It's an image burned into my mind. Young mother and father, standing on either side on a ICU bed, standing in the gap.
Their baby, 3 months old and occasionally opening her eyes, labored breathing, fitted with a BiPap mask that's made for an adult, but it's getting the job done for the time being.
Mom, standing on the left, maybe all of 30 years old, and all things considered, the years of worries are wearing pretty lightly on her. She has apparently known a lot of them. Besides the obvious poverty shown by her clothing, I'm told that she herself had been sick. Really sick. The doctors had decided against even trying to resuscitate her if she stopped breathing. And yet here she is, alive and full of faith, now for her baby. And full of a type of joy, as well.
Dad on the right, ragged suit jacket and teeth yellowed before their time. At mom's request, I had waited until dad returned to talk to them about the difficult prognosis of their child. I needed a nurse to translate, since dad has never had the luxury of much of an education. He eagerly drank in the news of his daughter's malady, and at the end (as I usually do), I asked them if I could pray. Eagerly, dad and mom snatched up mine and the nurse's hands. It was unusual, and the nurse and I cast each other a surprised glance before we realized their heads were already bowed in fervent anticipation. I gave a prayer in English. When we finished, I relaxed my hands, and dad grabbed them again, starting in with an incredibly charismatic prayer in the local language here. When he finished, mom did the same.
A few minutes later, that was how I left them. Mom on the left, dad on the right. Eyes closed, eager chants and petitions repetitively offered to heaven on behalf of their little girl. To the God who had spared the mother. If they were more educated, perhaps they would have been trying to figure out the problem, or analyze what they should do. If they had more social connections, they probably would have been outside on their mobile phone, calling their network of family and friends to provide finances and support for this time. Instead, they were there, praying their pentecostal intercessions, standing in the gap for their little girl, because that's who they are, and who they are is what they have to give for her.
She died on Sunday. She fought for days without improving, and finally succumbed. Sometimes I ask the "why" questions. But not this time. Not because I know the answer, but because I don't think asking will provide me with an answer.
Nevertheless, this I believe. These prayers of the faithful, offered by the weak in their weaknesses, the same as all the truest prayers, were not wasted. They were heard. And they were loved. And for me, there is a beauty that lingers in the mental image that I keep of these parents, giving their pieces of copper, all that they are and all that they have to give. Small in the eyes of the world, but more than all that many others gave put together.
"As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "Truly I tell you," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." Luke 21:1-4