I Must Decrease

There is a synchronicity of events occurring this week that has had me pondering the following scripture lately.

“Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Jn 3:29-30

June 23rd kicks off the celebration in the Church, of the Nativity of John the Baptist, with the feast of his vigil in the evening, and his feast day on the 24th. In the early church, the Solemnity of the birth of St. John the Baptist was greatly celebrated with feasts and traditions according to customs in different cultures around the world. He was highly revered as the pre-cursor to Christ, one who was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb’ (Lk.1:45). His birth, his life, and his death are significant in our salvation story and illustrative in any transition from the old to the new.

June 23rd also marks the day my mother went home to the Lord. One year ago, my sisters and I were keeping vigil with her as she journeyed to the end of her earthly road. Just before sunset on June 23rd, 2015, she breathed her last. For me, the timing of her passing on the eve of St. John’s Day, has been a treasured consolation through this past year of missing her. I take comfort in the ancient words of the Baptist himself, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” He spoke those words as an acknowledgment that his earthly purpose was fulfilled.

I think of my mom’s passing with the firm hope and belief that as she made her own transition, she understood that she fulfilled her God-given purpose and that her ‘Joy was complete’! In our humanness and grief, it is sometimes hard to accept as it seems she was taken from us too soon. There is so much life we are still living without her and it seems she should be here. Once again, we can look to John the Baptist and say the same, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” When he was beheaded, it was a great and terrible tragedy to those who followed him and loved him. His young life seemed dispensed with well before his time and yet what more could he have accomplished than what the Lord set before Him to do from the moment of his conception? His life and his work was fulfilled.

Thirdly, this week, we are expecting the arrival of our 10th child! I’m pondering this verse quite literally as it seems time for me to decrease! Time for newly created life to emerge and begin her own journey to fulfillment, however long, and in whatever form that might take. The time of fulfillment of this pregnancy is here. I look forward with fear and trembling, to bringing her into this world, knowing it won’t be easy or pain-free, but trusting instinctively that something of the old me will be purged and a new me will emerge. He must increase.

Seasons, fulfillment, and transitions make up the very fabric of our life of faith. To everything, there is a time and a purpose and then the old transitions to the new. Though often difficult, what a great and beautiful hope we live as a people of faith! Death leads to resurrection in Heaven. Our decreasing means that God increases. The pain of labor culminates in precious, tiny new life.

And sometimes life doesn’t go according to plan. Sometimes we battle disease or tragedies. Sometimes we lose loved ones too young or even in the womb. Sometimes suffering and death and loss comes all out of order and it is precisely then that we are called to be like the Baptist and proclaim the Savior as he did, again and again. “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” In our suffering, we have the opportunity to become smaller and let God be big, pointing the way. In spite of sin and death and this fallen world, this valley of tears, He increases! To me, that is the most beautiful reassurance. When Mikey died, He increased in my heart and my life. When Anna died, He increased. When my mom died, He increased. Likewise, with the birth of each of our babies, He has increased. New life, though tiny and innocent, sure has a way or re-ordering priorities and teaching humility!

As my mom left us at sunset on that special date, I felt like she was leaving behind a final piece of motherly wisdom. None of us are meant to stay here forever. All of us, like the Baptist, are called to point the way to Christ in word and deed. When we continuously allow ourselves to be humble is when Christ can get to work in us. He makes all things new. He leads us from the old self into the new, so that when death comes to steal, there is nothing for it take, for our Joy is already complete!

All is fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Savior!

Mom

So, my mom died this summer. Maybe if I write those words they will finally sink in. Just today I wanted to ask her a question and for a split second thought of sending her a message before remembering I can’t do that exactly. Yes, I know she is still with me, hopefully interceding for me as only a mother can. That is truly a gift, but it is not the same as having her here and all the faith and hope in the world doesn’t just make it better.

I’ve been here before in this familiar place of grieving, accepting, and changing. Losing my mom, so far, has not been quite like losing my children, although I know the twists and turns of grieving too well to know that could change. I will not make any sweeping blanket statements here. It could get worse. It could get better. It may do both. What I think right now is that there is something about the expected order of things that makes it a tiny bit easier to bear. Most of us grow up expecting that someday our parents will die. Or, maybe it’s because of a lifetime of growing independent and learning to say goodbye. First there was kindergarten when I went off to school, and later college, when I really went off to school, and then marriage and a family of my own; these events have all been preparing me. Each goodbye has been a necessary step in order to start something new. We just cannot stay the same. We grow up, we change, and we become more and more fully the person God created us to be. But growing pains hurt. Cancer hurts. My mom was just three weeks shy of her 68th birthday.In those moments when the loss is keen, it’s hard to find the joy in it. Human nature craves the comfortable sameness of the presence of the one we love, but death calls us to something different. Death forces our hand and calls us out of our comfort zone. It calls us out of our old selves and leads us to a new self, if we let it.

I have a choice in those moments. I have a decision to make and some work to do. I’ve written this before and I stand by it 100%. It takes determination and an act of my will to embrace the change that will come from the suffering. It takes an act of my will to acknowledge the pain of the moment or situation and then force that scene off of center stage. There are better scenes to play and I am the director calling forth new actors; the truth and reality that Heaven has grown by one and will one day be my own home. The truth is that God knows all and works all for my good if I turn to Him and love Him. I have to force myself to choose the desire for that Good of my soul over all else. The truth is that God alone is the source and summit of all happiness. The truth is that my mom wants nothing more than for me to seek and know the God she has stood before. She spent her life preparing me to go forth and she isn’t done simply because she is gone from my sight.

Yet it’s not supposed to be made all better simply because we have faith and hope in eternity. Losing your mother is a huge loss, an unparalleled loss, since there is simply no one else on earth that can be what she was. She gave me life and has been there for every minute of it since. Her absence now feels strange and unnatural and desperately wrong and yet this is the natural order of life. It is a wound that has to leave its mark in order to do a work in me. We don’t become new and emerge until we say a painful but necessary goodbye. I still have work to do and a purpose to fulfill. Lucky mom, she was done! She is living the reality I can only Hope in. She is preparing a place for me now just as she did 41 years ago. I know that saying goodbye this time is just one more step on my way to being ‘all grown up’. Goodbye, mom, until we meet again….

Eternal rest, grant unto her, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen

June 20, 2015

June 20, 2015  Denise M. Faisant Berger  7/12/47 – 6/23/15