Matt C. Abbott
Short stories of faith
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By Matt C. Abbott
April 24, 2020

Below are two short stories from the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Everyday Catholicism, Real Stories of God in Our Lives, by LeAnn Thieman. “These true personal stories will amaze, inspire and comfort you with the certainty that there is a loving, personal God at work in our lives. The stories tell of healings, divine interventions and answered prayers.” Thanks to Sophia Institute Press for allowing me to reprint these excerpts in my column. Click here to order a copy of the book directly from the publisher.

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“Mirror Messages”

But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.

—John 11:22

I’d always refused to pierce my ears … until I arrived home tired from work one day and noticed something taped to the bathroom mirror. Glistening diamond earrings seized my attention with a message written below in eyebrow pencil by my husband, Mike. “Now you have to get your ears pierced. Am I good, or what?”

A quick painful click in the hairdresser’s chair and I made a fashion statement.

Mike’s note on the mirror started a joyful new tradition in our family. We communicated through mirror missives. Our son Shawn joined in and soon funny notes, rhymes, and messages adorned our looking glasses, both bathroom and dresser. The game often replaced paper reminders in our household. Shawn left word where he’d be after school. During his teen years he left requests for gas money or field trip permission. He often signed them, “Love, Shawn” or sometimes, “Your son, Shawn.”

My Mary Kay saleslady likely scratched her head over frequent orders for lip and eyebrow pencils, but we loved our fun family custom. We thought we’d keep it going forever. We’d be featured in family magazines standing next to mirrors defaced with scrawled prose. We’d tell our future grandchildren about it. The practice would be handed down for generations. Our housekeepers squandered gallons of extra Windex removing the epistles. We didn’t care.

When Shawn turned nineteen, senioritis struck and he struggled with grades, anxious to enter the big bright world of jobs, college, and his own living space. We continued our mirror messages and occasionally I’d sneak encouraging cards in his backpack to quell his nervousness about graduation and life on his own.

We’d move at summer’s end to begin retirement living in Arkansas. Shawn would remain to start community college and a new job.

Prom night arrived bright and clear. I admired Shawn’s tux and his silver vest. “No one else will have one like it, Mom.” I hugged him and watched the taillights of the gleaming borrowed Corvette leave the driveway. Our mirror scribe had grown up into a fine young man.

The next morning a drunk driver stole our messenger and stilled the writer’s fingers forever.

I grieved for months. A strong faithful person, I struggled for answers. How could I continue without his comedy, his laughter, and his love? No answers came. My husband had a wonderful dream in which Shawn called out to him through an open window and handed him shirts, the same size and type he always wore. When Mike called to him, Shawn turned, smiled, and left. I craved such a dream, a whisper, a touch to assure me he was all right.

Eventually, in tiny increments, healing crept into my heart. I gained a measure of peace but still longed for reassurance. I believed in my son’s life in a heavenly kingdom, but a mother’s heart is never quiet when doubts about her child’s welfare are concerned. I looked everywhere and anywhere, praying for a sign from Shawn.

Two years later we opened a fishing resort, furnished the lodge, and our grief journey progressed in our peaceful spot on the White River. We purchased a new dresser for our bedroom and planned to move ours to the guesthouse. I transferred drawer contents, removed dust bunnies, and cleaned the mirror. I looked sideways checking for streaks, and gasped. The words “I love you” appeared in Shawn’s handwriting. I wept with relief and gratitude. A new measure of comfort entered my heart.

“All in God’s time,” a friend of mine often says. The hands of God’s timepiece chose that moment to grace my life. He didn’t send a lightning bolt, a burning bush, or a magnificent dream, but the perfect mirror message of love from my child.

— Rita Billbe

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“Father McKeever’s Lesson”

Beware, so as long as you live, of judging men by their outward appearance.

— Jean de LaFontaine

I remember Nancy. We were both in second grade. I was the “smart” one; she was the “dumb” one, or so I thought. I made life a living hell for that poor girl, and she just took it. Gentle and shy, Nancy was about eleven years old, and it had taken her years to reach second grade. She had difficulty reading and writing. All the kids made fun of her, especially me. Nancy would just stand there, avoiding my eyes, tears rolling down her cheeks. Cruel and clever, I manipulated the crowd so that the taunts of the audience would increase Nancy’s misery and shame.

We called her “Stupid.” “Ugly!” “Smelly!” “Dirty!” Nancy never fought back, which was a riot to her tormentors.

Then one day, everything changed. I went to a Bible class and Nancy was there sitting by herself in the back of the room. The Bible story was about the trial of Jesus, who had been sent to King Herod. The story went on and Father McKeever, who taught the class, became quite animated, in his wonderful Irish fashion.

He told us how the Son of God was spat on, beaten, and kicked. Father McKeever made us wince as he described the crown of thorns being pushed and pounded into the flesh and bone of our Lord’s skull. I could feel the nails piercing His wrists and feet. Then Father repeated the mocking words that had been hurled at the “Holy Innocent.”

Father paused for a moment, his eyes filled with tears, and he looked at Nancy in the back of the room, all alone, her head bowed. A look of intense sorrow passed over his features; and then his eyes were on me. Steel blue points pierced mine. I felt as if I were the only one in the room, and this decent kind man of God was speaking only to me.

“How would it feel to be all alone and innocent, I wonder?” he asked, softly, in his rich Irish brogue. “How would it feel to be hauled in front of your enemies, dirty and unloved, with no one to protect you?” Tears sprung to my eyes, because at seven years old, I loved Jesus only a little more than I loved Father McKeever.

I understood the message immediately. I was overwhelmed. I looked back at Nancy in her tattered clothes, covered with dirt that I had helped to smear on her face. I felt shame.

It seemed as though everyone else missed the point that pierced my heart that day. I suddenly saw myself in Herod’s courtyard, mocking and striking … Jesus! In my mind’s eye, I saw Him lift His head and look at me. My seven-year-old heart broke. I sat there stunned for a moment, and then I gathered my things. I stood up and walked to the back of the room. I pulled a chair up next to

Nancy and sat down. With hands shaking and the most incredible sorrow in my heart, I reached over and took Nancy’s hand. She looked at me, her eyes round and her mouth in the shape of an “O.”

“Nancy,” I began, my voice breaking, “I want you to be my friend … my best friend.”

Nancy looked at me for a long time. The room was silent. I noticed that her eyes were an incredible shade of blue, framed with lovely, dark lashes. She smiled, her lips framing perfect white teeth. Why, Nancy was pretty!

After that day, I tripped over myself to become Nancy’s friend and protector. I spent the rest of that year with skinned knees, bruises and a few bloody noses. We moved away at the end of the following summer. I never saw Nancy or Father McKeever again, but they have lived in my heart ever since.

Nancy taught me forgiveness, and Father McKeever taught me redemption. — Jaye Lewis

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 'Unsolved' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and other media outlets. In 2005 and 2006, he was among the first writers to expose former cardinal Theodore McCarrick's abuse of power with and sexual harassment of seminarians. He can be reached at
mattcabbott@gmail.com.

(Note: I welcome thoughtful feedback and story ideas. If you want our correspondence to remain confidential, please specify as such in your initial email to me. However, I reserve the right to forward and/or publish emails that are accusatory, insulting or threatening in nature, even if they're marked confidential. Also, if you give me permission to publish a quote of yours, please do not contact me at a later time to request that I delete your name. Only in limited circumstances will I quote anonymous sources. Thank you and God bless!)

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