Open to Life

For the last six months or so, my kids have been asking for a baby brother, and it just melts my heart.  How sweet that is to ask for another person to love and play with!  They specifically want a boy “to make things fair” since the girls currently outnumber the boys in our family.  When they ask, I tell them that God sends babies, and it’s up to Him if He wants us to have a baby boy.  They don’t realize that their parents are a bit older than most of their friends’ parents and that another baby is unlikely for us.  If I were a bit younger, I’d be hoping for that baby right along with them.  Rose is two and a half now, and sometimes I find myself longing for a little baby to snuggle on my chest.  But I’m also tired.

When I was expecting Rose, my doctor never seemed to let an opportunity pass to bring up my age.  I wanted to tell him that I come from a long, direct maternal line of healthy women having healthy babies later in life.  My great-great-grandmother had 13 children (all girls!), giving birth to her youngest at the age of 51.  My great-grandmother gave birth to the first recorded triplets in Syracuse, although one of the little girls died after just a few minutes, and then had my great-aunt Betty nine years later when she was well into her thirties.  My grandma (one of the triplets) had five children, all but one of them born after her 35th birthday.  In fact, she had my uncle Ed when she was 47.  She always said that when God sends a baby, you accept a baby as a gift.  Then there’s my mom.  She had her fourth child, my sister Emily, just a couple of weeks before her 40th birthday.  All this means that I know it can be done, and I trust that I would have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

One night when Rose was an infant, I was rocking her to sleep and, at first, thinking about how tired I was from taking care of an infant, a three-year-old, and a five-year-old all day.  Then I started to think about two of my cousins, who had each recently buried a young daughter.  All of a sudden, it hit me hard how blessed I was, and I realized that there were much, much worse things that could happen in my life than having another baby in my forties.

My children will probably continue to ask for a baby brother, and I will continue to smile and tell them that the decision is in God’s hands and mean it.  I may not be asking Him for another baby at this point in my life but if He wants to surprise me, I will accept His gift as my grandma did.

Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash

Be Healed

When I tell people about this book by Bob Schuchts, I have the hardest time explaining why I think they should read it.  All I seem to be able to say is, “I wish every person on the planet could read this book.”  That sounds so goofy, but I mean it.  Schuchts opened my eyes to how much God loves each and every one of us.  That means you, and it means me.  Yes, me, the 42-year-old woman who still feels like a scared, shy little girl inside.  Me, even though I don’t always stand up for what’s right because I’m so scared.  Me, who makes so many selfish choices every single day.  He loves me, and, get this, He wants to heal me.  He wants to heal me of my sinfulness and my anxiety and maybe even my restless leg syndrome.  He doesn’t want me to feel tired and discouraged all the time.  Jesus is a healer.  In the Gospels He heals people everywhere he goes:  blind people, paralytics, lepers.  They open themselves up to Him in faith, and he heals them.  We all know the stories, but how many of us believe that this kind of healing is available to us?

So, how does Schuchts open his reader’s eyes?  He shares his own weakness and failures and his own story of healing.  He shares stories of healing in his clients (he’s a licensed marriage and family therapist) and miracles he has witnessed on mission trips.  He points us toward Scripture passages we may have read dozens of times without considering what they mean for us.  He asks his readers to pause and think about the questions he poses to us.

The first time I read this book, I rushed straight through it in about a week.  I didn’t want to put it down because I had such a beautiful, warm feeling inside as if someone who loves me more than I know were hugging me the whole time I was reading.  Now I am slowly working my way through it again so that I can take time to write out my answers to the reflection questions Schuchts poses throughout the book.  I am almost done, but I feel as if I am still missing something in my experience with this book.  And that is someone, or lots of someones, to share it with.  I want my husband to read it, and I want to buy copies for my parents and my mother-in-law.  And I want all of you who are reading this blog post to find a copy.  If I had the money, I would buy lots of copies and spread them around, give them as gifts for every occasion, leave them in Little Free Libraries around my community, do whatever I could to get this book into the hands of as many people as possible.  Because the healing that it offers can change the world.  One person at a time.  You can find Be Healed here.

So, I hope you’ve already clicked on the link and ordered your copy, but I realize some of you out there might click on it and read the description, and say to yourselves, “Oh, this is a Catholic book.  I’m not Catholic, so it’s not for me.”  You’d be wrong.  I am convinced that any Christian would benefit greatly from this book and if you’re not Christian, I would still recommend reading it.  This is a book that points you toward a God who loves you and wants you to have peace in your soul.  I don’t think you have to be Christian to be drawn toward that God.

I can also imagine another group of people who might hesitate to read this book.  These are people of faith who have prayed sincerely for healing for themselves or someone they love, but the healing didn’t come.  I can imagine all different kinds of hurt a person would feel in this situation. If that’s you, I think you might need this book most of all.  Schuchts has been in your place.  He prayed for healing for his brother who ultimately died of AIDS.  Read his story and know that God loves you as much as he loves the people who receive miraculous physical healings.

In my post about Something Other Than God I wrote about my mission to guide my family on the path to heaven.  I also feel as if God is calling me to spread the word about Be Healed.  Schuchts recognizes that we are all wounded, and he believes that true healing comes from treating the whole person – body, mind, and soul.  Here’s the link again so you can read for yourself what he has to say.

 

Something Other Than God

This week my goal is to publish three posts, each about a different book I’ve read in the past few months that has left a deep impression on me.  I am starting with Something Other Than God.  Last fall I read this incredible memoir by Jennifer Fulwiler.  She chronicles her journey to Christianity after growing up in an atheist family.  Her story is fascinating, and her humor and humility come through in her writing.  It’s one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.

Her story is so different from my own, but we do have a few things in common.  We both moved frequently as children because of our dads’ jobs, and we are both college-educated American women.  Actually, I guess that’s about all we have in common until we reach the point in her story when she becomes a mother.  Having a baby was a turning point for her.  She had struggled to face her own mortality; the thought of her child’s mortality was more than she could handle.  Yet, heaven was one of that last pieces of the puzzle that she fit into place as she opened her eyes, her mind, and her heart to God.

Her journey is far from smooth, and her husband shows little interest in her search even though he has always considered himself a Christian.  He seems to be too busy starting his own law firm to help his wife find answers to life’s biggest questions, until one day he unexpectedly jumps into an online discussion she’s having and suddenly becomes more enthusiastic than she is to learn more about the history of Christianity and to ponder moral issues.  His turning point is one of my favorite moments in the book, so I don’t want to reveal what prompts it.

The title comes from C.S. Lewis, who once wrote, “All that we call human history . . . [is] the long, terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”  Fulwiler spent about 20 years of her life trying to have as much fun as possible in an effort to forget that she would one day die, that someday there would be nothing left of her.  Ultimately, she learns that true happiness comes from service to God and others.  There’s nothing wrong with having fun, but lasting happiness only comes from opening ourselves to God’s plan for our lives.

Fulwiler has helped me see that God has a mission for me, too.  Really, I should have been more aware of it all along.  I have a husband and three children, and I’m supposed to be caring for them and teaching my little ones and helping them all follow the path to heaven.  That means I need to turn off Facebook and go fold the laundry in service to my family.  Or better yet, I need to encourage my seven-year-old and five-year-old to sit down with me and learn how to fold the laundry because I need to teach them about serving others as well.  Most importantly, it means nurturing the spiritual life of my family so that we can each grow closer to God and hear His voice in our hearts, inviting each of us to live out His plan for us.

Fulwiler’s next book will be out in 2018.  The title is One Beautiful Dream:  The Rollicking Tale of Personal Passions, Family Chaos, and Saying Yes to Them Both.  I can’t wait to read it!  In the meantime, I’ll probably be rereading  Something Other Than God, and I highly recommend that you pick it up as well.

 

 

My Lenten Journey

Just before Lent started this year, I wrote a post about my struggles to forgive those who hurt me.  If you missed that post the first time around, you might want to read it now before you continue here.

I promised that after Easter I would report on my progress with learning to forgive, and I am several weeks overdue on keeping that promise.  I began saying my prayer of forgiveness on Ash Wednesday.  I made a routine of going into my bedroom every day after I put my toddler down for her nap.  I knelt before my crucifix to help me remember that I am also in need of forgiveness, and then I said my little prayer out loud.  That first day was hard.  It made me cry to say the name of the person I had been struggling to forgive for so long.  I had to choke out the end of the prayer, “I ask you to bless (Name).”  But I did it.

The next day was a tiny bit easier, and so was the day after that.  After about three weeks, I felt more peaceful, and I was inspired to add a second name when I prayed.  By the end of Lent, I had a list of five names I was praying for.  One of them was my own.  As I loosened my grip on old hurts, I saw that I also needed to forgive myself for past mistakes.

Now, as I let go of some of the deepest pain from my past, I can see so much more clearly the smaller grudges I have been holding.  Frequently, I will have a flash of insight that leads me to say my little prayer for yet another person.  I feel as if I am cleaning out my soul, but there always seems to be more dirt to sweep away.  That’s okay because I’m making progress.  Isn’t that what this life is all about:  growing every day toward becoming a better person?

Through this experience I’ve learned a couple of important lessons about forgiveness.  First of all, forgiving someone doesn’t mean I want to have a personal relationship with the one who hurt me.  I don’t have to want to be friends with someone who has betrayed me or abused me or insulted me.  I do have to hope that that person will make it safely to heaven someday.  That’s what it means when I pray for God to bless the person I want to forgive.

Also, forgiveness takes time.  Even after 40 days of praying for this particular person, some of the pain he caused me resurfaces from time to time.  When that happens, I take a deep breath and say my little prayer, and the pain dissipates.  In fact, I just did that this morning.

While I’m still a work in progress, and I will be until I arrive in heaven, I have a little more peace in my heart each time I say this prayer of forgiveness.  Here’s the whole prayer in case you’d like to try it yourself:

Lord, you know I have unforgiveness in my heart toward (Name).  I don’t want this.  I will to forgive, and I ask you to bless (Name).

 

Forgiveness

I have to admit that I have an unfortunate talent for holding grudges.  It might come from my Irish and Scottish ancestors, who certainly knew how to hold a grudge against the English.  Actually, now that I think about it, that’s still one of my own grudges that I need to learn to let go of:  Englishmen from history who oppressed my ancestors.  I have more work to do than I realized!

I definitely have a hard time forgiving anyone who hurts or insults my family members or close friends.  When I was in eighth grade, just before homeroom one day, I got into an argument with one of my best friends, and she insulted my parents.  I was so angry I hit her on the shoulder.  (I don’t think I actually hurt her.)  By first period, kids were asking me if it was true that I’d been in a fight with Chrissy.  They were incredulous because I was always a model student, but that’s just how angry I get if you go after my family.  This particular case is one of my success stories; I quickly forgave Chrissy, and we’ve been on friendly terms ever since then.  Other cases aren’t so easy for me.

As a teenager, I discovered St. Maria Goretti, and I’ve been in awe of her ever since.  If you’re not familiar with this lovely saint, let me tell you a little bit about her.  In 1902 Maria was not quite 12 years old when her 18-year-old neighbor, Alessandro, tried to rape her.  She resisted him, and he began to choke her and then stabbed her 14 times.  Lying on her deathbed in the hospital with her mother and a priest at her side, she freely forgave Alessandro and expressed her hope that he would join her in heaven someday.  In prison for his crime, but unrepentant, Alessandro had a dream in which Maria came to him and offered him lilies.  He accepted them, but they burned in his hands.  He awoke from that dream a changed man and was actually in the audience at Maria’s canonization in 1950.

Maria is my heroine.  For many years now I have asked her daily to pray for me so that I can become more like her.  If that young girl can forgive her murderer, what is wrong with me?

Part of the problem is my desire for justice.  I’m not out for revenge, but I do want to see people answer for the pain they cause.  Shouldn’t they at least have to recognize that they have caused pain?  If someone apologizes to me, I can forgive rather easily because I know from personal experience that it’s not easy to apologize and I know that it means that person has stood in my shoes for a moment and realized, “I wouldn’t want someone to treat me like that.”

But what do you do with the person who is never going to apologize?  The person who gives no indication of empathy or guilt?  As I sit here writing, I am starting to realize how many people I need to forgive even though not one of them will ever ask me for that forgiveness.  Some of these infractions are quite small in the grand scheme of things, but others have caused me deep pain indeed.  No matter the depth, all of this pain is real.

Of course, I recognize that often I am the one who needs to ask forgiveness.  I make mistakes that hurt people and damage my relationship with God.  As a Christian, I pray every day, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  There’s no getting around it that if I want God to forgive me, I have to learn to forgive others, so that’s going to be my focus for Lent this year.  For forty days I am going to pray for the person who has caused the most pain in my life, someone I have been struggling to forgive for 12 years.  This is the prayer I am going to use:  “Lord, you know I have unforgiveness in my heart toward (Name).  I don’t want this.  I will to forgive, and I ask you to bless (Name).”  I will not rush through this prayer or say it offhandedly.  I will kneel.  I will speak the words clearly.  I will force myself to say aloud the name that I usually refuse to even think about.

Here’s my challenge for you:  join me in this endeavor.  Even if you don’t normally observe Lent, say this prayer every day from March 1 to April 15.  Maybe you can free yourself from a burden that you may have been carrying for a long, long time.  I’ll let you know after Easter how it has changed me.

 

Faith

My First Communion
My First Communion

I haven’t yet directly discussed my religious faith, but I think it’s about time I did.  After all, if this blog is about my deepest influences, well, this is the deepest.  The thing is, my story isn’t all that exciting.  I don’t have an interesting conversion story.  I was raised Catholic, and I have never wandered away from the Church.  As a teenager, I transferred to a Catholic high school and loved it.  I went to Mass every Sunday when I was away at college.  I even taught the 5th grade Sunday school class during my senior year.  When I was starting my first teaching job and suffering from social anxiety disorder, attending Mass was about the only thing I did that got me out of my apartment and into my new community.

Maybe if I have not questioned my faith deeply or struggled with serious doubts, it means that my faith is shallow or childish, but I don’t think so.  Whenever I stop and ask myself, what if I’m wrong?  what if there is no God?  or what if the Muslims have it right, or the Jews have it right?  then nothing makes sense to me.  The only thing that makes sense of the universe for me is my belief that God loves His creatures so much that His Son chose to become one of us, to show us how to live and to submit humbly to torture and death before rising again so that all of our sins can be forgiven if we ask.  I realize that to a non-believer that must sound crazy, but it’s all about love.  If you’re a parent, you might be able to relate to this.  Wouldn’t you face torture and death in this life in order to have your children with you forever in the next?

Of course, there’s a lot more to practicing a religion than just attending services at a house of worship.  My Catholic faith influences everything I do, or at least it’s supposed to.  I certainly fall short on a daily basis, but I keep trying.  I try to treat every person with love and respect.  I try to help those in need and comfort those who are suffering or grieving.  I try to live with integrity.  I try to honor my calling as a wife and mother.  I try to make time for silent reflection so that I can hear God talking to me.  I try.

I have read about two similar spiritual visions concerning the final judgment of souls at the moment of death.  They were strikingly similar to each other, and they both struck a chord with me.  In each of these separate visions, God asked the soul, “Do you love Me?  Do you want to be with Me?”  That might sound amazingly easy.  Who would choose to go to Hell?  Yet, in each of these visions, someone did.  One was a young, married woman, and the other was actually Stalin.  Both of them had made a habit of turning away from God during this life.  They had conditioned their souls to reject Him.  Whether or not these visions are true, they have taught me how important it is to build the habit of turning to God always.

I practice turning my heart to Him in every little thing, not just when I want something.  A few nights ago, I turned off the light over the kitchen sink just as the stars were coming out, and I turned to Him in praise and wonder at His creation.  When I am rocking Rose at bedtime and she is getting relaxed and sleepy in my arms, I turn to Him in thanks for my precious baby.  I will keep practicing.