Peace, and All Good

I went to her funeral because I wanted to say “thank you”.  She taught me something I’ll forever be grateful for.  I didn’t know her well, our paths had only crossed a handful of times.  She was one of those special souls, however, with whom it didn’t take more than a brief encounter to connect.  One look into her eyes and you could literally feel the warmth emanating from her heart to yours.  There was a gentleness about her unmatched by any other person I’ve known.  To me, she was like a narrator in a play, stepping briefly into my story to explain something that was crucial I didn’t miss.  Much like the narrator’s lines pull together all the pieces of the story and provide clarity unable to be portrayed by the other characters, her role in my story was unique and one I am most thankful she played.

The parish family to which we belong said goodbye to a beautiful soul this past week.  Her name was Sister Elizabeth Anne, and she was one of only three nuns that formed the order of The Little Sisters of Saint Francis.  Three powerhouse brides of Jesus that have touched countless hearts in our community.

Our lives intersected one afternoon when I had the great fortune to sit with her in a meeting of sorts.  She knew I was the mother of the cute little three-year-old she often saw in church, our youngest, Mary-Rose.  She asked me how she was doing and, before I knew it, casual conversation turned into a life lesson.  I can still picture perfectly the way she looked me right in the eyes, and, in her gentle and humble way, explained that Mary, having been born with Down Syndrome, was “incapable of sin”.

My eyes filled with tears, as I tried to absorb her words.  My heart wanted so much to understand, but, truth be told, there was a big part of me that wanted to inquire, Dear Sister, have you checked your facts on this matter?  Forgive me for questioning your divine providence, but I am quite certain that this little girl whom you claim is incapable of sin just this morning threw her cup and plate on the floor when she was done eating and then pulled several more strands of hair from my head as I bent over to clean up the mess she had made.  Perhaps, sweet Sister, you are simply transfixed by her over-the-top cuteness and are failing to recognize the deep dark circles under my eyes due to my daughter’s sleep avoidance habits, or the extra white hairs gracing my head which could be a result of any number of things; the number of times I’ve caught her with her chubby little hands in the toilet, her uncanny ability to drop to the floor like a wet noodle whenever we have somewhere to go, or perhaps even the time two police officers arrived at our front door because “someone” had called 911.

While my mind was reliving some of my daughter’s more trying moments, my heart was truly pierced by the trusting eyes of Sister Elizabeth Anne.  I knew, looking at the depth of love in those eyes, that I wouldn’t be able to offer any of my daughter’s offenses that would change her assurance of the sinless nature of this little gem we have been blessed with.  I departed from her knowing I had just received a gift of knowledge, but not yet being able to make sense of it all.

The priest who spoke at Sister  Elizabeth Anne’s funeral presented the question that he knew must have crossed the hearts of all those who loved her so dearly.  “Why were our prayers for healing left unanswered?”  His answer was unexpected and left me thanking Sister Elizabeth Anne once again for a lesson I will cling to.  “I believe” he said, “she did receive healing, and I believe she gave it away.  She emptied herself.”  He went on to say that her fellow Sisters would report to him that each time they were at the hospital with Sister Elizabeth Anne, they would hear of a family getting good news or another patient receiving healing.  He believes it was a result of Sister Elizabeth Anne emptying herself, sacrificing her own healing for the benefit of another.

When I look into the beautiful almond-shaped brown eyes of my daughter, I realize she deserves nothing less than an “empty” mother at the end of the day.  This is no different than what our two sons deserve as well, than what each and every child that graces this earth deserves.  However, any parent of a child with special needs understands there is, in a sense, a whole other level of “emptiness” sometimes required, when you’ve given all you think you can and find so much more is asked of you.  If it takes every ounce of my patience to teach her not to put her hands in the toilet or every ounce of my strength to peel her off the floor when she has assumed wet-noodle-form, well then, that is what is asked of me and that is what she deserves.  I pray constantly for patience and guidance, as I know, on my own, I am completely incapable of loving my children the way they so deserve.  As my tank nears empty, it never fails that God will turn my gaze to our daughter’s sweet and unassuming wide-eyed, open-mouthed gaze that screams, “I’m innocent, just love me.”

I understand I’m not meant to look past her mischievous ways.  I am here to teach her right from wrong and know she is more than capable of discerning between the two.  What God asks of me is the understanding that, when she chooses the latter, her heart,  her intentions remain pure and she is left unmarked by sin.  What God asks of me is nothing less than what He offers me each and every day; an open, forgiving and understanding heart.

True to her Franciscan spirit, Sister Elizabeth Anne’s greetings often included the phrase, “Pax et bonum, Peace, and all good.”  Thank you sweet Sister, for the lessons you have taught me, for helping me be at peace in the emptiness and for realizing it is in fact,

all good.

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Sister Elizabeth Anne

 

Here I am, Lord

It was 15 years ago this January that my Grammy passed away and I was honored with the gift of writing and delivering the eulogy at her funeral.  At the close of the services, when everyone was making their way home, the priest pulled me aside and asked if he could speak with me.  I’ve never forgotten his words; “I’ve heard a lot of eulogies”, he said, “but never anything like the one you wrote and delivered today. You have been given a gift, and you need to use it.”  I smiled politely, thanked him for his kind words and walked away, completely unaware that God had just whispered in my ear.

Fast forward fifteen years, and I am once again reminded of God’s plans for me while talking with a close friend on the phone.  This time it was more than a whisper, and came at a time when I was searching, although unknowingly, for confirmation on the idea of starting a blog.  I was relating to my friend the position I found myself in with my youngest in preschool for a few hours each day leaving me just enough free time to do a little something but not commit to anything too consuming.  I told her I was kicking around the idea of starting a blog and her response brought me right back to standing before that priest all those years ago.  “You’ve been give a gift with your writing and when God’s given you a gift, you have a responsibility to use it.”

That same week, I read a blog post from Tracie Miles, one of the authors for the blog proverbs31.org .  In it, she talks about an opportunity lost to her due to fear and the reality that, “with procrastination, comes missed blessings.”

“OK, my patient and loving Father, I get it.”

I have a lot of reasons why not to start a blog.  The biggest question that looms over me is simply, “what do I have to share that people would care about reading?”  In searching for an answer, I am once again reminded about a truth in life that always seems to escape me, it’s not about me.  And it is within that truth that all my own fears hold no bearing on the task ahead.

One of my all time favorite hymns is, Here I am Lord.  Even as a child I remember feeling inspired by the words.  “Here I am Lord.  Is it I Lord?  I have heard you calling in the night.  I will go Lord, if you lead me.”  These words bring to mind the exciting fact that we were all created for a special purpose; a purpose unique to that of any other single person in this world.  The challenge is found in defining what that purpose is and in being open enough to be led along the path that will take you there.

These days, there is nothing unique about writing a blog.  Cyberspace is filled with them.  What I hope will be unique however, are the stories shared and the connections made.  In my opinion, two of the most powerful words in any language are, “I understand”. These two simple words are strong enough to bridge any gap, be it due to age, gender, religious practice, upbringing, past experience…the list goes on.  I’ve seen the gift embedded within these two words many times in my own life and I’ve personally witnessed my own crosses be turned into joys when I can relate and empathize with someone in a way that no one else can.  I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend.  The gift of living these roles presents ample opportunity to share, and I hope, ample opportunity to connect.

With that in mind, I move forward.  With excitement, and with hesitancy, I present to you, “Joy in the Journey”, a weekly blog that I pray will remind you of His love for you and perhaps provide a few moments of pause to be comforted and inspired through the heartfelt messages God sends my way.  And, as I never like to take myself too seriously, I hope you will laugh with me along this journey.

When God gives you a gift, it means you are simply a vessel through which He travels. And so, all excuses and insecurities aside, there is only one thing left to say,

“Here I am Lord.”

My Grammy and Her Cookie Jar

When I first started writing the “Here I am Lord” post, I didn’t even realize it was in the same month that my Grammy passed away.  Fifteen years ago, January 4th, Grammy was born to eternal life.  I thought I would post her eulogy in gratitude for all the ways she touched my heart when she walked this earth and in thanksgiving for the way she continues to bless my life from her perch above.  I have yet to taste a sugar cookie like yours Grammy, and I doubt I ever will.  Love and miss you.

For each one of us here today, Eva brings back different memories.  To my father, John, and to my uncles, Richard and Robert, she was a mother.  To their wives, she was a mother-in-law.  To Natalie, she was a sister.  To others, she was an aunt, a cousin, a loyal friend.  Perhaps she was your next door neighbor or your colleague who volunteered her time in the museum.  To me, to my sisters, and to my cousins, she was Grammy.

When I think of Grammy, I can’t help but be reminded of a small needlepoint that my mother gave to her when I was young.  The inscription on the needlepoint read as follows:

Some grandmothers ride in limousines, wear fine clothes and pretty rings but my Grammy’s best by far because she has a cookie jar.

Although Grammy blessed each one of our lives in very different ways, I would imagine we can all find our own memories of her wrapped in this simple poem.  It defines Grammy as a woman who cherished the simple things in life.  A small treasure found at the weekend yard sale was worth more than any expensive gift you could give her. She found her happiness in the company of her family and her friends.

When I was young, I admired Grammy for her uncanny ability to create perfect animal shapes out of my pancakes.  I thought her home was one big treasure chest-you could find everything from games and stuffed animals to those extra special treasures like my father’s old retainers.  I was sure she was the coolest Grammy in town-I didn’t know any other grandmother that would faithfully get out her sled and take a few runs on the golf course hill each and every winter.

Looking back, I now understand her to be a woman who cared deeply for her grandchildren and worked tirelessly to create a loving atmosphere for her family.  I see a woman who had a great deal of respect for her Swedish roots; a woman who clung to the important memories of her past and took special care to preserve them.  I see a woman who was not afraid to live every day to the fullest.  I see a woman who will always be remembered fondly by those who had the great fortune to be a part of her life.

I will miss Grammy dearly, as we all will.  As my father said, “she has left a big void in the Deforge family-she was the leader.”  As much as this is true, I hope you will all rejoice with me in the knowledge that Grammy; the mother, sister, and friend that she was, and always will be, has reunited with her husband, her sister Bobbie, her brother Roland, her own mother and father; and all of her loved ones that she has missed for so many years.

I recently saw a play that depicted Heaven as a place where those that have passed before us are taking an extended nap.  They would only awaken when those they left behind brought them to memory.

These past few days it is clear Grammy has not received a wink of sleep as we have all been reminiscing of our favorite memories with her.  In speaking with others, some of those memories include her famous pot roast dinners, the warmth and comfort of her kitchen, her laugh, her gardening, even her annual swim in the lake-sneakers and all.  As we all try to move forward, I challenge us to keep Grammy awake in our hearts and our minds.

Some grandchildren will remember a grandmother who drove a limousine, wore fine clothes or pretty rings.  I however, will remember my Grammy to be best by far, because she had the cookie jar.