A review of the book, It Doesn’t End Here: An Amazing Journey of Faith and Forgiveness by Dawn Marie Roeder
“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy” (Saint Thérèse of Lisieux).
“When we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or ‘out of the depths’ of a humble and contrite heart? He who humbles himself will be exalted; humility is the foundation of prayer, only when we humbly acknowledge that ‘we do not know how to pray as we ought,’ are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2559).
It Doesn’t End Here is an amazing story of faith, mercy, perseverance and prayer in the midst of an incredibly heartbreaking tragedy. From the depths of a heart torn open by grief, and from a soul-searching for the purpose and meaning of God’s will in the midst of intense suffering, Dawn Marie Roeder shares her remarkable faith journey following the death of her son, Nathaniel. In fact, It Doesn’t End Here is as much a tribute to the life and memory of Nathaniel as it is about seeking justice from those indirectly responsible for his death.
The narrative itself is gripping and compelling, and in many instances you actually feel the emotions (I felt anger, sadness, and joy) welling-up inside of you as Dawn tells her story. What had the biggest impact on me, however, was how Dawn Marie responds in faith to all that is happening to her. Drawing strength and inspiration from Almighty God, the saints (particularly the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux), and from an incredibly supportive network of friends, Dawn Marie responds courageously to Christ’s call to true discipleship by picking-up her Cross and following Him (cf. Matthew 16:24). In sharing her gift of vulnerability in imitation of Jesus (“I have been crucified with Christ”, Galatians 2:20) and the Mother of God (“And a sword will pierce through your own soul also, that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed”, Luke 2:35), Dawn Marie’s ability to forgive flows from a life that personifies the power of prayer and trust in God’s divine providence and holy will.
The life lessons learned from this book are invaluable! As I read and reflected on It Doesn’t End Here, three Bible verses came to mind that speak to the contemporary experience of and the intimate relationship between suffering and forgiveness. These verses serve as threads that are intricately woven throughout the fabric of this marvelous book:
(1) The awesome challenge of Jesus’ words in the Gospel, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15);
(2) The famous line from the Book of Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord … Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 1:21; 2:10); and
(3) The reflections of King David in Psalm 37, particularly verses 3-11:
Commit your life to the Lord,
trust in him and he will act,
so that your justice breaks forth like the light,
your cause like the noon-day sun.
Be still before the Lord and wait in patience;
do not fret at the man who prospers;
a man who makes evil plots
to bring down the needy and the poor.
Calm your anger and forget your rage;
do not fret, it only leads to evil.
For those who do evil shall perish;
the patient shall inherit the land.
A little longer–and the wicked shall have gone.
Look at his place, he is not there.
But the humble shall own the land
and enjoy the fullness of peace.
Dawn Marie shows us that prayer is both a gift of grace and a response that takes effort on our part. In order for us to walk humbly before our God in the obedience of faith, we must appreciate the fact that we cannot do this all on our own. We need God’s help every step of the way, especially during those times in our lives when we feel that God is not hearing or answering our prayers.
As I read Dawn Marie’s story, I kept asking myself, “How is she going to get past this? How do you give praise and thanks to God—how do you even trust God—at a time like this?” My thoughts then shifted to questions asked by so many others who have suffered: How do you pray for the person who raped you? How do you pray for the person who got you hooked on drugs and alcohol? How do you pray for the person who molested you as a child? How do you pray for the person who drove drunk and killed your spouse?
Yet it is precisely during these dry, dark periods when we are forced to pray from a position of disillusion and anxiety that leads us into the very heart of Christ’s Paschal Mystery. The real cross of prayer is to believe that Jesus is Lord of every single situation in our lives. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, and His activity in our lives reflects our own deliberate and sustained use of that trust. If we want prayer to become a part of who we are, we must wait on God and have complete confidence in His mercy and love.
The anger and hatred we feel when suffering injustice burns like a fire in our hearts, and we want–more than anything–for the person who hurt us and our family to suffer greatly, even to the point of death. Yet, in the midst of unimaginable anguish and pain, our Lord calls us to do the seemingly impossible: he tells us that we must forgive. Our Lord gives us no other options and makes no exceptions!
Forgiveness was so essential to the purpose and mission of Christ, that when the Apostles asked Jesus how to pray, he gave them the Our Father, in which we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Christ wanted to make a very a strong and direct link between God’s forgiving us and our forgiving others. Jesus knows the human heart, and when our hearts are angry and bitter, when we harbor deep resentment—even though it may be justified—there is a part of us that is imprisoned by hate; a hate that can diminish or even block being open to forgiveness from others and receiving forgiveness from God.
The truth is that God always listens to and answers our prayers. God knows what we need, and grants those prayers that will help us be with Him forever in heaven. That’s why the best prayer we can pray is, “Thy will be done.”
I highly recommend It Doesn’t End Here! This book is for everyone who is grieving the loss of a child or loved one, for anyone who wants to better understand the meaning of suffering and forgiveness, and for anyone who wants to experience a deeper and richer relationship with Jesus Christ.
My final thoughts on It Doesn’t End Here are summarized beautifully by the great Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar:
“When life is hard and apparently hopeless, we can be confident that this darkness of ours can be taken up into the great darkness of redemption through which the light of Easter dawns. And when what is required of us seems too burdensome, when the pains become unbearable and the fate we are asked to accept seems simply meaningless—then we have come very close to the man nailed on the Cross at the Place of the Skull, for he has already undergone this on our behalf and, moreover, in unimaginable intensity. When surrounded by apparent meaninglessness, therefore, we cannot ask to be given a calming sense of meaning; all we can do is wait and endure, quite still, like the Crucified, not seeing anything, facing the dark abyss of death. Beyond this abyss there waits for us something that, at present, we cannot see, namely, a further abyss of light in which all the world’s pain is treasured and cherished in the ever-open heart of God. Then we shall be allowed, like the Apostle Thomas, to put our hand into this gaping wound; feeling it, we shall realize in a very bodily way that God’s love transcends all human senses, and with the disciple we shall pray: ‘My Lord and my God’.”
©2011 Aurem Cordis and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers