Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Forgiveness Is Its Daily Bread, And To Patience Is Love Wed"

Together, we brought to a close a significant chapter of our shared experience.  I cried silently, for so many reasons.  

From the third book in the award-winning God Moments series, God Moments III:  True Love Leads To Life (coming fall 2012):

     In the second half of last year, God Moments II:  Recognizing the Fruits of the Holy Spirit was being edited one final time before heading off to print.  My sister Belinda had graciously given permission to include several of her beautiful poems in the book. She had been diagnosed with late stage 3 breast cancer two years prior, just days before her 46th birthday.

     At that time, Belinda's medical team determined that aggressive treatment was necessary to try and save her life.  Immediately she began chemotherapy, and after her first treatment she almost died. That story was shared in God Moments:  Stories That Inspire, Moments to Remember and is presented again here to provide the background for what followed two years later.

How Jesus Made His Way To His Beloved In Isolation

     "This is what your Beloved says: I am your salvation, your peace, and your life; keep close to Me, and in Me you will find peace. Abandon the love of passing things and seek those that are everlasting. What else are the things of time but deceptive? And how can any creature help you if your Lord abandons you?

     Therefore, leaving all creatures and worldly things behind you, do your best to make yourself pleasing to Him, so that after this life you may come to life everlasting in the kingdom of heaven." Imitation of Christ, 1.

     In September 2009, I called my sister Belinda to wish her a happy birthday and during our conversation, she told me that just the day before, her doctor informed her she had stage three breast cancer. The world as we knew it changed forever. Immediately she endured a hectic, week- long battery of tests, meetings with her oncology team, and doctor visits.  For her and our mother, who accompanied her, it was a brutal test of mental and physical endurance.

     Right after that, she began chemotherapy and went on medical leave.

     During that first round of chemo, she developed a life-threatening infection, was admitted to the hospital, and was placed in isolation.  A few days later I dropped my children off at their schools and went to Holy Mass at our former parish. Toward the end of the Mass, our Lord told me to bring the Eucharist to my sister. After the final blessing,  I signed out a pyx and placed the Eucharist inside.

     During the half hour journey to pick up my mother before going on to the hospital, I held on to the pyx and contemplated the fact that the Creator of the Universe was with me! At that moment I knew without a doubt that something amazing was going to happen. Something amazing was already happening!

     Before entering Belinda's room in the oncology unit, my mother and I put masks on to protect her from infection.  We walked into the room and into one of the most transforming moments I had ever experienced.  My suffering sister sat in a chair by the window. Immediately, before even one word was said, the three of us were united in a very powerful moment of shared sorrow.   We were also united with our suffering Lord, who was with us.

     After greeting one another in that profoundly sorrowful moment, I held the pyx out to my sister  and said, “Guess Who I brought with me?  I brought Jesus.” Belinda started to cry, and the incalculable presence of God in the tiny white Host there in the isolation unit of the very large medical complex was so merciful, and so comforting.

     As I hugged my sister I cried, too, and told her "We suffer with you, because we love you."

     After she had a private moment with our Lord once she had received Him in the Eucharist, Belinda told me that she had called the chaplain that morning and asked him to please bring her Holy Communion.  However, he made the decision after visiting others in the hospital to not go into her room in isolation and risk endangering her health.

     I said to her, "Belinda, Jesus was going to make it to you, one way or another."  Our Savior knew the desire of her heart, and made sure He was there with her when she needed Him most. 

     Jesus loves each one of us and wants to come to every one of us, no matter where we are.

"Forgiveness Is Its Daily Bread, And To Patience Is Love Wed"

      After Belinda finished her regimen of chemotherapy, she had surgery, and then  radiation.  She went back to work immediately after completing the series of radiation treatments, and was told by her doctor that the cancer was in remission. Not long after that, she learned that the cancer had aggressively spread throughout her body.  She began treatment again, but it was apparent that without a miracle, she did not have much time left before she would enter eternity.  It was God's will  that she would enter into eternity soon.    

     One evening, I called her on the phone to chat. Earlier that day, I had been working on the final revisions to God Moments II.  During an earlier visit she mentioned that she had taken a book out of the library about writing poems, and had subsequently made changes to one of hers.  That poem was in the manuscript, and so during our phone conversation, I asked her to tell me the changes.

     I  put the phone down on the desk in my home office and picked up my pen. 

     "True love is not made of sand, that's why, it withstands the test of time," she began.

  Sisters Belinda (left) and Michele (right)

As she read the poem, I  crossed out words and phrases, and noted her changes.  That moment was so deeply moving and meaningful.   

     My sister was born a year and a half before me.  When we were little, our mother used to make us cute outfits and dress us as twins.  She was my only sister, my friend, playmate, and companion.  In adulthood she was a second mother to my three children and my confidant, a holy soul who understood the tremendous challenges of living a holy life in our modern era.

     The changes she made to her poem were numerous, and so she read her poem back to me a second time.  As she did so, I cried silently, for so many different reasons.

     Life is such a precious, priceless gift from God.  Sacrificial love is a tremendous gift of unfathomable worth, too. After all the changes were made, she asked me to do one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. She asked me to read the poem back to her.

     It was as if we were bringing to a close the end of a significant chapter of our shared experience.  And so I read her poem back to her, after quickly asking God to give me the strength to get through it.

"True love is not made of sand, that's why It withstands the test of time.  It does not fade like a rainbow does, Or the sun that dims at dusk.  

"For forgiveness is its daily bread, And to patience is love wed.  It is lasting, and never gives up, And it loves, it loves, very much.

"Its heart does not break for pity's sake, Or leave memories at wakes.  True love is not made of sand, that's why, It withstands the tests of time.

"Nor does it change like the seasons do, For it's genuine and true.  It is golden and will never rust, And it loves, it loves, very much.

"It does not fade like a rainbow does, Or the sun that dims at dusk.  True love is not made of sand, that's why, It withstands the tests of time." 2

God Moments II was published in October 2011.  On June 22, 2012, the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada recognized God Moments II with a book award. 

The Angel by the Tabernacle

     One morning toward the end of Belinda's life, during her final hospitalization, I remained in church after the Latin Holy Mass to say the Rosary during Eucharistic Exposition and Adoration.  While praying, I noticed that the statue of the angel to the left of the monstrance and tabernacle was moving.  The other angel statue, on the right side, was not moving. The movement was unusual, and did not have the appearance of motion that we see when we move. 

    I told Jesus that I found it curious only one angel was moving, and even more curious that even though the angel was moving, it did not seem to be going anywhere.  The Lord flooded my soul with such sweet consolation.  Then, He said that Belinda would not die within the next few days as her doctors had predicted, and we were being given the opportunity to suffer longer

  After Jesus provides the soul with even a glimpse of the enormous, eternal value of suffering which is truly beyond our human comprehension, one is willing to do anything for Him.  After all, He gave us all He had.  God shows us great favor when He asks us to suffer in imitation of Christ. 

That same Wednesday morning, two people visited Belinda in the hospital and asked her all sorts of personal things.  They openly questioned her apostolate, and asked the dying, suffering woman how could she put her family through this.  How wicked!  As St. John Vianney said, our adversary becomes our collaborator when he assaults us, by letting us know that what we are doing is of great value for our souls and the souls of others.  Redemptive suffering in imitation of Christ is priceless.  

The next morning before Holy Mass, I prayed and because of the other events of the previous 24 hours, had forgotten all about the angel by the tabernacle. But the Lord brought it to my attention, so I looked at the angel and saw that it was no longer moving. 

I was then reminded of my remark the previous morning that the angel was moving but did not seem to be going anywhere, and it was revealed that the angel had gone to my sister and was with her as the demon assaulted her in the hospital the day before while she was patiently suffering.  He had also come after her through a nurse, which is another story, and a poignant reminder that our adversary can use even the nicest people, so everyone must remain very vigilant.    

I called my sister after Holy Mass that morning, and told her about the angel by the tabernacle that the Lord sent to be by her side.  I reminded her that her suffering had tremendous value, and that she was bringing Christ to others because so many do not know Him.

The view from belinda's bedroom window, where she passed into eternal life, included a cross.

Belinda entered into eternal life on December 14, 2011, on the Feast of St. John of the Cross, at the age of 48.  There was so much more that Belinda had hoped to accomplish.  She always put the needs of others before her own.  Parting caused every member of our family profound sorrow.  Our consolations are that during her life, she had been properly loved and valued in return by her family and friends, her soul was prepared to enter into eternity, and  that God's will was accomplished.   

     Belinda's beautiful book of poems was on display at her wake, and we heard many loving testimonials from family and friends who confirmed that her holy life had profoundly impacted the lives of many.  Those she loved and who loved her in return were given copies of God Moments II as a memorial of her beautiful life and legacy.

     My entry in the funeral home's online guest book read:

     My beloved sister Belinda passed into eternal life on the Feast of St. John of the Cross. How appropriate, for she embraced her cross faithfully and heroically, and truly lived, loved, served, and suffered in imitation of Christ. We love our dear Belinda forever, and today are two days closer to seeing her again, in eternity. :>)      In a dream I had shortly before God called her home, Belinda was walking down a corridor. She was heading toward heaven, and my three children Andre, Nick, and Alyssa were walking by her side (she was a second mother to them). I was several feet behind them.  Belinda left a trail of relics in her wake, and I collected them as we journeyed forward.  So many relics trailed behind her, and they were all different sizes and shapes. I quickly glanced at the relics as I picked them up off the floor.  Some of the saints I knew, and others I did not.      Belinda is a very, very holy soul, who now lives forever among the saints. She is most willing to intercede on your behalf from the Beatific Vision, so consider her your sister and friend in heaven.  Be sure to turn to her in times of trial, or for inspiration on your journey toward greater Divine intimacy. She continues to value being of service to anyone in need.      On behalf of her entire family, I thank you for all that you have done during Belinda's life and  illness to bring the love and mercy of Christ to us. Your kindness has imitated our most loving Savior, Who poured Himself out completely for each one of us. It meant a lot to her, and it meant a lot to us, which also meant a great deal to her because she always thought of other people first.        Commensurate with the simple and holy way she led her life, we ask our dear friends who would like, to please have a Holy Mass said for Belinda Bondi at your parish. That would mean the most to us.

God is at work in you!

~Michele Bondi Bottesi & Family

     The morning after Belinda passed away, during a Holy Hour before Holy Mass, I stared deep into eternity and said to her over and over, "I'm looking for you."

     The day after her funeral, my children and I were returning home after visiting with family, when the grief of our temporary separation caused me great sorrow. Then, I noticed the license plate of the vehicle in front of us: LOOK4ME.

     Yes, my dear sister, I will always look for you, and I will always find you, because I know just where you are.

     Thank You, God, for creating Belinda. She remains an irreplaceable gift to us, and we love her forever.

1. Thomas A. Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Corporation, 1993), p 100.

2.  Michele Elena Bondi, God Moments II:  Recognizing the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (Rochester, MI:  Joseph Karl Publishing, 2011), "True Love" by Belinda Bondi, p. 10.