As pastor’s kids (there were three of us—the “pretty” one, the “good” one, and “the one who put up Kiss posters”—I’ll leave you to guess which one I was), we enjoyed a certain amount of both notoriety and adulation, depending on who the observer was. As a little one, I remember weaving in and out of adult legs and conversations with a sensation of ownership, as though the church lobby was my fair demesne and these were all stewards of some sort. There were times I hugged the wrong legs, thinking they belonged to my dad… but did not. At that young age, I could do no wrong. (Well, that’s not strictly true. My dad did have to stop his sermon once to rebuke two of us for crawling around under the pews, gathering hymnals, stacking them high, and sitting perched atop until they toppled. My mother must have been on nursery duty that day.)
As I grew older, I realized that I was some sort of a test, and the “grade” I got was really a reflection on my parents. Like the first time I wore pants to church, and my dad got a call that afternoon. And yet, even then the spotlight brought both good and bad.
Today, I’m thankful for the good. The good that came to me in the attention of ladies “of a certain age” who tended to dote. I rather liked being doted upon. But the best doting, I didn’t recognize at the time. Years went by before I could “see” what great good I received.
This year my Thanksgiving ode is a tribute to the goodness I received (and still receive) via Genevieve and Lu. Genevieve: severe and gentle, tiny and unbending. Lu: grand and gaudy, with blue hair and a dead fox slung over her shoulders. Sunday after Sunday, I encountered these women in the church foyer, and every single time I saw them, they each said to me, “Kathy, I pray for you every day.”
“Mm-hmm,” I replied every single time. “That’s nice. Thank you.”
Multiply those exchanges by, hmm, let’s see, 572 Sundays. Give or take a few. That’s just the times they reminded me; between every reminder were six days of prayer. Multiply that.
Monday through Saturday, Lu sat in her mountain home, bringing her long, long prayer list before the Lord every day. I saw the list once, and my name on it.
Monday through Saturday, Genevieve sat in her old Denver home set back on the alley, quietly remembering me and others in prayer.
Mm-hmm, that’s nice.
I went to college, and came home. I married, and left that church. I visited occasionally, and still I heard the mantra. And still was blind, deaf, and dumb. Mm-hmm, that’s nice.
Until one day, not so very many years ago, I lost first Genevieve and then Lu. And the weight of that loss doubled down when I realized the gift they had been giving me for so many years, a spring of living water. I looked around me at home and health, husband and babies, work and school, family and church, and I recognized that, in some heavenly exchange, the blessings I had were due in part to their prayers. Even my greatest losses and suffering were enveloped in their soft prayers, their calm, persistent advocacy.
And I panicked.
THEY PRAYED FOR ME EVERY DAY! Good golly! Now what was I going to do???
Without them praying for me every day, I suddenly felt vulnerable, prey to dangers unknown and unimagined, exposed to the elements.
For me, that was a turning point of some kind in my life of prayer. I began to see it for what it was: yes, long, slow, habitual, dry at times, and not terribly dramatic; but yes, also fruitful, faithful, fertile, powerful. Constant, unmoving, heavenward focused, centered. An oak tree, slow-growing, thick-trunked, shady. A long obedience in an upward direction.
It took me many months to find two more women who would step into those shoes and pray for me every day for the rest of their lives, virtual anchorites to my inner sanctuary. (Seriously, how many people can you ask for such a favor?) Whether or not they see me or hear from me, they have committed themselves to pray. I lean back into their prayers—unheard, often unremembered, but there, murmured in the foyer of my soul.
When I was little, I remember learning the child’s hand prayer: entwine the fingers of both hands so that your knuckles face out. “Here’s the church.” Point your two index fingers up into a tip. “And here’s the steeple.” Your side-by-side thumbs make the church doors. “Open the doors…” Twist apart your thumbs. “… And see all the people!” Bend your wrists open and wiggle all your fingers.
Genevieve and Lu, perhaps if you have a chance during your blissful adoration at the Throne, you are remembering me still. You have become my steeple. Sherill and Millie, you are my foyer. Thank you. Multiply that times a million.
Photo: macmoov, Flickr C.C.