When I was a young girl, I would often daydream of one day accomplishing something so extraordinary, so valiant, that I would be decorated as a heroine for my bravery. My longing was to “do great things for God,” and I saw this only through the lens of extraordinary martyrdom or extreme renunciation that many of my favorite saints exemplified. Reading about them wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to become one of them.
At the time, however, my untampered zeal had not been cooled by God’s embers of love. My fervent ardor was, indeed, supplanted by God, but I was young and impetuous, not yet seasoned by life experience. In my naivete, I did not acknowledge that my particular path to sanctification might be something rather undesirable – even loathsome – to me.
Naturally, my understanding of holiness was altered by both theological knowledge, as well as what became my reality of grief: betrayals from friends and ex-boyfriends, premature deaths of both family members and friends, the presence of addictions and mental illnesses in my family, and, now, raising two daughters with special needs.
My oldest daughter, Felicity, has developed severe sensory and psychological problems. She is my invisible martyr, because her suffering cannot be detected by others. There are times I overlook her struggles, because, like the rest of the world, I tend to view her in lieu of her typical peers. Sarah, my younger daughter, was born with a rare craniofacial condition called Apert Syndrome, which was not detected prenatally. Her birth was dramatic in the sense that my husband, Ben, and I received the shock of a lifetime. Sarah’s visible differences make it easy to love and care for her, but despite her sanguine temperament, she requires ongoing daily medical care that depletes me as the primary caregiver.
Over the past two years, I have acknowledged that my children are my highway to Heaven. Caring for them will lead me to a path of constant self-denial and rebirth in Christ. I’m not just speaking of caring for their fundamental needs as all parents are required to do, but instead caring for their needs while growing in virtue. This is the challenge for me: to display patience, forgiveness, and charity while handling a hot-headed toddler who tries to kick me as I put on her orthotic inserts and special shoes or as my preschooler so easily sasses me without prudent thought.
I learn each day through my primary vocation as a mother that I must model the virtues I wish to instill in my daughters, and I so seldom succeed. In my perfectionistic frustration, I am quick to judge myself rather than extend the same mercy I desire from Jesus. He has shown me, however, that my myriad weaknesses are the tunnel for His grace; they are the means by which I will become empty so that He can fill me with Himself.
At the end of the day, I realize my entire life’s journey can be summarized thus: “God’s grace compensates for my lack.” I do not accept this as an excuse for sloth on my part, but instead it is a statement that wells a renewed hope in me each time I falter. My limitations are great, but God’s goodness and mercy is greater. In the messiness of life, my path to holiness is strewn with rocks and thorns, but it concludes with gratitude for God’s pruning.
Text Copyright 2015 Jeannie Ewing, all rights reserved.
Image Copyright 2014 “Trappist Church” by Capecodprof on Pixabay and edited in Canva by Jeannie Ewing.
Jeannie Ewing is a writer, speaker, and grief recovery coach. She is the co-author of Navigating Deep Waters: Meditations for Caregivers. Jeannie was featured on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition and Tony Agnesi’s radio show Finding God’s Grace. She offers her insight from a counselor’s perspective into a variety of topics, including grief, spirituality, and parenting children with special needs. Jeannie resides in northern Indiana with her husband and two daughters, both of whom have special needs. For more information on her professional services, please visit her websites lovealonecreates.com or fromgrief2grace.com.