Archive For The “Reflections” Category

The Days I Got Schooled in the Power of Prayer (God Will Provide. God Will Be Glorified, Pt. 3)

The Days I Got Schooled in the Power of Prayer (God Will Provide. God Will Be Glorified, Pt. 3)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 19th, 2015, I was scheduled to perform my first-ever television interview. I would be discussing my upcoming book A Single Bead, a Catholic young adult fiction novel about the power of prayer. Little did I know, instead of talking about the power of prayer on a television program, I was about to get schooled on the subject in real life.

 

(This is the third post in a series. To start at the beginning, click here.)

 

Our parish community swooped in to help out. Before a meal schedule was even created, two people showed up at my sister’s door with dinners. Rides and accommodations for the children were divied up. A friend established a GoFund Me – much needed as the sale of our old house fell through days after the heart attack, leaving an extra mortgage I’d have otherwise struggled to pay. Prayers flooded in (and up) from across the globe.

 

Ray’s tiny ICU room, meanwhile, was a literal hive of activity. For days, there was never a moment when at least one nurse, nurse’s assistant, or other personnel wasn’t in the room. At times, there were as many as four staff people in the room at once. It was edifying to see the fervor with which they worked to restore the “young” husband and father to health.

 

Ray’s parents had arrived after driving straight through from their home in southern Alabama. For several days, his mother refused to leave the hospital, sleeping in the waiting room rather than the summer home they owned a half-hour away. I’ll admit to feeling no small measure of guilt every time I left to go home and sleep in my own bed – regardless of the fact that I hardly slept at all! I had children who needed me, though, and camping out at the hospital did not seem like a good way to reassure them that everything was going to be all right, nor did running myself completely into the ground seem like a good way to ensure that would be around for the long-haul. Plus, I needed them. Their warmth and cuddles gave me peace and comfort, even as the supernatural peace gifted by the Holy Spirit began to fade.

 

A friend took the kids on Sunday morning so I could take a nap, go sit with Ray, or go to Mass without five kids in tow. I never missed Mass, but that Sunday … boy, it was tempting. I was absolutely exhausted, and that nap beckoned. The sense of responsibility to be at Ray’s bedside beckoned, as well, but Mass, ultimately, won out. As much out of a sense of duty as anything else, I dragged myself to the church, sure that I would be too distracted to focus or fully participate.

 

God rewarded my efforts many times over, blessing me with one of the most grace-filled Masses I’ve ever experienced. What words can’t describe, I know many of you have experienced: That inward sense of a true knowledge of the Eucharistic Presence; that total and complete sinking into the Consecration; that unspeakable sense of being lifted up after receiving Holy Communion.

 

Having grown quieter and less persistent in the last few days, the precious words, God will provide. God will be glorified, trumpeted through my being once more.

 

Due to the level of constant commotion in Ray’s room, I had yet to successfully pray a Rosary at his bed side. Immediately after Mass, however, I headed to the hospital, rosary beads in hand, hoping to find at least a few minutes during which I might focus and pray.  Those minutes finally came when, for the first time in those four long days, he and I were the only two in the room.

 

I took up my beads and began to pray beside my husband, who had remained motionless since I found him on the family room floor days before.

 

Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee …

 

I don’t remember when it happened …

 

… blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus …

 

whether it was the first Glorious mystery or the fifth,

 

… Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners …

 

but somewhere in the midst of that Rosary,

 

… now and at the hour of our death.

 

Ray moved the pinky of his left hand, the hand nearest me.

 

I shouted, and Ray’s nurse hurried in, only to provide unencouraging words. “It was probably myoclonus,” the nurse told me, “unintentional movement not really controlled by the brain.”

 

In other words, it was nothing. To me, though, it was something, and it had happened during that Rosary prayer.

 

The following day, I waited with my parents-in-law for a visit from the neurologist, who was going to give us the results of Ray’s MRI. I knew the news would not be good, and I also knew that doctors can do very little – nothing, really – to treat a brain injury. There’s no surgery, no medication. Later on, there’s therapy. At that early stage of recovery, however, the only real treatment comes from the Divine Physician.

 

Still, we waited. And waited. And waited. By afternoon, I began to worry that this doctor would not show up before I had to leave to go to the church, where our three older children were being pulled from their classes to pray the Rosary with our community. I was supposed to be there to join the prayer as well, and I didn’t want to leave my kids praying with a bunch of grownups they hardly knew.

 

Finally, the doctor arrived, a young twenty-something resident whom we had not met before.

 

“Mrs. Engelman,” she said, holding out her hand to introduce herself, “I have the results of your husband’s MRI.” Her lack of eye-contact confirmed what I already knew. The results were not good.

 

I glanced at the clock. If I wanted to get to the parish to pray with my children, I had to leave right now.

 

I looked back at the young doctor. I spoke forcefully but without malice. “Ultimately, you can’t change anything,” I told her. “I’m going to go talk to Someone who can. I’m going to go pray the Rosary!”

 

The words had just left my mouth when Ray’s right arm shot straight into the air. His second movement in five days. This time, it would seem, at the mere mention of praying the Rosary. Go! he seemed to be saying. That prayer is exactly what I need!

 

Ray’s parents rushed to his side, and I did too, briefly. After a moment, though, I rushed from the room, out to my car, and to our church to pray the Rosary — and talk to the One who could change things.

 

I returned to the hospital an hour or so later to find Ray’s father in the parking garage smoking a cigarette. Visibly shaken, eyes swollen, he made it clear he did not want to talk. I do not remember seeing his mom. To this day, however, I suspect that my leaving them (and, in their perception, their son, as well) during that hour of need created a rift in our relationship. I regret that, but I will never regret the decision to put my trust in God rather than doctors (cf. Psalm 118:8).

The next day, a doctor came in to speak to me. The nasal feeding tube and oral ventilator tube were only temporary, she said. The intubation, in particular, grew more risky by the day. She told me I needed to consider having a tracheostomy performed later in the week, at which time they would also place a gastrointestinal feeding tube. I agreed to do so, without fully realizing the gravity of the decision before me.

 

A short time after the doctor left the room, Ray’s nurse entered. “You have a big decision to make,” she said gently.

 

I looked at her blankly. “I do?”

 

“Yes,” she clarified. “Deciding whether to have those procedures performed.”

 

“But what happens if they don’t do them?”

 

“Your husband can only remain intubated for so long,” she explained. “Eventually, we’ll need to remove the tube.”

 

“And what happens if you do that without the tracheostomy?” I queried.

 

“In his current state, Ray most likely can’t breathe on his own. Even if he can, he won’t be able to clear his airway.” I stared at the woman as the words sunk in, and she continued.  “You’ll be allowing your husband to pass.”

 

When she left, I mulled over the situation. Ray would not want me to keep him alive as a vegetable, I knew. Heck, he probably wouldn’t want to be kept alive as anything but his full, former self.

 

For the first time since it had all begun, I began to feel anxious. This was simply too great a decision for me to make alone. I sent a text to a priest friend, asking for counsel, and we set an appointment for the following day.

 

Soon, my dear friend Jennifer arrived. I told her of my dilemma, and she suggested we get away from the hospital to get a bite to eat. We left, and I continued to fret throughout most of our car ride. As we neared the restaurant, though, realization struck.

 

“God has been so incredibly present to me through this whole thing,” I told Jennifer. “He’s not going to leave me now. He will make His will abundantly clear.”

 

That simple statement of trust brought peace flooding back. Remarkably, Jennifer and I enjoyed our dinner, most of it spent rehashing good memories of times spent together with Ray. Afterward, we returned to the hospital.

 

Walking into the room, Jennifer went to Ray’s bedside and slipped her hand into his while I spoke. “Ray,” I called out softly. “I’m here with–”

 

Jennifer gasped. “He squeezed my hand!”

 

I hurried to stand beside her, calling Ray’s name, encouraging him to squeeze again. He did not, but Jennifer – an ICU nurse herself! – insisted. “Stephanie, that was intentional,” she said. “He squeezed my hand in response to your voice.”

 

That squeeze, I believe, was God’s response to the statement of trust I’d made on our way to dinner. When we trust in the Lord, He will, indeed, make our paths straight. (cf. Prov. 3:5-6)

 

The next day, God answered in a still more definitive way. It happened in further evidence of the power of prayer, and it happened during the 3:00 Hour of Mercy, when Jesus promised St. Faustina, “In this hour, I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of me in virtue of my passion” (Diary, 1320).  While my sister Suzanne and I prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet at Ray’s bedside, he opened his eyes for the first time. He looked at both me and Suzanne before closing them again.

 

“He’s in there, Stephanie,” Suzanne said. “He recognized you! He looked at you like you were an angel!”

 

Well, Ray and I both know I’m no angel. But if prayer was what he needed, prayer is what I had to offer. Regardless, Suzanne was right. Ray was in there, and I was left in absolutely no doubt as to what I should do. Two days later, Ray received the tracheostomy and gastrointestinal tube.

 

The road to recovery had begun, and, while it was marked by both hills and valleys, the power of prayer continued to sustain me and, I believe, those around us.

 

But wait, there’s more … stay tuned for the next post in the series. I’ll share some of those hills and valleys, and the remarkable ways in which God smoothed them out before me.

 

This post is dedicated to the memory of Erin Shelbourne Miller, whose generous support, care, and love sustained us through those most challenging days and beyond. Eternal rest grant her, O Lord …

 

Related Posts:

The Night My Husband Suffered a Near-Fatal Heart Attack (God will provide. God will be glorified. Pt. 1)

The Morning Our Lives Changed Forever (God will provide. God will be glorified. Pt II)

A Peace that Surpasses All Understanding

Five Reasons I’m Grateful for 2020

 

God Will Provide. God Will be Glorified: The Morning Our Lives Changed Forever

God Will Provide. God Will be Glorified: The Morning Our Lives Changed Forever

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You never know how you’ll respond to an emergency until you’re in an emergency. That morning, I learned — not how would respond to an emergency, but —  how God will respond with and through us, if we allow Him to do so. My natural tendencies, I think, would be to overreact and dramatize. Yet, with the gifted words “God will provide. God be glorified” playing through my head, I remained cool, calm, collected, and filled with peace. I turned to prayer. I was assured and able to reassure.

 

(This post is the second in a series. To read the first post, click here.)

 

More men piled into our family room, and I realized I wore a set of pajamas I’d never, ever consider wearing outside the house. Pushing my embarrassment aside, I followed the police officer into the kitchen to answer his questions. Where had Ray been the evening before? What had he done? Might he have used any drugs?

 

With the officer’s queries addressed, I returned to my children, who had moved from the family room to the adjoining living room. They sat on the sofa, skillfully distracted by one of the firemen.

 

“M’am.” Another fireman appeared at my side. “We’re attempting to revive your husband,” he said quietly, so the children wouldn’t hear. “We’ve defibrillated him twice. Each time, his heart has restarted, but it won’t maintain the rhythm.”

 

I nodded and closed my eyes.

 

God will provide. God will be glorified. 

 

“We can’t load him onto the ambulance until he’s stable,” the fireman continued. “We’ll keep trying. When we do move him, we’ll need to bring him through the front door.”

 

I nodded, slow on the uptake.

 

“You might want to take the children to another room.”

 

I stared dumbly up at the man.

 

“So they don’t see him when we bring him through, m’am,” he clarified. “It might be upsetting.”

 

I nodded, and, after a moment’s hesitation, ushered the kids back to our tiny master bedroom.  We sat together on the bed and began to pray more Hail Marys.

 

Before long, the child-entertaining fireman appeared in the doorway.

 

“They’ve loaded your husband onto the ambulance,” he informed me, “and are taking him to St. Vincent’s Hospital. You can go to the emergency room there.”

 

As quickly as they had arrived, all the strange men were gone from our home. I sent the kids to get dressed and hurried to change into something more presentable. I called my parents. It wasn’t even four a.m, but they answered. I told them what little I knew, and asked them to meet me at the emergency room.

 

I texted a friend who had an early adoration shift on Thursday mornings to ask for her prayers. I texted others who I knew rose early to pray. Another friend, Erin, having woken in the middle of the night, randomly sent me a Pinterest link. I responded with our news, adding her to our prayer chain, and asking her to spread the word of our need for prayer. I realized the dog had escaped during the commotion and, when a neighbor appeared to see how he could help, sent him on a mission to locate the dog. The kids and I piled into the car and headed to the hospital.

 

God will provide. God will be glorified. The words persisted. The peace remained.

 

We arrived at the emergency room and were escorted to a private waiting room. My parents joined us. A staff person delivered Pop Tarts and apple juice to the kids. A doctor entered the room.

 

“I’m Dr. K–, the cardiologist on staff this morning,” he said. “Your husband was defibrillated a total of eight times: three while he was still in your home, twice in the ambulance, and three more times in the emergency room. His LAD artery, commonly known as the “widow maker,” was 100% blocked. I was able to clear the blockage and place a stent. Your husband’s heart is now operating at near-normal levels.”

 

There was a “but” behind his words, and I understood it perfectly. Ray had been without oxygen for a long time. Having worked with developmentally disabled adults after college, I knew what a lack of oxygen could do.

 

“Mrs. Engelman,” the doctor asked, “do you have any idea how long your husband wasn’t breathing, before you started chest compressions?”

 

I reviewed the early morning events with the doctor. I had heard those terrible breaths, but I thought it was sleep apnea. I had waited several minutes, maybe more, before responding. Not only that, I had learned upon the 911 operator’s instructions that I’d been doing the compressions wrong. For those several moments, I hadn’t even been effectively pumping air into his lungs.

 

“Three minutes? Five minutes? Ten?” I couldn’t be sure.

 

The doctor probed. I looked at my phone, knowing only that I’d woken at three on the dot. Twenty minutes had transpired between my waking and placing the 911 call, immediately after which I’d begun the faulty-but-better-than-nothing chest compressions. How many minutes, though, between Ray’s last breath and that phone call?

 

Ultimately, it didn’t matter. The result was the same. Ray’s heart might be functioning, but his brain, deprived of oxygen for that indeterminate length of time, was not. He was not waking up, and not responding to stimuli. They were not sure whether he even had enough brain capacity to maintain the most basic of bodily functions. They were also unsure whether his kidneys and other organs might have been damaged, as well.  

 

“We have your husband on life support,” the doctor said. “All we can do now is wait and see.”

 

“And pray,” I added.

 

“Yes, you can absolutely do that,” he said. “That’s the most important thing.”

 

I breathed a sigh of relief. There’s a lot to be said for the knowledge that your loved one is in the care of someone who believes in the Higher Being, and in the power of prayer.

 

My mom left to take the kids home, while my dad remained to offer his support. I made phone calls to Ray’s family and contacted our parish to request a visit from the priest. Ray was moved to cardiac ICU. Medications were administered that would keep him asleep, also helping to ensure the best possible outcome. Capitalizing on research that had been popularized only months prior, Ray’s body was cooled to several degrees below its normal temperature to help aid in the healing of his brain. I held his cold hand, knowing that he did not feel the cold. Still, my heart ached for him. “He’s always hated being cold,” I told one of the countless nursing staff who flocked around his bed.

 

Our priest arrived. He spoke with me briefly and administered extreme unction.

 

“We assume that he had contrition for his sins,” the priest explained when I expressed concern at the length of time since Ray’s last confession. “And we trust his sins will be forgiven.”

 

Ray’s life still hung in the balance, but his eternal life was assured.

 

God will provide. God will be glorified. 

 

Slowly, Our Lord’s providence began to unfold.

 

 

Click here for installment three in this series: The Days I Got Schooled in the Power of Prayer

 

**I’d like to send a special “THANK YOU” out to all emergency responders, most especially the unnamed men (and possibly women – I don’t have a clear memory on that!) who came to our house that morning and fought to save the life of my husband, the man who entertained my children, the man who so thoughtfully suggested I move the children, all of them who didn’t give up on Ray but kept on trying. Thank you to Dr. K and all the emergency room and ICU staff, as well. May God bless you ALL abundantly!

 

Related posts:

God Will Provide. God Will Be Glorified. Part 1

At this Most Difficult Hour, 7 Things I’m Grateful For

A Peace That Surpasses All Understanding

Patience

The Story of My Conversion

The Story of My Conversion

The story of my conversion to the Holy Catholic Church begins, I suppose, when I decided God didn’t exist. A high school student raised in the Methodist church, I had never integrated faith into my daily existence. I generally begged off church on Sundays and wanted nothing to do with Sunday school or youth groups.

Spend enough time apart from God and church, and eventually something’s bound to give. The tales of distant and selfish gods learned in high school studies of Roman mythology, coupled with a love for science, led me to a decision that religion was a crutch for needy people. Like the gods of the Romans, the God in whom I’d been taught to believe was a fictitious character, created to give weak people the strength they lacked.

I was neither weak or needy, I decided, and thus I did not need this imaginary higher being. Of course, since I already barely attended church, prayed, or even gave thought to God, this didn’t really constitute much of a change. I did, however, develop an interest in understanding world religions, and I decided to start with the religion most opposed to the faith in which I’d been brought up: satanism. I bought a satanic bible, read a few pages, and tucked it beneath my mattress with plans to return to my studies at a later date.

Fast forward many months and a realization struck me. I wasn’t happy, and that wasn’t like me. I thought long and hard, and traced my discontent back about a year to the moment I’d determined God’s inexistence. The knowledge hit me like a ton of bricks and was the first real step to conversion. If my happiness was dependent on belief in God (even though I was neither weak nor needy, of course) mustn’t God exist? Just like that, I was catapulted back into accepting His higher being. Remembering that satanic bible tucked beneath my mattress, however, I enlisted the help of friends to get rid of it – interestingly, throwing it into the St. Joseph River where its waters join the St. Mary’s River in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

Recognizing that God was real and vital to my wellbeing, I began to converse with Him relatively often, particularly in times of need, generally in car-drive conversations. Still, I was lucky to make it to church for Christmas and Easter. I did not read the Bible or speak Christ’s name aloud. For years, I coasted along with this shallow and lukewarm spirituality. I went to college, began a career, moved across the country, and got married (Ray and I were careful to choose the “least Christiany” wedding vows available!) I general, I allowed God into my life only as needed, while avoiding any outward display or mention of Him or His Son.

I was married and living in Colorado when my sister Suzanne called to inform me that she and her husband were going through the process of conversion to the Catholic Church.

“Those people are crazy,” I informed her. “They worship Mary, and do all sorts of weird things like kneeling and crossing themselves. What on earth are you thinking?”

She had been considering sending her kids to Catholic schools, she explained, and wanted to understand what they would learn in religion class. She bought a few books on the subject, and after reading them was convicted that the Catholic Church was the one true Church Christ had intended. She explained Christ’s words in John 6, when He gave His flesh to eat. “Many of his disciples didn’t want to hear it,” she said. “They walked away from Him. Instead of calling them back and explaining that he wasn’t really asking them to eat His flesh, Jesus doubled down. ‘My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink,'” she quoted.

Suzanne told me that Catholics did not worship Mary. They loved her, looked up to her, and, since she must be so incredibly close to her Divine Son, they asked for her intercession – along with the intercession of all the saints in Heaven. She explained that the kneeling was in respect for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and that the sign of the cross was a remembrance of baptism.

I wasn’t sold, but she was my big sister. I promised to read the two books she wanted to send me (Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn and Surprised by Truth by Patrick Madrid,) and I kept that promise. Unable to deny the reason and logic held within their pages, yet still leery of a Church I’d so long maligned, I agreed to go to a Mass with Suzanne when I was home next.

Ray and I both went to that Mass, and Ray and I both resisted. The proceedings were too foreign, too ritualistic, too uncomfortable. Plus, regardless of what scripture said about Christ’s urgent directive to eat His flesh and drink His blood, I was not prepared to actually do so. And that whole “Mary” thing remained an obstacle as well.

Two years later, Ray and I had moved back to Indiana and welcomed our first son. With any consideration of the Catholic Church firmly behind us, we’d decided we to raise our children in a church, and had shopped around at a few local churches. None were a fit, so we put the matter on hold for the time being.

A short time later, I began to notice a strange tugging every time I drove past the Catholic parish in our suburban town. I ignored it for weeks, but it grew stronger. It was as if some invisible force was pulling me toward the church building. Finally, I caved. Having left Ray happy at home watching the baby, I stepped through the doors of one of the ugliest Catholic churches in the country – and immediately knew I was home. Even before the Mass began, I felt a sense of calling within the walls of that building that I’d never felt before. Not only was God real, He had suddenly revealed that He had a will for my life. The rising and kneeling, the genuflecting, the motions, the ritual … it was all still foreign, all still strange. I knew now, however, that I was meant to partake and participate.

“For the first time in my life, I feel like God is telling me to do something,” I informed Ray when I returned home that Sunday morning and told him I was going to join the Catholic Church. “And I think I’ll go to hell if I don’t do it.”

It was, of course, a misunderstanding of God’s mercy. Yet, in many ways, my infantile understanding of responding to His call was true. For, truly, when we know what He is calling us to, yet fail to do it, are not our very souls at risk?

By the grace of God, I heard that call. By the grace of God, I responded. By the grace of God, I am a member of the Body of Christ – the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church, founded on the rock of Peter and sustained by the very Blood of Christ. In His infinite love, I am called to the Supper of the Lamb. Though I am not worthy to receive Him, He has healed, is healing, and will heal my soul. And, more than anything in this life, I look forward to one day praising Him, with the angels and saints, in His heavenly kingdom.

All of that I found in the fullness and Truth of the Catholic Church. I give thanks for the sacraments she offers – especially the opportunity to partake daily of the sacrament of the Eucharist and frequently in the grace and mercy of confession. I give thanks for the Mass, the Scriptures, the prayers, the communion of saints, and the community of believers. I thank God for calling me home, and I pray that one day all will be unified in the one true Church.

 

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Moving Past Trauma – A Story to Tell

Moving Past Trauma – A Story to Tell

Nearly every time I speak at a conference or retreat, a participant urges me to write my story so more people will hear it. For various reasons, however, I’ve held off on fully sharing that story here on my blog. Part of it was timing and part of it was lack of time. Much of it was a struggle to approach challenging topics in an open and honest way, and some of it was timidity of getting a little too personal. Finally, a lot of it was (despite what those people at my talks have said) a little voice whispering in my ear, “No one really wants to hear your story, anyways.”

Last week, however, I complained to my publicist and friend Cathy Knipper of A Word in Progress, “I know I need to blog more often and be more active on social media. I just never know what to post about!”

Cathy (who, incidentally, was among the first people I notified of my husband’s heart attack. I didn’t even really know her at the time, but, since she had arranged a television appearance that day, I emailed her to let her know that the appearance would most definitely not be happening!) was quick to answer my dilemma.

“Stephanie,” she said, “you’ve got a story to share, and it’s something people need to hear – how to move forward past a traumatic, life-changing event.”

Wow. Yeah. I guess I have done that. And I guess I do have a thing or two (or 200) to share about it. I talk about it all the time in my speaking engagements, in fact, but my focus isn’t on how I did anything, but rather how God did everything. 

That message, though – that God will give you strength, comfort, peace, and even joy when you need it most – comes with a caveat of sorts: He will take care of everything – but we humans need to first establish a relationship of trusting security in order to let Him.*

As you’ll read in the coming days, weeks, and even months, the story that many people are somewhat familiar with – the story of my husband’s heart attack and subsequent brain injury – was accompanied by seven incredibly precious words, words which began to circle my mind the moment I realized my best friend and husband was lifeless on our family room floor: “God will provide. God will be glorified.” Those words, I believe, came directly from the Holy Spirit, and they were accompanied by a serene calm that I immediately recognized as the “peace which surpasses all understanding.” (Phil 4:6) It was a peace born of trust, and I knew immediately that the words were Truth with a capital T. I didn’t know how, but I knew they would be fulfilled, that I had nothing to fear, my children had nothing to fear, my husband had nothing to fear. We were all in the hands of the loving Father, and there’s no better place to be.

Since then, the Father has proven those seven words true again and again. “God will provide,” they proclaimed, and He has provided. It may not be the sort of provision the world wants – our family doesn’t have the material goods other families have, we don’t take the nice vacations other families take, this momma doesn’t have the husbandly help other mommas have – but it’s the type of provision every soul needs. And, I hope and believe, He has been glorified. I get ahead of myself, though. If I say too much, I might use it as an excuse to bail on writing the full story. And one thing I know, one thing I trust, is that God is meant to be glorified through this story.

So stick with me for these coming months as I share my story. Our story. My husband’s, my kids’ (to the extent all are comfortable with), and, more importantly God’s. Again and again, as I watch it play out before me, my jaw drops in awe. “God, you are seriously ridiculously good to me,” I often tell Him, “but I’ll take it!”

My hope is that, in reading this story, your jaw will drop at His amazing goodness as well. I hope you’ll see how broken I’ve been, how broken I still am, and know that, “If Stephanie can have total trust in God, with all her faults and foibles, then I can too!” I’m a former atheist, a former semi-hedonist, a still-working-on-the-selfishness, -moodiness, and all sorts of other -nesses.

His love and mercy is available to us all, and I’m simply one very imperfect example of how He will come down to meet us where we’re at, to give us just what we need, in the hopes that we will turn to Him and let Him love on us so that we might love Him back.

That’s the secret to moving past a traumatic, life-changing event, but it’s not exactly easy. My story, then, is the experience of moving past – the God moments, the miracles, the total screw ups and the amazing successes – plus everything that led up to it – from forsaking God, to accepting Him, to full conversion, to deep relationship.

Now, after having put off sharing it here on the blog for nearly six years, I’m gonna tell it. Stay tuned. And, please, leave a comment about your own personal journey and hesitancies, as well as any questions you have that you’d like me to answer in upcoming posts!

 *It is possible, through God’s extraordinary mercy, to receive these graces without having firmly established the relationship beforehand. I think it’s best to hedge our bets, though. Plus, there’s no more important relationship we could possibly build!

5 Reasons I’m Grateful for 2020

5 Reasons I’m Grateful for 2020

2020 got one heck of a bad rap. Okay, it’s well deserved. But, we’re meant to be a people of thanksgiving, so I’d like to take a moment to focus on what I’m grateful for from this past year — and to actually recognize that there are many things to be grateful for which are unique to 2020 precisely because it was a difficult year.

As St. Paul tells us in one of my favorite scripture passages, “we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Thus, without further ado, here are five reasons I’m grateful for the year many hail as the worst year ever – 2020:

1. A New Prayer Cenacle

I had been thinking about doing this for eight years. Maybe more. Yes, I had the mom’s group at my church — a wonderful group of ladies I thoroughly enjoy. I found myself longing for something smaller and deeper, however, and I hoped for something that might involve the entire family.

The feeling that I needed to just do it kept mounting, and, together with my dear friend Tina, we finally took the plunge. Our little cenacle started as four moms, praying the Rosary together once a week followed by uplifting, faith-filled conversation that goes well beyond the surface. We added bi-weekly nights together with our families, including dinner, fellowship, and a group Rosary led by the children. We’ve added another mom and her family, and will be adding still another at our next meeting. Hailing from three different parishes, we are six moms, six fathers, and nineteen kids. With two babies on the way!

Aided by a babysitter and Tina’s kid-friendly house and amazing hostessing skills, in the past five months, we’ve shared some of the best discussions I’ve had in my entire life. The deep spirituality of these women leaves my mind spinning. I feel immense gratitude that I can be in the presence of such positive examples, and it was the events of 2020, when prayer became more important than ever, that finally tipped the scales and got it all started.

2. My “One Word” was Nothing Short of Prophetic

Surrender. That was my “one word” for 2020, and boy did it serve me well. Schools shut down and I said, “I’d asked for less chaos in our lives, Lord. This wasn’t quite what I had in mind, but… thank you.” Churches closed, and – while literally bawling my eyes out after receiving the Eucharist for what I knew would be the last time for a while – I said, “You will make good come from this, Lord.” Speaking engagements and personal history projects canceled and I said, “I trust in you to provide, Lord.”

Surrender was exactly what I needed, and the example my family needed. It’s what our Lord asks of each of us. This year He gave us all ample opportunities to practice it — or not. I was incredibly blessed to have the grace of already having the word on my lips, the concept in my mind, the prayer on my heart. Jesus, I surrender myself to you. Take care of everything. 

3. The “Pray” Novena App

In a normal year, I probably pray twelve novenas, maybe fifteen, max. Not this year. This year, I discovered the Pray app, and I prayed not fifteen, not twenty, but twenty-seven novenas.

Most noteworthy? Perhaps the Our Lady of Sorrows novena, in which I asked Our Lady to reveal to me my deepest fault (following advice from Fr. Chad Ripperger). On the day I finished the novena, my deepest fault was revealed. It struck to the core and was one of the best spiritual exercises I did for the year. I also prayed a novena to St. Joseph for provision, and got a call from a new client the next day. And, of course, I prayed the Surrender novena several times. It brought me peace and increased surrender each time!

This was all thanks to the Pray app. It provides a wealth of novenas, sends reminders, keeps track of what novenas you’ve prayed and when. Available for both Apple and Android, I loved it so much a sprang for the “canonization partner” upgrade so I’d have access to more novenas. I highly recommend you download it. (And, no, I’m not getting anything in return for my endorsement!)

4. More Time with Family

It doesn’t matter how many kids you have, how helpful your spouse might be, how much you love your job, or what sort of awesome community you’re a part of. Life in the 21st century has a tendency to get off the rails with busy-ness. That’s absolutely how things felt in early March, when I had five kids who often needed to be five different places, a hubby who needs help getting to work, a business to run, a house to clean, groceries to shop for, yadda, yadda, yadda.

And then it all came to a screeching halt. No school. No CYO sports. No meetings. No… anything. Seriously, I looked around and saw my entire family at home day after day, night after night, and I said, Thank you, Lord. While, okay, I admit to absolutely hating trying to support kids during elearning, and oviously not having the Mass was awful, the rest of it was… a breath of fresh air. I intentionally set my work aside, for the most part, and focused on my family. We played games, we took walks, we prayed, we talked. It was lovely, and I’ll forever be grateful for those months in which bonds were forged which will never be broken.

5. The Winnowing Away of that Which is Unimportant

In difficult times, we must choose that which is most important to us. 2020 was a year for such choices. I gave some things up. Time spent that wasn’t aiding in my path to sainthood. Money spent that wasn’t adding to our financial well-being. There’s more winnowing to do, but it’s progress, and I’m grateful for the necessity to have made it.

How about you? What are you most grateful for in 2020? Please share in the comments!

The Healing Power of Faith

The Healing Power of Faith

A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. She said to herself, “If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.” Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, “Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.” And from that hour the woman was cured. (Matt 9:20-22)

The Healing Power of the Eucharist

A young woman was in a terrible car accident when she was in college. It left her with a brain injury and paralysis, among other challenges. Several years after the accident, she attended a healing Mass. The priest read the story of the woman with a hemorrhage (Matt 9:20-22) and encouraged the faithful in attendance to believe that, if God willed it, they too would be healed. He then made a Eucharistic procession around the church and invited the sick to touch the tassels of the veil with which he held the monstrance, trusting in the healing power of Christ through the Eucharist. This young woman was hesitant but, encouraged by her mother, reached out her right* hand to touched the garment which held the Eucharist. The right side of her body was healed.

It was this young woman’s mother to whom I spoke when I was struggling with the challenges of living with brain injury in our family. “I pray the Rosary every day,” I told her. “I spend time in scripture, I journal. These are the things that always used to help me stay on track. But it’s not enough now. I still feel totally overwhelmed. I’m impatient and I anger easily. I don’t even recognize myself at times. What else can I do?”

“How often are you receiving the Eucharist?” the woman asked.

I went to Mass every Sunday, of course, and I tried to make it to daily Mass at least once a week. But I had every reason in the world, as a busy mother and brain-injury-caregiver, to not go every day!

This wise woman told me to find a way, however, and I did. Well, okay… not every day, but much more often than I had been going! The effects were remarkable. I noticed that the days I went to Mass seemed more fruitful and productive—completely obliterating the “I don’t have time” excuse! More importantly, I saw a change within myself that was nothing short of miraculous. I grew more patient, more compassionate, more loving, more peace- and joy-filled.

Like the hemorrhaging woman, I needed healing, and that healing was made available to me when I approached our Lord in the Eucharist with faith in His healing power.

Healing that Saves

While physical healings such as the woman with the hemorrhage, or the young woman I described, are a dramatic show of God’s power, love, and mercy, they are not always God’s will. Spiritual healing, however, is, for it is in spiritual healing that we become more like Christ and more pleasing to our Creator.  It is through spiritual healing that we grow closer to God and, as such, that we experience the peace and joy that only Christ can give. It is in this peace and joy that we bear witness to the world and bring other souls to Christ, as well.

As to my own family’s story, I can witness this: God, in his all-loving and all-knowing goodness has not seen fit to give my husband, Ray, the physical healing for which I’ve prayed. Yet, He, in His merciful kindness, has given us spiritual healings beyond telling. Ray has a childlike faith he might never have attained in his former brilliance of mind. My children have seen the words “God will provide” proven in dramatic and very tangible ways. They’ve witnessed answers to a volume of prayers that might otherwise have taken a lifetime to accrue. And I, while still far, far from perfect, consider the journey of the past five years and recognize in myself a growth in grace and virtue that only hardship could have wrought. And in all these things I rejoice, knowing that these spiritual goods are far more important than any temporal, physical thing.

I wonder, after the woman had been healed, did she look back on the previous twelve years and lament her trials? Or did she rejoice in the lessons she learned through them? Did she wish she’d never been sick and desperate for healing? Or did she give thanks that her healing stood as witness to grow the faith of others? Two thousand years later, her story is still being told, and it’s a story that would never have been written had she not endured the challenge of twelve long years and, still, reached out a hand in faith.

Whatever challenges you are facing, whatever sufferings you are called to endure, reach out to Christ, truly present in the Eucharist. Hear His words, as true for you today as they were for the woman thousands of years ago: Courage, daughter. Your faith has saved… is saving… will save… you.

*I may have the specific side of the young woman’s body wrong here. Whichever side it was – right or left – with which she touched the veil, the same side was healed!
Seeking the Face of God

Seeking the Face of God

I was struck today by Christ’s words in John 14:9, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” I thought of Christ’s face, pierced by thorns, spat upon, sweat-laden, as He died on the cross. We’ve seen that face — depicted in artwork, portrayed in movies, and on the Shroud of Turin, which science has shown truly represents the Holy Face of Christ. It is a face of love, gentleness, self-sacrifice, and mercy.

Christ and God are part of the Divine Trinity. They are mysteriously One, yet not one-and-the-same. The Father is not human, His Face is beyond our imagining. The Jews believed that, if they looked upon it, they would die. Yet, what we see written on the face of Christ — love,  gentleness, self-sacrifice, and mercy — are written on the face of God, as well.

Shortly after I’d meditated upon John 14:9, a friend sent another scripture verse. In 2 Chronicles 7:13-14, the Lord tells Solomon, “If I close heaven so that there is no rain, if I command the locust to devour the land, if I send pestilence among my people, if then my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and heal their land.”

It seemed like no coincidence that those two scriptures should come across my path this morning. Our God is merciful, loving, and just. In the midst of this “pandemic,” He asks that we humble ourselves, pray, turn from sin, and seek His face. In His loving care, He has given us even more than His Word in the scriptures. He’s given us His Son, Jesus Christ, that we may better know Him, and better seek Him. Even when we can’t receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, we have this. The very Face of the Son of God, who is God.

Ours is not an angry God. The bad things He allows to happen are due to the freedom of will He has so generously given all mankind. Even when we must suffer consequences from that freedom, He is merciful and loving. He will never give us more than we can bear. His yoke is easy and His burden light, when we seek His face. As the trials of these days lengthen and grow heavier, may we put our trust in Him and seek His face, knowing that He will hear us. He will pardon our sins. He will heal our land.

Thanks be to God.

That Time I Came Home From Lourdes and Found My Simon of Cyrene

That Time I Came Home From Lourdes and Found My Simon of Cyrene

“Jesus Falls for the First Time” from the life-sized Stations of the Cross at Lourdes

My last post left off with me a blubbering mess – sunken into a jet-lagged, hormone- and stress-induced pit of despair from which only medical pharmacology was able to drag me.

Looking back, I have to laugh at myself, while also acknowledging that – yeah, I had totally legitimate reasons for falling under the weight of responsibility.

But here’s the beauty of it – even Christ fell under the weight of his cross. Three times, in fact – showing by his perfect example that we, in our humanity, can only take so much. At the same time, demonstrating the need to seek and accept help, as Christ received the help of Simon the Cyrene in carrying his cross.

I’d already been blessed by so many “Simon’s” – friends, family, and strangers who brought us meals and did my grocery shopping throughout the first several months of Ray’s recovery. Those who watched my kids so that I could be with him in the hospital or take him to therapy; those who provided a cleaning lady so I’d have one less thing to worry about; those who donated to our GoFundMe account or just randomly slipped a check into my hand; and, of course, those who lifted us up in prayer.

But this event last spring was a private cross. Whereas our entire community – and beyond – knew about the initial heart attack and brain injury, I was the only one that knew that I was caving under the weight of that same cross which had been placed on me more than a year and a half before. My family was already helping as much as could possibly be expected. They regularly watched the kids, helped with driving and meals, and more. Ray’s parents lived a half hour away, and the long drive made it impossible for them to help often.

I was on my own.

Only, I wasn’t. Duh.

First, so that I could think straight, our wonderful babysitter Hannah, came over and transformed the house into one I could at least live in. Something so simple, and yet it was enough to help me see through the mess and begin to prioritize. I turned to prayer, and the next day – once the jet lag and the anti-anxiety meds had worn off – I felt more myself. My problems weren’t resolved, but they seemed a lot more manageable.

When faced with seemingly insurmountable problems, the best Christian prayer might be as simple as “God, show me the way.” It’s one I pray often. In the immediate aftermath of that crash into self-pity I prayed, God, show me the way. His answer came in a very unexpected way – an unlikely “Simon of Cyrene.”

Going to Lourdes had set me on fire for pilgrimage. While we were there, I began to dream of being able to take each of my kids on a pilgrimage for their high school graduation. Two days after we returned home, I looked up prices. While it was actually less than the cost of going to Disney World, it still wasn’t something that I would ever be able to afford under our current circumstances.

Okay, God. I have to believe you want my children to go on pilgrimage, because I know they’d grow closer to you. If you want this, please show me the way.

And then I got an email from a pilgrimage company. My name had found its way to their email distribution list when I attended a movie night they hosted a few months before. Their offices are local, and the owner of the company happens to be a parishioner at my church. They were hiring.

A communications director.

The person needed to be a proficient writer, fluent in social media and email marketing, motivated, and passionate about helping others.

Hmmm. Interesting.

But, seriously, God, I’m sure your answer to my problem of being crushed under the weight of responsibility is not that I should get a job. 

So I left the email in my inbox and resolved to forget pray about it.

And then a friend texted me. She’d seen a job opportunity that I’d be perfect for.

Ugh. I guess I really do have to pray about this. 

And so it was that a week later I found myself in a job interview. And afterwards I sobbed because I knew I’d get the job. For days weeks I cried every time I thought about being away from my kids.

But at the same time, new possibilities opened up. Maybe I’d actually be able to pay for a little bit of therapy for Ray. Maybe I could finally hire a cleaning lady. Maybe we could take a family vacation. Surely I’d be able to send each of my children on a pilgrimage at some point in their lives if I was actually working for a pilgrimage company!

For many years, whenever money got tight, I’d pray, God, if you want me to get a job, please make it abundantly clear, and show me the job you want me to have. Every time, money would providentially appear. An unexpected check in the mail, a gift from a friend, a refund I hadn’t known was coming, the food not ringing up at the grocery store and the manager giving it to me for free. Again, and again, and again. But now, God was making it abundantly clear, and he had, indeed shown me the job. Now, I prayed, God, I think you want me to do this. If not, please close this door.

And the door opened wider. Could my “Simon of Cyrene” be… a job?

Stay tuned for the rest of the story…

Wasteland Prevention (and so much more): My True Feelings About Confession

  I’m joining up with the CWBN blog hop’s topic this month – “My True Feelings about Confession.” As it happens, this is a favorite topic of mine. So, grab your coffee and settle in, because I’ve got a story to go along with my outpouring of emotion over this particular sacrament! Here goes… When…

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“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44).  Christ gave the command, and greeting Saul in Acts 9, Ananias provided the example, calling his persecutor his brother. Saul – soon to be Paul – had encountered Christ on the road to Damascus, and was blinded after seeing the bright light of Christ.  As Saul…

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