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A Prayer for a Child I Didn’t Know

Who was Baby Layne? He didn’t know. But finding faith by praying for this sick child brought him closer to God than he ever thought possible.

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Five-thirty in the morning. Still dark out. I took a deep breath, the crisp November air chilling my lungs, and climbed into my Ford pickup.

I didn’t usually drive to work so early, but I had signed on for the morning shift at Lowe’s, where I’m a manager. A couple of miles in I took a shortcut I hadn’t used in a while, through a growing subdivision. I was surprised to see how many people had already put their Christmas lights up.

There was a brilliant glow up ahead, almost beckoning me through the darkness. Must be one of those new high-tech decorations, I thought. Then I got closer. This was no decoration. It was a sign. A roughly cut piece of plywood, maybe four by three feet, painted white, with a message bathed in floodlights: “Please Pray for Baby Layne.”

Questions bounced around in my mind: Who was this child? What was wrong? Why would someone go to such great lengths to put up a lighted sign for prayer?

Maybe it troubled me because I had been wrestling with prayer for years. I envied people like my wife, Susan. She prayed with such conviction. “Praying brings me closer to God,” she’d tell me when I’d ask her about it. “You should try talking to him more—he’s a great listener.

But whenever I tried to pray, my words felt mechanical, so rote. God seemed so remote, so far away. How could I be sure he would answer? Or that he would even hear me?

I was about to drive away, but those words: “Please Pray for Baby Layne” were staring at me. Challenging me, almost. All at once something came over me. “Lord, I know I haven’t exactly trusted that you hear my prayers,” I said. “But this isn’t about me. Please heal baby Layne.”

The next morning I got into my truck, grabbed a coffee at the drive-through and cut through the subdivision. There it was: that same sign shining through the dark. I put aside my doubts and said another prayer. Lord, please bless the baby’s family today.

The day after that? You got it. I said another. Before long I had a new morning ritual: Drive. Get coffee. Pray for baby Layne.

A few weeks into it, I told Susan about the sign—and my praying.

“Isn’t it nice to start your day off by thinking about someone else?” she said.

“I’m just doing what the sign says,” I replied. “I wonder how baby Layne’s doing now.”

“Why don’t you knock on their door and ask?” Susan said.

I didn’t want to bother a family that was probably overwhelmed with caring for their sick child. So, instead, I just kept praying

And something strange happened. One night, lying in bed, I closed my eyes. Lord, you’ve given me so much. Thank you. Then I caught myself. Did I just spontaneously pray? And it felt as natural as breathing! A sense of trust washed over me.

For the first time I felt like God was near, that he was listening to me. As if praying for baby Layne had opened up the lines of communication.

One spring afternoon I finally mustered up the courage to stop by the house in the subdivision. There was a man—about my age, fiftyish—in a white baseball cap, mowing the lawn. Now’s my chance, I thought. I pulled into the driveway.

I got out of my truck. The man saw me and reached down to shut off the lawn mower.

“I’m John,” I said, trying to find the right words. “I just wanted to tell you, I…I saw your sign a few months back and I’ve been praying for baby Layne ever since.”

He didn’t say a word, just stood there. Uh-oh, I guess I shouldn’t have come, I thought.

Then the man’s eyes pooled with tears. “I’m Kenny,” he said. “Baby Layne is my grandson, and hearing that really means a lot, sir. Thank you.” Then he reached out and gave me a bear hug. It felt a little awkward, but I didn’t mind.

Kenny and I stood on the lawn and talked for a while. Baby Layne, he told me, had been born nearly four months premature—weighing just over a pound—and had undergone open-heart surgery.

“The doctors didn’t think he would make it,” Kenny said. “But I wanted to do something to help so I made the sign.”

“I’m glad you did,” I said. “Because there’s another reason I came by today to talk to you.”

“And what’s that?” he asked.

“Well, praying for your grandson has really changed my life,” I said. “I’m a lot closer to God now. I wasn’t so close before.”

“He does work in unusual ways, you know,” Kenny said. “Just think, it took a real sign from God to get your attention!” He opened the front door.

“C’mon in and meet Layne. He’s doing great now.”

Layne was on the couch with his grandmother, cradled in her arms. She handed him to me. I gazed at his small cherubic face, and his eyes lit up, as bright as the sign that brought him so unexpectedly into my life.

Now Layne is a healthy bouncy three-year-old. The other day my wife and I stopped by for a visit—we’re like another set of grandparents to Layne by now—and I couldn’t help but think about all those doubts I had once wrestled with.

Does God really hear my prayers? One look into Layne’s periwinkle eyes tells me the answer.

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