Mom went home to Heaven, on March 25, 2017 at 7:40 pm. She had just turned 74 years old. She was surrounded by all of us who dearly loved her, and passed away very peacefully.
Mom had a stroke a few days prior, and lost her ability to speak. A true gift was that she was able to clearly say three words, “I love you”, until the day before she died. We said it often and in many ways, telling her how proud we were of her and how much we treasured her.
A treasured memory for me, was at one point after I said, “I love you, mom” she responded, “I love you…so so so so so”, struggling to get it all out. I interrupted and asked, “You love me so much?” And without missing a beat, she replied, “YA”.
I was lying with her, my head next to hers, stroking her beautiful face, telling her to let go and take her angel’s hand, when she quietly slipped away into eternity.
She blessed us all with her brilliant, beautiful smile until that last day, which was another treasured gift. There were so many grace filled moments throughout her dying, that were a deep comfort for us all.
During this past week, the music of Christian artist, Matt Maher (specifically the album, Saints and Sinners) has been a great comfort for me. I was particularly drawn to his song, “Everything is Grace”. As I listened to it over and over, it dawned on me that this was something that St. Therese of Lisieux had written about in her diary. Sure enough, when I looked it up, Matt had written this song while inspired by the life of St Therese.
Here is what Matt said on his blog about writing this song:
“One of my favorite saints was St. Therese of Lisieux, ‘The Little Flower.’ She was born in France and entered the convent at a very young age and died of tuberculosis in her early 20s. Years after her death, they found her diary. In Catholicism, she’s considered a spiritual giant; a heavyweight. She had a spiritual practice called ‘The Little Way,’ and everything she did, she did it with the utmost level of intentionality, whether it was sweeping floors or washing dishes or making beds or cleaning bed pans. She offered a great quote that said, ‘Everything is grace. Everything is a direct result of the Father’s love for us. So no matter the difficulties you face, however trivial or serious, they’re basically all an opportunity.’ You reach a point in your journey where all of a sudden things start going wrong in life and it’s OK. Everything is grace. Everything is an opportunity. Eleven years ago, I wrote ‘ Your Grace Is Enough,’ and 11 years later, it’s still the case.”
I started this blog seven years ago (2010) with a post about St. Therese of Lisieux. It was her feast day, and at the time I was reading her diary, Story of a Soul. St. Therese and her story, is one of the reasons why I named this blog, Caregiving with Grace.
St. Therese had a profoundly deep and persevering faith. She suffered a great deal in her life, yet always tried to maintain such a joy and grace about her. That strength stemmed directly from her intense love for her Lord, and trust in all of his ways.
Here is an excerpt from her Story of a Soul:
“Everything is a grace, everything is the direct effect of our Father’s love – difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul’s miseries, her burdens, her needs – everything, because through them, she learns humility, realizes her weakness. Everything is a grace because everything is God’s gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events – to the heart that loves, all is well.”
What I wanted to convey through this blog, more than ANYTHING is this:
That throughout all of the darkness AND light of our lives, God’s grace is always present and available to us.
Mom’s journey was filled with much difficulty and suffering. Yet, throughout it all, God was always calling for us to search Him out and rely on His mercy, Grace, and peace. She and I didn’t always listen or respond (right away, anyway), but we always tried to have faith and hope.
For over 25 years, mom suffered with various debilitating illnesses. I, along with my family, suffered along with her, as we struggled with knowing how to best help her. Her illnesses separated her from us, as they slowly robbed her of her physical abilities, her ability to reason, and her memories.
For 31 years, I have felt a pervasive loneliness at being separated from my mom in one respect or another, either physically or mentally. We were very close friends, and our love for one another was always deep, yet I always struggled with desiring for her to live her best life. I received therapy and medical intervention to help me cope, but what consistently got me through was living an active prayer life.
Those deep valleys taught me and tested my faith (and hers), more than anything else ever could. We gained countless lessons in humility and compassion. We learned what unconditional love and mercy looks and feels like. We learned how to persevere in great pain and adversity, and how to get up again and again against all odds. We learned that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God, and in fact, our sufferings can become opportunities to develop a closer relationship with Him.
As a Catholic, I believe whole heartedly in the concept of Redemptive Suffering. We believe that Christ came into the world as the redeemer, the One who willingly suffered and died (and rose again) in reparation of the sins of mankind.
We are ALSO called to believe that we humans have the power to share in his Redemptive suffering. By the sufferings in His human nature during the passion, by which mankind was redeemed, Christ gave to all suffering experienced in the member of his mystical body, a redeeming power when accepted and offered up in union with his passion.
Many scripture passages support this idea, Romans 8: 18, 28, 38, being a personal favorite:
“What we suffer at this present time cannot be compared to all with the glory that is going to be revealed in us…We know that all things work for good for those who love God…For I am convinced that neither life nor death…nor future things, nor powers nor any other creature can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus”
Some others are: “Whoever follows me must take up his cross (Mt 10:38)
“Therefore we are not discouraged, rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal wight of glory beyond all comparison.” (II Cor 4:16)
“With Christ, I am nailed to the cross. It is now no longer I that live but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:19-20)
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, for I fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” (Col:24)
And another favorite from Romans 5:1-5:
“Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing in the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in our sufferings, knowing the suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
I have prayed for most of these 30 plus years for our sufferings to be united to the sufferings of Christ, and it gives me a profound comfort and peace knowing that no prayer is ever wasted. The answers to our prayers do not always look the same as the answers God wills for us, but that is what we learn when our faith is tested over time.
As I matured in my prayer life, I found that my desperate pleas for healing became transformed into desires for the acceptance of God’s will. Many times we went through very tough challenges and it was only afterwards that we saw that God had worked things out in His own unique way.
Those times help to build up trust for the times when things just can’t seem to make any earthly sense to us. Prayer helps us to stay connected to that trust and to not lose sight of the bigger pictures of love and redemption.
This won’t be my last post, but I will only write a few more. I plan on pursuing the next stages of my life in the areas of teaching kids and deepening my religious studies. I may possibly go into spiritual direction, pastoral ministry, or teaching religion. I’ve been praying for a LONG time for God to help me decide. I have even thought about hospice work. Prayers are appreciated to help me narrow it down! Whatever I do, I trust God will use me in the best ways that He sees fit.
And I have no doubt that I will have my mama’s spirit right along side me helping me along the way.
Matt Maher’s song “Everything is Grace”:
The evening tide is falling fast
My feet are weary
But I’m free at last
So meet me in the tomb my Lord
Come roll away
Roll away the stone
And this is the mystery
Death bows to
The King of Kings
He has overcome the grave
For the sinners and the saints
Matt Maher’s song “The Waiting/Because He lives”: