Monthly Archives: July 2009

All’s Well That Ends Well

We celebrate two things this week. The first, as you saw from the last post, is Brad’s new job.  He will be working at Sacred Heart Parish in Robbinsdale, as a youth and young adult minister. It’s perfect for him in many respects, and he follows a good friend of ours in that position, which makes the transition even smoother.  We are excited to see what’s in store.

Looking at the other places we both applied, it is easy now to see that God was holding out for this.  Whether we thought so at the time or not, each rejection letter or email we got was a door that needed to close in order for this one to open.  From this side of the trial it is also easy to see how God took a great fear of mine (financial instability) and used it to prove Himself my provider.  Further, through this new job of Brad’s, God has given us a blessing we would not have sought out if we had not been laid off.  And, in these times when many are still searching for work, He has given us authentic compassion and a heart of prayer for the un- and under-employed.

These things were not always visible to us while in the trial, but part of the joy of this gift is being able to see that what we suffered in the past 6 months was for our good.  All’s well that ends well.  That brings us to the other thing we celebrate this week: Gianna’s first anniversary in Heaven.  There are many parallels.

We celebrate not the fact that she suffered and died, of course.  For, in many respects all is not ended yet for us.  We are still in the midst of the trial of life without her.  In celebrating her anniversary, we are recognizing that she has reached her reward.  Just as we look back on 6 months of uncertainty with relief and joy because our employment trial is now over, so does she look now at her own short life and see the meaning behind every needle poke and every tear.  And I think that she sees us all still in this Valley of Tears and with her prayers is seeking to remind us that if we persevere until the end, our outcome too will be glorious.  She and Peter remind us that in comparison with eternity, our lives here on earth are as short as theirs were.  And the result of living it well is worth the cost, even a thousand times over.

One final thought. Many, in hearing our good news this week, have commented on the goodness of God.  Amen!! He is! But the saying reminded me that I should react the same way when I receive bad news, too.  Is God any better today than He was when we got the news that our job had been cut? Was He any better the day Gianna was born than the day she died? No.  God is the same yesterday, today and forever.  He does all things well, and we will come to see even the hardest things this light if we give Him a chance to show us.  Even if we have to wait until Heaven.

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When We Reach the End…

I pronounced it this weekend: This will either be a fantastic week in our household, or else a supremely crappy one.  Brad and I both had irons in the fire, so to speak.  Both of us were to find out about jobs we’d applied for, and we were watching with particular interest for the “early this week” deadline on the job he’s been hoping for.  If he were to get the job, the holding pattern our life has been in lately would come to an end and we could finally move on with the umpteen projects that were waiting on that.  If the answer came back unfavorable, we would face the bleak reality of probable prolonged unemployment, or at the very least uncertainty, since there is not much else out there for us youth minister types. 

Add to this tension my discovery on Sunday that my wallet was gone and that it was most likely found by some unsavory citizen in the grocery store parking lot.  And then there is the upcoming anniversary of our daughter’s death.  Talk about edge of your seat.

Yesterday at 7am, the store called. Someone had turned in my wallet.  Dare I hope that more good news would follow?  No call came from Prospective Parish.  But every time the phone rang, we both jumped a little bit.  It was Father’s day off, right?

Today, Tuesday, Brad “volunteered” at his former place of employment, as a favor to his lovely wife, at our summer program.  He is a manic message checker normally, so when he answered in the affirmative to my question, “so, have you been checking messages every ten minutes?” I knew he was not exaggerating.  Hanging around at the church while our teens did service projects.  Lunch. Walking around the zoo.  Waiting for pickups.  A few calls, but not the anticipated one. By this time, it was 4:40 and we were resigned to another day of waiting.

Then, in our minivan, two minutes before arriving at our home, the cell phone rang again.  It was Father. And as we pulled in the driveway, I turned off the car and listened.  “Yes, this is he. Oh, hi, Father. Great. Yes, I could come in tomorrow. 2:30? Okay, see you then.”  In that minute-long seemingly casual conversation, we were released from this particular, 6+ month long trial.  Just like that. He got the job.

We literally jumped up and down in our driveway.  Finally, something to celebrate! This time God said “yes” to what we wanted, too! Instead of a party for something we know in our hearts is good, but is sad and awkard and kind of sucks, we can actually invite people to our home to celebrate something that makes us happy.  Hooray!

An instant can change our lives for good or for evil.  As the evil moments have for us, this one also made me think about heaven.  Being suddenly set free from this burden made me think of how crabby I was last night under the stress of all this.  How many times I cried out in frustration and anger that God would allow such a trial after I felt I had already reached at least a decade’s quota worth.  In my joy, I felt a certain regret for not weathering the suffering as well as I could have.  I am left wondering if I gained all the merit God held out for me in this trial, now over. 

Here’s how that relates to heaven.  If this is a sense I get from some relatively mild trial, what will it be like at the end of my life, when in an instant I am released from the burdens of sin and death and sorrow, and every tear truly is wiped away.  Will that joy, too, be tinged with regret for the missed opportunities to have trusted more, loved deeper and given more sacrificially?

Someone recently quoted something (that’s good source citing, isn’t it?), that made me picture our trials as God coaxing his little one to climb one rung higher on the playground so that he could brag about how high the child jumped.  Or perhaps God putting his kid into Honors Math, even though the child struggles, so that his full potential could be realized.  He makes us go through hard things not to punish us or to be mean and vindictive, but because He is anticipating with delight how proud He will be of us (and us of ourselves) when we accomplish that which we did not know we could do.  He’s there through the whole trial.  He knows how hard it is for us, but that it will turn out okay.  He is waiting to brag about us… and in His waiting He is already proud of us. 

So, as we accepted the times when God “takes away”, we will accept the sweeter “give” that is ours for now.  And I will not be too hard on myself for not handling the waiting perfectly, since as St. Therese says, our weaknesses just make Him love us more.  But I do want to remember this feeling of relief, this perspective from safety, so that it may deepen my confidence and trust in Him for the next time He asks me to take a big leap.

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Looks Can Be Deceiving

There isn’t much you can say about a person who lived only three months, as our youngest two children did.  We will never know if our little ones were funny, or shy, or adventurous.  We have no idea if they would have inherited Brad’s sports genes or mine, my artistic eye or Brad’s not-s0-great eyes.  There is one thing that anyone who knew them can attest to, however.  They were stinkin’ cute.  Objectively.

This was one of the strange paradoxes we lived with in the case of both babies.  With Peter it was shocking, as he looked like a totally normal child up until the moment we saw him all wired up in the PICU.  Who could have known, with their naked eye, that this little cutie was fussy not due to a long car ride, or reflux, or colic, but because the cells in his liver did not make enough energy to keep it functioning.  As we sat in the waiting room of the ER at Children’s, there was nothing of our son’s outer appearance that would lead us to believe that he would be dead in five days. 

Since we knew that it was a possibility that Gianna might inherit the same Mitochondrial disorder that took her brother, we were much more intently focused on her from her conception.  We knew much earlier that we could not go by looks, so testing was done shortly after birth and then at two months.  This lead to a very different, but equally odd, experience of appearance.  She was absolutely beautiful (objectively, of course!), and again, did not look sick.  There were times when I enjoyed this immensely.  During our first two admissions to the hospital, I routinely took her up to the cafeteria with me, or to the family lounge and even once to Mass.  No one could tell she was the patient.  While we were home, I got complements about her from strangers who had no idea that a risky liver transplant was the only hope of her living to four months old.  I enjoyed the break, the opportunity to pretend for a moment that we were a normal family who worried about nothing more than getting a little more sleep.  I also think her cuteness scored her some extra points with the hospital staff.  Not that these dedicated professionals would ever mistreat an ugly baby, but several did comment that she was much cuter than the average critically ill child, especially on the floor we were on.  I took motherly pride in the way they doted over her cute outfits or lingered in our room to hold her.

Gianna’s cuteness also made for some painfully ironic (and often awkward) moments.  During her first hospitalization, when we were slowly trying to come to terms with her likely prognosis, a nurse’s aide came into our room to find me weeping.  Supposing that I was a hormonally unstable, overwhelmed new mother, she said, “new babies are really hard, aren’t they?”  A perfectly compassionate thing to say! “No, she’s dying”, was all I could get out. 

Two days before her death, on her way to the OR to get a pic line placed for easier blood draws, a doctor we didn’t know got on the elevator with us.  “Well, now there’s a healthy one!” he said.  The nurse and I looked at each other uncomfortably as she replied, “No, she’s pretty sick”.  Other times, it was not the awkward one-liners that got to me, but the flip side of what I mentioned before.  I could only pretend so long that Gianna was fine, because she wasn’t.  Once, before our bad news was actually confirmed, I was grocery shopping with both kids, and could barely make it to the car before beginning to cry.  The juxataposition between what appeared to be true and what actually was weighed on me in a deep, surreal way.

This line of thinking was brought up to me at a recent benefit banquet I attended for Prenatal Partners for Life*.  The priest who gave the closing comments remarked that we all were born with a terminal illness: Original sin.  The sick, he said, serve us all well as a reminder of this fact.  His reflection made me think.  In the spiritual order of things, many of us are my Peter and Gianna.  We look fine on the outside, but on the inside we are dying.  Sometimes, the comfort that comes with financial stability, good health, talent and long life can be dangerous to our salvation since they can lull us into a false sense of self confidence.  Why would we have thought to ask our doctor to run a liver function test on our two month old son? All signs pointed to him being perfectly healthy.  In the same way, many people never think to accuse themselves of sin because they seem to have everything under control.  It just doesn’t occur to them.  And as we learned in Peter’s case, undiagnosed illnesses can still kill you even if you don’t look sick.  So it can be in the spiritual life, but for eternity.

With Gianna, we knew not to trust appearances.  We looked inside, and found that something was indeed wrong.  For Gianna, knowing early that she was sick did not end up saving her life.  This is also true spiritually of those who recognize their own sin but choose to cling to it instead of bringing it to Jesus for forgiveness and healing.  Although it sounds like a bizarre category of people, they do exist.  They are those who despair at their own weakness, or who set out to fix it themselves. 

 Gianna’s doctors did their best to try and save her, and we did too.  We gave her all kinds of nasty meds, drew blood from veins that did not want to give it, and did not give up on her last option (transplant) until it was painfully evident that she could not survive the operation.  We availed her of all modern medicine had to offer, and modern medicine failed us.  Gratefully, this is where my analogy breaks down.  When we bring our sinfulness to Jesus, He never fails us.  So many people offered to get tested to be liver donors for Gia, because they were willing to sacrifice even part of their own bodies to save her.  That is precisely what Jesus did for us.  Our hearts were so badly hardened and diseased by sin that we were wasting away.  We needed a heart transplant, and that is what He gave us: His own heart.  Of course, that transplant cost Him His life. 

So next time we pass an elderly lady with oxygen, or a paralyzed man in a wheelchair, or a child with Down’s Syndrome, let’s thank God for the gift of those lives.  More than that, let’s honor those beautiful souls by taking stock of our own.  When we entrust our spiritual maladies to the Divine Physician, He never fails to cure us.

* For more info about Prenatal Partners for Life, an amazing organization helping parents of children with adverse prenatal diagnosis, infant death and disabled children, check out: www.prenatalpartnersforlife.org

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What Reality TV and The Eucharist Have in Common

So, Jon and Kate are getting divorced.  On the fateful night of that announcement, a friend’s Facebook status read, “I want to look away from Jon and Kate Plus 8, but I can’t… It’s like watching a train wreck!”  This is pretty much how I have felt about the few sittings of Reality TV I have stomached.  Whether it’s a pop star hopeful about to share their tone deafness with the world, or a family inviting us into their dysfunctional lifestyle, I feel that watching such scenes is a lot like witnessing some person or object about to tumble to the ground… you know a mess is coming, but you just can’t stop it from happening.

Have you ever asked yourself why people subject themselves to such public humiliation? I have. For Jon and Kate perhaps the original motive was to make some extra cash to support their growing family, and maybe there are others who go on these shows for the money as well.  But I think many who participate in Reality TV do so because it is exciting to be on a screen seen by millions, even if for only 22 minutes.  I think there is a huge number of people today wanting to be famous, wanting to be known.   Reality TV capitalizes on this longing.

I read of a study that polled teenaged girls’ dream career prospects.  Would you believe that with all the possibilities open to girls today that being a personal assistant to Brittany Spears trumped doctor, scientist, lawyer, teacher, etc?  Mind you, the girls preferred being a personal assistant to a pop star to actually being something lucrative and personally fulfilling.  There is a good chunk of our young women who would rather pick up a famous person’s dry cleaning than figure out a cure for cancer!  Why? They want to be known.  Even being close to fame is close enough.

Contrast that study with 150 middle-schoolers, kneeling or sitting on hard carpet for an hour and a half, waiting for their 15 second visit from a soft-spoken middle aged man holding a piece of bread.  They are singing, reading, crying, or even more strangely, just sitting quietly.  Is this the newest extreme challenge show? No, it’s Adoration, and it’s these kids’ favorite part of a 5 day camp that includes swimming, boating, sports, music, a dance and games that involve getting completely covered in mud.  The man is our camp priest and the bread, of course, is Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

It has been my experience that on any good retreat, teens love Adoration best.  Average teens!  Why? For the same reason that someone will eat a roach sandwich on TV. They long to be known.  At the camp I am describing, the priest blessed each and every person with the monstrance, which is a beautiful gift.  But even in huge college auditoriums with thousands of people, that Eucharist reaches every heart from its distant spot on the altar.  In the presence of Jesus, there are no strangers.  With their hearts opened by the other activities of a retreat, the teens encounter Jesus personally.  They are not one of many, but a unique individual known and loved deeply and completely.  The most famous Person in all of history, the One who created time itself and set the world in motion meets each person who comes into His presence, and supplies for each soul’s need.

So, that answers the title question: Reality TV and the Eucharist both speak to the human need to be known.  But of course, we must also contrast these two things.  In the interest of brevity, I will speak to only one main difference.  The fame sought out by those involving themselves in Reality TV is fleeting and empty in the best case scenario, and destructive in the worst.  For all the controversy they stir up today, in 20 years Jon and Kate will be no more than a question in the Entertainment column of the “00’s” Trivial Pursuit game.  The culture will have moved on to something new by then.  In more cases than not, fame consumes the famous, making their downfall a sport for others’ amusement.  At the very least, those who sought to be known through fame will simply be forgotten.

With Jesus, of course, it is the opposite.  Each person who puts themself in the presence of God is connected to the source of their life.  Though God knows us completely even when we do not acknowledge Him, the more time spent with Him leads us to greater absorption of His love.  The more we let Him love us, the better we know ourselves and the closer we get to who we were created to be.

Do you want to be known? Do you want to be the object of affection of the most important Person in the universe? So precious to the King of Ages that He would send His Son to die in your place? You already are.  Go spend some time with Him and He will convince  you that it’s true.  He’s waiting!

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