Sunday, May 20, 2012

Grace and Sickness

Something amazing just happened. Something beautiful. I saw God work with powerful grace on a person's soul and order events for a purpose I could never have envisioned. Let me tell you the story.

I found out a few days ago that Frank's parents and little brother were coming into town this weekend. I had already agreed to babysit for a family on Saturday night but I cleared my schedule for Saturday afternoon and Sunday so I could spend time with them.

On Friday afternoon Frank came down with a bad cold and by Saturday morning his throat was painfully sore and his head ached. He came to my house where I served him that magical elixir known as Theraflu, which made him feel recovered enough that we went ahead with our plans to visit the Newman bookstore near Catholic University and meet Frank's family for lunch at Eastern Market around 2.

But the Theraflu wore off at Eastern Market and by the time we left Frank was feeling seriously ill. He dropped me off at my babysitting gig but canceled dinner plans with his family and went home to rest instead. I texted him from my babysitting job and his responses started to send me into a panic. His sore throat was much, much worse and he had developed a fever. He was wondering if he should go see a doctor. His family decided that they would take him to a doctor if he wasn't better by the next morning. Then they left for their hotel, leaving his best friend Evan to sit and watch TV with him.

Let me backtrack to tell you a little about Evan. Evan is a wonderful guy. He's very funny in a dry, sarcastic way and would do anything for a friend. But Evan is a devoted Protestant raised with very little sympathy for the Church of Rome. He was very opposed to Frank's conversion, even suggesting at one point that Frank had only converted to impress me. I am very fond of Evan and his sass but I generally try to avoid talking to him about religion.

I left my babysitting job around 11 and I was determined to see Frank. I couldn't bear the thought of him suffering and sick and alone. I also knew that, if I were sick, he would come right away - in fact, he has. So I called him to tell him I was about to take a taxi over there.

"Don't do that," he said, "Evan will come pick you up."

That was certainly better than a taxi. So I waited at my apartment, charging my phone and searching the cupboards for fever medicine, until Evan called to say he was 5 minutes away. We stopped at CVS for Motrin on our way before finally reaching Frank.

Oh, Frank. My heart ached to see him like that. His face was pale and he lay huddled under blankets on the couch, hardly able to speak from pain. I wanted to run to him and hug him tight, tell him I was there to take care of him, do whatever was needed to alleviate his pain. But Evan was there, our own built-in chaperone. Instead I just tucked his blankets in more tightly, helped him take some Motrin, and then sat on the other couch wishing I could do more.

After a few minutes of sitting there, I couldn't stand it anymore. This was Frank, my darling. I couldn't bear to see him suffering and not show him in some way how much I love him. On top of that, I've read many studies showing that human touch can help heal the sick. Had I come out to see him in the middle of the night just to sit there? I had to do something. So I sat as close to Frank as I could - which happened to be on the floor next to the couch where he lay - and gently stroked his head in an effort to help him fall asleep.

I felt incredibly awkward right then. I mean, his best friend was sitting right there. I was sure Evan had to be thinking that I was the weirdest person ever. But Frank needed me. I forced myself to pretend Evan wasn't there. All that mattered was caring for Frank. I held his hand, rearranged his blankets, dabbed his head with a cloth and quietly urged him to fall asleep. Finally he began to nod off, waking up now and then with a start.

I wanted to stay with Frank until I was sure he was sleeping so I had some time to kill. The thought occurred to me that "the shortest solution to any problem is the distance between your knees and the floor" and I also remembered that the Rosary is one of the most powerful prayers in the arsenal and takes about 15 minutes to say. Perfect for the occasion.

Except, oh wait, the hardcore Protestant guy sitting on the couch behind me pretending to read a book. If I already felt awkward about him being there while I tried to comfort Frank, how many million times more awkward would it get when I pulled a Rosary out of my purse? On the other hand, Evan knows me pretty well. It's not like he doesn't know I'm Catholic. Well, I thought, might as well go all in.

"Hey Evan," I whispered, "Would you mind if I prayed the Rosary?"

"Of course not, as long as you don't mind me watching," he responded graciously.

So I took my Rosary in one hand, held Frank's hand in the other, sat cross-legged on the floor and with a prayer for Frank's recovery, began what may have been the most self-conscious Rosary of my life. I tried to pray as earnestly as I could, aware that Frank needed the prayers, but I was also very aware that Evan (who had probably never seen a rosary before in his life) was watching. He must think I am so incredibly weird, I thought, and added a prayer that I wasn't doing too much to harm Protestant-Catholic relations.

Finally Frank was sound asleep, the Rosary was over and Evan got up to drive me home. I was feeling pretty nervous about the car ride, convinced my Rosary praying and overzealous care had freaked Evan out. At least bedtime was waiting for me at the other end of the drive.

Well, I was in for a big surprise. Evan was actually impressed by my attentions to Frank rather than finding it weird. He said that watching us together made him "want to believe he was wrong" about Catholicism.

That led us into an enormous discussion about religion. We talked for a long time in the car about Catholic vs. Protestant views on salvation, on birth control, on apostolic succession, on Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, on the Bible and the early Church. Then he came upstairs so I could pull out my Bible to share a few relevant passages with him about authority, infallibility, the primacy of Peter, the role of Tradition and the importance of good works to a life of faith. I frankly found it fascinating and I hope he did too.

Normally those huge, knock-down, drag-out, 3 am discussions about religion leave me feeling exhausted and frustrated. But not this time. This time I'm feeling incredibly hopeful and strengthened in my faith. Turns out interfaith dialogue benefits both sides by allowing them to test their assumptions, learn from each other, and grow.

So tonight I'm feeling a lot of gratitude for the weird-yet-awesome workings of Providence. I was wrong about quite a number of things (which, for once in my life, I kind of love). Bedtime wasn't waiting on the other end of the drive - in fact, bedtime hasn't come yet. It also turns out that praying the Rosary, as awkward as it felt, was a good move that opened the way for a good conversation. Most of all, I'm glad I finally talked to Evan about religion. I learned a lot from it and I think he learned a lot from it too. I'm grateful to be able to share faith with friends, and to remember that, even though we worship in different churches, we all love and follow the same God.

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