thanks for sharing this story. Somehow, God is there in the dark times, and when we suddenly know that for certain, everything changes.
I have been friends with Susan for well over 40 years. Her strong strength and faith and kindness and love for others has carried her far. I am so happy for
Nicole, she has come so far in her recovery:-)
That’s the same prayer my Mom prayed for years until the day my brother Gus fell and died almost 30 years ago.
Then just two years ago, the unimaginable happened again. My younger brother Drew died suddenly at the age of 42 leaving behind a wife and two young children.
Her struggle with her faith has left a decisive hole in her grieving and healing process. Her faith walk is central to her identity as a nurturer.
She is the first person I’m going to share your article with and I can’t send it fast enough.
Liz, we have a similar story. I am so sorry for your losses. My mother, too, prayed for me and my brother every single day. When my brother was 17, he was killed in a motorcycle accident. This happened after my parents had served as missionaries for 11 years. (He actually died on the mission field.) They had given their lives for God, and then he took their son. The betrayal, anger, confusion, and grief were terrible. And yet, over the years, healing has gradually happened.
I have come to believe that it was NOT God’s will or plan for my brother to die. Sometimes bad things just happen, and maybe God doesn’t have control over everything. If we say he gave us free will, we can’t turn around and say he’s all-powerful. He has the potential to be all-powerful, but he limited his own power when he allowed us to make choices. I can no longer just take everything I don’t understand and chalk it up to “God’s will.”
Yet I do believe that God is with us and can work in the midst of terrible situations. We know from the gospels that God grieved when his friend Lazarus died. We know that Jesus felt pain, grief, and sadness. We know that he completely understands our humanity, including our deepest anger, our bitterness, and our questioning.
My mother wrote, “Faith is screaming at God for not intervening when my baby was killed. Faith is questioning whether all those Scriptures and promises that I had read, quoted and taught are true or a bunch of bunk. Faith is wrestling with a God of silence and mystery who seems to leave you to struggle alone with the questions and the pain. Faith is acknowledging that God is God, and I am not, and God really doesn’t owe me anything. Faith is believing that the Resurrection story is real, and my baby boy is in God’s presence, healed and knows nothing but joy.”
Our faith is nothing like it used to be, but it is still there. Some days it truly is as tiny as a mustard seed, but Jesus said that’s all it has to be. My prayers go out to you, your mother, and your family.