“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you,
all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” Isaiah 26:3
I was cleaning my bookshelves a while back and came across a book that I hadn’t given much thought to in many years; it is the Prayer Book of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. Let me tell you how this little 80-page book blessed my life.
It was just after Thanksgiving time in 1995 while I was working as a pastoral assistant to a Catholic Pastor in Massachusetts. He was a great priest and a great friend. However, he was also great at volunteering me for projects! (I will admit that I really didn’t mind at all)
We traveled to Boston one afternoon to visit with the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy; what an amazing ministry they have. While taking a tour of their lovely chapel, we noticed that their prayer books were a torn and tattered mess that consisted of a folder of mismatched cards and papers.
And this is where my services were volunteered. Would I mind putting together a prayer book for the nuns? Nothing fancy, something simple. How do you say no to a priest and some nuns? I was raised Catholic… trust me… you don’t say no! 🙂 Truth be told, I was honored to be able to support this tiny congregation as I could. And so I began working on the prayer book.
It was December 25th, that things in my extended family went off the rails. On that day in December, my sweet sister in law was taken by ambulance to our local hospital and from there airlifted to the Medical Center where scans confirmed a massive brain tumor. Not a single warning sign or symptom… but suddenly she was in surgery; her prognosis, grim.
In the span of a few hours, she went from a young vibrant wife and mother of two, a recent Magna Cum Laude graduate in finance to helpless and unable to do most anything for herself; with perhaps 6 months to live. Everything took a dramatic turn that day. They had had two young teenage children at that time. They, along with multiple businesses all need to be looked after. We all did whatever we could to support them at this time.
Flash forward a month to Super Bowl weekend January 1996. We got word that my 16 year old niece from my husband side of the family had run away and her sister didn’t know where she was. On February 9, we learned the truth about what had happened to her. We learned that she had been found, brutally murdered; her tiny body dumped out into the cruel elements of winter in New England. And now her sister and the sister’s boyfriend had been arrested for the crime!
On that day, my oh-so perfect life came crashing in around me. Never did I think that I would sit through the arraignment of my 18 year old niece, never did I think that I would have to dodge dozens of television and news cameras shoved in my face asking me how I felt? It was a media circus for this tiny town. Camera’s everywhere, in my front yard, at the funeral, lurking at the cemetery.
In retrospect, I probably should not have attended the trial. I won’t go into all of the gruesome details of the crime; there is no need for that now. Suffice to say that “gory” is a complete understatement. Twenty years later and I still have nightmares about the full-color life-sized crime scene photos that were on continuous display during the trial. I still struggle with the brutality of the method and motive behind it all. What I witnessed, no one should ever have to see.
But I digress, back to the Nun’s Prayer Book… during this entire time with my little world turned completely upside down, I was still under a schedule to get the prayer book completed. Thank you Fr. R! Running here and there, working at the church part time mornings, leaving there to help my brother where I could. And now making trips into Boston for the court cases and yes visiting my niece in prison every week. All the while, trying to figure out how I was going to help my in-laws make sense of all of this; while still trying to maintain my marriage and my home and a fledgling business.
It wasn’t until very late most evenings that I would be typing away on that prayer book; getting as much done as I could – perhaps a half a dozen pages. And then in the pre-dawn hours, I would print out completed portions, make myself a pot of coffee and proof what I had transcribed. I would do more edits and proofread it again.
Finally in late February I completed the prayer book and was able to deliver it to the Mother Superior for a final proofing and by March it was at the printers. I readily admit that some nights I did have some not-so-nice thoughts about Fr. R for volunteering me.
It took some months before controlled chaos took over and our lives took on a whole new normal. My sister-in-laws battle continued, weekly visitation to the prison were now part of my itinerary along with periodic court cases. It was only then that I understood what a blessing that prayer book project had been.
You see, my Father God, in His rich wisdom, knew that His daughter would need grounding with the torrent of unspeakable trials headed her way. What I didn’t realize… was that during the months that I helped as I could to care for my sister in law and the family on my side… and during the months that I dealt with the murder of our niece on my in-laws side and the fallout from that… that He had me praying every night, sometimes through the night and into the pre-dawn hours. It was the hours of proofreading word by word, over and over all those 80 pages of prayers that got me through the darkest, ugliest, most vile period of my life.
I still have that little 80 page prayer book; it’s a little worn and a bit faded, but what a blessing it was at that time. So I put that little book back on the shelf where it stands as a reminder that God is always there. The God I serve works in amazing ways. Even in the most dreadful circumstances His light and His love will shine through. You may not even be aware of His presence in the midst of the insanity, and that’s okay. Know that He is there, right beside you, holding you strong, keeping you safe.
Thank you God for the peace and strength you gave me all those years back… and thank you for reminding me today, and everyday, that you still are watching over me.