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‘You just have to trust’

February 24, 2021

Editor’s note: The following is an installment of 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 Jonathan Monfiletto
Contributing Writer

CROGHAN – Although Emily Zehr was raised in a Catholic family as the third of seven children and with very faithful parents, she said her faith really didn’t go from her head to her heart until she was older.

But, when her faith did finally make that move, Zehr found that her faith both taught her the true meaning of womanhood and sustained her and her family through the trials they have experienced in their lives.

“For me, my faith is important because there’s really no other faith that I’ve found that provides the best example of an authentic femininity in the example of Mary our Mother,” Zehr said. “I love my Catholic faith because it has provided the fullness of the truth, and the depth of our faith is very attractive to me and there’s just nowhere else that provides everything.”

After falling away from her faith during her college years, Zehr said the turning point for her was when her mother gave her the book “Pure Womanhood” by Chrystalina Evert. The book provided “a little nudge in the right direction” that led her to participate in a two-year Women of Grace study at St. James’ Church in Carthage.

Through that study, Zehr not only grew in her faith but also grew as a woman of faith.

“In college and just being in the world, the world feeds you this picture of what being a woman is that’s not real, and I bought into that lie,” she said. “I felt like I wasn’t good at being a girl. I didn’t think I fit into the stereotype of the world, and I didn’t think I fit into the stereotype of what I thought the church wanted me to be. … Through that (study), I really recognized where my worth and my dignity come from – not from this world but from God.”

Before finding Women of Grace, reading “Pure Womanhood” had led Zehr to seek more spiritual literature and also to attend Mass more regularly during her last two years of college, including when she studied abroad in Ireland.

“Whenever I would be lonely or whatever, I would always find my way to the church and go to Mass on Sundays,” she said.

After college, she started the study and then met her husband, Kyle, and then experienced her first pregnancy, which resulted in a miscarriage. Her second pregnancy resulted in the couple’s older daughter, Natalie, now 4 years old. During her third pregnancy – in which son Grayson died at birth – Zehr experienced a trial “where I really stood by my faith, where I really had to lean on my faith to endure that.

At that time, during her 18-week ultrasound about halfway through the pregnancy, she found out Grayson had a lower urinary tract obstruction – which means the baby wasn’t able to urinate, so there was no amniotic fluid. An operation can be done to help the baby survive, but only if all of the conditions are right.

The Zehrs spent time at the perinatal center in Syracuse and at the children’s hospital in Philadelphia, and initially they were told Grayson would be a candidate for surgery. After more testing, though, they were told he could not have the surgery and would not survive.

“There were several times during our pregnancy that people would recommend that we have an abortion,” Zehr said. “That was an option, but it wasn’t an option for us.”

Zehr carried Grayson until she went into preterm labor at 30 weeks in December 2017. Grayson died a few hours after he was born.

“It was a pretty traumatic experience,” she said. “Through that whole experience, eventually I think you recognize that your suffering becomes sacred. That’s kind of how it was for me. Something that you wish would have never happened in your life, it really, truly brought me closer to God.”

With so many people praying for her and her family during that time, Zehr said she could feel the power of prayer and feel Christ carrying them. It was a dark time, she said, but also a sacred one that brought new meaning for her about being at the foot of the cross.

“That deepened my faith in the Lord and has brought me to where we are today,” Zehr said. “You never know what’s going to happen. You truly don’t know what’s going to happen. You just have to trust. That’s what I’ve learned. … It’s not guaranteed that things are always going to be wonderful. If I didn’t have my faith, I don’t know where I would be.”

Since that time, Zehr gave birth to their younger daughter, Scarlet, who will turn 2 years old in April, and now she is expecting their fourth child in June.

“I trust in God for my children’s wellbeing,” she said. “One of the things that has helped me through each pregnancy – no matter what – has been my faith.”

The Zehrs live in Croghan and attend Mass both at St. James’ and at St. Stephen’s Church in Croghan. Zehr said she tries to live out her faith for her husband, her children, and the people around her.

“I try to live by example,” she said. “I hope I bring Christ to others at work and just in general.”

For Zehr, living by example includes showing her daughters and other young girls what it means to be a woman in the eyes of God and not in the eyes of the world.

“It’s a struggle, just the way of the world and the things that are put out in our secular world that are kind of put in front of their face,” she said. “There’s more – don’t sell yourself short. … You are a daughter of a King. That message is lost upon many young girls, and it’s sad to me. It’s an important message and an important lesson.”

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