The Fruit of Sacrificial Suffering

dd02feedb57df15469c9a31b548ca89bA wonderful woman  passed away a couple of days ago — Annalise “Cubby” La Hood. She was a wife, mother, and friend to many.  She and her husband founded and operated a non-profit daycare service for school-aged children with severe disabilities called St. Joseph’s House, and over the last 30 years they have served the particular needs of many families in their community. After losing her second child shortly after birth, she co-founded Isaiah’s Promise, an organization that supports families who have received severe or fatal prenatal diagnoses and are carrying their babies to term.

Cubby had suffered with cancer for several years, battling on through treatments and I am sure many, many prayers. In the end, this terrible disease took her life; but it did not take her joy or her dedication to helping others in the midst of her own suffering. She continued her work with St. Joseph’s House and Isaiah’s Promise while going through treatments and right up until the end; and I am so thankful that she did.

I did not know Cubby very long; I never met her in person. I met her over the phone this past winter, during the darkest hour thus far in my life. We received the prenatal diagnosis that our third child would not continue to live in my womb more than a couple of weeks. I was 20 weeks along, and the baby hadn’t grown in 4 weeks. All indications seemed to point to a bad placenta that could not nourish the baby. (I have written about our story here.) A friend gave my name to Cubby on the Friday that we got the news, and she called me that same weekend. I can’t possibly express the blessing that she was to me during that traumatic moment in my life. She had words of love, support, and wisdom; and she continued supporting me and praying for me through my whole pregnancy, right up through the miraculous, full-term, healthy delivery of our little boy!

I learned of Cubby’s battle with cancer shortly after that initial phone call with her. I was so touched that a woman going through such personal tragedy picked up the phone and shared in mine. She didn’t have to make that sacrifice. Anyone would have understood her setting her ministry work aside, especially during continuous cancer treatments that drained her energy and seemed to be having no success in fighting the disease. But she made it anyway; she was intimately acquainted with the pain of those she was helping and the needs that they had.

Many times over the past couple of days I have reflected on what my story would be had Cubby’s love and her life not intersected with mine. While Cubby was just one of the many people praying for my baby — God only knows — he may be alive today because of her prayers for him in the final months of her life. But regardless, I know for certain that the peace and encouragement that my soul experienced during that hard time are the fruit of her sacrificial love to me and my family. She had helped plenty of people throughout her life, but I doubt she was keeping track. She could have stopped, but perhaps toward the end she thought, one more; let me help one more person while I’m still here. That person was me, and probably many other people too. I am so grateful.

Cubby’s life is a testimony and example for us all of how Christ’s love can change us, and how the Holy Spirit can use us to be vessels that bring that life-changing love to our neighbors. Moreover, we can know the Holy Spirit and see the fruit of the Holy Spirit “in the witness of saints through whom he manifests his holiness and continues the work of salvation” (CCC 688). That witness of the saints need not only be present when all is going well in our lives. In fact, I would say that the witness of the Holy Spirit is most powerful when Christ’s love is present amidst great suffering. Contrary to the message of advocates of physician-assisted suicide and the right of the terminally ill to take their own lives, our suffering and imminent death doesn’t  mean that we no longer have a purpose for living. The message of the Gospel — the witness of Cubby’s life — is that our suffering doesn’t have to be just about us. Our sacrificial love through our suffering, the love of Christ, can save others.

And, oh, how many people Cubby’s sacrificial love must have saved. Her life left an indelible mark because her love bore eternal fruit. The beautiful thing is that she now sees the fullness of that fruit. I was sharing the sad news of her passing with my husband, Mike; and his response put her life and her suffering in eternal perspective: “She is with the kids of the families that lost children; she is seeing all the faces of the children she loved and helped. Cubby is doing okay.” He is right. May your soul be at peace, Cubby, entering into the Father’s rest. Your suffering is over, and you are seeing the fruit of your sacrificial love. Well done, good and faithful servant!