Jean is a woman who lives alone behind my church. She has days, maybe hours, to live. Cancer has invaded nearly every part of her frail body, taken her sight, and removed enough of her mental health to make her extremely agitated. She has been moved to a hospice center about half an hour outside of Belfast.
Yesterday, we went to visit her. Jack, Freddie and I (Freddie's wife died ten years ago, and the friendship he's had with Jean throughout the decade has, I'm sure, gotten him through a lot of dark days. They mean a lot to each other).
I have known Jean for less than six months, yet I have never heard her utter a single word of complaint. She used to let me take Carson to her house and look through all her photo albums while she narrated the stories of her family's lives. She never mentioned the pain that was exhausting her, never talked about the weight that was dropping off of her, never seemed to ask why. I thought Jean was old, but discovered that she is not much older than my own parents-- the cancer has taken such a toll that her aging was kickstarted. But still, no complaints.
Jean is lying alone in her hospice room, unable to see and confused, at times panicked. We spent an afternoon by her bed, rubbing her hands with lotion and speaking quietly into her ear, anything to bring a bit of peace to the end of her life. We read long Bible passages at her request. Despite the fact that she can't remember names, she remembered the ends of the stories before they had barely begun. I glanced over at Freddie more than once, suddenly incredibly thankful for the tears he was shedding over his dear friend, for his patient dedication to her, for his wonderful heart.
She asked us to pray. First for her family, for her friends. Not for her until the very end.
With one hand on her head and the other on her heart, praying peace over this woman, it struck me again how real faith must be at certain points in our lives. It is one thing to hope for something more beautiful, and quite another to be at death's door and truly believe that God is waiting for you on the other side.
Chris and I went for a hike in the Mournes last week and had a long talk about what it means to have faith. I tried to explain how many times in the last six months have been difficult and confusing enough that all I could do was ask for enough courage for the next day. And how often, that's all I got. He looked at me and said simply, "I want more than that."
But sometimes I think that if we had more than we needed, in terms of faith or courage or whatever it may be, that we would rely on it too much. It's easy to be self-sufficient; what's difficult is not knowing where you are going to get your grace from tomorrow, or the next day. But having faith that it will be provided just in time.
Our prayers yesterday were short but real. Prayers for courage and for peace in the last hours. I wish all prayers could be like that: simple, quiet, and filled with faith. And I guess that's really all faith actually is: quivery-lipped, hoping-hoping-hoping that everything we've said is true really IS, and clinging to something more than we can see.