Lord Have Mercy

I’m not much of a prayer. Or a pray-er, to be more specific. That is not to say I never pray. I do. Like a typical selfish Millenial, I really only pray when things are really hard.

I rarely ask God to fix it. Instead, I tell him I am struggling. I say things like, “I don’t know how much more I can do this.” I don’t ask for solutions, mostly I just ask for strength.

No one ever really taught me how to pray, but looking at my family, I learned by example. My parents always prayed for guidance or fortitude. My grandparents always prayed for the well being of other people or to let God know they were grateful for the lives they had.

Only rarely did family prayers sound like anything close to a wish you would ask a genie. My aunts prayed for a miracle for my mother, but they seemed to know it would not happen. There was a point with my mom I prayed it would just be over, even though that isn’t really what I wanted.

Lately I have seen a lot of talk about prayer on social media. I try to leave it to those who get more comfort than I do from prayer to explain. Still, it reached a point I felt compelled to interject when it seemed like the goal was not to help people make smart decisions about Hurricane Irma, and instead it felt like an opportunity to tell people how stupid they are in a time when they probably needed help and encouragement.

Because, when it comes to prayers, I have more in common with those facing Irma than those who pray every day. I seek out prayer in these extreme times. Certainly taking care of a terminally ill relative is not as dangerous as a natural disaster. Both are extreme tests of a person’s resilience though.

In my situation, I prayed because I didn’t know who else to talk to given that Mom wasn’t going to talk about what was happening. During those long mornings and late nights when it was just the two of us, I would turn a corner, bite my lip, close my eyes and pray until I got it together enough to go back in her room. Showers were my chance to cry unnoticed. They were also the time where I dropped my guard and told God I didn’t think I could do this anymore.

But turns out I could. It sucked, but I did it, thanks to the kind of supportive, Catholic family no one really believes exists these days. We all prayed, and we all dug down and found energy I wouldn’t have believed I had a few months prior. So every day I asked for strength, and every day I thanked the Lord I had such strong family beside me.

You can tell me God didn’t help us, that we did it ourselves. Frankly, I don’t care because we survived. I needed those moments to do it though. And if someone came up to me during that time and said, “you know that is pointless and stupid,” I probably would have crumpled on the floor and sobbed until someone came to take care of me. It would have sapped my energy. It would have sapped my family’s energy. And it might have been the difference maker in being relatively okay about my mom dying and being in a state where I needed much longer to mentally get over it.

I think of those people in Florida and assume it is a similar feeling. You know what is going to happen. You get that what is coming is really scary. So you do what you can, like fill up the tub and stick your most precious belongings in your dishwasher. But in the time between that and the storm, you just try to get by. There comes a point where it is out of your hands, so you pray. Because there is nothing else to do, and rather than succumb to the fear it may not be enough, you hope to God that it is, and ask him if it isn’t to give you the strength to do more.

To me, that is what prayer looks like. Certainly there are extremes, as there are in any belief system, where people do not take action and assume God will take care of them. They take the idea of “que sera sera” to the potentially fatal extreme. I get why you make fun of them, even if I prefer not to do so myself. This is not the Christianity I know and defend. I do not believe that is how the Lord works.

I also know, myself included, that some of the ritual prayer that comes with being Catholic can draw a lot of judgmental side eye. I am with you, or at least I was.

We said a piece of the Rosary at my mother’s visitation. (Catholic tradition is to say the entire thing, but we didn’t have hours of time on our hands). It felt weird at first, but I quickly realized its appeal.

Oddly enough, it felt like when there’s a crucial play for your sports team. You can feel other fans around you hoping it happens, and even though that is not some magic guarantee it will, that feeling of inclusion in something bigger than just you has its own brand of majesty.

It sounds hokey, I know, but faith is a hokey concept when you really think about it. Hokey or not though, I personally need it in my day to day life.

And those of you who think prayer is akin to wishing on a magic lamp, I leave you with this:

If you can see value in meditation, you can see value in prayer. For most of the Christians I know, prayer is about channeling energy; finding inner strength if the prayers are for you, sending all the positive energy you can out in the world if the prayers are for someone else.

What we do with that energy is largely up to us. There are some that choose not to harness it and take action. Most of us at least try to though. So if you can respect that we are just trying to channel our energy and focus our mindset, it really doesn’t matter if you think the God we believe is behind it exists or not, right? Because hopefully the end result is the strength to take action, which is something I pray anyone facing Irma finds in this scary time.

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2 thoughts on “Lord Have Mercy

  1. Jessica,

    My name is Paul Cutright. I worked with your Dad at IBM in Lexington,
    KY and asked him to join me in Boulder, CO where I was putting together
    a technology department in the IBM lab.
    I worked with him for several years and got to know him fairly well.
    He was kind, gentle, smart, well respected and had a great sense of humor.
    The perfect example of an ‘outstanding electrical engineer’.
    He would share with me some of the issues (a bit shy, not very assertive, etc.)
    he had trying to adopt children. I told him that if he really wanted to do this,
    then just do it no matter what anybody tells you. Because after working with
    your Dad for many years, I can tell you that he was no ‘wimp’.
    I didn’t know your Mother very well, maybe met her only a couple of times.

    So why am I writing this? After I read your article “Lord Have Mercy”
    that mentioned people that went through Hurricane Irma, I felt compelled
    to write you a short note (OK, maybe a long note). We moved to Flagler Beach, FL
    about ten years ago and went through two hurricanes (Matthew and Irma).
    Not fun, but we survived. I’m not very religious and did not pray.
    (OK maybe a little bit to realize that some things don’t matter in
    ‘the grand scheme of things’). The ‘important ones’ matter!
    I have read several other articles that you have written. Especially,
    ‘1992:Breaking the Rules for the Year Things Broke’ and
    ‘One More Dolores Story for the Road’.
    I was very impressed – ‘Good stuff’!
    My Mom died in January of this year (2017). She was 101 years old.

    I hope you are OK and wish you well!!

    Paul A. Cutright

    Like

    1. Paul,

      I can’t tell you what a joy it was reading your comment. I don’t know if you realize, but our father would’ve turned 69 on Friday. My sister Debbie and I both spent a sometimes sad weekend smiling thanks to you.

      I was so little when Dad died that, as you can probably tell from the blog posts, it is sometimes difficult to really know his personality. Giving me a glimpse of who he was through your eyes was so cool.

      Mom always spoke about their Boulder days as their best days, so thank you for bringing them there! Our whole family has a special love for Colorado.

      I’m glad to hear you and your wife survived Irma. It is always a frightening experience when things like that take matters completely out of your hands. The same goes for your mother, I suppose, but it sounds like she lived a very long and full life.

      Finally, I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to read so much of what I have written. I actually have an idea to try and write a book about my dad using all his old Prodigy emails. If it ever goes anywhere, I will be sure to let you know.

      All the best and thank you again,
      Jessica

      Like

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