Live an Extraordinary Life


So many thoughts swirl through my mind as I wonder what I could possibly write that could adequately give voice to the extraordinary suffering that this month and, in particular, this day has ushered into the souls of my family.  Even in prayer, I find myself speechless and simply wait for the Spirit to intercede for me with “groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)   It has been four years since we said goodbye to our daughter, sister, and friend.  Through the years, I’ve come to recognize that our loss and suffering is particularly extraordinary because Evie was an extraordinary young lady.  Although it is difficult to comprehend  why she was whisked away at such a young age, I am confident that she made a lasting impression on those around her and continues to do so even in death.  As I reflect upon her life, I offer you the following principles to live by according to Evie:

  1. Love deeply.  Never be afraid to tell someone how much you love them.  Be creative in your expression of love. 
  2. Smile often.  Let others see the joy of Christ that flows within you.
  3. Show compassion and empathy for the suffering and marginalized.  Defend them fiercely.       Go out of your way to make them feel loved and to show them the love of God even at the        cost of being unpopular.  Do what you can to relieve their suffering.
  4. Make prayer a priority.  Gather others to pray with you.   Spend time with Christ in Adoration.
  5. Always try to find the good in others.  
  6. Live in wonder.  Be content with simplicity.  Spend time enjoying God’s creation.
  7. Serve others without counting the cost.  Let God see your service in secret.  Try to recognize the needs of others before your own.
  8. Read about the lives of the Saints and aspire to emulate them in your own life.
  9. Learn to love our Blessed Mother and allow her to lead you to Christ.  Meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary and pray it often.
  10. Develop a deep love and reverence for Christ in the Eucharist.

My prayer is that you can find hope and inspiration in her life.  I know that is what she would have wanted more than anything.  So many of you have reached out already today and in the days preceding today with love and prayers for our family.  We can’t tell you how much it means to us to be remembered, prayed for, and loved.  Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Longing for Heaven


I have no words to offer today that have not already been written.  The plain truth is that you are missed and loved more deeply than I could ever articulate.  The heart of our family stopped beating with yours.  Yet, our hearts do continue to beat.  This is the mystery and the root of our discontent.  How do we live without you?  

Time does not heal death any more than it can heal cancer.  There is no healing in this life.  There is, however, the daily decision to put our feet on firm ground and hoist this heavy cross upon our backs— to climb the steep and rocky terrain.  There is the decision to fan the sometimes nearly imperceptible flame of hope that burns deep within our souls.  

In doing so, we cry out to the Father in pain.   Like Job, we curse the day of our birth because our sorrow is relentless.  Like Thomas, we long to plunge our hands into Jesus’ wounds so that our senses may perceive what our faith deems true.  And like Jacob, we spend long nights wrestling with God, begging Him to reveal Himself and refusing to let go until He blesses us with understanding.

But we won’t let go.  Through tears, we will keep wrestling, longing, and climbing—even through the darkness of night.  Because we believe that although time cannot heal death, death does.  Jesus made it possible for death to give way to life.  And it is this hope that quickens our hearts.

Pray for us, my beautiful girl.  Pray that we may persevere until the end.  Pray that the pulse of life may course through our veins again.  And pray that we may, in some small way, catch a glimpse of Heaven, where you wait with our beloved Lord and all the saints.  

A poem by Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

“I am still on the other shore, 

But sensing eternal happiness,

Oh! I would already like to leave this earth

And gaze on the wonders of Heaven…

When I dream of the joys of the other life,

I no longer feel the weight of my exile,

Since soon toward my only Homeland

I’ll fly for the first time……


Ah! Jesus, give me white wings

That I may take flight to you.

I want to fly to the eternal Shores.

I want to see you, O my Divine Treasure!

I want to fly into the arms of Mary

To rest on that choice throne

And receive from my dear Mother

A sweet Kiss for the first time!….


My Beloved, let me soon catch a glimpse

Of the sweetness of your first smile,

And let me, in my divine delirium,

Ah! let me hide in your Heart!…

Oh! what a moment! what ineffable happiness

When I’ll hear the sweet sound of your voice,

When I’ll see the divine brilliance

Of your Adorable Face for the first time!…


You know well, Sacred Heart of Jesus,

My only martyrdom is your love.

If my soul sighs for your beautiful Heaven,

It’s to love you, to love you more and more!…

In Heaven, always intoxicated with tenderness,

I’ll love you without limit and without law,

And my happiness will unceasingly seem

As new as the first time!!!…”


Fourteen years ago, on a sunny August morning, I awoke to a vague feeling of nausea.  Disappointed that it had reared its ugly head again after a two month hiatus, I gingerly sank into our stiff leather  couch beside my son.  Turning on some cartoons, I hoped to keep him occupied while I choked down a few dry, tasteless crackers.  I don’t remember what we watched, but we snuggled together and took in the show.

Examining my sizable bump, my husband remarked, tongue in cheek, that I was absolutely prohibited from giving birth within the next few weeks.  We were living in England and he was working on a PhD in theology from Oxford University.  He had a big deadline coming up and needed to focus on getting some writing done.  With a smirk, I patted my belly and told the baby that she needed to obey her daddy.  Smiling, he turned and gathered up a recently laundered comforter to be dried on the line in our minuscule backyard.

With my due date nearly four weeks away, I was confident there would be no sign of baby anytime soon.  Micaiah was not born early.  However, I was growing impatient to meet this sweet little girl.  After two devastating pregnancy losses and a transatlantic move, I was worried that we might never have another child.  Yet, on Christmas morning of 2003, we were both elated and terrified to discover that the hope we had tucked away in our hearts was growing in the silent darkness of my womb.

The discovery that I was carrying a baby girl was another gift that I did not expect.  I pictured  sweet dresses and hair bows, manicures and mother/daughter dates.  I was so close to my own mom and couldn’t imagine not having a daughter of my own.  It all felt like a dream…to good to be true.  Naturally, after two losses, I worried.  Would my baby girl be healthy?  Would the delivery go well?  I did everything within my power to ensure her health and safety but fear continued to grip me.

But as the pregnancy progressed I relaxed and allowed myself to embrace the thought that I would hold this baby girl in my arms.

As I sat on the couch that sunny morning, the queasiness increased by the minute and I decided that I might need to get up and get some fresh air.  Rising, I felt something unexpectedly “pop” inside of me and became immediately aware of the sensation of water gushing down my legs.  In a sea of questionable and confusing labor signs, this was the holy grail of certainty that a baby would be on the way imminently.

Carefully waddling out to the backyard, I attempted not to slip in the steady stream of water collecting at my feet.  Turning the corner, I told the man, who only moments earlier had insisted that the baby stay put, that he was about to be the father of a little girl.

After relaying the news, a look of confused panic crossed his face.  He accused me of joking around.  But one glance at my soaked pajama bottoms were confirmation that I meant business.  He sprang into dutiful action, questioning what we should do next.  I explained that we needed to call the midwife and the friends who had agreed to keep Micaiah for us, and pack our bags.  

The midwife instructed us to head to the hospital to have my status checked.  We were ushered into a small triage room only to discover what we already knew; my water had indeed broken and we would be greeting the newest member of our family very shortly.

Unfortunately, my body hadn’t quite gotten the message yet that the baby’s cozy water bath had sprung a leak.  I was sent to a room on the first floor of the hospital maternity ward to receive antibiotics as a preventative measure against infection and wait for contractions to begin. 

If you’ve ever been victim to the British health care system, you know that when you are told to “wait” to be seen or helped, you might as well be a fly on the wall.  As an American, I hadn’t quite come to this realization.  I lingered for nearly seven hours until I finally had a contraction.  Another hour passed and I began timing the contractions.  They seemed to be coming steadily at 5 minutes apart.  It appeared that I was indeed in labor.  After badgering the nursing staff,  I was finally sent to a proper labor and delivery room on the second floor, where the midwife on call was appalled to learn that after spending the entire day waiting in a hospital room downstairs, I still had not received antibiotics. 

Settled in my new room with the necessary medication dripping into my veins, the contractions intensified.  It was well after midnight…2:30 am to be exact.  I felt the urge to push and asked the midwife to check my cervix.  She confirmed that the baby was crowning and ready to be delivered.  The lights were dimmed and after just two pushes, Evelyn entered our world.  We waited, as all parents do, with bated breath in that second before she uttered her first cry.  And then we heard that glorious sound as the air filled her lungs and a slippery, squirmy bundle was placed on my chest.  It goes without saying that we were in love with her instantly.  She wrapped her tiny hand around our fingers as we kissed the top of her head and stroked her newborn cheeks, tears of joy trickling down both of ours.  I had dreamt of this moment for so long.  In the wee hours of August 7, 2004, as I held my beautiful, healthy baby girl in my arms, It seemed that life couldn’t be more perfect.

Just over eleven years later, I would look back at this moment and realize more than ever just how perfect life was.  In a twist of fate, I would find myself explaining to her daddy that she was leaving us as unexpectedly as she came.  I would wait in a hospital, not for signs of labor, but for signs of life.  And this time, when the air did not fill her lungs, I would wrap my hand around those once tiny fingers and kiss her forehead as tears streamed down my cheeks.  Instead of hello, I would say goodbye for the rest of my earthly life.

Today she would be fourteen.  Today, on her birthday, my arms are empty.  They ache to hold her again, to tell her how much I love her and how proud I am of who she has become.

The anticipation of this day begins well before it arrives and I often find myself on edge and extremely emotional.  I feel angry that everyone in the world seems to be celebrating their living child’s birthday and posting pictures on social media while I am trying to formulate a plan that will both honor my deceased child’s life and respect the different ways that each of my family members grieve.  I wonder why she can’t be here.  Why was her life cut short?  As a parent, you expect that there will be a lifetime of birthdays to celebrate.

But we aren’t promised a lifetime of birthdays.  We aren’t promised tomorrow.  Sin brought death into this world and until Jesus comes again to redeem it, our physical bodies will fail us.  Evelyn was an unexpected gift to me.  While she lived on this earth, I did my best to nurture her, to love her, and to prepare her for her eternal home.  She resides there now, with the angels and saints.  God has completed the work in her and my job as her mother is finished.  And even though the pain of being physically separated from her is indescribable,  our love for one another can never be untethered because it comes from the Eternal One who is Love Incarnate.  We love because He first loved us.

Happy Birthday my darling little girl.  You brought me so much joy in this life.  You radiated God’s love and goodness.  Your life was an offering to Him.   I will never stop loving you or celebrating the day that you were born into this world.  May you find rest in your Savior whom you loved so deeply.  And may God sustain those of us who miss you with an inexplicable longing until we hold you in our arms again.



Behold Your Mother


I discovered this image of the Sorrowful Mother shortly after Evie died. It spoke to me in so many ways, and I decided to make it the wallpaper on my phone. It was the first image that I beheld in the morning as I opened my eyes to check the time and the last image to fade away as I plugged my phone into the charger before retiring for the night. It flashed before me numerous times throughout the day as I responded to texts and phone calls, listened to music, checked lists, and utilized my phone in various ways.

At that moment in time, it was the only image that I could bear to glimpse repeatedly throughout the day. I could only look at photos of Evie in small doses and only when I was feeling strong. Pictures of my other children were a cruel reminder of a fragmented family. I knew that hidden behind the smiles was indescribable and confusing pain. Pain that little hearts shouldn’t have to feel.

But this image was one to which I could relate. This image represented everything that I was feeling inside. It was bold, unashamed, and true. It depicted a mother’s heart, exposed for all the world to see…burning with pain and love and stabbed repeatedly with the sharp daggers of sorrow that only a mother who has held her dead child in her arms can feel.

I couldn’t relate to the Virgin birth, Mary’s Immaculate Conception, her perfection, or her struggles to raise the perfect Son of God. But I could relate to her grief. This image of the Sorrowful Mother became my mascot because there was no room for anything but pain. It consumed my mind and my thoughts. My energy was sapped as my heart bled from the wound. Every new experience without Evie twisted the swords in deeper. I wondered how one could survive that kind of misery. Daily, I questioned whether or not I wanted to survive it. Sometimes, I begged God to please let me go to Heaven. I wasn’t sure I had the fortitude to keep getting up in the morning.

But each morning, His mercies were new. He gave me the grace that I needed for that day. Each tear shed, word written and prayer uttered brought healing. Jesus fed me with His very body and blood and brought dear friends into my life who simply cared, listened, and allowed me to express my pain in all of it’s raw ugliness, no matter how uncomfortable it made them feel.

In time, I found myself changing the image on my phone to pictures of Evie and my other children as I worked through my grief and learned to make room for life and joy in my heart again. The pain itself was no longer the center of my existence.

Today, as I examine the image, I am able to look beyond the pierced burning heart of Our Lady. I see her face clearly now. It is not the face of a mother who has just held her dead child. It is not a face twisted in horror and anguish and seething with the sting of death. Although the small trickle of tears unveil the anguish in her soul, her expression does not match the shocking state of her wounded heart.

As a grieving mother now further removed from the epicenter of her grief, I can appreciate the juxtaposition between Mary’s heart and her visage.

My face is no longer always twisted in sorrow. I smile, laugh, and celebrate life. I make plans and look forward to new things. The raging torrent of tears, have mostly given way to a small trickle.

But I live life now with a wounded heart. An innocent question from a stranger about how many children I have are a reminder of that fact. As my other children grow, I am faced with the constant reminder that Evie will never grow older or meet the two newest members of our family. The simple act of taking a family photo becomes a heart-wrenching experience. Family life is complicated as I help my children through depression and anxiety. We often stumble over one another as we attempt to spend time together as a family without the glue that held us all together. I will never have all of my children together at once. The hopes and dreams that I had for their childhood and even their futures has diminished and been replaced with a longing for God to somehow, in His own timing, draw them back to Him, mend their brokenness and make them whole again.

Through my own suffering, I’ve become more acutely aware that a mother’s outward appearance doesn’t always reveal the agony inside. Whether it’s child loss, a difficult marriage, a wayward child, a diagnosis, infertility, or a host of other hurts, the wounds she carries are very real and very difficult.

It would be easy to admit defeat when carrying this level of pain, to become bitter and cynical, even to push it away and to trick ourselves into believing that we shouldn’t feel it.  The Enemy wants us to believe that our sorrow negates our faith.

But in the image of our Sorrowful Mother, we see both devastating pain and a countenance of quiet resignation and prayerful contemplation. Her open hands are cradling her burning and pierced heart in a gesture of motherly tenderness and protection,  ready at any moment to present her suffering to the Father as a sacrificial offering.

And herein lies the ineffable mystery of our faith; that suffering, peaceful surrender, and redemption can co-exist in the human heart. Our Lady is a flawless example of this truth and a perfect example for all mothers.

Through her example, we encounter a mother who emptied herself and humbly accepted her suffering as a means to bring Salvation to the world, even at great cost to herself. We witness a woman who stood by her Son as he appeared to fail miserably when He hung upon the cross. We see a mother who does not give up on Hope but ponders all of these things in her heart as she waits for the coming of the Holy Spirit after her Son’s miraculous resurrection and ascension into Heaven.

So if your heart is hurting this Mother’s Day, if the tears threaten to trickle down, if you can’t bring yourself to enjoy the earthly fanfare and Hallmark nature of this day, take heart that you are not alone. Jesus sees your broken heart just as surely as He sees the broken heart of His own beloved mother. Offer all of it to him, and receive the peace of knowing that in sharing His suffering, no tear is wasted. You can lean into your pain while also clinging to hope, knowing that perfect motherhood is not defined by the outcome, but in remaining obedient to your vocation as a mother and allowing the mystery of that experience to transform your own heart.

And when your wounded heart is tired, know that can find rest in the loving arms of a good, good God who loves His children, your children, more than life itself.







Suffering with the Saints

On this very day, two years ago, she played her final song.

How can it be? How can it be that two years have gone by without her beaming smile, the sound of her feet skipping down the hall, stacks of unfinished drawings left haphazardly on the table and giggles echoing from the room where she shared late night secrets with her sister? How can it be that long since I have hugged her thin shoulders, braided her wild locks, or held her hand in mine?

So much has changed in the course of two years.

In February, we received the news that our new home, All Saints Farm, was finished and we began the process of moving. I did my best to sift, sort, and pack up our things in the midst of homeschooling, chasing a very active toddler, and carrying another little one inside of me. Every nook and cranny to be packed up became a final opportunity to unearth a precious relic of her life. An undiscovered piece of art, her name written on a slip of paper buried at the bottom of a bin of toys, a handwritten note declaring her love for us, and a blonde curl that a kind nurse urged me to cut and keep on the day she died all represented the fullness of Evie’s life. As we opened the door to our new home on the Feast of Saint Joseph it felt as if we were closing the final door on so many memories of our precious daughter and crossing the threshold of a new life.

In June, we welcomed little Miriam Hope to our family. We were blessed with another little girl and God answered our prayers for a full-term delivery and healthy baby. Her arrival brought both joy and sorrow as we offered up our gratitude for this precious gift, yet mourned the fact that our two youngest children will never meet their big sister.


August brought another round of birthdays for the girls. Evie would have been thirteen. Again, we ate cake without her and sent balloons soaring into the sky. Her sisters are another year older. Cecilia, tall for her age, wears the clothes that Evie wore shortly before she died. By the end of this day Eden, now eleven, will have outlived her big sister. She uses many of the same school books that Evie was using before her death and plays the same songs on the piano.

September ushered in a new school year for us all. Our oldest son Micaiah headed to high school and the girls began their fifth and first grade years at home. As the month faded away along with the lazy days of summer, I told myself the anniversary of Evie’s death was not going to bother me as much this year. After all, I miss her every day. Rarely a moment goes by that I am not thinking of her. What difference does one particular day make?

But then the calendar flipped to October. The leaves began their metamorphosis and the temperature dropped. Carved pumpkins and Mums lined front porches. My Facebook feed began to trickle with pictures of children dressed in costume. I couldn’t even enter a store without bumping into plastic spiders and creepy skeletons. Despite my attempts to shut my eyes and ears to the scene around me, my body remembers the trauma of that day and I feel the heavy cloak of sadness envelop me. My kids feel it too. They cry more than usual and refuse to go places and do things that bring back those painful memories.

In the wee hours of the night, when all is dark and still, I relive her death and the truth of it still shocks me and takes my breath away. She is dead. My daughter is dead. How am I still alive? Each day, for the past two years I have wondered how I will carry on without her. How can I survive the unthinkable?

Yet, I wake, pull the covers off, and put two feet on the floor. I change diapers, fold laundry and clean toilets. I gather eggs, wipe counters, and cook meals. I make mistakes and ask for forgiveness. I laugh at my toddler’s silly antics and kiss my baby’s soft cheeks. I teach my children about Jesus, math, and history. I embrace my husband and relish time spent in conversation. I’ve made room for joy and sorrow in the spaces of my soul.

I’ve learned to live again because He lives. This life, with all of its pain and suffering is my path to holiness and heaven is my final destination.

Today, while the secular world is celebrating costumes, candy, and plastic skeletons the Church begins to celebrate the great feast of All Saints. We remember the many holy men, women, and children who lived heroic lives of virtue even amidst horrific suffering. They have reached the beatific vision and are happy to pray for us when we call upon their names.

October 31 is not about death, but life. Each morning when I rise I see this beautiful image, created for our family by an iconographer and dear friend and I am reminded that because He lives my daughter also lives.



She intercedes on our behalf and waits for us to join her one day along with all of the saints that she knew and loved during her brief earthly life.

Today we will honor that life. We will cry and remember. We’ll plant bulbs at her grave and grieve together as a family. We will come to the altar for the great feast of All Saints and join our daughter at the place where Heaven meets Earth.  Before we retire for the night as we join in family prayer before the crucifix we will sing a litany to the saints and our beloved Evelyn, as we do each evening, asking for their intercession.

And we will continue to live, just as the saints, in eager expectation for the day when our life’s work is complete and we can join our daughter and all of our heavenly friends in the New Jerusalem.











On Fighting Dragons

Evie's Headstone.JPG

From the time our children were small, we have made reading aloud to them from good literature an important part of family life. We’ve always believed that children learn valuable moral lessons when exposed to stories in which good conquers evil and living a life of courage and heroic virtue is honored above vice and self-interest. When Micaiah was four, we read through the Chronicles of Narnia and again when the girls were old enough to enjoy them as well. We’ve read countless picture books, chapter books, and short stories. My husband’s favorite stories to read to our girls were the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. You could often find all of them curled up by the fire on a cold winter day listening to a tale from one of these collections. Since Evie died, though we continue to make an effort to read aloud, it has been a difficult and often painful practice to revive in our home.

The other day, Cecilia brought me a book, snuggled up beside me, and asked me to read it to her. It was the story of St. George and the Dragon. This particular picture book is one of my favorites. It begins with St. George journeying through the forest on horseback alongside the princess of a kingdom in dire straits. The princess is veiled and wears a black robe of mourning. Her heart is heavy with the burden she must carry. You see, her kingdom is being terrorized by a fierce, colossal, fire-breathing dragon. The dragon serves as a grotesque and immovable barrier to anyone who wishes to enter or exit the poor kingdom. Nobody has been able to fight him off and the princess has commissioned this brave knight, St. George, to conquer the beast.

Just before entering the valley, St. George and the princess find refuge at the home of a hermit living at the foot of a mountain. While the princess rests, St. George and the hermit climb to the peak, and survey the valley where the princess’ kingdom lies and the mountains beyond. In the distance, perched atop a different mountain peak, rests a beautiful, sparkling castle the likes of which St. George has never seen. It glows with pure beauty and beckons him to enter its magnificent gates. He questions why he and the princess cannot simply travel to that eternal city and forget the dragon and the kingdom that awaits its redemption below. He soon realizes, however, that the only way to reach the shining castle in the sky is to travel through the valley and face the dragon.

So with downtrodden spirits but firm resolve, St. George and the princess trudge through the ominous forest to reach the dreaded enemy. A glow up ahead and a beastly groan indicate that they have reached the barrier that no man has dared to cross. The dragon rears his ugly head and flames of fire begin to pour forth from his nostrils. St. George brandishes his sword and begins to strike at the dragon’s impenetrable scales to no avail. The dragon thrashes his tail and propels St. George to the hard earth below. George continues to fight off the dragon with all his might, but it seems he is no match for the furious enemy that threatens to destroy him. Again, the dragon knocks him to the ground but this time, it appears George is defeated. He lies still and motionless, completely flattened without recourse to fight.

As the courageous knight rests unconscious on the earth, a healing dew begins to fall from an ancient apple tree. Life begins to course again in the knight’s veins and he rises to his feet. The startled dragon, thinking the knight dead, whips his head around with a vengeance and a roar. Fire again spews from his nostrils and he opens his mouth to swallow the knight whole. But with strength and quick thinking the knight runs his sword through the dragon’s jaw and the beast falls dead to the ground with a deafening thud.

In great relief, the princess runs to the knight and embraces him. All the people of the kingdom tentatively trickle out of their hiding places to congratulate St. George and celebrate this legendary victory. The kingdom has been saved from destruction and despair. St. George and the princess are married, vows to protect his maiden and her people all the rest of his days, and eventually is crowned king.

As with most fairy tales, there seems to always be a way in which we relate to the characters, either in their struggles or their victories. As I try to process my feelings about entering year 2 of grieving the loss of my precious daughter and struggle to convey the myriad of emotions within my heart, I realize that the age-old tale of this brave knight and his battle with the dragon resonates with me in more ways than one.

The first year after Evie’s death was about survival. I was simply trying to breathe. Like the princess and the knight, I was trudging through the foggy forest of blinding grief, wearing a cloak of mourning, not fully cognizant of the battle yet to be waged. I had survived the worst day of my life and braced myself to face all of the dreaded firsts… the first holidays, her first birthday, the first anniversary of her death. I had given myself permission to simply put one foot in front of the other. As my wise spiritual director put it, I was “on the operating table” waiting for God to put me back together.

On November 1, 2016 I woke to Year Two. I don’t know how I expected to feel. I knew that I had managed to survive the most excruciating pain of my life. Surely things would be easier from here on out. The sun was shining and I was feeling hopeful.

A couple of weeks later, we got a call that Evie’s headstone had been placed. Somehow that seemed appropriate.

Because I soon realized that there is no magic in year two. I miss Evie more than ever. I still find her death shocking and horrific…only now the anesthesia hasworn off. Although the waves of pain and sorrow don’t pummel me with such intense frequency, when they do hit, I feel them more acutely.  Yet even with the pain still so fresh, year two brings with it a certain amount of duty and expectation that you must pick yourself up now and begin to live again.

Entering into year two was like rounding the corner to the sounds of a beastly groan and the sensation of heat on my neck. Only, my dragon is manifest in a slab of granite with my daughter’s name carved on the face.

It’s immovable. She’s not coming back. The fog has cleared and reality has firmly set in.

The infamous first year has passed and the rest of my life without my beautiful daughter relentlessly stretches out before me like an endless sea of years.

Each day I must face the dragon.

But the battle is not against death itself. That battle was won long ago by a man who is not merely a knight but Prophet, Priest, and King.

This is a battle against bitterness, despair, isolation, and apathy.

In my weakness, I am blinded by the glowing fire of the dragon’s breath. I wonder why most of the people around me seem to have healthy, living children. Why did my daughter have to die? Haven’t I had enough sorrow in this lifetime? All other problems often seem minuscule to me in light of what I have faced. Sometimes it seems everybody else has moved on while my family and I are stuck on our own island of grief. How can the world continue to spin without Evie in it?

Fear creeps in and I begin to believe that joy will never be my lot in life. Awful things are bound to happen again. Surely there is another tragedy waiting just around the bend for me.

Sometimes I feel alone and forgotten…like not a person in the world could ever understand how deeply my heart aches. Our loss feels so devastating and catastrophic that it sometimes seems like the world should still be knocking down our door to offer help and sympathy. I convince myself that nobody really cares. At times, I want to retreat to my little cave and disengage from society at large.

Each and every day I must make a choice to live and raise my feeble arms, sword in hand. I know that the grief will surely rain down and I must submit to it and allow it to wash over me. It is simply the natural consequence of being physically separated from my own flesh and blood…a little girl whom I love and miss deeply. But I must fight against the destructive thoughts and actions that threaten to undo me and stand as a barrier to being fully alive.

I’m learning that spending time each morning praying for others is one way to fight against the temptation to wallow in comparison and self-pity. Reaching out to a friend in need guards my heart against the temptation to become swallowed up in my own sorrow. When I feel like I’m the only one with a major problem I try to offer up a portion of my suffering for those around the world whose circumstances are much more desperate than mine.

Instead of yielding to fear and despair, I can recognize that although life has dished out a fair amount of sorrow and likely will continue to do so, it is also breathtakingly beautiful and holds tremendous blessing. A dimpled, toothy smile from my miracle baby, a solid and loving marriage, an unseasonably warm January day and the beauty and blessing of our farm are all reasons to offer up a prayer of gratitude to God. Time spent with the Scriptures reminds me that no matter what the future holds, God has promised to be with me. He is good and faithful all the time.

When I feel alone, I read some of the many cards, e-mails, and texts I have received over the past year and am reminded of the many people who have prayed and offered help and sacrifices. And I thank God for those few special friends that He has placed in my life as my constant companions. They are my listening ear and a safe place for me to honestly pour out my heart. Although I am a long way from unearthing the part of me that once enjoyed social gatherings, I’m beginning to make baby steps toward coming out of hibernation a little to share a meal with a close friend or another bereaved mother who understands just how much my heart is hurting. My own loneliness is a reminder to reach out to others and recognize that apart from action, my good intentions fail to bring consolation to the suffering, poor, and marginalized all around me.

Sometimes, I can do these things. I can make steps toward living again. But even though they may seem insignificant to some, these baby steps can be extraordinarily difficult. I begin many days with a tear trickling down my cheeks. Like the brave knight, I look up to the heavens and wish that I could fly away. I don’t want to face the battle again. I’m tired and weary. I just want my daughter back. I want the pain to go away. I don’t want to move forward without her.

But God has me here for a reason and He has a purpose for me here on earth. I may not always know exactly why, but I can trust that He does. He calls me to walk faithfully with Him even when the path is unclear and the way is difficult. When I am living out my vocation as a wife and mother I know that I am walking in His will. When I am loving others, I am right where He wants me. And when, like the knight, I lie bruised and broken with no recourse to fight, His grace in the sacraments is the healing dew that revives me.

I’m not sure how long I’ll be fighting this dragon. The grief of losing a child never really goes away but maybe some day I will have built a new life in which there is less battling and more feasting. Perhaps, someday I will feel lighter and simply living won’t be such hard work. I don’t know what other dragons might be lurking around the corner. But I do know that if I continue to fight, I will someday find rest in the Eternal City…that shining castle in the sky. The battle will have been won, the dragon defeated, and I will be whole once again.

‘Tis the Season

DSC_0280.JPGOur last Christmas with Evie 2014

The other week, I was reluctantly driving around town trying to pick up a few things I needed for Christmas gifts.  I can’t begin to express how much I loathe shopping.  Trekking out into Christmas shopping madness for me is akin to some form of penance or torture.  As I looked around the store, I became almost sick to my stomach at the commercialization of Christmas.  I am convinced that if someone who had never heard of the holiday were dropped into the middle of a shopping center and told to discern the meaning of Christmas their answer would be as follows: “Christmas is a holiday beginning on Black Friday and ending on December 25th in which people spend a lot of money on things they don’t need, put up bright lights and decorations, and gain weight eating excessive amounts of food.  The central celebrated characters are a jolly bearded man in a red suit, reindeer, and little elves who live on shelves.  At the end of their shopping spree, some people put a few coins in a red tin located next to a person ringing a bell to assuage  any guilt induced by superfluous spending.”

Unfortunately, this assessment doesn’t even begin to touch the surface of the great mystery of the Incarnation and the Virgin birth.

After leaving the store in frustration, nothing in hand, I decided to head over to Chik-Fil -A for a sandwich.  The parking lot was a mess.  As I pulled in, I happened to look in my rearview mirror.  There, in plain view, was a large nativity set situated in front of the door.  The Virgin and St. Joseph were kneeling in wonder beside the manger, adoring the tiny Babe who would change the world forever.

The tears began streaming down my face.

In that moment, I wanted to jump into that Nativity set and just BE.  I wanted to shut out this world gone mad and just lay prostrate before the Infant King.  I wanted to see the glory that Evie sees in Heaven and escape the sorrow and brokenness that I see all around me and in myself.  I wanted to fly away.

Our culture has turned the days leading up to December 25th into an abominable cacophony of spending and excess.  It’s principle virtues are happiness and instant gratification.  It’s no wonder the holidays are so devastating for those grieving a loss, the lonely and the suffering.  We just don’t quite fit into the mold, do we?  We can barely stand to open the Christmas cards containing images of happy, healthy, fully intact families without crying and wondering how we’ll ever take a family photo again.

But this season isn’t supposed to be about all of that.  In fact, it’s not even Christmas yet.  The Church is celebrating the season of Advent…traditionally a season of fasting and penance not one of excess and constant celebration.  Advent demands that we pause, slow down, and contemplate the coming of our Savior.  It beckons us to prepare our hearts to receive Him and wait in hopeful expectation.

In our home over the years we’ve tried, however imperfectly, to maintain the spirit of the Advent season.  Evie absolutely loved celebrating Advent as do her sisters.  We have a large Advent wreath that sits on our kitchen table.  Four purple candles and one pink candle represent the four weeks of Advent.  We light the candles each week at dinner time and as the season progresses, the light grows as a symbol of the light of Christ permeating our dark and broken world.

On the first Sunday of Advent we string up our Jesse tree ornaments across the mantle.  Each ornament represents a story from redemptive history beginning with Creation and ending with the birth of Jesus.  We read a different Scripture passage each day and the children take turns placing the ornaments on our tiny Jesse tree.

Unlike the rest of the culture, we do not sing or listen to Christmas music during Advent.  There are so many beautiful Advent hymns and we have scoured our collection to put together a playlist for our home.  On Christmas day, we break out the Christmas songs and continue to sing them and listen to them well into January.

Of course, Advent wouldn’t be complete without celebrating the feast days of the great saints.  The liturgical year always offers opportunities for celebration even in the midst of a penitential season.  December 6th marks the feast of St. Nicholas.  The real Santa Claus was actually a Catholic bishop living in the 3rd century, know for his love of children and his giving spirit.  He is said to have saved one man’s three daughters from a life of slavery by throwing bags of gold into an open window of the man’s home.  The gold landed in some shoes that had been placed by the fire to dry.  To celebrate Saint Nicholas’ giving spirit and remember his kind act, many Catholic children around the world set out their shoes the night before his feast day.  We usually fill our kids’ shoes with chocolate gold coins.  Sometimes the shoes are replaced with warm fuzzy slippers.

dsc_0225New Slippers for Saint Nicholas Day

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated on December 8th, is a day to remember God’s act in saving Mary from sin before her conception in order that she could be a perfect vessel for the Divine.  All Catholics are obliged to attend Mass on this day.  We sometimes also celebrate with a special meal of all-white foods to represent Mary’s purity.

On St. Lucy’s feast day, December 13, we recall the life of this great 3rd century saint who is believed to have carried a wreath of candles on her head leaving her arms free to deliver large amounts of food to Christians imprisoned in the catacombs.  Traditionally, many Catholic girls around the world follow suit by carrying cinnamon rolls or cookies to their parents in the morning in white dresses with candle wreaths gracing their foreheads.

img_1311Evie and Eden Celebrating St. Lucy

No Advent season would be complete without celebrating the remarkable appearance of the Virgin Mary in 1531 to a peasant named Juan Diego living in Guadalupe, Mexico.  The Virgin left a remarkable image of herself on St. Juan’s tilma that can still be seen to this day at the Basilica in Guadalupe.  The image itself and the fact that it has remained intact over centuries still defies scientific explanation.  Our family likes to celebrate this feast by reading about this amazing appearance and of course eating Mexican food!


Celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Traditional Goofy Evie Form…(you can see our Jesse Tree ornaments in the background)

Instead of putting up our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, we like to wait until the third Sunday of Advent, also known as “Gaudete” Sunday and represented by the pink candle on the Advent wreath.  “Gaudete” literally means “rejoice”.  The priests put aside their purple Advent vestments on this Sunday in favor of rose-colored ones and we are encouraged to give thanks and persevere in the midst of our fasting and penance.  Putting up the tree at this point reminds us that Christ is coming soon even as we continue to wait in hopeful expectation for the joy of Christmas.

The O’ Antiphons begin around this time, on December 17th.  These are the prayers that priests and religious and even many Catholic lay people pray during evening prayer (known as Vespers) before reciting the Magnificat.  From December 17-23rd a different name for Jesus is emphasized each day.  If you’ve ever heard all of the verses to the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” then you have heard the O’ Antiphons.  In the past, we have opened special family gifts or had special family foods to represent each name.  Recently, I purchased ornaments that symbolize each antiphon and we put a new ornament on the tree for the duration of the seven days.

Perhaps one of our favorite Advent traditions is adopting a family in need.  We head to the store together as a family, grab a couple of carts and fill them with necessities and fun gifts.  The kids love finding items for the other children and we always try to choose a family with children similar in age to ours.  It is a great reminder to them of just how blessed we are and that Christmas is about receiving Christ and sharing His love with the world.  One of my favorite memories of our annual shopping trip was the last year we shopped with Evie.  She had just injured her toe a few days earlier, requiring stitches.  We convinced her to use one of the store’s motorized carts for a faster and more comfortable shopping experience.  She was a bit embarrassed, but reluctantly agreed and I am so grateful that we captured the moment on video.

Of course, Advent culminates in the great feast of Christmas.  We attend Mass together as a family on Christmas Eve.  The kids open up a package which they always know will be pajamas.  Then they go on a search to find all of the Baby Jesus’ hidden around the house and place them in their respective mangers.  We begin Christmas morning reading the story of Christ’s birth and kneeling before the crèche in thanksgiving and adoration before opening presents.  Each of our kids receives three gifts to represent the three gifts presented to our Lord.

And the day after Christmas, when the rest of the culture is throwing their tree to the curb, purchasing gym memberships to burn off the excess weight gained from eating too many cookies, and making New Year’s resolutions, we are just beginning to celebrate the season of Christmas beginning on December 25th and culminating in the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th (or later but we won’t get into that here).  This is when we bake our cookies, listen to Christmas music, and watch Christmas movies.  We’ve spent Advent waiting, fasting, and preparing our hearts for Jesus and now it’s time to rejoice with the Church.

Last Advent, we were still in utter shock over Evie’s sudden death and my ordeal surrounding Gabriel’s birth.  Splitting our time between home and the NICU during Advent and our complete mental fog left no time or capacity for observing the seasons.  If it weren’t for family and friends, there would have been little to no celebration.  This year, the shock has worn off a bit and our circumstances are more stable.  However, it seems we feel our loss more acutely at times and the reality that Evie will never be here again to join in these traditions is more obvious than ever.   I often still feel paralyzed by grief and unable to make Advent as rich as I would like.

But I’m grateful that we’ve established these traditions in our family and that we have fought to make our Faith the central focus of Advent and Christmas.  I can’t imagine how impossible it would be start new traditions in the midst of the sorrow that still envelops my heart.  Even traditions that focus on what’s most important are painful in practice when it is obvious that a very important person is missing.  On the other hand, I can’t imagine how devastating the seasons would be if our focus had always been on shopping, Santa, and elves.  What a disappointment when one of the greatest feasts of the Church is denigrated to spoiling our children and trying to make them happy!

Because it is in kneeling at the crèche that we are most intimately connected to Evie.  As a family, we identify more with the longing of Advent than the façade of happiness and empty promises that the world offers.  In the depth of our souls, we wait not only for Christmas and the birth of our Savior, but for the day when He comes again to make all things new and we are reunited with our precious daughter and sister in the New Jerusalem.

May you be filled with awe and wonder this Advent and Christmas and may you draw near to Him in thanksgiving for what He has accomplished and eager expectation for what He will do in the future.  Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Messenger of Hope


This sweet little boy turns one today.

This sweet boy, born into sorrow, has brought us immense joy.  And the story of how he burst into the world is quite remarkable.

It begins with a meek and humble prayer uttered from the lips of a big sister who wanted her mom to have a baby and an unsuspecting mother on pilgrimage to the Holy Land…a sacred place where long ago another unsuspecting mother was greeted by a celestial being and told her life was about to change forever.

In May of 2015 I entered the Basilica of the Annunciation.  Immediately, I was struck by the architecture.   The church is divided into two levels.   We initially entered the upper level.  The circular shape and the vastness lead one to contemplate the universe in all of its enormity and the magnitude of the God who created it…a God who, like the circle, is without beginning or end.  Tucked away far below, like a child nested in the womb of his mother, lies the grotto carved out of rock, where the angel Gabriel is believed to have appeared to the Virgin.

Our group began by celebrating Mass together on the upper level.  As we knelt before that altar in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament my eyes began to fill with tears.  I thought of Mary, this young and innocent girl, whose humble and simple life was about to drastically change.  How terrified she must have been!  How absolutely out of control she must have felt!  All of the plans she had for her life were about to be cast aside for a Plan far beyond anything she could have ever imagined.  As these thoughts raced through my head a still, quiet voice entered in.

“Do not be afraid.”

Weren’t these the words the angel spoke to Mary?  As I reflected on my own life, I realized that I had also been living in fear and uncertainty…trying to control so many things that I needed to give to God.   Did I trust him with my future and my family?  Was I really surrendering my life fully to Him?

As I pondered the answers to these questions, I felt a growing certainty that God was already beginning to orchestrate a plan in my life beyond what I had anticipated.  Even without medical confirmation or symptoms, I knew that there was a life beginning to form in my womb.  The very location where Mary learned that she would be a Mother marked for me the place where I pondered in my own heart the possibility of new life within myself.

After Mass, I descended to the grotto with quiet reverence,  keenly aware that I was about to enter a holy and sacred space.  This was the place where an infinite God took on flesh and entered into our broken world with all of it’s suffering and heartache.   I immediately fell prostrate before the small room carved out of rock where our beautiful Mother uttered her “fiat” and I meditated on the mystery of that moment.  Could I, like Mary, accept with grace and obedience God’s plan and trust Him to work all things for my good?  Did she understand the hardship and sorrow she would endure when she uttered, “Let it be done to me as you say?”  Did she know that she would one day watch her Son die a cruel death and hold his lifeless body in her arms?  Surely she understood that whatever God was asking of her was by no means easy and straightforward.  And yet, with gratitude, she accepted this cross.  In what ways would God call me to abandon my own plans for life and embrace the crosses that came my way?

As one day after another passed on this pilgrimage I became more and more aware of the tiny companion growing inside of me.  After our plane landed back in America, I hopped in my husband’s truck and declared that we needed to stop at the store to find out whether or not our family of six would soon be seven.

True to my instincts, the test was positive and I quickly began to feel the sickness and exhaustion coming on.  However, by God’s grace, this pregnancy was turning out to be much easier than any I had previously encountered.  The children were thrilled to learn that a new little one would be arriving soon.  I distinctly remember Evie’s face lighting up and her reaction.  “I’ve been praying for mom to have a baby.”

My mom and the girls went with me to our 20 week ultrasound.  We had determined that we wanted to know the gender of this little one.  When the tech announced that it was a boy we were all in shock.  After three little girls, we simply expected another one.  I will be forever grateful that Evie was able to be with us that day and have the opportunity to meet her little brother on earth, even if only through the images on a screen.

After discovering we were having a boy, we began to discuss what would name him.  Given my unique revelation in the Holy Land, Chad suggested we call him Gabriel.  Although not everyone was in agreement, I loved the idea and Evie was adamant that it should be his name.

At around 17 weeks, I began receiving weekly progesterone shots to help ensure that the baby would not be born prematurely.  Evie had entered the world four weeks early and Cecilia was six weeks shy of her due date.  The nurse came to my home and the girls enjoyed listening to the strong heartbeat and the sounds of the baby kicking the monitor.  Everything seemed to be going so well…all according to plan.  This little one would be welcomed into a big happy family and we were all eagerly anticipating his arrival.

But things don’t always go according to our plan, do they?

Evie didn’t live to see her baby brother.  Our big happy family became broken, and wounded.  We were devastated beyond comprehension and our lives were now shattered into a million pieces.

I wondered how I could possibly care for this new life growing inside of me when I could barely get out of bed in the morning.  I wasn’t sure I wanted that responsibility.  All I wanted was Evie back.  I could see nothing else.  How could I possibly be a good mother to this baby when I just wanted to curl up in a ball and sink into the earth?

But just when I thought life couldn’t get harder, it certainly did.  I awoke on November 22 with severe pain in my back.  I have never passed a kidney stone before but I knew immediately that I had one and it was trying to make it’s way out.  Chad rushed me to the hospital where I writhed in intense pain for six hours until the staff finally found a  medication that took the edge off a little.  The stone did not want to budge.  I was in various states of pain, nausea, and delirium for days.  By Tuesday I could barely breathe and discovered that I had pneumonia in both lungs.  On Wednesday, I started to go into labor.  Magnesium Sulphate was given to stop the contractions but to no avail.  My blood platelets were mysteriously low.  The baby was breech.  I would need to be transferred to a larger hospital and undergo an emergency c-section under general anesthesia.

As the doctors prepared me for the c-section they were sober about my state of health.  Nobody was sure exactly why I seemed to be deteriorating and there were plenty of risks involved with the surgery.  I remember the concern in my husband’s face as he kissed me goodbye, having just buried his daughter three weeks earlier.  As they stretched out my arms and put the mask on my face, I was resigned to any outcome.  I had hit the bottom of the pit and wasn’t even sure I wanted to wake up to the nightmare I was facing.

Again, I heard the still small voice whisper, “Do not be afraid.”

I wasn’t afraid.  I was at peace.

Our beautiful little boy arrived shortly after, strong and breathing on his own.


I didn’t meet him until the next day.  When I first held him, I knew that I was embracing nothing short of a miracle.  He was absolutely beautiful and perfect and I instantly loved him with a fierce intensity.  Last Thanksgiving, when it seemed it would be impossible to find something for which to be thankful, I found my heart full of gratitude for the gift of new life.

We named him Gabriel Evyn.  Nothing could be more appropriate, both because of my experience in the Holy Land but also because his life had brought a message of hope to our family in the midst of devastating loss.  Of course, Evyn was chosen in honor of our Evelyn who was eagerly anticipating his arrival.  I could have held him all day.


But that was not to be.

We were staying in different neighboring hospitals and I needed to get back to my room.  That evening, the back pain began to rear it’s ugly head again and it became evident that the kidney stone had still not made it’s exit.  I spent much of the night in excruciating pain.  The next morning, I was whisked away for a scan which revealed that the stone was caught and would not pass on it’s own.  I was taken to surgery yet again to have the stone broken up and a kidney stent implanted.

The whole ordeal seemed to be over.  After surgery, I sent out the following text to family and friends who I knew had been fervently praying and offering sacrifices for us:

Never have I identified with Jesus and Mary more than in this last month.  I carried a baby in my womb that Mary told me was going to be OK at the Church of the Annunciation in Israel.  I have lost a precious daughter as Mary lost her precious Son.  I have undergone extreme pain in my soul and my body.  I have been laid out on the operating table with my arms outstretched as if being crucified while preparing to deliver my son Gabriel.  I even drank the vinegar before the c-section which tasted a lot like what you would think something sour and awful would be.  My mouth was parched from the medication.  And now the stone has been rolled away!  Praise God for his mercies which are new every morning!  Praise Him for the home he is preparing for us in Heaven.  I even praise Him for suffering because it has drawn me nearer to Him and closer to my daughter and Jesus and Mary.  I love all of you so much.  You are the body of Christ!

It seemed I had reached the summit of this painful mountain.  But, there was no time for rest.  Another painful mountain loomed before me…the mountain of my grief.

As I sat in the NICU day after day, holding and attempting to feed Gabriel, the pain in my soul was greater than I could have ever imagined.  I bathed his tiny head with my tears.  I wept in the arms of nurses.  I missed my little girl and the sadness wrapped itself around me like a thick cloak.

Again, I wondered how I could mother this precious baby when I was barely functioning at all.  Surely he would be the saddest child that ever lived!

But as the days and weeks passed Gabriel was able to come home and I started to notice a small flicker of light and hope.   It became clear to me that this tiny babe, born into sorrow, had brought unimaginable joy and hope to this grieving family.

He was baptized with water that I brought back from the Jordan River.  It was one of the most beautiful events I have ever witnessed.  As our priest held him over the altar and sang Alleluia, I could feel Evie’s presence with us and could picture her beaming smile in my mind.  Surely she must have been rejoicing in Heaven!

Gabriel’s first smile was proof that there could be laughter even in pain.  And as he grew we realized that God, knowing the sorrow we were to face, had sent an enormous gift.  His siblings adore him and he has given them someone to cuddle and hold when they are feeling sad.  He gave us a reason to wake up in the morning and face the day.

This beautiful boy, with eyes that sparkle like Evie’s and a smile that could melt your heart, had been my constant companion on this painful journey.  I felt him moving inside of me as I held his sister’s hand and kissed her goodbye.  His little heart continued to beat as I wept and wailed.  He emerged from darkness and pain strong, perfect, and full of life.

God is good.  Even in suffering, God is good.  Happy Birthday to Gabriel, our little Messenger of Hope. You have brought so much light and life to our family.   We love you more than words!

All Hallows Eve

IMG_4488.jpgAll Saints Farm…One Year Ago

I had plans.

I had plans to convey here the thoughts and emotions swirling around in my head this past month…to somehow articulate the deep agony of flipping the calendar to October.  I mulled over how to put words to a sadness so profound that it saturates my mind and body.  How does one express a supernatural ache for eternity?

In all honesty, this past month, I have been plagued with the horrors of October 31, 2015.  I have felt helpless.  More than usual, the moment of her collapse replays in my head like a movie that I can’t turn off.  I have felt myself being nearly suffocated by a thick, heavy blanket of death and despair.

On this day, last year, I knelt on the floor of a piano studio beside the lifeless body of my daughter and begged her to breathe.  I pleaded with her and with God.  But as the paramedics worked on her and I began to pray the Rosary, I knew in my heart of hearts that she would not return to me.  Even as I prayed for her heart to beat again, I committed her to the loving care of our Blessed Mother.

God did not choose to answer my prayer that day in the way that I saw fit.  These were not my plans.  My perfect family does not include a dead child.

Here we are, one year later.  I still haven’t wrapped my mind around this new reality.  I’m still fighting against it.  I’m wrestling and hurting and longing.  And this October, I nearly lost sight of the small flicker of light in the darkness.

But yesterday, I was reminded again that Jesus meets us in the storm…that Love lives and beauty, pain, and hope can coexist.

As the rain poured down, Evie’s friends and family poured into the barn at All Saints Farm to pray together in the Mass, celebrate her life, and plant daffodil bulbs in her honor.  It was an amazing testimony to the power of love and prayer.  It lifted me out of the mire and reminded me that Heaven is nearer than we can imagine.  I felt Evie’s presence so keenly as my heart was filled with hope once again.

memorial-massPlanting Daffodil Bulbs by the Pond


And I was reminded that Evie’s death is not all about horror and pain but rather a beginning of eternal life.  For one day, I was able to stop thinking about death and remember her beautiful life…a life lived for Jesus with a heart prepared for life beyond the grave.

Yesterday, by the grace of God, I was able to share the following thoughts with those in attendance:

It seems impossible to me that it has been one year since our beautiful Evie flew to Jesus.  I feel like I have lived a lifetime without her already and yet it seems she was just here yesterday.  So much has happened in the course of a year and we have grown accustomed to life in her absence.  That is not to say that we accept this new life yet or that we are not grieving deeply.  I’m sure some day the pain will dull and be woven into the fabric of our lives, but we will never stop grieving her loss or missing her until we see her again.

There is much to miss about this extraordinary little girl and I wanted to take the time here to share a few of them.

As a mother, I miss the every day things.  I miss buying huge cartons of Goldfish crackers at the grocery store.  Evie lived on them.  She was a picky eater and her diet seemed to consist of mostly carbohydrates.  I miss helping her put on her swim cap at swim practice.  I miss seeing her sitting at the kitchen table, drawing or reading intently.  I miss hearing the constant sound of the piano being played or her guitar being strummed.  I miss watching her do cartwheels, swimming, and climbing trees.  I miss the sound of her giggles as she played dolls with her sisters.  I miss her creativity in inventing new games and activities.   I miss the way she eagerly answered all of the questions during our morning group time.   I miss the Evie and Eden duo…the way they balanced one another out and seemed to always know what the other was about to do or say.  I even miss the messes she made all over the house and the math meltdowns because they meant that she was very much alive and with us.

I miss her physical presence…the way her skinny body felt when I hugged her goodnight.  I miss curling her hair.  I miss the way she seemed to float down the hallway instead of walk.  I miss the way she would rub my back during Mass.   I miss the way she would look up at me with her head tilted seemingly seeking my approval.  I miss her beautiful slightly crooked smile.

The things I miss the most are the things that made Evie exceptional.  If you knew Evie as a toddler, you knew that she was a handful.  At one point, I actually wondered if she had a conscience!  She would be so embarrassed to hear me say that right now, but what made her so extraordinary is this very thing.  You see, Evie wasn’t always a virtuous child.  But as the years progressed, she grew in virtue.  She had a deep and abiding faith in Jesus and an intense desire to please him.  As you likely know, she had a devotion to St. Therese.  I bought every book I could find about her written for children and Evie gobbled them up.  I’m convinced that St. Therese and her “Little Way” was the inspiration for Evie’s development into a loving, tender-hearted, sacrificial young lady.   

Evie was always the first to jump up and help when a need arose.  She was known to do other people’s chores around the house and often anticipated a need without being asked.  She was a mother to Cecilia and a mentor to Eden.  She always made everyone feel like her best friend.  She hated to see people excluded from the group and always worked hard to include anyone feeling left out.  She was tender-hearted towards those who were different, lonely, in need of a friend, or hurting.  She was always writing little notes of encouragement and love.  We found one of these notes in the bottom of a Kleenex box after she died.  It said, “Dear Mom and Dad, I love you so so so much.  Thank you for everything you do for me.”   She made sacrifices.  She let other people choose the game, the color, or what have you and would often take whatever was left with a happy heart and without complaint.  She was amazing with little children and loved babies.  Every day she would tell me how excited she was to meet her baby brother.  When we told her I was expecting she commented that she had been praying for me to have a baby.  Evie was committed to prayer and cultivated her own spiritual life in a way that is surprising for a girl her age.   She would get quite upset if you failed to bless her before bed.  She grew irritated with me on one occasion when I allowed her to sleep instead of waking her up at 5 am to take her to adoration with me.  She had a deep love for Jesus in the Eucharist.  In her prayer book, she commented that First Communion was the best day of her life.

It’s impossible not to miss this girl who brought such light to everyone around her.  We love her beyond words and are so proud of who she became.  It’s excruciating to think about how many more years we might have to live without her.

Yet, we know that she is in the arms of her Heavenly Father and our Blessed Mother.  She is holding the babies that we never got to meet.  She is helping many who call on her intercession on Earth.  Her wish was to go to heaven just in time for All Saints Day and God gave her the desire of her heart.

But it’s much too soon for our liking.  So God is asking us to trust in His perfect plan, to walk in faith, and to have hope that we will see her again.

Come Lord Jesus.








It’s hard to believe that the September days will soon be fading.

September is a month bursting at the seams… permeated with endings and new beginnings.  The lazy days of summer begin to wane as fall schedules commence, yet, the season continues to  linger along with the verdant foliage, lengthy days, and  warm temperatures that beckon us to savor the last morsels of  golden sunshine.  The growing season nears its end and gardens and fields are full and ripe for harvest.  Nature’s bounty is preserved as empty freezers and pantries begin to fill again with food that will sustain us through the cold dark days of winter.  Along with physical nourishment, we store up the hope of a new school year full of promise.  Looking back at the previous academic year, we lament how quickly our children have changed, all the while eagerly anticipating another period of transformation.

As a homeschooling mother, September had always been one of my favorite months.  At the end of a summer spent pouring over books and curriculum choices for my own children and organizing a large homeschooling co-op of more than 30 families, it is exhilarating to begin executing the plan.  Experience has taught me that plans don’t always translate into reality and adjustments must be made.  I’ve had to learn, in planning, to focus on what is truly important and let the rest go…to be more realistic about what we will actually accomplish and leave room for rest.  Last September, it seemed we finally hit our groove.  My oldest son was headed to high school and the girls and I were looking forward to the new year.  Sure, there were still math meltdowns and bad attitudes, but we were really focusing in on truth, goodness, and beauty.  I insisted on beginning each morning with the most important things:  prayer, Scripture, and reading aloud from great literature.  Our days seemed to contain just the right balance of faith, academics, and wonder with space for creativity and spontaneity.  With a new baby on the way, I knew there were adjustments that would inevitably need to be made but I was confident that we had built a solid foundation.  We spent time after lunch swimming in the pool and basking in the sun.  Mondays were spent at co-op and  I committed to spending our Fridays attending Mass and doing something fun.  We were learning together, praying together and enjoying one another.  It was the beginning of what promised to be a be a beautiful school year.

The above picture was taken last year on a glorious Friday in September.  My mom, the girls, and I ventured to the apple orchard.  Instead of packing a lunch, we decided to try our luck putting something together at the orchard’s small market.  We  purchased some cheese, bologna, and a knife with which to cut it and huddled together at a small picnic table, eating and laughing at our makeshift lunch as the bees relentlessly swarmed, hoping for a tiny morsel.  Afterward, the girls wove through the rows of crisp, colorful apples chasing one another with excited giggles and filling their bags to the brim with juicy treasures.  They delighted in discovering all of the different varieties and dreamed about the applesauce, and desserts to be made.  The day culminated with an afternoon Mass, three happy girls, and an exhausted pregnant mom.

That beautiful day, in all it’s simplicity, will forever be etched in my mind.  As I recall those sweet memories, and see myself in my mind’s eye I want to shout, “Don’t you see?  This is it!  She’ll be gone soon!  Hug her tighter!  Don’t let her go!”  I desperately desire to recapture that day in the orchard and breathe it all in again…every sight, sound, and smell.  I want to bottle it up like a healing oil to be extracted on the darkest days.  I would give anything to feel that warm sunshine on my back again and spend one more summer day with Evie and her sisters…all together.

But I can’t go back, and I can’t bottle it up.  Time keeps moving forward.  In  just a little over a month from now, we will reach the anniversary of that fateful day and will no longer be able to say, “This time last year, we had Evie.”  With each day that passes, we get further and further away from the memories of our sweet girl.  I fear the day when it becomes obvious that all of my children have grown and Evie is still eleven in the pictures.    It’s as if we are on a train speeding away from the station where our little girl stands on the platform waving goodbye.  We can’t return, and the destination going forward seems painfully distant.

As these September days quickly slip by, I feel the sense of foreboding on a cellular level.  The sights and smells bring me back to those days of blissful ignorance…when the year was full of promise and all was right with the world.  So many things seem eerily similar to last year.  We have started school again and as last year we begin our days with prayer, Scripture and literature.  We spend time with friends on Fridays having fun.  Our days continue to leave room for rest and free play.  On the surface, it would seem that very little has changed.

But this school year, our world is horribly amiss.

Just like last year,  I pick my son up from school daily.  However, this year, I notice the twelve year-old girls walking home.  They are young and energetic, carrying their heavy backpacks, talking and laughing.  Ironically, as I pull to the stoplight I am looking straight into the entrance of the cemetery where my daughter’s body, once energetic and full of life, is buried.

The atmosphere is much more subdued as the girls and I sit together in the morning singing, reading, and praying,   Evie is no longer physically present to eagerly answer every question.  We move at a much slower pace.  Our literature choices are geared toward a younger crowd and nobody is begging for “just one more chapter” anymore.

We no longer attend the large homeschooling co-op that I began and into which I poured much of my heart and energy.   We tried going back as participants, but the long Monday morning drive past the hospital where Evie died, and the crowd proved a bit too overwhelming for a mom and two little girls grieving and coping with post-traumatic stress.  We stick close to home now, for the most part, and have traded our large co-op for a very small one that meets at our place.

Perhaps the biggest change, since last September, is the one I see in the mirror.  Some days, I barely recognize the person staring back at me.  My mind is foggy and I feel like I’m moving in slow motion.  I can’t handle a lot of social events or activities and am often left speechless in a group of people.    Although I continue to go through the motions of my day and carry out the duties required of me, the internal flame that once burned with passion for organizing and planning, teaching my children, bringing other families together, and finding the perfect book seems to have been extinguished.  Occasionally, a small spark of inspiration will light, but it’s quickly choked out by sorrow and exhaustion.  In the aftermath of Evie’s death, much of who I once was has been buried in the rubble.

It seems that September, with all its beginnings and ends, will forever mark the end of our metaphorical summer and the beginning of a downward spiral into winter.

Yet, even in the darkness and desolation of winter, I am reminded that under the cold, hard ground exist roots that run deep and wide… providing nutrients and serving as an anchor to the life waiting to emerge.

In much the same way, my life, although unrecognizable at times, is rooted in the One who claimed me long before I ever became Evie’s mom.  I am, and will remain, His child.  He nourishes me with His very life.  When I feel confused and directionless He keeps me grounded in truth.   My family belongs to Him and no matter how dead and broken we might feel, He is with us, He loves us, and our purpose on this earth has not changed.

And although I often grow impatient with myself and my inability to live life as I used to, I am slowly learning that is ok to lie dormant in this season of winter:  to let myself be held and loved, to lower my expectations, and allow God to do His healing work.  I’m learning to recognize that grief has no timeline.  It’s a painful process that we must simply walk through day by day.  There’s nothing to do but live each moment and allow grief to do it’s work…to be quiet and wait.

Yet, we do not grieve without hope.  Because we know that just as September marks the beginning of summer’s end, the end of our winter will mark the beginning of an eternal spring where our tears will turn to dancing and what once was dead will arise to new life.

“For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone.  The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the dove is heard in our land.  The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance. Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come!”

 Song of Songs 2:11-13