After undergoing surgery in November to repair tendons and muscles in her right shoulder, Lori Covak was in severe pain. When she arrived at a transitional care facility in West St. Paul, Minnesota, two days after the surgery, she wasn’t thinking about making new friends.
But God had a few assignments for her while she recuperated.
During her two weeks at the facility, the Lord gave Covak, 48, grace, including pain relief, which enabled her to befriend three other patients.
By listening, showing compassion and, at times, offering tough love, she got to know these patients whose lives — and pain — were very different from her own.
“It wasn’t easy, said Covak, who works at NET Ministries, a national Catholic youth ministry based in West St. Paul. “It wasn’t a two-way street. It was me and the Lord going after them where they were at.”
Covak met Mike, the first of her new friends, when she sat at his table at dinner her first day at the facility. Mike was a large man in his 60s who used his size, booming voice and free-flowing profanity to intimidate patients and staff.
While other patients avoided Mike, Covak said the Lord put it on her mind and heart to sit with him — and befriend him by asking him questions. “I saw that others wouldn’t talk to him because they didn’t want to get yelled at,” she said. “I didn’t care if he was going to yell at me or not; it was his [own] issue that he was dealing with.”
She added, “He’s kind of a lost soul. If he could grab onto Christianity, I think he’d do so much better.”
Also sitting at “Mike’s table” was Jim, an easygoing 60-year-old who was recovering from a stroke. It wasn’t his first stroke, and this time he’d been forced to forfeit his driver’s license — a devastating blow for the avid motorcyclist. Mike’s abuse only exacerbated his depression.
One night, Jim told Covak he was thinking about killing himself. She reminded him that the action would hurt many people in his life (not to mention God). Then she shared from her own experience with despair. “There are times when in myself I used to feel that kind of whirling down to the pit of despair, and I think that’s what he had done,” she said. “He wasn’t looking at anything positive.”
The next day, Covak feared the worst, but when she saw Jim pushing someone in a wheelchair to Mass, she asked him if he were staying for the liturgy. He said, “Yes,” and she felt encouraged that he would be okay.
Covak’s third friend was a shy, petite 47-year-old woman named Geri who spoke little. Geri had suffered brain damage after overdosing on prescription drugs. It took Covak a week to gain Geri’s confidence, and, later, a nurse later told her that no one else talked to her.
Covak suggested they watch a movie together. When she was working on a jigsaw puzzle, Geri asked to help, though she put the wrong pieces together. “I befriended her, and I was willing to hear the same story over and over again,” Covak said. “I think God gave me the grace of patience.”
During the time she spent with her new friends, God gave Covak the grace to reach out them, and when she did, her own pain lessened.
“I think the Lord really blessed me,” she said. “The pain wouldn’t be as sharp when I was around [the friends]. I offered up that time with them as a prayer. The Lord blessed me, and I was able to do these things.”
Covak has dealt with serious illness for almost 20 years, and while she has often had opportunities to share her faith with the nurses treating her, this was the first time she had been able to reach out to fellow patients.
She approaches her pain by soberly bringing it to the Lord and telling him who she is offering it for. “Then let the Lord take some of the pain away,” she recommended. “Some people don’t let the Lord take; it they hold onto it.”
Covak also challenged Catholics to offer Christ’s love to those experiencing pain — one of the corporal works of mercy. “You never know what God will give you for showing his mercy to others.”
Through her prayer and actions, seeds were planted. “When you plant seeds, you don’t often see the fruit that comes from them,” she said. “I probably won’t ever see the fruit that comes from that.”
Covak hopes to see her friends again when she’s more fully recovered. She also believes God has used them to help with her own healing, including taking her out of her comfort zone.
“At times, I thought, ‘This is so stupid. Why are you doing this?’” Covak said. “The Lord has his ways, and I know that if it wasn’t for people reaching out to me, I wouldn’t have ever had this kind of a faith life.”