I never claimed to have a green thumb and Marc’s horticultural thumb is worse. Hence, we don’t have anything that needs water more than once. And once is the only time we watered a baby rose tree, barely a shrub, my mother-in-law had given us as a back in our house-warming gift in July. Sorry, Ann.
The entire month of August I was not home, Marc never watered it, and quite honestly we completely forgot about the little rose bush until I got an email on September 13th from Shutterfly.
My heart raced as I quickly jumped up and ran to the tree. Though this is not the actual tree, this is basically what it looked like.
Looking at the dried leaves on the ground, the stalk brown, the dirt bone dry, I felt ashamed I had let this happen. The housewarming gift was very symbolic, Ann knew how much roses reminded me of Jena, and I had ignored something so thoughtful, so special. I took the tree outside and began pruning it, tossing the dried leaves onto the grass and contemplating just leaving it outside to wither more. But that email tugged at my heart.
The email I received earlier from Shutterfly said this:
Look what we found for you. Remember thirteen years ago?
It was the trip our family took to Lourdes, France in hopes of a miracle for Jena.
I remembered the trip well, and I remembered that my in-laws traveled with us.
We went there in hopes of a miracle.
And to this day, I believe we did.
(excerpt from my book Beyond Breathing)
Somehow we managed to leave for France the next day. Jena, Marc, Eric, and I—and all our luggage—arrived at the airport on time and left for France. Alan and Ann, Marc’s parents, joined us.
We had planned detours off the main itinerary, at our own expense, to accommodate the sites and experiences we wanted to have. Once in Paris, Jena just had to see the Mona Lisa, I just had to have a crêpe at an outside café, and Alan just had to see Notre Dame. We made it through Charles de Gaulle Airport security with only minor setbacks. We loaded down the rented van with oxygen tanks, medical equipment, and Jena’s wheelchair, ready to take on France.
We went to the Eiffel Tower; we leisurely strolled down the Champs Elysée, and we got to stare directly into the eyes of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. It was incredible and we took hundreds of pictures of fabulous memories to prove it.
After driving eight hours south of Paris, we made it to Lourdes. Here we met up with the rest of the tour. We were now on a tight schedule and the tour was, mercifully, in English. We had Mass every day, and we learned the history of Lourdes, where, back in the late 1800s, St. Bernadette saw apparitions of the Immaculate Conception. St. Bernadette was a fourteen-year-old girl who had respiratory problems and had eighteen visions of the Virgin Mary. It was in Lourdes that sixty-four miracles had been documented, and we were praying to be the sixty-fifth.
We got our miracle after the first evening of doing the nightly nine o’clock candlelight procession. Every night there was a crowd about 10,000 people from countries around the world. All the people had lit candles and were praying the rosary in their own languages. We were no different. Jena sat in her wheelchair while Ann, Al, Marc, Eric, and I began the mile-long procession. Halfway through, Eric started coughing and needed to sit for a while. Marc was ready to carry Jena when she said she would rather walk, and walk she did. She walked the entire procession, saying the rosary breathlessly. None of us could believe our eyes.
The next morning our itinerary had us doing the Stations of the Cross. The Stations of the Cross is a mile-long climb up the Mount of Espelugues, called Mount Calvary. It is a rough and steep climb that starts from the Upper Basilica. There are fifteen large stations, all with larger-than-life bronze statues illustrating the stages of Jesus’ last days. Here you can walk in the path of Jesus on his last journey, and you can stop on the way to think and pray. They advised those in wheelchairs, the elderly, and those with any physical restrictions not to attempt the walk.
Jena once again disregarded warnings. Alan pushed an empty wheelchair up and down the mountain while Jena ran it. She walked or ran with Eric to each station of the lifelike statues. At each station, she stopped and prayed. She would look back at us every now and then with a knowing look. I never did quite understand those looks, but somehow Jena just seemed to belong there.
Our last stop before flying back home was the church of St. Gilard in Nevers, France. This is where St. Bernadette’s body lies at rest in a glass tomb for all to see. Once again, we broke away from the tour and the six of us arrived in our van at the church just an hour before they closed for the day. When we got to the church, there was a Mass going on so we quietly sat in the back and listened. When the Mass ended, the priest turned off the lights and the church was lit only by a few candles. Jena had asked if she could kneel down in front of the altar to get a closer look at St. Bernadette, while the rest wanted to stroll around the grounds.
I stayed with Jena while she knelt down before the body of St. Bernadette. Jena did not move for twenty minutes.
Then she slowly turned her head and looked at me with confusion. Her eyebrows were scrunched together as if she had been deep in thought and could not make sense of what she was thinking. She looked at me and said as though asking a question, “I know her like I know you.”
She looked at me for some sort of answer and when I had none, she slowly turned back and looked at St. Bernadette. It was a half hour later when the curator of the church said he was sorry but that he really needed to close down the church and we had to leave.
I was baffled by what Jena had said and she was quiet the whole ride back to the airport. Eric thought it was cool to see a real dead body out on display like that, and Alan said how lucky we were to have reached the church in time before our flight.
On the airplane, Jena told me that St. Bernadette had visited her in her room many times and asked me if that made her crazy. I told her no. Just being a part of our family made her crazy; seeing St. Bernadette made her special. She liked that answer but asked me not to tell too many people because they might think she was especially crazy.
Jena didn’t need oxygen during the ten-day trip, even though I insisted that she wear it at night. Jena didn’t need oxygen on the flight home, either. I had measured her oxygen levels throughout the trip and she had remained stable at her baseline the entire time. We thought we had received the miracle. I still believe we did.
(End of Chapter 13)
(If you’d like to see this place, click here for a YouTube video of The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes)
Fast forward to Septemeber 13, 2018 with me and the sad state of the rose bush. Thinking about the email, and our trip to Lourdes, I recalled seeing a half-full bottle of Lourdes water when we unpacked and moved back in to our home. I had saved two bottles of water from our trip thirteen years ago; one still full, the other, half full.
In a last ditch effort, I poured the half bottle of water on the root of the seemingly dead rose bush. I gave it a little bit more water and brought it in the house. I didn’t have much hope at all for that little tree. On occassion, but not regularly, I’d give it a spritz of water wondering how I was going to tell Ann about the rose bush. Then, last Saturday, I walked by the tree and saw one small blooming red rose and another bud about to bloom. I had never seen a rose bush come back to life and then proceed to bloom. Oh, and for those of you keeping a ‘13’ list, last Saturday was October 13th.
Now you tell me, is that a coincidence or love from above?
I know what I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you that love never ends and I believe my Jena has got an in with Mother Nature.
Thank you, Lourdes. Thank you, Jena. Thank you love from above for saving that rose bush, I won’t disappoint you again.
Now, please, don’t anyone tell my mother-in-law. Let’s just keep it our little secret.
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