Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for them that love him.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

So close, and yet so far away...

At Mass last week, I was sitting with Joshua in the chapel which doubles as a cry room.  He had a low fever and was teething.  It had been a long night.  As usual, he nursed to sleep and then turned his sleeping face upward. 

My goodness, he was stunning.  Low grade fevers give little children a soft rosiness to their cheeks.  His lips were rosy as well.  His blonde wispy bangs were feathered across his forehead.  He was a near perfect image of his big brother, Gabriel. 

Gabriel sleeping
I just gazed upon him, drinking in his precious face and remembering holding a similar face so close six years ago.  It took my breath away.   The last time I held Gabriel he was lifeless and pale.  This boy in my arms was warm and full of life.

I wasn't alone in my observation.  A friend and fellow parishioner who has known us long enough to know Gabriel saw me carry Joshua up to receive the Eucharist.  The look on her face as she gestured toward Joshua told me she noticed the resemblance.  That someone else noticed warmed my heart.

Joshua in May
Long after you lose a child and the painful sting of the trauma has subsided, the scarred hole in your life remains.  Worried that they will upset you, family and friends avoid mention of your child. 

Though they mean well, this avoidance only causes further sadness. 

It is a rare and joyful treasure to speak of the child that died or to see that he is remembered.

 We sometimes forget that only the body dies.  The soul lives on.  Gabriel's body died that day.  His soul did not die.  Gabriel lives. 

That Joshua is so like him is, at times, bittersweet, but what a gift.  He is up to all of Gabriel's old tricks like banging away on the computer keyboard, getting into cabinets, and pulling tapes off the shelf.  He even talks like Gabriel.  He is his brother's brother. 

It'll be Gabriel's birthday next week.  He would be a big beautiful blonde nine year old boy. 

Instead, he is a saint.  I am honored to be his mommy.



Friday, October 26, 2012

For Greater Glory

We just watched "For Greater Glory" about the persecution of Catholics in Mexico in the 1920's.

Throughout the film, several holy deaths are portrayed. 

To me, the portrayal of young Jose was very inspiring.  Jose was a young boy who, having witnessed the execution of his priest, decided to join the Cristeros.  He was later captured by the government and tortured.  At his death, he again repeated, "Viva Cristo Rey!" 







I hope my faith is that strong.

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=7826

Friday, August 17, 2012

Embracing Your Cross

All Christians are familiar with and occasionally mention this Biblical quote, "Take up your cross."

Here is the full quote from Jesus (Luke 9: 23-24):

And he said to all, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.

What does this mean?  We say it.  We should know what it means.  

It is not simply a matter of fatalistic suffering.

The cross is an instrument of immense suffering resulting in death.  To take up our crosses daily is to die, daily, to our very selves.  It is to accept pain, suffering, and death to be as much a part of God's plan for our salvation as comfort, peace, and life.

We humans think everything should be rosy.  We think that "goodness" and "suffering" are mutually exclusive.  "If it feels good, do it," is our motto.  "Pursuit of happiness" is our sacrament.

It is natural for us to feel this way.  We were created, ultimately, for heaven.  Our hearts long for their heavenly home which is perfect.  In fact, even our earthly home was, originally, a beautiful garden.  To accept pain and death seems unnatural.  


So what happened?

Through the sin of our first parents, suffering and death entered humanity (Gen 3: 17-19; Rom 5:12).  We are fallen.  This must have shocked God, who created us to enjoy perfect love in heaven.  How was He to allow us, fallen and sinful, into heaven, where nothing unclean can enter?  That darned Eve ruined everything...


John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

This is, perhaps, the most well known verse in Scripture.  God's plan, known to Him from the very beginning, included His incarnation, torture, and death.  Through the greatest evil, Deicide, God brings forth our greatest good, salvation.  

This wasn't a simple legal transaction.   Christ was not simply our scapegoat, taking on our iniquities before execution.  

Jesus demonstrated, for us, perfect love and humble obedience.  

The sin of Adam and Eve was not a result of God's bias against apples.  They gave in to pride and disobedience.  They bought the lies of the adversary and put their will before God's will.  They disobeyed the one simple rule God gave them.

In stark contrast, Jesus was "obedient unto death, even death on a cross."  Phil 2:8

This was no simple instruction like you can eat anything except that fruit.  This was the ultimate act of obedience and love.  God's plan was brutal torture and death.  Jesus even prayed, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." Mt 26:39

Jesus humbly accepted the will of the Father.  We must do the same.   We must trust that God's plan is perfect.  We must trust when He promises, "All things work for good for those who love God."

We must embrace our crosses, humbly accepting God's plan in our lives.


Rejoice

In Col 1:24 Paul states,  "Now I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church...."  

We can join our sufferings and pains to Christ's infinite sacrifice on the cross.  Through Christ, they become redemptive.  For this, we can rejoice.

Monday, August 13, 2012

GOOD Grief -- Part One

I have decided to tackle a most important topic.  I might take several posts to say all I want to say about it.  The information available to people in the midst of it is limited to countless sources all saying the same thing.

In our society, death is both pursued for the greater good (euthanasia and abortion) and avoided like the plague.  Death has become something we think we can control.  It has become very clinical.  At the same time, society has moved away from healthy spirituality.

The fact is, we can turn off machines (or on as the case may be), but we still do not control death.  Reports of near death experiences that defy simple explanation should give pause to those who deny life after death.  It is a great irony that an event that can cause the greatest turmoil is treated as no big deal.  We see death all the time in movies and television.  It is generally treated as inconsequential (unless the movie has grief as a theme).  Yet, when confronted personally and individually with death, we find that it is of enormous consequence.  The self help books offer little comfort.

Having been there several times under various circumstances, I would like to offer an alternative view.  The topic about which I am writing is grief - specifically grief following the death of a loved one.


Grief

It is mysterious.

It is lonely.

It is inevitable.

Almost all people will have cause to grieve at some point in their lives.  It is one of the most profound, yet misunderstood processes in all of humanity.  It is not a simple matter of sadness, even substantial sadness.  Grief effects the griever on all fronts and in ways not evident even to the griever.


To the griever,

Take care of yourself.  Your life, as you knew it, has ended.  By the time you emerge from grief, you will find that you are a different person.  This is not to be taken lightly.  Be gentle with yourself.  Seek spiritual guidance.  This is important because death is our first real encounter with non-earthly life.  Until we experience the death of a loved one, death is not really real to us.  Now we must face it and all it means.  Without theologically sound spiritual guidance we can be left confused and empty.

People will try to help you.  Let them.  It is a work of mercy and is good for their soul to help you.  Tell them what you need and let them do it.  It is good for your soul as well.

People will sometimes say the wrong thing.  Please realize that they are hopelessly ignorant and cannot help themselves.  They do not know what to say so they are relying on things they've heard or read.  They genuinely want to comfort you, but genuinely have no idea what they are doing.  Don't let it eat at you that they are clueless.  Unless and until people allow death back in to the conversation, the ignorance will persist.



GOOD Grief?

How can something so very terrible be good?

The night before I buried by beautiful little boy, I could not sleep.  Dale and I had left home and traveled to Alabama where Gabriel was to be buried in the family plot.  We were staying at my uncle's house.  It was the middle of the night and I didn't want to wake Dale, so I went and sat in the bathroom for a few minutes to think.

And think.

And think.

After some time I decided that God wouldn't leave us out in the cold on this.  He talks about everything else at great length in the Bible.  Surely He would advise people on death and grief.

I wandered around in the dark in a strange house looking for a Bible until I found one.

Then I started to search.  I was right.  God says a lot to us through the Bible.

In 1 Samuel 12 we find the story of King David losing his baby:

And the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and it became sick. David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in and lay all night upon the ground.  And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground; but he would not, nor did he eat food with them.  On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead; for they said, "Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us; how then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm."  But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; and David said to his servants, "Is the child dead?" They said, "He is dead."  Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the LORD, and worshipped; he then went to his own house; and when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate.  Then his servants said to him, "What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while it was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food."  He said, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?'  But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me." 

This line in 1 Thess. 4 remains with me:  But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

Jesus then blessed me:  Blessed are those who mourn, they shall be comforted.  Mt 5.

Wow.  I could stop right there.  As one who mourns, I am blessed.  Still, I have to remember to "not grieve as the unbelievers who have no hope."

We have hope.  What does that mean?

I know that Gabriel is where he was created to be and where I yearn to be.  If this is so, and I truly believe it, is this not cause for joy, in spite of and in the midst of my grief?


Next:  Embracing Your Cross

Monday, July 30, 2012

Our children are not our own

It was a beautiful day.  A new friend and co-worker of Dale's had invited us over for swimming and burgers.  After we arrived, I took a few minutes to get the little ones ready to swim.  They had not really been swimming in Maryland, so this was new to them--and having little people in a pool was new to me.

Dale was blowing up the "wings" for the boys to wear and Brianna was waiting in the kitchen.  I (five months pregnant) decided to make one last bathroom visit before getting wet.  I headed for the bathroom, then, for no obvious reason, turned back toward the kitchen and pool.

I turned back just in time to see that Brianna had gone ahead of us out the sliding door and was trying to climb on the large, inflatable killer whale in the pool.  She hadn't been swimming before and didn't realize the danger of climbing on such a toy mid-pool.  She, as the oldest, was sure of herself and had no reason to think that she shouldn't try out this nifty toy.

The bathroom had to wait.  (obviously)

Much coughing and sputtering ensued. 

This was the first of many pool incidents that would happen in the following years, almost all of which occurred with parents near or in the pool...and almost all of which only resulted in much coughing and sputtering.  Had I not turned back, this incident would have had an entirely different ending.

That same summer, in the community pool where we were renting, I was playing around with Nathan (three years old at the time).  I was still pregnant.  Dale was getting the others ready.  We were in the shallow end with Nathan holding the edge.  I turned to retrieve a toy from the bottom-which only takes seconds.  When I turned back around, Nathan was already a few feet from the edge and was standing on the bottom -- with his head almost completely submerged.  He wasn't splashing or fighting or panicking in any way.  He just stood there.

Two years later, with everyone swimming in the pool except me (inside making dinner), but including Dale, Gabriel (now almost 2) fell in the deep end.  Nathan saw and alerted Dale.  Gabriel was just below the surface, face up, with his hands shaking above the surface.  Dale screamed his name, alerting me.  I ran out and grabbed him from Dale.  We sat for about ten minutes letting him cough up what seemed like cups of water into a towel.  Then, because I had recently read about secondary drowning, we took him to the ER to get checked out. 


This incident scared him enough that he stayed away from the pool.  Unfortunately, the pool runs about 2/3 the length of the house and is only about 2 1/2 feet from the house, leaving little room to go by.

As you know, just a short six months later, Gabriel drowned.  No one had been swimming.  People had been going in and out the back door grilling burgers and playing.  Everyone came in to eat.  Everyone except Gabriel.  The details of that evening will be forever etched in my memory.

At the wake, I noticed a bruise on his forehead and bridge of his nose.  I was puzzled until I remembered seeing a 2 foot or so length of 2x4 floating in the pool.  We figure that he saw us go in, followed, tripped, hit his head on the wood he was holding, and fell in.  He was scared of the pool.

Life, though strong, is fragile

Just like that, in an instant, life as we knew it died.  It died with my precious son.  Happy family of six became bereaved family of five.  To be hit by a truck would not have been more shocking.  As a science-minded individual, I was intrigued by the way that such a mental/psychological trauma can manifest physically.  We found that we could not eat, and were not hungry.  Sleep became nearly impossible, but we were getting a little by the end of the week.  Hunger returned by the weekend.

I was six months pregnant with our fifth when Gabriel died.  The first four had all been over 7 pounds with Gabriel being over eight.  Three months later, tiny 6 pound Cecilia was born.  She wasn't early, just skinny.  Even though our diet had gotten back to normal, she suffered in the womb from our grief.

Physical reactions to certain cues persisted rather strongly for a long time, then became more mild.  Some have described this as PTSD.  I don't know.

God was there

When a child dies, people always wonder, "How could God let this happen?  Where was He?"

God knows everything that has ever and will ever happen.  It is all part of His plan. 

Every breath.

Every heartbeat.

He knew every bit of it even as He was forming Adam out of clay.  He knew as He formed Gabriel in the womb that he would die March 7, 2006. 

In the years leading up to that moment, God had been preparing us, strengthening our faith, enriching our knowledge with His Word.  As I struggled to revive my baby, I cried out to Him.  As the emergency workers were working on Gabriel, scripture verses poured in to my mind, the most notable being, "Let this cup pass from me...not my will but Thine be done."  This is not the thought of a mother whose child might already be dead.  God was holding me close and whispering to me.

God was carrying me into the spiritual deep end.  He did not abandon me there, but showed me that He had already taught me to swim.  What a wonderful Father He is.  My spiritual brothers and sisters, the saints, now including my perfect son, were praying for me.  With their help and God's grace I progressed very quickly from wound to scar.  Of course, scars can hurt for life.  This one does.

Gabriel was God's child.  He always was.  The reading on the day he was baptized was from the first chapter of Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you."  In two short years, his earthly work was done. 

God had a few more things to say.  The day Gabriel died, the reading for Mass was Isaiah 55: 10-11.  This is a beautiful verse.  The favorite song of the choir I was in was based on it.  In it, God says, "For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it."  The passage, and the song, continue: "Yes, in joy you shall depart, in peace you shall be brought back; Mountains and hills shall break out in song before you."

In Joy you shall depart

This is how the song, "This is My Word" finishes :

And you will go out in Joy, and be led forth in peace
And the hills will break before you into song.
So be faithful brave and true, for I will go before you, 
And when your earthly journey here is done, 
I'll say, "Well done."

The significance of this was not lost on me, in spite of my traumatic loss.  I had the great and undeserved honor of being the mother of a saint.  My precious son had eternally arrived.  He is home.

Life continues

What brought this all to mind this week?  It's summer and we're swimming.  So far, we've had a couple scares, both with people in the pool.  Such is life with pools and little ones.  They're learning the basics, but things still happen.  The older children are getting a crash course in spotting trouble.  They are learning that drowning is visually very calm and silent.  There is no yelling or splashing.  Unless you see it, you'll miss it and the child will die. 

Dale wanted to fill the pool with dirt after Gabriel drowned.  I did as well.  Still, with ponds and beaches and pools all around us, learning to swim may yet prove to be valuable.  So we carry on.

Life is fragile.  We are not our own.  Our children are not our own.  We are God's.  His plan is for our salvation.  "All things work to good," Paul tells us.  God already knows our "itinerary" for our "journey home." 

"Our hearts ache for home."
    -- Nicol Sponberg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q58QOVAG6AQ




Friday, July 27, 2012

Kids say the darndest things

I truly hope that every parent out there experiences joy on a daily basis.  These little people with which God has gifted us can be an endless source of mirth.

There have been countless examples over the years, but I'll just mention a few here.

Pizzalms

My oldest reads her Bible more often than many.  One day, she was telling me about some verses.  I asked what book she was reading.

She responded, "Pizzalms."

"Uh, WHAT?"

"Pizzalms.  The book Pizzalms."

Then, it dawned on me.  She was reading Psalms.  I started laughing.  Hard.  Something about that just tickled my brain.


Birds don't wear panties

That's probably self explanatory, right?

Well, Cecilia (then 4) was running around the house naked.  It was morning and she had not yet dressed for the day.  I called out to her to put on some panties...several times...as she ran around naked.  After several minutes she picked up two of those padded knee mats for gardening and waved one in each hand.

"Look, mommy, I'm a bird!" she declared as she ran around flapping her arms...still naked.

"Cecilia, go get some panties."

*a minute later...

"Cecilia, GO GET SOME  PANTIES!"

"Mommy, birds don't wear panties!"

Can't argue with that logic.


Dizzy

Running around naked (again-sensing a trend, no?).  Cecilia (then three) was running around in circles until breathless.

When she stopped, she held out her arms and wobbled a bit as she exclaimed, "Whew, I'm so dizzy."


Can I cut up some mango?

Just a few days ago, Nathan (12) came to me to ask if he could cut up some mango.  It was almost dinner, so I took a few seconds to decide on an answer.  He looked down at his nice white shirt, and, assuming I was delaying answering out of concern for his shirt, ripped it off.

"NOW can I cut up some mango?"

I couldn't help myself.  I started to chuckle.  I glanced over at Dale.  He was laughing as well.  To anyone watching, it looked as if our son had just stripped for mango.

Then, puzzled and still waiting for an answer from his amused mom, he "rested" his hands on his head.  His three year old sister began poking him in the hip, causing him to shimmy his hips around.

Yep.  He stripped off his shirt and was now shimmying his hips with his hands on his head.

"WELL?  CAN I?"

Oh, dear.  We were laughing so hard now.  Tears were rolling.  The poor child had no clue what was so dang funny.

"Yes.  YES!  Please go cut up some mango."


DANG!

Last summer, my mother-in-law stayed with us for a few weeks to help while we awaited the arrival of baby Joshua.

One night, she was bathing Cecilia and Bella.  Cecilia was observing that her butt was bigger than Bella's butt.  Grandma told her that was because Cecilia was older than Bella.

Then Grandma told Cecilia how old she was.  Cecilia glanced toward Grandma's backside and said, emphatically, "DANG!"


Bubbles

In our house, passing gas is called making bubbles.  Somehow, it's less offensive when it is cute.  Last year, Bella (then 2) had not yet figured out the difference between a "bubble" and a "poopoo" but she knew that big people did that in the potty.

Grandma knew about "bubble" but not that Bella thought it meant poop.  Soooo, when she and Bella were out and Grandma confided to little Bella that she had "bubbled," she was a little taken aback by the look of alarm and dismay on Bella's face.

We got a good laugh later when we explained to Grandma that Bella thought that she had pooped in her pants.



I could go on and on and on.  What all these stories have in common is that they are commonplace.  These are not set up moments of hilarity.  They are embedded in the fabric of life.  You just have to notice them.

And since we are made in His image I am sure of one thing.

God Laughs.








Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Can you say "Hiatus?"

Last post was almost 2 years ago.  At that time, we found out we were expecting our seventh child.  We had new preparations to consider--preparations that aren't necessary for just one or two children.

We are the proud owners of a huge, white 15 passenger van!  We drove up to  the Atlanta area for a family wedding and had a fun time with my sister and her family while camping.

From Thanksgiving until Easter, we enjoyed the company of my in-laws.  They now spend half the year in upper Michigan and the other half just north of Orlando, visiting us frequently.

As June approached (the month of baby's arrival) we made arrangements for Grandma to stay with us for a few weeks.  Our plan was for her to arrive a couple days before the due date.  Commence snickering.

Most of my babies were induced a week late.  The last two before this one were very punctual and arrived naturally on their due date.  We decided to provide "Murphy" (law anyone?) with plenty of opportunities.  The company picnic was scheduled on the due date---and was an hour away in the summer heat in Miami.  We had a great time at the picnic, hoping the entire time that we'd have to make a hasty retreat due to labor.  Murphy chuckled.

We did other outings for the next 12 days--unsuccessfully.

Finally, my OB reminded me that she'd be leaving the country for a week.  She'd be leaving in two days -- which was my 2 week overdue mark.  Panic!  Let's just say that she hand delivered an invitation for him to come out.  hehehe.

He was born the next day!  My OB got to attend her first home-birth.  It was awesome!

Fast forward a year.  Joshua just turned one.  He is a very well loved little boy.  He adores his brothers and sisters, especially Brianna (15-little mommy) and Nathan (12 and loves playing with him).

People always look shocked when they find out how large our family is.  Other parents comment that they could never handle it.  What they don't consider is that the hardest part is the first several years when there are two adults with several little people.  Now, we are more like four adults with several little people.  That makes a HUGE difference. 

I hope that the moms and dads out there love their children and experience joy and laughter with them every day.

I know we do.