Welcome Home, My Friend

The room was silent, uncomfortably so.  My husband was supposed to be speaking, sharing with a group of people our story of adoption.  He had reached a point in his witness where he had become overwhelmed with emotion and he was struggling to continue.  We all sat and watched, frozen in our helplessness.  And then, in her humble and quiet way, my friend began to pray, out loud.  She sat, with her head down and eyes closed and, in a way only she could do, she beckoned the rest of us to join her in praying the Hail Mary.  It was just what was needed for my husband to take a deep breath and begin again.

This gentle offering does much to describe the heart of a dear friend of mine who was recently called home.  For three years she fought cancer, and for three years, those of us blessed enough to know her learned what it means to trust in God’s will and providence.  I would call it valiant, heroic, courageous.  She would call it faith.  While many would sit in awe of the woman fighting the fight, she would turn our gaze to the Lord walking beside her.  

I first met her over thirteen years ago.  Both of our families had joined our parish around the same time.  On separate occasions, we had each been invited to meet with our pastor so he could get to know us and, so we soon found out, strategically suggest ways in which we could be of service to the parish community.  Once again, I stand in gratitude to God’s faultless and intricate design as He used this opportunity to merge my life with that of a woman I will forever remember.

Our first meeting is one that is hard to forget.  We had come together to discuss the formation of a women’s program that we would end up running together for a few years.  I showed up with my son, just a few months old at the time.  As a new mom, it was a big deal for me to be out of the house with my little one in tow.  I was silently praying that all would go smoothly and we would make it through the meeting without any major meltdowns.  It wasn’t much more than a few minutes into our discussion when my little one decided he was hungry and needed to nurse asap.  I politely excused myself from the table and sat on the couch to feed him, unknowingly dropping my nursing pad on the floor when making my way back.  Safe to say, it was clear that I was a rookie and was struggling to maintain a shred of dignity as I fumbled my way through our time together.  I quickly learned that I was in the company of a woman who selflessly offered her acceptance and loved me right where I was at.  She was just one of those rare finds; one who loved without judgement, wholeheartedly and unconditionally.

Come to find out, we shared a love and devotion to the Blessed Mother.  Throughout our friendship, we were both affirmed in that love through the mutual sharing of miracles we know she had “nudged” her Son to orchestrate in our lives.  You couldn’t talk about Mother Mary, or anything to do with her Son, without tears welling up in my friend’s eyes.  While she was often teased about this, it was hard not to be envious of her profound and sincere faith.  

I learned many lessons from my beautiful friend, not the least of which is the power behind prayer.  Whether it was saying a blessing over her children each time they parted ways, praying her heart out while she dug through multiple trash cans in search of her son’s retainers, or selflessly working her rosary beads in request of needs among her family and friends, prayer was as important to her as the air she breathed.  She prayed, she trusted and she waited patiently on the Lord.

Although small in stature, she was a force to be reckoned with, as she walked this earth with the strength of faith backing her every step.  God used her to touch the lives of so many, and she will be missed by each and every person blessed to know her.  Her lessons will never be forgotten, nor will the warmth of her spirit and sincerity of her heart.  I can only imagine the awe she is experiencing in the arms of the very One she lived to serve.  And I’d be willing to bet there just may be tears of joy in her eyes.   

Rose, freeimages.com, 2015

Rose, freeimages.com, 2015

“All Aboard!”

Well, it’s official.  My 40th year walking this earth has begun.  Honestly, I’m a bit indifferent to the number.  I don’t know exactly what “hill” I’m over, but I’m feeling ok here on the other side.  Interestingly enough, a good friend helped me to realize that the number 40 does have significance to the One who created me.  It is used well over 100 times in the bible and is said to “represent a period of testing or judgment (the length of time necessary to accomplish some major part of God’s plan)” (http://www.ecclesia.org/truth/40.html).  After my 40 years of preparation, of being “refined” in His grace, I am supposedly now a new creation.  I’m not sure how much that holds true for me, but turning 40 certainly does bring reason to pause and reflect on my journey.

In thinking of lessons learned along the way, I’m reminded of one of my all-time favorites gleaned from Corrie Ten Boom’s true life story which she presents so beautifully in her written work, “The Hiding Place”.  In this particular piece of her story, she is traveling on a train with her father and she asks him a question about something he is not yet ready to explain to her.  His response is a gem of wisdom I fall back on often.  It reads as follows;  

“He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case off the floor and set it on the floor.

‘Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?’ he said.

I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.

‘It’s too heavy,’ I said.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘and it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.'”

Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place     

I’m truly fascinated by this simple truth.  We do this all the time as parents.  We feed our children knowledge of their world in small pieces that they are able to chew and digest. We work to protect them from being overburdened with information that might cause them confusion, fear or worry.  Why would it be any different when it comes to God revealing His will to us?  To understand that God does the same for each one of His children is mindboggling.  It all makes sense, however.  In looking back and thinking of the road I’ve traveled, l realize that my life, like everyone’s, is an intricate puzzle.  I am in charge of putting the pieces where they go and God patiently and painstakingly puts me where I need to be.  He places the people in my life that I am meant to learn from, be encouraged and inspired by and gently coaxes me to pick up the pieces when it is just the right time to fit them into the puzzle.

The timing of things is something I’ve often struggled with.  When I think of the major events in my life, graduating from college, getting married, having children, I realize how anxious I always was for things to fall into place and “happen”.  Contentment is not something I hold on to for very long.  I’ve always been one to want to rush on with the next milestone in life.  If it were up to me and my plan, it made perfect sense to get engaged before my husband and I were even finished with school.  I know this is something that drives my logical-well-sensed-painfully-planned-out husband crazy and I’m sure it’s safe to say it drives God a little nutty as well.  His plan is perfect and I’m always trying to mess with it.  

“Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. ‘Corrie,’ he began gently, ‘when you and I go to Amsterdam-when do I give you your ticket?’

I sniffed a few times, considering this.

‘Why, just before we get on the train.’

‘Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie.'”

Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place

It took me nineteen years to be comfortable enough with who I was in order to merge my life with that of another and five more years before I was ready to be a wife.  It took me twenty-five years before I knew how strong my faith really was, learned only through the loss of our first baby to miscarriage.  At twenty-six years, I learned what self-sacrifice truly feels like, presented beautifully in the form of motherhood.  It was twenty-seven years before I was strong enough to battle through what was debilitating anxiety and not much longer to realize God let me carry that cross to connect with many other women suffering in much the same way.  It took me thirty-five years to be ready to trust God to work His miracle through adoption.  In His perfect timing, through the process of what often felt like an education I didn’t need, I was ready to place each puzzle piece where it was meant to be.  More times than I can count, through my struggle with control, I tried as hard as I could to fit pieces where they simply didn’t belong.  I was “running out ahead” and trying desperately to turn in my ticket before it was time for the train to depart.

My family would laugh at me if they heard me proclaim I was even close to mature.  It’s true I am often “inappropriate” (my husband’s word…) and find way too much humor in the rampant potty mouths living among me.  However, after 40 short years, I do feel I have matured in my understanding of faith and my friendship with God.  While it’s true I often wonder what the future will hold for myself and my family, for now at least, I am content with where I’m at and I’m confident and secure with placing the rest in God’s hands.  For the first time in my life, I can wait patiently for the next train to pull into the station, knowing when it does it will be loaded with all I need to travel through the next phase of my life.  

“Today I know that such memories are the key not to the past, but to the future. I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do.”

Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place

And so, at 40 years of age, I venture forward.  I am blessed to have countless treasured memories and couldn’t be more thankful for the family and friends that travel beside me.  I sit, contentedly, ticket in hand, waiting patiently for the next train to pull in.

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Noah Johnson, 2015