As much as we are lovers or thinkers; as much as we are fathers or daughters; as much as we are teachers or doctors; nay even more than these things – what we are as humans is a species of storytellers. We tell ourselves stories to cope with the stresses of the day or the failures of the month. We spin and we spin and we spin the truth until we are left feeling so dizzy that veracity itself is, as we intended all along, very much so out of sight.
The job promotion being given to a more qualified coworker becomes “I did not get a promotion because of office politics.” And although my relationship failed because of my inability to communicate properly, I tell myself that “my relationship failed because of the baggage belonging to my significant other.”
What we do as human beings
The aim of this book is to highlight one person who paid each day the price required by those who strive to live honestly. My Mother, Marie Bilodeau, embraced the cruel realities of the sickness and death that defined her life. In so doing such realities became the source not of mollification but of martyrdom.
Taking a swim with her children in the ocean was not possible given her physical condition. Getting on a flight to Europe where she could tour the Italian countryside with her husband wasn’t in the cards.
Marie saw, embraced and clung to these realities, refusing to lie to herself about what her illness meant for her life. But in so doing, my Mom showed her children the central truth of life itself, namely that we were never really the storytellers in the first place.
The moral of the story of our lives, you see, has already been written by God. From the beginning of time itself, God called every one of us to holiness. Our most important task as human beings is therefore not to rewrite the narratives of our lives, but rather to read the specific story of sanctification that God is writing through them.
Marie not only accepted, but actually embraced her illness and suffering as the very currency of her relationship with God because she knew it to be God’s will for her life. She viewed her suffering as the means by which God would reveal to her Himself and His love.
I understand that the Catholic perspective on suffering can sound to some a little sadistic. Why would God allow some people to suffer more substantially than do others? Philosophers have taken this question a step further and pondered why a good God would allow evil to exist at all.
These questions were answered for Marie by both words of the Bible that she read and changes to her character that she experienced. The Bible’s repeated assertion of God’s humbling those He loves would be nothing more than trite words had she not been forced by her illness to slow down and ponder the purpose of her life and her relationship with God. Remember what happened after the tragedy that struck NYC on September 11, 2001? Churches around the country were standing room only. Often times God allows us to be struck down to our knees because it’s only when we are there in that position that we think to pray.
And pray she did.
When first she became aware of the extent of her illness, my Mom prayed to God with a selfless and powerful request. Even in her knowledge of the decades of suffering that lay in front of her, my Mom nonetheless asked God to keep her alive long enough that she might take care of her young children. And as it turns out – God answered the prayers of my Mother, who endured (decades of) suffering and illness while serving as a devoted Mother who brought no attention to her daily pain and suffering.
In reflecting on her life, one thing is clear. It was only because of my Mom’s suffering that she was able to be transformed and made able to live a life to which we are all called – one of strength in weakness, freedom in surrender and peace amidst pain.
In allowing my Mom to suffer, God showed the world that He can do extraordinary things through a seemingly ordinary life. The pages in front of you will first take you through a brief biographical sketch of Marie’s life and then offer a series of lessons I think we can all gather from it.