Three years and Treasures in Heaven

As the third anniversary of my daughter Anna’s death approaches, I wanted to write something to mark this season. I guess it’s hard for me to keep writing of suffering and grieving when really, we are doing so much living. The hard truth is that death is always a piece of our living, but it is a piece that adds meaning, and substance, and depth. In light of death, we understand the blessing and the gift of life more profoundly. In the light of this cross, I have come to find fulfillment in serving the Lord through simple everyday living. This earthen vessel holds many treasures.

We are living in joyful expectation of our 10th child these days. Our newest little princess, our eighth daughter, should arrive at the end of June, and so far she is healthy and growing beautifully. Despite my “advanced maternal age,” I feel great, too. Pregnancy sure was easier on my body 21 years ago, but it is easier now in so many ways with the wisdom of age! It seems my growing belly is like an invitation to chat about all things “children” and it presents me with a challenging but beautiful way to witness on an almost daily basis. At some point, I think every mother has been asked how many children she has. For me, this has been a loaded and difficult question since my son Michael died eight years ago. I’m always tempted to give the simple half-truth version of the answer, that this is our 10th child, and leave it at that. As you might expect this usually piques curiosity (or disbelief!) and is always followed by more questions. I usually have a split second to decide how to answer. Sometimes it’s a sacrifice for me to tell the whole truth, but more often I can’t help but think of the person on the receiving end. Imagine asking a casual and friendly question and getting socked with my whole truth that two of my children have died! But the truth is the truth and it serves, if I am willing to tell it. Most often these moments that inspire a curl of dread at the outset, turn into moments of shared faith. They are opportunities to speak Truth, open hearts, console and be consoled, to serve and be served. Sometimes, I discover someone who is suffering greatly, sometimes it’s someone who has never known the sting of loss, and other times I am pleasantly surprised to meet a fellow Christian that I would not have known otherwise. Thanks to my baby bump, these grace-filled moments happen every day. I consider that a gift and I’m thankful for the struggle of it, for these are the treasures I am storing in Heaven. Anna’s death, though still a painful reality, is serving the Kingdom. And it’s beautiful to me that it happens in these cases because of life! Isn’t this precisely the message of the Gospel after all? Because Jesus died, we can have life!

Photo courtesy of Charles Wainwright for Pillars magazine

Photo courtesy of Charles Wainwright for Pillars magazine

I love this family picture. It is happy and full of life, but it only tells half the truth. There’s so much more to the story. I often wonder how the Lord expects me to tell it without Anna and Michael here to be in the picture with us. There are a few thousand words this picture cannot tell and I feel so keenly what is missing even as I rejoice in all that we are. What I have come to understand more deeply in these past three years is that the story must serve the Kingdom in order to bear fruit. It isn’t merely for my own transformation, though that is miraculous in itself, but it must be for God’s good and holy purposes. Why do I love my neighbor and forgive my enemy? Why do I proclaim life and not death even though I know fully that life only truly comes after death? In service to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He submitted to death so he could proclaim life. His death is always part of the story or there isn’t much of a story. This picture captures so much of my heart. I am blessed. I am grateful.

IMG_5692But always this picture tells the rest of the story. My treasures are in Heaven. This part that is missing gives so much more meaning to all that is here. I have learned to overcome what is missing by seeking all the life that is before me. Being pregnant at 41 is a sacrifice but it is nothing compared to the sacrifice of living without this new life.  She is loved beyond measure already.

The way to overcome death is to seek life. Jesus is life. The Gospel is life. Death is overcome.
The Mass each week calls to mind my own journey these past three years. For a time after each of my children died, Heaven came to Earth to meet me in my need and brokenness and my heart has found healing in the presence of the Giver and Creator of life. The consolations have been many and I have grown in my faith in many ways, but like the final words of blessing, there’s more to it than my own faith. There is a call to arms; “The Mass is ended, go in peace to Love and serve the Lord.”

The sacrifice has been re-presented and the resurrection has been celebrated. We will have all of Eternity to enjoy the consolations that have only been glimpsed here briefly, but today we are called to serve in God’s great army. Our sufferings and crosses become our armor and serve a great purpose in the Lord’s battle for souls. We have work to do, however small it may seem. We have treasures to store up for Heaven.

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves…Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” (2 Cor 4:7,10)

LOVE

A few things I love this St. Valentine’s day.

I love a day that is largely un-scheduled.  No pressure.  No schedule.  So Rare!

I love that I was able to comfort a friend, offer advice, share faith, play a little Catholic matchmaking, coordinate rides and schedules and make weekend plans all via text message while cleaning my kitchen and eating lunch in my pajamas.

I love that when I got home late with all the kids my husband turned the leftovers in the fridge into a gourmet meal served on pretty dishes.

I love how my baby snuggles into my chest and strokes my hair to fall asleep. And that once she goes to sleep she is down for the night, peaceful, satisfied, happy.

I love the nights when a hot soak in the tub is just what the doctor ordered and I’m free to soak away.

I love clean sheets on my bed and fresh laundry in the drawers.

I love breaking the news that school is closed to a sleepy-eyed little boy and his first reaction is to ask for a hug.

I love our simple family meals when the dining room table is full of noise and laughter.

I love the mornings when I’m the first one up and I can savor a few minutes of peace and prayer with a hot cup of tea.

I love that sending in napkins for the 2nd grade valentine party is an option.  That was easy!

I love garbage day.  It’s like a weekly purging leaving behind clean empty garbage cans throughout the house.

I love watching my 8th grader on the basketball court having fun and engaged in sport.  On the sidelines I love that her friends pause to come over and play my little ponies with my little girls and fight over holding the baby.

I love connecting with the families from one school to the next at events and sports.  Familiar faces and community.

I love the excitement of a Varsity sport and a sectional run.

I love that I can reach out in an instant to an entire community of love and support in the blogosphere and that friends I have never met in real life I consider some of my closest confidants.

I love that in this moment I am blessed. I am thankful.

I Love and am Loved

3D

We took the family to see Madagascar 3 in 3D the other day.  (A great family movie for all ages!) The nine of us filed into our seats and got settled while I helped the two youngest (ages 4 and 2) with their special glasses, which went over very well and they were oohing and aahing over the scenes jumping out at them.

Real D glasses

Real D glasses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A little while into the movie there was a particularly awesome 3D scene and I excitedly turned to the little girls to share their reaction because I just knew they must be almost overwhelmed with the awesomeness of something they don’t see everyday – or really ever!  But instead of childlike awe and wonder they were staring blankly at the screen – without their glasses on!  I couldn’t believe they were missing the experience.  What happened to the initial oohing and aahing?   Surely they just didn’t understand that if the glasses stayed on there would be more of that?  So in a screeching whisper I coaxed and cajoled until they put their glasses back on and sure enough their sweet little faces lit up again!  For about 5 minutes…  and then the glasses were off again.  I coaxed and cajoled again and glasses went on and so it went for the rest of the movie because I could not stand the fact that they were watching a dull and blurry screen when those little glasses so easily changed the whole game.  It made no sense really.  They saw and experienced how much better it was with the glasses on so why would they ever want to take them off?  But what could I do?  Forcing the glasses on would have been counterproductive, not to mention rude if crying and fighting ensued.  I was forced to watch the movie and simply accept the fact that I had done all I could to help my little girls experience the magic of a 3D movie, and failed.

This parenting moment reminds me an awful lot of the gift of free will God our Father gives His children.   He teaches and guides and coaxes and cajoles but ultimately we have the choice to follow and live in his will or not.  He gave us the gift of being able to freely choose for ourselves to accept Him or reject Him, that is, to live out our 3D life with or without our glasses on!  Of course He wants us to experience the fullness and beauty of our world, and creation itself was designed to elicit our awe and wonder, but if we won’t wear the glasses then we get the grainy and dull version.  How heartbreaking for God our Father to watch us partaking in life with less than He intended and less than we deserve.   He’s set us up Royally and at times we choose the pauper’s lot, hurting not only ourselves but also our ever-loving Father in Heaven.

Why would we do that??  I suppose it’s one thing if we don’t know any better, but even when we do  we often still reject God’s more excellent way.  Like my 4 and 2-year-old rejecting their glasses for no apparent reason, even after they had experienced the wonder of having them on.  It makes no sense!  Why not do it the way God has prescribed?  We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The answer lies partly in the cunning voice of our most ancient adversary.  The distractions and enticements that lead us away from the simple and obvious path of truth cause us to question the truths we’ve seen with our very own eyes.  The evil one deceives and conceals while obscuring our minds from counting the cost.  This is what Jesus warned against when He said,

 Mt. 7:13-14  “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

There is one path that leads to Heaven and It’s a path of Love.  We were created to know God and as such to Love.  We are called to be like little children, not only to Love but to be Loved.  Jesus is saying, buyer beware, the wide and varied paths lead directly to the manipulator of all that is good, for the evil one creates nothing of his own.  And when his work is done he can count on our own pride to perpetuate the lie.   After all who wants to admit they’ve chosen unwisely or wrongly?

God our loving Father wants so much for us to put on our glasses and expose the lies for what they are but more importantly to see the Love He offers so vividly that it seems we can reach right out and grab it!

Lord we pray that you illuminate the narrow road and give us the grace to choose to be on a path straight to you! Amen.

God’s-eye view

My kindergartener recently had a conversation with grandma that went something like this.
Grandma: Pretty soon you will know how to read Andrew, and then you can just pick up a book and read it!
Andrew: You mean I will just go into school one day and I will be able to read?
Grandma: Well you will have to work and learn how to do it but then you will know how to do it forever.
At this point he shrugged indifferently and ran off to play…

If only he could see what he’s missing from an adult perspective!!  How do you make a 6-year-old understand  that the whole world will start to blossom  once they do the relatively short work of learning to read?  At age 6 he simply has no idea what he’s missing and how his window to the world will expand exponentially!

God our Father must feel this way about his children all the time!  He sees not only the great potential we have of our own power but the limitless potential we have when we live through Him.   He knows the world will blossom in ways we simply can not imagine when we trust in His ways.  But to do this requires work, it requires obedience and prayer and humility and a desire to serve the will of our father more than our own. It requires perseverance in the face of self-doubt and worldly failure. Sometimes it requires a single-minded focus that is near impossible to come by in a world full of distractions. It requires patience so at odds with the attitude of instant gratification prevalent in American culture.
God is always ready and willing to teach us.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jer 29:11)

I wanted to shout after Andrew and call him back and explain all the wonders awaiting him.  I wanted, somehow, to make him understand.  Even as I write this I’m at a loss.  The impact of knowing how to read is so undefinable.

The same thing can be said of our Loving God.  We can’t begin to define Him or understand all that he has in store for us.  Only through the steady and faithful building of a relationship with Him will our eyes be opened, will our minds be enlightened, will our hearts be filled.  Are we eager and excited to know Him or do we shrug indifferently and run off to carry out our own plans?

Lord, help us tune out the world so we can focus our attention on you, who makes the world blossom in our minds, our hearts and our souls!  Amen

LOOK UP!

Look Up! Look Up! Look Up! Melissa Look Up! Look Up! Hurry Look Up! Just lift your head and Look Up! Look at me. Look at me Melissa. Look at Mommy! Look at my Face! Look Up!!!

This is pretty much how bath time goes with my 2-year-old every time. I shampoo her hair and when she knows the rinsing is coming she looks down to try to shield her face and cries louder and louder, probably to be heard over my pleas, until she reaches full-out hysteria… and we’re done. I’ve tried reasoning and explaining, but my normally brilliant 2 yr old, just can’t seem to get the message.

If she would only listen to me, and trust me, and obey me, then the water would pour nicely down the back of her head and hair washing would be a non-event. Bath time would be considerably more enjoyable all around and I would simply have a shiny happy toddler.

If she would only LISTEN to me, and TRUST me, and OBEY me… God our Father has been saying the same darn thing to His children for thousands of years! Over and over and over we fall back into relying on our own ways and means. Old habits die-hard I guess. And we suffer for it!

Listening is critical to our prayer life. We are told to “pray always” and “be persistent in prayer” but at times it can feel like we aren’t effecting any good or getting any answers.  Perhaps because, like little Melissa,  we are overcome by our own fears and prejudices and aren’t able to quiet ourselves enough to listen. Sometimes it’s pain and suffering holding us captive or excuses of busy lives. For any number of reasons we might ask but not truly make the time to Listen to what God has to say.  HE  will ALWAYS come into our prayerful silence.

“Be still and Know that I am God” (Ps 46:11)

In the quiet stillness of our minds and souls at rest we will feel conviction in our hearts, we will know truth in our minds, we will feel moved by a gentle stirring or holy fire.  Our souls will hear Love and Truth and recognize it every time if we are listening.  For this we were created and no less.

And if we hear from God we must Trust in His almighty providence as ruler in body, mind and soul. To do anything less is cheating ourselves of the fullness of LIFE in Him.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (Mt 22:37)

Through prayer or otherwise, we must then do the work of obeying the Lords’ commands. God wants nothing less than our acceptance, our fiat and our total surrender to His holy will.  Often we have to put aside our own agendas and ideas of how things should be because as mere humans we can not calculate the effect of grace in any given situation.  It is through our obedience that Grace can be at work.  God knows exactly how to calculate the effect of grace in our human situations and he sends it in abundance.  We have to trust him on that!

Our trust and obedience will bring peace. Imagine if Melissa would have just listened and really heard what I was saying to her. What if she simply said, “ok Mommy” and then tipped her head up and not insisted on doing it her own way?

In my infinite wisdom as a parent, (ahem…) I’m sure that my advice would have worked out for the best for my child whom I love. And how much more perfect is the advice of God our Father?

 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Mt 7:11)

God, as our loving parent, sees all and knows all, and he’s not just interested in what’s best for us, rather He sees and wants perfection for us!  So many things would be easier, better, more enjoyable if we would remember in those moments of panic and fear and indecision and temptation, to just look up. If we had the courage, despite the voice of this world that tends to drown out all else, to wholeheartedly Trust in the Lord, we would be happier.

Plain and simple

God gives us every grace we need in the moment that we need it. Always, unconditionally. We have legions of angels and saints as intercessors, especially our Lady who loves us better than our own earthly mothers. We have no excuse to live without trusting our Heavenly Parents. We aren’t 2 after all.

Lord, help us to Listen prayerfully, trust in you always and obey without reservation and may we ever remember to “Look Up”! Amen