Gifts of the Epiphany

This week we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany, when the Oriental nobles circumnavigated Herod’s schemes and followed the star to the Infant King, and bestowing upon him the unlikeliest of baby gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Although his parents must have scratched their heads as they gazed upon the treasure, within days the sense of it crystallized as they hurriedly loaded their donkey and fled, the wails of their neighbors rending the air as the Holy Family passed the city gates.

The presence of the Gentile kings in the life of Christ was an indication that the Messiah had come from the Jews, but not for them alone. God’s covenant … His generosity … His compassion stretches wider, deeper, more complete and more profound than the human mind can conceive.

What unexpected gifts has God sent your way this year? What unlikely gift — what relationship, personal challenge, or detour — has come your way that you have yet to put in proper perspective?

Just wait … your epiphany is coming soon.

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Weekend Ponderings: Persevering Through Pain

A couple of times here I’ve written about a good friend of mine who is battling leukemia, and has a teenage son with extreme special needs (in and out of mental hospitals, etc.) who is making their home life unbearable. She and her husband have tried every legal venue to get their foster-adopted son the help he needs, and because of the danger he poses to the younger boys they have exhausted every possible lead in order to find him another place to stay. All to no avail. He is still there, causing havoc.

Now another brother has been hospitalized for depression. And my friend is once more in the hospital — through her transplant seems to have “taken,” the side effects of her treatment have left her in constant pain, unable to eat or do anything else.

Yesterday when I saw my friend’s husband, my heart broke for him. He is a man caught in a desperate situation, with four boys who desperately miss their mother and fear their older brother. It is understandable that the poor man feels overwhelmed, despite the fact that so many friends are reaching out to them.

As he stood there, giving me the details on the most current difficulties the family is facing, I suddenly got an image of Jesus carrying his cross, step after painful step. The torture must have been unbearable … and yet, somehow he bore it. Somehow he found the strength. Somehow he kept going. People came alongside him, to assist him — carrying his cross, wiping his face. But no one carried him. For that, he had to lean hard on the Spirit.

And so, I prayed with my friend, that God would give him a measure of the same Spirit that strengthened Jesus in those final hours. I asked that same Spirit to defend and protect the older two boys, both of whom belong to God.  I do not understand why God hasn’t given this family a “way of escape.” Every door has been closed to them.

But in a remarkable, and totally unique way, they are being given an opportunity to imitate Christ. In particular, imitate the way he persevered despite the pain, remaining faithful to the God he knew had not forsaken him.

As Christians, we are often eager to share our testimony of victory, of triumph, of celebration. And yet, the paradox of the Gospel remains:  His strength is revealed most perfectly in our weakness.

Open our eyes, Lord. We want to see Jesus.

Weekend Ponderings: Mary, Comforter of the Afflicted

Today I’m up to my ears in basement. We have a professional organizer turning a heavily packed and useless living space into a downstairs office and play area for us! (This will come in handy in the summertime!) Special bonus — got part of the garage cleared out, too!

As divine Providence would have it, Sarah Reinhard posted a lovely reflection today at CE on waiting with her suffering child in the emergency room, on her helplessness to relieve little Babb’s suffering … and her realization that the Blessed Mother could especially relate to her suffering, from her own experiences during the final week in the life of Christ.

Weekend Ponderings: Never Give Up!

It took four months, but he DID IT! Christopher is now a 9th geup, and has his bright yellow stripe on his formerly boring-white belt! Yippee!!!

Standing at the table before their instructors, the students were questioned about their knowledge of tae kwan do. Standing in front of a sea of parents, it must have been very scary to go through an oral exam. One little boy couldn’t identify the American flag on the wall (and none of his classmates appeared to be in any rush to answer the question, either). They were doing their best … but the pressure was on.

This weekend, the second reading (from the book of Philippians) reminds us of our heavenly citizenship.

Brothers and sisters:
Our citizenship is in heaven,
and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
He will change our lowly body
to conform with his glorified body
by the power that enables him also
to bring all things into subjection to himself.

All the nerve-wracking ordeal, the butterflies in the stomach, the moments of not knowing the right thing to say at the moment we most need to say it … gone. We will exchange our lowly “belt” for an exalted one, secure in the knowledge that we have run the race, and won.

As parents, we have an even more sobering responsibility: Not only to prepare ourselves for heaven, by the grace of God, but to help our families get ready as well. All the stories of faith, hope, love, and the other virtues; all the careful coaching in faith and life choices; all the effort we pour into the moral formation of our children. We can never give up; the stakes are too high.

This Lent, let’s run the race before us with endurance, so that when Easter arrives we can celebrate like Christopher did when he got his new belt: Dancing for joy!

Weekend Ponderings: “I ate the ham. Do I need to confess it?”

It was careless, I know. The Jimmy Johns sandwiches beckoned, and I grabbed one without thinking. The last bite was just disappearing down my throat when someone observed that there were a lot of vegetarian sandwiches left over … And then it hit me.

“Oh, RATS!” Eating meat. On a Lenten Friday. In public, yet.

One mom cocked an eyebrow at me. “Oh, do you think God will FORGIVE YOU?! I’m so glad that I’m a Christian and don’t have to worry about things like that!”

Great. Now I have TWO sins to mention at confession on Saturday. Eating ham and throttling a dear “sister in Christ.”

While (as this article by Jimmy Aikin indicates) deliberately choosing to eat meat on a day of abstainence is grave matter (that is, it satisfies one of three conditions of mortal sin), it must be done freely and deliberately to qualify as a mortal sin. I had not done it deliberately — if I had remembered it was Friday, I would have happily chosen the vegetarian option. Even so, hearing Father Chas’ teaching last night made me realize that it might be good for me not to let myself off the hook too quickly.

Last night Father Chas put the whole “why eat fish on Fridays” in a useful context of family obligation. He pointed out that in the “feasts, fasts, and pilgrimages” of the Church, there are mandatory and optional observances. Just as in the human family there are certain things we do simply because we belong (attendance at Sunday dinner, family fun night, birthday celebrations, etc.), so there are certain things — certain disciplines, and obligations, we take up within a spiritual community simply because we belong to the family, and respect the spiritual authority of those who have placed these obligations upon us. 

In a word, we do it “because Father says so.” (“Father” being the teaching office of the Church, the Magisterium, passed down to us from bishop to individual parishioners through the normal channels of authority.)

Confess a couple mouthsful of ham? Why?  Certainly not because ham is intrinsically evil, but because it may help me to be more mindful of slowing down and being more deliberate about my Lenten journey.

Lent is, at its heart, a time of penitence and preparation for the greatest of all feast on the Church calendar. The desert calm of the season encourages us to detach from non-essentials — even those that, in and of themselves, are not bad for us. In her classic spiritual work, The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila spoke of the need to pass from the outer courtyards of sin and temptation, through to the inner chambers where attachments to even good things — including personal relationships — can distract us from putting our full attention on “His Majesty.”

And so, the disciplines of Lent provide an opportunity to make little choices, small offerings of obedience to our heavenly Father. Like my daughter’s scribbled love notes, they are valuable not because of their intrinsic worth … but because fulfilling these “family obligations” are precious reminders of the love between us.

Weekend Ponderings: Are You Happy in Your Marriage?

This week at Mommy Monsters, I posted a reflection on the three directions — past, present, and future — the evil one directs his arrows at our hearts.

As I write this, I’m packing up the car to take a few days with my family, playing at Kalahari Water Park!  Please pray for us, for direction and … a renewed sense of family.

Lord, You created the sacrament of marriage.
It was YOUR idea to match us up, man and woman with children together,
to reflect Your communion of lov in the world.
Help us, Lord, so that when that reflection pales or distorts,
that we might turn to You again,
and in that turning, experience Your love anew.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Weekend Ponderings: “Your name will never be … blotted out.”

As we enter the third week of Advent, the somber purple of the penitential season turns rosy. In years past, I’ve hosted a tea for a small group of girlfriends, so we can catch up on each other’s lives. Sadly, I had to let this go this year — at times even the best traditions need to take a back seat to more immediate concerns. 

This week at school, several families are struggling with serious illness. One parent died unexpectedly, another parent — a good friend — is fighting for her life.  As a community, we’re taking up collections and doing what we can for the families … but there’s something vaguely unsettling about it all. It makes you take stock, re-evaluate. Consider what things are of eternal consequence. Happy Advent!

This week I’ve also been in a couple of exchanges about a topic that resurfaces from time to time (primarily because my own POV on birth records doesn’t overlap neatly with views expressed on many other adoption sites).  For me, the subject of birth records is not one in which I have any real personal investment;  my own children know their birth parents already. However, I DO understand why others are so passionate about the subject: The names on the original birth certificate represent a missing link to the past, without which they cannot imagine a “happily ever after.”

And so, when the trail runs cold, it hurts the one member of the adoptive triad that least deserves to suffer. It forces the child to bear the painful consequences of his parents’ actions, addictions, or flaws. With adoption, the child loses his first parents, who tapped into the gift of procreation without the ability to parent a child together. And whenever this happens, the child suffers far more than the parents. Sometimes that child is raised without a parent. Sometimes he suffers abuse or neglect. Many, many times he pays with his life through abortion or child abuse. And sometimes … he is loses his original parents through adoption. No matter what form it takes, the pain is real … and it has far-reaching effects that can be measured not just in years, but in generations.

I’ve said it many times: Adoption is never God’s first choice. And yet, adoption does reflect the kind of divine love God showed to us when he brought us through adoption into his family, through the atoning death of Christ. And in that sense, families that are formed through adoption get to experience in a unique way the redemptive love of God.

Friday’s first reading offers a reassuring message for those who are struggling with their sense of self, whose identity — personal, spiritual, familial, cultural, or in any other sense — has not yet fully formed.  

“If you would hearken to my commandments,
your prosperity would be like a river,
and your vindication like the waves of the sea;
Your descendants would be like the sand,
and those born of your stock like its grains,
Their name never cut off
or blotted out from my presence.”

That name we seek … that primal connection … is not one that we can ever hope to find in this life. We were created, first and foremost, to be called children of God.