One of the greatest things my mother taught me through demonstration was the value of the cross. The tremendous value. She was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, and was given six to nine months to live, with treatment. She fought for over ten years. The cancer spread to her bones. All those years she battled. She strapped that cross on and carried the shingles, and hiatal hernia, the prolapsed uterus, and diverticulitis, the rotting teeth, and a number of severe ear infections with surgeries where they folded her ear back and removed actual sections of the infected bone, the hysterectomy, and losing all her hair with then skin infections because of that, and having her liver nicked during another very difficult surgery, and losing her sense of taste from the numerous radiation treatments, the constipation, the diarrhea, and horrible nausea, and cancer devouring all her bones, and the broken ribs from a car accident…
As I wrote in my book, these physical tortures were only a small part of the cross she carried. The emotional crosses: being isolated for months at a time because she had no immunity, battling years of depression which was exacerbated by the hardcore medications that wreaked havoc on her body, being too weak to work- to help out her kids with the little things in life where a mother lends a hand, having the car and her independence taken away, when heavy medications made it unsafe for that very independent woman to drive herself.
How do I properly explain what it was like to see her battle? And she would always say to me, “I am not praying for it necessarily to be taken away, only that He gives me the strength to carry it.” Of course she wanted to be completely healed! Of course she wanted to live! Oh, how she wanted to live! I never saw someone who fought so hard to live. But she was more than anything, an obedient daughter. Yes, there is power in prayer, but for some that answered prayer is not a physical healing- it is strength to do the impossible with complete resignation to His will.
I was very close with my mother, being her only daughter, and so I was intimately aware of her faults, of her fears, her frustrations. We talked very frankly and honestly on all these things. She was very human. She was not perfect, but I truly believe that because she was above everything- that faithful daughter, that suffering servant, giving all those crosses as a gift back to God to atone for her sins and those of her family, that in the end Jesus supplied for her all that was lacking. He was pleased with her great perseverance, and graced her with sainthood.
"If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me...." Luke 9:23
And that is what she did. Truly. Every single pain-filled day. She picked up that heavy, ugly, beautiful cross every day, and she followed.
This, she, is the foundation for me. She created my mind-set, my way of thinking and approaching life. She taught me, in so many ways how to live. We will all be faced with a variety of crosses. That is life. This is the valley of tears. But what she taught me, what my Catholic faith teaches me is to accept with joy (if you can muster it) the crosses given, because they are the true road to heaven.
In the second station Jesus took up His cross. Not only did He take that cross, but He EMBRACED it. He kissed it! Why? It is ugly! It is awful! It is repugnant! And yet the Savior kissed it as the way He chose to bring salvation to us. And yes, He is the only One Who could do this, but as it says many times in the bible, He tells us to pick up our own crosses and follow.
That is, in a small way, what I am trying to do here with the marathon project. To try and live this road fully and completely. I want to obediently take all that is given me, and turn around and give it right back, place it directly into the Sacred Heart of Jesus. All that I am. All that I have to give. All that I am created to do, let me do it Lord. Let me live it. Give me the strength to fight. Like my mom, give me the will to love.
I think this is what she looks like in heaven. Bright, and shining, and so happy.