The virus came home to us this week.
I’ve watched it on the news for weeks, for months now, as I know you have as well.
I have watched as the anonymous numbers rose in our county and beyond.
I have prayed with nurses whose vocation lives and breathes in the intensive care unit of our local hospital, listening to their sometimes paralyzing fear of contracting this disease or just taking it home to vulnerable ones they love.
I have wept with those who grieve the loss of dear ones who were in their care and whose funerals must now be delayed.
It came home to us this week, though, in the message that my uncle, our dad’s brother, has been diagnosed. And though it may not take him, it surely might, for he is so very fragile.
And my grief in this, as it is with so many, is great for many reasons, but perhaps most deeply for this: that those who love him most and best cannot be at his side today.
And yes, I saw this first hand just a few days back when one I know called and asked if I would come to pray with one who was nearing death. Not as a result of COVID-19, this one, but breathing her last, nonetheless.
I had not entered the hospital in weeks and so with quaking heart I put my collar on and made my way:
- first to the front desk where they screened me for symptoms and then donning a surgical mask,
- up the stairs so as to avoid touching anything in the elevator
- and down the hall where an ICU nurse met me at the door, explaining as we walked that the woman’s family lives far away, that they had let them see her via Facetime, and that they had made the decision to let her go.
- But first, could there be prayer?
And so I did, we did together, two nurses and me — commending this beloved one into God’s eternal care. And then they returned her blood to her (for she was on dialysis), removed the apparatus which was keeping her breathing, and turned off the i.v. medicine which had kept her blood pressure up these many hours.
And this. Those two nurses stood one on either side of her, holding her hands until the end even as they pledged they would.
It was all of twenty minutes later that her pressure started to drop and I stepped forward for one more prayer. And then, oh, this is so. Her eyes opened wide and fixed on something over my shoulder and it was as though she smiled to see what we could not.
It was beautiful and I was grateful to be there, bringing what gifts I could, and then pausing once more to pray for those two precious nurses that they might know strength and courage and comfort in an unspeakably difficult time.
For this they told me. They have walked through such painful times before. But never before have they had to stand in for loved ones again and again. And again.
And it breaks their hearts a little more every single time..
And yes, this is part of the heartbreak of this time, it seems to me.
We are accustomed to doing hard things, yes. But we are not accustomed to doing them from such a distance, without the benefit and the comfort of the rituals we so rely on. Spoken ones, yes, and things we do in such times, of course, but also those which include simply standing alongside, holding a hand, embracing — literally —- another’s pain, drying one another’s tears.
And so it is in these days I am leaning into the beloved words of a Psalm most of us know by heart and the promises which ring so clear in the promise that we have a Shepherd who wants only good things for us and who is doing all he can to bring them to us even now.
And I am comforted by this, by the learning that comes to me now in the teaching of Ray Vander Laan in his “Faith Lessons” on ‘green pastures.’ I commend it to you now, this understanding that God feeds us a little bit at a time, leading us on, leading us on…
- Even as I was fed this week to witness the devotion of two ICU nurses who in the face of their own grief, held the hand of one who was dying.
- And even as I am comforted today by the certainty of the countless others who are stepping in and stepping up to do the same in behalf of those who cannot in these difficult days.
And oh, I am taken back today to a memory which is still tender these decades later. That of another nurse who rode with my dad in an ambulance through a foggy early January night — who sought us out later to tell us that she held his hand all the way there. When we could not.
Indeed, when we could not, when we cannot be there, someone was, someone is.
And for all of us, all the time, the Shepherd surely is…
- Please take a minute to watch the video linked above. How does this explanation of the shepherd feeding her sheep shape your understanding of how God provides for us?
- I describe above one particular heartbreak of the time we are in. Has this also been your experience? What would you add from your own living in this time?
- Who have you seen ‘standing in’ when another cannot? How has this been sustenance for you in these days?
- How else is God feeding you, leading you along step by step by step? How are you learning to trust our Shepherd in this time?