I have recently observed the one year anniversary of the death of a loved one. You don’t know her – 99.9% of this world’s population had no occasion to know her or otherwise be affected by her death. But I did know her and I was affected, and I want you to know about her, because she was a hero in my life.
We called her Dona Toya and she attended my little church on the hill in the back jungles of Guatemala, the place where I grew up. She was hardly 5′ tall, wore typical Indian garb and plastic sandals, her gray hair in neat braids down her back. Her teeth were either missing or crooked, and she lacked formal education. When I was growing up, I could have sworn she was 172, but turns out it was just a hard life that aged her. She didn’t own a car or a bicycle- her meager house let in the daylight and the wind, and the floor was dirt. She cooked over an open fire and barely had two nickels to rub together, but she somehow always managed to make us tamales for Christmas as her gift to us – a gift which meant arising at 4 to cook them and then walk to our house (we lived several miles away) to deliver them by 7 a.m. so that we could have them for our traditional Guatemalan Christmas breakfast.
For all she lacked materially, she made it up spiritually. This woman could pray. When I would sit in church and the minister would ask for a volunteer to lead the prayer, she would always raise her hand. I would silently plead with him not to pick her, because if he did, that automatically meant an extra half hour to church and lunch would be late.
I am embarrassed to admit that now. As I have grown and matured in my own faith, and observed the lack of discipline in my prayer life, I have been drawn again to the picture of that diminutive, gray-haired Mayan woman – standing, rough hands covering a wrinkled, tear-stained face, praising God for His goodness, pleading with Him for His intervention. There were no trite, polite “God bless us all” generalities – this was no show. She was before her Audience of One and was as authentic in her public prayer as in her private communion.
She prayed for my disabled nephew, a boy a thousand miles away that she would never meet. She prayed for me. Had she known your need, she would have prayed for you. Her faith was simple, uncomplex, and genuine. She didn’t need a prayer journal, books on prayer, an accountability partner to make sure she was praying – she just prayed. Daily. Without ceasing. And in so doing, touched the life of this fellow believer, and others as well.
She was a spiritual giant, a selfless giver, a prayer warrior whose external circumstances would not deter her from boldly approaching her heavenly Father. And I am humbled when I observe all the wealth that I have, the comfortable roof over my head, the shoes on my feet, and consider the poverty of my prayer life in comparison with this noble woman.
In speaking with my mom the day she shared the news with me, we shed tears together, then smiled as she commented “Well, she can pray like she always wanted to, in heaven now.” I can just imagine her – praising and praying – not with tears, but with great joy and adoration.
And knowing her, she’ll never stop, even if it means she’ll be late to the table.