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Dirty hands and Hail Marys


My godmother has Stage IV lung cancer.

She has chosen quality over quantity, taking the path of palliative care. Rather than aggressive treatment that could possibly give her a little more time, she’s chosen to be as comfortable as she can be and enjoy as much as possible the time she has remaining.

Recently, her daughter invited friends and family members to contribute to a “memory box.” Share a favorite memory, or something you enjoy about her, or have enjoyed with her, she encouraged. I debated what to share. And at the eleventh hour, shared a little memory.

But what I really should have shared is this.

When my children were little, my godparents came to a family gathering. Before the meal, my godmother accompanied me as I took the kids to wash their hands. I encouraged both to recite their ABCs as they worked the soapsuds through their fingers, to be sure they didn’t just “splash and dash.”

“Let me share with you what I do,” my godmother said, as much to me as to the children.

“The ABCs are fine,” she said, helping my daughter. “But when I wash my hands, I say a ’Hail Mary,’ and I pray for someone in need. That way, I’m doing two useful and good things at once!”

What a great idea! I pray often throughout each day, but had never thought of using hand-washing as an opportunity for prayer.

Yet in those moments there’s just enough time to say a quick prayer ...for the little situations and challenges that crop up each day, for a friend or loved one making a decision, for health needs, a little thanksgiving é the opportunities are endless. It’s also a great time to reflect for a few moments, maybe take a mental step back from present events, or get a new perspective on a problem or situation.

We ceased using the ABCs or singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” to gauge the children’s hand-washing time; instead, we used the time for prayer. When the children were very young, hand-washing was an almost-constant need, so we had plenty of prayer opportunities!

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

And the practice of praying a Hail Mary as I wash my hands has stayed with me. Often, I pray for my godmother, and her needs and intentions, and in gratitude for her gentle encouragement that has given me another way to include more prayer into my days.

To my godmother: Thank you ...for this, and for the many ways you’ve shared your faith and love with me, and my family.

To my Father in Heaven: Thank you for my godparents, and for all who by their lives, their example, their faith, their love have led me to a closer walk with You.

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (Philippians 1:3).

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