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Note to Self: Age with Joy

If I’m going to run the race, I want to finish well.  As soon as the end is in sight, I want to push myself even harder and faster until my feet cross the finish line. Truth be told, I’m no runner. I’m more of a walking, hiking, stroller-pushing, anything but running type.  However, I think “running the race” is such a perfect analogy for our lives here on Earth… to not give in to distractions that will make us lose focus, to give it everything we’ve got, to finish well. The prize that I aim to win is no blue ribbon. It is heaven.

Can I be “for real” with you? All of us are going to die some day. Most of us will grow old. Growing old means our bodies may become less mobile and less obedient to our will. You may find yourself struggling to thrust your body out of bed in the morning or you might have a hard time folding your joints in half when getting in and out of a vehicle.  Games like Twister and Limbo could be deadly and you may actually find yourself purchasing LifeCall, the product notorious for the catchphrase “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

As we age, we will likely experience more aches and pains, and perhaps even intense physical suffering.  These are not necessarily easy things to embrace. I’m in my late twenties now, so I’m not exactly elderly yet. “Spring chicken” you say? Well, not quite. Sometimes my body doesn’t do what I tell it to do, sometimes I have unexpected aches and pains, and I even found out at my last visit to the eye doctor that I have the beginning signs of macular degeneration (which apparently is something that only people over the age of 50 are supposed to have to worry about- yowza!) Thankfully, as Catholics, we recognize the beauty of suffering and its redemptive quality. Physical pain can be both beneficial for our own souls as well as the souls of others. How beautiful! How beautiful that Christ could turn the torture device of the cross into a means of saving our souls and opening the gates of heaven to us!

There are few things in this world which make my heart ache more than the sight of an elderly person overcome by loneliness and fear, sorrowfully waiting until death arrives.  Likewise, there are few things which propel my soul heavenward more than the sight of an elderly person living life to the full despite, or perhaps because of, their suffering. Can you think of an elderly person in your life who lifts up your spirits? Someone who lives with great joy despite rejection, illness, and other hardships? I don’t know about you, but these are the people, who I think are running “so as to win”. They are living with joy until the very end.  They are giving it all they’ve got until their tired, old feet pound across the finish line. That’s who I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a wrinkly-falling-apart-happy-old-lady, filled with the joy of the Lord and the knowledge that I gave this race all I had.

I’d like to give you two concrete examples of what I’m talking about… one from the public realm and one from my family:

 1) Blessed Pope John Paul II

This holy man showed us by example how to age with peace and joy.  Though he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he continued to love and serve Christ and the Church to the full. If I may borrow Pope Benedict XVI’s words from his homily at the ceremony in which Pope John Paul II was beatified, “Then too, there was his witness in suffering: the Lord gradually stripped him of everything, yet he remained ever a “rock”, as Christ desired. His profound humility, grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the Church and to give to the world a message which became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined. In this way he lived out in an extraordinary way the vocation of every priest and bishop to become completely one with Jesus, whom he daily receives and offers in the Eucharist”.

For a brief overview of the life of John Paul II and how he embraced the will of God with joy and enthusiasm, I highly recommend the movie Pope John Paul II with Jon Voight and Cary Elwes.

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2)      My grandfather

My Papa cares for his Alzheimer’s stricken wife, my grandmother, with immense joy and love. Alzheimer’s, as many of you may already know, is a progressive degenerative disorder of the brain.  My grandmother is in the final stages of this disease. Comparable to the care required by an infant, she is totally dependent on the care which my grandfather provides. Day in and day out for over fifteen years he has tended to her at home, even finding joy in brushing her hair and occasionally putting a bit of lipstick on her lips.  I have never heard him complain. On the contrary, he often smiles and jokes about how much fun they’re having together.

Less than two weeks ago, my grandfather was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It is still uncertain if it has spread outside of the prostate and what his exact treatment will be. Do you want to venture a guess what his most heartfelt wish is? He doesn’t want to die before my grandmother because he simply wants to be able to care for my grandmother until the end of her life. I wish I could express to you in words the character of this man- both the tremendous strength and the deep tenderness with which he loves.  He has given me a great example to live by in so many ways- faithful, lifelong marriage; embracing life; and aging with grace and joy. Please pray with me that if it is God’s will, he will be able to care for my grandmother until her very last breath.

When I am a shriveled up old lady swaying in my rocking chair reflecting on days past, I hope that I can honestly say that I embraced life, with all of its crosses and victories.  Rather than be self-absorbed in pain and suffering, I want to continue to love and serve the Lord and those around me with all of my heart.  Should I need a reminder of these goals forty years down the road in the midst of my pain, let me write myself a friendly little reminder- “Note to self: Age with joy!”

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…” Henry David Thoreau

Feel free to comment/answer below: Can you think of an elderly person in your life who lifts up your spirits? Someone who lives with great joy despite rejection, illness, and other hardships?


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I didn’t give you the gift of life… life gave me the gift of you

In light of the fact that November is National Adoption Awareness Month, I would like to share with you my reflection on abortion, in-vitro fertilization, and finally… adoption.

Sometimes, when we are faced with a situation that is so vastly different than what we had planned, we can be tempted to give in to acts of desperation- to seize the object of our focused attention, such as a man stealing a loaf of bread to feed his hungry family. Abortion and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) are two such acts of desperation, predominantly driven by fear.  In the case of abortion, a woman might fight such fears as, “I am scared I won’t be able to afford this child.” “I am scared I will have to try to raise this child all by myself, with no help.” “I am scared that if I have this child, I will never be able to experience the life I had imagined for myself.” Similarly, in the case of IVF, a woman might experience such anxieties as, “I am scared I will never get pregnant naturally.”  “I am scared I will end up old, childless, and lonely.” “I’m not getting any younger and I’m scared that if I don’t act now, I’ll be too old to parent a child.” Amidst all these fears, however real and true they seem to us, Scripture offers us a clearer truth to crush all of our fears…

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18

Acting from this verse, when we finally let go of our anxieties, our plans, our will, and instead embrace God’s will, we will find a more perfect love, a deeper joy, and a lasting peace. What is a choice of love which combats the desperate decisions of abortion and in-vitro fertilization? Adoption. Through adoption, a birth mother who could have ended the life of her unborn child, makes a decision to give her child a chance at life. She focuses not on what is most convenient for herself, but what is for the greater good of this baby. Similarly, via adoption, a couple who longs for children, makes a decision to embrace a child who needs a loving home and may not otherwise have one. They choose not to utilize unethical and destructive means to become parents, but to embrace an opportunity to become a family in a way which honors the sanctity of human life.

My husband and I married in June 2007 with the hopes of having many children throughout our marriage.  After several years of trying to conceive, I learned the hard way that I am not in control. God is. Thankfully, we were taught even before our marriage why IVF is condemned by the Catholic Church and is not an ethical or valid means of achieving pregnancy.  IVF has, as its end goal, a good desire of trying to have a baby. However, the procedure is peppered with a plethora of objectively mortal sins, including but not limited to masturbation, the union of the egg and sperm outside of the marital embrace, selective reduction (a.k.a. abortion), and the indefinite freezing of embryos.  My husband and I knew and agreed that we would never use IVF to try to get pregnant. Lest you think I am looking down upon those who have used IVF, I must borrow John Bradford’s words, “There go I but for the grace of God.” I am not praising myself for my goodness, but thanking God that He has prevented me from yielding to this temptation.

With IVF out of the pregnancy picture, my husband and I attempted just about every ethical means of trying to conceive.  Time continued to pass and I continued to be un-pregnant.  Dozens of cycles, plenty of doctors visits, oodles of medication refills, a couple of Kleenex boxes, and one false positive pregnancy test later, still no bambino.  Over time, after we continued to pray for God’s will and the blessing of children, God began to work on our hearts and open us up to the idea of adoption. What at first seemed undesirable became our heartfelt longing.  In the summer of 2010, we began the adoption process.  We went to classes at the adoption agency, filled out paperwork, completed our home study, created an adoption profile which would be presented to birth mothers, and began our hopeful wait.  The first phone call we received about a birth mother who might want to look at our profile, made the decision to parent the child. Though a bit disappointed, we had been very well prepared by the agency that this is a fairly typical occurrence and that the adoption process can sometimes feel like an emotional rollercoaster.

The second phone call that we received about a birth mother who might look at our profile was “the one”.  I remember every detail of where I was and what I was doing when the call came to notify us that the birth mother, 8.5 months pregnant, had chosen our profile. I sat breathless, motionless. My brain buzzed with ideas, thoughts, and questions. What if she changes her mind? What do I still need to buy to prepare for this little one? What do I need to scratch off of my to-do list before we take this baby home? We got to meet the birth mother in person in early March.  Three weeks later, she gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy. Forty-eight hours after that, we were full-time parents. He’s seven months old now, and I am still in awe of the birth mother’s selfless and generous decision, and of God’s divine power and goodness. I am not in control. God is.  In the midst of our painful infertility struggle, I never would have been able to imagine myself happily bouncing a baby boy on my knee such a short time later. It turns out that God’s plan is even better than what I could have created on my own accord. Thanks be to God!

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Happy Birthday, Mary!

Happy Birthday, Mary!

Today, September 8th, we recognize and celebrate the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary- our mother and the mother of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Happy Birthday, Momma.  Your birthday is always easy for me to remember because my earthly mother’s birthday is September 4th, mine is September 6th, and yours is September 8th.  I have always gotten a kick out of the fact that myself, my earthly mother and my heavenly mother make one big birthday sandwich.

While I might always recognize my mommas birthdays, I wonder how many times their acts of love towards me have gone unrecognized or unnoticed?  My mom joyfully gave me the gift of herself and her love through eighteen years of washing, cooking, cleaning, praying, guiding, and teaching. Particularly as a young child and teenager, have not my mom’s sacrifices and daily acts of love often gone unnoticed by me? Or perhaps they were noticed and seen, but not appreciated? Or perhaps appreciated, at least internally, but I did not make an effort to thank her or show her my appreciation?

And if my earthly mother, whom I can see, has often gone unrecognized by me, what about my heavenly mother whom I cannot see? Mary has joyfully given me a lifetime of praying, guiding, and teaching. Whether or not I take the time and effort to acknowledge her loving efforts to guide me to her Son, she continues her daily labor of love.  She labors for my soul, and for all of our souls. Nothing would be more pleasing to her than for each of us to believe in and love her Son, and one day be united to Him eternally in Heaven.

Appreciated for her labors of love or not, a mother will continue to labor out of sacrificial love.  May we never miss an opportunity to recognize, thank, honor, and love our mothers.  Mother Mary, thank you for all of your prayers, spiritual blessings, guidance, and assistance. Thank you for listening to my prayers and lovingly carrying my heartfelt intentions to your Son. Thank you for loving my soul so much, that when you see me take the slightest step away from your Son, you gently guide me back into His arms.  I offer you my gratitude to you as a birthday gift. Happy Birthday, Momma Mary.

Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2674: Mary gave her consent in faith at the Annunciation and maintained it without hesitation at the foot of the Cross. Ever since, her motherhood has extended to the brothers and sisters of her Son “who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties.”28 Jesus, the only mediator, is the way of our prayer; Mary, his mother and ours, is wholly transparent to him: she “shows the way” (hodigitria), and is herself “the Sign” of the way, according to the traditional iconography of East and West.