A Prayer Shawl

We have a group of ladies that sew quilts and knit prayer shawls for our patients at Froedtert Hospital.  Sometimes we offer the quilts and prayer shawls to patients.  Sometimes patients ask for them.

The other day a patient requested a prayer shawl and I delivered it to her.  She wasn’t in her room and I thought I could just leave it on her bedside table and she would find it when she returned to her room.  Instead of doing this something made me try to see if she was out walking in the halls.  The halls were empty but I saw a lady sitting in the lounge and when I called her name she said that she was the one who wanted the prayer shawl.

As I sat with her she began to talk about her distress.  She has been battling her cancer for over six years now.  She has found that the side effects of her treatments have often been worse than the cancer.  She is wondering more and more if she should give in to the cancer and let her sufferings end.  As she has voiced some of her discouragement to trusted friends in her church they have said she is not being Christ like when she expresses anger and discouragement.

This brought our conversation to the subject of Job and how his friends made him feel worse instead of better by also saying things that hurt him rather than helped him.  We pondered how God spoke to Job and basically told him the meaning of suffering is so complex the human mind cannot comprehend it but God didn’t criticize Job for trying.  Job was comforted in knowing that God saw him.  God was with him causing Job to say, “I have heard about you with my ears, but now I have seen you with my eyes.”

As our conversation drew to a close she asked me to pray with her.  I prayed that the prayer shawl would be a comfort to this lady.  I prayed for wisdom for her to decide what she wanted to do in terms of future treatments.  I prayed that she too would see God with her eyes as Job had seen God.

As I looked at her at the end of our prayer tears were streaming down her cheeks and we ended by hugging each other.  All she asked for was a prayer shawl.  What she really wanted was a visit and a chance to bare her soul.

It reminded me that we often ask for a crust of bread when we really need the whole loaf.  Keep that in mind the next time someone says, “Have you got a minute?  Can I share something with you?  When a child tugs on our pant leg and says, “Do you want to play with me?”

Lots of people are looking for prayer shawls but hoping they will get the person who brings the shawl.

So God bless all those ladies who knit those shawls and pray for the people they will never see receive them.  And God bless all of us who hear the heart asking for the shawl and realize that they are asking for so much more.


Silent Sky

Last week my wife and I went to a play that was entitled “Silent Sky”.  It was about a young woman in the early nineteen hundreds who was in love with astronomy.  She had managed to get a job with the astronomy department at Harvard but her hopes of being a part of the team that would learn new things about the stars were quickly dashed as they assigned her to a female pool of workers that did the grunt work while their male counterparts got to look through the telescope and get all the glory.  In spite of this the young woman was able to show by her work that she had discovered that our milky way galaxy was just one of billions of galaxies.  Her work opened up the age old questions of how big is this universe?  What is our place in it?  Who is behind all of this?  Do we mere human beings, such small specks in all this immensity, really count?

While this young woman was fighting to find her place and use her gifts in a world that didn’t want to recognize her, I was struck by the other story line of how important the love of her sister was to her to give her the strength to go on fighting her battles.  From beginning to end the love of her sister was the anchor that kept the lady astronomer going until her efforts were recognized and she knew she had fulfilled her purpose.

I share this synopsis of this play because as I was standing in the lobby I heard my name being called.  I turned around and there was a man that I had met in the cancer center.  We had talked together dozens of times over the past few years.  He is running out of options for treatment and is doing his best to remain active and enjoy what time remains to him.  Like the lady astronomer in the play he is a man who is intensely interested in learning and exploring and pushing the boundaries of knowledge.  He has turned away from the strict religious upbringing that he learned from his parents but the more he has learned about science and the mysteries of life the more he has come to wonder just how big is all of this?  What is my place in all of this?  Does someone up there really know me and love me?

As we greeted each other and he told me about how he was going to fly out to the west coast to see some old friends I thought about the bonds that had developed between us because of all of our conversations.  I have come to love this man and he has come to love me. It is my hope that he will come to see that the God who loves us both is present with us in our conversations with each other.

When I see him again in the cancer center I am looking forward to talking about the play with him to see if he also saw how love played a part in the lady astronomer’s quest for meaning and purpose.

May all of you also see God’s hand at work in your conversations with people under your care.  In casual conversations, going to a play or sporting event, in whatever context we might find ourselves there is always a chance to say something to someone we care about that will show them that in the midst of all the immensity of this universe and all the chaos and seeming randomness we are known and loved and have a place and a calling.

The Price of Peace

Picture a scene where the waves are gently lapping at the shore and the boats are sitting at the dock with their sails furled.  You look at this and you think how quiet and peaceful this place is.

Picture a scene where the trees have been stripped of their leaves and the ground is full of holes and craters from bombs and artillery shells.  But now the air is silent and the smoke has drifted away and the time of war has given way to peace and it is time to rebuild.

The second picture suggests that peace is not always easily attained.  It suggests that there may be much struggle and loss and sacrifice before peace is finally achieved.

I thought about that last week as I sat with a young lady.  Her cancer has come back and spread to other parts of her body.  She has two young boys who are three and six years old.  As she talked she could not stop crying.  She couldn’t stop twisting her rosary in her hands.  Her thoughts covered the spectrum as she questioned how could God take her away from her two boys who need their mother to how could God take her away from her father who needed his daughter to the sins she had committed and now believed that God was punishing her for them by giving her this cancer but how could a loving God do this?

As I listened to her I realized I was on a battle field.  She was fighting for her life and she was fighting for her soul.  She was fighting to understand all the complexities of good and evil and suffering and the meaning of life.  She was fighting to find God’s loving hand in the wreckage of her life.

Since that conversation I have thought about the words in Isaiah 53 where it says, “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”  For Jesus the price of peace was His ultimate sacrifice.  He gave everything he had.

Thinking about the price He paid and the price this young lady is paying you can see the parallel.  Before she can see the peace He has for her she has to come to peace with her mortality, her guilt, her anger, her shattered dreams, and her desire to come to peace with those she is estranged from.

So I crawled into her fox hole as the shells rained down.  As we prayed for a miracle to make the chemo kill her cancer I also encouraged her to look at what she might give some thought to.  What does she want her boys to know if she isn’t going to be there to raise them?  What does she want to tell her mother that she hasn’t spoken to in years?  Who does she want to stand with her in her battles and what does she want them to tell her to help her?

The price of peace is not cheap.  Ultimately all of us must give up everything if we would receive it.  Think about someone you know who might be lying in their foxhole feeling lonely and afraid and abandoned.  Think about how you might be the medic who needs to crawl to their foxhole to help them find the peace that has been won for them.