I was still in England when I met her. Of course, she had never left Northern Virginia--except for the
time she went to Lourdes as a guest of the Knights of Malta, her parents praying for a miracle. But in the few weeks that remained of her life, Courtney Elizabeth Lenaburg became my hero.
Thanks to her blogging mom, Mary, thousands came to know about the bouncing baby girl whose life changed drastically on the day of her baptism 22 years ago when she suffered the first of a lifetime's worth of debilitating seizures. Those merciless seizures stole Courtney's sight, compromised her ability to move and communicate freely, eventually took from her even the ability to take nourishment by mouth.
You can read (as I did) Mary's entire blog archives (lots of great recipes in there along with the stories of raising, in faith, a special needs child). What struck me in the reading was that Courtney was a person who had known and received only love, her whole life long. She was surrounded by love, formed by it: love, care and tenderness was the very air she breathed; it was her environment, her culture. I thought of St. Therese of Lisieux, another young person whose childhood was marked by an atmosphere of goodness. Having known only love, delivered from the sad and corrupting experiences of hostility, betrayal, exaggerated discipline or unhealthy competitiveness, these souls are able to radiate love without the usual impediments of self-protection or self-promotion that hamper the rest of us. These are the kind of people who are willing and able to put themselves in the breach for others.
Dependent on her family (including her protective older brother Jonathan) for all of her needs, Courtney still managed to demonstrate incredible willpower when it came to arduous tasks like propelling herself forward on a walker, and, permitted to receive her First Holy Communion (during that trip to Lourdes), I think she may have, at some deep level of the soul accessible only to God, accepted the vocation of an intimate share in the cross of Jesus--for us.
Having outlived numerous predictions of an early death, even when her final weeks came Courtney managed to outwit the doctors. Her final agony, expected to be a matter of hours, lasted five days. I prayed for her intensely during those days, knowing that the enemy of mankind would do his utmost to thwart the practically guaranteed entrance into heaven of someone who spent her entire life in an embrace of love.
Today and through the night her family and friends keep vigil in preparation for her funeral tomorrow. Her parents, realizing that the parish church will be decorated for the Eighth Day of Christmas, are begging well-wishers not to send flowers. Instead, they are inviting donations in Courtney's name for the building of the new parish church, a fully-accessible church with enough room for all the Mass-goers in that particularly active corner of the Catholic world. (They also welcome gifts that will help them retire Courtney's still-significant medical debt. And prayers that her Dad will find secure employment.)
I accompany the Lenaburgs from afar, grateful that the Lord has allowed me to accompany them online these past two months. They have offered me an incredible witness of faith. I only hope I can let Courtney's life continue to speak to me and challenge me to radiate love in the world.