I came across an old letter yesterday while sorting through papers on my desk at home. This past August, my good friend Louise Wolf Novak had sent what she called a “healing waters” donation for Manna House. She had included her donation in one of her typically wonderful letters, full of family news and questions, along with various ruminations that emerged from her compassionate and thoughtful faith. At the time, she was in the midst of treatment for cancer. Kathleen and I had visited her and her husband Tom earlier in the summer, and we had introduced Nevaeh to them.
In her letter, Louise shared how a friend of hers had written to her of his trip to Lourdes in France. Like so many others, Louise’s friend had gone in faithful desperation, hoping that by bathing in the healing waters of Lourdes, he might be healed as so many others have before. He wrote Louise that he was healed.
Louise wrote to me, “It almost made me think I should pack up and head to Lourdes!” But she continued in her letter, “Tom said something about it being ‘reserved for those who could afford the trip,’ which I had to agree with. I had to agree that healing can’t be restricted like that. So without elaborating, I’m sending a donation to Manna House for its Healing Waters.”
Louise died a week ago Sunday, on February 12, 2017. She continued in her August letter, “I hope I’m not required to go to Lourdes for healing. Any pilgrimage I make will be small. But it is a good opportunity to acknowledge the blessing of warm water at Manna House… Perhaps I’ll make a pilgrimage to Manna House.”
Re-reading Louise’ letter now, I am left wondering about healing. I know the waters at Manna House heal. More than one guest has come out of the shower room testifying, “I’m alive again!” But I also know how many of our guests have died over the years. Death comes in many ways, seizures, heart attacks, hit by a car, falling off a wall, overdose. And we have two volunteers these days also facing serious battles with cancer.
Louise had a deep faith that did not depend upon miracles or special trips to far away places. Her faith and her healing were not restricted in those ways. Instead, as she showed over and over again in her life, her faith depended upon gracious relationships, loving family and friends and loving strangers. That was the unrestricted “healing water” she faithfully shared in her life. This is the healing water referred to in Psalm 23 (so often prayed at funerals), “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”
Death seeks to dry up those waters. Death seeks to create a drought of love in our lives. Death tempts us to think it is stronger than the loving healing waters of relationships in which we live and move and experience God’s presence. Louise never gave up on that healing water. Even in the midst of her wrestling with death, she shared her faith in the “healing waters” by sharing to make sure those waters would continue to flow at Manna House.
Tomorrow, as we always do on Monday mornings, we will offer the healing waters of showers at Manna House. And when I hear the water in showers flowing, I will remember Louise for the way she shared “healing waters.” My prayer will be that the healing that comes with love will touch us all, our guests, our volunteers, and especially in this time, Louise, her husband Tom, and their children.