Purpose in my weakness

As I sat across the table from Ernestine Soller, my eyes, as they often do when I’m researching stories for NC Catholics, welled with tears.

Once again, I found myself astonished by the beauty of someone’s faith.

In the feature story, “Covered in prayer”, you’ll learn about Ernestine, a woman who spent her retirement years spending much of her money and most of her time on making blankets and praying for people she would likely never meet. She worked tirelessly not for herself, but truly, as she said time and again, for the honor and glory of God.

From her Cary apartment, which was filled with fabric, rosaries, cut flowers and plants, Ernestine, shared stories.

Once, she gave a blanket to a friend’s son who was a medical missionary. Shortly after, she felt an urge to pray for him. The prompting was so strong and consistent that after she prayed for him, and the prompting stopped, she called her friend and said, “I don’t want to alarm you, but I kept hearing that I should pray for your son.”

Only then did Ernestine learn that the young man had just survived (and slept through!) an attack on his building in Tikrit, Iraq. The prayer blanket was under his pillow. Every person in the building survived. 

Another time, she made a blanket for a friend who was in hospice care. When she handed the blanket to him, he was in a wheelchair and on oxygen. Every morning after, she looked in the newspaper for his obituary.

Weeks later, at a luncheon, she saw him standing across the room.

“My mouth fell right open, and he just laughed at me,” Ernestine said. He told her that three weeks after she gave him that blanket, he was out of hospice and was driving again.

I said to Ernestine that these moments must feel like gifts from God, to keep her going in her mission. She responded by shrugging her shoulders.

She admitted that she’s happy when people feel better and when they know that God is there for them, but she takes herself out of the equation.

I realized quickly that it was me, not her, who needed to see these graces as “proof.”

Ernestine cut and sewed and prayed, not because God showed her proof and not because she received any credit, but because she rested in the faith that this is what God wanted her to do.

I shook my head after I walked out of her apartment, lamenting to myself that my faith is so weak.

You would think that after interviewing so many local Catholics who, like Ernestine, work to be the hands and feet of God in our world, I would finally get it.

You’d think after hearing story after story of miracles, blessings and joy that one of two things would happen. Either my faith would improve to become more than the floundering faith it is, or I’d at least stop being shocked by incredible stories of faith.

Maybe it was a prayer from Ernestine, or maybe it was time for me to grow a little, but after judging myself and my faith for a while, a new feeling washed over me. It was gratitude. Instead of focusing on my own shortcomings I realized I have a job that allows me to feel inspired every day. What a gift!

Instead of feeling lesser, I am trying to embrace, with thanksgiving, that I continue to feel in awe of the beauty and gift of faith and that I have the privilege to share these stories with you.