A Holy Smackdown

I have been in the thick haze of newborn parenting these last weeks.  Leah Denise Pullano joined our ranks on June 29, 2016, weighing a healthy 9lbs 3oz.  She is perfect and just awesome.  Once again, this new little life feels like the greatest gift our family could ever receive! I am, as ever, in awe.
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At the same time, our household has been busy with the teenager-end of the spectrum. Noise, laughter, food, music, and lots of plans with friends, describe these lazy days of summer for the high-schoolers−though to hear them tell it they are seriously overworked!  Poor kids. 😉  One of our girls will be a junior this year and many of her friends have gotten their license. That will be a reality for us in the next weeks as well. It has been gradually sinking in this summer that my 3rd-born little baby is no longer in my grasp and it’s terrifying.
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This fear is what’s prompting me to share this experience, both to be potentially helpful to others as well as to call myself out. The stark reality is that I am terrified of losing another child. It’s a fear that forms in my mind and then takes root down deep. When I’m not paying attention, it sprouts branches and without really noticing I am suddenly that annoying, in-your-face, tell-me-your-every-move mother.  As if I am in control or something. (And oh how teenagers love having their mom in their face…)  
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The moment I realized what a monster had taken root, I just happened to be at Mass; not really much of a coincidence since Jesus has a way of laying the smackdown when we need it. With His love, mercy and compassion, He helped me start digging it out from down deep.  Gosh did that hurt. Digging out fear requires surrender. The kind that says again and again, “Yes Jesus, I trust in You, even if it means I have to lose another child.”  Ouch! But, I will not live in fear.  I cannot.  It’s no kind of living. And so, as I received my Lord, body, blood, soul, and divinity, He filled up the now-empty space, every nook and cranny, where fear had resided.  He overwhelmed me with Truth and Love so amazing, the fear was but a shadow of a memory.  Oh Lord, never let me forsake receiving You in the Eucharist; nothing can compare.  Where the enemy would steal joy and peace with the lie that I can’t handle the worst, Jesus is waiting with the Truth that I can do all things through Him. 
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My 16 year-old is an awesome teenager.  She is smart, resourceful, humble, and capable.  We will be prudent and careful, but she is fully her own agent.  She will be driving a car, working at a job, applying to colleges, and growing up, as she should.  I can’t add a minute to her life with my worry.  Maybe she will make a mistake or a bad decision that will carry a hefty consequence.  Maybe she will be an innocent bystander in the wrong place, at the wrong time.  Maybe she will get sick for no reason at all.  I certainly know that these things can and do happen.  Whatever comes, we will walk the path in faith with our Savior by our side. Jesus, I trust in You.  You are working it all for good. 
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We recently welcomed little Leah into the Church with her Baptism and Fr. Hyde made a wonderfully important distinction in his explanation of why we baptize our infants.  He said, “Evil affects us all, the innocent as well as the guilty.  If it only affected the guilty, we would call it justice.” (Thus, infants have original sin even though they are innocent and so need baptism.)  Evil is part of the human condition; no getting around it.  I may have to say goodbye to another child in my lifetime, or several, and even as I desperately beg the Lord to let that cup pass me by, I cannot and will not live in fear of it.  The lie needs to be called by name, acknowledged, and brought to the One who heals and restores.  He alone can overshadow it with Truth.  And I must not stop bringing it to Him through prayer and the sacraments, not even for a day.  I am reminded of the scripture about the unclean spirits in Matthew 12, When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it passes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ On its arrival, it finds the house vacant, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and dwell there; and the final plight of that man is worse than the first.”
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I cannot let my guard down.  Jesus needs to dwell always in the void created by the loss of two of my children. He is always waiting to pour Himself out when I invite Him in, and I need to invite Him with intention and my continuous attention, not the vagueness of prayer that plagues me when I am busy. 
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The other night we played a familiar game on a car ride with the kids.  My husband asked them, if they could pick one thing, anything at all in the whole world, what would they want? The answers were cute and funny, typical for their ages.  When it came around to me, I was wracking my brain for something worldly that I actually want and came up empty. But, I did share my greatest and deepest desire that all my children live with me in heaven for eternity.  I want nothing so much as that.  Evil can never steal it away, and THAT is Justice.

The Heavy Doors

I was walking out of the pool area with my 2 little girls all wrapped up in their towels and shivering as they walked from the steamy warmth of the pool to the chill of the locker rooms.  Someone ahead of us opened the heavy door dividing the spaces, letting out a whoosh of cold air.  For some reason my almost-5-year-old, Laura, decided she had to catch that door before it completely closed.  She stretched her whole little body up to reach the handle, itself as big as she is, with one hand while the other little hand wrapped around the door itself.  She pulled with all her might but at best succeeded in keeping it

from closing any further.  No way was she getting that door open and as her strength wavered the door started inching closed.  My inner Mom sirens went off screeching “danger little hand”, but part of me wanted to let her figure it out on her own.  She was pretty determined to wrestle with that door and even though she was slowly losing ground, she didn’t give up.  I was waiting for it to dawn on her that in case she lost the battle she might want to unwrap the hand from around the door that was about to slam shut on it.  She’s a smart little one though and knew if she gave up the assistance of that hand then the battle would really be lost.

Finally …. (ok only 5 seconds later)… she glanced at me.  I recognized the moment of surrender and easily reached up and grabbed the door, easing all of her burden, and we were on our way.

This little incident called to mind something very familiar.  How often in our daily lives do we embrace the struggle and think we have to open the heavy doors all by ourselves?  Perhaps we do it without thinking or perhaps we just don’t see a different way.  Perhaps you are a victim of a difficult situation that you just don’t understand.

Only God knows the ‘why’s’ and ‘how’s’ of our struggles.  Only He knows why He allows the Heavy doors to burden us but the bigger point is not about the struggle but about our Surrender.

It is easy to look at our lives and the world at large and find examples of sad, difficult, and even horrific situations and wonder, “Why does God allow that?”  Where is His helping hand, his Saving hand?  We know He is always with us and all-powerful and in the midst of so much struggle it can be very tempting to question Him, asking “where are you Lord?”  “What are you thinking here?”  “Don’t you think you should do it this way instead?”

Perhaps He is simply waiting for our glance?  Perhaps He is waiting for us to really come to Him in Trust and Surrender.  Perhaps He is waiting for us to shed pride and say, “I’ve tried this my way and it’s not working.  Now what?”  This is true on an individual level in our own lives but also on a bigger societal level.  When the pride of the majority seems to have the effect of overruling His helping hand, then the surrender of the minority must be to trust in His sovereignty and the ultimate outcome we have been promised.

Only in the absence of our pride can we enter into the intimacy of that ultimate trust.  God invites us to this intimacy again and again throughout scripture with metaphors of the bride and bridegroom.  Jesus himself proposes in the Gospel of Matthew “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (11:29)

God desires our surrender and our trust as a sign of our Love, asking us to recognize that “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways.” (Is. 55:8)

And unlike the prophet Simeon in the presentation narrative of Luke’s gospel, we are not promised fulfillment of God’s plans in our lifetime but for some reason we often have an expectation that we are.  We demand resolution here and now when all we are asked to do really is Surrender to the Almighty God and Trust in Him.

What might have been an epic struggle for little Laura had I not been right there, was really a non-event once she recognized her need for my help and hopefully it was a learning experience for her as well.  None of us has to bear the burden of the heavy doors alone.  Sometimes our greatest strength lies in our Surrender.  From that surrender comes the peace of trusting in the One who can open or close any door and the ability to truly accept the proposal of Jesus  “For my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt 11:30)