It’s my last full day working at the parish. I’m in the clinic again praying with patients. Oddly, it’s a slow morning and no one has arrived yet. Very unusual.
The few that finally do start to show up are waiting in the hallway to see the nurse. So I’m now I’m boldly praying with anyone sitting out in the hall who wants prayer. There’s a story there too, for another post. After a full morning in the clinic I’m heading out for lunch.
Unexpectedly, one of the nurses says Lisa, go to a house? A woman is dying?” I respond with, “Right now?” “Si, si”. She says. In my previous writing I talked about being inconvenienced when the Holy Spirit blows your way. This is sort of an inconvenience for me at the moment. I’m tired, need to relax, and I really need the bathroom. I tell her ok, but first need to run up stairs.
I come back down and she says, “moto taxi ok?” Yes, I tell her. So we walk out of the parish and hop into a moto taxi. We go just a little way from the parish. I’m familiar with the area, but do not know the name of the village. In my limited conversion skills on the way to the house. I understand this woman has lung cancer. I tell her that my father to passed away of lung cancer on my birthday almost two years ago now. She smiles and looks at me with this “I’m sorry look”, but I tell her it’s ok.
When we arrive, the nurse knocks on the door and the family lets us in. Once again, I’m the complete stranger invited in. The home is quite large and very nice, yet it has a somber feeling that weighs heavy in the atmosphere. There are several adults sitting around a very large table. It reminds me back home how families sit vigil waiting for a loved one to pass. A family like mine, waiting for Dad to go.
As we wait I look around taking in the space I’m sitting in. Although death lingers in the air, there is still a lot of life in the house. Several kids are running around, in and out of rooms and making noise and no one is telling them to stop. We are told to sit down and wait. I’m not sure why we are waiting, but I don’t inquire either. I wait patiently and pray as I have no idea what to expect when I see this woman.
Finally, we are guided down a hall into a bedroom. The room is large and the woman is lying in bed. She looks to be younger than me, late thirties early forties. I’m not exactly sure. She appears to be well taken care of and lying peacefully, yet she’s in some emotional distress. I notice the IV drip next to her bed and the tape on her arm. I’m not sure if the drip is a chemo drug, for pain, or something else. It really doesn’t matter to me. I also notice she has no pillow. Her head is resting upon a make shift pillow. Clothes or something stuffed into a pillow case to provide comfort and care for this dying one. I’ve come to learn pillows are rare here and a luxury in Piura.
The room is lit by what appears to be a skylight in the roof. The way the light shines in brings peace and beauty to a difficult situation. It’s the first time I’ve seen a little widow in a roof like this and I’ve now been in hundreds of homes. Yet, it’s beautiful to me and perfect for this situation. It’s as if heaven is shining in on her as she lies in bed. The nurse, approaches her and tells the woman we are from Santismo Sacramento Parish and she brought me to pray with her.
My immediate thought is “I don’t even know this woman and I’m being invited into very sacred space”. I’m so taken. Why me I ask God? I get no answer.
I look into her eyes and put my hand on her forehead. I watch tears roll down her one check. She begins to close her eyes. I’m not sure why, but I get on my knees and kneel next to her bed as I pray. I pray for a long time, slowly and quietly. After a while, she appears to be resting peacefully. So I take a seat in a plastic chair in the room provided for me.
Other than this patient; it’s me, the nurse, and another family member. It’s quite, peaceful, and I’m finding the moment to be very beautiful in a strange kind of way. A way I cannot explain, yet my heart knows.
I watch and I wait. I remember my dad. His death and dying. I’m grateful that he died peacefully and that I believe God used me to assist him in that process. I’m praying for and hoping the same for this woman. Then as I continue to watch I see her chest moving up and down as she breaths. It is as if it’s Jesus I see before me. The image in my head takes my breath way. Somehow the bed has become the stone where Jesus laid after he died. Now, I’ve never been to the holy land and only seen pictures, but this is the image that comes to mind. It’s the one I see and it moves me and it touches my heart profoundly. I watch and deeply breath in this moment and His presence.
Then BAM! There’s a very loud noise in the bedroom next door. The kids are banging on the plywood wall. She wakes and appears startled. I quickly get up and go to her side and instantly I see fear in her eyes. Sheer fear. “What do you want me to do Lord”, I ask?
If there was one time I wish I was fluent in Spanish during my time in Piura it’s this moment. And only this moment, because I learned so much watching and listening instead of talking. I begin to doubt and kick myself. In my mind I say “why haven’t you tried harder to learn you have no words.” I’m now wishing somehow Spanish words would miraculously roll out my mouth and off my lips.
So I don’t know what to do other than what another did for me here in a Piura ten years ago. I too was in the terror of my own night. For we are not saved by theology, catechesis, or over sanitizing the gospel. We are saved by love in the crucified one.
I know this now, so I lovingly look into her eyes, touch her cheek gently with my hand and say in English “do not be afraid, do not be afraid, do not be afraid.” Each time trying to say it more gently and slower than the last. Somehow, I think by the grace of God she knows what I was trying to say. She slowly begins to close her eyes and rest. Thank you Jesus, I say quietly over and over again. Giving him all praise and glory for this moment.
I then place my right hand on her forehead and begin to pray. I ask the Lord to bring healing and peace. Then for the first time I do not know why other than the Holy Spirit prompting my heart, but I recite the Our Prayer with compassion and mercy that is beyond me. I say the words quietly out loud, but it’s from the depths of my heart I’m asking the Lord to be ever so merciful on this dying woman. Again, my heart is so moved and growing inside me.
She’s now at complete peace and resting. The room is also full of a pervading feeling of peace. I can feel it, I see it, and I hear it. The sunlight is still shining through and I see an enormous amount of beauty in this room which is so much more than a “shack” as many call it.
When I’m done, I go back and sit in the same chair. I watch and I wait in prayer. I begin to wonder many things now. What brought her the most peace; my presence, the look in my eyes, my smile, my words, my gentle touch or my prayer? The Our Father prayer? I do not know and I’m at peace with not knowing.
After awhile I look over at the nurse and say, “We can go. She’s ok.” This too I somehow know.
So before I leave, I kiss the woman gently on her forehead.” It reminds me of my own Father, as when I was a little girl he would kiss my forehead when he tucked me in at night.” Once again, I’m reminded that my dad too is with me in this place, because of the Jesus that dwells within me.
We leave the room and on the way out the woman’s oldest daughter is sitting in a chair. She’s in her late teens or early twenties. It’s so hard to tell here sometimes. She too appears in a state of shock and fear of the fate of her mother. I pray with her and she begins to cry, but she’s tough I see. So she fights back so many tears and her fear. She stands to say thank you and give me a big hug. I hold her tighter than most, for in this moment I know she needs so much of God’s love.
We leave the house and get back into a moto taxi. I see the nurse is heavy in thought and I ask if she’s ok. She says yes and that the dying woman was probably afraid to leave her little ones behind. As a mother, I’m not surprised these are her first thoughts. She could’ve have been right I don’t know, but that certainly makes a lot of sense I thought.
On the way back to the parish I really wonder how it is I kept it all together. How did I not tear up or quiver at the site of this woman dying of cancer in poverty. Although, I thought of my dad while in the room that didn’t impact my ability to minister. I do not know. It surprises even me. Once again I’ll call it grace, that always seems to fit the bill.
Several days later, I’m reading a few pages out of a book by Richard Rohr called Breathing Underwater that a wise person sent me. I know many of you probably don’t like him. I’m o.k. with that to, but the mystic who lives in me loves him. It’s these three little pages that connect ten years of dots in my life.
Anyway, I read this “You see, only survivors know the full terror of the passage, the arms that held them through it all, and the power of the obstacles that were overcome. All they can do is thank God they made it through! For the rest of us it is mere speculation, salvation theories, and “theology.” (pp 123)
Oh, so very true!
And so this survivor remembers all too well the terror of her own night. The fear, the despair, and the loneliness of the night. The hand that reached out by the grace of God who said “do not be afraid.” It was God who saved, by the grace of that man’s hand I know that made the difference.
It’s a decade later and I never want to go back, but maybe now that’s where God is calling me to. To walk with those who are in the terror of their own night. To shine His light into the eyes in which I see fear and despair because I see it in so many places. For I know the resurrected Christ, but the crucified one is how I got here. He too still lives in me.
All over Peru you see the crucified Christ presented on crucifixes, on walls of homes, and in parades too. Literally the crucified Christ is everywhere. It’s Him they identify with the most. How about you?
Who do you identify with; a resurrected Christ or a crucified Christ? Think about your own life in the events of the life of Christ; passion, death, resurrection, and ascension.
P.S. To the men from Kansas. You saved my stiff neck with the pillows you left me. One pillow went to a friend who had a disabled brother, the other pillow went to this woman later that night. I thought you should know. I too think she’s praising God for you!