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Day 6: Heal (or Not to Heal)

Advent Blog Headers 2022 (5)

Editor’s note: On this sixth day of our Advent blog series “His Light Would Not Go Out,” returned missioner Rhonda Eckerman shares the profound healing she experienced once she left her burdens at the altar with Christ.

I came to FMS in August 2020 heartbroken as I had recently lost my mother and my family was fractured.  I carried around a heavy bag of unwanted feelings dragging me down and preventing me from moving forward.  I was very grateful to FMS for the opportunity to recoup and take the time to heal.  

After two years of service on the US Mexico border, I had grown through many experiences, but one special experience stands out the most and will never leave my heart.  With the encouragement of my spiritual director and Emily, the FMS program director, I planned a mini retreat in attempt to unload some of that heavy baggage.  It was for that reason that I found myself on Christmas Day 2021 at Our Lady of the Sierras Shrine in Sierra Vista Arizona.  The Sierras Shrine is part of the Huachucan Mountain Range and per the website has an elevation of 5300 feet.  The shrine’s ascent consists of a trail with the fourteen Stations of the Cross and a spectacular view of southern Arizona waiting for you at the top.  It is also there that you can find sculptures, a life size nativity scene, and a chapel. 

Thinking I would be alone on this beautiful blessed day, I took my time climbing to the top of the shrine deep in thought and carrying a letter I had written many months prior, dense with unwanted feelings.  The letter was to God and I had not figured out what to do with it.  I was already out of breath at Station Two when 20 tourists with cameras and more energy than I had experienced in a long time began the ascent with me.  Despite the fact that I had a head start, all twenty passed me without much effort, and I thought my day of deep contemplative prayer had ended.  I wondered why I was even bothering as this was not the way I saw this day going.  But then when I reached the top, I became captivated as I watched the group leader try to corral the group to sit in front of the life size nativity for a picture.  It would be a great memory for them to take home.  It was one of those scenes where three are seated, then two more, then five are back up walking around.  But after 10 minutes he had them all sitting down.  What tickled me the most was that after gathering the group, there were so many people in the picture that it had completely hid the life-size nativity, only the roof of the manger was visible. 

My goal for this mini retreat was to move beyond the anger and grow into a better relationship with Christ.  I wanted to heal.  With the ruckus outside, I decided to move into the blessed quiet of the chapel.  As I sat there on Christmas Day talking and crying, I made the decision to leave this baggage at the top.  As I tore up the letter carefully placing each piece at the altar, I had this overwhelming, breathtaking sense of lightness and love.  I left everything that had been dragging me down and keeping me from going forward at the top. 

This Advent season is a wonderful opportunity to experience that healing love.  “Heal me, Lord, that I may be healed; save me, that I may be saved, for you are my praise.” (Jeremiah 17:14.)

Views from Our Lady of the Sierras Shrine in the Huachucan Mountain Range.

Question for reflection: Is there any baggage preventing you from a better relationship with Christ this Advent season? 

Rhonda is a Returned Missioner who served on the U.S.-Mexico border. As she prepared for her time on mission, she often reflected on the verse where Jesus says "I thirst" (John 19:28). Her first encounter with this verse was upon reading about Mother Teresa, who had such zeal about these two simple words. Focusing on the thirst of Jesus helps Rhonda draw nearer to Christ and love more deeply.