I walked into the quiet 128-year-old church. Light shone through the stained glass windows and onto the wooden pews. Catherine wanted to meet here. I knew this little church must hold so much of her story.
“I never could have known what an impact this church would have on us,” Catherine said.
“After visiting for the first time, we were driving down poplar and I said to my husband, ‘I can tell that this is a parish that when something happens, the parish rallies.’ Little did I know, years later they would do this for me”
Photo by Hannah Pitner
Catherine and her husband knew they didn’t want to wait long to have kids when they got married and they eventually had two beautiful daughters.
“I always wanted to raise my two daughters to be independent women who could think for themselves, believe in themselves and go wherever the Lord calls them,” Catherine said.
This is why she is so proud that her oldest daughter, Susannah, is currently studying abroad in Nepal, and that both of her daughters went on a trip to Kenya with BFR last summer and all three of them are going to Kenya this summer.
Family photo of Susannah Bland, Catherine Bland and Sara Beth Bland
Catherine’s life of motherhood, however, hasn’t been an easy one.
“It has been a long road to here, but all of this has made me who I am.”
Catherine has struggled through infertility and miscarriage, the loss of her brother, and the loss of her husband when her youngest daughter, Sarah Beth, was only 8-years-old.
Catherine's husband went to sleep one night while on a trip for work, and never woke up. She said that the church rallied around her exactly as she had once thought, although she could have never anticipated that this would be the reason.
When I asked Catherine how she and her family could possibly move forward after so much heartache, she just pointed to the stained glass Jesus and simply said, “grace.” Tears pricked my eyes. This little church truly was full of so many stories.
At his funeral, she asked her pastor to just keep preaching until someone raised their hand and said, “I get it.” After the service people started coming up to her one by one saying, “I’m the one…I’m the one the pastor was talking to.”
Catherine said that through his death so many lives were born.
“I would sacrifice him all over again for that very thing,” she said while looking at Sarah Beth. “I know your daddy would do it all over again for this too.”
“My dad's death brought life to so many people in the church, but it also saved mine,” Sarah Beth said.
Sara Beth Bland + Catherine Bland; photo by Hannah Pitner
When Catherine's husband died, the doctors said that he likely died of a heart arrhythmia condition, and suggested that she get her daughters checked out as a precaution. Sure enough, Sarah Beth also had a heart condition that required heart surgery. If it wasn't for her dad, they never would have known.
“I knew immediately that he had saved her life,” Catherine said.
Catherine is passionate about encouraging other women who have walked through similar struggles.
“You are not alone,” she encourages. “There are other women who have walked your journey. Whatever your cross is that you are carrying: infertility, miscarriage, depression or loss of your spouse, there are people who are ready to help you,” she said.
Catherine found these people in her church.
The way that she described them sounded like she was talking about her family. She told me how her daughters would jump out of the car and run into this little wooden building as soon as they pulled up. Sarah Beth told me how you couldn’t even walk in their house after her dad had died because it was so full of people from this church.
Catherine wanted to meet me at this church because it is her home.
Her encouragement to new moms is to find a church to visit and be bold enough to show up and introduce yourself to someone there.
“Even if your hair is a mess and there is spit up on your dress…just show up. No one expects you to be perfect. There is probably someone else there with spit up on her dress too” she said.
Catherine has lived through a lot of darkness, but somehow she radiates light.
“So many people told me, ‘you need to share your story.’ I don’t see my story as special, but rather it is what the Lord has done with us that is amazing. He has never left us. My life isn’t the story I would have written, but God has written an even more beautiful one.”
Catherine Bland, photo by Hannah Pitner
Catherine's story reminded me of the power of prayer, community, and redemption. It is so easy to run away from community when hard things happen, but Catherine and her family leaned into them. The way she continually trusts the Lord with open hands after such loss is a challenge and inspiration to me. I hope we can all rest in knowing that His plans are so much higher and greater than we could ever imagine. I am honored to have had the opportunity to hear her story and hope that you are left in amazement at the healing and redemption that is possible when we surrender.
-Hannah Pitner, writer
"Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
Psalm 46: 10
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
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