It's a rare privilege to see heroic openness to God's will up close. I received that blessing in the month of May. What I witnessed has made a deep mark on my heart and I haven't known how to describe the impact this particular woman has had on me. Because of her influence, I will try to share her story, even if my words prove woefully inadequate.
As one of our first WWP coordinators, this precious woman served with joy even though she had many children to care for and difficult circumstances that might have caused her to put off offering her time and heart to others. I watched her gracefully experience hardships that would have made me complain, but somehow she gave thanks instead. Her gratitude was genuine; it wasn't for show. There was no evidence of resentment or discontentment in her.
Over the years, I've watched her welcome child after child with her openness to life. This March, she and her husband welcomed their ninth child, a baby boy. Everyone gets excited when they have another baby (they are seriously the cutest bunch of kids ever) and this time was no exception. So when I heard the news that their six-week-old son (baptized just four days earlier) had joined the saints in heaven, my heart ached for each of them. This is a level of pain that I can't fathom. This is the thing that I fear, that I wonder if I could ever recover from.
Days after the loss of their son, she and her husband sent out a letter with the following quote:
The everlasting God has in His wisdom foreseen from eternity the cross that He now presents to you as a gift from His inmost heart. This cross He now sends you He has considered with His all-knowing eyes, understood with His divine mind, tested with His wise justice, warmed with His loving arms, and weighed with His own hands to see that it be not one inch too large and not one ounce too heavy for you. He has blessed it with His holy name, anointed it with His consolation, taken one last glance at you and your courage, and then sent it to you from heaven, a special greeting from God to you, an alms of the all-merciful love of God.
-St. Francis de Sales
We were then invited to the visitation, where we were invited to join their son and adore our Lord during the Holy Hour. He was worshiping the Lord in heaven, and we would be worshiping Him here. We would be together in Adoration. When I arrived at the visitation, I saw her and her husband standing at the foot of the cross, with the little coffin by their side. With every moment that followed, during the visitation and then at the funeral the next day, this beautiful couple showed us all what it means to grieve as Christians.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, St. Paul wrote, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” We are not to grieve like the rest of mankind who don't know the hope of Christ. Note that it doesn't say, “we do not grieve.” It says that we are to grieve differently. And that's exactly what they did.
They chose to use their platform of suffering as an opportunity to point people to Christ. The visitation was followed by Adoration, opportunity for Confession, and the rosary. Every word spoken drew attention to God's goodness, to Christ's mercy, and to eternity. Children were all over the place. There were newborn babies crying- babies that were probably right around their son's age. We were surrounded by life and by death and while you'd think the contrast would be too painful to bear, it was absolutely beautiful. There was no anger in either of them. There was grief, yes, but there was acceptance. There was undoubtedly an unwavering belief in God's goodness and faithfulness right in the midst of the loss.
In the weeks that followed, this beautiful mother has simultaneously grieved and offered encouragement to those around her. She's reminded friends that there's no point in imagining what cross Christ might ask them to carry. “Don't waste your time imagining it. You don't have the grace for it now. But when it does come, the grace WILL be there…” she said. She encourages those around her not to fear the cross, and instead to embrace it as one of the main ways we can grow in holiness, the holiness that we all pray will be seen in us and in our families.
When we see someone display this level of surrender to and trust in God, we can be quick to think, “Well, she's amazing, and totally different from me. I could never respond in that way.” Or perhaps we recognize that getting through grief like this can only be done through God's grace, but we might think, “God did that for her because she's good. He wouldn't do that for me.” Neither thought is true.
God did shower tremendous grace on this family…but not any more than what he would do for anyone else. God is faithful, all the time. As St. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, truly God's grace is sufficient for any situation. It is offered to all, without partiality, but it is up to us to be open to receive that tremendous grace.
God didn't spare my friend pain and heartache. There must have been some prayers during this journey that weren't answered the way she had hoped. But God answered the cry of her heart with His presence. And her witness proves: His presence is enough.
I am eternally grateful for what she has taught me and for the God who tenderly holds us all.