Starting Over After the Loss of My Daughter
Letter from Mary Lenaburg
(Click to enlarge the photos or scroll to read the transcript)
My Dear Sister,
As the world turns the corner and steps into a New Year, it is a time-honored tradition to think about new beginnings. I don’t know about you but I find this to be somewhat challenging at times, especially if you have faced challenges that have dramatically altered your life and devastated your heart. It’s hard to think about starting over when nothing in your world looks the same as it once did. I have stumbled in trying to figure out where God needs me to go as I look around my life and see that nothing is what it once was.
On December 27, 2014 my heart broke into a million pieces as I held my daughter Courtney as she took her last breath this side of Heaven. When she was five weeks old she began having seizures which continued until her death. She suffered greatly and yet she was a very happy and peaceful young lady who loved chocolate pudding and spaghetti.
The first few years of Courtney’s life, I felt God was punishing me for all my past mistakes. My husband and I did not make the best choices in our courtship, breaking many of the churches rules on chastity and contraception, setting the stage for my husband’s battle with pornography. I did not feel worthy of God’s love or mercy and stumbled under the weight of my pride and hardened heart. It was a dark time in my life until my special needs daughter showed me the way to freedom.
You see my sister, there is nothing Courtney could do to earn my love. She was blind, wheelchair bound and non-verbal. Yet she had my whole heart from her first breath. The same is true for God’s love for us. It is freely given in abundance, no action needed on our part but to open our hearts and accept it.
When Courtney died, I clung to that truth. My husband and I had already made our way through the dark shadows of his addiction but that felt so different than the tragedy of losing a child. I knew that God could do anything, but I had been so wrapped up in Courtney’s care for so long, I did not who I was without her. What did God want now? I stood next to her grave that cold December day not knowing what the next hour would bring let alone the next day or week. I wept as I walked away leaving half my heart under the cold hard ground.
In the weeks to follow, God met me in my grief and devastation. He sent me friends and family to sit with me in my grief and love me through it. He sent words of encouragement through letter and cards. I realized in that time of darkness that He was providing light to guide my footsteps. I laid my worries and concerns at the foot of the Cross, I slowly but surely took small steps in faith, starting over by doing the work God needed me to now that Courtney was home with Him.
Every day is a new day my sister and I want you to know that you are loved beyond measure. You are not your mistakes or your grief. No matter what has happened, good or bad, you are a beloved child of a God who is waiting to love you in the midst of your sorrow, confusion, chaos, devastation and anger. If God does (Page 3) not shield you from the suffering, He will give you enough grace and grit to make it through the darkness.
I miss my daughter every single day, but I know God has a plan that I cannot fully comprehend. Your past and mine are meant to be lessons learned and folded into our present as a reminder of the redeeming power of God. So be brave in the scared, my sister. Start again knowing that God is standing right next to you, encouraging you to step out in faith and trust that He wants nothing but the very best for the both of us.
With love and abundant grace,
Get to know Mary Lenaburg
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I grew up in a large Catholic family with 6 brothers and a sister. My house was loud and filled with energy ALL the time. My siblings and I went to the local Catholic elementary school. I was not the best student and spent a lot of time in detention. I was a rebel and did things my own way. It made for a challenging adolescence but prepared me well for adulthood. My mother insists that “stubborn” should have been my middle name.
I met my husband on my one and only blind date. Apparently, God knew I could only handle one. Jerry and I have been married for twenty-nine years now and I would say “yes’ all over again even with ALL the challenges we have faced together. Courtney and Jonathan taught us how to love on a deeper level than we ever knew was possible. They taught us how to be brave in the scared and trust in God’s plan. Not something I did well in my youth.
I love to cook and bake. I make jam every summer. I love people and am a serious extrovert. I love to serve so I’ve been the Liturgy Coordinator at my parish, I’m a member of the Youth Ministry Core Team and Jerry and I are Confirmation Preparation Instructors. CurrentIy, I travel the country speaking to all age groups about God’s faithfulness and redeeming love and I also work part-time at a local pro-life OB-GYN practice as part of their front office staff.
I try live by the wisdom my father gave me throughout my life. “Never quit, never give up, never lose your faith. It’s the one reason you walk this earth. For God chose this time and place just for you, so make the most of it.”
What do the first two hours of your day look like?
I get up at 5:00 a.m. and do my daily pages, basically writing out what I’m worried or concerned about, my prayer intentions and such. I do morning prayer and read the Mass readings for the day. Then I go walking with my dear friend Sharon. We start out in a local park at 6 a.m. and walk the trails for about an hour. The first two hours of my day help me set my mind and heart for the day.
Describe your favorite part of your current occupation.
When I speak I am always so humbled by how the Holy Spirit speaks through me. So many times I write out a talk, and then I just end up setting it aside because God has something else he wants the audience to hear. In my day job at Tepeyac OB-GYN, I just love serving the women. Whatever I can do to make someone’s day brighter and happier, I’m all about it.
Describe one fear or personal challenge that keeps you up at night.
Ah yes...fear. I’ve spent many a night pacing the floors, praying the Rosary for one emergent intention after another over the years. Right now I’m working my way through some self-doubt as far as my future goes and my ability to do what God needs me to do. I battle perfectionism on a daily basis and boy does it really mess with your head. When it gets bad I start repeating the words “Jesus I trust in you.” That’s always a good way for me to push the mental reset button.
Tell us about the first time you experienced a strong sense of belonging in the Catholic Church.
I think for me, it was during the May Procession at my parish when I was in the eighth grade. We processed a statue of Our Lady from the school building all the way around to the church. The entire school processed and were welcomed inside the church by our fellow parishioners. There were people everywhere, spilling out of every door. It was standing room only. I was in awe. We sang “Flowers of the Fairest” as one of my classmates crowned Our Lady on the altar. All I kept thinking was this is what heaven must sound like. I get goosebumps thinking about it even now. All those people were Catholics just like me. I was home with my people. I have never forgotten that feeling.
Tell us about a woman you look up to.
My mother. She married my Dad in the middle of the Vietnam War, said “yes” to having eight children in ten years, dealing with all the craziness and stress of being a Mom to many. I watched this woman serve every single day without complaint. She taught me what it means to love in the hard places. She loved my Dad for thirty-six years, through alcoholism and sobriety, through good health and a decade battling cancer before his death at the age of sixty-three in 2001. She is a fierce prayer-warrior and devout woman of faith. She is always ready for an adventure no matter how crazy it may sound. You do not want to ask her for directions though. You might think you’re heading toward Delaware and end up in West Virginia.
Favorite character ever. Go!
I love Elizabeth Bennett from “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen. I mean the woman knew her worth, was smart and funny, sarcastic and loyal. She loved fiercely and put her family’s needs above her own every single time. I read that book at least once every three years and I watch the original black and white movie adaptation with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson once a year. Actually I think I own every cinematic adaptation of that book. I’m kind of obsessed.