My mother and I have always been very interested in our personal connection to the spirit realm. This connection, for us, is an important one. We pay attention to the signs and messages that remind us of our continued connection to those we love who no longer occupy our own physical time and space. Each cardinal, butterfly, and ceaselessly repetitive number (310 in our case) promises the continuation of relationship with the ones we miss so dearly.
A few years ago my mother and I were able to see a live show at the Chicago Theater featuring Long Island Medium Teresa Caputo. Even with hundreds of people in the audience, specific moments of Caputo’s readings spoke to images and memories that resonated and connected to our experiences. The show allowed us to once again be reminded of the continued connection between us and those special ones who we love and miss.
Since I’m sure there are more than a few skeptics reading this let me clearly state that I’m not trying to convince you of anything. For me, the continued love and signs from those who have died gives me hope each day and allows me to live my life in ways that try to make our world a better place for everyone. In many ways these loved ones function as my saints, looking out for me and being close by in times of struggle or pain.
I’ve been thinking about my saints a lot lately. As I neared the end of my Ph.D. program the family farm back home in Wisconsin was sold, despite my brother’s and my attempts to save it. The farm had been in our family for over a century, since our ancestors came to the states from Norway. Many generations had lived on that farm, and many had gone to great lengths to see that it wasn’t sold away from our family. My brother and I had hoped to protect the farm by legally having it declared a century farm, we had a variety of possible business plans to continue running the farm and I was eager to have a quiet, rural setting to complete my dissertation. Unfortunately such dreams were not to be.
My brother and I had the privilege of getting to know our great-grandparents quite well as we grew up. Each Wednesday afternoon was spent with great grandma Betty and great grandpa Earl, often at the farm. We would play in the barn with the kittens, replenish grandma’s bird feeders so that her cardinals would visit, and drink cool water from the fresh spring near the cow pasture. In the evening grandma would make pancakes, or chicken nuggets for dinner and we’d all sit at the table to eat together. After dinner grandma would go out on the front step to call for Oreo, the cat, to come in and get her dinner. I can still hear the way her voice sounded calling for that cat. When Oreo finally came in grandma would feed her on small pink Melmac plates, two of which now hold my houseplants.
I’m thankful to have these memories. I’m thankful that my brother and I lived close enough to really get to know our great-grandparents. And I’m thankful that these memories and those little pink plates remind me that the people I love are never too far away. The sting of losing a place that meant so much to my brother and me will take a long time to heal. While the farm itself is just physical buildings, possessions and worldly things that shouldn’t really matter, the difficult part has been mourning the loss of the hopes and dreams that we have carried for years. So much time, effort, and excitement were put into our plans and hopes for the future of that farm and now we are forced to let those plans and hopes go. I still feel as though we let our saints down, as though there must have been something more to do in order to save it.
These feelings of disappointment remind me of a letter that my aunt once wrote, she said that I should never forget that I am one in a long line of women with gentle strength. Being a good Lutheran I was immediately struck by the ambiguous both/and nature of such a statement. We Lutherans love our paradox after all! This reminder of the gentle strength of so many of the women in my life has gotten me through so many of the difficult times in my life. Taking on a Ph.D. is no small task, and the last few years of my life while undertaking that project have been difficult to say the least. The reminder that women of gentle strength, like my great grandmother, have been in my corner throughout this process has made it possible.
As we near Mother’s Day I give thanks for all of the women who have shaped my life up to this point. I am so thankful for the relationships with my mother, my grandmother, and my great grandmothers. These women are my saints, alive or dead, within my physical time and space or outside of it, for this I give thanks.
Katie M. Deaver, Ph.D. recently completed her Ph.D. in Feminist Theology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Deaver holds a B.A. in Religion and Music from Luther College in Decorah, IA, as well as MATS and Th.M. degrees from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Her dissertation explored the connections between the Christian understanding of atonement theology and the prevalence of domestic violence in the United States. Her other areas of interest include the connection between power and violence, sexual ethics, and working toward the elimination of the oppression and exploitation of women and girls around the world.