In From the Vine

By Alyssa Bormes

 

Untitled by Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay. CC0 Creative Commons

 

I like to know what a mind looks like. For example, one friend told me he thinks in rock lyrics, another friend said her mind is all rows, columns, and checklists. My mind is full of pictures, spaces, landscapes, colors, light and dark – and sounds, smells, and tastes – and even, on occasion, silence and a kind of stillness.

Let me tell you about the calendar in my mind. All the days are lying on a plain, but the calendar circles around, a little like a clock. So December 31st touches January 1st. Then, I stand in the middle of the circle and look out to each date. As the days go on, I turn to the next day. If I want to look back or forward, I usually just turn my head one way or the other to look at it, but sometimes I turn my whole body to really look at a date.

Of course, different dates remind me of me of different things. When I look at November 25th, I think of my parents’ anniversary. My mind has borrowed pictures from their photo album. Gratitude overcomes me – look how young they were – what a great decision they made in getting married. I like to look at that date.

As I turn to look at the calendar, more dates light up, or dance, or just grin at me with that knowing look – sort of saying, “This was a hard one.” On the difficult dates, I run right into the past and give that young girl, or young woman, or even the older me a hug, and then I return to my place in the present.

Some dates evoke a certain reverence. They are dates like December 7th or May 20th – the dates on which my father and mother died, respectively.

In all of this, the different years are sort of beautifully layered; they tuck into the circle in my mind some how.

But there is one date that is a little bit different than any other. It has it’s own memories, sorrows, celebrations; there is an awe when I look at it. It’s August 19th. My heart is present here in 2018, but it is present in 1998 as well.

You see, for much of my life, I desired darkness and death. No matter the arguments, I just wanted to “leave.” But I kept making a decision for a few more minutes. Literally, at times, life was a minute-by-minute effort.

On August 19, 1998 I was the closest to having killed myself. The note was written, and everything was ready, but there was one thing. I had just called my mother to hear her voice one last time. There was no mention of my intentions, but she heard something in my voice and told me she was on her way. On her way still meant five hours of driving, there would be time.

However, something else came to me. I realized that my mother would be the one who would find me, and she didn’t deserve to have the vision of her dead daughter emblazoned in her mind.

And so – on that day – I said to God, “I’ll give you one shot at this.”

He took me up on it. God didn’t need more than the tiny crack in the door to my heart to begin to enter.

There was an odd thing – it was super difficult to let Him in – sometimes I wanted to send Him away again! My life seemed much harder at first; He was in there cleaning up the mess of it all and it hurt! But after each dark corner was revealed in the light, the initial pain was followed by a breathing space. My smile and my laugh had a place to reside again.

 

Today I celebrate 20 years of being alive – and I mean being super alive. He didn’t waste that one chance. God has given me the gift of truth, healing, acceptance, forgiveness, my faith, and mercy. Oh – and one more thing – He has given me joy!

 

And then there have been the million other unexpected gifts. They are things as extraordinary as studying in Rome and meeting Pope John Paul II, to things as simple as having a balcony that makes me feel a little like being in a tree fort – a really comfortable tree fort. He allows me to write, teach, travel, stay home, giggle with old or new friends, walk the Camino, visit the Holy Land, make spaghetti and meatballs as well as my mom did, cry, laugh, be with family, be with my students – and I really love that He allows me to be a lector at Mass. There is just something about His words falling from my lips.

 

But He doesn’t stop there. God is reckless in His love. His generosity cannot be outdone.

 

Nearly three years ago my mother died. We had just been in Rome for the pilgrimage of her life; no one knew she was sick.

 

When I didn’t kill myself in 1998, it was because I was afraid my mother would have to carry that image for the rest of her life. Well – God had another plan anyhow. I was with my mother on the pilgrimage, then I was able to be with her in her sickness, and finally with her at her deathbed. I was the one who was able to call the priest to be with her as she died. To be with her in that last month, and especially in her last moments, was a gift I would never have wanted to miss. She was never meant to be with me at my death, I was meant to be with her at hers.

 

God has never stopped surprising me. Some of the surprises have been crosses, but He has shown me a way to have joy in carrying them. I gave Him one chance – and He has spent 20 years finding new ways to make me say Thank You!

 

Standing in the calendar of my mind, looking straight at today, August 19, 2018, I whisper to the rest of the calendar dates, “Shhh, come with me, let us first gaze on that woman from 20 years ago. Let us go to her, comfort her, and thank her for that monumental effort that was heard in that weak voice, ‘I’ll give you one shot at this.’ Then let us step back and see the woman she became over those 20 other August 19ths.”

 

Without being able to help ourselves, the many calendar dates and I begin to dance, and cheer. The twenty-year review is rather extraordinary. And we call to the many other minds of our friends, those who think in rows, columns, checklists, and even rock lyrics, “Come, celebrate with us!” We laugh, we cry, there is hopping around, there are fireworks and songs, and there is a unending refrain to God, “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!”

 

Then later this evening, the calendar dates will all return to their quiet places on the plain in my mind. The ones with bright lights will shine a bit more. The wounded dates will have healed more, and we will all be grateful to August 19th for its “yes” to life. These 20 years have been quite a ride!

 

About the author:

Alyssa Bormes is an educator, author, speaker, and retreat leader. She currently teaches at the Chesterton Academy in Edina, Minnesota, writes for the Catholic Spirit, and the W.I.N.E blog, is the host of a weekly show,“Christian Witnesses in the Church,” on Radio Maria US, and is the author of The Catechism of Hockey. You can find her at alyssabormes.com.

 

 

Showing 26 comments
  • Gwen
    Reply

    Thanking God for you, Alyssa! You are one of the Lord’s beautiful daughters. I, too, was with my mother at the end. Not at her deathbed, but she and I had her last Thanksgiving together. I ordered her a turkey dinner from a local church who was feeding the homeless, and I bought myself a frozen turkey dinner. My family went on to celebrate TG with my husband’s family. My mother would have been alone, as my sister and her family were on a cruise. I couldn’t let her sit alone, and believe me…..it was the most beautiful Thanksgiving Day of my life. I’m so THANKFUL I was the one who spent her last TG with her. She did crossword puzzles, we watched Jeopardy, and I balanced my checkbook and just was in awe looking at my 91-year old mother who had given me birth at the age of 44. God sure blessed me with her and I know He blessed you with your mother, too. She is His reason for not letting you do what you planned to do. Thanks be to God! +JMJ+

    • Alyssa Bormes
      Reply

      What a beautiful story Gwen – THANKSGIVING was exactly what you were doing by being with your mom. May she rest in peace!

  • Ruth Cassar
    Reply

    Thank you, Alyssa, for sharing. You are an awesome woman!

    • Alyssa Bormes
      Reply

      Thank you Ruth – I am humbled by your kind words.

  • Richelle Peterson
    Reply

    Thanking God for your ‘yes’ today, too. You are simply beautiful.

    • Alyssa Bormes
      Reply

      Thank you Richelle – a “yes” to life is always the right answer!

  • sharon
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing this. I am blessed to call you friend.

    • Alyssa Bormes
      Reply

      Ah – Sharon – thank you my sister!

  • Karen Sheehy
    Reply

    Wow, Alyssa, a beautiful demonstration of what God’s love and mercy can do if we let Him in. After all wasn’t it the love of your mother and your love for her which triumphed! God is love and life. Beautiful, thanks for sharing and for your joyous service and love of God.

    • Alyssa Bormes
      Reply

      Karen – thank you for your kind words – love did triumph – and continues to triumph!

  • Deborah Kendrick
    Reply

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Wow! Exquisite piece. Thank you for laying yourself bare. For those in anguish and struggling with depression and despair your message is life and hope.

    • Alyssa Bormes
      Reply

      Deborah – I hope that this will help others in darkness – may they give room to the light!

  • Carol Younger
    Reply

    Your writing always touches me in places and times I barely remember until you uncover them and show me the beauty in them. Thank you for your friendship, your writing, your deep love of God and others. I know no one anywhere who has the heart of God in her written words as you do. I thank God for you, God bless you always. Your words bring remembrance, hope, and His Love.

    • Alyssa Bormes
      Reply

      Carol – thank you for always being so kind – I am so grateful for these many friendships that He has given me – and that He allows me this gift of writing.

  • Ketha
    Reply

    Feeling blessed and thankful to have met you on the WINE Pilgrimage this weekend! You are an amazing woman, filled with joy that spilled out onto the pilgrims this weekend, including me. Thank you for so boldly & eloquently proclaiming what the Lord has done in your life and for sharing your testimony.

    • Alyssa Bormes
      Reply

      Ketha- what a gift to have met you this weekend – yet another reason to say Thank You to God!

  • Angie Koenig
    Reply

    Beautiful ❤️

    • Alyssa Bormes
      Reply

      Thank you Angie!

  • Beth
    Reply

    YES to life indeed! Grateful and blessed to have had your acquaintance this weekend at WINE Pilgrimage. You’re such an inspiration for you have touched my heart. I’m hoping someday that I will be able to use my talent and gifts from God to serve the church.

    • Alyssa Bormes
      Reply

      Thank you Beth – so great to have met you as well. You are already using your talents for God – but WINE always has a task if you have the time!

  • Cherie Shishnia
    Reply

    You captured this so beautifully. What a gift you are to the Church. What a gift you were to your mother. She raised you well. Train a child well . . . And they will return to it. I told was able to be with my mom at that powerful moment when she entered eternal life on a Sunday morning as we prayed her final rosary together. Thank you for August 19th. Thank you Lord for Sept. 2nd.

    • Alyssa Bormes
      Reply

      Ah Cherie – thank you. It was my mom who introduced me to you – another gift from her! What a gift to be with your mom as well – may our moms rest in peace!

  • Maggie
    Reply

    This is powerful. Our connections to each other – the relationship that the Lord wants us to be in with others. It is all a mystery. I am thankful for you and the gifts that you share.

    • Alyssa Bormes
      Reply

      Thank you Maggie – the connections in life are a mystery and gift!

  • Kathy Rasmussen
    Reply

    Allysa, All your words you have shared over the years and so beautiful, inspiring, uplifting and give me hope. They help me truly realize the gift of God in my life. You encourage me. Some day I hope you are able to put ALL your writings into a book. I know the Lord is using you as an instrument, I feel Him in your words. Please consider. I’m sure I won’t be the only one wanting a copy. May our Lord continue to bless and keep you.

    • Alyssa Bormes
      Reply

      Dear Kathy – thank you for your kind words. I do plan to have a book of essays in the not to distant future – but I am working on another book right now – stay tuned for more about it. We hope to have it out by next summer. Please share this article with anyone you know who would be helped by it.

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