My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials.1
It was Saturday, August 9, 2014. What started as a warm, typical summer Saturday swiftly turned into a day I would never forget! Up until then, I had not personally experienced a traumatic event in my family circle. This day would not only drastically challenge my faith but also change my perspective on family, friends, and life forever.
Tim and I were high school sweethearts from rival schools. We met on a blind date, thanks to my best friend, Michelle Gerow-Ellis, who introduced us. After dating for almost six years, we finally married on December 29, 1990. Majoring in computer science, I finished college at Central Michigan University that spring. Right after graduation, I landed a computer engineering position with Zenith Data Systems, a pioneer in the very young computer industry.
Tim had attended college at Michigan Technological University in the Upper Peninsula for a couple of years before we were married. After his sophomore year, he decided to change direction and accepted a job with Michigan Bell Telephone Company. This suited him better, since he did not like the confines of a classroom. Two years into college made him realize that he needed a job outdoors, where he could physically move around. He did not wish to be stuck in an office position, even as an engineer. It turned out to be a great position with excellent benefits, and when I started working in St. Joseph, Michigan, shortly after college, a job became available for him to transfer.
Shortly after his transfer, Tim and I purchased a fixer-upper. Four years later Danielle—or Dani as we affectionately called her—was born. Our whole world changed! We were no longer the Dual Income, No Kids (DINK) couple doing whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted.
The transition to parenthood went fairly smoothly as Danielle proved to be an easy child. When Tim and I brought her home from the hospital, she slept through the night without making a fuss. She was inquisitive and could learn almost anything very quickly. As such, she started talking relatively early, and she always seemed to know what she wanted. Danielle could usually figure out how to get it, too. Even at two years old, this very independent attitude would sometimes get her into trouble, especially when she would forgo naptime at day care. She was too antsy and had trouble keeping quiet while all the other toddlers slept. As she grew, I began to admire her energy, determination, creativity, and overall enthusiasm, which would brighten anyone’s day.
Tim and I loved our new roles as parents and, as expected, everything continued to change. We had just gotten the hang of having one child when God blessed us with another just two-and-a-half years later. While I was pregnant with Nathan, my job became unstable, so Tim convinced me to stay home. I thought that was a crazy suggestion, since I had worked so hard to earn a degree. I slowly warmed up to the idea, however, especially since both of us were raised by stay-at-home moms.
That was when I met Darla Nickels. She was expecting her third child when she came up to me in church and boldly introduced herself one Sunday afternoon. Since I was a little reserved because I did not know many people at the parish, Darla’s fearless approach intimidated me at first. As she continued to engage in conversation, I soon found her to be very friendly and endearing. Just before we finished talking, she told me that a few of the moms from the parish would get together during the week. She invited me to join their little group. I did, and made wonderful friendships with a great group of homeschooling moms.
Darla was the unofficial ringleader. I could tell right away that she was very passionate about her beliefs. Already a seasoned mom, she continuously challenged the rest of us to grow in our faith. She always had a new prayer, rosary, or parenting book to share with us. Darla constantly encouraged us with cute little lessons about Jesus that we could share with our children to help them come to know him too. Through her constant joy and enthusiasm for God, Darla inspired me to live my faith, not to just show up to church for an hour on Sunday to fulfill my obligation. She was quite a mentor, too. She truly lived the gospels of Christ in many ways: through her selfless acts of kindness, financial support for those in need, constant prayers for others, etc.
Thanks to Darla, I had an unquenchable desire to dive deeper into the Catholic faith. I read every doctrinal book I could get my hands on, attended bible studies, and tried to attend daily Mass.
It was not long before Tim warned me, “If you keep going to church every day, you’re going to be known as one of those crazy church ladies.”
After meeting Darla, seeking the confessional was common for me. Once I had rediscovered my faith, I tried to receive the sacrament of reconciliation often, usually at our parish in Sanford, Michigan. However, my parish only offered the sacrament during the afternoon on Saturdays. Since Tim and I had planned to attend a rodeo in Alma that evening, I would need to find other arrangements. So, after tending to my morning chores, I decided to drive into Gladwin.
When I arrived at Sacred Heart, the church was unlocked but empty. The priest had not arrived yet. Knowing that he could be called away for various reasons at any time, I decided to stay. I selected one of the wooden pews up front, knelt down on the padded kneeler, pulled out the rosary that was in my pocket, and began to pray.
For the past few weeks, I had been experiencing an unusual desire to pray more frequently throughout the day. I assumed it was because Judi, my mother-in-law, had been very ill.
The Rosary is an important prayer in the Catholic Church. Although it is considered a repetitive prayer by many, its purpose is to help a person meditate on the life and death of Jesus Christ. It consists of many vocal prayers such as the Apostle’s Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary, and Salve Regina.
I was about halfway through my Rosary prayer when the priest arrived and graciously heard my confession. I always felt peace after receiving this sacrament, so I typically lingered in the quiet church for a few extra minutes before facing my hectic schedule. After going back to my seat, I finished praying the Rosary. Just as I was about to stand up to take my leave, a small prayer came to me. Whether this prayer was me asking God to encourage our second born, Nathan, to give up bull riding or God telling me Nate would be done bull riding, I was not sure. I continued to reflect on this as I made my leave. I had no idea that I would soon understand the saying, “Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true.”
Returning from town, I began to work on the mountain of laundry piled next to the washing machine, a never-ending project for a family of seven. I made lunch in between loads. Since Nate had some free time after we ate, I asked, “Hey, Nate, why don’t you grab your theology book so you can work on school?”
Unfortunately, Nate had not completed all of his work for the previous school year. Although he only had a few lessons to finish, it was not easy for him to find motivation during the summer months. “Ah . . . fine!” he reluctantly obliged. After grabbing his book, he joined me on the screened-in back porch so that we could enjoy the warm day.
As we started our discussion after sitting down in a couple chairs, it was not long before Nate’s head started to bob forward and then jerk back. He apologized for his sudden case of narcolepsy, resituated himself in his seat, and attempted to listen again. Nate was like his dad in that whenever they sat still for too long, they would fall asleep. While I continued with the lesson, Nate dozed off again. This time I became frustrated. I debated whether or not I should actually get mad about the situation, when the words Let him sleep; he is going to need it descended onto my heart. So I surrendered my frustrations and quietly watched him rest. This time his head fell limply to his right shoulder.
Rearing Nathan was a little more challenging than raising his sister! He had colic at a very early age and was a handful for a few months. Unlike his sister, he did not have a good sleep schedule and tended to be a night owl. He soon grew out of that stage and was running around before we knew it. Boy did that kid like to run. It was at this time that I used to rub his feet and wonder what the good Lord had in store for him. With all his energy, I use to dream that maybe he would be a professional football player or an Olympic runner someday.
One summer just before Nathan turned two, we went camping at a state park up north with my parents. Because he would randomly disappear, we spent the whole weekend trying to keep track of Nathan. I laughed when my mom started saying, “Where’s Waldo?” Waldo was a cartoon character in a series of search-and-find books that were quite popular with young kids at the time. The Where’s Waldo series kept Dani occupied for hours whenever we travelled.
After about fifteen minutes, Nate lifted his head, realizing that he had been sleeping soundly this time. The seventeen-year-old sheepishly looked at me and said, “Sorry mom!” Glancing at the clock on his phone he added,
“Oh! I gotta go.”
I lowered my head and quietly replied, “I know.”
I got up from my chair and walked back into the laundry room, which was by the back door. Nate stepped into the garage to gather his riding gear, leaving the back door open.
“Hey Mom,” Nate hollered after a few minutes, “Have you seen my riding vest?”
“No, I have not. Where did you have it last?” I asked, while
I reached in the washing machine to move the wet clothes into the dryer.
“It must be at the bottom of my bag,” Nate said.
“Nate,” I stated firmly, “you cannot ride tonight if you cannot find it.”
“Yeah, yeah! I know! Don’t worry. I won’t ride without a vest,” Nate promised as he entered the laundry room and closed the door behind him.
Once he located his cowboy boots, Nate sat on a bench across from the washing machine. He still seemed tired as he slipped his feet into the boots. Afterward, he stood up. With his five-foot-ten stature, he stood almost as tall as his dad. He walked over, gave me a hug, and said, “I’ll see ya soon. You’re coming . . . right?”
His blue eyes twinkled in a teasing manner as I hesitated, looked up at him, shook my head, and said, “Nate, don’t go! Don’t ride today,” I pleaded seriously. “You are too tired.”
Not once had I ever said these words to him before. Even though I did not like him riding, I always felt that I had to bite my tongue. I was afraid that if I discouraged it, he would want to ride even more.
Nate put his cowboy hat on, hiding his thick, dark, wavy hair. He sighed and slowly responded to my plea. “I know. I kind of don’t even want to ride tonight, but . . . ” he paused, becoming more enthusiastic, “there are a lot of people coming to see me. I have to go!” With his charming grin, he gave me another quick hug and said, “I love ya.”
Resigning myself to the fact that I could not change Nate’s mind, I returned the hug and told him, “I love you, too.” Then he hustled out the door toward the red minivan sitting in our driveway. Zack Donavan, a good friend, had volunteered to drive to the rodeo. Nate’s brothers, Nick and Mathew, were tagging close behind. For the first time, they had convinced their big brother to let them go with him. I stood on the garage steps watching as the group piled into the van and drove away…
- Sirach 2:1 New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE)