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No Greater Love than This Part 3: A Reflection

It seems unreal that one year ago today I was standing in my bathroom, my hands shaking as they held a positive pregnancy test.  That test would bring such joy and fear all in the same moment.  I didn’t realize that it would also bring heartache, strife, resentment, community, support, and love.  The journey that God had chosen to lead us on was overwhelming.  Still, He provided us with everything we needed every step of the way.

spiritual growthToday, just a mere four months after giving birth to a beautiful son, our struggles seem almost distant. There are, however, reminders of that journey.  We have lost friends.  We have felt judged. We still feel judged.  We have felt alone.  Things have changed for us.  We can never be the same.  But it’s ok.  God sometimes asks us to do difficult things because He knows in the end that they are in our best interest.  He knows that without those struggles we may stay in the same place, doing the same things, and never grow the way He knows we need to grow.  Looking back at our journey I know that every struggle, every battle, every heartache had purpose.  Likewise, every triumph, every prayer raised for us, and every heart converted also had purpose.  God used every single part of my pregnancy to help me see that my trust in Him would be my saving grace.

Our faith was challenged.  I dare say that the faith of those around us was challenged as well.  As Catholics we teach that we are supposed to give ourselves to God, to submit to His will. We are to cherish life, fight for it even!  We are to trust Him in all we do. We are to rely on God to help us through the worst of the worst.  We are called to live the lives of saints.  I found out very quickly that while we like to preach this, often we don’t truly support those who decide to live this way.

We tend to have a romanticized view of what it means to live a saintly life.  We look at the people the Church has deemed “Saints” and are amazed at the sacrifices they have made for their faith.  We call them heroes for giving up their lives for their beliefs, for putting others before themselves, for selling all they own and living in poverty so that others may come to know God, for submitting to God’s will in every aspect of their lives.  These Saints are amazing!  They are wonderful!  They are worthy of emulating!  But in the “real world” when someone decides to try to live according to these same standards it suddenly is different… the person is foolish, selfish, and irresponsible.  How can that be? Why do we look at some as saints and others as fools?  I would struggle with this question my whole pregnancy.

st. giannaBecause I have been taught that the Saints are there for us, both to guide us to God through the example of their lives and to pray for and with us, throughout my pregnancy I looked to many saints to help me wade through the difficulties I was facing.  We prayed for the Blessed Zelie and Louis Martin to intercede on our behalf.  I asked St. Gianna to pray that I have strength and faith.  I wondered if she face the criticism that I was facing by choosing life for her baby even though it meant that she would lose her own.  I prayed that Mary, who also had a surprise pregnancy, would hold me close to her and help me forgive those who did not understand and who judged me.  I pleaded with them to keep me close to them in prayer.  While I knew I was a fool in many eyes I also knew that in the eyes of the One who matter most I was doing exactly what I was called to do.

God knows our hearts.  I firmly believe He knew I would have no problem choosing life for my child.  That was not the lesson I needed to learn.  Perhaps others needed to see the beauty in putting my child’s life before my own, but for me He had another lesson in mind.  You see, what I learned from this journey and through all that we experienced, both good and bad, was that in the end we are not put here to please others; we are here to please God.  Others may ridicule us, they may not support us when we try to live the way the saints have lived, and we may even be persecuted for living our faith.  But it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that we continue to have steadfast trust in God and that all we do glorifies Him.

I won’t lie and tell you that it was an easy lesson to learn or that I still don’t struggle with wanting those people to accept my life, to accept my decisions, to accept my faith.  But I know, just by looking at my tiny son, snuggled safely in my arms, that the decision to trust in God no matter what is far more important than what any person could think, say or feel about me.  I have to live my life for God, not for others.

If you find yourself in a situation where God is calling you to follow Him and you worry what others may say about you or that it is too difficult a calling to answer, I pray you find hope in the trials we have been through.  God has never left my side, not even once.  He won’t leave yours.  He will provide you with the grace and wisdom to make it through even the hardest times.  He loved you so much that He sent His Son to lay down His life for you.  He won’t leave you.  His love is so much greater than we can ever imagine.  I only have to look at my own son to know this is true.

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Ink Slingers Michelle Motherhood Prayer Pro-Life Issues Respect Life Spiritual Growth Vocations

No Greater Love than This: Part 2

Back in November I shared with our readers that I was expecting our 11th child.  It was not an ordinary pregnancy announcement. It was filled with joy but also much fear as I had been told after my last birth that I should never become pregnant again. I had suffered a severe uterine rupture that occurred while I tried to birth my breech son.  It would take the doctors 3 hours to put my uterus back together after my emergency c-section and I would be told I was lucky I made it through the birth and surgery.  I was told that to carry another child would not only endanger my life but there was almost no chance my child would live through the pregnancy.  To be pregnant again just a mere 5 ½ months after all I had gone through was terrifying.  Still, with open hearts and a desire to follow God’s calling, we accepted the life that was now growing deep inside of me.

Many months have gone by since I made that announcement.  My faith has been my anchor as I waded through the ugliness that my announcement brought forth by many people who felt I was being selfish and that I shouldn’t have this baby.  It helped me through when I was discharged by my doctors as being “too high risk”.  I leaned on it as I searched for another provider only to hear “no” over and over again.  Prayer kept me afloat as I heard the rumors that were floating around about me and my family.  My heart ached as I was accused of practicing my own “brand of Catholicism”.  I found myself going to God in prayer over and over again as the mental and physical aspects of carrying such a high risk pregnancy weighed heavily on me. It felt as if we were trying to climb an endless chain of rugged mountains and as we topped one another would appear.  I felt spiritually attacked over and over again… but not once, though, have I ever doubted that choosing life for my child was the right decision to make.  There was no other decision, regardless of the cost.

During these last 8 months as I have battled the ups and downs of this journey, God has seen fit to provide me with friends who keep my eyes focused on Him and the beautiful gift of life that He has bestowed upon us.  Some of these friends are local but most are spread throughout the country.  Our close knit family here at Catholic Sistas has been there for me every single step of the way.  I can’t even begin to tell how much their love and support has meant to me.  They have made sure that for every negative remark we have received we hear 20 positive ones.  They have helped us through every single hurdle we have had to endure. They provided me with meals, with gifts, with blessings of love, prayers, and courage.  I have drawn strength from their faith and have made my way through the toughest of times because I know they are here cheering me on.  God was so gracious when He put these amazing ladies in my life!  I truly couldn’t have gotten this far without them.  They are heaven sent and God’s angels on earth.

Our sweet baby at 33 weeks… I would give up everything for him.

I am 36 weeks pregnant now… further than anyone ever thought I could go in this pregnancy.  Our son is thriving and I am doing well.  I can’t say that it has been a walk in the park but I can say that it has been much easier than anyone ever imagined it could be, at least physically.  The mental and spiritual journey has been so much harder than the physical but I suppose that’s how many things in life tend to be.  I thank God for each and every day that He gives me to carry this little boy.  I have cherished every kick, every hiccup, and every contraction.  Throughout this pregnancy I have prayed that God just gives me “one more day” with my son.  I had resolved that if God called him home before I got to hold him that I would handle it.  I prayed that if God called us both home that my family would understand and would accept His decision and mine.  I prayed that in the end His will be done above all else.  When you are praying for the life of your child as well as your own that is indeed the hardest prayer to pray.   Still, even knowing the risks, I couldn’t pray for anything else.

We are scheduled to meet our son on May 1st.  We will be having a planned c-section.  I am very nervous about what is to come but I know that God is holding us in His strong hands even as we tremble in fear.  We ask for you to continue to pray for us as we complete this journey.  Our family is so very thankful for all your prayers and support so far and I can’t begin to tell you how much comfort it has brought me to know that so many people, people I don’t even know, are keeping us close to them in prayer.  Throughout my pregnancy we have also been asking for the prayers of the saints but in particular prayers from the Blesseds Zelie and Louis Martin.  If you could also ask for their prayers we would appreciate it so much!

We know that regardless of what happens on Wednesday God is in control and His plans are always better than our own.  We hope and pray that we will be holding our precious son in our arms and sharing him with the world come Wednesday night.  He is wanted, loved, and cherished so much already.  My heart aches in anticipation of holding him in my arms, kissing his cheeks, and thanking God for His amazing blessing of life.

God often has plans that are very different from our own.  This pregnancy has been one of those gifts that God surprises us with.  I pray that those who have seen us travel on this path have come to understand that we are not to turn our backs on the blessings God pours out on us.  All life is precious and miraculous.  I am so thankful that God chose me to bring this baby boy into the world.  I would choose life for him over and over again even knowing that I would lose friends, feel shunned, be spiritually attacked, and have such physical pain.  God knows my heart. God knows my soul. God knows that this little one will complete me in so many ways.  I am so very thankful for all that He has given me.

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Faith Formation Ink Slingers Michelle Motherhood Pro-Life Issues Respect Life Spiritual Growth Vocations

No Greater Love Than This

 

This post was  written on September 19, 2012. 

As I sit here typing my house is quiet. My children are all in bed.  I can hear the soft whirling of the fan overhead and my husband gently snores beside me.  I’ve been staring at the screen wondering what I want to say, what I need to say.  You see, I can form the words in my head but to put them on paper makes them seem real… too real.

Just days ago I stood in my bathroom, my hands trembling as I held a pregnancy test.  I watched intently as the test worked its magic and the line moved across.  Slowly I could see the control line become clear and yet the test line still remained elusive.  I held my breath.  The seconds ticked away, seeming to last far longer than they truly did.  Finally the results of the test became clear.  Before me I saw two lines in the window.  I am pregnant.  I let out my breath and began to cry.

I can’t tell you how many pregnancy tests I’ve taken in my life.  You can imagine with 10 living children and 12 babies lost I have had my fair share of tests.  This one would be the most joyful and the most painful I have ever taken.  The tears I began crying were both tears of delight and tears of sorrow.  It is hard to reconcile feeling both emotions at the same time.  I never thought I would see another positive pregnancy test again and to be honest, that had been a hard cross to bear.   Tears of joy streamed down my cheeks in happy anticipation of a new baby.  Yes, I have 10 amazing children but our lives have always revolved around being open to God’s will and after Jacob’s birth we were told that I should never get pregnant again. To be holding that test in my hand announcing that we were expecting a baby was a joy I never thought I would experience again.  It was overwhelming.

At the same moment I heard the doctor’s voice in the back of my head repeating over and over again, “You must never get pregnant again.  You could die if you do.  You will risk your life and the life of your baby.  More than likely your baby will die.  Your uterus is so badly damaged that it will never hold a child again.”  After my failed attempt at a breech birth for our last son, my uterus and bladder had both ruptured.  It would take 2 doctors 3 hours to put me back together.  They would impress on me many times in the hospital how dangerous it would be to me and to my child should I ever become pregnant again. I was told I had barely survived Jake’s birth.  When asked why they didn’t perform a hysterectomy then they told us that there had been no way I would have survived another surgery at that time.   One doctor even went as far as to suggest to Mike that he have a vasectomy so that my life wouldn’t be at risk.  Both Mike and I knew that would not happen and we told the doctor this.  He would reply that it was Mike’s duty as I had already done mine to have more than enough children already.

As I stood in the bathroom his words flooded my mind.  I cried tears of sorrow and uncertainty.  What would happen to my baby?  What would happen to me? Would we live through this pregnancy? I looked down at the test in my hand, still trembling and I knew the answer… somehow, someway, this was for God’s greater purpose.  If despite all our aggressive Natural Family Planning God still wanted us to bring a child into the world, then we would try our hardest to do just that.  Never was there a thought that perhaps we shouldn’t have this baby.  My only thought was “how will I make it through?”

I kept my secret to myself for a couple days. Not only did I want to revel in the life that was growing inside of me, a secret all my own, but I wasn’t sure how to tell Mike.  Normally I do something fun to announce a pregnancy but this seemed too serious of a situation to be silly.  We sat in bed together just a couple days later and I told him we needed to talk.  As I explained to him his face clouded with worry.  How?  Why?  He wanted answers to questions I didn’t know the answers to.   I cried.  We talked about the dangers of having another baby.  We talked about how happy we were to have another child but that the risks were so frightening.  He told me he didn’t want to lose me.  I cried and told him I didn’t want to die. We agreed that neither of us wanted to ever go through burying another child again.  We held each other’s hands and were quiet.

We discussed all the possibilities we were facing.  What if we lost the baby early on?  What if I got far enough in the pregnancy and we lost the baby anyhow?  What if I died because of a complication? What if we both died?  It’s disconcerting to talk about your possible death and yet know it is a reality.  We had heard the warnings, we had done the research, and we knew that any one of these situations could arise. Still, hearts filled with love and doubt and fear, we confirmed our decision that we must try at least to bring this baby into the world.

I feel so much happiness knowing that there is a tiny life living inside of me.  Even after having so many children, I am still in awe over the entire life process.  What a miracle!  To know that such a miracle is growing nestled deep in my womb, well, it brings tears to my eyes every time I think of it.   I still have many, many fears but I’m trying to focus on the joy that new life brings.  To know that God trusted me to be a part of something so holy, so grand, is just unimaginable.

It was hard telling my children that I am pregnant.  Their excitement was contagious as was the fear once they realized what this may mean.  Still, not once did any of them suggest that we not have this baby.  They knew immediately that there was only one choice for our family.  Life.

I am writing this piece to tell the world that I have no regrets in choosing life.  I know that many will call me selfish for not just giving up this pregnancy and staying “safe” for the children I already have.  I know in my heart that I could never be the mother they need if I were to choose myself over my baby.  How could I?  I have taught them that all life is a precious gift from God.  It should not be our decision to take that life, even if it might mean we have to sacrifice our own.  I can tell you that I am afraid to die.  I don’t want to die. My heart beats so fast at the thought of it and yet, if it means that I gave my child, the gift given to me from God, a chance at life, then I most certainly am willing to give up my own.  I look at my other children and know that without hesitation I would lay down my life for them, this little one growing inside of me is no different.  I know some will argue that there is a difference but for me there is none.  I think back to William and Joseph, how I held their tiny bodies and willed life back into them.  How could I take life from one given to me? I’ve known the pain that goes along with burying a child. I’ve held their hands, I’ve cried tears of sorrow, I’ve pleaded with God to just let them live.  I’ve begged God, please, just take me instead.  There isn’t a single situation that I can think of where I would sacrifice one of my children for myself.

I wish I had words that were beautiful and eloquent and would be quoted for years to come about the sanctity of life, but I don’t.   I only have what is in my heart.  God has given me the beautiful gift of life and I am forever thankful.  If I do not make it through this pregnancy please know that I don’t regret giving my life for my child.  I pray that my child does indeed make it through but if he/she doesn’t then I know that is also God’s plans as well.  I don’t pretend to know God’s plans but I know that they are always much better than my own.  I have to trust that this is also God’s will for our family. Should the worst happen, I hope that our community will rally around our family and help take care of my children.  My husband and children may struggle but I pray they understand how very important it was to respect the life God blessed us with by trying to bring this precious baby into the world.

I want my husband and my children to know that I love them all so very much that I would give my life for any one of them.  As Christ said, “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”   I am willing to lay down my life for my husband, for my children, for my friends, for a stranger, for my unborn child.  Christ laid down his life for me; I am willing to do the same.  We are called to love others as Christ loved us.  I can see no greater way to show my love for my child and my family than to be willing to give my life as Christ did.  I pray that they always feel that great love I have for each of them.

This picture was taken at 13 weeks. Today our baby is almost 14 weeks old. Please keep us in your prayers!
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Ink Slingers Loss Natalie Respect Life Testimonials

Remembering Stephen

What a powerful month this is! We are raising our voices louder than ever so we’ll be heard! Respect for LIFE, from conception until natural death! This includes the smallest of souls newly conceived, the disabled, the elderly, and the criminals on death row. The story I want to share this month is simple but powerful! It shows respect for life no matter the circumstances…..

 

I immediately knew what I was called to write about this month as we focus on respect for life. My Mother told me Stephen’s story when I was still very young, but it has continued to move me to tears each time I hear it. Stephen’s story has been kept in the family for the most part since it happened 15 years ago. His story needs to finally be shared and heard. It is my great honor to write this for him.

Stephen’s life was short, but his story speaks volumes. Life and love is sacred ALWAYS.  God is the only one who can give life, and should be the only one to take it away. Maybe the reason God gave Stephen his terminal condition was so his story could save other unborn babies from the horror of abortion. If even one baby is saved by his story, his death was not in vain. If even one soul is moved to fight this battle, his life was not in vain. He never had the chance to speak himself but his story will speak for him instead.

 

I was six years old when my family moved up to Princeton Idaho. The land we moved to might have been considered ‘forsaken’ with very few homesteaders willing to brave the harsh reality of the area.  My parents had purchased a 78 acre piece of property with no house, no running water and no electricity. We hauled two very small trailers onto the land to live in.  We dug a privy, a cistern, a septic hole, and a well ourselves. I remember being snowed in so badly during the winter that my Dad would tie us kids up to sleds in order to haul groceries back and forth.  We would often wake in the mornings to find snow in our beds and our toes blue with cold. The summers were horribly hot and uncomfortable with no air conditioning or way to cool down. We were lucky if we got one bath a week and the water was always shared until it was so dirty it was like mud.  My Father worked for a company an hour away and worked long and hard hours. That left my Mother alone in such living conditions with seven children to raise herself. She bravely and humbly accepted the harsh life that was dealt to her. She went on to home school all of us and teach us our faith, not only through lessons but more importantly through example. In this regard, I learned to accept what you are given with love and make the best of it!

The only time our family got out was once a week for mass, which was an hour drive there and back. We had few friends, and remained very reclusive for the most part. Our life in Princeton is another story in itself, and I will not go into further detail.

 

During our three year stay in Princeton is when Stephen’s story takes place.

My Mother was lying in bed one night when she says she felt an overwhelming presence all around her. “It was like being in another world outside of myself; in another dimension,” she said. She immediately and fearfully knew God was near and speaking to her. He asked her something no parent ever wants God to ask them. “Can I have one of your children?” She was stunned and frightened by this request. There is no greater sacrifice God can ask from a parent than to take a child. My Mother was humbled and saddened, but said yes to Him. Her only requirement was that she was guaranteed this child would go directly to heaven. Still stunned by the request, she struggled with what God meant. Was he going to take one of her children she had already birthed and was raising? Did he have plans to take a child not yet born? She didn’t know at the time. She said that God’s presence left immediately following his request and her answer.

 

When later asked about why she said yes to such a perturbing request, her answer simply was “If it’s God asking, how can you say no?”

 

Shortly after this encounter my Mother found out she was expecting her 8th child. Her pregnancy progressed very normally and there was no reason for alarm. Life went on normally and she didn’t tell anyone what had occurred. She was still unsure what God planned to do. My father was completely unaware of the request my Mother had from God until after the shocking doctor’s visit and ultrasound later in the pregnancy.

 

Further on her pregnancy she had a dream, in which she saw the unborn child in her womb. Her unborn son was magnificent! He had all ten toes and fingers and a beautiful little body and face. It was revealed through this dream that my little brother had a terminal deformity; he was anencephalic and was missing the top part of his head, skull and higher brain. God had given him the gift of life, an eternal soul and warmth and love in his Mother’s womb.

My Mother woke up the next morning finally knowing God’s plan for her and her child. No longer did she have to wake up daily wondering when God would come to take the child he requested.

 

Routine ultrasounds were not done during my Mother’s child bearing years; however, towards the end of her pregnancy the doctor requested an ultrasound as her measurements were slightly off. Growth seemed to have slowed, and the doctor wanted to be sure all was ok.

My parents went in for the ultrasound and waited as the ultrasound tech began the scan. The ultrasound screen was turned away from my parents and they couldn’t see what was going on. Several silent moments passed before the ultrasound tech suddenly stopped short and became very distraught. He said that he was seeing something he needed the doctor to look at and then he turned to leave the room. My Mom stopped him saying “I already know what is wrong with my baby.” He stopped and asked her to repeat herself. She calmly told him “my unborn child doesn’t have an upper skull and is without a brain. He only has a brain stem.” The ultrasound tech was shocked and speechless at the words my Mom had just spoken. Stuttering and still in shock he asked “How did you know that?”

“God showed me.” She replied. At that moment she had a lot of explaining to do as my Father sat beside her thunderstruck and just as speechless as the tech.

The tech then quickly left the room, frightened and dumbfounded at what had just happened. After the diagnosis was confirmed by the very astounded doctor, he carefully recommended that she terminate the pregnancy. There was a chance that her baby would not survive birth let alone live any length of time. She had extended family encouraging her to abort as well. Her answer was always the same “Why would I destroy the life inside me? The only thing my child will ever know on this earth is the love and warmth of his mother’s womb. Why put him through terrible pain, when I can give him that warmth and love?”

My Mother bravely continued the pregnancy and let that little life inside her feel that warmth and love so many other babies are torn from because of abortion. My baby brother continued to live and grow inside my Mother’s womb. He made it to full term despite the doubts of so many and made his appearance into the world on May 2’nd 1996. He came into this world alive against all odds and lived in my parents arms for 13 minutes and was baptized before passing away to join his heavenly Father. He was named Stephen after the first martyr of the Church. We decided we wanted to bury him on our property and I vividly remember digging his grave ourselves. We began digging before his birth. It was one of the most difficult things our family ever had to accomplish. My Father made Stephen’s coffin himself and my Grandpa engraved his head stone. All of our hearts ached so badly preparing for his burial. Each one of us children were asked to make or give him something to place beside him in his coffin. I remember my sister and I hand sewing small animals to give him out of silk and ribbon.

Mother carefully wrapped his small body in a soft blanket and placed the gifts we had made around him.

Stephen was buried shortly after birth and his entire family was there to lower him into the rich earth. We had our wonderful parish priest out to pray over him. It was a chilly and overcast day and I remember the silence and tears as we said our farewells to him.

 

Stephen was our little miracle here on earth and is now our saint in heaven. It is a great comfort knowing we already have one sibling living in glory. He was greatly loved during his short life in and outside the womb. God made sure our little angel met his parents face to face and was baptized before he passed away, which is exactly what my Mother had asked for. Stephen is proof that life is sacred from conception until natural death no matter the circumstances. God had known and loved him before my parents even knew he existed. God had BIG plans for his small life from the beginning of time. Every child God creates is destined for great things if only the parents allow that child to live his or her life according to God’s plan. My baby brother was the most vulnerable of all people and our society daily tells woman to end the life of unborn babies like him with disabilities, or simply because they are an inconvenience.

Please God, let our society see the evil of abortion; the murder of millions of innocents before they have a chance to live their lives. Let their silent cries finally be heard. RESPECT LIFE, FOR ALL!