Living in the "Yet" After a Fatal Car Accident - A Letter from Erin Thomas
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My Dear Sister,
There have been many seasons in my adult life where I felt I “had it all together.” I have a great career, accompanied with many accolades; a good marriage, complemented with several successful pregnancies; a hard-working husband, perfected by his devotion to his family; a toolbox of talents, refined with experience and perseverance. There have certainly been many mountaintop views in my life.
But, I’ve also seen the valley – that deep, dark valley where the dry bones surround me. You may be there, too. It may be your career, a miscarriage, your journey to find a spouse, or a failed opportunity. It feels like there is no breath, no life, no hope within you. Through miscarriage, the loss of my mother to cancer, a few dead-end careers for my husband and I, and most recently, a tragic automobile accident, I, too, have wondered if God would ever restore me. As we sit here in this dark place, we desperately want to remember what the view from the mountain looks like. However, wasn’t it Ezekiel who was given the opportunity to witness God’s restoration firsthand through his powerful visions of resurrection?
On June 30, 2017, I journeyed to Waco, TX for a fun, summer getaway with a dear friend to visit the Gaines' Silos for the first time. On our way home, we were crushed between two 18-wheelers. Unfortunately, my friend did not survive, and I endured several severe injuries. After thirty days in the hospital, I returned home to my family. At the beginning of my journey toward recovery, there were times where I couldn't stand up, yet. I couldn't walk, yet. I couldn't fathom ever being out of the hospital, yet. And, by the grace of God, I’ve done those things.
(Page 2) Still, at times, I can't fathom driving, yet. I can’t fathom being able to pick up my children, yet. I can't fathom working again, yet. I can’t imagine being “back to normal,” yet.
Truth is, I know He always does restore. I know there is a mountain view in order. There is breath and life to come. Even though I am currently living in the “yet" – standing in the hallway with one door closed and another not yet opened – I know that good is to come. It just isn’t here, yet…
"Truth is, I know He always does restore. I know there is a mountain view in order. There is breath and life to come. Even though I am currently living in the “yet" – standing in the hallway with one door closed and another not yet opened – I know that good is to come. It just isn’t here, yet…"
It is well-known that many of our Church’s greatest saints lived in this uncertain valley for most of their lives. I often wonder how they sought such profound holiness in spite of such deep despair. Karol Wojtyla, John of the Cross, Teresa of Calcutta, Gemma Galgani, Andre Bessette, Maximilian Kolbe, Catherine Labouré, and many, many more sought union with Christ in their pain, in their loss, and in their yet. Some of them even waiting until Heaven to gain their mountaintop view.
Maybe God hasn't restored you either... YET. Maybe you aren’t there… YET. Rather than waiting for hindsight, you and I can try to discover the mysteries God has for us in this valley. After all, there is so much to learn in the hallway.
I know that with each day, dry bones do come alive. The loss, the grief, and the confusion that swallows us may eventually feel lighter, and growth and healing will come. Until then, we will wait in this hallway together, with the yet. We will praise Him in the hallway because that’s when we need Him the most. After all, it is God who will ordain a new breath, a new life, into those dry, dead bones.
Get to know Erin
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
Wife. Mom. Teacher. Designer. Music Lover. Sushi Eater. Amazon Prime Pro.
My name is Erin Thomas and I live in rural South Louisiana with my husband and our 3 boys. Life here includes 4- wheelers, camouflage, chickens, cows, and crawfish. I think it’s wise to spend money on concerts in small venues, dinners out at restaurants, and brief trips to big cities. I always succumb to coffee, chocolate, and king cake. I have an incredibly eclectic interest in TV shows and Netflix series and I love the DVR. If it were up to me, music would always be on. I used to love to read, before raising children. I teach Art and Theology at a local, Diocesan high school. After surviving a tragic automobile accident, I discovered my love for writing.
How does your Catholic faith affect the way you live your day-to-day life?
I survive on the Holy Spirit’s constant current deep within me, like a river always flowing, fueled by the Sacraments of our Church. When I need words to speak, or I have decisions to make, or when I look for positive day-to-day exchanges, I tap into that current, knowing that my faith will provide. When I face a hardship, I allow the current to carry me. When I struggle to understand, I trust in the direction of our faith. When I feel “off,” I know that it’s the Sacraments that I need. I cannot imagine a world without my Catholic faith which literally sustains my day-to-day life.
From one Catholic woman to another, how have you discovered your sense of belonging in the Church?
I spent a summer abroad in Paris, France studying art when I was in college. Though I was raised in the Church my whole life, attended Catholic schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade, and was involved in various ministries throughout my life, I wasn’t in a great place during that particular season. About two weeks into my time abroad, I hit my first bout of homesickness so I tapped into my roots and I decided to go to Mass. I attended the Basilica du Sacre-Coeur that day and can remember it very clearly. It wasn't just the beauty of the historical building, but the familiarity of an experience that wasn't even in my native language that soothed me. It was as if the Mass washed over me, reassuring me of my place within a 2,000-year Tradition, not bound by language or geography or socioeconomic expectations. I found my peace that day and I have been grateful ever since.
What’s the most empowering piece of advice you’ve been given as a Catholic woman?
I have been given so many bits of wisdom in my years as a practicing Catholic that the task of choosing the “most empowering” piece was daunting. One thing I have often applied to my own life was some advice I received while in marriage prep. Many people are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13:4–8. Someone once challenged me to replace my own name with the word “Love” in an effort to hold myself accountable to living a virtuous life. Since then, when I have struggled with a friend or my husband or even a child, I have evaluated my own role by doing this: “Erin is patient, Erin is kind. Erin does not envy, Erin does not boast, Erin is not proud...” It is a profound way to determine if you are loving like Christ loves.
Tell us about a woman who inspires you. What lessons have you learned from her? How has she influenced your life?
Right now, I am currently journeying alongside a friend named Kristen whose 5th baby was born still on May 22, 2017. I was blessed to be by her side in the hospital as she labored for her sweet Teresa. Since then, in her journey to find light amidst great darkness, I have been a witness to the most profound strength I have ever seen, the greatest sense of humility I have ever known anyone to admit, and the deepest of loves than I ever thought imaginable. It has been a source of solidarity for me as I battle the many layers of PTSD following my accident and an opportunity for a Heavenly friendship that I have always prayed for.
What’s your favorite way to pray?
To write. When I sit down to write, I enter into a space that is 100% reliant on God and what He may have for me in those moments. I ask Him to pour into me and we go back in forth in conversation as I feel He reveals to me what I need to know and what others need to read.
What’s a dream you’d love to achieve in the next 10 years?
Since the accident in June, I have been writing and blogging. While sharing my experiences of love, life, and loss, many people have encouraged me to write a book, but I am admittedly very insecure about doing so. Lately, I have felt the challenge to consider the task. I suppose, maybe that’s my 10-year plan.
What’s the best smell in the world to you?
This question intrigues me because I am SO sensitive to smells. I do not like many common smells that most people love and I am very particular about what smells I “allow” in our home. Despite that, I have always believed that smells have the ability to transport someone back in time – to a memory, or an experience, or a place. I have many memories that smells help me to recall, but the most special one is anytime I smell something that reminds me of my mom, whom I lost in 2013 to cancer. There have been times where I pass a stranger in a store who carries her scent and I have wished to stop them and ask if I could inhale their smell. Or, when I make the vegetable soup that I so loved her to make, I cannot take one bite without thinking of her. Some smells can be so comforting.
Fill in the blank
A typical day in my life looks like…
Rousing three little boys from their sleep, preparing them for school while getting myself ready for work, teaching high schoolers all day, returning home to prepare dinner and complete homework, bathing kiddos, tucking them in, watching TV, and sharing life with my best friend, my husband. Sprinkled into the daily mix are things like picking blackberries alongside the gravel road, feeding the animals, picking the eggs, watching the boys jump on the trampoline or ride bikes, exploring various ministries in our thriving Diocese, visiting family and friends, shopping for groceries, and more!
My favorite quote is...
More of a prayer than it is a quote, but it sounds like this: “Lord, enlighten what’s dark in me, strengthen what’s weak in me, mend what’s broken in me, bind what’s bruised in me, heal what’s sick in me, and lastly, revive whatever peace and love has died in me.”
I feel most inspired when…
I am alone and submerged in loud, Christian music while creating – whether I am designing, painting, writing, or crafting. I look to those moments to renew my needy spirit, to enable me to come alive. St. Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Artists says: “Through his ‘artistic creativity’ man appears more than ever ‘in the image of God,’ ...That is why artists, the more conscious they are of their “gift”, are led all the more to see themselves and the whole of creation with eyes able to contemplate and give thanks, and to raise to God a hymn of praise. This is the only way for them to come to a full understanding of themselves, their vocation and their mission." Sometimes, to create is the only praise I feel I adequately offer Him.
The Catholic Church is…
my all in all.