Over the course if the next several weeks, I will be publishing my story, as wife, mother, sister and daughter. This is the evolution of how a little girl can change the course of her mother's story, can change the course of her heart. If your new to this blog, please begin here.
Chapter 13 - Acceptance
|The Grotto the morning we went into the baths|
I had a difficult time sleeping that night. I didn’t know where the next day was going to take us. I woke Jerry and Courtney in time for breakfast. Meals were served family style with bowls and platters passed around the table. Breakfast was simple fair of fruit, pastries, oatmeal or scrambled eggs.
We sat down and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to eat much. My stomach was on it's third round on the roller coaster of anticipation that had begun the moment I opened my eyes. I sipped a hot cup of tea and nibbled on a piece of sweetly buttered toast trying to gather my thoughts.
The day had finally arrived.
My head was filled with a song I used to sing in grade school “This is the day, This is the day, that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice, Let us rejoice and be glad in it and be glad in it.”
I remember singing it at my First Communion. Our class had practiced so hard and we just sang it at the top of our lungs. That’s what I wanted to do now. Then maybe my stomach would calm down.
Jerry did not seem affected at all. He ate with gusto and helped me feed Courtney some scrambled eggs. We had a new couple chaperoning us to the baths this morning. They were from Ireland and so funny. They kept a running commentary of cute stories involving their grandchildren. We laughed and it was a nice distraction from my racing heart and rolling stomach.
We finished breakfast, cleaned up the curly one and decided to walk down to the Domain to get in line for the baths. We had to be in the Grotto for Mass in about 90 min but I could not wait any longer. Jerry pushed Courtney and the four of us chatted amiably all the way down the hill. People were milling about on the domain even though it was quite early around 8:00 in the morning. As it had the night before, everything got quiet when you turned the corner to the actual shrine. This time I was prepared and welcomed the contemplative state.
Quiet was just what my soul ordered.
I turned and whispered to Jerry that I loved him no matter what he decided to do. Last night he had told me he wasn’t sure if he was going to go into the baths. This was WAY out of his comfort zone. WAY out! He stopped and held me for a moment which surprised me.
Then he got down on one knee and whispered something into Courtney’s ear. She leaned into him and smiled. To this day he has never told me what he said. That will always remain between them.
The lovely Irish Dame that accompanied me pointed toward the line for mothers and their children. There were several baths. Some for woman, for men and for mother’s and children. These were all built in response to the invitation of the Blessed Virgin to Bernadette on 25th February 1858 "Go drink of the spring and wash yourself there". So that's what we were going to do. There was only one young mother in line and when she saw Courtney’s wheelchair she instructed us politely in French that we go ahead of her. I declined but she insisted so we went. I am glad we did.
I was already shaking all over because I truly believed that God was going to heal Courtney completely and totally right then and there.
I could almost hear her voice say “Momma” and I was ready. We went into this little stone room and there was a stretcher on a table in the center of the room. There were about six women from around the world who had come to Lourdes to volunteer to help in the baths. The women were from Poland, France, Italy and England. They asked in French what the child’s name was. I answered and they instructed me to lay Courtney on the stretcher. So I did.
Then things got weird. They began to undress Courtney. Somehow in preparing for this day, the fact that you go into the baths the way God brought you into this world, completely naked, was left out of the stories that we were told.
Gee imagine that. Something unexpected to keep me totally focused on this moment in time. God, you're funny...
Had I known this before, I think I might have reconsidered going in. The women would not let me help with Courtney. This was their ministry and I could be right beside her but they knew what to do.
The woman from France asked me what her “ailments” were. She had a little statue of the Blessed Mother in her hand that was about five inches long. The women were praying over Courtney the entire time as she was being prepared to go into the water. I told the helper that Courtney has seizures and could not walk. The woman began to place the statue next to Court’s head as she prayed for Our Lady’s intercession.
Courtney is wrapped up in love in Lourdes...
Courtney was shivering a bit as it was chilly in the room. She was covered with a sheet for modesty and I was grateful for that. She had her arms clenched and bent at the elbows with her hands up by her cheeks as she tried to warm herself. As the woman passed the statue over Courtney’s head, my daughter did something I have never seen her do before that day or since.
She grabbed the statue of Mary.
Damn, I thought. Don’t put it in your mouth. Don’t make Mary a chew toy. Yikes!
I stepped forward to pry it from her hand when she took her hand with the statue and placed it over her heart. Then she slowly brought down her other hand and placed in on top of the statued hand. My Irish chaperone gasped and grabbed my arm.
“Please tell me you see that” she whispered.
I could not speak. I just shook my head “yes”.
“She knows Mary. She knows where she is and who is here with her. Look at her. Our Lady is covering her with love right now.” my chaperone whispered.
I couldn’t move. My heart was racing, my palms were sweaty and I feared the tears would not stop coming. Our Lady was here and her Son was going to heal my daughter.
As the woman finished undressing Courtney I watched as my blind, non-verbal, profoundly disabled daughter held Mary to her heart. She had never reached for or held anything intentionally before except her bottle.
Not one damn thing!
She had not moved a muscle or made a sound in the past five minutes. The women continued to pray quietly and then it was time for her to go into the water. Then they lifted the stretcher and walked a few yards away then lowered her into the stone bath that was on the other side of a curtain. Courtney gave a good Irish yell and they lifted her right our again and quickly placed her back on the table.
She never moved her arms the entire time.
Mary stayed right by my daughter’s heart.
The woman immediately began to dress Courtney while her arms stayed in place. I asked my chaperone where the towel was and she smiled when she said, “There are none. It’s one of the miracles of the water. By the time your clothes are on you’re dry. It’s amazing.”
I watched as one woman literally pried Our Lady out of Courtney’s hands. That made my girl mad then and began to hum loudly and kick her feet. It was really going to happen. She was going to speak and in time maybe even walk.
I went to comfort her but was intercepted on the way.
The woman said it was my turn. I was instructed to strip down to my undergarments. I moved quickly since I did not want to miss one moment of God’s healing for my daughter. I had practiced my prayer for when I stepped into the water. I wanted to be sure I had it down so I wouldn't forget with all the craziness around me. When I was undressed a Polish woman walked me behind the curtain and I stood at the end of a long stone bath.
They wrapped a cold wet sheet around me and removed my bra and underwear. As I grasped the sheet, I was mesmerized by the statue of the Blessed Mother at the other end of the bath. Her face was pink.
I turned and mimed to my Polish friend “Why was her face pink?”
She smiled and said in very broken English “La rouge…they kiss Mama”
“Oh” I mouthed. Woman would walk across the bath and kiss the statue of Mary with lipstick on leaving her all pink in the face. So I took a step into the baths to do the same and stopped abruptly.
I was frozen in place like a holy popsicle. The water was like ice, so cold.
I have never in my lifetime felt anything as cold as that water.
Sweet Moma Mary, people walked in this?
I immediately began to shiver and the prayer I had practiced for weeks left my brain. It was like a blank piece of paper, I could not remember a thing.
So when the woman at the end of the bath asked what they were to pray for while I was in the water the only word that came to my brain was
That's it. That's the only word I had in my head and my heart.
I forced myself to take the four steps required to reach Our Lady so afraid I would be frozen in place. It took every ounce of concentration to stay on my feet I was shivering so much. I leaned down and kissed her head and then the four women held me and dunked me back into the water.
Oh my gracious. I had goose bumps all over. The water actually took my breath away rendering me speechless for a moment. My husband would say that was a miracle itself.
When they brought me back up, I walked up the two steps and put my underwear and bra back on. Then I went around the curtain and finished dressing. My Irish friend was absolutely correct.
By the time I was dressed, I was dry. Amazing.
I felt like I was walking on air until I saw my girl laying on the stretcher fully dressed with a smile on her face. She looked no different to me in any way accept that she was so happy. She was humming softly and as I lifted her to her feet, she began to laugh.
Would she stand on her own? I had to try. I placed her white sneakers on the ground and tried to let go. She laughed and started to sink to her bum. I scooped her up and held her as I realized that standing was not going to happen. I whispered into her ear how much I loved her whether she could walk or not.
Apparently, God wanted my daughter to be as she was. I tried to justify His choice in my head as I had done so many times before.
In His eyes she is perfect.
Her soul was clean and beautiful and her body was only temporary.
I bent down over her wheelchair and I told Courtney over and over how much I loved her and that no matter what, Momma and Daddy would not leave her ever. I swallowed my disappointment and accepted God’s provision of grace in that moment.
He had placed the word acceptence on my heart, this MUST be what He meant. We were to soldier on accepting God’s plan for our daughter to go through this life handicapped relying on Jerry and I for all of her needs.
I can do this I told myself. I have been doing this.
Now I knew what God wanted and I couldn’t wait to see Jerry and tell him what had happened with Courtney. I had no doubt at all that she knew where she was and that God was with her.
My chaperone reminded me that we needed to move quickly because we were supposed to be with our group for Mass in the grotto and it would be starting in about five minutes. We needed to get Courtney’s settled. As we came out of the baths I looked up and the first face I saw was Jerry’s.
He was standing with his chaperone a huge smile on his face.
Then his eyes found Courtney sitting in her wheelchair and a single tear slipped down his face. I wheeled Courtney over to him, wrapped my arms around him holding him tightly for a moment. I whispered my love in his ear and told him it would be OK. God was here and He would make it OK. In that moment I knew I had to be OK for him. I had to smile and encourage my husband to believe in God’s plan for our child whether I understood it or not.
When one of us was weak, the other needed to be stronger. It’s how it had always been. Being In Lourdes didn’t change that.
He said nothing but knelt next to his daughter and pulled her into his arms. Courtney giggled and called out loudly. Jerry kissed her curly head and we walked over about 20 yards and found a seat for Mass.
I could feel the early morning sun on the back of my neck as the Priest came forward to kiss the alter and begin saying the Mass. The stone bench was hard beneath my bum and Courtney was feeling very chatty. I leaned over to shhh her and caught the young priests eye. Fr. Mike was smiling and gently shaking his head.
“It’s OK” he mouthed.
All I kept thinking was it was going to be a long Mass. I just wanted to gather my husband and daughter up and go back to our room. I wanted to talk to Jerry and tell him everything that happened. I had talked to God enough in the last hour. Now all I wanted was my Jerry.
As I looked up once more as the priest began to read the mornings Gospel. I didn’t hear a word he said. I know, bad Catholic, but I kept looking at the side of the mountain. It was jagged rock with a little cave carved out of the side. The rock looked like it was weeping. There were streaks of water all down the side.
Then there was the wire strung across the top of the cave. On it hung three pairs of crutches and a cane. These had been there since the St. Bernadette's time. They were the remnants of the first miracles attributed to this holy place. The lame made well. The crippled healed. Last night I imagined that Courtney’s wheelchair would be propped up next to the mountain under the wire.
Why? I asked silently in my head. Why not Courtney? What did she do to deserve this life? We did everything you asked of us. We prayed, we fasted, we got others to pray with openness and love. We BELIEVED you when you said “Ask and you shall receive”
I could no longer hold back the torrent of disappointment welling up on my heart. I wanted to scream.
Acceptance? What does that mean dammit? I accept my daughter. I LOVE her every single day? How dare you say I don’t. What does it mean?
My heart was growing as hard as that mountain and my face was slick with dampness. The priest began the Eucharistic Prayer.
"This is my body given up for you..."
I did that too God. I have given up everything for this child. All my dreams and goals. I know that I am supposed to take care of her. This is my vocation. To care for her, Jerry and Jonathan. What is there left to accept?
As I looked at Our Lord raised high in the priests hands for all to see and worship, I thought about everything that just happened, trying to keep the details fresh in my mind. Courtney’s smile, her settled body holding tightly to Our Lady, her yell from the water, her laughter as I held her.
I looked up at the mountain once more. I took a deep breath and in that moment it became clear.
How many people had entered that water with pleas for healing and forgiveness? How many times had God said “yes” immediately? How many times did He ask for acceptance of His plan no matter what? Especially when we didn't understand why. The mountain couldn’t hold all that pain, grief and sadness. The mountain was God and He was weeping for all the suffering His children had to endure.
"Upon this Rock I will build my church..."
I heard bells in the distance and I was jarred back into the present moment and once more looked toward the altar. The priest was elevating Our Lord...
"This is my Body given up for you..."
God was right in front of me. He had given up His life for me, for Jerry, for Jonathan and for Courtney. I placed my hand in Courtney’s and she gently set her head on my shoulder. I stroked her long, delicate fingers. She smiled.
Acceptance. Acceptance. Acceptance.
I said it over and over in my head as I held her hands. The priest brought forth Holy Communion and I accepted Christ once more. I breathed in the beautiful spring air and began my new chant...acceptance.
I leaned over to Courtney and whispered "We have to be strong little one. We have to accept whatever God brings us. We have to believe."
I closed my eyes and prayed for peace, for strength, and for acceptance.
Labels: Courtney's World, My Crazy Life, My Story