A Grace Given

Kent Gilges
Cider Press Publishing
Number of pages: 
260 pages

On January 21, my children and I were visiting my mother for her birthday when a dreadful thing happened. Just as my eight-year-old daughter was leaning over to give her a kiss, Mom began to have a violent seizure. The staff of the rehabilitation center where she was already fighting back from a stroke ushered us out of the room, rushing her immediately to Good Samaritan Hospital.

The very next day, January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, A Grace Given by Kent Gilges arrived in my mailbox. Never was a book more aptly named because that is precisely what it became for me during those following weeks of uncertainty and turmoil.

A Grace Given tells the story of Elizabeth Nyanga Gilges (“Elie”), an infant diagnosed with a brain tumor at seven months of age. Recounted with unspeakable tenderness by her father Kent, Elie’s tale unfolds before us so that we are swept up in the beauty, fragility, dignity, and inestimable worth of her life. Throughout his personal narrative, Elie’s father contemplates the question of human suffering with authenticity and wisdom, so that the book is somehow at once both heartrending and uplifting — yet never for an instant depressing.

It has been said that a great book should be read three times in life: once in childhood, once in early adulthood, and again in old age. I would venture to say that A Grace Given deserves to be read at least three times: once at the outset of marriage, once in the middle of life, and again in old age.

It should be required reading for couples about to be married because it illustrates better than any book I have ever read how the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage unites a man and wife, drawing them closer, even in the midst of life’s heaviest crosses. As I read their story, Kent, his wife Liz, and baby Elie became for me a reflection of the Holy Family on the flight into Egypt, calling to mind the strength and devotion of St. Joseph, Our Lady’s faith and obedience to God’s will, and the Christ Child’s tender innocence. In this age of throw-away marriages, Kent and Liz show what Our Lord intended when He said, “And the two shall become one flesh.” We recognize plainly that, throughout her many sufferings, little Elie was blessed because her parents’ deep love for one another surrounded her always.

It should be read again in middle age, when one’s parents are aging or sick. The book became (and continues to be) a balm to my soul as I witnessed all my mother has endured these many months, helping me to understand that sorrow draws us closer to God, and the gift of life is always worth celebrating, even in its darkest hours. It should be read again in old age, when its lessons on strength in suffering and relief in selflessness are no doubt best understood.

My favorite person in the book is Liz, and I found myself not only identifying with her as a mother, but wishing I could be more like her. She is strong and loving in the face of adversity, endlessly devoted to her child, and completely trusting in God’s care. She turns to the rosary, prayer, and the sacraments in her time of need, so that she becomes a model for all parents, particularly those who suffer greatly. One of the most touching scenes in the book takes place when Elie is in the hospital after major surgery. Even in the midst of pain and fears, Liz quietly ministers to other mothers of desperately ill children, cheering them with words of hope and faith. Liz’s sanctity and kindness become a shining light for her husband, child, and everyone around her.

A Grace Given is a uniquely “Long Island” story with much of the action taking place in Port Washington and Manhasset, making it a particularly interesting read. It details a husband’s journey from skepticism toward religion in a way that will leave you feeling grateful for the gift of the Catholic faith. Above all, it is a testament to the exquisite beauty of family life that is as deep and abiding as a father’s heart.
Read it, and you will never be the same.

Originally published in the Long Island Catholic. (used with permission)

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