- This is the first year in a very long time that I didn’t spend Good Friday walking the Stations of the Cross at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Island. After being at NYU for appointments all day Wednesday and Thursday, I was exhausted and so was Johanna. Then on Friday, we were waiting for the home care nurse to come and draw Johanna’s blood. It was a very important blood draw which will help us decide if she needs to continue on this IV therapy. Still, I wanted to pass the time in a prayerful way that included my daughter. So, I curled up on the couch with Johanna and we watched “The Passion of The Christ.” I resisted the temptation to make popcorn.
Before we turned the movie on, my husband reminded me that it was R-rated. I told Johanna that the movie was very graphic and that there were scenes that she might not want to watch. She nodded her head and said she wanted to watch it. Lying on the couch with Johanna in my arms, I read each subtitle aloud to her, as the story of Jesus’ passion and death unfolded before our eyes. At times I could barely read the words on the screen as I choked back tears. Then during some long scenes- the scourging is particularly awful — I hid my face. I watched Johanna’s face as she studied the film; sometimes wincing and covering her eyes. There was a wisdom and understanding in her face that transcended the disabilities and brought clarity to her cognitive processing.
As we watched, I couldn’t help but realize that there was a “sign” in the unfolding of these circumstances. We didn’t need to leave the living room to experience the Paschal Mystery, the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. We were grounded this Good Friday for a reason that was quite apparent to me and I hope will speak to you. Each of us live this Paschal Mystery in our daily live, in our pain and suffering, grief and doubt and in the glorious tastes of resurrection. Somehow, honoring the mystery in my living room was the reminder that I needed.
The movie ended a little after 3 p.m. — perfect timing. Johanna and I talked a little about it. We talked about Garden of Gethsemane scene and Jesus’ struggle with surrendering to God’s will. Johanna has shared with me before that she feels like that’s where God has called her to spend her life- in the Garden with the Lord. In Luke 22:39-46. Jesus begins the prayer, “Father, I know you can do all things.” He speaks in faith, confident that God can heal all and prevent the suffering. Then Jesus says, “If you will, take this cup from me.” He asks to be healed. Finally he says, “But not my will, but yours be done.” He surrenders it all into the Father’s hands.
Rather than seeing living one’s life in the Garden of Gethsemane as a depressing thought, Johanna has taught me that it is an awesome formula for approaching all pain and difficulty in my life. I only need to express the confidence, ask for what i need and then surrender. Sometimes, God will just take the difficulties away. Still other times I have to experience the death of Good Friday, the sorrow of Holy Saturday. But the story always ends in Easter. Sometimes it takes three days and sometimes it takes a lifetime. In the end, we rise to new life.
When we finished our sharing and prayer, the nurse arrived. I had re-accessed Johanna’s mediport and had all the supplies set out so she could take the blood easily. At the beginning of the blood draw, there is always a “waste”, because the sample is coming from a mediport. As the nurse handed me the tube of blood to dispose, it was warm in my hands. I was struck by the holy coincidence of this Good Friday. Johanna was giving blood on Good Friday. This was not an earth-shaking revelation, but rather a little reminder that we all live this cycle of, dying, waiting and rising in our everyday lives. At the end of our visit, Johanna gave her nurse a basket of Easter flowers. We have gotten to know and love this special nurse who has been visiting us for two years. She calls Johanna, mein Schatz — in German, “my treasure.”
I realize that the norms of my everyday life are what some would call traumatic. Last week I was emailing a very patient writing coach who will be helping me to set goals to finish my book. I told him that things were settling down and I needed to get back to writing. After that, I washed my hands, put on a medical mask and gloves and set up a sterile field to connect the IV antibiotics into Johanna’s mediport for the third time that day. I laughed out loud as I thought of what my new definition of “settling down” meant and how this life would put most people into a rehab facility!
Whether or not you deal with pain every day, we all can relate to the message of the Easter story. The story of Easter began in the miracle of Christmas, when the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God became man so that we could know and believe that we are never alone in our Good Fridays of suffering and death, in our Holy Saturdays of waiting in doubt and confusion. Jesus lived them all and raised them all to new life on Easter morning.
Just as Johanna reminds me how to suffer in the garden like Jesus — proclaiming faith, asking for healing and surrendering to the will of God — she also reminds me of the hope of Resurrection. Good Friday, she got up from the couch with a smile on her face to hand her nurse the basket of Easter flowers. That was a little glimpse of the hope of Easter. Sometimes she gives me a big glimpse of Easter hope, like she did a few weeks ago.
It was during our long stint in the hospital in February. Johanna really was not getting better, barely speaking and couldn’t even raise her head without great pain. During that time she woke with a staring episode that appeared to be a seizure; she sat up in bed but was unresponsive to my voice. Finally, when she came out of it, I crawled into her hospital bed to help go back to sleep. Then, out of nowhere (or somewhere), she started speaking with great clarity about a dream she had. I grabbed my iphone to take notes as she spoke, realizing that this was one of those special moments to remember.
Johanna shared her dream with me and said:
Jesus took me to heaven on an elephant. Mama, our real home is really close. Heaven is just a hop, skip and a jump away. It’s very close. Mama it’s very close.
Jesus showed me heaven and told me that heaven is my home. He told me that someday this will be your forever home. It’s royal blue, Mary is at His side. Me on his lap. It’s really close now; a hop, skip and a jump. He told me to trust Him. I said, ‘I do. Every day I put my trust in you.’
Jesus took me there on an elephant and I saw a rainbow.
They opened the gate of heaven for me and Jesus. There was a chair for me and a chair for Jesus. There was two crowns, one for me and for Jesus. And two chalices filled with wine, one for me and one for Jesus. After we ate and drank, Jesus said to me, ‘My time has come. Get up and walk with me as your Master. I will never leave you.’
It doesn’t really matter to me whether it was a dream or a divine appointment that Johanna shared with me in the middle of that long night. All that matters is that God speaks to me through this little one to remind me that the message of the Cross and the hope of Resurrection is true. I live it, taste it and see it every day. And I know for sure that the hope of Resurrection is heaven and heaven is “just a hop, skip and a jump away.”
Happy Easter to all!
Eileen Benthal is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a B.A. in Theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at FreeIndeedFreelance.com.