Forgiveness and Abundant Blessings

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A couple of weeks ago one of my junior high students in my religious education class at church asked me an interesting question.  She wanted to know if God sometimes does not give us what we want.  I told her that sometimes he does not give us what we want because it is not what we need and sometimes gives us what we want either because it is what we need, or we may need to learn a lesson.  Yesterday, this question was answered for me.

In my previous post, I wrote about how I needed to forgive someone whom I loved long ago.  I felt God call me to write to him after four years of no communication and nearly 12 years since we last saw one another.  It is complicated story that a lot of military folks would understand, but that is neither here nor there.  I did not actually expect him to respond to my email, but he did, rather quickly, I might add.
His response taught me a few very important things.  First, it unleashed the power of forgiveness and healing across time and distance.  It showed me that in my honesty and vulnerability were both able to say what was needed.  Second, it showed me that our perceptions are not necessarily  reality.  We may not realize that people do not mean to hurt us and if we do not tell them, there can never be reconciliation.  He did not realize fully how much he had hurt me.  Third, we can love people deeply, but that does not necessarily mean that they are the right one God wants for us in the Sacrament of Marriage.  God wants us to become saints and not every person is right for fulfilling our vocations.  And we are not necessarily right for that person either.
I think that a lot of us have cared for or loved someone who did not turn out to be who we married or will marry.  Many of us, myself included, pray for things to work out with that person, but it doesn’t.  It may take some time, even decades to finally see why it did not work out.  To see that choices we made at that point, set in motion our future path.  This man and I both made that choice when he chose an overseas duty station.  It took longer for me to understand that that particular choice would impact both of us over the long term and eventually lead us to each find our proper paths in life.  His in the  military and mine with my husband and daughter.
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Even though I supported him in pursuing his dream of living in Europe, it broke my heart when he left.  I did not fully recover for a long time, even though I dated.  I wanted God to make things better, to re-unite us, but it never happened.  Some of it was pure circumstance, we just never could get to the same place, and some of it was God’s intervention.  I am sure of it.  That’s the point.  Sometimes unanswered prayers are God showing us an even greater love and path.  Sure it hurts in the process.  But, what a gift this guy was to me in those moments we had together.  He was the first to truly teach me sacrificial love.  When we are young, we tend to be impatient.  We also tend to think in the short term.  I wanted him to be the right guy, not looking at how my life would play out, or how his would either.
After I received his email.  I cried tears of joy for about an hour.  I was relieved and filled with such a deep gratitude.  I knew Our Lord was the one who had a hand in our reconciliation.  We were finally honest with one another and in doing so, we are both able to think fondly of one another and be grateful for the paths we have been given.  I was also able to apologize to him for all of my mistakes.   I had a deeper sense of love and awe for my husband.  I could see how God’s hand guided me over the last 12 years, even though it came with deep pain.  I saw how God wanted me to find my husband and He wanted to give me the tremendous gift of our daughter.  He wanted me to truly begin to understand joy and I can only do that with the right vocation.  My husband is my vocation.  So I found the right path and this man who I loved so long ago, also found his path.  It gave me great joy to know that he was safe and that he, like me, was finding his way.
Today at Mass I offered up my Mass for him.  I know that he struggles with faith and I prayed hard that he may find Christ.  I also offered up the Mass in deep gratitude for the peace and joy that came with our reconciliation.  My husband was very supportive.  Once I told him what happened he was glad that I was able to be set free and begin to understand the abundant graces that flow from forgiveness.  It is when we love as Christ loves that we are truly alive.  There are other deeper hurts that I need to forgive and this experience has revealed the graces that flow from choosing forgiveness, which is what He did on the Cross.  It is what He offers us every single time we sin.  We only have to ask for it.
So, what would I tell my student now?  It probably would not matter, because she, like I did, will want to make the mistakes and take the paths of youth.   I do not consider this man a mistake, rather a part of the journey.  Sometimes we love the wrong people and sometimes we love people who are only a stepping stone on the journey to holiness.  It is hard to let go of someone we love.  We were made for and by Love, but let go we must.  We never know what greater things God has in store for us until we let go.  I pray that, like me, you can receive and offer forgiveness and that Our Lord will give you abundant blessings in the process.
And Happy Feast of the Archangels!  It is my daughter’s big feast day.
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Forgiveness, Even Years Later

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This morning I felt called to write a letter, really an email, that I have wanted to write for about 10 years.  This person was on my mind recently because they are forever linked to my 9-11 relief work days and September can sometimes remind me of him.  I don’t mean in a longing or sinful way.  I am happily married and I have an amazing daughter.  I would not have it any other way and I no longer harbor romantic love for this person.  He just hurt me really deeply on multiple occasions over a 7 year period.  Much of that time separated by two different branches, continents, and jobs in the military.

 
Throughout my lifetime many people will hurt me.  Their impact will not be lasting and I will forget it quickly.  There are others who for whatever reason will stay with me and I must consciously choose to forgive them.  For that reason, I felt like God called me to actually write to this person and forgive them even though I have not had any contact with him in four years.
 
I know him.  He is a rather selfish person and I know that he may have never heard that he is forgiven before.  I know he has not heard it from me because we cut ties when he hurt me, yet again, a few years ago.  But, that does not change that I cared for him and it does not change the hurt I felt.  He comes to mind rarely these days, but occasionally he will in September.  I realized today that I needed to write to him and tell him what I never was able to say and to say that I forgive him.  I told him that I pray that he is happy, as happy and blessed as I am.  Really, besides saying that we forgive or choose to forgive, even if we don’t tell the person, all we can do is pray for these people.  Even in hurt, when we loved someone, we always desire the best for them.  It may take years to heal.  It is a journey.
 
I told my husband about it.  He didn’t quite understand, but we are different.  He wasn’t upset, he just moves on and would not need to write this type of email to anyone.  Don’t get me wrong, I have long moved on.  I felt called to write it for two reasons.  First, so that I can continue on my own journey of learning to forgive.  I have some other deep hurts that I need to work on that are much harder to tackle than this one.  This is a first step for me.  Second, I hope and pray that my forgiveness and honesty will help him to Christ.  He struggled a lot with faith.  I was trying to witness to the power of forgiveness and Love.
 
The thing about technology is that it keeps us in contact with people who would normally be long gone.  I am not friends on Facebook with this person, as I do not think it is appropriate for married people to be friends with previous romantic interests.  As Christians, I do think it is necessary for us to actually tell certain people that we forgive them.  Not only for their sakes, but for our own.  There is a great healing in uttering the words “I forgive you”, which is precisely why Our Lord calls us to forgive and to seek forgiveness in the Confessional.  It heals broken relationships, even if that relationship will only remain in the past.
 
Some people might think my choice strange.  But abundant blessings flowed into my heart when I hit send.  This is something that I have thought of writing for about 10 years, but never had the courage.  Perhaps because this person kept on hurting me over a 7 year period, because I let them.  It took that long for me to just completely walk away.  It was the best decision and I found the right man because of that choice.  I finally stopped comparing the men I dated to him.
 
Forgiveness is a conscious choice that we must each make in every moment of hurt.  Some things are easier to forgive than others, but forgive we must.  Is there someone or some people who you need to forgive?  Perhaps you could sit down and write them a letter.  If you cannot send it, then write it and throw it away.  The act of writing down your thoughts and feelings can set you free.  To forgive, the other person does not necessarily need to know they have been forgiven.  I have lived all over, and I do not have the contact information for every single person I have known.  Family may be harder to forgive.  The point is that we work towards that forgiveness.  Christ died on the Cross for each one of us, when we sin each and every day.  Unleash the freedom and peace of forgiveness into your own life.  Have a very blessed weekend!

Dealing with Miscarriage Part V: Answers

Do not abandon yourselves to despair.  We are a Resurrection people and hallelujah is our song.

Blessed John Paul II

One of the hardest parts about miscarriage is that for most OB/GYNs you have to have three before they start looking into underlying medical issues.  I have had issues my entire reproductive life, but none that would have been really obvious.  I had just accepted that periods of severe PMS were just a part of me and I knew that most doctors would just throw the Pill at me, which I was not interested in.  So after my miscarriage in February, the doctor finally started testing me for autoimmune, clotting, and a whole host of other disorders, which, not surprisingly, came back normal.  He then said he could do a month long hormone panel and then give me fertility drugs if needed.  I just did not see how that helped and we were moving anyway, so I was going to have to switch OB/GYNs.  Then came Dr. Karen Poehailos.

 
After this most recent loss, I really was starting to doubt that I would have anymore children.  First, because I had lost three and second, boughts of debilitating post-partum depression and anxiety were a major strain on my family.  I am really sensitive to hormone shifts.  I was an emotional mess while I nursed my daughter.  I lasted 14 months and then said, I have got to stop for my own sanity’s sake.  Quite honestly, I had almost given up hope that I would have another child and that I would spend my life on Prozac, even though I knew that there had to be something hormonally wrong with me.  My husband can see it throughout the month.
 
Karen came up to me at my first Lay Dominican meeting.  She is a Family Practice doctor who is certified in Natural Procreative Technology (NaPro) and Creighton Method Fertility Care.  There are tons of resources on the Pope Paul VI Institute website, including where certified doctors are located by state.  She told me that she could help me and she offered to let me pray in front of her second degree relic of St. Gianna Molla.
 
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Meeting Karen was my first ray of hope.  I had no idea that there were options out there, let alone options that were in line with Catholic Church teaching.  I figured it was birth control, which is not really an option, or artificial treatments, some of which are morally acceptable and others that are not.  I felt boxed in and I felt like my OB/GYN was never going to be able to tell me what was wrong.  He was more interested in a band-aid.  Don’t get me wrong, he did great work with Michaela.  I had to have an unplanned c-section when she turned transverse and he is considered the best c-section doctor in the area.  He just was not giving me any hope.
 
Karen got me in touch with the Charlottesville Fertility Care Center Creighton Method Natural Family Planning instructors.  In order to decipher what is going on with my body, I had to learn how to chart using the Creighton Method. This method of NFP focuses solely on mucus observations.  It is not the Rhythm Method.  I cannot stress this enough.  It is based on sound science and is more effective than any hormonal or barrier method of contraception out there when wanting to avoid pregnancy.  By monitoring my cycle through cervical mucus observations, we were able to see the areas where my cycle is not entirely normal. My instructor, who is awesome, taught me how to chart over Skype.  This is a great option when instructors are not in the area.  We discovered that my cycle has shifted by 2 full days since my last miscarriage.
 
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After 2 months of charting, I then had my initial appointment with Karen at her office.  She checked my chart and told me she suspected a progesterone deficiency at the very least.  I then had to do my month of blood draws.  She drew estrogen levels, progesterone levels, and tested my thyroid function (more thorough than what your normal doctor will order).  After completing the blood work, we would have a clearer picture of what is going on.
 
Earlier this week my husband, daughter, and I went back to her office, which is 2.25 hours from us.  (It is worth the drive!)  She showed me my results.  I expected there to be issues, but I was rather amazed by what she told me and showed me.  I have significant estrogen AND progesterone deficiencies.  My body is always running on low.  She then showed me that my thyroid is slightly sluggish.  The thyroid function is not slow enough to put me on a thyroid protocol at this point in my life.  The hormone deficiencies, however, clearly showed why I have lost so many babies and why I have such severe mood shifts throughout the month.  In some ways it is a wonder that I have been able to get pregnant so easily, considering my estrogen levels.
 
So, now we had the answers.  What were my options?  Karen said that she wanted to start me on an HCG injection regimen the second half of my cycle to see if it will lift my levels. If not, we will have to look at other options, like fertility drugs.  Once a pregnancy is achieved, I would need HCG and progesterone injections.  She also told me that natural progesterone is used to treat post-partum depression, so we have options, given my history.  She also feels that the HCG will help improve my anxiety and depression that seems to worsen in the second half of my cycle.  I have struggled with some of these things for 20 years and never realized that I had hormone deficiencies.  This is not something that psychiatrists or OB/GYNs are really looking for in treating women with my symptoms.  The standard is to throw the Pill at me and say it will even out my issues and when I want kids to just take fertility drugs.  Ha!
 
I left her office feeling hopeful.  I actually rejoiced and was relieved to find this out.  Why?  Because I finally had answers.  Sure, no one wants to have medical issues, but this was way better news than her telling me, “We still don’t know what is wrong.”  I called one of my closest friends who was an OB/GYN  nurse for years, and she was as excited as I was.  She was relieved that we had found the answer.  She said my ovaries are lazy and my thyroid is sluggish.  I thought it was pretty funny.  She had said to me before my last blood draw that I had better have a progesterone deficiency after all of this.  I have multiple deficiencies!
 
My husband and I turned and looked at our daughter.  We both realized even more what a gift and wonder she truly is for us.  After all, she is the only one who has made it and she is a miracle in our minds.  What a gift she is!!!
 
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Doctors like Karen are springing up all over the country.  While this technology is sponsored and researched by a Catholic institute, it is not reserved only for Catholics.  The point of this method is to help couples find natural solutions to medical issues and infertility.  They use different techniques to treat: infertility, PCOS, post-partum depression, PMS, etc.  The aim is to treat the whole human person.  If you have been struggling with miscarriage, infertility, or other Gynecological problems, then check out the Pope Paul VI Institute’s website.  There is hope and there are options.  If you live in Virginia, we have two physicians in the Richmond Diocese: Dr. Karen Poehailos in Charlottesville and Dr. Hemphill in Richmond (she is an OB/GYN).
 
Miscarriage is deeply painful.  The grief and pain come in waves.  There are periods of despair and loneliness.  Mine are not over, but I have found hope.  Even if we do not have any more children for whatever reason God deigns, at least I was able to figure out what is going on with my body.  I can hug and kiss my daughter in deep gratitude and I can continue to pray for people like you who know what it is to suffer such terrible anguish.  I hope this series has helped you.  I am sure I will write about miscarriage again.  It is a process that I am in the middle of right now. I will continue to write about my experiences with NaPro as I begin my hormone treatments.  May God bless you always.

Results Day

Today is the day that I find out the results of my month long hormone panel.  I am working with a Catholic NaPro doctor whom I met through the Lady Dominicans.  My husband and I are about to make the 2.25 hour drive to her office.  I have to admit that I am nervous.  I think that I am more nervous of her saying to me that she could not find anything wrong with me.  That would mean we would know nothing more than we did when we started this process four months ago with me learning Creighton NFP.  That would mean that I would have no answer to why I have lost three babies.

I am trying to write as I go through this process.  I will write a post on Natural Procreative Technologies (NaPro), which are a form of Catholic Church approved medical interventions for repeated miscarriage, post-partum depression, severe PMS, hormone issues, endometriosis, etc.  The most common treatment method from what I understand is natural progesterone given during the second half of a woman’s cycle when she is not pregnant and injections when she is pregnant.  That is if a progesterone deficiency is found, which is really what we are looking for in me.

While the process is stressful because of all the unknowns, it was when I was introduced to this option that I began to have hope again.  After this last loss, I was starting to accept that I would not have the option of more children whether it be because of my physical or emotional health.  Each pregnancy was taking its toll on me.  Rough pregnancies, that resulted in loss, and then periods of post-partum depression and anxiety.  The last three years have been a roller coaster.

So today I find out if I have a hormone issue.  I have had every blood test possible this year.  All of which came back normal.  While this is not the last step, it is the last step in the easier options.  The next options would be genetic testing and structural testing.  I have to admit that there is a big part of me that is hoping she will tell me I have a progesterone deficiency.  So much of what I have been through in the last 20 years will make so much more sense if that is the case.  Miscarriage was just the catalyst to start looking for issues.  I have struggled with severe PMS for decades.  Most OB/GYNs just throw birth control at women, rather than looking for the actual medical issue.  I have never gone on the Pill for medical reasons and never intend to.  Some women have to, but I think that these women need to look into NaPro.

Why 40 Days for Life?

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I firmly believe that Our Lord has called me to the pro-life ministry and crisis pregnancy ministry.  It is something that I have always been passionate about. In high school, when I had to deliver a speech on the abortion issue and why it was deeply immoral to murder the unborn, it became clear to me how deeply this issue has been imbedded in our culture.   I was the only person defending life in a classroom of 40 people.  I took barrage after barrage of questioning.  Never giving in to emotion and sticking to reason.  My teacher gave me an A+ and he could not believe how I handled the attacks.  My years as a varsity debater had paid off.

 
It was something that went to the back burner during my years in the Navy.  Political activities are not encouraged in the  military and while it is a moral issue that has been turned political, it just wasn’t something I worked in while I served.
 
It was when I moved back to Montana to finish college that I started to think about the issue again.  I was more involved in politics, and I have to say that it was politics that first brought it back to the forefront of my conscious thought.  I started to see the staggering numbers of aborted children in this country and across the globe.  I was able to see more clearly the lies of radical feminism and what it has done to our country.  So I focused on politics for a couple of years.
 
Then something happened.  I had returned fully to the Church after a few wayward years and was married and thinking about children.  I met some wonderful women who were devoted to the pro-life mission and I joined with them in serving the local parish.  I read Evangelium Vitae, which transformed my understanding of the Church and the Culture of Life.  It became clear to me very quickly that the scourge of abortion has infiltrated the Church in horrible ways.  While our media likes to portray Catholics as obsessed with abortion and contraception, the opposite is true.  Many people are either apathetic or hostile to sanctity of life ministries.  I was not prepared for attacks from within the Church.  
 
My husband and I eventually switched parishes to the parish we are members of currently.  I immediately joined the Sanctity of Life Committee and began work with the three women who are deeply devoted to helping women, babies, and families, as well as educating Catholics on the Church’s teachings on marriage, human sexuality, abortion, justice, etc.  We had tremendous backing from our parish priest, but a lot of the issues I faced at my previous parish, are still in my current parish.   I cannot quite put my finger on it.  I don’t know if it is apathy.  That is my biggest fear.  To paraphrase Venerable Fulton Sheen, ‘the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.’  My husband thinks that it is fear.  That makes sense.  Putting yourself out there in an issue that generates a lot of conflict does require courage.  I often wonder if it is that we are too busy?  I would say that is part of it.  Americans are inherently busy and the really important things tend to be put on the back burner. I speak from personal experience here.  To be honest, I hazard a guess that it is because a lot of Catholics have not experienced a real conversion to Jesus Christ.
 
To follow Jesus means to wade into the muck.  It is standing up to injustice in the face of overwhelming odds.  It is radically loving our neighbor, even when they do not want that love.  It is sacrificing our time, treasure, and talents.  Everything belongs to Him.  Once we know the joy of following Christ, we are given the grace to go out and bring people to that joy.  That means going into the streets looking for the poor.  It means helping the mother who feels that abortion is her only choice.  Even though these things make us deeply uncomfortable.  Christ came to shake us out of our complacency.  We all do it and we all need a wake up call.
 
I am not saying that Christ is calling all people to be devoted to the ending of abortion full-time.  We are all called to serve in some capacity, but perhaps not be in the front lines.  We all have unique talents.  Perhaps He wants you to work in soup kitchens or a shelter, or to visit and serve the sick, or work with refugees.   I believe God wants me to use the talents He gave me serving these women and families who are facing abortion, or those poor women who need supplies for their pregnancy. I do both, as Pope Francis tells us to do.  We must bring about change and true justice, but we must also serve the poor in love and mercy.  I do believe that we are all called to share in the Culture of Life.  Our fallen world needs hope, and we are the bearers of the hope, the Church.  Jesus Christ is with and in His Church always.  He guides us and He wants us to go out and share in His mission.  Do we truly want His mission?  We must all ask ourselves this daily.
 
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Can you give an hour to testify to the joy and love of the Living God, twice a year?  40 Days for Life runs in the spring and in the fall.  To date over 7000 babies have been saved by the 40 Days for Life prayer campaign. How?  Because our loving presence reminded these women and men that they have a choice. So many of these women believe that they have no choice.  That is one of the great lies of the “pro-choice” narrative. We remind these desperate people that there are options.  We show them that the Truth is stronger than the lie.  Thanks to this peaceful campaign, abortion clinics are closing at record rates, while crisis pregnancy centers that minister to these families are on the rise.
 
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I really started getting involved in pro-life ministry.  When I was 5 months pregnant with her I participated in my first 40 Days for Life prayer vigil outside our local Planned Parenthood.  I knew deep within me that every woman should know the joy and beauty of motherhood without the pressure, pain, and despair of abortion.  I also know that the idea of “choice” is a lie.  Not only because I know that life begins at conception, but more importantly, because I know that so many of these women are forced or coerced into having abortions by families, boyfriends, abusers, and the abortion industry.  My heart breaks for these women.  And these women are more common than the media would have us believe.  I pray for these women, and the abortion workers, because I know that they have fallen for a lie.  The evil one has deceived as he always does.  I want to show them the Truth and the Life.  I want them to find peace in the one who saves all of us sinners.  I am a sinner who works in the vineyard of Our Lord trying to help other sinners.  Will you not join us?  Will you show these people who dwell in darkness the Light?
 
I understand that standing out in public in front of a Planned Parenthood is scary.  I know that it takes courage.  I am not going to lie to you.  People will yell at you and flip you off.  People may even try to argue with you.  But, at least here in the Bible Belt, more people honk in support than scream expletives.  Think of Christ on the Cross.  People screamed at him and mocked him as he died for their sins; as He died for all of us.  Defending the Truth takes faith and courage, both of which come from the Holy Spirit.  So please prayerfully consider taking an hour of prayer this fall.  You can find information about your local 40 Days for Life at www.40daysforlife.com
 
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Remember, as Christians, we are not there to judge or bring hate.  And I am not talking about the secular “virtue” of tolerance either.  Rather, we are there to testify to Love and Hope.  Some of these people have never encountered Christ crucified and risen.  Some of these people are despairing and some are deeply deceived.  Just like us they are created in the image and likeness of God.  Our prayers can save them from years of pain, torment, and regret, and we can save them from the brutal murder and torture of their unborn child.  In this country alone 55 million babies have been murdered through abortion.  That number continues to climb and it is over one billion worldwide.  Pray that the Culture of Life may invade and convert all hearts.  Pray for the families who have had abortions.  Pray for those considering abortions.  Pray for those who work in the abortion industry.  With God all things are possible and the Culture of Life will prevail.  God bless you.
 
As we begin 40 Days for Life tomorrow we pray:
 
Saint Michael the Archangel, 
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, 
by the Divine Power of God, 
cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.

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Timeless Sundays

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Life gets busy.  The pace seems to be dizzying some days and weeks.  I looked at the calendar yesterday and could not believe that it is almost October.  And while the sunlight tells me it is autumn, I cannot help but wonder where summer has gone?  Did I sleep through it? Perhaps I was living in a haze of stress and to-do lists?  I always think of how we need to slow down on Sundays.  Mass is not something we check off of a list.  Now that I am teaching junior high religious education, Sunday mornings are, well, busy.

Maybe it is that I live in the South now, but I find a great deal of romance in the idea of a lazy and slow-paced Sunday.  A time for picnics on the church lawn, fishing poles, walks, or long country drives after Mass.  During the colder months, I like the idea of making a hearty meal of roast and vegetables that is topped off with one of my homemade pies.  Too bad it is more alive in my imagination than reality.
We get distracted.  There are only two weekend days and Saturday is always full of jobs around the house or activities somewhere else.  Those jobs tend to spill over into Sunday, especially during the months we are growing a garden.  We just bought our home in May, so it has been a whirl of projects and issues that come up as we get to know our house that was built in 1947.  That is old by American standards, which I always find amusing after my time living in Europe.
Speaking of Europe, while the Europeans have largely abandoned their Christian heritage and faith, they still know how to take it easy on a Sunday.  When I lived in England, I always enjoyed the slower pace.  The shops don’t open until late, if they open at all.  The pubs tend to serve one item and that was a roast with vegetables and Yorkshire pudding.  It was a good day to brave the weather, or enjoy the sunshine for the two weeks a year it stayed out, and go for a country walk.  There are thousands of country trails in England.  You don’t have to worry about getting shot walking on a trail through someone’s property.  There is a serious lack of “Do not trespass” signs in that part of the world.
I need and crave timelessness.  Matthew Kelly talks about it in some of his talks.  He talks about how our relationships with people and with God thrive on timelessness.  If I could pick one love language that heals and soothes me most, it would be time.  My husband and I fell in love during months of timelessness.  We did not focus so much on the tasks we had to get done, as much as we focused on each other.  We would wander the mountains of North Carolina on a Sunday afternoon after we went to Mass together at our beautiful mountain parish.  The one we were married in.  My eyes were opened to the grandeur of autumn on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I am a native Montanan so I am used to the pine and stone of the Rocky Mountains.   I had never seen so much color explode on a mountainside before.  We found hidden waterfalls and were awe-struck by God’s creation.  But, life happens.
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We moved away from Boone two weeks after we got married.  We moved to the mountains of Southwest Virginia, where the Parkway is a good 45 minutes away rather than 10.  Phil started working.  I got pregnant with our beautiful daughter.  Parenthood began.  Our priorities shifted.  We had more to accomplish and little time to do it in.  Timelessness vanished all together.
The moments I am most at peace are when I stop and truly watch what is going on around me.  When I look at the way the wind blows through my daughter’s hair.  Or how the golden light illuminates her face.  Those times when I look in my husband’s eyes or admire his face.  Perhaps counting my gifts is what is helping me to do that more?  Looking for moments of blessing in my ordinary day.  I tend to live on autopilot way too much.  My brain is always humming with thought.  I could power an entire city with energy if we could harness my constant thought-processes.  I get lost in my day and before I know it months and years have passed.
After Mass yesterday, my husband suggested that we go look for a new truck for him.  His died completely two weeks ago, which has added to our financial and emotional stress in what has been one of the most stressful years of our lives.  It has been one thing after another: medical issues, a serious miscarriage, the near death of a friend, the sudden death of a friend, major costs on the house, and now the need for a new truck and a heating system all in the same month.
At first I was resigned to another Sunday of shopping and busyness.  We started driving around.  Looking for a cheap used pick-up is a daunting task.  It is hard to find used vehicles anymore thanks to the joke that was Cash for Clunkers.  We drove through a few car lots and then we went to buy me a Pumpkin Spice Latte.  We then found ourselves heading outside of Roanoke onto the road that leads to Bedford and Lynchburg.  It turns into a lovely country road.  And something wonderful happened.  In our process of looking for a pick up, we started a country drive just like we used to do.  Our toddler slept and I looked out the window at the green countryside that will soon be alive with fall color.  Even though we were looking for a truck, we were able to just drive and enjoy the day.  The truck became secondary.  Timelessness.
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I felt like I could breathe softer again.  I looked around me and enjoyed the moment.  I was not thinking about the bills, dishes, laundry, or to-do list for the week.  We stopped at a garage sale and found a cheap St. Francis statue.  We had been looking for one for a while, but they can be expensive.  It needs a paint job, but it was the right price for us and our garden.  We drove through historic Bedford and took our time.  And by the grace of God, we found that pick up we needed.  I knew right away it was a blessing from God.  It was the right price, a Toyota, and it was well taken care of by the owner who is now deceased.  I was at total peace with buying it for my husband.  We could pay cash for it and still afford to pay cash for our heating system.  Our savings is depleted, but our needs are met.
I want us to recapture the restfulness of Sunday.  I know that it can be a struggle.  Americans live at warp speed and it makes it difficult to slow down and keep the Sabbath.  While going to Mass is our duty and privilege, I think that God also knows that we need a break.  We need time with our families.  We need times of rest, even if it is just watching football.  We need timelessness.  I know that the number one thing that gets in the way of my prayer life is my lack of timelessness.  It is much harder for me to focus on my Bible, Rosary, Divine Office, or simple prayer when I feel like I am going to get interrupted or cannot stop thinking about what needs to get done.  All relationships need periods of freedom.  That includes most especially our relationships with God, our spouse, and our children.
One of the amazing blessings of the day was that it made me more focused on Christ, my vocation, and my prayer life.  I thought about the blessings of the day and was truly thankful.  I spent time in prayer and then I cleaned the kitchen and folded and put away laundry.  Those are tasks I usually would have left until today, but by truly resting, I felt rejuvenated and I could serve my family better. That meant that I did not start this week already feeling overwhelmed.  Do you have periods of timelessness in your life?  Make Sunday a day of rest and peace for your home.  It will bring abundant blessings to your and yours.
Some of the things that I am thankful for these days:
My bossy toddler
Wide open country lanes
The wind in my daughter’s golden hair
The way my husband’s eyes light up when he smiles
An affordable truck for my husband
Timeless Sundays
My junior high students in religious education
Michaela sitting still for most of Mass
An encouraging word from my Dominican friends
Christ helping me deal with my fears

Dealing with Miscarriage Part IV: The Church

 

 

I am sorry to report that the Church does not have an official doctrine on miscarriage and Salvation.  Since it is never really mentioned in Revelation, the Church has no official position.  If you want to understand how the Church interprets what is in Scripture I suggest reading the Vatican II constitution Dei Verbum.  This can be deeply difficult for families who have lost children in miscarriage, especially in light of our understanding of Original Sin.  What I aim to do in this post is share with you my own experiences in talking with priests and reading what little I could find that related to miscarriage.  The resources are sparse, but there is hope.

When I had my second miscarriage, I immediately went to the priest and asked for him to pray with us.  It was all I could do.  Truth be told, our priest, who was a holy and godly man, had little experience with miscarriage.  He knows a lot more today because I shared my experiences with him.  You may have to be the one to enlighten your priest on this issue.  We are called to be a Culture of Life that is open to God’s plan and children, but being open to life means that we are vulnerable to loss and the suffering that accompanies loss.

Being the Catholic that I am, I immediately thought of Baptism when I lost Caleb.  We would have had him baptized within 6 weeks of his birth.  My husband and I take Baptism very seriously.  So in my grief and desperation during that miscarriage I tried to baptize what remained of him.  After all, Baptism is the only Sacrament that we can administer when necessary.  I later learned and realized that Baptism is for the living, and Caleb had died well before the bleeding began.  My impulse was to do the right thing even though it was too late.

First trimester miscarriages make it nearly impossible to have a funeral.  The miscarriage can come on so suddenly and the body is so tiny that it is difficult to have or find a body to bury.  We have not been able to have a funeral for any of our losses.  Second trimester or stillborn losses usually allow for a funeral, which you are entitled to.  If you have a first trimester miscarriage, at least call your priest and get his blessing and prayers.

The Church does not have a position on where pre-born children go at death.  The understanding of Limbo has always been vague and not an official doctrine of the Church.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote a letter on Limbo in which he leaves the unbaptized to the mercy of God.  With everything we know about God, through Revelation, and most especially through Jesus Christ, we know that God loves children and we know that He is merciful.  Our priest told me to trust in that and I have chosen to do so.

With my third miscarriage, our parish was in transition with priests, so I was comforted in Confession and chose to visit our former parish priest who had moved in order to discuss my most recent loss.  This is a difficult issue.  It is one that pastoral care within the Church is seriously lacking and quite frankly, we have to bring it to the attention of our priests and Bishops.  In my view, if we are to be open to life, then the Church needs to work to care for and console those who lose children.  There is no reason that a family should have to sit and suffer on their own while being a member of the Mystical Body of Christ.

There are a few things that I have found help me.  First, name your child.  It does not matter if you know for sure whether the child was a boy or a girl.  I rely on my motherly intuition and discuss names with my husband according to my gut feeling.  Once you have named the child, have them added to the Shrine of the Holy Innocents.  They will then be committed to prayer and remembrance.  The Shrine will send you a certificate with the name of your child on it, so you have something tangible to remember your child by.

Second, have a Mass said at least once, or even yearly for your child or children.  This is especially important if you cannot have a funeral Mass said.  It also would be beneficial to organize a Mass each year for families who have lost children.  Discuss it with your priest.  I promise it will bring healing and peace to many people.  It may even help your priest if they have lost siblings or family members in miscarriage.  November is a great month to have a Mass said for the dead.  Make sure the Mass is advertised as for families who have suffered the loss of a child from pre-born onward.

Third, start a group or ministry at your church that serves families who have or are experiencing loss.  I am in the planning stage of starting a small ministry that brings food, support, and the Eucharist to families who are experiencing loss, or just need someone to talk to who has been through it.  Since I myself am still grieving, I am taking my time in figuring out how God wants to use me to serve others who have lost children.

Fourth, if you have a later term miscarriage at a hospital, request the remains back so that you can have a funeral.  When I had my emergency D&E earlier this year, I was 8 weeks, which means that it was difficult for me to find a body and by the time I had surgery, the body had already passed.  They did not find the baby in the post-operative study.  So, it was not an option for me.  Even if you have to fight with the hospital, do it.  You have a right to a Christian burial for your child.

Unfortunately, books related to the Church and miscarriage are sparse.  I found this book After Miscarriage and I have read through it a couple of times following my own losses.  Our parish priest also told me to read the book Heaven is for Real which is about a 4 year old boy’s near death experience and what he saw in Heaven.  It is compelling and it inspires great hope.  There is a section that pertains directly to miscarriage in the book.  Make sure you have some tissues when you read it.  It is a book to read for hope, not theological understanding. The Rosary is a good place to start too.  Rote prayer is very helpful during grief.  It allows you not to think so much about the words, but more about healing and strength.  I wrote about the Sorrowful Mysteries and this might be helpful in the early stages or on an anniversary.  I also found this prayer by Mother Angelica that I have found very helpful:

 

“My Lord, the baby is dead!  Why, my Lord—dare I ask why? It will not hear the whisper of the wind or see the beauty of its parents’ face—it will not see the beauty of Your creation or the flame of a sunrise. Why, my Lord?  “Why, My child—do you ask ‘why’? Well, I will tell you why.  You see, the child lives. Instead of the wind he hears the sound of angels singing before My throne. Instead of the beauty that passes he sees everlasting Beauty—he sees My face. He was created and lived a short time so the image of his parents imprinted on his face may stand before Me as their personal intercessor. He knows secrets of heaven unknown to men on earth. He laughs with a special joy that only the innocent possess. My ways are not the ways of man. I create for My Kingdom and each creature fills a place in that Kingdom that could not be filled by another. He was created for My joy and his parents’ merits. He has never seen pain or sin. He has never felt hunger or pain. I breathed a soul into a seed, made it grow and called it forth.” I am humbled before you, my Lord, for questioning Your wisdom, goodness, and love. I speak as a fool—forgive me. I acknowledge Your sovereign rights over life and death. I thank You for the life that began for so short a time to enjoy so long an Eternity.”                        

 

I wish that I had more answers for you, but I don’t.  Trust in God’s mercy and love.  Remember Christ said, “Let the little children come to me.” When I am at Mass I try to think about my children being gathered around the altar.  After all, when we are at Mass we step into the Heavenly Liturgy.  Scott Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper is a great book to help you understand the connection between Heaven and earth in the Mass.  It gives great hope that at the Mass our children are not far away and they too celebrate with us.  The Eucharist supersedes time and is eternal.  I hope this post gives you a starting point.  Talk to your priest, even if it is difficult and they struggle in helping you.  Maybe God is calling you to show them an area they need to minister to their flock.  May God bless you always in your journey.

Amazed and Thankful

 

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I know that I am doing something right in moments like the one I experienced this afternoon.  My two year old daughter came up to me and handed me a cross shaped piece of pumpkin vine.  She pointed to it and said, “Jesus”.  My heart melted and I was so proud.  These are moments that strengthen me in my vocation.  It is easy as a parent to look out at the Fallen world and feel like it is impossible to keep our children committed to Christ.  I think that Our Lord reminds me through my daughter that I must persevere and by His grace she will walk the path of holiness to Sainthood and the Beatific Vision.  What a blessing my daughter is and I am so thankful that God chose to give her to me, as unworthy as I am.  Happy Saturday!

Dealing with Miscarriage Part III: It’s a Journey

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When I started writing this series on miscarriage, I did not know where it would go.  I just started typing.  I let my heart do the talking and my fingers do the telling.  A friend said to me that writing it down may be a form of healing for me, and I think that she is right.  It has been a really stressful year for my family.  We are at a point where we expect an emergency or tragedy every month.  It has made it difficult for me to really grieve and heal from my most recent loss.  Perhaps taking the time to share my experiences with others is helping.  I do not write as someone who has all of the answers.  Like most people, I am struggling through the questions, the doubts, and the pain.  I have moments of clarity followed by moments of despair.  This life is a journey, grief is a journey.  Being purified in the furnace of suffering is deeply difficult, even if it makes me or anyone else a much deeper person and unites us more fully to Christ.

 
I am learning that it is ok to say it hurts.  I can cry, even in public.  Sometimes wounds open and pour crimson all over the place.  Pain is not neat and tidy.  Grief does not call you up and say when it will hit.  Sometimes you find yourself sobbing uncontrollably in a public restroom, like I did last night.  Something triggers the pain.  The wounds that are still tender tear open and you bleed internally.  It hurts and all you can do is wait for the bleeding to stop and it does.  If you are reading this and have been through a miscarriage or any other grief, I want you to know that it is ok to fall apart.  You can’t be strong all of the time, I know I can’t.  There will be times when the pain gets to be too much and all you can do is let water flow and glisten your cheeks until it is done.  Death is agonizing.  It separates us from who we were meant to be.  It took Our God coming down as man to sever the despair and finality of death.  The distance between our dead loved ones and ourselves feels great, perhaps that is a side effect of sin.  Believing that my babies are in Heaven gives me eventual peace, but it does not alleviate the aching in my heart or the longing in my arms.
 
I was at a crisis pregnancy center dinner last night when my heart broke again.  I was sitting in a banquet room with 590 people.  I was enjoying a nice dinner and talented musicians.  I was with friends and we were talking and laughing.  But, deep down, I knew the pain was lingering beneath the surface.  You cannot write what I have written this week and expect it not to impact you.  They began showing a beautiful short film called Crescendo.  It was heart wrenching in its desperation, a desperation that so many women feel when they choose abortion over life.  She ends up having her child and as she labored, I thought of my own daughter.  Then woman in the film held her new child and the pain boiled over within me, and tears poured down my face.  I thought of a baby that I should be laboring and holding now.  My Marie.  I walked out of the room.  Many probably thought that I had had an abortion and could not handle it.  The thought crossed my mind as I left the room.  But, the pain of losing a child no matter the circumstances is painful and in that room of people working to heal the broken, it would not matter either way.  Pride.
 
I made it to the bathroom where I sobbed against a wall.  Thankfully, my friend Christine had followed me and I cried on her shoulder.  The weight was too great.  I finally uttered the words that I struggled to admit.  I miss my babies.  I miss my babies….I never get to hold them, or kiss them, or snuggle with them.  I do not get to hear their first word, or watch them take their first steps.  They feel lightyears away and that distance cuts me to the core.  I know that they are with Our Lord.  I trust in that even if Revelation does not explicitly mention it.  (I will talk about the Church on Monday).  It just hurts.  It confuses and confounds me. It leaves me vulnerable and shaken to my very being.
 
I guess I started sharing all of this because I don’t want other women and families to feel alone.  I do not want you to feel like you can’t grieve or that your pain is not warranted.  This blog is about the path to holiness and this is where I am on the journey.  I have plenty of moments of joy in my day. My daughter amazes me constantly.  I will write about these things too.  There is so much goodness in my life.  I just am in a period of grief at the same time.  Tears are healing.  And that is a part of life.  We go through years of grief in this life.  It waxes and wanes.  
 
I pray you have a very blessed weekend.  Enjoy your family! Be extra thankful at Mass or Church on Sunday.  Take a look at the beauty around you.  Beauty heals.  He heals.  Be patient with yourself.