Tag Archives: Children

God is bigger

“Look, mom! A cowboy is a that place.”

“Why is that lady wearing a scarf?”

My son has begun a great human passtime: people watching.  And at the best of all peoplewatching places: the airport.  As we sat in the terminal on an unexpected Standby adventure, I marvelled with him at the huge array of people trying to get from our airport to their final destination.  There was a nervous mom with her emergency passport in hand trying to get to France to visit her study abroad son in the hospital.  This was her second time flying.  There was a young, smart-looking business man who had recently relocated and had his first child.  There was a group of giddy college girls on their way to Rome.  A British couple who had been trying to get home for three days after visiting family and having gone fishing for the first time in their lives.  (Their grandson also likes Spiderman.)

And then there are the people who leave it to your imagination their backstory.  People who don’t engage in small talk or speak loudly enough on their cell phones for you to learn their struggles.  Is that well dressed woman depressed because she’s been delayed from getting home to her family, or is something in her family causing the deep frown on her face?  Where has that tatooed man been? What is behind each of those fading pictures on his limbs?

Each of us has a lifetime of experiences and habits and decisions we bring with us.  What struck me as I looked at the masses of in-transit folks yesterday was the fact that there is a God who knew each of these people (and every one at every other airport in the world, AND even those who have never seen an airport!) before they were even born.  This God understands each better than they understand themselves, in all their compexities.  He knows each moment they were actually doing great good when they thought they blew it, and each time they thought they had it all together and were actually injuring others.  He sees beyond each action to its eternal consequences.  And He has enough love to fill each individual heart to overflowing.

I don’t know how we got on the subject, but one day Isaac and I got on the subject of God, most likely following the Veggie Tales in which Bob and Larry sing about God being bigger than the Boogeyman.  He would ask, “Is God bigger than that building?”  Yes, he is bigger.  “Than an elephant?” Yep, he’s much bigger.  And so on.  But God is also small enough to fit into a piece of bread and into our hearts.  “How can God be bigger AND smaller?”  A beautiful mystery indeed.

How often we make God so small when we consider him only in relation to our own problems, which keeps us from remembering the importance of our neighbor in God’s eyes.  At the same time we make him too big to ever care about us or to believe he has enough time to fit into lives, and therefore we shut him out of the work he wants to do our in our lives.  Next time we are people watching, let’s take a minute to remember God’s bigness, his smallness and what that means for our spiritual lives.

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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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Sacrifice: Out of Style?

Our pastor opened his Mother’s Day homily today talking about St. Gianna Molla.  As he told her story about sacrificing her own life for that of her unborn baby I tried to listen with skeptical ears (I do this every so often… trying think of how something sounds to a different audience than me).  The result: “that woman’s not courageous! She’s crazy! How dare she leave her other three children motherless?”  There are many who could hear Gianna’s story and think about what a shame it was that she was brainwashed by the patriarchal hierarchy into orphaning her kids.  Then Father told a story of how his own mother, pregnant with him in the 1950’s, was given the suggestion by a friend that she should terminate her pregnancy because her other 7 children were enough of a handful.  How many argue that abortion should be legal for just such circumstances?

It made me think: motherhood is sacrifice.  From morning sickness to midnight feedings to waiting up for a teen to make curfew to wondering if the adult child will find his or her way in life.  This kind of sacrifice is not only unpopular in modern life, but can even be seen as foolish.  Anymore a woman who is exhausted from caring for her four children is met not with an encouraging word, but an admonition for overpopulating the earth… that’s what she gets!  Even parenting magazines are peppered with advice on how women can “make more time for me”, buy things because they “deserve them”, or pamper themselves with some expensive spa treatment or bubble bath.  What seems to be implied in many articles I’ve seen is that women need to be looking out primarily for #1: even in their relationships with their husbands and children.

Now, of course moms need to care for themselves, make time for quiet, be appreciated by their families and even splurge on themselves once and a while.  But family life should be built on a sincere gift of self, a desire to put those you love ahead of yourself.  The more a family lives this out, the more harmony there is in a home.  The more we grasp for what we want or even what we perceive we need, the harder things get.  I know this from experience, as  “keeping score” in family life has sent me to the confessional more times than I would like to admit! 

And obviously, no one admires the woman who leaves her toddler in the car while she gambles at the casino, or the dad who never sees his kids because he is always out with his buddies.  We wag our fingers at blatant selfishness.  But total self-sacrifice is frowned upon as well.  If we knock out the extremes, we’re left with is a gray mediocrity where we are trying to do enough “to be a good person” while always looking over our shoulders, on guard against “being taken advantage of”.  This is our culture ideal?  Yuck. Do less and you’re looked down upon, do more and you’re hated for being an overacheiver. 

What about the Christian view, then? The goal we are set for is higher than the best of us could ever attain on our own: complete surrender and self-sacrifice.  But the blessing is that we don’t have to do it on our own! God himself to give us his power to acheive this level of perfection, called holiness.  Not that we don’t fall, sometimes hundreds of times in a day.  Not that this means our houses are always clean, our children always well mannered, or that we never have to dump leftovers we promised we’d eat.  But our desire to strive for perfection itself is a gift of love to our families.  And the saints, especially working moms like St. Gianna, help us to know that such heroism is possible for women like us!

So, let’s recognize the beauty of sacrifice for what it is, and measure ourselves by perfect charity, however far off that may be for us!  Who knows? One day a Mother’s Day homiliy 60 years from now may begin with one of your stories!


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Lessons learned from St. Gianna (Molla)

gianna_sainthoodApril 28th Feast Day of St. Gianna Molla
Our Gianna’s first hospitalization, even though it was her healthiest, was by far the hardest for me.  During later ones we would have the slim hope of transplant to focus on, but during this one, as they tested the heck out of our little girl, we were coming to grips with the truth. Inside what looked like a normal baby was a liver full of cells that couldn’t make enough energy to keep her alive.  Our baby was going to die. Again.

St. Gianna Molla kept me company during those few days, as I had just received a biography of her for Mother’s Day, a week or two before.  There were two things that stood out to me in this particular account of her life. 

The first was of the very real pain her martyrdom caused her family.  It is easy to gloss over this in saints from eras long past, or for priests or religious even.  But here was Pietro Molla, Gianna’s beloved husband, sharing about how hard it was for him to raise their four children alone.  How hard he tried to protect his kids from the limelight surrounding Gianna’s growing popularity and her cause for canonization.  How awkward it was for him to allow his personal love letters to be published all over the world.  It was hard for him to share his Gianna with the Church, when he would much rather her have just been his unspectacular, non-miracle-working, grocery-shopping, diaper- changing wife!  Yet, he knew she was not his to keep to himself, and so he allowed the process to continue.  In 2004, He and their three surviving children (their daughter Mariolina died a few years after Gianna did) were at her canonization ceremony. Wow.

Our Gianna is also a saint, and I can share some of Pietro’s sentiments: saint-making is tough!  Especially at that moment in time, I did not want to share my Gianna with the Church.  I did not want her to intercede for people or inspire them.  I just wanted her to keep making diapers, and spitting up and wearing cute baby clothes, just like any other normal baby who lives to see their first birthday.   I love St. Gianna Molla, and I am grateful for what she did and who she now is.  But dang, she reminds me how real saints are, and that even when God is doing great and wonderful things, it still sometimes hurts!!

The second thing that struck me from that read of Gianna’s life was her unfailing trust in Providence.  Can you imagine having to decide between giving your baby life and giving her a mother? St. Gianna didn’t want to die. She loved life, and especially her family.  But she trusted God: that He was good as He claimed to be, and that He would take care of her family in her absence.  Pietro talks in that book about the times that were darkest for him and the kids and how he could feel Gianna’s tangible presence.  God did come through… through Gianna. 

And this is where we are left today.  Especially as we navigate the waters of a job search, and ponder the future of our family, we need to hold fast to what St. Gianna taught us: to trust in God’s Providence.  How grateful I am today for both of my St. Gianna’s!

St. Gianna Molla, pray for us!
St. Gianna Marie, pray for us!


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The Supers Are Among Us

Just when we thought he couldn’t get any cuter.  He discovered superheroes.


You may have thought that he was a preschooler, but really he is a defender of justice and freedom.  This is him in his super suit.  Note his power belt, boots and mask (to hide his secret identity).  Bed time has become the most exciting time of day.  Mind you, we spend all day saving people, but at bedtime, properly attired, things really step up a notch.  To say he is obsessed may be an understatement.  And we are happy to encourage him.

This interest of Isaac’s has led him to the inevitable question: are there any real superheroes in this world?  Initially, we talked to him about firefighters and police officers, who are legitimate people-savers.  But recently, as we talked about the sacrament of Holy Orders with our 7th graders, it clicked: who are the real supers among us? Priests!  And not just in a “self-esteem-boosting” kind of way.  Check out these very real parallels:

Superheroes get their powers from some physical change… a spider bite that fuses arachno-DNA to their own, the effect of the Earth sun on alien orphan, etc. A priest is made priest by the act of ordination- an ontological change. An indelible mark on the soul.  Priests are priests forever, even if dismissed from the clerical state.

Superheroes wear “super suits” when performing herioc acts to define what they are doing and hide their identity.  Priests wear vestments when offering the sacraments, especially the Eucharist– also to hide themselves.  When administering sacraments, they are IN the person of Christ.

Superheroes’ jobs of saving the world are very taxing on their personal relationships, especially romantic ones (I love the way the Spiderman movies tackled this topic!).  Priests are celibate for this reason– sacrifice for their Bride, the Church.

Superheroes have, well, superpowers (duh).  Priests’ superpowers are way cooler than x-ray vision, super strength or even the ability to shoot webs from their hands.  Priests can forgive sins, bring people into God’s family, confer upon people the Holy Spirit and turn bread and wine into Jesus’ Body and Blood.

Superheroes save people from death.  Priests can save people from eternal death.

Why do we have a shortage of priests? I think because the vocation is often presented as: Priesthood=be a nice guy who can’t get married and does some nice things for people here and there.  Who wants to sacrifice their whole life for that? Where’s the adventure? Where’s the sense of what’s at stake? We need priests in order that the rest of us may live a sacramental life of grace.  What’s at stake is salvation!  When it comes to saving the world, more is done at the altar of each daily Mass at each little parish than a bazillion fundraising rock stars, or five trillion government programs could ever hope to do.

So, yes, we will encourage our little superhero to pursue the noble pursuits of peace and justice, motivations placed in his heart by his Creator.  And we will teach him to hold in high regard those true “supers” in our midst.

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They Know Not What They Do (I Hope)

My dear sister in Christ, Nancy Pelosi, made a comment yesterday that no doubt you heard: contraception is good for the economy because less kids means more money to go around.  Today at our staff meeting, I heard another interesting comment: our parish school is “beating the bushes” for enrollment because there just aren’t enough kids around to enroll.  Since the health of the school and the health of the parish are intimately linked, it’s trouble on the horizon for all of us.  Tough times are a’comin’ to my corner of the world, and it is in part due to a marked lack of children.

Now, I’m no economist, but it seems to me that an increased demand for goods and services provides a need for someone to provide those goods and services.  Said provider, if I understand correctly, gets compensated for this and results in what we call a “job”.  How, then, could children not be considered to be good for the economy?  Do we not need to buy things for baby? Do our grandparents, neighbors, friends, coworkers, etc, not also buy things for baby?  Do we not need to educate this child? Feed him? Does not this child, when grown to adulthood, get taxed for something called “Social Security”? Does he not, with his siblings, bear the responsibility for the care of the humans who brought him into existence (so that the state does not have to)?  Even sick babies like mine were responsible in part for keeping a whole host of people from parking lot attendants to pediatric intensive care specialists employed. Babies even come with an 18-year rebate: a tax deduction.  They are like little bundles of stimuli dropped by Mr. Stork.

Now, I really hope that people like Mrs. Pelosi are buying into the materialist lie that in order to properly parent a child, you must indulge him in the total excess recommended by our culture.  In that case, I could almost see her point.  If another child dictated a larger house, a whole new set of clothes and toys, and 10 more sets of lessons, etc, then perhaps another would be too expensive.  Of course, there are also legitimate circumstances in which a family simply cannot support another child and should attempt to postpone pregnancy.  But let’s not pretend that limiting our family sizes is somehow patriotic.  I say that I hope Pelosi believes the materialist lie because if that is not her motivation, I can think of only one other.  What type of organization directly benefits from “limiting family size” through drugs or surgery?  Who is it that would get my tax dollars (assuming I still have a job) in the event of some kind of contraceptive stimulus package? Yikes.

From the Cross Jesus shouted, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do”.  Let’s hope that this is true for those who are actively promoting Mrs. Pelosi’s agenda.  And even if it is not, let’s pray for hearts like Christ’s, willing to offer ourselves in love for those who hate us.


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