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)

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Bounty

A simple reflection on the garden

I was on my porch enjoying my morning tea on a glorious summer morning with my garden before me.  I couldn’t help but marvel at the lush bounty of it all.  Full green plants bending under the weight of their fruit and all in drastic contrast to the drought afflicted yard surrounding it.

I had the clear and simple thought that it truly was not the work of my hands.  Yes I did my part.  I was responsible for the backbreaking hours of work preparing, planting and maintaining but no amount of sweat equity, all by itself, could produce all that life. 

God gives glory to our work but He does expect us to work.  I have learned that trusting in His providence and goodness does not mean that we sit back and hope He will get it all done.  It does mean that we do all we are humanly capable of while recognizing and understanding we are not ultimately in control.

This is especially obvious in regards to human life.  God has allowed us, out of Love and Respect, to participate with Him in His ministry and His creation.

He allows us to create His creation!

So on a fundamental level we must recognize that all life comes from Him and not from ourselves alone.  It’s like He’s given us a great big Lego set of life.  We build and create with it but ultimately can’t take credit for designing the Legos.

And the design possibilities are simply limitless when we allow God to have a hand in our work.

Cor. 9:10 “The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness.”

As people of God’s creation we are the work of His hands and at the same time the result of human industry.  When we fail to give proper glory to the creator, the true author of all life, we limit ourselves.  But when creator and created intertwine we are limitless for “All things are Possible with God” (Mt. 19:26).

It is impossible then to see the truth of LIFE – that is, the beauty and the splendor and the glory of all life, any life, every single human life no matter their state or condition – separate from the divine power that allowed it’s creation and gives it glory.  To separate the divine creator from human creation is to blind ourselves!

When we look at life as a product merely of our own will and our own actions and our own entitlement to create then we imagine ourselves equally entitled to destroy.   It is in appreciating that creation truly belongs to God and we are His co-creators striving to do His will, only then, apart from ourselves, can we grasp the true sanctity of life.

Fetus week 9-10

Fetus week 9-10 (Photo credit: lunar caustic)

And once we grasp the true sanctity of life, only then can we protect it; in our hearts, in our relationships, with our laws and more broadly, as a society.

I planted mere SEEDS.  No amount of my effort or will could turn those seeds into the bounty of a garden.  I had no part in what took place beneath the soil.  I couldn’t force the seedlings to break ground.  I could not force them to become healthy plants or to flower or to produce fruit.

That is all, quite simply, the handiwork of God.

At the moment I put those seeds in the soil I was giving God my fiat.  I agreed to allow Him to create through me.  I signed up for all the work it would take to nurture His creation, to take care of it, to make Him proud and to give Him honor and thanksgiving.  I agreed to help bring His vision to fruition and He agreed to help me do it.

His vision is always to spoil us with His bounty.

His vision is to give us Life.

Lord we pray you will open all hearts and minds to Life!  We thank you and praise you always for your bounty! Amen