Pray It Forward


Four years ago, I nearly died.

I was with my husband and kids on my annual trip to the United States to visit my parents, siblings, and extended family. I only get to see my family once a year, so I always look forward to this two-week visit.

But in 2014, things became terribly different from my usual trips.

Four days after landing, and while standing at the kiddush for my daughter’s bat mitzvah, I suddenly, out of nowhere, felt like someone punched me right in the stomach.

It was the freakiest experience in the world.

Like, it happened totally out of nowhere.

And then, within seconds, I felt freezing.

I remember asking my brother if he wouldn’t mind lending me his suit jacket.

And then, I felt like I was going to throw up.

Hundreds of friends and family came from far and wide to celebrate with us, and I felt like a strange stomach virus was coming on.

I took myself home immediately, thinking I needed to be close to a bathroom.

My parents followed, and strongly encouraged me to go to a hospital.

As the non-medicine/hospital person that I am, I told them this would pass.

It was only a stomach virus.

A 24-hour thing.

Plus, what hospital in America would take me? I was on traveler’s insurance and had no idea what that would even cover.

The next day, I was begging my husband to get on the phone with the insurance company in Israel and tell them —I. NEED. A. HOSPITAL.

Two days after being admitted to the hospital, and having endless CTs, MRIs, ultrasounds, blood tests, and failed attempts at laparoscopy, the physicians, surgeons, and specialists were stunned and stumped as to what was going on.

And then, I went into septic shock.

All my systems stopped working.

I was dying.

Decisions were made for me without my consent.

The next thing I would remember, 36 hours and two major abdominal surgeries to extract all the pus that was covering every organ in my abdominal area later, they gave it a name.

Spontaneous peritonitis.

I was told 1-in-3 people usually die from it.

I had survived, but was clearly not anywhere close to seeing the light.

I would be unable to get out of bed, unable to stand, unable to pass gas, and unable to eat.

I would be on a feeding tube for two weeks while in the hospital.

I would be unable to communicate verbally to any of the doctors.

I was in the most excruciating pain I had ever experienced in my life—nothing even remotely comparable to any of the four natural childbirths I had gone through.

Visitors came. But because of the pain, I kindly asked to limit them to nearly none.

And so, I was alone.

And I felt alone.

And scared.

And confused.

I was filled with many, many questions.

Why me?
Why this?
How am I going to take care of my kids when I can’t even get out of bed?
How am I going to take an 11-hour flight back to Israel?
What about school for the kids? It starts next week!
And my son starts first grade!

This can’t be happening!

I cried a lot during that time.
A lot.
Cries of self-pity and victimization.

And I’ll never forget when a rabbi friend of mine came to visit, just for a few minutes.

I assumed he would just ask how I was doing.

Or ask what I need.

Or tell me that G-d is watching over me.

Or something like that.

But, he didn’t.

He told me he was praying for me.

Shira Bracha b-t Malka.

He was using MY name in HIS prayers.

And not only that, he said the entire community was praying for me.

The. Entire. Community.

Shira Bracha b-t Malka.

I was speechless.

Could it possibly be that people are taking time out of their very busy days and lives to pray for me?

People who don’t even know me?
People that have never heard of me?
They’re praying for ME?

It was something unfathomable.

You see, I did not grow up religiously observant.

Praying (let alone, praying for others) was not something familiar to me.

Why would people who don’t even know me pray for me?

The enormous sense of gratitude and love that was instilled in me in that very moment brought me to tears.

One minute prior, I was feeling alone.
One minute later, I was feeling enveloped in a world of hope.
And faith.
That I would get through this.

Even if it would mean my husband would have to take our 4 kids back to Israel alone.
Even if it would mean using a walker for the next month and then a cane for the next four.
Even if it would mean telling my boss I’d need to take a sick leave.
Even if it would mean not being able to carry anything heavier than a glass of water for the next six months.
Even if it would mean not being able to stand upright or use any of my stomach muscles for the next several months.
Even if it would mean staying in the United States and not seeing my kids for the next two months.

I would get through this.

We would get through this.

Because hope and faith were instilled in me by people praying for my healing.

Around the time that I was sick in the hospital, I stumbled upon Ahava Emunah’s blog, written by a woman, who for the past six years has chronicled her experiences as she “runs with” stage 4 cancer.

I immediately subscribed to her blog, because I knew this was a superb human being.

Over the past few years, she has courageously confronted her illness with optimism, resiliency, and super-human grace.

She has inspired me, and so many others around the world to bring love, gratitude, and faith to our lives.

I cannot come close to describing in words how Ahava Emunah has touched my life and the lives of so many others.

And so, I dedicated this past Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan to a 15-minute event, where a critical mass of sincere hearts (virtually) came together from all over the world to raise their voices in support and prayers of healing for Ahava Emunah Lange. It was an unbelievably moving experience for everyone involved.

I will never forget how the power of prayer helped me in my journey towards healing. And so I wanted to pay that forward and do the same for Ahava Emunah b-t Chava Ehta.

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Shira Gura is a well-being coach and the author of the award-winning book Getting Unstuck: Five Simple Steps to Emotional Well-Being. Through her “Getting Unstuck” podcast, speaking engagements, retreats and courses, she guides people around the world in how to feel better and improve their relationships.