“Today’s my one-year anniversary,” the young man remarked.
I congratulated him, understanding exactly what he meant.
It’d been a year of him showing up at the sidewalk outside our state’s only abortion facility to pray, and though abortion isn’t anything to celebrate, surviving a year out there is.
The temperature that day was quite a few degrees below zero, as it likely had been a year prior. He wasn’t celebrating what we come to do, but the fact that he’d made it through that year, of freezing temps, or, in the summertime, scorching heat.
Nick is one of the more faithful advocates. He comes in the morning every week when the facility opens, and doesn’t leave until its lights dim and doors lock.
I admire his tenacity, and willingness to have sacrificed so many hours for this cause over a year’s time. I’m not quite as brave or valiant, and to see it in someone so young is especially heartening.
Earlier that same day, I’d found myself grumbling while rounding up extra layers of clothing. I muttered to God – maybe even aloud – about how he’d lured me into this praying thing deeply enough that I could no longer see an out.
Despite the inconvenience and my thin skin, I was committed to being there, if only for an hour. So, trying desperately to summon enthusiasm, I gathered up literature we hand out when we can, along with my Rosary, scarf and mittens, and headed out into the crisp, sunny day.
I’ve taken to starting my Wednesday prayer en route, to help prepare myself spiritually, and that day, I asked God to use me for his glory. While whispering the words there in my van, it occurred to me how blessed I am to have any time at all to do this. Not everyone does.
I also realized that earlier on in my life, I might not have been strong enough, either, spiritually-speaking. God had done some work in my soul to prepare me for the sidewalk, and rather than complain about the weather, I needed to remember how lucky I am that God had touched my heart enough to move me to action.
Block by block, as I inched my way toward Downtown, I began realizing how little I have to complain about, and what a luxury it is to be able to go there each week, as often as I can, to pray.
Growing up on the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana, I loved going to powwows and watching the traditional dancers. It was a beautiful way of life, and I remember when someone explained to me how happy the elders are to see the younger generations dance, “because we no longer can.”
It can be said of sidewalk prayer, too. Nick, still in his 20s, can physically stand out there for longer periods of time. And I, though not as young, can offer at least some of my time.
Like the Lakota elders, I pray, in part, because others no longer can – or at least not in so visible a way.
My complaints about extra layers and teeth-gritting through the frigid temperatures began to fall away as I realized how God had offered me the privilege of being there. Suddenly, the sacrifice didn’t feel so tall.
I prayed with purpose that day, and when, about a half-hour into it, I could no longer feel my fingers, I found the will to go on when Nick offered me some hand-warmers.
God gives us what we need to serve him. Additionally, he sees every little sacrifice we make for the sake of others. Whether preparing another pan of macaroni and cheese for our kids, or making it through another day of illness, each suffering moment borne well counts in God’s eyes.
In my humanity, I resist the sidewalk. But with spiritual grace and God’s gentle reminder of the blessing of being there, I arrive another week, knowing it’s one more chance to be part of building his kingdom on earth.
Most days it’s no easy thing, but in God’s eyes, it’s no small thing, either.
Thank you, Lord, for the chance to serve you, all days, in all these ways.
[Note: I write about my experiences on the sidewalk Downtown Fargo on Wednesday, the day abortions happen at our state’s only abortion facility, for New Earth magazine — the official news publication of the Fargo Diocese. I hope you find “Sidewalk Stories” helpful in understanding the truth about abortion and how it plays out tragically each week here in Fargo, N.D. The preceding ran in New Earth’s February 2017 issue.]