Last weekend we attended our oldest daughter’s high school graduation. It was a lovely celebration honoring the class of 2013. Except for us, there was no graduate. I didn’t have a camera at the ready or flowers to give or anyone to meet for photo ops afterward. The classmate who was tragically killed in a car accident several months ago; that would have been, should have been, our girl walking across the stage. She was remembered and honored and greatly missed by her entire class and it was all very moving as I tried desperately to keep the tears in check.
It was suggested to me, not for the first time in the last 5 years, that I could and should be angry. I’m told that it would be okay to yell and scream and rail at the Universe and at God. He’s a big God after all and can take it and will still love me despite it. 5 years ago we sat helplessly by our 4-year old son as a brain tumor and chemotherapy ravaged his little body. For 9 months we watched him suffer and then die.
I had no anger then and I have no anger now. I’m not saying the thought hasn’t entered my mind. Saying good-bye to two of my children simply doesn’t seem fair. I didn’t want to do it and I still don’t but here I am living this cross. Anger might seem the logical solution and a very human one, but I can assure you that it only serves to compound the grief. Anger only begets anger and self-righteous indignation that I’ve been wronged somehow and deserve retribution. Anger is never from God and can bear no fruit from God. Our crosses surely can. We were not promised fairness but we were promised the ultimate retribution – Eternity – where our tears will be turned into dancing.
The graduation ceremony was especially difficult because it was a celebration of earthly achievement and necessarily included a large degree of looking forward to the next big venture in the lives of these young adults. We have no earthly thing left to look forward to for Anna. All our hopes and dreams for our daughter have been fulfilled and for that I am so thankful, but in bearing the day-to-day grief and loss that is ours, it is so necessary to ‘take captive every thought’ and banish the what-ifs and ‘what should-have-beens’. They are no longer reality and can serve no purpose, but still the thoughts come and it takes work to focus on what is before us and what is above us. Being at the graduation forced us to focus on what was behind us already. It was hard work to banish the bitter and angry thoughts and sense of total loss and unfairness and replace it with the sure and true knowledge that Anna did graduate. She has already moved on in the ultimate way. She has collected the scholarship, a full ride! It took work to remind myself of all the reasons I am thankful. It took work to recall the tremendous grace God gives me every single day. I reminded myself that never do we hear of Mary being angry or speaking out in any way as she followed her son to his crucifixion. She accepted and abided. She trusted and surrendered.
And what about Jesus and all the human emotions that must have threatened to overwhelm Him in light of what He was facing? We know in the garden that there was sorrow to the point of death but we have no idea if he battled anger or bitterness. If He did He never gives it a voice. He prayed and pleaded for mercy and grace. He acknowledged that His Father’s Will should reign supreme but He still had some hard work to do to overcome the cross that was before Him, ‘for the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’. He prays and pleads some more and sweats blood before he comes to the point of utter surrender, the point of being able to face what lies ahead and know the only way out will the be ugly, brutal and bloody way culminating in the ultimate surrender of His 33 years, “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.” Sometimes we have to endure the garden and ‘watch and pray’ with Jesus. That is how I spent the days leading up to the graduation, praying for the grace to not only endure but to effect good in my soul; the grace of total surrender.
I was given a glimpse of that grace on the night of Anna’s accident. In the foggy distance of my sleep I heard the words no parent ever wants to hear, “Karen, Anna’s been in an accident with a bus and she is dying.” As the angels were escorting our first-born child to the glory of her new home I went to my knees in my own Gethsemane. “PLEASE Lord let this cup pass me by.” And “Mary I beg you to be with my child as you were with your own”, all the while knowing she has always belonged to God. And in the most critical moments of her 18 years of life I could offer her nothing but my surrender. Somehow that offering seemed liked the deepest and truest love I could give her, “Father into your hands I commend her spirit.”
I have no time to waste being angry with God and I refuse to indulge in it for even a moment. I take it captive and beg and plead for mercy and grace when I need to and instead focus on all the reasons I am thankful. To do anything else is to deprive myself of all that God has in mind for my growth. The only way to the end result is sometimes a slow and gentle pruning but sometimes it is a brutal and bloody road.
And don’t get me wrong, as a mother to many, and living in a world that sometimes feels like it’s gone mad, I’ve done my share of ‘table turning’. This anger, however, is born from authentic love for the body of Christ and a desire to promote Truth, not the selfish emotion that only serves to promote my own pain.
I am thankful for the strong and faithful Man God has put beside me. He answered that late night call, that is probably every parent’s worst nightmare, and has been solid and steady every second since that moment.
I am thankful that even as I begged and pleaded with God for my girl to be ok that He gave me the grace and the strength to surrender to His will and His plan for her.
I am thankful that my Mother Mary walked this road before me and now walks it beside me.
I am thankful that I was able to walk into the hospital and hold Anna’s lifeless hand and feel true and deep Joy for her.
I am thankful that we now know she died on impact and she did not suffer.
I am thankful that when disease ravaged our beautiful little boy, God restored him to perfect health and wholeness in Heaven.
I am thankful that in my weakest moments I have found strength by the power of Christ living in me.
I am thankful that nothing is wasted; not the pain, the sorrow or the difficult process of healing for my family. God is using it all to mold us and shape us for His purposes and for our good.
I am thankful for the mass and the sacraments and our Lady and the rosary and the body of Christ and the tremendous wealth of resources of our Catholic faith.
I am thankful for the will and the grace to choose Truth over the lie, to choose Love over Anger