About hsaxton

Heidi Hess Saxton is an adoptive parent of two children, and converted to Catholicism in 1994. She is adoptive parent columnist at CatholicMom.com and CatholicExchange.com. She also writes for the Parenting Channel at AnnArbor.com. In her spare time, she is finishing up her Master's thesis at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.

A Severe Kind of Mercy

As I contemplated writing tonight’s post, I read that Moammar Gaddafi’s youngest son and three grandchildren were killed in a NATO missile strike. The general survived, the report continued. On the other hand … how does anyone survive a loss of that magnitude?  

Ordinarily the news might not have made such an impression on me. However, I recently took my children to see their birthparents, who had not seen any of their four kids in seven years.  It was supposed to be another seven years before Chris was supposed to see them, but Christopher’s birthdad had been having heart trouble. Craig and I talked about it off and on for months, until he finally — reluctantly — agreed to a single visit.  We didn’t want Christopher to miss seeing him altogether.

As we walked into the home, Christopher became very animated, shouting, “I remember! I remember!” He ran upstairs to his old room, which seemed not to have been touched since he left it. All his toys and toddler-sized clothes were still there, as though he would be home to stay any minute. As though the little boy he once was had been frozen in time.

It was the same with Sarah’s room. The crib, the rocking chair, the baby swing … Everything was still there. Quickly their birthmom began digging through toys, handing them to the kids until their arms were full as the birthdad left the room so the kids didn’t see his tears. On the way home, I contemplated what I had seen and wondered if I’d done the right thing. 

Then, as if in response to my unspoken thoughts, Christopher piped up, “I can’t wait until I turn 18, so I can move back with my real family.”

I swallowed hard, trying not to show how his words had hurt. “You already live with your real family, Christopher.  You will always be part of our family, no matter how old you are. That’s adoption.”

He thought about that for a minute. “Well… maybe I can live in the middle.”

This “living in the middle” feeling was understandable, and I didn’t take it personally. I have read of adoptive families that  successfully integrate birthfamily members into their extended family. Even so, my son’s comment made me wonder: How can a child who has contact with two sets of parents grow up feeling anything but “in the middle”?

A few weeks have passed, and I’m still not sure it was the right choice.  Time will tell.  What I do know is that once again Sarah is sleeping with us every night, and Christopher has been having nightmares in which I disappear and he can’t find me. I agreed to the visit out of love . . . and yet I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t a severe kind of mercy.

God’s mercy can also seem severe sometimes. This is the side of grace we don’t often consider. When Craig and I were presented to John Paul II in 1999, while in Rome on our honeymoon, I distinctly remember looking into the man’s clear blue eyes and thinking that I’d seen heaven there.  He could barely walk, and was a shell of the vital man he once was. Six more years would pass before he was finally laid to rest. Six more years of walking through that valley of the shadow, one painful step at a time.

However, the man Karol Wojtyla had embraced the job God had given him to do: to take up a particular cross that would uniquely reflect the self-donating love of God to all his children. As Pope John Paul II, he reminded us how utterly we need that hard-won, amazing grace every day of our lives. Even, and perhaps especially, when that way grows difficult, when it would be easier just to give in to despair and bitterness.  It is an uncommon kind of mercy, which drives the nails into the cross we have been called to carry.

As we celebrate the beatification of John Paul the Great tomorrow, let us remember the Divine Mercy that guides each of us all the way to heaven.  Together, as a family, in good times and bad, let us recall the act of grace emblazoned on Faustina’s image:

Jesus, we trust in you!

The Way of Contentment: Venerable Father Solanus Casey

Yesterday a group of us from the Bible study group of Christ the King Catholic Church visited the Father Solanus Casey Center. In the exhibit hall, I came across the following quote by the good father that stuck with me . . . and so I thought I’d share it here.

“We are never justified in being bitter toward anyone, except ourselves.  In every deed, if we were only one-tenth as appreciative as we have every reason to be, our gratitude for what God has done for us — directly and through his creation, most especiall through our immediate superiors–would be such that we would be perfectly content with what we are and what we have.”

Later on, I heard the story of how the good father had thousands of people come to see him, especially during the Great Depression (he served as porter at the front door of the Capuchin monastery). To each he offered this advice: to ask God to provide the need, then begin to thank him for the answer even before it arrived. He encouraged each one to make an offering of thanksgiving to the mission.

This approach to intercession — thanking God even before the answer was in evidence — is revolutionary on two counts. First, it builds up the “trust muscles,” encouraging us to look with expectation and anticipation of God’s benevolence. Second, it changes our own outlook, from desperate helplessness to confident joy.

40-Day Challenge: What Now? (Day 40)

Okay, for the final time . . . begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

Holy Saturday has special significance for me:  It is the day I was welcomed into the Church after nearly a year of studying and contemplating whether I should become Catholic. On that Easter Vigil afternoon in 1994, dressed in a beautiful white gown and red sash, I lit my candle and walked steadily into the sanctuary. 

In the weeks leading up to that moment, I’d had spiritual “cold feet.” It would have been much easier to simply walk away — and if I had done so, I was confident that my friends and family would have considered it an answer to their prayers.

But in the end, I knew what I had to do. And so I took a deep breath, and followed. Seventeen years later, I look back and honestly cannot remember why I’d had such misgivings. And I cannot imagine what my life would be like today, had I not made that leap of faith.

As our “40-Day Challenge” draws to a close, it’s time to take stock. Perhaps you look back over your life, and cannot remember a time when your husband did not occupy a corner of your heart. And perhaps that is a good and reassuring thing . . . or maybe at this particular moment it seems more like a life sentence. Either way, you can rest in two important certainties:

  • Feelings are not facts.  Your present feelings can — and likely will — change many times over the course of your marriage. Some days you will look across the breakfast table and feel butterflies. Other days, the sensation will be much less pleasant (particularly if you spent a sleepless night). Enjoy the first. Endure the second. Either way, it will pass.
  • Love is not a feeling.  Love is something you wake up every morning and choose. “Today, just for today, I am going to love.”  On good days, warm-and-fuzzy feelings are the icing on the cake. But seriously, who wants a plate of nothing but frosting? The cake is the whole point.  The frosting makes the day sweeter — but it cannot provide real sustenance.  Feelings can give you quite a rush . . . but a marriage is based on a daily choice to love.

I’d like to thank those of you who have already taken the time to write to me.  Some of you are asking God to work a miracle in your home, and especially in the heart of your husband.  Others found a particular challenge especially timely.  As we place ourselves firmly in the hand of God, abandoning ourselves to His will, amazing things can happen!

One last thing as we end this challenge:  What did you find especially helpful? Are there some themes you wished that I’d included here, but didn’t — or that you would like to see me revise for next year’s Challenge? I’d love to hear from you!  You can comment here, if you want to . . . or if you would like to contact me privately, you can drop me a line at heidi.hess.saxton@gmail.com.

Today’s Challenge:  Create a love letter for your husband, telling him about your Challenge experience.

Today’s Prayer:   “Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you. All things pass away, but God never changes. Patience obtains all things. She who possesses God will never want for anything. God alone suffices.” (Teresa of Avila)

40-Day Challenge: Zzzzzz…. (Day 39)

Begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

“Why do they call it ‘Good Friday’?” my nine-year-old wanted to know.  It was a fair question, why we should commemorate the day of the Lord’s death, calling it “good”? Many other adjectives spring to mind: “merciful” … “sad” … “dark” … “deadly.”

And yet, the Church calls it “good,” for without Good Friday, there is no Easter. Without the heartache of the Cross, we would never experience the victory of Resurrection.

On today, the next-to-last day of the Challenge, we come to the last letter of the alphabet, “Zzzzzzzz.”  It recalls the rest that is such an essential part of every life, from beginning to the end. “In peace will I lay down and rest, for Thou, O Lord, makest me to dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

In marriage, too, we have times of rest — sometimes peaceful, other times fitful. When my husband’s burden becomes too heavy and he grows restless, as his wife I’m in a unique position: I can’t tell him what to do and expect instant obedience, as a parent would. Nor am I a casual acquaintence, who has the luxury of shrugging it all away. As his life’s partner, I have the serious responsibility to walk alongside him, to help him where I can and pray when I cannot.

As wives we must each walk our own “Via Dolorosa,” experiencing vicariously the pain of our beloved. Just as Mary followed her Son in his suffering, so we must endure with courage when those we love suffer. And so, for this final “Challenge,” I’d like to take up the Stations of the Cross that Pope John Paul II first celebrated on Good Friday, 1991.

Station One:  Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus, just as you prayed until you sweated drops of blood, so may I persevere  faithfully in my vocation, even when I feel alone and afraid, until the darkness of Gethsemane gives way to Eden’s dawn.

Station Two:  Jesus is Betrayed by Judas.  Jesus, as you looked into the eyes of that wayward apostle, you did not hate him for his weakness and unfaithfulness. Rather you embraced with renewed certainty the way of the Cross.  Create in me such a heart of love, that no betrayal or infidelity or weakness of any kind can possibly extinguish it.

Station Three: Jesus is Condemned by Sanhedrin.  Jesus, you did not turn on your accusers, men whose religious sensibilities blinded them to the reality before their very eyes.  When I am tempted to shield myself from truth behind a wall of false piety, draw me into the light of your Sacred Heart.

Station Four: Jesus is Denied by Peter. Jesus, you understood the hearts of your apostles, their weaknesses and strengths.  In Peter you saw both the man who would deny you . . . and the man who, filled by the Spirit, would one day lead your Church. Fill me with your Spirit, that in strength as well as weakness, my life will be a testiment of faithful service to my family . . . and to you.

Station Five: Jesus is Judged by Pilate.  Jesus, as you stood before Pilate, you did not defend yourself even though you saw that the man was more concerned about pleasing the people than administering justice. When I am unfairly judged, give me the courage to trust in the providence of God, who “makes all things work together for good.”

Station Six: Jesus is Scourged and Crowned with Thorns. Jesus, in your moment of vulnerability you could have called the hosts of heaven to your defense. Instead you bore it all for love for us. When the one I love is suffering, give me strength to offer up his pain as I do my own, that nothing will be wasted in self-pity or bitterness.

Station Seven: Jesus Bears the Cross. Jesus did not push away the instrument of his own death, but put one foot after another, willing to face whatever was ahead out of love for God. When I am surrounded by doubt and uncertainty, dear Jesus, send your angels to walk alongside me, taking each moment as it comes.

Station Eight: Jesus is Helped by Simon the Cyrene to Carry His Cross. Jesus, in your moment of fear and desperation you were not too proud to refuse the assistance of those who came to your aid. When I am tempted to keep my burdens to myself with unseemly self-reliance, give me the humility to accept the help that comes to me.

Station Nine: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem.  Jesus, even in your great pain and torment you had compassion on the crowds pressing all around you, speaking the truth to them in love. Help me, Lord, not to get so caught up in my own drama that I neglect to see the needs around me, and to minister to them as you give me strength to do so.

Station Ten: Jesus is Crucified.  Jesus, you did not shy away from the most painful moment of your divine call.  Give me the strength to persevere in mine, even when the rest of the world does not understand why I would choose this path.

Station Eleven: Jesus Promises His Kingdom to the Good Thief.  Jesus, you recognize the goodness in the heart of one that the world had judged as evil. Forgive me, Lord, when I am so persuaded by the “hopelessness” of a particular human soul, that I refuse to pray for him. Help me to love him, rather, as you love him.

Station Twelve:  Jesus Speaks to His Mother and Disciple.  Jesus, in your agony you did not forget to attend to the welfare of those closest to you, creating spiritual bonds of love that would transcend all time and space. Enlarge my heart, Lord Jesus, for my brothers and sisters all over the world, that their concerns and needs would become my own.

Station Thirteen: Jesus Dies.  “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” This was your cry, Lord Jesus, as you drew your final breath. Make this my most heartfelt cry, as well. “Lord Jesus, I trust in You!”

Station Fourteen: Jesus is Placed in the Tomb.  Lord Jesus, as the hands of those who loved you placed you in the tomb, they must have believed that they would never see you again. When the world seems hopeless, Lord Jesus, give me grace to keep my eyes on you, and to trust you to breathe your divine life that restores my soul. For nothing is impossible with God!

Today’s Challenge:  Is someone you know struggling in their marriage?  Offer these stations on their behalf, and pray for the miracle of new life into that “hopeless” situation.

Today’s Prayer:  “We adore you, Christ, and we bless you. For by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.”

40-Day Challenge: Yes! (Day 38)

  Begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

   A few weeks ago, on March 25, we celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation, when the    Blessed Virgin Mary gave her assent to God’s plan, by which she was to become the Theotokos . . . the God Bearer.  Her “yes” set a series of events in motion that would change the whole human story, making us not just friends but children of God.

Today we celebrate a “yes” of a very different kind:  The moment when the Son of God gave his yes — freely and without equivocation — to God’s redemptive plan. It was the ultimate gesture of love, offered for the benefit of a group of people who had demonstrated time and again unprecedented disregard for such unmerited divine favor.

Now, the question comes back to us:  What are we willing to sacrifice?  When we are called to take up our cross and follow, exactly what form will that burden take?

As you consider these questions (as today’s challenge), consider the words of Amy Carmichael in her spiritual classic “Calvary Love” (an excerpt of this book may be found here):

If I hold on to choices of any kind, just because they are my choice, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I am soft to myself and slide comfortably into self-pity and self-sympathy; If I do not by the grace of God practice fortitude, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I myself dominate myself, if my thoughts revolve round myself, if I am so occupied with myself I rarely have “a heart at leisure from itself,” then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If, the moment I am conscious of the shadow of self crossing my threshold, I do not shut the door, and keep that door shut, then I know nothing of Calvary love. …

If the ultimate, the hardest, cannot be asked of me; if my fellows hesitate to ask it and turn to someone else, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I covet any place on earth but the dust at the foot of the Cross, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

That which I know not, teach Thou me, O Lord, my God.

40-Day Challenge: X-amination of Conscience (Day 37)

Begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

The other day I came across this “Examination of Conscience for Married Couples” by Father Thomas Weinandy.  If you have not yet been to confession this Lent, why not take this opportunity to prepare yourself … and to make arrangements to go?

The sacrament of reconciliation does not need to be an onerous chore; it is a bath for the soul that helps us to enter wholeheartedly into the celebration that is Easter. Just as there is no Easter without a Good Friday, so there is no healing without an acknowledgement that we need to be healed.

Today’s Challenge:  Read the Examination. What one area do you feel most convicted about the need to change? What is the “opposite virtue” that you need to practice in order to get rid of this vice?

Today’s Prayer:  “Dear Heavenly Father, help me to cultivate a heart of greater love and generosity toward my spouse. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!”

40-Day Challenge: Wisdom (Day 36)

Begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone.
The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.

Lin Yutang, author and inventor of the Chinese typewriter

Today’s Challenge:  Time to take personal inventory:  Are there any areas of your life in which the good has become the enemy of the best?  What “non-essentials” do you need to eliminate in order to make room for that which is of ultimate importance?

Today’s Prayer:  Create in me a heart of generous wisdom, O God.