I live in a rural area. When I take my daily run, I begin on the highway, and go half a mile in either direction before I turn on to a gravel road. The highway is well traveled, and these side roads have some traffic as well. In my 22-plus years of running along these roads, I have found some interesting treasures on the roadside, but none as interesting as the one I found a few weeks ago.
I have had intermittent trouble with my left knee, and now my left hip is making noise, too. I had a quarter mile left to go on this particular day, and I gave in to the pain.
“Maybe I need a new knee,” I thought.
“Maybe I need a new hip, too,” I added.
“Maybe I just need a whole new leg.” I left it at that.
Now, I don’t wear my glasses when I run, so I can’t see small things clearly. However, not even 100 yards after I sent up that request, I ran right by this treasure. I realized I’d better go back and take another gander. It was flesh-colored and only several inches long, so I couldn’t quite visually decipher it.
I bent down to pick it up.
Be careful what you wish for.
It was even the left leg. I guess I needed to be more specific, because it was obviously too small, and a bit battered from the roadside trauma.
Prior to this find, my most interesting roadside treasure was a beautiful blown-glass marijuana pipe. Initially, I left it behind. I didn’t want to be in possession of paraphernalia, which, as I understand, is a crime in my state.
It was still there the next day, so I picked it up. I incorporated it into an art project and gifted it to a friend who was moving to a state where she could be legally in possession.
I recall an article written by a famous TV doctor who told the story of his patient, a woman who, without life-saving surgery, was sure to die. No one had survived her condition without surgery. Her religion forbade such invasive procedures, and her family chose instead to gather around her and pray for her.
This doctor expressed that he was incredulous with disbelief, unable to understand how anyone could deny their loved one this life-saving treatment. Without it, his expertise told him she didn’t stand a chance at survival.
But she did survive. And he reported that he would never again doubt the power of prayer.
It helps me to think of prayer—the kind where we ask for things (my most common form), as a flexing of our spiritual muscles. When we pray—whatever form it may take, it can be an individual, or in this woman’s case, a collective flexing of many muscles joining together, directing their spiritual energy toward one goal. The more people praying, the greater chance of the petition being answered. Think of it as a group of people lifting a car off of a person, whereas one person may not be able to do it alone.
But asking alone is okay, too. Asking for something in prayer and knowing that some force greater than our own is listening is a gift of grace. If you have ever asked for anything from this divine source, however, you know that your wish isn’t always granted. This may very well be a good thing.
I believe our prayers are always heard, even if they aren’t answered. Sometimes, as in the case of my new leg that was immediately granted, it is apparent that our prayers need to be specific. I should have described the leg I wanted a little better.
I believe, too, that no matter how jumbled and disjointed our prayers may be, the meaning is always heard.
I believe that sometimes, we ask for things that are not what we really need. We think we know what we need, but perhaps we are not ready for it yet. Or, maybe it is indeed what we need, but we need to do a little more work on our own to get there.
I remember many nights of homework with my boys. One in particular stands out. My youngest son heaved his heavy backpack up on to the kitchen counter while I was doing the dinner dishes on the other side of the counter.
“Mom, will you help me with my homework?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “But you haven’t even started. You need to do everything that you know how to do, and then I will help you after that.”
He looked up at me with a groaning expression, as if to imply that I would make it a whole lot easier for him if I just helped him from the start, even before he did his part. Of course, it would have.
I was busy doing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen, and he had the ability to get at least some of it done. Sure, it would have been much easier for him if I helped him, but he wouldn’t learn that way. Plus, I knew he could get it if he tried. He had the knowledge and the know-how.
I think that sometimes we are able to do more than what we attempt; we have the ability. It is much easier, however, to ask for divine intervention to make it easier for us to reach our goals. But we wouldn’t learn that way. And we wouldn’t be using our gifts and knowledge. Plus, I think God is busy doing the dishes sometimes and we can get started while he finishes them. When we deplete all our energy, when we have utilized the gifts we were given to figure these things out, then I think God steps in.
And, just like I smiled upon my son for putting his resources to work and exhausting them to get closer to the solution before I helped, I think we are smiled down on from above when we do our homework on our own, as far as we are able.
“Since I gave up hope, I feel so much better.”
Even though Gail and Suzanne don’t remember, I recall Mom saying this. Now, it needs to be qualified: I believe she meant that it was a relief to give up on changing other people, not to give up hope on a brighter future, brighter because you have done all you can do to make it that way, and you have said your prayers.
The world right now needs hope. If, like me, you are feeling a sense of doom about the current state of our world, it is helpful to remind ourselves that there is indeed hope. We should not give up hope on a brighter future. But right now, we all need to do whatever we can to keep ourselves and others safe; this is our homework right now.
Gail, Suzanne and I are products of Small-Town Kansas. For the last sixty-plus years, our hometown has hosted an incredible festival. The Tipton Church Picnic takes place on the first Saturday of every August. Festival-goers come from far and wide to take place in the various activities that keep our private, Catholic high-school operating. It has always been one of the smallest high schools in the state, but it keeps going strong.
Except this year.
It should be happening right now as I write on Saturday evening. Even though I don’t always go, and we weren’t going to make it this year due to a family wedding that we didn’t go to either, it still breaks my heart that it is not taking place.
Last year’s festival. The high school is on the left.
The auction that typically brings in over six figures will now take place online, as will the raffles. Without fail, the generosity of the attendees has provided an abundant windfall every year to keep the school doors open. I have hope that, even though it is taking place virtually, it will again prove abundant.
The full-course chicken dinner—complete with homemade pies—will not happen either, nor will the locally famous burgers be sold by the thousands well into the night.
Last year’s feasts, pictures courtesy of Gail.
I consume both, and to honor this, I made peach pies today. Even though they were made from fresh, luscious Colorado peaches, it won’t taste as good as the pie at the Picnic.
My boys are grilling hamburgers and while they, too, will be delicious, it won’t be quite the same.
Gail is celebrating on her own with a cold one in the classic koozie that is an annual souvenir. Being the gamblers she and I are, we always practice hope in that we will be big winners at the raffle…maybe this year.
I have hope that next year, the Tipton Church Picnic will happen again. I’m going to ask.
There is another small Kansas town that, by its very name, exemplifies the spirit of Kansas. I drove through there on my travels last week.
We are a tough bunch, and our hope and faith will get us through.
Gail, Suzanne and I are aunties again. Late in June, our brother and his wife added to their family. Their son was born here in the hospital in the small city Suzanne and I live in. Initially, both mother and baby fared well, but complications arose. Blake had to spend a week in the NICU, and his mother pulled through after her crisis. I don’t think I’ve prayed that hard in a long time.
Suzanne and I were able to visit with them—minus the baby—in the lobby after passing the COVID screenings. Spending time with them gave me hope that they were going to be okay, because their hope and faith were obvious.
As I waited for them before one of our visits, I picked up a magazine and leafed through it. Inside, someone had left a handwritten message, asking for hope and help with prayer to get through their crisis. Even though I have no idea who it was, my heart broke for them, and I haven’t forgotten about them, haven’t lost hope for them. I continue to ask for help and grace for them, whomever they are.
Asking for help from above and all around is sometimes all anyone can do in the most desperate of times.
I began this post early this week. Mom, in her usual style, found a way to let me know she is still with all of us. I have referred many times to her “pink book,” and when I opened it Friday, she had highlighted the entire title. I think this means she liked the entire passage for that day.
I believe I will believe. And ask. And receive. And continue to hope. Sometimes, the asking is as basic as simply asking for wisdom and strength to know how to use your gifts. I believe this is our homework right now in these crazy times. God is probably pretty busy doing dishes and cleaning up bigger messes than mine or yours, but when we have used all our resources, I believe we will get the help we need.
I believe I should have been more specific when I asked for the new leg. If I had, perhaps I would have been granted the right left leg.
I believe that these tough times will pass, and although we may not be able to be as carefree as we were in the past, there is hope for happiness to return.
Loss in life has taught me that we can endure more than we think we can. And in the end, we emerge stronger, more faithful, and believers in hope for brighter days. And those brighter days will indeed come, but we may have to ask.
And, as Mom and Dad taught us, don’t forget to say thank you.
Ban Breathnach, S. (1995). Simple Abundance. New York, Warner Books