The Great Paradox

Three weeks after Evie went to Heaven our son Gabriel was born under very harrowing circumstances at 32 weeks gestation.  What began for me as a kidney stone turned into double pneumonia, low blood platelets, an emergency c- section under general anesthesia, followed two days later by  surgery to have a temporary kidney stent placed and the stone removed.  Gabriel spent three weeks in the NICU but thanks be to God he came home healthy and thriving.

Since then, threads of joy and sorrow are woven together into the fabric of my days.

Gabriel is so much like Evie in appearance and personality.  When I look into his beautiful blue eyes I am transported back to those sweet little moments of Evie’s baby days.  His bright smile and infectious laughs bring much joy to our family, but with each one a sword pierces my heart again because I miss so deeply the one who is not here on earth with us.  I wonder how she would have interacted with him.  I think about what her face would look like as she watched him smile and giggle at her.

                                                Evie and Gabriel at six months

There are so many other moments like that in my days.  It fills my heart to see Eden and Cecilia get along and play together but it breaks my heart that Evie isn’t here to play too.  When I go to the construction site of our new home and see the bedroom that was designed for three girls it brings me to tears knowing that there will be many happy memories made but they will not include her.  Simple things that should be fun like helping Eden pick out new clothes or taking her to the craft store can trigger the torrent of tears because I see all of the things that I am not purchasing for Evie anymore.  When Cecilia utters something  hilarious or adorable I feel the tightness in my chest as I imagine how Evie would have laughed at her and appreciated her cuteness.  I cried when Cecilia lost her first tooth because Evie was not there to experience the moment and be proud of her little sis.  Swimming at the pool, family vacations, milestones…  I can’t even begin to imagine how many more moments of joy mingled with sorrow I’ll experience in this lifetime.  This feels like the tip of the iceberg.

Yet, this is the paradox of the world we live in…a world permeated with pleasure and pain. Where joy and sorrow are partners in a cosmic dance.

So what’s a girl to do with all this pain and sorrow mixed up together?  How does one bear it?

The world seems to be saying, “keep busy, seek pleasure, and do whatever makes you happy” even at the cost of hurting myself and others.  Society wants to turn away from what is painful or inconvenient.  Aversion to failure and suffering abounds.

But what if something catastrophic occurs in our lives?  We lose our jobs, our homes, our marriages?  What if the most horrendous thing happens and our child dies?  Is it possible to run away from such incredible sorrow and live the “good life”?

Frankly, no.

Because perfect joy is not wrapped up in our circumstances.  It  is not manifest in distraction or pleasure.  It’s not even a feeling.

“True happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement-however beneficial it may be-such as science, technology and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1723

The great paradox is that the Source of all joy entered into our suffering and through suffering brought joy to the world.

Pain and suffering are not always the enemy.  In fact, they can be quite the opposite.  Jesus, through His cross, paved the way to show us that we can lean into our own suffering and even embrace it as a means to unite us more closely to Himself.  In suffering we become more detached from the world and more sensible to our calling and purpose in life.

Saints and Christian martyrs have been privilege to this great mystery for ages.  They welcomed pain when it beckoned and even hoped for it as a means to bring them to greater joy.

Consider this poem from St. Thérèse:

“My joy I find in pain and loss,                                                                                                             I love the thorns that guard the rose,                                                                                                    With joy I kiss each heavy cross,                                                                                                                And smile with every tear that flows.                                                                                                      …

‘Tis all for Thee, dear Jesus mine,                                                                                                       Yea, suffering is my gladsome choice;                                                                                               My joy on earth-my bliss divine-                                                                                                             Ah, ’tis to make Thy Heart rejoice!

Since love’s divine, celestial breath                                                                                                   Is all I need my heart to bless,                                                                                                                      What matters life, what matters death?                                                                                                 Love my peace, my happiness!”

I don’t mean to say, however, that suffering well is an easy task.  It takes an extraordinary amount of perseverance.  Surely Jesus wasn’t having a good time when he was beaten half to death and forced to carry a large wooden cross up a steep rocky hill.  In fact, in the Garden of Gethsemane his prayer to the Father was “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)  The suffering is very real and difficult.

Just as Jesus fell to the ground on His way to Calvary.  We too will fall.  Many times.  But we do not suffer alone.  Jesus is always walking beside us.   When our strength is gone He carries us.  And just as Simon helped Jesus carry His cross we too can help one another make the difficult journey.

If I really love Jesus more than anything else I can accept my crosses knowing that no matter what happens in this life, my joy can never run dry because its source is an eternal spring of living water.

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:38-39

Throw Down Your Nets

Sometimes the storm abates for a while and we enjoy peaceful waters–moments in our trials where we can ponder the goodness of God.

At that time, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.  He revealed himself in this way.  Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons and two others of his disciples.  Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”  They said to him, “we also will come with you.”  So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.  When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?  They answered him, “No.”  So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.”  So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish.  

John 21:1-6

Once or twice a year, my husband spends a few days at a monastery in prayer and reflection.  He always brings home a gift for each of the kids and some really delicious fudge made by the monks.  Last summer, he presented Evie with an icon depicting the disciples casting their nets into the sea.  They sat on her bed discussing the image.  My husband encouraged her not to worry about what she would do in the future.  God had a plan for her life.  She simply needed to throw down her net and let Him fill it with fish.

Fast forward to April 10th of this year.

My dear friend relayed to me that she had to leave mass briefly because she was crying after hearing this portion of the same gospel:

So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”  When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea.  The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish.  When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread.  Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.”  So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish.  Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.  Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him “Who are you?”  because they realized it was the Lord.  Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.  This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead.”

John   21:7-14

Upon hearing the reading she was deeply moved by the fact that when Peter saw the risen Lord he was so anxious to be in His presence that he jumped out of the boat and ran even though the boat was not far from shore.  He couldn’t wait one more second.  My friend pictured me racing to greet Evie like that on the shores of Heaven.


Me…waiting on the shores of the Sea of Galilee

In May of 2015 I took a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a group from Eagle Eye Ministries.    One of the most moving experiences I had was at the very location of this Gospel reading.  We celebrated mass outside near the sea early in the morning.  The breeze was gently blowing and the sun was rising up to warm our backs.

After mass, I entered the church of the Primacy of St. Peter.  A large rock is situated in front of the altar identified as the “Mensa Christi” or “Table of Christ.”   This is the very rock where Jesus is believed to have shared breakfast with his disciples on the shore after His resurrection.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  He then said to Simon Peter a second time, “Simon, soon of John, do you love me?”   Simon Peter answered him, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”   Jesus said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?”   and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”   Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

John 21:15-17

Mensa Christi

As I knelt before that rock, I began to weep.  I was not the type of person who used to cry  easily or often (before Evie died) but for some reason I wept.  I prayed for those who grieve.  My stepdad had just passed away in March so I was especially thinking of my mom and praying for her.  I contemplated how awful Peter must have felt that Jesus’ last memory of him was his denial.  Sometimes we don’t get the opportunity to say a proper goodbye to those we love.    I pulled out my notebook and penned these words:

In Peter’s confusion, emptiness and grief Jesus fills his net with fish and gives him the opportunity to express his love for him as many times as he denied him.”



A number of weeks ago, my five year-old presented me with the above picture.  If you examen it closely, you can see Jesus with three disciples.  They are in a boat.  There’s a net in the water full of fish.

Hmmm….What are you trying to tell me through all of this Lord?

Imagine how St. Peter felt.  He had given up his entire life to follow Jesus and now what? Life as he knew it had come to a complete halt and none of it makes any sense.   He can’t see the big picture…he just feels heartbroken, confused, and guilty for denying his Lord.  What is he to do but go fishing?  It’s what he knows and maybe it will bring comfort.

Peter is completely spent…and he throws down his net.  But he can’t catch a thing on his own.

Until Jesus shows up.  And what does Jesus do?  He fills up Peter’s net, He feeds him, He gives him the chance for reconciliation.

Isn’t it just like Jesus to know what we need and give it to us exactly when we need it?

Jesus is standing on the shore of our hearts.  In fact, our resurrected Lord is always standing there, whether we recognize Him or not.

The longing and the emptiness we feel in our suffering is a cue….a cue to run into His arms and to let Him fill our nets.  To simply tell Him we love Him and allow His love and forgiveness to wash over us.

If you think there is no way you can make it through another moment of your day, if you can do nothing but put one foot in front of the other, if you have no idea how your life is going to pan out, then you are right where Jesus wants you.

Jesus took Peter’s empty net, filled it with fish, and built a Church that is still standing more than two thousand years later.  Imagine what He can do with our empty nets!

It is simple to become a saint.  You have only to surrender yourself to God from moment to moment, to think of nothing but him, to pay no attention to what is not your concern, and as a result, heaven immediately enters the soul, because its emptiness attracts the fullness of God.”

Mother Agnes of Jesus, O.C.D.

(sister of St. Thérèse)


“Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Romans 5:3-5

A woman clings to the side of a craggy mountain.  There is nothing to do but climb.   She looks like a speck of dust compared to the enormity of that looming peak.  Bystanders wonder how she will get to the top.  They shake their heads and don’t know what to say.    The journey will be long and arduous.  She might slip more than once.  She will be cold and miserable.  Many times over she will doubt herself and her ability to overcome.  She will feel alone, isolated, exposed.  She’ll be tempted to give up when all she can see is the cold rock in front of her.

Many friends and family rally around her at the base.  They want to help and they do.  They supply her with things she needs at the moment:  nourishment, prayer, an encouraging word.  They repeatedly tell her that they are willing to do anything to help.  She just needs to say the word.

But she doesn’t know what she needs.

 She has no idea what this journey will entail.

Some even begin to climb with her up the steep and rocky terrain.  But as the days drag on, many turn away.  Some have their own mountains to climb.  Others feel there is nothing they could say or do to help her.  They fear that talking about the enormity of the mountain will cause her to lose hope or remind her of the pain.  They don’t want to mention the beauty of the valley she left behind, fearing it will bring her to her knees with sorrow.   Some even seem to pretend that the mountain she is climbing doesn’t exist.  Perhaps they are filled with good intentions but their own cares and worries consume them and there isn’t time left for climbing this mountain.

Little do they know that she thinks of nothing but the valley below where she lived for so long.  She longs for it with an indescribable ache.  Every day she feels the burning in her muscles as she attempts to climb one more inch up the mountain.  With each sunrise she wakes to the stark realization that she has left the valley and there is no turning back.

A few faithful friends remain by her side.  They aren’t afraid of the climb.  They aren’t waiting for her to tell them what she needs.  They know because they are right there climbing with her and they have no expectation for when the journey will end.

Many are silently in prayer.

At times, the mountain is so foggy that she can barely see what is directly in front of her.  She feels directionless, dazed, and confused.  She barely recognizes herself.  The landscape is unfamiliar and storms often rage on the mountain.

Yet there are moments of peace amidst the storms.   Sometimes she feels the warm sunshine of hope on her back.  Occasionally she comes to an overlook where she can rest and basque in it’s light and beauty.

But then the darkness comes again.  Fear, self-doubt, helplessness, guilt, bitterness and pain threaten to swallow her whole and she feels vulnerable and alone.

As she trudges along, she hears a still small voice call her name.  Distracted for a moment from the searing pain she looks up and sees Him.  This is not the first time that she’s noticed His presence.  She is often so intently focused on the mountain that she forgets to look for Him.  But then His Spirit whispers to her soul,

“You’re never alone.”

She recognizes His voice and knows that He’s been with her the whole time.

He is the bread that sustains her and the water that refreshes her thirst.  He’s present in the companions climbing alongside her.  Moments of hope and respite from the grueling climb were fashioned by Him.  He hears every plea uttered by those in the valley and those who have already reached the top of the mountain. His Spirit breathes new life into her soul and strengthens her.

He is her ever-present Guide and the Light that illuminates her path.

He is the One who weeps with her.  When her strength has failed, He picks her up and carries her.  As she lies broken and defeated His love washes over her like a flood and reminds her that her trial is producing lasting fruit.

She looks up from the mountain and sees Him standing there.  He extends His nail-pierced hands and asks her to share this journey with Him.

You see, He climbed the mountain long before she.  He was ridiculed, humiliated, and beaten along the way.  Men put him to death and nailed Him to a cross.  He gave his life for her and for all those willing to follow Him.

But the mountain did not consume Him.  

He rose from His rocky tomb to new life.  He defeated the darkness.

His name is Jesus and He’s the embodiment of Hope.   

He is the Hope who lives in her and reminds her that this suffering will end and that every tear will be wiped away.  He is guiding her to a new home more glorious than anything she could ever imagine.

And hope does not disappoint.

He knows her sorrow, He knows her pain.  He’ll lead her to glory if she will just take His hand and put her trust in Him.

“In this world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”

John 16:33

A Beautiful Life

Three Girls at Eden First Communion

On October 31, 2015 (the Eve of All Saints) our lives were changed forever.

I took our three little girls to a piano recital and only brought two home.  Our oldest daughter Evelyn played her piano piece perfectly, bowed to the audience, and collapsed in front of her two little sisters and everyone else in the piano studio.  I was nearly 7 months pregnant with our youngest son at the time.

Despite heroic efforts on the part of parents in attendance, paramedics, and the emergency room staff, Evie could not be saved.  She likely had an undetected cardiac condition still to be determined.

We lost so much beauty in our family when we lost Evie.  Here is an excerpt from the obituary that my husband wrote:

Evelyn was born in Oxford, England to Chad and Jennifer and was home educated along with her siblings.  Evelyn took delight in reading, drawing, sewing, swimming, practicing piano and guitar, playing dolls with her sisters, exploring nature, and simply being with her friends and family. She was eagerly anticipating the arrival of a baby brother – due to be born later this year – and the opportunity to care for him as a ‘little mommy’. She spoke often about her desire to be a mother and an art teacher when she grew up.

Always smiling, Evelyn was a little girl with enormous joy in her heart and an insatiable sense of wonder and awe for God and the world. She sincerely loved others and was known by all for her eagerness to help, to share, and to bring peace wherever she saw pain or conflict. Evelyn was also known for her abiding sense of contentment: She was satisfied with what she had, asked for very little, and freely gave much away.

The source of Evelyn’s serenity was her intense love for Jesus Christ. She believed that in him she already had everything. Evelyn was an example of prayerfulness, often finding private places to recite the Rosary or forming prayer groups with her friends. She also enjoyed singing hymns with her family, especially those she had memorized in her schooling, and she had a deep affection for the unique presence of Christ in Communion. Many times Evelyn expressed her longing to one day see him face to face and to be counted among the Saints in glory. She found particular inspiration to love and follow Jesus from the very short but extraordinary life of Saint Therese of Liseaux.

There is just no way to comprehend the void that she has left in our family.

The loss was shocking, unexplainable, incomprehensible.  She left behind a nine year-old sister who was her best friend and another little sister who saw her as a second mommy.  She never got to meet a little brother for which she had spent much time praying and her big brother was crushed and angered by the unfairness of it all.

She left behind a dad who took immense pride in his girls.  A dad who read them fairy tales in front of the fire, took them backpacking, had snuggle fests, fed their souls, and danced with her on her birthday.

I was left without my biggest helper–the girl who wanted to do everything and of whom I was incredibly proud.  She was a girl after my own heart and even looked so much like me. We were having such a good school year together spending every morning in prayer, hymns, and studying the Scriptures.

We were in the process of building a mini-farm.  A peaceful place to be together as a family and share our blessings and gifts with others as well.  She was so excited about it.

Everything seemed to be falling into place for us.  It was a beautiful life.

Those early days of loss were excruciating.  Painful beyond words.  Raw.  We were surrounded by so many who loved us and loved her.  Stories emerged of the impact she had on so many.  Doves were seen at her funeral procession, which seemed to stretch on for a mile.  Little fortune cookie papers were stuffed into her First Communion banner with messages that my husband needed to hear at the very moment they were discovered.  As we began to collect her things, we were amazed at what we found.  Little love notes, a journal she began writing to her unborn baby brother, insights into her spirituality.  She had a depth of love for Jesus far beyond her years.

The life that we knew came to an abrupt halt the day Evie died and we were propelled into a reality so painful that it threatened to swallow us whole.  

But it hasn’t swallowed us.  We are still living, breathing, functioning.  We are making it through our days.  Is it still painful?  Yes, incredibly.  Do we still have moments when our longing for her is so great that it takes our breath away?  Absolutely.  Many.  But we also have moments of peace, consolation, and even hope for the future.  And how can that be?

Because death is not the end of the story.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life and He makes all things new.

This blog is an outlet for me to share the insights that the Holy Spirit gives me along this heart-wrenching journey.  My prayer is that it can also be a source of comfort and strength for others–whether you are walking this path yourself or trying to support someone else.

The climb to Calvary eventually leads  to the empty tomb, where every tear is wiped away. Someday we will hold her again and our hope will be fulfilled.  Thank you for joining me on the journey.