March 7, 2012

Shoe Boxes and Prayers

My life has not been without purpose,” he whispers.
I slowly look up from my reading. There’s nobody else around us, so he must be talking to me. For the past 20 minutes we have sat across from one another in the post-op waiting area of the hospital. Should I say something? I slowly close the book I’m reading and smile. His smile accents the wrinkles around his eyes. It’s an honest smile that makes me believe there has been much laughter in his life. In his hands he cradles a shoe box with a ribbon tied around it.
He asks if I am waiting for a loved one or having surgery. I pause, recognizing a part of me that feels guilty not to be the one undergoing surgery. My voice trembles a bit when I say, “It’s for a friend.” He offers a sympathetic nod, as if to say: There’s no need to explain. He extends a hand and introduces himself as Dan.
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The drive to the hospital is quiet. It’s too early for anything but thoughts. I wait for my friend to say something, but it seems that just like me, she has no words to choose from. The irony is that we both teach language every day: English, rhetoric, linguistics, communication, literature . . . all the tools with which to communicate effectively—except in a situation like this.
As we reach the hospital parking lot I hear the foreign sound of my friend’s voice ask: “Do you think He heard me last night? I was praying that there would be no news of breast cancer. Do you think He heard me?”
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Dan’s wife, Shelly, is having her second hip replacement. He tells me that the first one was very difficult. The recovery was painful. He assures me that this hip replacement will work. In midstory he pauses, pats the shoe box, and says: “That’s why I brought this.” I am curious.
2012 1507 page25Dan remembers that for the first 10 of their 52 years of marriage Shelly started and closed her day reading the Bible and praying. Often she would slip little notes into a shoe box sitting on top of the dresser. One day he finally asked her what it all meant. She opened the shoe box and showed him the notes: a request for the healing of their youngest daughter, a note of gratitude for Dan’s new job, a note with the word patience on it. The notes (strips of papers, napkins, receipts) contained scribbled statements, phrases, words, prayers, and praise, all simple thoughts of daily events. It was a prayer box.
“Right there in the box were endless reminders of answered prayers and evidence of blessings in disguise. There was one scribbling that kept coming up over and over.” He pauses. “Notes asking God to touch my heart, to have me serve Him.” He gently touches the ribbon around the box, lost in memories. “I returned to church, then went to school for pastoral training, and we served as missionaries for 20 years.”
It was a prayer for purpose, a life of purpose.
The shoe box remains a tangible reminder of the strength that comes from prayer; whether they are answered or not our prayers have been heard. Just like that, it feels as though the Holy Spirit has walked through the doors and brought peace and a reminder of purpose to all of us waiting.
Two hours later my friend is in recovery. I am ready to see her. Dan hands me the shoe box, insisting that I share it with my friend. He says they have gone through many shoe boxes, and this one is for my friend. As I take the elevator to the recovery wing my curiosity takes over. I slip the ribbon off and open the box. Inside is a 3" x 5" card. The front of the card reads: For Today! Printed on the back of the card: “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. . . . Our God is full of compassion” (Ps. 116:1-5).
Dixil Rodríguez, a college professor and volunteer hospital chaplain, lives in Texas. This article was published March 8, 2012.