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'Trusting God through hard times'

March 25, 2020

Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in what’s planned to be an ongoing series featuring how Catholics of the Diocese of Ogdensburg are living out their faith. To suggest an individual to be featured in this series, please call the North Country Catholic at 315-393-2920 or email dfargo@rcdony.org.

By Darcy Fargo

LOWVILLE – “There’s a quote by Pope Francis I adore,” said Eileen Greenwood, a Lowville resident and Catechetical Leader at St. Stephen’s Church in Croghan. "He said, ‘sometimes tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus.’ I have shed a lot of tears, but my heart remains joyful and hopeful.”

Greenwood said her faith in and love of the Lord has sustained her through a number of losses and has guided her as she has discerned what God wants for her life.

She credits her parents for instilling faith in her and her 12 siblings despite facing challenges.

“I grew up in a family with 13 children,” she said. “Throughout childhood, our family prayed the rosary daily, and you didn’t skip a single Sunday of Mass unless you were very, very, very ill. Of the 13 of us, they lost four boys.”

Three of Greenwood’s brothers died as children. While she was too young to remember two of her deceased brothers, the death of the third, Davey, stands out vividly in her memories.

“I was 12, and he was 18,” she said. “Watching my mom and dad through that, and seeing how they held onto God through it, really formed me. I grew up understanding the importance of Mass and prayer and staying connected to God.”

Though there were times, especially in college, when she questioned the importance of her faith, Greenwood always attended Mass. But when she met Tim, the man who would eventually become her husband.

“He really wanted to go to church with me,” she said. “He wanted to know more about the faith. During the course of our engagement, he became Catholic. We did the (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) courses together. That was when I really started learning more about my faith.”

Also during their engagement, Greenwood’s father, Richard suffered a heart attack and died.

“His death brought us even closer to God,” Greenwood said. “It was a significant time when we realized how important God was to us and how we needed to cling to Him.”

Not long after Tim and Eileen married, the couple prepared to welcome their first child into the world. During the delivery, there was a medical complication that endangered both Greenwood and her baby, Melissa.

“She or I could’ve died,” Greenwood said. “It was really, really bad. Melissa was transported out to Upstate in Syracuse. I had a c-section and couldn’t travel. It was so hard. I didn’t get to hold her for days. By the third day, she was doing well. I couldn’t stand it. I told the nurses and doctors I was leaving. I was going. I had to see her. She was doing well enough that they arranged to bring her back, and I had her with me at the hospital.”

Having that first child was transformational, Greenwood said.

“Your heart becomes so full when you have a child,” she said. “Becoming a mom was such a tremendous gift to me. I had this tremendous awareness that this baby was a gift, and that God was here in this baby.”

Several years later, when Greenwood had her third child, she was working as a kindergarten teacher in a public-school system. She was able to take a period of leave from her job.

“I was still going through post-partum depression,” she said. “I really struggled through that. Had a loving caring husband, job I loved, three children I adored, but I really was not doing well emotionally. Fortunately, I had a doctor who listened to me, and I had counseling and everything I needed. I felt like I was in a desert almost. It was like I was unable to feel joy. I knew I was blessed, but I couldn’t feel it.”

As she worked through her depression, Greenwood said she struggled to pray, read Scripture and connect with her faith and God. As she received treatment, her prayer life started to improve again.

“Finally, when my leave was almost up, I went to confession,” she said. “I poured out to the priest that I didn’t know if I wanted to keep teaching. I wanted to be home with my kids, but I was afraid to take that step. That priest spoke to my heart and said, ‘God will tell you what to do. Listen to the conversations with people you respect most. God will tell you what to do.’ Later, I went to the grocery store. I saw the school board president. She asked how I was, and I confided in her. She said, ‘you can take time to be a mom. You’ll have a job if you want one in the future.’”

Greenwood’s mother was also living with her family at the time.

“I was able to be home and be a mom, and I was able to spend the time with my mom,” she said. “I’ve never regretted that.”

During her time home with her family, the Greenwood’s welcomed two more children, for a total of five. Greenwood started volunteering with the religious education program and youth ministry at St. Stephen’s and signed up for the Formation for Ministry program.

“It was absolutely nourishment for my soul to go to the lay ministry classes and make the friendships with the people in the program and the teachers,” she said. “I was incredibly blessed. It showed me how much more there is to learn about our faith. It showed me the beauty of the depth of our faith.”

The program also exposed her to new ways to pray.

“I loved the spirituality class we did with Sister Bethany (Fitzgerald),” Greenwood said. “She taught me how to center myself every day and how to use Scripture and writing in my prayer. She also taught me to spend time in nature really praising God and praying in nature. Now, I often walk outside and pray the rosary, or I pray the rosary while I’m out working in the garden. And whatever God puts in my path each day, I write about it later. He speaks to us so much, and we don’t always take the opportunity to listen. I find it easier to connect with Him in nature, because it’s so quiet.”

Greenwood used those connected moments to discern where God wanted her.

“The religious education director at St. Stephen’s decided to retire after 35 years of service,” she said. “I was asked to consider applying. My kids were in school, and I was doing some substitute teaching. I was also asked to consider applying for a teaching position in the public school. I applied for both and prayed. I accepted the religious education director position.”

Greenwood said she was grateful her husband was supportive of her decision.

“He supported me,” she said. “He knew that was what God wanted and it was where I was called.”

Greenwood said working in ministry has been a blessing to her.

“I know I was meant to be doing this,” she said. “I was meant to share my love of God with these kids. And it’s not just me sharing what I love with them, they share what they love with me. My heart is in a really great place.”

Being in that “great place” and being connected to the Lord was again a source of strength for Greenwood when, two years ago, she faced a series of losses.

In April of that year, Greenwood’s brother, Tony, passed away.

“We received the call, and I had to tell my mom,” she recalled. “My mother looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to be sad for a very long time, but I will not question God’s will, and we will see Tony again.’ She lost four sons in four different ways, but she never let go of God’s hand.”

Then, in June, two of Greenwood’s young nephews drowned in an accident on Lake Ontario.

“That was an incredibly difficult time,” she said. “God was still there. They were swept into the lake by a wave. Lake Ontario is huge. They weren’t sure they’d find them. They were found, and they were found together. The fact that they were brought back showed me God was there.”

Just a month later, in July, Greenwood’s mother succumbed to an aortic aneurysm.

“My mother had been told approximately two years prior to her death that she had an aortic aneurysm,” Greenwood said. “She opted to live her live day by day not knowing when it would take her. She didn’t fear, and she trusted. She never let it concern her. She just kept living. She had been told she would probably die very quickly when it did rupture. Instead, when she became ill, she had a lot of pain with it. There about 10 days. It was just a slow tear. We didn’t know how long she had. Each day could’ve been her last. Our priest, Father Don (Manfred) came right away – I’m so grateful to our priests who come to us when hurting most. I was able to witness her getting last rights. Through the 10 days, family came. We prayed. We sang songs together, because she loved music. She was amazingly beautiful on her death bed. Every single person she saw – the nurses, cleaners, food service, priest, she’d tell them ‘God bless you.’”

Even after experiencing three significant losses in four months, Greenwood clings to her faith and to the Lord.
“After mom passed, there were abundant signs from God that she was OK,” she said.

Greenwood, now an occasional contributor to the North Country Catholic, said she hopes to someday use writing to share her love of the Lord and trust in Him with others.

“I’ve decided I’m going to write a book,” she said. “It may take me 20 years, but it’s going to be about trusting God through hard times.”

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