Fortune Cookie Faith

“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”

Hebrews 11:1

I want to begin this post by sharing an e-mail correspondence written by my husband within days of Evie’s death.  His words were published in the Canton Repository and although I could just link to the article I feel it necessary to repost them here because you really need to read it through to fully understand the impact of what I am about to set forth:

“On Tuesday morning, it had been three days since Evelyn died. I was worn down and beginning to lose the hope and the comfort that had sustained us immediately after her death. Around 5 a.m., I lit a candle, knelt before the cross that sits atop our family prayer table and began to express to the Lord (and to Evie) that I felt completely empty and abandoned – that all of this was completely meaningless.

For some time I knelt there attempting to capture in words the profound darkness that I felt inside. I then began to plead over and over with God to renew my faith, to help me to abandon myself to him and to constantly seek him even when I feel like nothing makes sense. I kept saying ‘please do something, please do something.’ In front of me, lying flat on the prayer table was Evelyn’s First Communion banner – a shield shaped piece of felt with fabric flowers sewn onto it in the shape of a cross by Evie herself.

Because I had laid my head upon the table weeping, I was able to see inside the upper portion of the banner where a dowel rod had been inserted so that the banner could be hung from the wall or a pew. Immediately after finishing my plea that God would ‘do something’ to keep me from losing faith, I noticed that a very tiny piece of paper had been shoved into the fabric sleeve alongside the dowel rod. I pulled it out. It was two fortune cookie ‘sayings’ rolled up together. I knew that these must have been put there by Evie because she habitually kept anything that had any significance to her (we called her ‘Stash-n-Dash’ since she never stopped moving and preserved every memory somehow/somewhere).

I unraveled the two quotes. The first one said, “The greatest ownership is the embracement of emptiness.” These words knocked the wind out of me. I already felt completely empty and alone. Now I felt as though I was being taunted, like there really was no hope and I just needed to admit it. Crying hysterically at this point – the lowest point of my life now that I think about it – I unraveled the second paper. The saying on it was, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”

I immediately recognized these words as God’s own words to us in Hebrews 11:1 and, in that moment, heard them as a very clear exhortation to believe even when I cannot see a thing, to hope even when I feel nothing but hopelessness. In that moment God answered my prayer. He ‘did something’ just as I had asked. In his mysterious providence, he had arranged for those two particular quotes to be placed in those particular cookies, and then for Evie to ‘stash’ them in that precise part of that particular banner (and for that banner to be taken off the wall and placed precisely where it was shortly before I knelt there) so that I would read those quotes at that exact moment.

I’m not one to interpret the divinely intended meaning in every event – not even close. As a historical theologian, I tend to see meaning over vast swaths of time. But in that very moment, I clearly heard the voice of God speaking to me, saying exactly what I needed to hear, through crumpled up fortune cookie papers that should never have been found. And in those papers, I also heard the whisper of my precious little girl, imploring me to trust and obey – the simple lesson we had taught her every day of her short time in this world.”

My last post, if you recall, was about Evie’s birthday.  As I relayed, I had been dreading that day for the past nine months.

Shortly before her birthday I discovered that the mass at St. Mary’s (our parish) would be offered for Evie on that day.  This year, her birthday was on a Sunday.

Typically, I read the Sunday Mass readings in advance but for some reason,  I did not read the passages for August 7th.  In case you are not familiar with how the readings at Mass work, they are not chosen by the priest of the parish or the deacon or any other member.  They are universal.  Everyone on earth will hear the same Bible passages at any Mass they attend anywhere.  The readings rotate on a three year cycle so as to expose parishioners to all of the Scriptures over time.

As I sat in Mass on Evie’s birthday, crying and begging God to feel close to her and to feel her with me, the lector walked to the front of the sanctuary and began to read.

The passage was Hebrews 11

I was floored.  It couldn’t possibly be a coincidence that this chapter from Hebrews would show up on a tiny strip of paper wadded up inside Evie’s First Communion banner AND read on Evie’s birthday.

Not to mention the fact that as the passage progresses, it proceeds to illustrate the faith demonstrated by the likes of Noah, Abraham, Moses, King David and all the Old Testament saints who make up a portion of the “great cloud of witnesses.”

The girls and I had spent last September and October studying the Old Testament together before Evie died and learning about the great faith of these very men.  Evie loved celebrating the saints.  She expressed her wish to enter heaven around All Saints Day.  The name of our farm reflects that desire.

God works in mysterious ways.

Since then, I’ve been pondering the meaning of this.  What is the Holy Spirit trying to convey to us through our little girl and this immeasurable suffering?

The message comes back full circle to the words penned by my husband after finding those  fortune cookie papers.

Trust and Obey.

We seem to live in an evidence-based culture these days.  We want answers and we want them fast.  We want proof for everything.  We only believe and take in what we can see right in front of us.  God is for the superstitious, unintelligent, archaeic, less-evolved among us.

So we build our towers…higher than God.  We presume to know everything.  We’ve got it all under control.  We don’t need Him.

Until we do.

Until questions arise to which there are no answers.

Until something life-changing occurs and we realize that we are incapable of controlling anything.  Then we realize that trying to hold life with a clenched fist is like trying to hold water in your hand.

It’s an illusion.

Faith is stepping outside of our control, our preconceived notions, and our pride and opening ourselves up to a realm of existence far beyond our limited experience.

Men like Noah, Abraham, and Moses demonstrated extraordinary faith beyond anything we encounter on a daily basis.  They were willing to sacrifice their livelihoods, their reputations, and their families to answer God’s call.  Even more profound is the fact that these men never saw the fruits of their faith in their own lifetimes.

Yet they trusted in God and obeyed.

Can you imagine God asking you to build a gigantic boat filled with animals?  Or being willing to walk your only son up a mountain to slay him?  Or approaching a powerful king and letting him know that you’re about to evacuate half of his kingdom?

These men represent the “cloud of witnesses” spoken of later in Hebrews.  We are literally surrounded by extraordinary saints…men and women who answered God’s call to do radical things.  Think of women like Blessed Mother Theresa, who left her religious order to answer God’s call to minister to the poor and destitute living in the slums of India.  She remained faithful to this calling even through years of spiritual darkness.  St. Monica relentlessly pursued and prayed for her wayward son Augustine for more than 17 years and he eventually became a saint.  St. Louis Martin trusted God through the death of four children and his beloved wife from breast cancer and lovingly submitted when God called all five of his daughters to cloistered religious life.

These ordinary people were able to live extraordinary lives because they had faith.  Not the kind of faith that says, “Yeah, I believe in God and I go to church.”

They had the kind of faith that makes the world stop and take notice.  They didn’t exactly blend in with the crowd.  Their faith actually became “evidence” for the existence of God because nobody would live like that or do those things unless God were working through them.

In my grief, my faith ebbs and flows.  There are times when I feel close to God and hear Him speaking to my heart.  Other times, all I can see is my daughter buried in the earth and  broken hearts that cannot be fixed in this lifetime.   The mess in front of me looms large and the impossibility of what I am trying to accomplish weighs me down like a leaden vest.  Like the Israelites, I question what God is doing and trudge along wearing foggy lenses… only seeing my own misery and not the Promised Land that God has in store for me.  Sometimes I can’t imagine that Heaven could be any more glorious than the life I lived before October 31, 2015.

It’s easy to get caught up in the here and now when life is hard.  When life is good, we get comfortable and think this world has it all.

But there is so much more than this world.  There is a whole realm of which we are not even aware.  There are angels and saints.  There is a resurrected man with scars on His hands and our names written on His heart.  There is a God who is weaving the fabric of our lives into a beautiful tapestry even when we can only see the tattered threads.

Do we live like this is is true?  Are we “running the race to win the prize?”  Do our daily lives, our decisions, our relationships reflect our ultimate goal…heaven?  Or are we blending in with everyone around us, forgetting that Jesus calls us to live radically different lives…to stand out as “salt” and “light” to an unbelieving world?

We don’t need to look inside a Chinese cookie to know our fortune.  We need only crack open the Scriptures to see that  God’s promises are clear and true.  He’s preparing a place for us…if only we will trust and obey.



Celebrating A Beautiful Life


A child’s birthday is about relishing in the gift of  their life on Earth…an opportunity to lavish them with affection and declare our sentiments.  Unlike other holidays, it’s a day solely devoted to one particular child marked with traditions, ceremony and celebration.  We marvel at how quickly the years have passed and reflect on who they have become.

In celebrating, we also ring in another year of life.  We look forward to all of the milestones that await and imagine who our child will be in five, ten, or even twenty years.  Will she go to college, marry, and have children?   Will there be a house full of cousins and grandchildren some day?  Or will she feel called to religious life?

But when your child’s life on earth ends abruptly, birthdays take on a whole different meaning.  Instead of something you enjoy planning and celebrating, your child’s birthday becomes something you survive and a painful reminder that there will be no more birthdays.

Evie would have been 12 tomorrow (August 7th).  Now, in the pictures, she is forever eleven.

This year, there will be no more breakfast with Daddy and dancing to their favorite song.  No more birthday hugs.  We can’t ask her how she wants to celebrate or watch her open up her gifts.

I have been dreading Evie’s birthday since the day she died.  I never imagined that last year at this time we would be celebrating her last birthday on earth.  I’ve kept the above picture on my phone as a way of preparing myself for the inevitable.  My thoughts have been consumed with how we will celebrate her life differently this year and I’ve shed countless tears.  In talking with other bereaved parents and reading about how they celebrate the birthdays of their deceased children, I’ve come across varied responses.  Some have parties to honor their child or visit the cemetery and have a special meal.  Others prefer to lock themselves in their room.  I desperately want to do something to honor her beautiful life but I know that no matter what, it’s going to be painful.

In our case, August presents an even greater challenge because it is a month of celebrations.  Eden’s birthday is the 9th and the girls always celebrated together.  Cecilia’s birthday is also in August as well as my brother who passed away.  That’s not to mention other family birthdays that occur this month in addition to our anniversary of becoming Catholic and Eden’s baptism day.

A big part of me wants to crawl in a hole and come out in September.

Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays…they will never be the same without her.  Celebrations that I used to look forward to have become a source of dread.  When you lose a child, the year feels like a relentless cycle of holidays, parties and events.  I find myself looking forward to a month with nothing on the calendar.  I guess I’m not in a very celebratory mood these days.

But I still live on earth and I’m still a mother.  My kids aren’t going to let me skip all of these special days and escape to a deserted island no matter how badly I might want to.

That does not mean, however, that I need to win an award for the most amazing birthday party or cake.   I’m not required to put on a happy face and pretend like I am not hurting inside.   A birthday doesn’t necessitate that I post pictures on Facebook of all of us having a good time amidst piles of presents, guests, and sugary treats in an attempt to veil the sorrow of missing a huge part of my existence.  It seems that sometimes we get so caught up in the celebration that we forget the reason behind the ritual.

Evie absolutely adored family traditions and she loved to celebrate…but not in a way typical of some children.  She enjoyed marking the days, but her way of doing so was quite simple…a few hand-picked flowers in a Mason jar, a homemade card with words of love, a hug.  Although she had many friends she never wanted to be the center of attention.  She was quite happy to have everyone at the party bring a donation to charity rather than a gift.  Her favorite celebrations were those that revolved around the liturgical year and the saints.   Usually, when asked what gift she would like for her birthday or Christmas, her list was pretty simple and/or generally related to her faith.  Her most recent gift request, before she died, was her very own tea set to use for hosting saint feast day parties.  Just this past October, before she passed away, she held a tea party for St. Thérèse complete with roses and store-bought chocolate eclairs.  Before that, she asked for a guitar so that she could learn praise and worship songs.  She was getting quite good at playing those.

So this year, I’m taking a cue from her.  I’m going to simplify the celebrations and focus on  drawing my family closer to the great heavenly feast that awaits those who love Jesus.  Because instead of fretting over party-themed foods, gifts, and decorations, the reason for the rituals  should compel me to look deeply into the eyes of my children on their birthday and tell them how much they mean to me, how much Jesus loves them, and what a gift He gave me when they entered my world.  Special days beckon me to stand at the foot of the cross and embrace my faith in a God who heals our brokenness and holds our future in His hands.  I can thank God for the gifts He has given us on Earth  while also allowing my pain and heartache to be evident.

Because you can hold pain and hope at the same time.  Jesus did just that when he wept over the death of His friend Lazarus even as he walked toward his tomb to raise him to new life.

On Evie’s birthday this year, we will attend mass together as a family where Heaven and Earth collide in a feast of love.  We will eat Poppyseed Chicken Casserole and Dairy Queen Ice Cream Cake (her favorites).  We will share memories with her closest friends.  But most importantly, we will tell her what a beautiful, loving, compassionate, kind, thoughtful, and simply extraordinary daughter she was and how very proud we are of who she became in eleven short years.  And although we cannot see Evie’s beautiful, slightly crooked smile when we declare these things, we know that she hears us.

Although her absence from our lives is beyond painful, I wouldn’t take back a second of our time with her.  I thank God for every moment I was privileged to have as her earthly mother as I  entrust her now to her Heavenly Mother.   And I will continue to mother her by loving Jesus and others until the day of our heavenly reunion in a place where every day is a tearless celebration of Life.




Faith Like a Child



If asked to describe in one word my feelings toward parenting our surviving children it would have to be…


From the  moment you welcome your sweet, heavenly bundle of joy into the world you begin the lifelong process of parenting.  You love them, care for their physical needs, bandage their wounds and fiercely guard and protect them from the evils of the world.  In our own home, we have taken extra measures to preserve our children’s innocence for as long as possible.  We homeschool, don’t have cable, and spend a lot of time  enjoying nature and one another.

My children have always been aware that suffering and evil exist on some level.  We have prayed as a family for an end to abortion, for sick babies, for families that I encountered in Guatemala who literally live in garbage dumps.  We’ve talked about wars and martyrs in our homeschooling.  They know that life-threatening diseases exist and accidents occur.  From the time they were small, I have told them all about their uncle Chris, my brother, who died in a car accident before they were born at the age of fifteen.

As with any family, life has not always been smooth sailing.  We’ve parented through miscarriages, difficult pregnancies, premature babies, transatlantic moves, minor illnesses, and broken bones.  They have faced the death of a stepgrandfather.  Although these were certainly difficult seasons, the trajectory of our family life was not drastically altered.  Our children felt safe and secure and we have always been able to pick up and carry on as before despite the bump in the road.  We have always instinctively known how to help our children and keep them safe.

But when Evie died, all of that sheltering and instinctive parenting went out the window.

My sweet and innocent little girls saw their beloved sister die before their eyes with no warning or explanation.  My son’s world came crashing down as he came face to face with his own mortality.  They discovered that horrible things don’t just happen to other people…they happen to us.  All of that talk about safety precautions like wearing your seat belt, bike helmets, and healthy eating means nothing when you see your sister drop dead at a piano recital.

Your world is no longer safe and life just doesn’t make sense.

The pain of losing a child is indescribable and the pain of watching your children grieve as you stand by helplessly is excruciating.  There’s nothing I can say or do to take away their pain.  I can’t bring back Eden’s best friend and mentor, Micaiah’s little sister and Cecilia’s second mommy.

Parenting through such catastrophic loss is like groping in the dark, grasping at straws, navigating dark waters.  Grief is the strongest, and most confusing emotion that exists and the grief of a child is anything but direct and obvious.  It manifests itself in fear, sadness, and anger in unexpected ways.

The girls are often afraid to sleep in their beds at night.  They fear their own death or the death of someone else they love.  We have to be very careful about exposing them to any type of tragedy in the world lest they worry about leaving the house.  They are often contemplating the hidden dangers lurking around every corner.  The circumstances surrounding Evie’s death have added an additional element of fear and uncertainty.  Every time they have any kind of ache or pain they inquire about it and sometimes phantom symptoms show up.  All the kids worry about Gabriel’s safety.  He’s their sunshine and joy on the dark days and they are keenly aware that joy can turn to sorrow in an instant.

Sometimes grief looks like anger in many different forms.  They wonder why God would have even created us knowing we would bring sin and evil into the world.  They bicker and fight at times and isolate themselves from the rest of the family.  Little ones misbehave to get attention.  Doors are slammed and angry words are spoken.  Disappointment abounds when feelings are hurt and words misunderstood.

Often anger turns to pervasive sadness.  We must hold them while they cry.  Oh how I wish it were due to a scraped knee or disappointing friendship!  The other day Cecilia was becoming frustrated with me over some schoolwork she wanted to do.  She ran off.  When I found her, she cried, “I wish Evie was here.”  In that moment, she recognized that I was just not doing things the way Evie would have done them.  I held her in my arms as she cried and cried and another sword pierced my heart.  There are certainly tears but sometimes I recognize it as the lonely look in Eden’s eyes when a five year-old sister is just not the ideal playmate at the moment.  When they look at old pictures and videos I know they are missing her.  Their artwork is also an expression of the sorrow they feel inside.  Cecilia draws many, many pictures of the three sisters…two red-heads and a blondie.  Sometimes the blondie is in the sky as an angel.  Sometimes her pictures are simply Jesus on the cross in black ink.

With five people grieving very differently, a baby, building a house, and the ocean of emotions, family life can be utterly exhausting.  Most days I feel like a firefighter trying to extinguish the flames burning here, there, and everywhere.  I don’t always know how to help and protect my kids and I’m so broken myself that sometimes just getting up and putting one foot in front of the other seems nearly impossible.

I worry about my family.  How will we survive?  What will family life look like in the years ahead?  Will we ever thrive again?  What are the long-term repercussions of this terrible tragedy?  Am I doing the right thing?  How can I be a good mom when my mind is clouded with grief?

Extraordinary suffering strips you of your faculties, your pride, and your false sense of control.  It renders you naked and exposed and drags you to a crossroads.  It’s the Red Sea, the walls of Jericho, and the climb to Calvary.  On this side of it we can’t see the outcome or the reward that awaits.  We could easily become immobilized by the pain, curl up into a ball of anxiety and fear and simply give up.

But God is big enough to part the sea, tear down the walls, and climb the mountain… beaten and bloody with a cross on His back.  He doesn’t really need our help.  He simply asks us to love Him and trust that He’s making a way through the darkness.  In order to help my children, I myself must become a little child.  I must put my hand in His and let Him lead me.  And as a child, I must love unconditionally with no limitations or expectations.   Our children need the security of that unconditional love.  In the words of a fellow bereaved mother, we need to “love them back to life.”  They need to see us grieve and know that it’s ok to embrace the pain but they also need to see us survive because we trust that Jesus has our future in His hands.

I admit that trust doesn’t always come easily.  There are moments that I don’t even want to get out of the boat and confront what lies before me.   At other times, I might be willing to step out into the water but like St. Peter I take my eyes off of Jesus for a moment and the waves begin to consume me.  I survey the raging storm and feel helpless and alone in a deep, dark, never-ending sea of needs that I cannot meet and brokenness that I cannot fix.
Each time I feel overwhelmed and afraid, I try to put my thoughts to rest and pray.  My prayer is a simple one and sometimes the only one I can utter.  Coincidentally, (or maybe not so coincidentally) it is an appropriate prayer for this year of Divine Mercy.

“Jesus, I trust in You.”

“When I see that the burden is beyond my strength, I do not consider or analyze it or probe into it, but I run like a child to the Heart of Jesus and say only one word to Him: “You can do all things.” And then I keep silent, because I know that Jesus Himself will intervene in the matter, and as for me, instead of tormenting myself, I use that time to love Him.”

From the Diary of St. Faustina










Our children are connected to us in a way that defies human understanding.  We give them life and they are a part of our very being. We care for their physical needs and nurture their minds, hearts and souls.  Watch them grow.  Relish in who they are becoming.  Love them fiercely with a sacrificial love that knows no limits.  We have hopes and dreams for their futures.  They are the fruit of our marriage sacrament.  With the birth of each child the family culture changes and grows and each child’s unique temperament and gifts add to the beautiful balance of family life.  By welcoming them into the world we embrace the mystery of familial union.  A mystery that reflects the greatest mystery of all:  The Most Holy Trinity.

It’s incomprehensible that you can take your children to do something fun on a Saturday and within a matter of one hour life as you knew it comes to an abrupt end.  All of the nurturing, hopes, and dreams you had for your child and your family as a whole unit…gone.  A peace of our hearts was severed from us and left the earth forever.

That’s not something you ever “get over”.

And now we live suspended between Heaven and Earth not fully present in either realm.

I have become accustomed to the sorrow and longing for what once was.  To say that I miss my little girl is a gross understatement.  There really aren’t adequate words in the human vocabulary to express the pain of losing Evie and the astounding hole that her absence created in our family.  We face it every day, in every moment.  There’s no escape.

As I lay in bed one night, crying myself to sleep again, the following passage from Scripture came to mind:

“And a man named Jairus, an official of the synagogue, came forward. He fell at the feet of Jesus and begged him to come to his house, because he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, and she was dying. As he went, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years, who [had spent her whole livelihood on doctors and] was unable to be cured by anyone, came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. Immediately her bleeding stopped. Jesus then asked, “Who touched me?” While all were denying it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds are pushing and pressing in upon you.” But Jesus said, “Someone has touched me; for I know that power has gone out from me.” When the woman realized that she had not escaped notice, she came forward trembling. Falling down before him, she explained in the presence of all the people why she had touched him and how she had been healed immediately. he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Luke 9:41-48

That woman is me…bleeding on the inside. Weary. Exhausted by grief.

My pain is so deep that I often feel alone in the crowd.  I find it difficult to engage in the trivialities of life and my patience for small talk has reached an all-time low.  The things that people seem to worry about and that I myself once fretted over seem unimportant.   I see people around me “pushing and pressing in” like the crowd in the Gospel trying to get where they are going and check things off their list.  They are busy with their lives and their families. They greet me with a smile and a, “how are you?” but I’m not sure how to answer that question nor do I think everyone really wants to hear an honest response.

Facing such profound pain, it’s easy to retreat into oneself and hold the world at arm’s length.  Even for an extrovert.  Because losing a child propels you into another dimension.

And like the woman in the story, it brings me to my knees in search of the One who can heal my broken heart.  I’m willing to crawl on my hands and knees through the pain to seek Him, recognizing that the bleeding has no expiration date but that someday it will stop.  If not in this world, then in the next.

But what I find most compelling about the Gospel passage is that Jesus doesn’t allow this bleeding woman to remain anonymous.  Her suffering and eventual healing is not just between the two of them.  It’s meant to be lived out in community.

Because as this broken and lonely soul touches Him, this Teacher and Great Physician stops in His tracks. He asks the most ridiculous question imaginable in a teeming crowd of people…

“Who touched me?”

By acknowledging her, Jesus opens the door for her to share her story and in sharing, her healing is complete and she becomes a witness to the truth.

Losing a child can be a very lonely experience and parents feel even lonelier when their loss is not acknowledged.  Perhaps people don’t know what to say or they are afraid to say the wrong thing so they say nothing at all.  Maybe they have good intentions but the opportunity passed them by.  Fear of upsetting the family could be a factor.  But trust me.  You are not going to remind them of something they’re not already thinking about constantly.  There’s no reason to be afraid of tears or apologize for them.  They are a normal and regular part of grief and a healthy release.

More than anything, a grieving parent wants so badly for someone to acknowledge their pain, to say their child’s name, to remember her, to share their grief with them, to cry.  And when I see Jesus’ reaction to this woman, I know in my heart that the need for acknowledgment is valid.

Remaining silent causes hurt feelings and isolates the parent even more but shared grief is like a lifeline pulling them out of the darkness.

Personally, we treasure the cards we receive that contain a special memory of Evie or a way in which she has impacted someone in her death.  The book of memories that our homeschooling co-op made for us is a precious gift.  My husband savors it bit by bit so that he always has a new discovery waiting for him.  We love it when people share new pictures or videos even if we can’t muster up the strength to view them right away.  We are blessed when people do things to honor her  because she was an amazing little girl and it would be another tragedy for the world to forget her beautiful life.

And we are so thankful for those who continue to reach out to us in our exhaustion with tangible offers to help, for those who let us know they are praying and truly want to know how we are doing.  For those who pray with us and hold us when we cry.  For those who recognize that grief has no timeline.

Because when you acknowledge the suffering of another human being, when you reach out in empathy and compassion, when you become vulnerable and selflessly give of yourself to help a hurting soul,  you reveal Jesus to the world.

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

St. Teresa of Avila










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.