I am guessing that many of you are starting to feel this way….life in the desert….searching for the relief of an oasis. Amid the scare and I admit for some of you, panic, of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been forced into isolation. Many of this most recent generation were well on their way to this prior to any social distancing. Faces buried in the screens of their phones…talking to the person via text or game dialogue when if they just looked up, could see the person across the room from them. Do you think they are coping better than the older generations who are not tech savvy? Perhaps. But we all feel the loss of choices being taken away from us. Choices to go shopping for a new Easter dress in a store….to visit a friend….to travel to see new places…to go out to eat with your family…to go to Church and worship with your brothers and sisters in Christ. These choices have been taken away from us and it can make you feel isolated and down; like wandering in the desert.
Many people have commented to me that they admire my faith and upbeat attitude despite the circumstances I have been dealt. I have to be completely honest with you. There have been some really dark times for me. For the first two months or so I can look back and tell you that I was indeed in a deep depression. Everyday I woke up and hoped it had all been a bad dream. But I could feel my bald head and the lump on my chest where my port is and know that it was not. I am a praying person and a woman of faith. Even now, I participate as fully as I can to the live streaming daily and Sunday Masses from my home parish, St. Gerald, in Ralston, Nebraska. It is Lent and I have a couple of extra devotions I do each day on top of the ones I do daily all year round. I talk to God (usually in my head) throughout the day…thanking Him for gentle mercies and asking for blessings for others. I was blessed to be raised by strong Christian parents and have been blessed along my life to meet people who have been instrumental in my faith journey. No matter how strong your faith is, you sometimes find yourself in a desert.
I have been pretty lucky that throughout my cancer journey, I have rarely missed Mass on Sundays. In fact, I only missed one Sunday, the one I was in the hospital after surgery. I feel at peace in my church…and feel I can talk to God better. It’s like the telephone reception to God is clearer there. (I know that sounds ridiculous, but bear with me….these are my feelings.) However, it was also a painful place to be. Every hymn we sang I would question in my mind if that was a good one for my funeral. Would this hymn have the words that would comfort my family and friends? Would this be the hymn that sounded like I was speaking to them myself? I love to sing…and would sing through the tears and choked up feeling I would have at Mass. But then I started having those pesky lung complications from chemo and I didn’t have the breath capacity to sing….just barely whispering the words of the hymns…having to sit down when everyone else was standing because I was just too tired. Getting way too overheated and wanting to take off my felt hat that I wore to church but didn’t want to scare the small children around me with my bald head. Going to Mass was generally my only outing for the week other than dr appts and occasionally driving Lily and her friends to and from school. So I have been in this desert that you all are finding yourselves in for months. Now Mass in person has been taken away. My dear friends at St. Gerald are kept at a long distance and I miss them. They would always come up to me and tell me that they were praying for me and give me a hug. A hug….something that is so simple yet I miss so very much. I think about these poor people who are in isolation with COVID-19 who are not getting visitors or human touch during their dying days….seniors in senior centers….my heart aches for them. They are in the desert with us and we can’t forget them.
Today’s Gospel lesson was a hard one to listen to. The story of Jesus and Lazarus. Lazarus was a good friend to Jesus, as were his two sisters, Mary and Martha. Word was sent that Lazarus was sick. Jesus waited two days then travelled to their home. Lazarus had died. Jesus wept. He wept for his friend and he wept for his grieving family members and friends. He wept even though he knew he would miraculously raise Lazarus from the dead. I worry about my family and friends when I won’t be here on earth anymore. I try hard not to go down that path because it ends in heart-wrenching tears. Will my husband be okay? Will he re-marry and be happy? Will my kids go on to live happy and productive lives? The selfish part of me wonders if they will share their memories of me with their kids so they might know who their grandma was? Will my kids ever think of me once I am gone? Who will take care of my parents? Will they know how much it hurts me to have them bury a child – even an adult one? It is stuff like that that sends me from simply being in the desert to being in the desert in a haboob. (yes, it is a real word….it is one of those massive sand storms) Luckily for me, through the swirling sand, there is a hand that will grab ahold of my arm and let me know I am not lost. Sometimes it is a phone call from a friend…a letter in the mail…a text from my family…but all have the hand of God in them, letting me know that I am not alone. So many people have touched me in a way that have saved me from that haboob (sorry that is such a weird word…but it is the one that I have to use). I try and tell them right away that they have had the Holy Spirit work through them to save me from the darkness. Like a text from a friend across the globe that came in at 4 a.m……when I was awake and lost in that haboob. They touched my soul, and let me know I wasn’t alone…and the sand storm ceased. I am so lucky that I am not in that dark place constantly anymore. I have dark moments….not dark days and weeks now. I am so very thankful to all of you that share your lives with me. Cancer has taken over my life. I appreciate you all who contact me and talk to me about your lives…about the good and bad. Thinking about anything else keeps me in the light. I have read that I have to stay out of the sunlight with this new chemo drug. I love the sunlight…I sometimes feel that everything is being taken away from me right now. I love the sunlight, I love Holy Communions, I love hugs, I love seeing and talking with friends, I loved being prayed over, I loved working out, I loved working,….you can see how it can snowball and become a pity party. So today I pray for those you are wallowing in isolation in that pity party. Reach out in a responsible way to your family, friends, and neighbors. Let them know they are loved and remembered during this crazy time. Hug who you can and let them feel the love you have for them. Everyday my day planner asks what my main goal is for the day. Mine is always the same: Be a blessing to others. Remember that the end of the Gospel lesson today was a story of hope: Lazarus was not forgotten by Jesus, but was raised from the dead.