- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) - The experience of an unanswered prayer is one of those trials of life that can make anyone wonder if prayer really works.

But in the darkest moment of Jennifer Hubbard’s life - the moment she realized God was not going to bring her little girl, Catherine, home from Sandy Hook Elementary School - the grieving mother did not stop praying.

“I believe that when you are at your weakest, and there is nothing left that you can possibly do, that is when you find God - the real God,” Hubbard said. “I am still standing, and in some ways I am standing stronger than when Catherine was alive.”

How such a thing is possible is something Hubbard said she never tires of exploring.

Prayer, she said, has not only helped her uncover a closer relationship with God, but has helped her discover a deeper connection with herself, her family and the world around her.

“Before Catherine died, I thought I was a faithful person, but I wasn’t even scratching the surface,” Hubbard said. “I have a much deeper appreciation that everyone has a cross to bear. Mine is the death of my daughter.”

Like others who lost loved ones in the shooting of 26 first-graders and educators at Sandy Hook in 2012, Hubbard’s story of personal loss has become a cause for public inspiration.

While some families who lost loved ones in the massacre have gone into advocacy, Hubbard has gravitated into a ministry of sorts - writing for the monthly Catholic spiritual guide, “Magnificat.”

Hubbard was featured last week in a Catholic News Service piece about the role of prayer in recovery.

She is also at work building her daughter’s legacy - a 34-acre animal sanctuary - to honor a child who adored animals.

“Jenny is just such an inspiration and such a very strong and amazing woman with a very deep faith,” said Meg Arena, a coordinator in the religious education program at St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown. “The most unimaginable horror happens and you think she would just fold up, but she is just this amazing person, full of goodness and doing what is best for everyone.”

Hubbard was a catechist in St. Rose’s religious education program in 2012, teaching Catherine and other first-graders about Jesus. After the shooting took Catherine away, Hubbard decided not to stop teaching the class.

“I felt like I needed to be there for the kids, to give them an assurance of God’s love, that God was not going to leave them,” Hubbard said. “I look at it now and I think a big part of that was for myself, just to assure myself in the most simple and innocent of ways that God is with me.”

Hubbard’s hope is that by sharing her experience, others might be encouraged to take their pain and doubt to God.

The pastor of St. Rose said Hubbard is among a core of ordinary people who lost loved ones in the massacre who have emerged as model Christians.

“She is absolutely an extraordinary person,” Monsignor Robert Weiss said. “It is very inspiring for people to see how faith can keep a family together - very inspiring.”

Through prayer, Hubbard said, she sees steady signs and frequent reminders of Catherine’s presence in her life.

Sitting in a butterfly garden in the middle of great meadow, which one day will house the animal sanctuary in Catherine’s name, Hubbard said she is grateful she had enough time with her daughter to understand her heart and spirit.

“With each step of the way, there is something tangible that shows us that everything Catherine would have wanted is coming to life,” Hubbard said.

The peace, purpose and sense of hope prayer brings to Hubbard today would not have come, she said, had she not first confronted God with her anger.

The moment she took her anger to God was scary, she said, because it went against what she was taught while being raised Catholic in North Carolina, about not putting God to the test.

But the response she felt from God was similar to the acceptance a parent offers to a child who has been holding something in, she said.

“I think when we have that moment - that coming to Jesus when we say “I don’t like this” - is when he is able to say ‘Thank you, because now I can start working. Now I can start healing you.’ “

Although Hubbard misses Catherine daily, she is consoled by her belief in eternity.

“I know she is in heaven, where she is not scared,” Hubbard said. “She is joyous. She is happy. I mean, we are given all these assurances. We just choose not to see them.”

More and more, Hubbard said, her purpose - of being present in the life of her family - is getting clearer as she becomes able to accept her daughter’s death.

“I believed before Catherine died that we are called here for a purpose,” Hubbard said. “And I believe if we all do what we are called to do, what an incredible place we would live in.”

Prayer has been vital in helping Hubbard sort out what is truly important, she said.

“I hate that it took Catherine to die to show me that we are not meant to be anxious and frazzled and rushed,” she said. “There is a freedom and a peace that God wants for us.”

___

Information from: The News-Times, https://www.newstimes.com

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