I live over 250 miles away from the path of Hurricane Harvey, but the stories have hit close to home. In the hours leading up to Harvey’s arrival as a Category 4 just north of Corpus Christi (my hometown), I did a lot of anxious calling and texting with members of my immediate family who had decided to ride out the storm. Thankfully they all avoided serious damage and harm, but not so their neighbors just to the north as Harvey plowed through Rockport and Houston and beyond. So many of us have been wrecked by the photographs – water beyond the waists of elderly patients in wheelchairs. Families on rooftop, praying for rescue. So many agonizing decisions – do we stay or do we go? And then I read the story of little Jordyn Grace and her pink backpack, spotted in the flood by rescuers in Beaumont, as the 3 year old clutched her mother’s unresponsive body. “Mama was saying her prayers,” Jordyn later relayed to a relative.

In Exodus 2, parents are confronted with an agonizing choice. The mom had just given birth to a beautiful baby boy, one whom the venerable King James calls “a goodly child.” The timing could not have been worse, since Pharaoh was executing a pogrom against Hebrew male babies. His mother hid him as long as she could, but after three months hiding him had become problematic. What could she do? Obeying Pharaoh’s law was unthinkable; successfully hiding the child was improbable. This anguished predicament led the child’s mother to an inspired solution.

Exodus 2:3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile (NIV).

If you’ve read the book of Exodus, you know what happened next. The daughter of Pharaoh spotted the child in his miniature Noah’s Ark and was instantly smitten. She “drew him out of the water” (the meaning of his name, Moses) and secured babysitting through a helpful Hebrew girl (who just happened to be Moses’ big sister Miriam). One treasured plot line had to die that day — life would not go on as usual in Moses’ family. Yet readers of Exodus know a much larger plot line was just being birthed. And it all started with that little ark, literally coated with tar and pitch, and no doubt invisibly woven with desperate prayer.

Sometimes prayer is a papyrus basket. When evil rushes at us with full fury, when what is achingly precious becomes threatened, and when all our efforts to manage the problem on our own become futile, we do the only thing left to us to do. Then (and often only then) do we craft and cast our prayer before God, carefully constructed and launched upon the uncertain waters of this world. Prayer is Miriam watching from the banks, helpless and hopeful. At its finest, prayer even re-conceives loss into gift, the sacrifice of one treasured plot line for a story only God can write. Prayer waits for grace to draw us out from the waters, grateful always that “Mama was saying her prayers.”