It’s that time of the year again. That one month.
I’m getting used to it. It comes around every year, knocks the air out of me, and then leaves again. Knowing that it comes and goes and that there’s nothing I can do about it makes it easier for me to bear it. What I’m talking about it my mom’s birthday and the anniversary of her passing, of course. She would have turned 65 tomorrow. We would have had a family get-together and a party this weekend. And on December 23 it will be five years since we said our goodbyes.
I’m learning to be kind to myself. Sometimes I would get impatient, almost mad at myself for grieving, and I would ignore my feelings. But I don’t see a reason why I should do it any more. I would be kind to anyone else in this situation, it’s about time for me to be kind to myself. So I say to my boss that I need some extra time and space for myself these days, I don’t push myself too hard, I cancel an appointment or two. And I take extra time for taking care of myself.
What I do is so obvious it wouldn’t really deserve a blog post. But still. I listen to Arvo Pärt’s Berlin Mass almost obsessively these days because this music is a lifeline for me. I give myself permission to read a little longer in the evenings than usual. (Chinelo Okparanta and Herta Müller have kept me company over the last days - these ladies really know how to write) I take long walks. I stay away fom people, with a few exceptions, of course. I went out with K. last night and we talked about mom and we talked about dad and it was so good because I don’t even have to finish a sentence, he already knows what I mean, and vice versa. No-one understands me like he does and no-one understands him like I do. I guess that’s what you’d call „the sibling blessing“.
And the good thing is that even all that loneliness and longing do not take away anything beautiful. They just add an extra lense, an extra meaning to goodness and beauty. It doesn’t take anything away from the joy of receiving a letter from U., from the heart-felt gratitude for another good concert, from the deep feeling of satisfaction for doing something meaningful as I leave the national radio station after recorning the morning devotionals, from a privilege of having lunch with a 93 year old Catholic priest who seems to be made up of faith and hope and nothing else. The valley of the shadow of death (death’s shadow can be long, so long!) does not make me shut my little notebook where I write down everything I’m grateful for on the daily basis. I still keep couning my blessings, even if the tears make my eyes go blurry for a while. I still keep praying for other people even if my own prayers seem to go unanswered.
But I am also longing for this season to be over. I long for snow and for light and for spring and for laughther and for someone who could stop the shadow of death from coming any further.
It’s prayer I want to talk about.
A former colleague from Tartu uni, an atheist as far as I know, posted a song under my first appeal. Regina's Spektor, Laughing With. Isn't it cool?!
It was some months ago when I felt God’s tugging at my sleeve, encouraging me to do some sort of a public prayer appeal. Now, I’m not one of those people who would post Jesus Loves You postcards on Facebook. I’m kind of a private person and I don’t like to be in people’s face with my beliefs (or have others be in my face with theirs, really). But I’m also a Christian, under the jurisdiction of Jesus’ great commission, so there are moments when these two aspects of my identity clash. I let the thing be for a while, thinking that maybe it would pass, maybe the tension would solve. But it didn’t. It kept coming back, bothering me.
So when I was in Newbold in September and I had had a marvelous day with A. in London and it was Friday evening and I was on the train back to Bracknell, I decided I’d do it. The physical distance with my Estonian friends shielded or helped me a little. So I took a deep breath, opened my Facebook and wrote to all my Estonian speaking friends that I would be taking some extra time for prayer the next day and if anyone would like me to pray for them, they can just like my post and I promise to pray for them personally. And if anyone should have a more specific prayer request, they’re welcome to DM me. Then I closed my Facebook, not knowing what (if anything) would follow. What followed I certainly didn’t expect.
There were so many people liking my post it actually confused me - close friends, mere acquaintances, church members, non-Christians, straight, gay, everybody. And there were people writing me messages, telling about their difficulties. And I mean, difficulties! Someone was having post-natal problems, someone was just about to start chemo, someone’s child was about to have an open heart surgery, someone was sick and tired of being single. (And I thought my life was hard! Heavens!) I read the messages until I cried. The next day I dutifully wrote all 76 names on paper and had the longest prayer meeting in my life. I was at K.’s place and when she went to take a Sabbath afternoon nap (she’s a good Adventist) and I told her about my prayer list, she said I could come and wake her up if I needed someone to hold up my hands if I got weary – a good ole Moses joke. :) I didn’t wake her up, just so that you know. I did get very tired by the end of the 3rd hour but I kept my promise, and it turned out to be one of the most meaningful Sabbaths I can remember.
I did the same appeal again a month later when I once again had a free Sabbath. I sat in the park on a gloriously warm autumn day and prayed for everyone (70+ people again) until I could pray no more.
And I think God is really teaching me things. He’s teaching me about the potential and power of prayer. The chemo seems to be working. The child ended up having two terrible heart surgeries and I prayed for this little boy for weeks and weeks until I started losing hope. And just when I thought it was never going to get any better for him and that he’d be stuck in hospital forever, he made a miraculously speedy recovery. His mother – someone I had last seen twenty years ago – still sends me photos of him every second day. I have not been able to visit them yet but it will be one heck of an emotional day when I see them. A child with emotional health problems has made a recovery and her mother keeps me updated. The tumor turned out to be benign. My cousin called me two weeks ago because she remembered my prayer appeal and she asked if I could pray for a difficult and potentially dangerous situation she’s in. A week later she called me again, utterly baffled, saying the problem had been solved. Phew. Thank you, God.
I also learn about the need to be consistent in prayer. Some people I pray for I don’t even know. And it’s hard to pray for people you don’t know much about. I don’t know if anything happens or changes in their life. I don’t know if they recognise answered prayers. I don’t even know whether they recognise God. But I know I have to keep at it, and if nothing else, it’s my prayer muscles that grow stronger through this process, and that’s something, too.
And I hope I become somehow more sensitive to God’s voice. That when He needs someone to pray for someone (why would He, this I do not fully understand), He’d be like, Oh, but there’s Mervi, she can do it.
And my heart becomes more sensitive to others through this, too, I’ve noticed. I actually care about those people. I want to see God’s miracles in their lives, the healing, the solving of difficulties, the calming of storms.
I still don’t want to post any sickly sweet stuff on Facebook. But I also want my friends to know that if they ever need prayers, and if they ever need someone to believe in those prayers for them, they’ve got me.