I recently attended a Welcome Retreat (a resource from Dynamic Catholic) for the ladies of our parish. The entire weekend was a very moving experience, the details of which, I will not disclose, as I would not want to lessen the experience for another sister in Christ by spoiling any surprises. There are, however, some personal takeaways that I wish to share.
I spent the entire weekend, like many others, in a constant state of crying. I, however, was very disappointed in myself for being such an emotional wreck. I thought I had come to a more mature place in my faith where I had dealt with my emotional pain. When that pain rose to the surface, I was surprised by its existence and surprised again when the Holy Spirit revealed how I was depending upon myself again instead of giving all my life to God. It was during Adoration, when I knelt in reverence before the presence of our Savior, that I heard, just as if it was audibly spoken, the word, “rest.” It was only one word, but it held so much meaning.
My husband and I had just made an enormous decision that impacted our young daughter’s medical care. We shared a concern about the long-term effects of our daughter continually wearing a plaster cast on her torso for scoliosis treatment. (It had been 18 months).
The situation and all the “solutions” seemed like a lose-lose-lose scenario. Do nothing, we lose because Mayah’s spine deteriorates with fatal consequences. Continue casting, we lose because Mayah hated it, and it would keep her chest wall from growing, which, too, could risk her already-compromised lungs. Insert growing rods, we lose because we “set a clock” for spinal fusing, which stops any future growth of her spine, not to mention the risks associated with the surgery.
I confided in my husband that I could not make this decision because I couldn’t bear to make the wrong choice. He volunteered to make the decision himself, but I suggested that we allow God to lead us to a conclusion. We agreed to pray for guidance and that we would ask for intercessory prayer from St. Gemma Galgani, the patron saint of spinal injury.
We finished the novena on a Sunday, and the following Tuesday, Mayah had an appointment with a different orthopedic surgeon. After taking x-rays, it was his recommendation that Mayah be fitted with a bending brace to be worn only at night so that her chest wall could grow during the day.
I had not mentioned my fear of her chest wall being restricted, only that she hated wearing the casts. So, when he specifically spoke of her chest wall’s growth, it was as if he was hearing my own heart and answering our prayers. However, it was contrary to the medical path we were on.
After a few more days of prayer, we agreed to try the night brace, with the knowledge that her curve would be closely monitored.
Though we shared the burden of making the decision, which we felt we had prayerfully made through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the weight of the decision was very heavy.
Just days later, as I knelt in front of the Lord in His eucharistic presence, He was calling me to rest.
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
Of course, the timing was perfect since the following week was the start of Lent. I knew from previous years, that the Lord had moved beautifully, yet often painfully in my life during that time. For me, the Lenten season had brought about major changes in the direction of my life. Back in 2016, it was the season of preparation for bringing Mayah home after six months in the NICU, just two days after Easter. In 2019, it was during Lent that the Lord called me to Catholic conversion. During the Lent of 2021, I was preparing a book for publication and embracing the calling to pursue a career in writing. Now, I had a feeling that the Lord was again working in my heart to prepare me for something wonderful during the approaching Lenten season.
On Ash Wednesday, my spirit would not relent until I wrote and shared a reflection that the Lord had placed on my heart.
“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” There are two phrases that can be said during the imposition of ashes, the other being, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” It never fails that I hear the former. After several years of realizing that each Ash Wednesday, the Holy Spirit saw to it that I should be reminded that I am dust and to dust I shall return, I struggled with how to receive that truth.
Let’s be honest, it’s a bit depressing. Both phrases reflect repentance, yet the other declaration inspires hope in the good news of Christ. Why was I being repeatedly called to see myself as dust?
The biblical quotation comes from the Book of Genesis, which has long been a favorite of mine. I’ve spent considerable time studying its symbolism and learning the stories of the patriarchs of our faith. Adam and Eve hear these words after they sinned. Was God calling me to be mindful of my sinful nature? Was God reminding me that the wages of sin are death?
On the threshold of Lent, was I being called to see the way in which I was to repent? Remember, Angie, you are ashes. Humility. . . humility is the word my spirit hears. It was the place I was in when I heard the call from our Lord to convert to the Catholic faith. Yet, it is no longer where I find myself. Fear and doubt have crept back into my life, and with it, a prideful desire to arm myself with a plan of action to defend what is mine.
The imposition of ashes reminds us that this world is falling away and to place my trust in God alone, not in my plans. I have been running on fumes recently, just completely overwhelmed. The burden was weighing heavy on my spirit, although I didn’t fully recognize the weight until I stilled my mind in the presence of our Lord in Adoration. In the quiet of church, with my eyes closed to increase the sensitivity of my spirit to hear God’s voice, I heard Him in a surprising way.
What was likely the sounds from a drip pan in a heating unit, my spirit perceived as the Lord assuring me through the hollow sounds echoing from the dripping water into the empty basin, that I had been emptied of self so I could be filled with Him.
We are called to die to self that we may take part in the Resurrection of Christ. May the season of Lent draw us all closer to our Lord.
After believing that I understood what the Lord was calling me to see on that Ash Wednesday, those same words came back to me. I was praying on the second Friday of Lent, and once again I heard, “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” I wasn’t sure why I was hearing those words since I was actually reflecting upon Jesus’ great sacrifice on the cross and how humanity truly didn’t deserve the reconciliation with the Father that our Lord, Jesus Christ’s sacrifice provided on Good Friday.
In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
I heard in my spirit, “Yes, you are right. Mankind did not deserve the gift that the Son gave.” Immediately, I began to cry as I realized that I, myself, didn’t deserve anything from God. I heard the words, “you are but ashes.” I closed my eyes, pinching them as tight as I possibly could and verbalized my great fear. “Lord, you aren’t going to heal her, are you?”
Through my sobs, I continued my attempts to understand the healings of the Bible. Namely, why they occurred and why our daughter wasn’t healed through faith.
Having allowed my emotions to rise to the surface, I was now in a state of full-on sobbing. My heart was still that of a desperate mother clinging to any ounce of hope, and I couldn’t bear to face the reality that it was likely that our Mayah’s miraculous healing was not going to happen. Afterall, at this point it had been over seven years that we had been praying for healing. Healing of her airway, healing of her spine, healing for her clubfeet, so many prayers for healing.
The healings of the Bible were signs and wonders that pointed humanity to Christ, that they might believe upon Him as the Son of God and be saved. Mayah’s joy in the face of adversity already points people toward Christ. I can’t know the future or how God would continue to use our family’s testimony. Perhaps, one day, an unbeliever will come to know Christ because of Mayah’s miraculous healing. But, through the years of sharing her story, it was obvious how Mayah’s life was its own testimony, even without an unexplainable healing.
Sometimes, well, a lot of times, the healing doesn’t come. There really aren’t many lessons that present themselves from always winning. I can only think of one: how to be a gracious winner. However, there are endless lessons that come from a defeat or a trial.
Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials,for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
You know, that really is a difficult word. Basically, our brother in faith is encouraging us to bask in the beauty of a difficult life. Yet, none of us want the trials. We all long for win after win, a life full of blessings. As Christians, we do have hope for that undefeated season in eternity with Christ if we persevere in this life.
This life is preparation. Our Lord, Jesus Christ died for our sins on a day of preparation. (See John 19:31). I believe this is something to really meditate on. For the Israelites, all the work was done on the “day of preparation,” so that they could rest on the Sabbath. In His incarnation, Jesus perfected preparation by placing Himself in the midst of each of our trials. This Lent and always, prepare us, Lord.