Stay-at-home mode has prompted me to expand my efforts when it comes to prayer. I’m certain that our patient Creator can testify to the frequent ongoing monologues I’ve whispered heavenward. On occasion, in an effort to give God a much-deserved break, I’ve turned my attention to my other allies in the hereafter. My effort began at our family photo wall. This display features dozens of images of loved ones who have graced my dear husband’s and my lives throughout our childhoods and well into adulthood. Most of those pictured dwell in the hereafter these days. Since the pandemic began, I’ve frequently stopped at that wall and lingered to pray. Each time, photographs of Mike’s and my parents, our grandparents, aunts and uncles and two of my siblings turned my thoughts to the difficult circumstances each of them endured.
Uncle Gee was born with polio in the 1920s when there was no vaccine or cure for the disease. Though he sported a terribly hunched back, he lived a productive life. Our grandparents and their children survived the Great Depression. When my grandfather became disabled in the midst of his career driving a truck, my mom and her siblings took on the financial responsibilities of their household. While they all completed high school, they simultaneously took jobs to keep their family above water. My mom was heartbroken at the time because she couldn’t fulfill her dream of going to college. Mike’s dad and my eventual stepdad served during World War II. Several of our uncles served as well while our aunts kept their families together until they came home. My own dad’s damaged heart kept him out of the army. It also kept him from living to forty. Two uncles served in the Korean War. None of them spoke of the wartime horror they experienced. We all survived the polio scare of the early 1950s. Unexpected incidents of illness and lost jobs added to the trauma. Photos of my brother who succumbed to diabetes and my sister who lost her battle with cancer are nestled among these family heroes. I stop at this photo wall frequently these days because, like our loving God, these loved ones understand what you and I are going through today.
I always begin my prayer by acknowledging what heroes each one of these precious loved ones is to me. Though I don’t think I would have called them heroes before the pandemic, this seems most fitting to me these days. I honestly don’t know what I would have done if I had been immersed in their circumstances. Yet, here I am in the midst of a worldwide assault by COVID-19. Unlike these seemingly capable family members, I really don’t know what to do except to be here for those I’ve been given to love and to keep them and myself healthy and safe. Much to my good fortune, it is after I acknowledge my own ineptitude that this wall-full of sweet souls nudges my thoughts to the one who inspired them and who is standing by ready to inspire me as well…
This is when images of Jesus hard at work fill me up. He cured the lepers, the centurion’s daughter and the man born blind. Jesus raised up Lazarus and then wept bitter tears over the loss of John the Baptist. Jesus’ uncommon generosity and his unconditional love for God’s people drove everything that Jesus did. Even when Peter and the others failed to understand Jesus’ words and example, Jesus never gave up on them. Jesus offered them chance after chance after chance to do their best as only they could. Every time I pause to pray at that wall, my dear loved ones remind me that Jesus walked this earth as one of us and that Jesus understands everything we are going through. The best of part of this is that, no matter how often I fail others or myself, Jesus never fails me.
Today’s gospel (Matthew 14:13-21) gets to the heart of what I’ve learned from those who’ve made their way through this life before you and me. The passage begins just as Jesus received the news that John the Baptist had been murdered. Jesus attempted to withdraw from his friends to mourn because he loved his cousin John. Though he perched himself in a small boat far away from his followers, word of Jesus’ whereabouts spread quickly. Before he could shed a tear, that throng surrounded Jesus. Matthew wrote, “When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them and he cured their sick.” As heartbroken as he was, Jesus knew that there was nothing more for him to do for John the Baptist just then. The people before him, however, were another story. So it was that Jesus abandoned his own suffering to embrace the needs of those gathered on the shore that day.
Today, as I wrestle with this pandemic’s havoc, I’ll stop by that photo wall again. There I’ll be reminded of Jesus’ unending patience, his compassionate heart and his absolute love for us all. More importantly, I’ll once again hear Jesus’ ongoing insistence that you and I are indeed God’s first love. Once again, I’ll take a deep breath and move on to whatever the day will bring in God’s good company. I think I’ll survive this after all and so will you…
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