Saint Thérèse of Lisieux died on this day in 1897. So did my dad. Well, not in 1897, of course. Rather, on September 30, 2009. And it’s no small coincidence that his death occurred on the same day as the saint who is known for doing small things with great love also died. Many would say the same about my father, a humble, simple man who loved well and found God in the ordinary routine of each day. Dad viewed each day as an opportunity to say yes to God. In fact, one of his favorite expressions was, “I’m doing it for the Lord!”
I remember all too well the events surrounding dad’s unexpected death four years ago. It was a lovely fall day here in central Iowa and a warm breeze blew through the air, softly stirring the leaves that were just beginning to change color. In fact, the weather was so nice I snuck out of work a bit early to enjoy the remaining hours of sunlight with my then one-year-old daughter Lucy. I hated being away from her so much, and I was mightily struggling, unsuccessfully that is, to achieve a family-work balance. I greatly missed her, but the circumstances of our financial responsibilities required me to work.
Once home for the day, Lucy and I hit the backyard to play. She had just mastered walking, and I noticed she was adding a little trot to her stride. Then there was a moment, an occasion I now explain as the day when time stood still. I’m not quite sure how long it lasted, but I remember standing in our backyard, nearly paralyzed and simply staring out into space. My stare was eventually broken when I noticed Lucy toddling toward our deck, giggling with delight, arms reached out as if she was running to greet someone. I thought maybe Joel had arrived home, but when I looked up toward the deck, no one was there.
The evening marched on and probably an hour later I received a call from a cousin who broke the news that my dad had been in a very serious accident while working in his backyard. She implored me to get to the hospital as soon as possible. By that time, Joel had come home from work, and we had just sat down for dinner — a feast of sloppy joes. We left the house in a panic to make the hour-long drive to my hometown.
As we raced to get to the hospital, Joel and I prayed the Rosary, and each time I uttered the words, “Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death,” I just had a sense it was the hour of my dad’s death. And I sobbed harder and harder each time we got to that line in the prayer. Before reaching the hospital, I received a call from my sister telling me dad had died. In my heart, I already knew.
I often reflect on that time-stood-still-moment when I saw Lucy running toward something … or someone rather … with her arms reached out and a big ol’ smile on her face as her sweet giggles echoed through the air. I have absolutely no certainty in anything, but I do know that according to the coroner’s report, my dad’s accident occurred at about that same moment as the experience I share here. My sixth sense tells me her little mind saw something extraordinary that day and my dad had a starring role.
A few weeks before his death, dad asked me a rather straightforward question. “Are you happy?” he questioned, referring to my obvious struggles of balancing family needs and professional desires. Even though I was receiving great accolades in the professional world and earning a cushy salary, I wasn’t happy. My professional commitments left me exhausted with little left in the tank to give to my family. I denied my husband his wife, my child her mother, and myself an opportunity to fulfill my vocational call.
A few months after dad died, I found two butternut squash sitting in my pantry, still in remarkably good condition. They were grown in my parents’ garden, and dad had given them to me shortly before he died. He was so proud of them, and rightfully so. They were perfectly shaped and colored — Iowa State Fair blue ribbon quality, I reckon. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything with them. I didn’t want to cook them. I didn’t want to throw them out. The squash served as a physical reminder of my dad, and I obviously wasn’t yet ready to let go of the tangible.
And just as the squash served as a physical reminder of dad in those weeks following his death, his Are you happy? question lingered, stirring my spirit for months to come, and served as a powerful reminder of him — his simple, humble ways, and doing small things with great love.
A little over a year after my dad’s death, I resigned from my job in order to be at home full-time with my daughter. We’ve since welcomed a son and will be welcoming a third into this world any day now. Am I happy? Yes. Am I tired? Yes. Am I at peace? Yes. Do I become frustrated and get out of whack spiritually as I attempt to do the small, mundane daily tasks here at Das Schmidt Haus with great love? Absolutely, several times a day, in fact. But I pray one day my kids will proudly say the same of me as I do about my dad — she was humble, simple, loved well, and found God in the ordinary routine of each day.
Look around. What are the small things that matter to God? How can you do them with great love? In the spirit of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and my dad, ponder that one today.
“You know that our Lord does not look at the greatness or difficulty of our action, but at the love with which you do it. What, then, have you to fear?” ~ Saint Thérèse of Lisieux