Sunday, April 24, 2011


Agony is essential. Get to a certain age, and there is no getting around it. There must be somewhere some degree of agony. It’s a relative term, but like they told me when I wondered how I would know if I was in labor: “You’ll know it when you need to know it.”

Our friend and neighbor, Cindy Simpson, died two weeks ago. She knew agony. She battled cancer for seventeen years. In the end she was not herself. I thought it a strange blessing that she suffered visibly in the end, because I surmised it would make it easier for Floyd to let her go, knowing she would be free of her pain. I don’t know if it’s true. I do know they suffered together.

Lib and I stepped softly over the threshold of their house in the last weeks of her life, and in the days after she was gone. We hugged their kids, spoke lovingly to Floyd, tried to walk the razor thin balance beam of emotion at such a time as this; holding our arms out and balancing between the deep sullenness of compassion, respect and reverence and the refreshing lightness of good humor.

"We’re praying for you,” we always said. And we meant it. We say that a lot, I’ve noticed; we Christians.

Years ago, when I became intimate with agony for a spell; when I was very ill, bedridden and unsure of my future, I slept quite a lot. My nerves, exposed because the myelin sheaths insulating them had been stripped, screamed against each other so loudly that sleep was a mode of relief from the shouting. I felt my body fighting for energy, and rest was a sort of refueling for the fight. After the worst of it was over and I was able to sit in a recliner while my nerves slowly re-grew, I spent weeks drifting in and out of sleep. Friends and family visited, bringing so many beautiful emotions with them, and such love and tenderness. They too repeated those words to me, “We are praying for you.”

One afternoon I awoke from a restful sleep and had a vivid recollection of a dream. Short, and peaceful, it was unlike my regular dreams. There was a stillness to it, which I thought must have been what made me feel so rested when I awoke. I can’t recall all the details of the dream, except this:

I was standing in a room facing a wall. The wall was filled, floor to ceiling, with small drawers. The drawers looked very much like the card catalog file in the Pleasant Hills Library. A man stood beside me, calm and gentle natured, helping me find the drawer with my name on it. His finger traced the letters of the alphabet as he scanned the massive collection of boxes until he got to a certain one. He then curled his finger into the hooked drawer pull and out slid the narrow box, long and heavy. He looked at me, implying I should look with him. There, on the front of the drawer was my name, and in the drawer were hundreds, maybe thousands of thick paper files attached to a small iron rod at the bottom of the drawer. I don’t remember him speaking any words, but I do remember his eyes talking. Where he looked, I looked. He stood beside me, one hand holding the heavy weight of the drawer, while I flipped through the cards stacked in the drawer. One by one I read them.


Maybe dates. Maybe more. I don’t recall. But there were for sure names; and I knew most of them.

And I loved them, too. There, in letters pressed into cards of paper, were the names of people I loved, repeating in random order.

Afton H.: Mother.

David C.: Husband.

Sharon…Susan…John…George…Ann Marie…Elizabeth – all my brothers and sisters and their families.

John M.: Son
Sarah… Katherine... Ann...: Daughters.
Extended family, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and some names I did not know. Even the name of my estranged father.

My eyes turned from the card catalog file and looked into the eyes of the stranger.

Again, I don’t recall him using words, but there was an exchange of understanding, and there was a point as I gazed into those luminous brown eyes and then back at the drawer when I suddenly knew what this drawer held. I understood in an instant that this drawer full of names held a record of people who had prayed for me. Supplications to the heavens for …for… me. It overwhelms me still.

I remember feeling, as I awoke, a profound fullness, a pulsing thickness in my neck and shoulders, a shiver down my arms and a quiver in my bones. I close my eyes and feel it again. It stirs me still.

Looking forward at looking back, I saw before me the love of people in my life who trusted the power of God, even if they did not understand it. There was no indication in those card catalog files what form the prayers took; whether they were spoken softly at the side of a bed, or in the silence of the temple, or publicly from a pulpit; if my name was given to heaven’s charge silently from behind the wheel of a car or in the last waking moments when the head is cradled in the softness of a pillow. It must not have mattered where or how, but it did matter that they were addressed correctly, sent to the proper source. Some guardian of prayers must have been assigned to keep record: My personal divine record. This has changed the way I pray.

A few weeks ago I went to the Farmington Library to get some books on disc for our drive to Mexico. In the back were four small computers holding stacks of information that would surely exceed the capacity of a card catalog file. I suppose that kind of paper information storage is obsolete these days. Perhaps the angels in charge of our dreams take us back to our childhood so we can understand what is being told to us in our unconscious life experience.

All I know is that for some unknown length of time I was standing before a wooden set of drawers with brass fronts; my name typed in bold print on a slip of paper inserted in the slot. And standing beside me, helping me find what I needed, was not our ancient rose-water scented Pleasant Hills Librarian, Mrs. Hubbs, whose well spent bosoms hung gently over the thin belt imbedded in her waist. It was instead a strong, healthy, gentle looking man with tenderness in his eyes, the corners of whose lips raised almost imperceptibly as he pulled the drawer forward and showed to me the first name ever printed on the first card in my drawer of prayers.

On this blessed day, Easter Sunday, let the final words of my Lenten sacrifice be the first who spoke my name; whispered in supplication before my spirit took flesh. He who knew what would come of me, who knew what would come of all of us, offered his own prayer for my soul as He did for yours; there in the shadows of a garden, His hands clenched in supplication, His knees pressed to the ground, His blood oozing from His holy flesh. He pressed His name into every card in that wall of drawers, first in every box; calling to the Heavens for our sakes. No other name comes before it.

He is the first.

And the last.

Jesus Christ: Savior.


  1. Thank you so much for this. For all of these lent writings in general, but for this one in particular.
    I know these are not easy to write.
    They are not always easy to read, frankly.
    But they are always beautiful.
    and I will miss them.

  2. Oh I'm just sitting here bawling now. Such beautiful words and such a beautiful testimony. I love you so much and I love that you love the Lord.

  3. Sarah and I. We are doing it together. You had me all the way through, but you really took me at the end. I can hear you saying this in your own voice. And now I feel as though I dreamed it myself.

  4. This is my favorite already and I have only read one.

  5. This is so amazingly beautiful...your imagery and symbolism, the purity of your soul, the love in your heart shines though in every word. Never, never stop writing, creating, singing, for you have lifted and inspired so many...especially me.