Everyday Ignatian is a monthly series by Shannon K. Evans, a writer and mother of five living in Iowa who is chronicling moments of grace in the midst of her chaotic daily life through the lens of Ignatian spirituality.
By Shannon K. Evans
December 18, 2019 — My big, loud family bustled in from the freezing outdoors through the threshold of my parents’ warm home. Over the din of little boys’ shrieks of excitement, I could hear my grandma before I could see her. “Where is she? Oh let me get to her!” I knew it wasn’t me but the three-month-old baby in my arms that made her heart jump, and I grinned in anticipation of their first meeting. But before she’d even reached the front hallway, grief had already mixed in with my joy.
When I was a child, my grandpa would rave to anyone who would listen about how much I looked like my mother. I loved every second of his palpable delight. When I married 13 years ago he began the eager talk of me having a daughter, a black-haired baby girl who looked just like me and — by extension — just like my mother, the first baby he ever loved. But I had boy after boy after boy and we all laughed and threw in the towel on hoping for a girl. When he lovingly held my newborn fourth son just after being diagnosed with advanced cancer, we knew it would be the last time his arms would cradle a child of mine ever again.
Then last Christmas, just months after his death, I found out the great-granddaughter he’d longed for was in fact growing inside my womb, the grace of new life to comfort our grieving family. Even in my joy, I was crushed that the timing could be so cruel. My grandpa would never meet the little girl he dreamed of. It’s now the second Christmas since his death and when I look at her sweet baby cheeks I am left with only my imaginings of how their relationship would have blossomed.
The holidays are a complicated time. Most of us are missing someone, whether they have passed away, live miles away, or are emotional light-years away. For some, the heaviness of the loss outweighs the joy of the season. For all, there must be a way to go on fully living. I’ve found that looking for daily graces during a time of year when emotions run deep helps ease the sting of grief. Drinking deeply from the cup of divine goodness can heal my heart in a million little ways. Experiencing the consolation of God’s nearness reminds me again of the preciousness of life.
This idea of “savoring the graces” is one of my favorite invitations of Ignatian spirituality. We’ve probably all had the experience of being suddenly and acutely aware of a moment of beauty or blessing, whether within a structured time of prayer or in the ordinary rhythm of regular life. It’s a spiritual phenomenon, but doesn’t necessarily stay in a spiritual box.
Maybe we are in Eucharistic prayer, but maybe, too, we are simply watching a bird build her nest. Maybe we feel the Holy Spirit while reading Scripture, or maybe we suddenly become aware of the long faithfulness of a certain friend. Everyday life is full of the grace of God, and often it catches us when we least expect it. The invitation of St. Ignatius is that we would notice and relish in each one of those times. It is an active posture of looking for the movement of God in the midst of ordinary life and letting it linger in our hearts so that we might be inwardly transformed. We don’t just acknowledge the grace and move on — we savor it.
So when my grandma rounded the corner with arms outstretched toward the baby girl she and her beloved had longed to hold together, I was ready to savor the moment. My heart took a photograph of the scene: aged hands carefully wrapped around a tiny body. I soaked in the look of deep peace on my grandma’s face that told me this was a part of the closure that she, too, desperately needed.
I let the moment take up residence in my mind, knowing I would carry it with me the rest of my life. I knew my grandpa was somehow there, holding my baby girl through his wife’s tender body. I knew I would tell my daughter about this moment when she grows older. I knew the grace that was in the room that night would never, ever be lost.
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Shannon K. Evans is the author of “Embracing Weakness: The Unlikely Secret to Changing the World.” Her writing has been featured in America and Saint Anthony Messenger magazines, as well as online at Ruminate, Verily, Huffington Post, Grotto Network and others. Shannon, her husband and their five children make their home in central Iowa.