Love in the Time of the Flu

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I am a mother.  My life is dedicated to living in love for my little ones.  Sometimes that love is less of a feeling and more of an action.  And sometimes it is not what I do but what I accept and allow to happen to me, sacrificially accepting burdens in love without complaint.

Or maybe with some of the loudest and most vocal protestations ever registered on the Richter scale of motherhood woes.  See, I’m still working on that last part.

Love is having the flu but not actually being able to acknowledge you have the flu.  Because moms don’t get sick.  Or can’t.

Love is burning your arm on the side of the roasting pan in a Nyquil-induced haze and not even realizing you did it until two days later when you finally discover the source of the mysterious pain you’ve been experiencing.  Because your 6 month old has the flu and that has dominated all of your consciousness.

Love is realizing that everyone capable of eating solid food in the house devoured the treats your co-worker gave you for Christmas—EXCEPT YOU—and not even really caring because, hey, it’s not like you need the extra calories.  And really, you’d exchange chocolate for sleep at this point, right?

Love is reading that book even though your throat burns and you think you are about to hack up a lung and wait you have to also sing while reading and do the voices, too!  Because you’ve given her less attention than usual and you know her little heart feels it.

Love is letting go of the slip up or poorly worded remark made by the man who works 60 hour weeks to provide for your family.  Because you know that, like you, he’s so exhausted he probably didn’t even think it through.

Love is a snuggle with your girl, praying you are no longer contagious, and hearing her say, “I love you so much, Mommy.  You are so special to me.”

Love is holding that sobbing baby even when you would give anything to set him down for a shower.  Because when he looks up at you and smiles, you see your face reflected in the light of his eyes, and you know that just for now, for these precious few months of these short first years, you are his whole world.  And you would give anything for his whole world to be full of love.  Only love.

 

 

 

Heaven on Earth

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We long for heaven.  Sometimes we forget we can have it right here on earth, thanks to the Mass!

Pope John Paul II said that Mass is heaven on earth.  Scott Hahn wrote a whole wonderful book about it.  When we praise God at Mass, we are praising Him with the angels.  When we watch bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus and receive the Eucharist, we are one with Jesus.  What could be more heavenly?

Walter Ciszek, an American Jesuit priest, volunteered to go to Poland in the late 1930s, as the shadow of war and Naziism swept across Europe.  As the Germans invaded Poland and the Soviet Union began its crushing march across eastern Europe, Ciszek fled with other Polish refugees into the Soviet Union, where he secretly said Mass and ministered as priest.  He was eventually arrested by the Soviet police on the pretense of being a spy and held for years in a notoriously horrific prison.  From there he was sent to Siberia to serve 15 years of hard labor.  During this time of extreme suffering, he turned to those around them and cared for them in their suffering.  He risked all to celebrate Mass.

“We said Mass in drafty storage shacks, or huddled in mud and slush in the corner of a building site foundation,” Ciszek wrote.  “Yet in these primitive conditions, the Mass brought you closer to God than anyone might conceivably imagine.”

Heaven was on earth.  Even in a shack in the mud in a Soviet prison camp.

As I pace at Mass with a crying infant or carry his toddler sister out in the midst of a tantrum, let me always remember that even then, in that seemingly challenging moment, I am in the midst of Heaven on earth.  Jesus is everywhere and can be present for everyone.  And Heaven is right here if we open our hearts to it.

The Terror of 3 a.m. and the Liturgy of the Hours

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I know I always need my faith. All day, every day, at every time of day. But it’s those middle of the night wakings with a newborn when I need it the most.

I have struggled with anxiety all of my life. I was an anxious little girl. I was an incredibly anxious teenager. I was an anxious young adult. But some time around 30, things started to fall into place. I found coping strategies. But mostly I surrendered to God, developed a strong prayer life, and became comfortable with who I am and where I am. (I’m also a huge advocate for getting the right medication for yourself when you need it.)

I was in a good place. I was in the best place of my life. I became convinced I had things under control. Maybe that was the problem. I had things under control. After all, I have always known that control has always been my biggest issue, my most significant trigger, and the way God has frequently chosen to reach out to me, teach me, and help me to grow closer to Him.

When they pulled my son from my body and held him up for us to see, he was purple. He was not breathing. They poked and prodded him, and he remained unresponsive. He was rushed off to the NICU. I lay back, numb and immobile, as they sewed me up, and knew I could do nothing to help him, had no way of saving him. It was all beyond me.

After a short NICU stay, he was fine, I was fine, and we came home together and healthy. It was ideal. You could not have asked for a better end result. That’s what I tried to focus on. And yet, buried deep inside me was such overpowering fear, inexpressible and indefinable, fear of everything, terror for what might happen and for a future over which I have no control.

All day I would go about my life caring for my children, cooking our dinner, doing the writing and research that comes with my work as a historian. I felt confident in my decisions, grounded and sure about my life and my place in the world. But all that would change at the cries of my newborn son in the darkest part of the night, when all the world was asleep, and I was alone but for him. At 3 am all the terror came in waves, pounding over me until I struggled to breathe. I rocked him and tried to pray, tried to believe that my words mattered, that I wasn’t alone, even in that lonely hour.

Every single bad thing that had ever happened or could ever happen came to me and drowned out all the good, all the beautiful moments of our lives. At 3 am, the darkness was winning. I feared for the future—job loss, money problems, supporting our children, accidents, sickness, kidnapping, death, and some things too terrible to even put into words, that must remain unspoken and unwritten.

I downloaded the Laudate app and started to get back into my old, wonderful habit of the Liturgy of the Hours. Welcoming God into every part of my day and taking regular time out to pray had always helped me before. I would turn to this solace again. Yet it seemed I was just going through the motions. The words were so lovely but I felt dry and unmoved. What was the point? Was this even doing anything? I needed help. Real help.

Then one morning while praying I read words that made it all better. It was almost instant. I had never experienced anything like it.

This was where I was. This was what I needed to say, and what I needed Him to hear.

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And then, further down, an answer. A true consolation that moved the depths of my soul.

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I still have anxiety. I still struggle. But I don’t wake up in terror at 3 am, gasping for breath and drenched in sweat.

This is why we pray, even when we aren’t feeling it. This is why we sit in communion with Him even when we may be feeling spiritually dry or abandoned. He is always there. He is always with us. Just when you think it’s all over, that you can’t take anymore, He reaches out and lifts you up. He will carry you through it. He is carrying you.

Personal prayer to God is important. It is crucial that we come to God with our own words. But equally important are prayers, psalms, and readings that come to us through the tools the church gives us, like the Liturgy of the Hours. We discover so much about ourselves and our God through them. Turning to the Liturgy of the Hours, the psalms, the saints, and the prayers of our Church are ways of surrendering control, of recognizing the truth—we can’t do it ourselves. We need help. His help, the help of the saints, and the help of our Church.

I was never alone. I felt alone. But I was never, not once, alone.