WASHINGTON, D.C. — Living as a quadriplegic for over 40 years, Therese M. Williams has endured physical limitations but gained spiritual liberation by drawing closer to God.
Williams, the author of Love Your Cross: How Suffering Became Sacrifice, developed spinal meningitis at just 18 months old. The book recounts not only her life of affliction but also her spiritual journey and the personal relationship she cultivated with Christ.
Williams said her spiritual director encouraged her to write the book, which was published by Tan Books in 2019, but it took some convincing, two times actually. The spiritual director told Williams her story could impact many, including strangers.
“I don’t think I have anything to say,” responded Williams. “My life is ordinary, and I’m just living it. I don’t think there’s anything super spectacular about it.”
The turning point in her decision-making came after Williams concluded confession with her spiritual director, who again told her she should write the book.
“This must be God speaking to me,” said Williams. “I better write the book.”
In a phone interview with Catholic News Service, she said her editor, Brian Gallagher, inspired the book title. Gallagher worked closely with Williams and later discovered her story encompassed the cross. Williams agreed wholeheartedly.
“This is what my parents have always taught me,” said Williams. “Priests over the years have inspired me, influenced me to embrace the cross to really surrender my suffering in Jesus.”
In the book, Williams mentions suffering as the central theme of the Catholic faith. According to Williams, within that suffering, there is beauty … the beauty of the crucifix.
“When I look at a crucifix, I see Jesus’ unconditional love for me,” said Williams.
Going to confession is “spiritually freeing” when one goes routinely, she said.
“The more frequently we go to confession, the easier it is to humble ourselves in the sacrament of reconciliation and seek the forgiveness that we need to draw closer to God,” said Williams, who is a member of St. Agnes Parish in Naples, Florida.
The author said she has experienced three types of suffering: Physical, emotional and spiritual. Williams ranked physical suffering as being the easiest to manage because there are ways to alleviate the pain, such as medication.
Williams ranked emotional suffering as the hardest to endure because it affects one’s spiritual life. She described emotional suffering as ongoing, unbearable agony that ultimately affects one’s relationship with God.
“It cuts at the deepest core of your being, gets into your mind, plays all sorts of games with you, you start accusing yourself and others, and it constantly blocks your mind,” she said.
To heal and resolve emotional suffering, according to Williams, one has to give up everything to Jesus because he knows what is inside of people’s hearts and minds. Hence, forming a relationship with God should be a priority over other relationships.
Through her evolving relationship with Christ, Williams has discovered she does not have to be fearful of anything.
“If I really focus my attention on Jesus, then I don’t have to be afraid of my physical, emotional and spiritual needs being taken care of, because I trust that he will fill those needs for me,” said Williams.
She remains joyful because she knows God’s unconditional love for her, she said, adding that this love extends to the people God brings into her life. Something Williams wants readers to take away from her book is the “feeling, reality and knowledge” that God is always present during times of suffering.
“He’s not going anywhere,” said Williams. “I want people to be able to trust what God says to us. God doesn’t lie to us. God is only truth.”
Although suffering is unbearable, she said, it becomes “endurable when you ask Jesus to carry that cross with you.”
“Loving your cross means that you can love it because Jesus is right there with you,” said Williams. That’s it … you can’t love it otherwise.”
Williams said loving one’s cross is challenging, but she wrote the book because Jesus desires her to learn how to love her cross.
“The more I can tell people how to love to their cross, the more I learn how to love my cross,” she added.
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