I held my grandmother’s hand as she cried out in pain and anxiety—wordless in her suffering yet filled with so much meaning. I asked God to send suffering my way, if it drew me closer to Him, but I thought that suffering would come to me, not those I loved.
I mentioned in my last article that I prayed for suffering and within a week my daughter broke her arm. I clarified then, as I do now, that I in no way believe that God struck down my child to prove a point. But the last several months have again and again brought me face to face with suffering in the lives of those I love and care for.
In May, I was preparing students to receive their First Communion and I received the call that my grandmother had been taken to the hospital. She had just been diagnosed with heart failure and we were uncertain of what this meant for her. As I watched the girls flutter by in their beautiful white gowns, and the boys scuttle past in their tiny suits, my eyes filled with tears. I was there, with the privilege of helping these children take the next step in their faith journey with Christ because of my grandmother. And while she was hurting in a far-away hospital, I marveled that she, in some way, played a part in the lives of these children—through her influence on my life and in her many prayers that she continually offered over our ministry.
My grandma was a special lady. I would sometimes call her and ask her to pray, and she would tell me that she would pull out the “Big Guns,” the rosary blessed by the pope and given to her by a nun who, as the story had grown over the years, had prayed on them for over 90 years. She didn’t just talk about praying for you; she did it. As 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray without ceasing.” She did just that. And as I sat by her bed as her life slipped away, I did just that.
Yet like her at the end, my prayers were mostly wordless. All I could do is just say Jesus’ name over and again. The woman who had proudly served as a Marine, won teacher of the year for the state of New Jersey, helped countless students as the Director of Admissions at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and made every person she met feel like they were the most important person in the world, lay there suffering in the end. If anyone had earned the right to slip out of this world without a care, it should have been her, but she didn’t. So all I could do was pray, “Jesus.”
As I sat with her, I thought about the fact that Jesus willingly suffered to save us from ourselves, from the sin that separates us from God. He knew what was to come, yet he prayed one of the most beautiful prayers in all of scripture, “My Father, if it possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will.” What love. If I could have done anything to take away my grandmother’s pain, I would have done it in a heartbeat. And this makes sense; she loved me and encouraged me for almost four decades. To think that Jesus did this while we still rejected him is unthinkable.
I know my grandmother is not the first to suffer, and neither will she be the last. And while we would still rather experience peace in our lives, suffering draws us closer to Him and makes us realize how powerless we are. Powerless to change the natural color of the hair on our heads, powerless to choose the number of breaths we will take. But will I trust in Him? Yes, because that is all that I know how to do—trust in a love that is greater than my greatest expectations, and walk in a love that overcomes all suffering.
My grandmother took her last breath and I mourn a woman who taught me strength and humor, and overall, trust in God. But my joy in the realization of her faith shines brighter than my sorrow. When I was a child she would tell me that in heaven we sit around and worship God all day. At the time, I thought that sounded awfully boring and I liked my own images of chocolate paved roads and wings. But as I continue to pray for her, I thank God that she can continue to worship him now as she did through how she lived her life on earth. And I pray that my life does the same.
Kasey Carty Jordan is a former missionary to China and currently serves in youth ministry with her husband Kurt at their Catholic parish. The Jordans reside in Monticello with their seven children.