Keri Stromski at a Bethel Music concert in 2019. Photo: Eileen Benthal

Today, Catholic churches around the world continue our celebration of the Easter season with Divine Mercy Sunday. It’s a day set aside to recall God’s gift of mercy offered to the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This feast is not just for Catholics, but for the whole world to know the great love God has for each one of us.

Mercy is most often described as forgiveness which is offered in the face of someone who doesn’t necessarily deserve it. Jesus told a few parables about people whose debts were forgiven despite their inability to pay them back, as a way to describe the mercy of God.

I once heard mercy described as the ability to view a situation or life from another’s point of view in order to have compassion for the other person. To some people, mercy comes naturally- especially to children who are usually more trusting than adults. But as we grow, we get hurt and offended by others and we hold those hurts against others and become tainted. At that point, mercy is a struggle because we are focused on protecting ourselves and others from the hurt.

However, the more time we spend in the presence of mercy, the more merciful we can become, if we chose to place our trust in God. I have met a few people in my life who exuded this gift of mercy and especially the ability to be compassionate towards others-even towards those with whom they disagree.

This week, our community in Riverhead, on the North Fork and thousands of others not from here suffered a great loss in the death of a local kindergarten teacher. Keri was a beautiful friend, sister, daughter, wife, and mom to three precious kids. She was unlike most people you’ve ever met— a perfect combination of strength, boldness, love, and mercy.

In fact, one perusal of her private Facebook page would show you that Keri was “home” to people of all different faiths and races, to conservatives, liberals, gay, straight, the elderly, the disabled, and the unborn; in Keri, we all found compassion and a friend.

I only got to know Keri in late 2016, when a friend asked me to pray for a woman who was recently diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. As I prayed, I knew the Lord was telling me to reach out to her personally. We connected by phone and texting. When she shared her overwhelm, I met with her to pray with her and gave her a copy of my book because I understood what it was like to feel like you’re drowning in your circumstances and trying to catch your breath.

Many friends got to know Keri through her Facebook posts and her blog I did too. But in the past four years, our friendship grew through texts and phone calls and a few walks on the beach. She defended me online when I put my heart out in this column. Keri always reached out to check on Jo when she was hospitalized or having a hard time at home. We understood some of each others’ struggles and how to hang onto Jesus for hope.

Keri ended her every post: “I am healed. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

She knew where her strength came from.

One of my favorite memories of Keri was a walking pilgrimage we took together at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Island on Good Friday in March 2018. We walked the Stations of the Cross and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet reciting this prayer:

“For the sake of your sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

Keri wrote about our pilgrimage in her blog: “We asked for mercy for us and for the whole world. You’re all good.”

You ARE all good because Jesus loves you as he loved Keri at her conception, in her beautiful life here on earth, in her death, and now in eternity with him forever. He embraces every one of us who is open to his love— whether we deserve his love or not.

Jesus said: “Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (John 6:36-42)

Over the past few weeks, and especially since Keri’s passing, I’ve been rereading Keri’s blog and Facebook posts. I can hear her voice in the volumes she left behind. Keri’s compassion and her faith are palpable in these posts.

Last year on Good Friday, April 2020, Keri reflected on the passion of Jesus and the mercy of God.

Keri wrote:

“Whenever I see the story of Jesus’s death, I cry every time He is suffering on the cross.
It’s hard to see anything good about His suffering.
It’s where God’s wrath meets God’s mercy.
It’s where Jesus pays the price for us all, so that we may also have eternal life.
He loves us to the end.
He loves us in the good times.
He loves us in the hard time.
He loves us.
He is with me.
We lay it all at His feet.
We take comfort in His everlasting love.
He loves us to the end.
In Jesus’s name, amen.”

That’s Mercy. God’s mercy and Keri’s too. They love us to the end.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen