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A Modern Day Miracle

A Modern Day Miracle

In October, my daughter, Faith, received an entirely unexpected Scoliosis diagnosis.  

Her doctor found what is known as an S plus one curvature in her spine. Faith’s back curved looked like a slithering snake, 50 degrees, then 48 degrees, and ending with another 28-degree curve.  Faith was facing a very real (and scary) possibility of spine surgery.

Within a month of the diagnoses, Faith began wearing a Boston Brace. Weaning Faith into wearing the brace for the prescribed 18-hours a day was painful (for both her and us). My daughter (along with us at times) shed a few tears as each day the time in her brace increased to adjusted to daily life in a brace. Our hearts ached as our sweet, complacent child endured hours of discomfort and pain, yet was still unable to reach the level of comfort promised when she began the brace journey.

Despite the most valiant efforts, we were unable to get her time in brace beyond 8 to 12 hours. Desperate to reach the brace on level necessary for it to truly help her, we did what any Catholic parent might, we searched for a heavenly helper. A saint who could become her spiritual advocate and intercede in her hour of great need.

My husband did a thorough Google search and found Saint Gemma Galgani. St. Gemma, like Faithy, was an orphan.  Additionally (and quite remarkably) they both also shared a hearing loss and the spine curvature. Faithy was born profoundly deaf, while Gemma lost her hearing due to illness. The same disease that caused Gemma’s spin to curve and lead to her also sporting a back brace!   Wow! Seriously, this is one of the things about the Catholic Faith I love the most – seemingly always being able to find someone to add to our “Saint Posse” who can not only intercede for us but also empathize with our circumstances because they too experienced them.

Kevin and I began a novena to St. Gemma in hopes that Faith’s weaning-in process would go much smoother.  The first answer came just a few days into the novena. Faith’s school Physical Therapist called to tell me she’d worked at the very Orthopedic office that not only fitted Faith with her Boston Brace but is actually the office where the brace originated. She would be able to help Faith with her brace needs at school (a huge concern weighing on our hearts) adding she was so familiar with the braces she could, “put them on her sleep.”  I had to hold back tears as the flush of relief washed over me. Thank you, St. Gemma!!!

The next heavenly assist came when we returned to the Orthopedic for advice on how to help her reach the magic 18-hour number needed for the brace to be of maximum assistance. Faith saw a new technician, who made dramatic changes to her brace, and within a week, Faith was at 18-plus hours. She was able to finally sleep in it, as well as wear it all day at school. A huge relief as the brace, the doctor continually exhorts, only works if it is on her body!

And work it did!  The third miraculous intercession, and most dramatic came in February.  Just as scoliosis is considered idiopathic (with no known cause) – the remarkable reduction of her two major curves, after only two months, to 30 degrees, was also without explanation!  

The Boston Brace is meant to hold the curve, to keep it from progressing.  Although there are a few reported cases of improvement, this is not the norm. Surgery, for now, is off the table  As the school Physical Therapist said, “So happy Faith beat the odds.” We, of course, were quick to credit the incredible power of prayer, accompanied with the medical intervention, brought about what we consider to be a modern-day miracle.

A Modern Day Miracle

Ink Slingers Shiela

Pray Globally, Act Locally

My father's photo op with Immaculee

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet Immaculee Ilbagiza. She was speaking at my Alma Mater, Old Dominion University. I attended the lecture with my father and my sister. We arrived early, as good groupies do, and we found that we were ushered into a reception area. There we discovered rockfish with risotto and sundried tomatoes, a glass of chardonnay, and some sweet treats. We found a nice spot to nosh and chat and I gazed across the room and there she was! The three of us lit up. We immediately recognized our sister in Christ. She was busy exchanging pleasantries with members of the board of directors at the University as we made our way towards her. Our anxious presence caused her company to depart and offer us some face time with Immaculee. I confessed right off the bat that we were groupies. She put down her glass of wine, her shoulders dropped and her eyes lit up and she gave me a very warm embrace and she generously indulged us in a photo op. No words of great meaning were exchanged. We just knew that we were with our sister for a moment.

Sharing a moment with my sister in Christ

One of the many blessings of being the member of a faith family is that when you meet someone who shares your faith, all racial, geographical, and demographic differences melt away.

If you don’t know her story, read it. There is not a heart that she cannot touch. Her story is one of faith and forgiveness in the face of death. She is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide that ended the lives of nearly her entire family and one million others in the span of three months. In that three month period, she was hidden in a 3’x4’ bathroom with six other women and a seven-year-old child. There she found herself plotting a revenge on her family’s killers. The anger ate away at her. All she had when she entered her confinement was the clothing on her back and the rosary her father had given her when she last saw him. She prayed and found that only during prayer did the anger subside. And, in the most desperate moment of hiding, she faced profound doubt about the very existence of God. But, instead she found a profound faith. She prayed to God to protect her in this moment, and she vowed to never listen to those gnawing thoughts of doubt and anger again. The subsequent events of her survival are nothing short of miraculous.

When I read her story and when I hear about the atrocities that have happened in Rwanda and in other countries in Africa like Sudan and Darfur and Uganda, I feel overwhelmed. I feel guilt. What can I do? What is God asking of us who are so fortunate? Many of us will write a check and hope that some good will come of it. Recently, many people contributed to the controversial KONY2012 campaign. But, there must be more we can do.

Immaculee book signing

As we were standing in line for the book signing, I elbowed my sister and said, “So, when are we going to Rwanda?” She gave me that look that big sisters give to their idiotic little sisters. But, I feel an urgency to hop on a plane and set up a school or volunteer at an orphanage. When I listened to Immaculee recount her harrowing story of survival, I asked myself, “what is God asking of me?” Why am I so drawn to Immaculee and her message?

Her message is simple and my sister knew that. Love your neighbor and forgive others as you would like to be forgiven. And don’t just love your mother and cute babies. Love your enemy. Forgive those who have committed crimes against humanity. Forgive the man who killed your mother? Yes. It is a simple but radical message and it is a very familiar message. That is because her message is Christ’s message and Immaculee is the first one to admit that.

We are simply called to love. I don’t have to book a flight to Africa to do that, ergo the “look” from my sister. That is not my station in life right now. Maybe someday, I will be able to do some missionary work. But, right now, my sister and I are moms. And we are not “just” moms as the world would lead us to believe. Rather, we are in a place of great importance. We have the power to teach love that will be spread geometrically outward to humanity and will be multiplied by my five and her six children. My parents can boast of spreading the love through their five children and their twenty-two grandchildren. And this is something to boast about. My father lost his entire family before he was thirty. His father died suddenly when my father was a teenager. His only sister was killed as the result of a drunk driving car accident when she was just twenty. His mother died just before I was born. It wasn’t genocide that took his family, but, rather, untimely sickness and tragedy. This, we will all face. What my father and Immaculee share is a faith that perseveres through tragedy and loss. And, he has passed that faith onto my five siblings and our children.

The five of us

We can change the world, one smile, one kind act, one loving family at a time. So, I will pray globally for those that are suffering and I will act locally to spread God’s message of love beginning by creating a loving, peaceful home.

AnnMarie C. Faith Formation Ink Slingers Prayer Testimonials

A Miraculous Birth

Flashback: December 23, 2001. I am frantic over my son, Charlie, who left our house unnoticed. Charlie has autism and back then he had a serious elopement+autism_awareness_ribbon_rectangle_magnet,186380395 problem. It was, needless to say, a most upsetting time for a mother. What made it worse was that I was pregnant and it had been a very difficult pregnancy; so much so that we thought I lost the baby on two occasions. So, I’m worried about Charlie and I’m worried about what the stress would do to the baby.

Both my husband, Joe, and the police find Charlie at the same time.  Apparently, Charlie made his way into a restaurant and told them he was hungry, so they fed him popcorn and candy canes until they could figure out who he belonged to. I am so relieved, but a wave of pain floods my body.

A grand adventure is about to begin.“It’s the stress,” I think.

I pray in thanksgiving for the safe return of my son, and also for the life of my baby, who has had so many challenges already.

The next day is Christmas Eve. We go to my parent’s house where my brother and his family and our friend, Fr. Beekman are spending the day. I have some mild contraction-like pains in the afternoon, but I chalk it up to false labor. I am due in 5 weeks, after all. I inform Joe, who defers to my judgment. Throughout the day, the contractions become a little more frequent, but they are not intense. I promise myself I will go to the hospital after the kids are in bed, just to get checked out. So, I go on with the day. I help my mother prepare dinner. I cut up cheese for the antipasta, I fry the calamari; everything is going smoothly. After dinner, Fr. Beekman comes up to me and whispers in my ear, “You’re going to have that baby tonight.” he says, conspiringly. “What?” I feign ignorance. “I know you’re having contractions,” he chuckles, “have you timed them?” Honestly, the thought never occurred to me, because I’m so sure I’m in false labor. So, I time them. Oh, my! Twenty minutes apart!

I tell Joe. Then I tell my mother, who is incredulous.

“You’ve been in labor all day and didn’t tell me?”

Well, I didn’t want to throw a monkey wrench into the day if I wasn’t sure…anyway, it’s false labor.

We tell the kids I am going to the doctor for a little while and will probably be back soon. They are fine with that because they are happily playing with their cousins.

We get to the hospital about 9:30 p.m. One of the first things they do is ask me what I ate.

“Hmm…let’s see,” I think aloud, “a lobster tail, some calamari, shrimp scampi, salad…”

Calamari!“That sounds delicious! What restaurant did you go to?” asks the nurse.

“My mother’s house!” I exclaim.

The nurses check me out and determine that I am, indeed in full blown labor. By now the contractions are about 15 minutes apart. I feel like an idiot, not realizing that this was labor at my fourth child. My doctor is not working on Christmas Eve, so they contact the on-call OB. She is not familiar with my pregnancy and since I am 5 weeks early, she tells them to give me a drug to stop the labor. My mother’s intuition switches on. I refuse the drug.

“This child has been trying to get out ever since she went in,” I tell them, “If she wants to be born, let her be born.”

Just to cover themselves, they make me talk to a neonatal nurse who tells me all the bad things that could happen if I let me baby be born before her due date. I listen and then, once again, assert that I want the labor to progress.

Joe leaves to tell my parents that they will be getting one more Christmas present than they thought, and to get the kids pajamas so they can stay at my parents’ house for the night. After he leaves I have a fleeting sense of guilt that I am in the hospital and not with my kids. I also planned to have Christmas day at my house, so my mother will have to go and take all the food out of my refrigerator and cook it for everyone.

“So much more work for her,” I think, wistfully.

My labor continues and I pray the rosary as I breathe and work through the mild pain. The contractions are not all that intense and so I lay quietly in the PRAY THE ROSARY EVERYDAYdim room praying, offering up my prayers for the baby, my family and those who have no one to pray for them. After Joe returns, the doctor shows up. It is now close to 1 a.m. She checks on me and lets me know she is not too happy about the fact that I want to have the baby. I am at 7 cm so she lets me go for awhile. Finally she decides to break my water and the contractions come hard and fast. The doctor corrects my breathing technique. Apparently I am not doing it to her satisfaction. I want to smack her, but I bite my tongue because I know it would just cause problems for everyone if I reacted in anger. Finally, I get the urge to push. The doc, for some reason, is not ready for me to push.

Huh??? Telling a woman in labor not to push is like telling a sick person not to vomit. You can’t stop it! It controls you! It has a mind of its own!

“Mmmm…pushing!” I manage to blurt.

“No, you are not in a good position for that,” she says, “I want you to scoot up more and bend your legs more before you push, so breathe through this one.”

I glare at her and push anyway. I can feel the baby move down. She yells at me to move into position. I feel another huge contraction coming, so, although it’s excruciating even to move, I quickly do what she wants just before the bad pain hits. I am so angry at this woman that I channel the anger into the push and the baby pops right out. I hear everyone yell in surprise, and then I hear the doctor making all kinds of surprised exclamations that include taking the Lord’s name in vain, so I won’t repeat them here.

I get nervous. “Is she OK?” I ask.

No answer.

“IS SHE OK??” I yell.

“Yes, the baby is fine,” says the doc, and I hear a lusty cry.

Relieved, I lay back and tears begin streaming from my eyes. All the stress, anger and worry is being released in each tear and I feel at peace. They let me hold my beautiful Angelina Rose. So tiny, she is! But she has the face of an angel.

Then I hear the doc say, “This is a miracle…a miracle.” When I ask what she means she tells me, “This placenta is completely compromised. I have never seen one in such bad shape. I don’t know how this child survived even till now, but I would bet if she weren’t born right this very minute she would have been a stillborn.”

I look at the clock. 2:51 a.m. Merry Christmas.

Then I look down at my little beauty and tell her all about how she has an older brother who has autism, who ran away and put Mommy in labor so that she could live. God knew that Angelina would need to be born just at this time, on His birthday. So He used Charlie’s disability in such a way that it saved His baby sister’s life. Angelina was born on the first day of Christmas and Charlie’s birthday is January 6th, the twelfth day of Christmas. My two Christmas babies, connected in a spiritual way that could only have been orchestrated by the Author of Life Himself.

Madonna Mary & Baby Jesus 05There is God’s Christmas story that He wrote for all mankind, but for some reason He allowed us our own very special Christmas story. And, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, I will ponder all these things in my heart.