With Me.

After a (beautiful) escapade through Ireland, the beginning of my final weekend in Lourdes started pretty choppy. My mom, who was supposed to be with me at the time, happen to acquire a massive kidney stone a few days before she was meant to leave and had to call off plans (she’s good now!), and I was definitely missing her while feeling like I’d had one too many days to myself. The day I arrived, Lourdes was also, very much, still in the middle of the upper-ninety degree humidity-record-breaking temperatures, I went to Ireland to escape from, and by the time I got to the hotel I’d booked for my mom and I, I was incredibly migrainey and completely drenched in swest. I let out a sigh of relief when I walked into the air conditioned lobby, but soon learned this was all they meant by listing a/c as none of the rooms themselves were air conditioned. After a conversation with the lobby guy, who I just liked talking to, shared in my frustration over the weather, and assured me the rest of the weekend would be better (which was true), I decided I’d stay put, but knew it’d be a rough first night. After two seconds in my room, I left my bags and walked down to the grotto for some respite. I drenched my hair and washed my feet in the spring water (that never failed to be refreshing), and found a cool corner to journal in the underground basilica and had to laugh about how this trip was so, completely, not ending in the way I thought it might be.

Despite being super excited to move in with my sister and help out with my niece when I got home, I hadn’t received much clarity at that point on how to continue “developing my career” as a social worker while managing my health. It hadn’t brought me a smoking hot French husband (ha), and it definitely hadn’t taken my pain away (which ya gotta leave *some* room to happen if you’re gonna spend a summer drinking miracle-water). All things considered, I knew I’d need a lot of prayer that wknd to prepare myself for questions on all of the above when I got home.

The next day, the heat indeed broke, and I decided to use the time to finally finish the last 100 pages of the massive book on the life of St. Bernadette I’d been reading all summer (Bernadette Speaks by Rene Laurentin), all about the final years of her life, and her most intense physical suffering. As I read about this thirty-year-old, plagued by the effects of turberculosis and severe asthma, unable to get out of bed for three years, I. could. not. Put that book down….and may have stayed up until 1AM finishing it.

Apart from loving her humble and simple character, I hadn’t really known why I was meant to get to know this saint based on what I’d learned about her that summer. But after finishing that book, and getting to know her suffering-heart. I knew it. She was my girl.

The frustration she expressed over not having a career while constantly wishing she could be serving the sick or poor instead of being stuck in bed. How she eventually had to give up her simple job in the sacristy at the convent and surrender the duties of her vocation, which she doubted she could keep up with to begin with. Her constant striving to believe in the meaning of her suffering and offering of her weary presence to her fellow sisters, and the joy it brought her to speak into their lives from her bed. The deep love she carried for the grotto, despite feeling like the spring water wasn’t meant to heal her physically. I was here for it. All of it.

The next night, my final night in Lourdes, I walked down to the grotto with hopes to stock-up on some spring water to bring back to the states. Thinking I’d get there at the end of the nightly candlelit procession, that I’d already been to many times, I was surprised to find it was still happening, and the Sanctuary. was. packed.

With little moving room, I gave up on getting to the grotto, and made my way to the top of the basilica, where I knew there’d be the best view. I looked up to see the town’s castle was lit-up in blue, along with much of the lighting in the Sanctuary, and then I got it. 

The Assumption. The biggest Marian feast-day, and what I was then told was the busiest day of the year in Lourdes, was happening that Monday–my final day there. And the vigil was that night. Which also meant twenty-plus-thousand people were in town in honor of Mary’s return to heaven, and her real, true presence on this earth–in this town–as a mother, and a queen. Completely oblivious to dates, and especially feast days, this was a total accident, and I couldn’t believe I almost missed it. I hung out long after the procession finished that night.

After approximately four-hours of sleep, knowing my brain would hate me, but also not caring, I woke up at 6AM my final morning, to, for the first time, see the sunrise at the grotto and sit in the beauty of Lourdes as long as possible before heading to the airport. Having dinner the night before with an American family-turned-French-residents-who-love- Lourdes, and with goodbyes to the staff members/locals I’d gotten to know under my belt, I found myself really, really ready to be back with friends and family, but really, really, not wanting to leave.

I flew home still not knowing how I was going to answer questions about what I was doing with my life or whether or not I was “healed”, and more of a mess/less polished than I’d hoped. But as I thought about the strength I gained, the random ways I’d been provided for, and most-definitely how that final weekend played out, God had made it pretty obvious that I wasn’t alone in any of my suffering. He was with me (along with Mary and St. B!). And maybe that’s enough. 

art by miss Jacinta Van Hecke

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