I never knew Dottie’s last name–or if I ever did, I’ve long forgotten it, because it didn’t seem that important. Dottie was one of those memorable people who only seemed to need one name. Everyone who knew her simply knew her as Dottie. (And no, for any of you gospel music people out there…it wasn’t that Dottie.) 🙂
I first met Dottie when I was a teenager, after an evening worship practice at church. I met her because someone said, “Dottie wants to meet you,” and led me to the back of our large auditorium to meet her–like somehow it was very important that I meet her, or that she wanted to meet me.
Dottie was short, stout, and almost totally blind, with a weathered face that suggested that life had not been too kind to her in days past. And she had a voice twice her size. I knew this because the moment I was introduced to her, she uttered a loud shout, caught my arm, and began to pray. Loudly. In tongues.
It took me aback at first, and I quickly looked around the room to see if anyone was paying attention to this spectacle. They weren’t. Apparently, for Dottie, this was par for the course, and everyone seemed to know it but me. I have no idea why I never got the memo.
After praying for me briefly in this manner, she hugged me, smiled, looked up at me through those nearly-blind eyes, and said, “I’m going to pray for you all the time. Anytime you need me to pray, day or night, you call me. I’m going to cover you in prayer.”
And with that, Dottie latched onto my life and became my personal intercessor, my prayer watchman. She really didn’t leave me a choice.
It turns out Dottie’s loud, prayerful greeting was pretty much how she greeted people. Or, at least, it’s how she greeted me. Because every time I remember approaching her at church after that, it was the same. When I called her–and I did call her, often–I learned to say who it was, then move the phone 12 inches away from my ear for at least 10 seconds.
I never knew too much about her past, or how she came to be blind, or if she’d always been so. (I assume she wasn’t always, because one of the few things I did know about her past is that she had been a nurse.) I don’t know if anyone knew her history very much. But with Dottie, it just didn’t seem to matter. Her loudness could be off putting until you got used to it, but her compassion was disarming. She had no other agenda; she never asked for anything in return. All that woman did was pray.
As personable as she was, Dottie wasn’t the sort of person to just sit down and have a casual conversation with–not because she wouldn’t do so, but because it’s just hard to talk to someone who’s seeing things you don’t see. It was like Dottie was always functioning on a different frequency, a wavelength you couldn’t quite tune in to. She wasn’t trying to be over-sensational, doing the sensational spooky-spiritual thing; but it was apparent there was always another window she was seeing through, and as she talked to you, little things would come out of her mouth that just told you she knew more than she was saying. And you always got the feeling that there was another conversation going on underneath.
Because even when Dottie was talking to you…Dottie was praying.
All through the rest of my years in high school and college, and several years into my marriage, I called Dottie regularly. Anytime, day or night, just like she said. Whenever there was a prayer need, whenever I felt under attack spiritually, whenever I was fighting my own demons no one else knew about…I called her. I told her things I couldn’t tell anyone else. She became my confessor. Because I could trust her, and because she would pray.
Sometimes her responses were unnerving. I’d tell her something I considered horrible and shocking, and she would laugh out loud. I know now it was because she could see past the moment; she knew it would be okay, and that I’d find my way out. And then she would pray.
Other times, I found out later, she would call my mom (who has also diligently prayed for me all my life), and say, “We need to pray for Jeff.” God would wake her in the night when I’d lost my way, or when there was some apparent danger on the path. I know this is highly subjective–but there were many moments during those years when I could feel an intangible boost in my spirit, or relief for my tormented soul, or just a sense that I was being guarded, and I would just know Dottie was praying for me. In my dark hours, when I myself was calling out to God, I would ask Him to have Dottie pray.
Like I needed to ask.
A few years after college, I was living out of state with my young family, preparing to enter my first full-time ministry job, and I got a call from my parents: Dottie had cancer. Late stages. Short of a miracle, she would die, and soon. She never told anyone, and never got treatment.
The last conversation I had with Dottie, you would never have known she had cancer. Her voice was strong as ever. I don’t remember too much what we talked about, and I wasn’t really calling with a prayer request. But I remember that for the first time ever–I felt like I was talking on that same prophetic wavelength with her. She’d say stuff that in days past would have completely confused me, and I understood her! For a few minutes, it was like I could see through the same window. And we talked about the things we saw. One thing I do remember is that she shared some things she saw in the spirit way back then, things that I think are just about to come to pass in my life. It was the most amazing conversation I ever had with her.
Two weeks later, Dottie was gone.
For a long time I felt the loss, even though I hadn’t seen her physically in years. It’s a great gift to know someone is dedicated to praying for you, and you come to lean on it. I have never been one to spend all day in prayer, and the few times I tried, it came out all religious and didn’t really seem to do anything but make me tired. So I have respect and honor for people who are apparently bent to pray above the average, to lift up and watch over others in prayer, the way Dottie did for me. I almost feel selfish now, the way I leaned on her for that; but looking back, I don’t have the slightest idea what I could have offered her in return. Others have been kind enough to cover me in prayer since that time, and of course, I learned to lean on God myself instead of leaning on someone else to just do my praying for me. But I believe God gave me Dottie for a season, to give me that extra boost as I navigated the turbulent waters of growing up and finding my way into those early years of ministry. I see “ministry” through a different lens now, but I know I was called within the parameters that I knew; and I had an enemy that wanted to see that destiny hijacked. God used Dottie as a watchful spiritual guardian who, along with my mom (another lifetime hero), literally prayed me into that season. She lived just long enough for me to tell her I was entering full-time ministry–not long enough to see it, just long enough to know her prayers had prevailed.
Dottie is a lifetime hero for me, and not just because she prayed. Through my contact with her, I learned the importance and value of prayer, how God works in us and through us–and on our behalf–when we pray, and when we pray for others. I also learned, through those little things like laughing at the horrible thing I told her, that what is now is not what will be. Dottie taught me to see past the immediate moment to the future hope.
In the midst of that critical season of prayer, Dottie gave me a Scripture, Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” It is a Scripture that has been like a beacon for me all my life.
I wish everyone had a Dottie.