Tag Archives: suffering

The Scholarship

Imagine a young orphan, living in destitute poverty.  This infant is taken in, loved with great tenderness and when old enough, is enrolled into an elite  boarding school.  This school is home to the brightest minds in the known world, most of whom are also extremely kind and wise.  Every opportunity is provided this child, completely free of charge. 

At first the child loves the school, reveling in learning the ABC’s and soon fascinated by his own ability to read words, and then sentences.  He loves the lessons on nature and science, math and music.  As he grows older, however, the child becomes a teenager, then a young adult.  In this process of high school and college, the young man develops some boredom with the school which soon develops into complete apathy.  Perhaps there were some difficulties with lessons for which he did not seek adequate help.  Perhaps he resented having to sit in the classroom on a nice day.  Maybe he grew weary of the effort good education exacted from him.  Whatever the reason, he begins to routinely skip class. When he does occupy the chair, has not done his homework, and therefore cannot participate or contribute to the discussion.  This feeds his indifference and contempt. 

Slowly he has convinced himself that the school is not all he thought it was as a naive child, and part of the way through college, he drops out completely.  Since he has rejected the education offered him, he returns to the kind of depraved existence he was rescued from as a baby.  He still considers himself an alumni of the school, but often refers to it with sarcasm.  The school which offered him every opportunity has become the butt of his most vicious jokes.

A sad story to be sure.  Not only for the young man, but for the benefactor who paid his tuition all those years.  Even if you figure on the low side of $10,000 per year for 12 years, you are looking at a $120,000 pricetag.  That is a lot of money spend gratuititously by a stranger, rejected and scorned.

In this parable, the young man is all of us, in varying degrees.  And the school is the Church.  Let me explain.

The Church is the means by which Jesus desires to save all men.  It is not an add-on, a place to come “do” Christianity or a set of artificial beaurocracy set in place by white-bearded old celebates.  She is a living, growing organism.  So much so that we call her the Body of Christ.  This is a metaphor in a certain sense, but is more literal than we give it credit for.  We are all part of Jesus himself when we are in the Church.  That whole thing Jesus told Peter about the gates of Hell not prevailing against the Church and sin being bound and loosed? As Catholics, we believe it.  The Church is a gratuititously free gift from Jesus to us, an ark which brings us aboard out of our sin and depravity through our Baptism. 

So, like the young man, we are saved through Baptism, snatched from poverty and nurtured with Sanctifying grace.  But she does not stop there.  The Church is the meeting place, over two millenia, of the best and brightest minds of civilization.  The saints nurture us in our understanding of Truth, and through their holiness invite us to delve deeper into the mysteries of God.  It must not be forgotten that all these brilliant folk are not moved on their own power, but by the Holy Spirit who guides and  inspires their thought and virtue.  Perhaps most importantly, what they teach us is not primarily academic.  They teach us about what it means to be human, how to live in right relationships and most importantly, what is our final end.  They lived the drama of human existence with heroic virtue and offer to tangibly help us along our own path.

These same saints paid for this education of ours with their suffering.  “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”.  This is not exactly the same reality as would be seen by a country’s military, however.  We owe our existence as a free nation Washington’s men, and our continued unity to Lincoln’s, and our freedom from Nazi’s to the brave men of World War II.  Christian martyrs, on the other hand conquered only themselves.  They do not seem to be doing anything, really.  The Romans were not immediately overthrown from the grace released by the Christians they burned as torches to light the outskirts of the city.  Evil appeared to have triumphed.  And so it is in every day and age that the workings of Christian martyrdom, bloody and unbloody, costs so much but pays out invisibly.  This is precisely because it is offered in communion with the hidden sacrifice on Calvary. 

This is the saddest part of our analogy.  It could perhaps be conceivable to reject gifts and treasures of many faceless thousands of people (how easy is it to take advantage of the “government” or a “big corporation”?).  But the primary donor that we reject when we treat the Church with contempt or indifference is Jesus Christ.  A totally free gift, of tremendous magnitude, for our own salvation rejected, scorned, or perhaps just taken for granted.

So, how are we like the young man? Often as children we are open and excited about our faith.  Perhaps that is what Jesus is getting at when he tells us we should all be like children!  Often, though, when things get harder to understand we do not seek the answers to our doubts and questions as we should.  Or perhaps we get “grass is always greener” syndrome, preferring to be more like our secularized peers who get to sleep in on Sunday mornings.  Maybe we look as what is asked of us as Christians and find it too hard.  Whatever the reason, our indifference begins to feed itself.  If we are not continuing our religious education after Confirmation classes, we will not understand what is going on at Mass or why the Church teaches what she does on tough topics.  Armed with misunderstandings and diminshed actual graces, it gets easier to “tune out” the faith.  Some of us stay in this place, knowing there is good yet in the Church, but frozen against growing in virtue and love for God.  Others will, like the young man, completely check out.

So what to do?  First, we need to take stock, looking at ourselves in light of this story.  What is it that gets you “stuck”?  Sin? Confusion? Boredom? Those are fairly easily remedied through Confession, Eucharist and study.  I can’t speak for everyone in parish ministry, but I know that I would much rather spend all day in dialogue with someone having difficulty with Church teaching than one minute handling registration forms!  Seek out help in your parish if it is your questions that are keeping you away!  Some of us are in the ark, in good standing with the Church, but just need an extra dose of gratitude for the great gift she is.  In my theological study, I have found that every time I delve deeper into the mysteries of our faith, I marvel at it more deeply. 

As we enter the back-to-school season, preparing our new clothes and supply lists and writing seemingly endless numbers of checks, let us step back and remember the great School we were enrolled in from our Baptism, and give thanks for that great gift.

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The Scholarship: A Parable

Imagine a young orphan, living in destitute poverty.  This infant is taken in, loved with great tenderness and when old enough, is enrolled into an elite  boarding school.  This school is home to the brightest minds in the known world, most of whom are also extremely kind and wise.  Every opportunity is provided this child, completely free of charge. 

At first the child loves the school, reveling in learning the ABC’s and soon fascinated by his own ability to read words, and then sentences.  He loves the lessons on nature and science, math and music.  As he grows older, however, the child becomes a teenager, then a young adult.  In this process of high school and college, the young man develops some boredom with the school which soon develops into complete apathy.  Perhaps there were some difficulties with lessons for which he did not seek adequate help.  Perhaps he resented having to sit in the classroom on a nice day.  Maybe he grew weary of the effort good education exacted from him.  Whatever the reason, he begins to routinely skip class. When he does occupy the chair, has not done his homework, and therefore cannot participate or contribute to the discussion.  This feeds his indifference and contempt. 

Slowly he has convinced himself that the school is not all he thought it was as a naive child, and part of the way through college, he drops out completely.  Since he has rejected the education offered him, he returns to the kind of depraved existence he was rescued from as a baby.  He still considers himself an alumni of the school, but often refers to it with sarcasm.  The school which offered him every opportunity has become the butt of his most vicious jokes.

A sad story to be sure.  Not only for the young man, but for the benefactor who paid his tuition all those years.  Even if you figure on the low side of $10,000 per year for 12 years, you are looking at a $120,000 pricetag.  That is a lot of money spend gratuititously by a stranger, rejected and scorned.

In this parable, the young man is all of us, in varying degrees.  And the school is the Church.  Let me explain.

The Church is the means by which Jesus desires to save all men.  It is not an add-on, a place to come “do” Christianity or a set of artificial beaurocracy set in place by white-bearded old celebates.  She is a living, growing organism.  So much so that we call her the Body of Christ.  This is a metaphor in a certain sense, but is more literal than we give it credit for.  We are all part of Jesus himself when we are in the Church.  That whole thing Jesus told Peter about the gates of Hell not prevailing against the Church and sin being bound and loosed? As Catholics, we believe it.  The Church is a gratuititously free gift from Jesus to us, an ark which brings us aboard out of our sin and depravity through our Baptism. 

So, like the young man, we are saved through Baptism, snatched from poverty and nurtured with Sanctifying grace.  But she does not stop there.  The Church is the meeting place, over two millenia, of the best and brightest minds of civilization.  The saints nurture us in our understanding of Truth, and through their holiness invite us to delve deeper into the mysteries of God.  It must not be forgotten that all these brilliant folk are not moved on their own power, but by the Holy Spirit who guides and  inspires their thought and virtue.  Perhaps most importantly, what they teach us is not primarily academic.  They teach us about what it means to be human, how to live in right relationships and most importantly, what is our final end.  They lived the drama of human existence with heroic virtue and offer to tangibly help us along our own path.

These same saints paid for this education of ours with their suffering.  “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”.  This is not exactly the same reality as would be seen by a country’s military, however.  We owe our existence as a free nation Washington’s men, and our continued unity to Lincoln’s, and our freedom from Nazi’s to the brave men of World War II.  Christian martyrs, on the other hand conquered only themselves.  They do not seem to be doing anything, really.  The Romans were not immediately overthrown from the grace released by the Christians they burned as torches to light the outskirts of the city.  Evil appeared to have triumphed.  And so it is in every day and age that the workings of Christian martyrdom, bloody and unbloody, costs so much but pays out invisibly.  This is precisely because it is offered in communion with the hidden sacrifice on Calvary. 

This is the saddest part of our analogy.  It could perhaps be conceivable to reject gifts and treasures of many faceless thousands of people (how easy is it to take advantage of the “government” or a “big corporation”?).  But the primary donor that we reject when we treat the Church with contempt or indifference is Jesus Christ.  A totally free gift, of tremendous magnitude, for our own salvation rejected, scorned, or perhaps just taken for granted.

So, how are we like the young man? Often as children we are open and excited about our faith.  Perhaps that is what Jesus is getting at when he tells us we should all be like children!  Often, though, when things get harder to understand we do not seek the answers to our doubts and questions as we should.  Or perhaps we get “grass is always greener” syndrome, preferring to be more like our secularized peers who get to sleep in on Sunday mornings.  Maybe we look as what is asked of us as Christians and find it too hard.  Whatever the reason, our indifference begins to feed itself.  If we are not continuing our religious education after Confirmation classes, we will not understand what is going on at Mass or why the Church teaches what she does on tough topics.  Armed with misunderstandings and diminshed actual graces, it gets easier to “tune out” the faith.  Some of us stay in this place, knowing there is good yet in the Church, but frozen against growing in virtue and love for God.  Others will, like the young man, completely check out.

So what to do?  First, we need to take stock, looking at ourselves in light of this story.  What is it that gets you “stuck”?  Sin? Confusion? Boredom? Those are fairly easily remedied through Confession, Eucharist and study.  I can’t speak for everyone in parish ministry, but I know that I would much rather spend all day in dialogue with someone having difficulty with Church teaching than one minute handling registration forms!  Seek out help in your parish if it is your questions that are keeping you away!  Some of us are in the ark, in good standing with the Church, but just need an extra dose of gratitude for the great gift she is.  In my theological study, I have found that every time I delve deeper into the mysteries of our faith, I marvel at it more deeply. 

As we enter the back-to-school season, preparing our new clothes and supply lists and writing seemingly endless numbers of checks, let us step back and remember the great School we were enrolled in from our Baptism, and give thanks for that great gift.

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What a Waste

I am pretty sure I will spend a good deal of time in Purgatory for the amount of food I have wasted.  I don’t mind throwing away the dregs of an Easter basket or cheese doodles and processed cupcakes left over from the grandparents’ visit.  These can hardly be considered food in the first place.  What strikes at my conscience is the times I am forced to throw away a quarter pound of expired lunch meat that I forgot about or a half of a bag of browning broccoli from the warehouse club that I neglected to prepare in time.  Then there are the hotdog or hamburger buns left from some event that mold before we have hotdogs again, or the worst- the dumping of the tupperware from the back of the fridge that is full of, now what was that?.  During the gag-inducing fridge purge I always pray for mercy.  I ask Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who would have gladly served my forgotten food in its better days, to intercede for those who go hungry around the world and in my own town.  And to win me the grace of better meal planning and discipline so that next time I clean the fridge I don’t fill the trash can to overflowing.

No one buys food at the grocery store with the intention of tossing it, or prepares a meal with the intention of putting it in the back of the fridge for three months and then flushing it.  But many of us do just that.  I read a women’s magazine article that stated Americans typically toss 10% of the food they buy.  The stat sickened me.  Not only for the fact that someone went through the trouble of growing or raising that food, or the fact that someone  is hungry right now for lack of food, but for the irony of the fact that I often stand in front of two products trying to compare cost per ounce to save a few bucks.  What good is it to double my 25 cent coupon when I am throwing away 10 dollars worth of food in one cleaning spree?  To waste food is just that: an all around waste.

If we are good at wasting valuable food, we are even better at wasting something more valuable yet: suffering.  At this point you may be thinking, “Suffering? I thought she was going to say ‘time’, or ‘talent’ or even ‘last month’s rollerover minutes’.  What good is suffering at all and how does one waste it?”  I’m glad you asked!

If you’ve read my blog before you may have heard this before, but it bears repeating.  Suffering is a deprivation of a good that one ought to have.  It doesn’t have existence unto itself, much the same as cold is the absence of heat or darkeness the absence of light.  We suffer when we do not have health or companionship or physical necessities.  Note also that we only suffer the lack of things that are proper to us.  I do not suffer for lack of wings, for example, since I ought not have them.  Lop off my leg, however, and suffering will follow. 

 Bear with me for a moment, and let’s follow this line of thinking to the end.  Think about the best good there is.  That would be God, the source of Goodness itself.  The worst suffering then, would be to be deprived of this, and for eternity.  That is called hell.  The means by which we go about bringing this worst suffering upon ourselves is called “dying in unrepentant grave sin”. 

So if it wasn’t before, it’s clear what suffering is.  And we all know that it touches every one of us in various ways at various times in our lives.  But, how could it possibly be valuable?  The answer is that on it’s own, it is not.  There is nothing inherently wonderful about loneliness, hunger or pain.  We detest and attempt to avoid it.  This is part of our defense mechanism.  But think about the minor, or even grave, sufferings you are willing to endure for a greater good.  This is evident in everything from cleaning out a child’s cut to undergoing chemotherapy.  If it’s necessary for the life or well being of those we love most, we will put up with just about anything.

This is what Jesus was thinking when He left heaven to live in suffering and poverty for 33 years only to have it all end by being subjected to the most humiliating and barbaric death on the books.  It was necessary for those He loved most.  You and me.  He understood that the worst of all sufferings for you and for me (hell, remember), could only be prevented by His life, death and resurrection.  By His death, Jesus offers the just penalty for sin, in its perfection.  He also loves the Father, in His flesh, with perfect love that we in our fallen state could not attain.  Jesus’ suffering had great worth, as it attained for us the best good– heaven!

This is where our suffering gets its merit.  Jesus’ sacrifice is perfect, but in His mercy, He leaves it open for us to participate in “what is lacking” in His own suffering.  There is room on that Cross for my deep losses and my daily irritations.  These, offered in union with the Passion of Christ, can help bring about the mission that He came to accomplish: our sanctification.  Wow.

Have you ever thought about why Mary was told at the Presentation that a sword would pierce her heart? Lucky for me my Mariology professor had.  For 33 years, she was holding that phrase of Simeon’s in her heart.  For 33 years pondering the untold suffering her son would endure.  Why would God do that to her? To prepare her, for one.  But for another, I think, because God knew she wouldn’t waste a moment of that suffering and He knew how much we would need the graces that she would merit for us. 

But how much more like me and my fridge are we usually than like our Blessed Mother? How many conversions are still waiting to be won because we responded to a difficulty with despair or anger instead of offering it as a gift back to Jesus?  Fr. Elbee in his book, I Believe in Love says, “In the apostolate, the price of souls is suffering, offered in love.” And sometimes it is the daily trials that we waste the most.  I know in my own life, my deepest sorrows have been easier to offer up than the trial of finding that my husband and son have just eaten popcorn over my freshly vacuumed carpet, again

 So, in this most busy time of year, let’s try to see our sufferings as a treasure chest of grace waiting to be released into the world.  And, for heaven’s sake, eat that meatloaf before it goes bad!

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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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Small Talk Made Awkward

Recently, I was at a gathering where the guest of honor was the only person I really knew.  As I sat eating dinner with Isaac, a opportunity for small talk opened up with a young couple at my table.  They had a small child in a high chair and the wife was obviously very pregnant.  (Very pregnant ladies are great for small talk!)  After we had exhausted the requisite questions about their family, they asked, “so do you have other children besides him (Isaac)?”

How to talk about your dead child?  I remember distinctly asking this question a few days after Peter’s funeral to a friend of mine who is also the mother of a baby saint.  She had flown out from California to support me and shortly before she left town we met for coffee.  “What will I say to people when they ask how many kids I have?!” The thought was occurring to me for the first time as I processed with her.  “You’ll know, Libby,” she said, “you’ll figure out who to tell and who not to”.

She was right.  As I’ve muddled through the past two years, I’ve worked out a system for how to handle “the question”.  Not that I ever sat down and drew up procedures or anything, but I’ve figured out how I am most comfortable handling the question.  Here it is:

* People who I will likely never see again. For these people, like those at the party above, or clerks, people in waiting rooms, etc, I answer their question without lying.  For instance, if they say, “Do you have kids?” I will often answer, “I have a preschooler at home”, and proceed to talk about Isaac.  If they ask a more pointed question, such as the folks at the party did, I will answer honestly.  Morally, this is not necessary.  It is not a lie to withhold information from people who don’t need to know it.  And perhaps someday I will leave my saints out of the  answer.  For now, though, it feels almost like betrayal to not include them in such a direct question.

* People I will see often, or be in relationship with.  I don’t say, “Hi, I’m Libby and my babies died”, but I do talk about them even if the question is only indirectly asked.  I would rather them find out up front then tiptoe around it.

* Amount of disclosure.  I have no problem talking about my kids.  What mom doesn’t want to brag about her babies? I realize, though, that death is a touchy subject for people, and stumbling upon a story like mine over sheetcake and coffee is not what most people are expecting when they arrive at someone’s party.  When people seem freaked out, I quickly change the subject.  If they have questions, I answer them.

* I make sure people realize they were infants. I realized after a few tries, that when you say “we lost a baby” people think you had a miscarriage.  I understand that the loss of miscarriage is great, so it’s not a grief snobbery kind of thing.  It’s just not what happened to my family.  Plus, Isaac talks about his brother and sister sometimes, so I think it’s an important distinction that he actually held them and touched them and met them.  Again, not neccessary for the folks in the first category, but something I still feel is kind of important.

* I have accepted the awkwardness. Let’s face it.  Dead babies are awkward.  No one knows what to say or do when they come up.  It is part of our cross that we have the power to bring the most pleasant conversation to a screetching halt.  I just try to ease the burden of the subject on the other person, and be gentle with myself as well.

Like many parts of grieving, I don’t think there is any right or wrong to this question.  Are you a grieving parent? How do you handle this question?

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