Encased in a silicone cover, the small mezuzah on the doorway to our apartment winks at me, and I smile in wonder and gratitude. G‑d, we are in the process of coming closer, and You are holding us in Your embrace as we struggle to persevere. Our journey, long, convoluted, and not yet complete, shines with fresh promise and hope where before there was only darkness. Yes, little mezuzah, if you could speak, what a story you would tell . . .

As a single mother, my life has not been easy. But raising my daughter Jessica was like walking through a sun-drenched park; she was blessed with many gifts. Brilliant, beautiful, athletic, a talented dancer, Jess was destined to achieve great things in life. She had two goals: joining the U.S. Marine Corps and As a single mother, life has not been easyhospitality management. Filled with a sense of patriotism and a desire to paint the world in bright, vibrant colors, Jessica set out to make her mark. She attended Texas A&M University, began formal Marine Corps training, and joined the Hillel. Her second year at Texas A&M, Chabad arrived. Appreciating their more traditional approach, Jessica joined them and began practicing Judaism in a way she never had while growing up. Although we hadn’t lived an observant lifestyle, I had succeeded in transmitting a pride in our Jewish identity.

Although Jessica was clear about the direction she was headed, behind the scenes G‑d was preparing a detour with a totally different destination in mind. Along the way, He sowed another seed of kindness by forging a close bond between Jessica and the Chabad rebbetzin, a bond that would give her tremendous strength in her time of need.

On the heels of Hurricane Rita (only one month after Hurricane Katrina), a different storm blew into our lives when Jessica suddenly needed emergency gallbladder surgery. Her recuperation proceeded smoothly, and the tempest calmed, until spring breezed in and Jessica caught a bug, never clearly diagnosed. She felt “flu-like.” Our tragedy is that she never recovered. Debilitating fatigue evolved into devastating pain attacks. Eventually the pain ebbed and flowed and sometimes attacked viciously, but never went away. My blossoming daughter, nourishing rich dreams and goals at the cusp of adulthood, transitioned from independence to dependence, from highly intelligent to confused and sometimes mentally paralyzed, from joyful anticipation of her interactions with people and the world to fearful isolation, afraid of fainting or having a severe pain attack in public. Within two years of the onset of her illness, she had lost two inches of height, shrinking from 5′3″ to 5′1″.

After enduring the gamut of medical tests, Jessica was finally diagnosed with CFIDS/ME (Chronic Fatigue Immune Deficiency Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), disabling fibromyalgia, and POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), yet the only test that showed a significant abnormal result was the tilt table test, revealing major anomalies in her blood pressure.

As anyone who suffers from these types of illnesses that are not neatly documented (known as ICIs, Invisible Chronic Illnesses) knows, the medical world can be condescending and sometimes cruel. “It’s all in your head” and “You don’t look sick” were oft-repeated refrains, exacerbating the actual suffering from the disease. Jessica’s blood work came back normal, so the doctors shrugged and insisted that she see a psychologist or psychiatrist, even suggesting that she might be bipolar.

I railed at the injustice. My independent, competent, energetic daughter was fading, and I was helpless to fix the situation for her. Over a period of eight years our lives became more difficult, isolated and depressing, her pain relentlessly worsening. To top off an abysmal situation, I went bankrupt while caring for her, and I myself became sick due to the stress in our life. Each morning when I awoke, my first thought was, “How many days before my daughter and I are homeless on the streets?”

Jessica She kept trying to return to schoolkept trying to return to school, and wound up dropping out four times. She would take a semester off and then rally, attempting to return to her full schedule.

“I don’t want to live this way,” she cried to me. “I don’t want to be a burden.”

This was one of my lowest moments. I couldn’t stand watching my child suffer like this. But the next day, she rebounded.

“I don’t want to die, but it seems like my life has no purpose,” she lamented. I held her close, our tears mingling together in a warm stream.

A year later, she helped save the life of a young female athlete. While she was working with kids who were training to be long-distance runners, she immediately recognized signs of dehydration in one of them. “She’ll be fine,” the other trainers said. “She just needs to sit for a few minutes.”

“No,” Jessica insisted, taking in Amanda’s pasty complexion and irregular breathing. “She needs to be hospitalized immediately.”

The doctors told Jess that Amanda was dangerously dehydrated, and that her quick response had saved Amanda’s life. Jess confided to me later, “Perhaps it’s so that Amanda will be able to do what I cannot, that I became ill.” That young woman will graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy next year.

There was always a vibrant Jewish spark in Jessica. As a teenager, she sometimes attended synagogue together with some friends and said that “being a Jew defines her.” Since she was forced to relocate back to New York, and knowing how she missed the spiritual support she had gotten from Chabad in Texas, I helped Jessica get to Shofar in the Park, an event where hundreds or even thousands show up in a park on the first day of Rosh Hashanah to hear the shofar’s call. Jews of every stripe converge for this annual experience, and we found it very uplifting.

“Would you join us for a holiday meal?” asked a smiling rabbi who had been answering some questions we had. This was one of the rabbis of Chabad of the Upper West Side, and we began joining his family and other guests several Friday nights a month. What a blessing! Here was the sense of family and community we had been missing. And within weeks, I had a mezuzah for the first time with which to adorn the door of my home. Rabbi Alevsky assured me that good things were in store for us.

And then, little by little, things started to improve.

Jessica started receiving her disability check, for which we had fought in court. This gave us some financial breathing room, and I was able to enroll in a coaching program, which reminded me of my strengths and helped me professionally and psychologically. I felt G‑d smiling at me and encouraging me in this endeavor. Casting my eyes heavenward, I saw the thick clouds part, allowing shafts of light to penetrate our lives.

As fall became winter, work began to pick up. And, miracle of miracles, 40 years after graduating college, I became a New York-certified teacher, including a certification for teaching children with disabilities. In the words of my master coach, “It is entirely fashionable to reinvent yourself close to retirement age.” Fashionable? How beautiful! Convinced throughout my life that I was a financial failure, I learned to reframe my situation in a way that boosted and encouraged my spirit.

With the warming return of the spring, an old client offered to send me to California to do computer training in their office. At the same time, a friend told me about a small clinic that provides treatment for systemic metabolic disorders. So Jessica and I flew off to California together. She had an almost miraculous response to the treatment, so she stayed in California to continue the regimen, and an ember of hope ignited. Several miracles blazed into our lives. A friend gave us the money for Jessica’s initial round of treatments in California. She had an almost miraculous response to the treatmentAnother old friend offered us the use of her apartment and gave me cash to help cover some of the cost of trip. And on my return to New York, I obtained enough work so that I now had enough money to pay for her treatments not covered by insurance.

Lifting a hand to touch my mezuzah every time I enter or leave my apartment, I am reminded that the dots are connected by a great, heavenly hand that is always there if we only open our hearts to sense its presence. I have grown through walking this journey, learning that there is meaning and purpose in everything, even if it’s veiled and we can’t comprehend the significance. My cries of despair have made way for rekindled hope. Jessica may yet recover, and yearns to give of the knowledge and experience that she has gleaned throughout her illness. She is nurturing dreams again, hoping to help veterans with PTSD and at-risk children. Often, once we unlock our hearts to entreat G‑d and the doorway has opened, the vehicle for blessing is actualized. Little mezuzah, you have witnessed the story that happened within these walls. A story of faith, courage and reliance on the One above.