Monday, June 29, 2015

Emmanuel

“It’s feels like God is crying with us,” I told my wife on our drive through a gentle rain to the hospital. The rest of the world seemed to be going about as if it were just another Thursday morning but it was far from that for us. Our eyes were filled with tears as this was the day that we were going to the hospital to deliver our baby. Only we knew that our baby’s heart was no longer beating and only his tiny body remained. Funny how your life can be turned upside down when you least expect it.

Just a few days prior the week started off in a very normal manor. We had a routine 16 week check-up with my wife’s OBGYN and I had met her there that Monday afternoon at the clinic. We were talking about what to do with our search for a minivan (now that we would have three kids to haul) and other day to day things when the doctor came in the office. Everything seemed good. The only question my wife had was about her shortness of breath which the doctor said is perfectly normal. Everything seemed perfectly normal but that was about to change. The doctor attempted to find the baby’s heartbeat with her little microphone sonar thing and had trouble locating it. Of course we knew this is more common than not so we didn’t think twice about it. Without even hunting too much more the doctor said, “Let’s just see if we can do a quick ultrasound. That would be more fun anyway.”  She suspected nothing unusual and told us she’d see us in a few weeks as she turned us over to a ultrasound tech. Shortly after the ultrasound tech started the ultrasound however, we knew something was wrong. We could see our baby but absent was the flickering heart. “I’m going to go see if I can get the doctor quick,” she told us. At that point there was no doubt that something was wrong and we suspected the worse. I held my wife’s had and we said a prayer together. The doctor came in, looked a bit at the screen and told us she was so sorry but she was not seeing a heartbeat or any blood flow. Based on the size of the baby the doctor told us it had to be something that had just happened within the last couple of days. We knew this had to be the case as my wife had felt the baby do a big summersault move for the first time the Wednesday prior.

We were in shock and devastated. The doctor talked with us about our next options. It was all very overwhelming especially for my wife. At this point in the pregnancy she was far enough along where they didn’t recommend waiting to see if things would happen naturally though this was still an option. They could also do an operation but the doctor was upfront with us that our baby would not come out of that in one piece. The third option was to be induced and deliver in the hospital. This was the option that my wife immediately said she felt best about. Then we began to discuss timing of when she should be induced. The doctor recommended not waiting too long but said it didn’t have to be immediate either. She suggested in a couple of days when she was going to be working in the hospital and could be there to help. At this point my wife became even more distressed and emotional. That was the day her good friend was scheduled to deliver her baby via cesarean. In fact they shared the same doctor and would be in the same hospital. “I don’t think I can do it that day,” my wife told her. We ended up opting for the following day on which her doctor would still be there on call.

Her doctor was very good about explaining everything to us and even teared up at one point as we inquired about if we needed to contact a funeral home and other questions. She told us that this is the worst part of her job and was very reassuring that these things happen and often we never know why, but that it was nothing my wife did or didn’t do. My wife asked her to reassure me as well explaining how the previous week, I had experienced a dream in which someone was forcefully digging their fingers into my armpit. I gave them a good elbow in my dream and unfortunately had struck my sleeping wife’s chest at this point. It was very unintentional but at this point I did wonder if it could have anything do with our baby’s death. The doctor assured me it wasn’t but I still wondered if she might be just trying to make me feel better.

They did search for a cause of death on the ultrasound as much as they could but found nothing. We had had a scare earlier on in the pregnancy and from what they could tell, the blood clot that had attached to lining of my wife’s uterus was totally gone now and didn’t have anything to do with this. This pregnancy had been a roller coaster ride of emotions for sure from the start where we initially thought we were miscarrying due to bleeding and cramping, then found out our baby was ok, only to find out a week later that the bleeding was caused by this blood clot which was getting bigger and if it didn’t go away our baby could not survive. We learned this right before we had gone on a family vacation which was stressful. Upon our return however, the clot mostly diminished and our baby looked to be growing normally and strong. Everything seemed good now until all of a sudden we sat there looking at the motionless ultrasound image of our baby. “I thought we were out of the woods,” my wife told me as we left the clinic. “I thought we were too but life is lived in the woods,” I told her. I held her and tried to be strong and comfort her but the truth is we both were overwhelmed with pain and sadness.

Now unfortunately I had driven separately from work my wife had to drive home by herself. I stood there by her as she sat and cried in the car for the longest time. I hated to leave her and actually my phone buzzed while standing there. Our daycare lady was wondering where we were as normally we pick up our daughter for dance early on Monday and hadn’t shown up. I sent her a quick text apologizing and telling her something had come up and we were not going to make dance tonight. You realize in those moments that the world keeps going even when our hearts feel like everything has stopped. I finally did go and told my wife I’d pick up our son and daughter. As soon as I got in my car I broke down and wept. I knew I needed to call our daycare lady though so I did that and she was the first person I told our news to. She suspected that something big had come up and that it might be related to the pregnancy. She was shocked though that this had all happened out of the blue at a normal appointment.

Next I tried calling my mom to tell her but I didn’t get through. Now I was back to just me again. I turned on one of my favorite CDs by the band For King and Country that happened to be in the CD player. I think skipped a few songs before stopping on one called “Matter” which till that point wasn’t necessarily one of my favorites or one I listed too much. The words really spoke to me though almost as if I was telling my baby, “You matter. I hope you know you matter.” I tear up occasionally but rarely cry. Now the tears fell though and I really felt a deep pain moaning and losing my breadth. I pulled it together to get my son and daughter. I didn’t want them to find out this way though I was already wondering how I could possibly tell them what was happening when they were so excited for their new baby sibling.

At home my wife was sitting there so sad. The kids began playing together right away and finally I told them they needed to come over so we could talk about something very important. I started by asking them if they remember how when they had prayed for our dog (who is spade) to have a baby that they needed to pray that if it ‘was God’s will’ she had a baby puppy she would. And then I told them how God always hears our prayers but sometimes he doesn’t give us what we ask for because he knows it would not be for the best. I emphasized how we have prayed so much for the baby in their mom’s tummy and at this point my 6 year old son started asking questions and finally asked outright if our baby had died. I told him yes. Not quite sure what else I said as he proceed to cry loudly for the next 10 minutes saying he didn’t want our baby to die. I tried to hold and hug him and assured him that none of us wanted that. It was painful to hear him crying but at the same time I didn’t want him to feel like he couldn’t cry as I know he needed to express that sorrow. My 4 year old daughter on the other hand didn’t cry despite having been the one more outwardly excited for her new sibling, but she had tears in her eyes and almost seemed to be much more mature telling us that our baby was in heaven then. I knew she was hurting inside just as much and so tried to comfort and hold both of them. My wife was sitting on a chair while the rest of us were on the couch and I know she felt alone so I had her come over and we all just sat there crying and holding each other. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

Unfortunately that was not the hardest part of this for my wife. She had much more pain ahead of her. The kids kept us from wallowing in our sorrow too much but at night my wife couldn’t sleep much. She would feel discomfort from her baby bump as she still felt pregnant. Then after being awake all the thoughts of what was happening would overwhelm her and she was overwhelmed with great sadness. For the next few nights I tried to just sit there with her and hold her, play with her hair or scratch her back while she cried. There wasn’t much I could say but hopefully she knew how much I loved her and wanted to take her pain away. Here she was carrying around the body of her dead child for two whole days. And if that wasn’t enough, she had to prepare to go through the pains of birthing our baby’s body. Childbirth is painful and scary enough but to anticipate and go through it knowing that in the end you will be holding a lifeless body and have to say goodbye is an unbearably cruel reality.

While the nights seemed to last forever, those days went fast for me as I tried to let close family know over the phone about what had happened. It was hard to say the words and describe what was happening but it helped to know that we had people praying for us. I also got a hold of our parish priest who recommended a particular funeral home and worked with both of them to arrange a little burial service in our church’s cemetery. We set it up for the day after my wife was to be induced as we didn’t know how long it would take for our child’s body to be delivered and this way I could let grandparents and close family know the details in case they wanted to attend. We didn’t want to wait too long however as we knew we needed closure and not to drag this out any more then we already had to. It was challenging to get all this figured out but it was something that both my wife and I wanted to have done.

I was dealing with plenty of my own emotions as well through all of this. I wanted to be strong for everyone though and do what needed to be done. The first night I told our kids a bedtime story (as I typically do) but this time made it about some caterpillars who were very excited to learn that a new caterpillar was going to be part of their lives. They wanted to make paintings and play soccer with this new caterpillar but one day they found he was all wrapped up in a cocoon. They waited anxiously and told him all about the fun they were going to have but one day the cocoon was empty and they couldn’t see the new caterpillar and were very sad. Then they heard a voice coming from up above them and saw a beautiful butterfly soaring overhead. The butterfly told them that he was the caterpillar but now he had wings. The two caterpillars were happy for him but sad that they couldn’t be together. The butterfly assured them that they would be together someday but for now they needed to be there for each other and that he would always be flying over them even if they couldn’t see him and they could still talk anytime they wanted. I don’t know if they kids got correlation to the loss of our baby but it was probably as much for me as for them.

Then that night I had my usual Holy Hour of Adoration at 11 pm.  I had some choice words for Jesus as I knelt there before him. “My baby and wife don’t deserve this and I don’t understand this…you’re wrong,” I told him. I was sad and frustrated and felt alone. Then I randomly opened up a book with journal entries/meditations from the Diaries and visions of Saint Faustina and read the following:

“...At the moment of apparent absolute destruction, my mission, now no longer hindered by anything, will begin. Such is the will of God in this, and it will not change; although many persons will oppose it, nothing will change God's will. (1388)

Today the Lord Jesus is giving me an awareness of Himself and of His most tender love and care for me. He is bringing me to understand deeply how everything depends on His will, and how He allows certain difficulties precisely for our merit, so that our fidelity might be clearly manifest. And through this, I have been given strength for suffering and self-denial. (1409)

So today I submit myself completely and with loving consent to Your holy will, O Lord, and to Your most wise decrees, which are always full of clemency and mercy for me, though at times I neither understand nor fathom them. O my Master, I surrender myself completely to You, who are the rudder of my soul; steer it Yourself according to Your divine wishes. I enclose myself in Your most compassionate Heart, which is a sea of unfathomable mercy. (1450) “

I knew what Jesus was telling me. He was telling me to trust him and I wanted to. I even told him that I trusted him but it’s not easy when everything feels so wrong. I certainly didn’t have that “complete” consent to His will but prayed that God would give me the grace to get there and for my family.

And so this was my week up till that Thursday morning as we drove into the hospital for the hardest day of my wife’s life. Every song on the radio seemed to be sung for us. And we cried most of the way and prayed together before entering the hospital. It felt surreal to be returning to the place we had so many happy memories of our daughter’s birth for such a different kind of experience. In a way the time preceding this was our agony in garden. We knew what needed to be done and thinking about that and coming to terms with it was arguably nearly as painful as doing it. There were constant reminders of the joys we had lost as we checked into the birthing center. We had to wait outside watching excited people and pregnant mothers go by.

The staff there were excellent though and took us down to a private room at the end of the birthing center wing. There a rose was attached to the door letting people know that our room was different. Our nurse was very kind and understanding and we learned she had gone through a similar loss as well. She helped us get situated and explained everything that would happen and all of our options. In a moment of levity the nurse asked if my wife had taken any medications to which she mentioned that her mom had given her some kind of prescription to help her sleep the night before. When her doctor heard this she told us that she liked my wife’s mom already. But then proceed to tell that my wife would need to be tested for drugs as part of a routine procedure. She didn’t mean to insinuate anything but the proximity of these comments was rather amusing.

My wife’s mom and aunt were helping us with our children that day and had gotten them ready and taken them to school and daycare. They showed up at the hospital a little later and visited some. The day was long and difficult. At one point in the afternoon I could tell things had drastically changed and my wife was in pain so I called the nurse in and everyone thought we were close as the nurse could feel the uterus and the doctor had my wife push. It was real labor and I could tell she was in a lot of pain plus she felt overwhelmed that everything was happening so fast. They did give her some pain meds but she opted not to do an epidural as she wanted to be able to leave as quickly as possible. Then things seemed to slow and she was resting. Our first nurse had stayed later then she was supposed to thinking that we were so close which was nice but now a new one started who was actually very nice and good as well. I actually left the room briefly to take care of some #2 business thinking that we could be there a while so this would be a good time. I then got a call from her mom who was with her in the room. I didn’t even answer the phone but raced back running down the hall. My wife was in tears and told me it was all done. The nurse had had her sit up to check something and everything just slide out.

This moment was full of emotions. I felt terrible that I hadn’t been there for my wife through this moment. I felt relieved that she was physically through the worst part of this experience. I felt excited that we now would get to see our little child who had become such a huge part of our lives. And I felt immense sadness knowing that our child was gone along with so many dreams and only the shell of a body remained. As if all this wasn’t enough, in this moment I also experience one of the most wondrous sites of my life. My wife’s water had never broken and the sack the baby was in lay there completely in tack. Seeing it laying there was this surreal look into life before birth. Sure we see ultrasound pictures and artist renderings but to physically see our baby in this transparent protective ball was an amazing experience. You could see his hands, feet, ears and face. Who get’s to see that? It was beautiful and fascinating to behold and had it not been for all the other emotions, this would have been one of the highlights of my life. As it was however, it was one of many complicated feelings that combined together.

I tried to comfort my wife as we waited for the doctor. I got my camera out as well and snapped a few pictures. I wanted to be able to look back and see my child but at the same time didn’t want to be a photojournalist today either. This was a huge moment for us and despite the pain I wanted to experience it with my wife. Finally the doctor came in and punctured the sac so we could remove our baby. Our baby looked so innocent and tiny all curled up. I got to cut the tiny cord and then the doctor pointed out the cord was wrapped multiple time around our baby’s neck and this was the apparent cause of death. Then the doctor looked to see if we could determine the sex of the baby and we all saw a little protrusion that indicated our baby was a boy. We held the body of our little son and touched his perfect fingers. His mount had a little smile on it that reminded me of our other kids and at one point it opened up forming a little ‘O’ shape. Our baby was a perfect little person except something was missing. We both cried and talked to him as we held him. I didn’t know how I’d feel holding him but when I did I broke down and sobbed and sobbed. It was that kind of crying where you just don’t care about anything else, who’s there or what will come next. Part of us was gone. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

Our kids had wanted to see their sibling and we had told them we would have to see and make a decision after he was born. We decided it was best not to have them see him. He was actually very well preserved and very beautiful to behold. Much more so then I had expected. But even with a little doll sized hat and blanket that the hospital provided (they were donated by a past patient who had gone through a similar situation), this wasn’t the baby they pictured in their mind and I didn’t want to take that image away from them. They were grieving in their own way. Our daughter had drawn a beautiful picture for her brother and Isaiah’s whole Kindergarten class had made us letters with pictures telling us they were praying for our baby and us and were sorry for us. It was cool to see how his teacher and class was there for him. Reading the messages from all of them meant so much.

We didn’t stick around the hospital any later then we had to that night. As soon as my wife was cleared to leave we said our goodbyes to our baby boy offering him to our Mother Mary’s care and headed for home. There was a certain emptiness as we got back in our car. The rain was still falling and we said very little on the way back. Then when we were just a few minutes from our house, the rain let up and we saw a faint rainbow ahead of us. It was a little sign that meant so much. It was like our baby boy was trying to comfort us in our grief and let us know that he was ok and we would be too.

That night I had a difficult time sleeping. It was such an emotional day. One that was difficult but also one I never wanted to forget. I kept thinking about everything that had happened and especially holding my son’s body. Finally I got out of bed and wrote the following poem.

“Today I saw my baby's face
but his eyes they never opened.
His body lay there in my hand
and I felt so very broken.
My baby never cried or made
the smallest whimpering sound
Instead it was my eyes from which 
tears came flowing down
I'll never get to calm his fears
or walk him late at night
I'll never be able to make him laugh
or see him marvel at the light
All I have are a few short moments
with his peaceful tiny body
Little hands and tiny feet
so innocent and lovely
I lift his little hand in mine
which wraps around my finger
And on his face a little smile I spy
which makes him look even sweeter
The pain I feel I'd never wish
on an enemy or a friend
But when I think of the joy he's given
I'd go through it all again
I gently kiss his little forehead 
good-bye's are never fun.
I pray God holds hold him in His arms
like I know I'd have done.
What color would his eyes have been
In this life I'll never know
But someday we'll meet again in heaven
and then I'll see their glow”

The next morning got a bit crazy as we tried to get all of us ready and out the door for our baby’s burial service. My wife’s mom was with us to help and it’s probably a good thing. It seemed like everything that could go wrong did including my son’s button popping off his pants and my little girl refusing to wear her tights. Then out of the blue it started snowing outside. The forecast had called for sunshine and a warm spring day but here we had giant flakes of snow covering the ground. We finally got out the door and stopped at a flower shop to get some roses for the kids to leave at the cemetery. Our daughter brought the picture she had made and our son brought a little stuffed animal blanket that they had picked up for their sibling while with Grandma the day before. These items we figured could be buried with our son.

At the cemetery, a man from the funeral home was waiting for us along with other close family. Our priest arrived soon and we all went over to a little plot that was dug behind a head stone that was for unborn babies. A little wooden box holding our son was brought out and Father said some prayers. We placed the kids items in the box and then placed the box in the ground. It was a very short service. My son stood bravely by his mother and my daughter just wanted to bury her face in my shoulder. After standing there in silence for a bit, I started saying the “Our Father” prayer and everyone there joined in. “Thy kingdom come, they will be done.” Tough words to say but it is what we believe and that trust is such a huge part of our faith.

After the service, family joined us at a restraint for a little lunch. Then everyone left and it was just the four of us again. It was good to have a little family time and the truth is the kids kept us going. We couldn’t stop life to feel too sorry for ourselves. But we still mourned and at times just had to sit and hold each other.  The days and weeks that followed were full of difficult moments. Little things would trigger thoughts of our son, such as at church that Sunday when they sang “Behold the Lamb.” The words took on new meaning… “Those who were in the dark are thankful for the sunlight…. Gentle one, Child of God, Join with us at this table….Cradle us with love.” Kneeling there holding my maker I knew that my little one now does behold the Lamb face to face. I felt very close to him in that moment. It was difficult though and my wife was in tears through much of that Mass and many that followed. Our older son was so sweet though as he put his arm around her as he has seen me do to comfort her.


Together we got through and things got better. Not that the pain was ever fully gone. There still is a part of us that is empty but with time we’ve learned to move forward. Our friends and family had been so supportive and encouraging to us and that has been such a wonderful thing to see. This whole experience has changed me a great deal. Not in a grand sweeping way, but rather it focused me and gave me a new perspective on life. It sounds cliché but each moment is a gift and I realized how fleeting life is. All we really have is the day in front of us and the people we encountering in the now. I’m resolved to live in the present and make the present the very best I can for my wife and kids. That has been one of the many blessings to come out of this whole thing. It’s hard to know why something like this happens and given the choice I would have had it happen differently no doubt, but one thing is for sure. I’m thankful for the time I had with my son and that he is part of our family. To paraphrase a few words my brother sent us with some flowers, “The gift of life is a blessing! And while my heart grieves for our earthly loss, I’m [glad we were] given such a great gift.”

Monday, February 02, 2015

A difficult day that became one of the best!

Looking out my car window this morning, everything looked like a perfectly normal day. But it certainly didn't feel like a normal day. Funny how little the world around us seems to care or even notice when something inside feels so wrong. I've experienced this feeling before. It’s a lonely feeling that seems to be felt when we've lost or came close to losing something we treasure. And for that reason, to understand my pain, I must first explain to you the joy of the treasure I felt I was loosing.

It really began a little over a month ago when I received a text message at work. It was a busy day and I glanced down at my phone to see who it was from. It looked like it was from our daycare lady which was strange because it was my wife’s weekly day off with our daughter and they had been spending the day at the zoo.  I couldn't get the message to open as my flip phone (yes I still use one) seemed frozen. So I closed the phone but then opened it again and went back into my inbox to see if I could open it that way. There I found an unopened message from my wife. “Let’s see….must be a picture of our daughter with a monkey,” I thought. I downloaded the picture and on my little screen could quickly see it wasn't from the zoo. It took me a second but I then realized it was a pregnancy test. And although hard to make out, it looked like it was positive. I was stunned and elated at the same time and I’m pretty sure a little smile came on my face.

We had been trying to conceive for a number of months and at this point were resigning ourselves to the possibility that God might not want us to have any more kids. Our first two children were nothing short of miracles and while we both wanted another child we knew that our family was perfect just as it was. At this point I thought that if it was going to happen, it probably would have already and I was ok with that. So that morning when my wife told me she was a few days late and feeling a bit different, I didn't think twice about the possibility that we might be pregnant. I knew she was going to take a test that day but the odds in my mind were nearly zero so that was the last I had thought about it.

As I stared at that picture, I was in shock and all the worries of work I had been dealing with just didn't seem like such a big deal anymore. First I sent the picture to my computer so I could see it better and then I got up and went looking for a place to call my wife. I knew she had to be as excited as me and I had to talk with her. I slipped into an empty conference room and what a joyful conversation we had.  This was a special gift.

Since then things have progressed similar to our other pregnancies. We opted not to tell many people till after our first doctor’s appointment. My wife did start to experience more morning sickness then in the past but we took that as a sign that everything was normal.

Fast forward to this morning when I heard my wife call me upstairs while she was getting ready. The door was shut and I could hear in her voice that something wasn't right and I pretty much knew what it was. After coaxing our son downstairs to eat breakfast, I went in to find my wife in tears on the toilet. She was bleeding heavily with some clots. We both knew that this was likely a sign that we were losing our baby. I hugged her and tried to offer her some words of comfort but of course there is nothing to say when faced with something like this. I took her hands in mine and prayed with her for our little one. Shortly after that she experienced some intense cramping and we were all but certain this pregnancy was nearing the end we feared. We set up an appointment to do an ultrasound and see what was going on and I took the kids to daycare and school.

On the way, I asked my son to help say a rosary for his mom and together we said three decades. Then I tried to finish it on my way back and that’s when it really started sinking in. I couldn't say the prayers for a moment and my eye’s teared up. I hurt inside for my little child, for my wife and for myself. So many moments I now feared our child and our family would never experience. I did finish my rosary and prayed to my Grandmothers who are no longer in this world for their intercession. They both loved babies but my Grandma Dolly especially cared, worked and prayed for the unborn.

Back at our house the wait for our appointment was very difficult. Then came the drive to the doctor’s office. It was during this drive that I had that feeling I mentioned at the beginning of this. That feeling that my world had been turned upside down while the world around me just kept going as normal. Neither of us wanted to go hear and see what we thought was coming. “Do you think there is any chance that our baby is ok?” My wife asked me before we went in. I told her there was certainly a chance but that it probably wasn't a good one. Trusting God in situations like this is one of the hardest things I imagine I’ll ever try to do.

Then we went in. I held my wife’s hand and we braced for the news. This was the moment of truth and I looked longingly at the screen for some small sign of movement but saw none. The nurse said she was taking some measurements right away…and then she started moving the device around a bit and said, “Oh, do you know what that little flickering is? That looks like a heartbeat.” And it was a beautiful little heartbeat. My wife started crying tears of joy and my eyes filled with tears as well. Of course the next question was if our baby was ok. Everything seemed pretty normal the nurse told us. These two parents never felt so happy and relieved.


We never expected to be leaving with smiles on our face. Though drained emotionally the feeling of joy was overwhelming. Looking out my window now, this still didn't feel like a normal day. It was certainly not an easy day but it didn't feel so bad anymore. Looking back it was a very good day…even one of my best and I’ll never forget it. This beautiful little miracle of life continues and I’m thankful for every moment.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary correlation with the Blessed Sacrament

Last night while praying the rosary during my holy hour, it occurred to me that the each of the Joyful Mysteries can be meditated on in light of Blessed Sacrament.  

The first decade of course is the Annunciation which is when the Angel Gabriel came to Mary and Jesus was conceived. It struck me that just as God physically entered into Mary in a very real way and she then carried him inside of her, we also have a similar experience when we receive the Eucharist. God physically takes up residence inside of us and becomes one with us in an extremely intimate way. Similar to Mary, partaking of the Bread of Life makes us living tabernacles and is a mystery we can’t fully understand but that changes our very being.

The second decade is the Visitation in which Mary travels to and spends time with her relative Elizabeth who is also pregnant. The correlation to the Eucharist here is that once we have received our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, we must be moved to take Him to others and serve each other. Mary could have just stayed put and done her own thing in preparing for Jesus’ birth, but she saw  that her cousin was in need and so she gave up her time and made the long journey to be with her all while dealing with the uncertainties in her own life. A former parish priest I knew growing up, always would talk about how the Eucharist needs to transform us and changes us as we leave the doors of the church so that we can help build up the Kingdom of God in this life.

The third decade is Nativity in which Jesus was born. The Eucharistic connection here is the hidden Messiah. As I knelt in the Adoration Chapel before the Bread of Life, it hit me that it takes eyes of Faith to see past appearance of bread and grasp the reality of who is present in that little white host. This isn’t so different then the faith needed by the shepherds and wise men who came and worshiped the Baby King in the manger. Who could fathom that God would come to earth in a dirty stable and take on the form of a helpless infant born into poverty. Would we have recognized who this child is if we had been present there? And do we recognize Christ present to us today hidden in the Eucharist?

The fourth decade is the Presentation in which Joseph and Mary presented the Baby Jesus in the temple and offed a sacrifice according to the law. The Eucharist Meal we participate in at every Mass is truly a sacrificial meal.  At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the priest says, ”Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” Of course this is referencing the bread and wine that will become the Most Precious Body and Blood of Jesus, but I always think of it as broader then just this. We are offering our very selves…everything we have. At the presentation of our Lord, Joseph and Mary offered two turtle doves as that is all they could afford. Now God takes our seemingly insignificant gift and  transforms it into something amazing. And similar to the old man Simeon who took the Baby Jesus in his arms in the temple and rejoiced, we too should be filled with joy at the reality of receiving our Lord and Savior in our own hands at Communion.

The fifth decade is the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. Here the 12 year old Jesus is found in the temple teaching, by his parents who had lost him. Here the parallel is that when we feel like we’ve lost our way and don’t know where or who this Jesus is, He can still be physically found in every Catholic Church in the world.  Like the doctors who were amazed at the young Jesus’ wisdom in the temple, we too can learn much if we spend time with him and listen to what he is telling us. In the stillness of our heart…in quiet prayer, Jesus still speaks and teaches us today. Mary and Joseph were no doubt filled with anxiety and stress as they searched for their lost son but what a feeling of peace they must have experienced when they found Him. That sure is the way it is with my life too. I go along day after day thinking I’ve got my life in decent order, but as soon as I loose site of where my relationship is with Jesus, my life becomes a chaotic mess. I constantly have to refocus my priorities with Jesus at the middle and whenever I do this, all the other noise doesn’t seem so loud. Being able to spend time one on one with Jesus in the Eucharist is our greatest source of peace. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Best hour of the week....My time with Jesus

Imagine that your best friend is in town and you have a chance to sit down face to face together and catch up. Imagine that you have an opportunity for a personal audience with a distinguished public dignitary. Imagine you have a chance to travel back in time and chat with one of the greatest and wisest figures in history.  “Too good to be true. Impossible” you say. But nothing is impossible for God. He wants a personal relationship with each of us and what better way for this to happen then by giving us the chance to spend time with Him.


Sure God is everywhere, in our hearts and can be found in those around us. And we can talk to him anytime we want. That’s all good but what’s better, talking on the phone or face to face? There’s no substitute for being physically with those we love. To grieve with them, laugh with them, cry with them and listen to them. One would have to conclude that if you could have that kind of closeness with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, this would be the most amazing things in the world. Well I’ve got news for you. Jesus is more real then you ever imagined.

I’m talking about one of the best kept secrets of our time: Adoration of the Holy Eucharist. As a Catholic I believe the consecrated host is truly and miraculously Jesus himself and He can be found in every Catholic church around the world. Many churches offer times for adoration during which the sacred host is displayed in a chapel for people to come and sit with Him,. talk with Him and listen to Him.

This year I’ve started making a regular Holly Hour each week with Jesus and that hour is one of the best parts of my week. It’s truly remarkable how quickly the time goes and how at peace I feel when leaving. I feel almost giddy at times that I get to spend that time with my dearest friend. I do some talking and tell Jesus what’s heavy on my heart. I ask Him to bless my family and friends and bring us home to heaven one day. I praise Him and thank Him for all he’s done for me. And I ask him to take away my shortcomings (there are many) and worries and make me beautiful for Him. It just depends how I feel. At times I’ve been very excited about something in my life. And other times I’ve been frustrated and hurt. Either way, Christ listens and gives me peace. And sometime I just listen. I’ll read some scripture readings and reflections as well at times and meditate on prayers such as the rosary or the stations of the cross.

One day I was even angry with God for allowing my young cousin to be killed in a car accident. I know He doesn’t will such things but my beef was that He could have stopped it. As I knelt there asking Jesus “Why?” I heard in my heart, Him ask a question back to me. “Do you Believe?” It’s a question that stung me and challenged me. I say I believe that Jesus is Lord, that God has a plan and that He finds ways to bring beauty out of ugliness. Jesus wasn’t giving me the answers but asking me to put my heart where my actions are and to trust in Him. It’s not the answer I wanted, but it’s the answer I needed and He knew that.

Many times my moments with Jesus aren’t quite so emotional. But it always amazes me how fulfilled and peaceful I feel regardless of if we had a deep conversation or if I had little to say. There are no awkward silences with Jesus. It’s actually a very intimate experience to be face to face with my maker, savior, king and friend.

Now I don’t blame people for being skeptical that it’s really truly Jesus. After all, the Eucharist still looks like a little white wafer of bread. And if Jesus can do anything, why would He choose this simple ordinary and unspectacular way to be present to us? It’s a fair question and ultimately, I can’t scientifically prove it’s Jesus. But His Word and His Church tell me that it is Him and I DO believe.

My faith in this isn’t blind however. And the best testimony I can give is to tell you how being in His presence makes me feel. But could  this just be my own emotional excitement projecting ideas I have? This is another fair question. But I’ll point to a time recently when I went to make a Holy Hour and the Eucharist wasn’t there on display due to an out of the ordinary event after which our priest forgot to place the Host back in the adoration chapel. I stayed for the hour anyway doing scripture reading and prayers like I normally do. I even talked with the Lord in my heart as I know He is always with us. But it wasn’t the same. Something was missing and it was surprisingly obvious to me. Even in the days that followed, I just didn’t feel as warm and close to Jesus as I typically do after a Holy Hour. I guess when you are longing to be spend time with someone, there’s just no substitute for the real thing.


It baffles the mind that spending a quite hour in prayer could make me  feel more centered, at peace and joyful. But that is what happens. The people of Jesus’s time thought it was crazy that God would be present to them in Jesus, born to simple people in a simple town. As Christians we now see that this was God’s plan and what a beautiful thing it is that he He came into our world this way. He’s just as real to us today as He was 2000 years ago so don’t miss out on one of the greatest gifts you could ever receive. Being with Jesus in this special time is a glimpse of Heaven hear on Earth. I’ve gotten a taste of it and boy do I want more.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Superhero Birthday Party

Our recently turned four year old is WAY into Superheros. He loves them all including Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Ironman,Greenlantern, Wolverine, Flash, Captian America and pretty much any other crime fighting hero that sports a cape or flies. To celebrate his birthday, my wife and I decided to host a Superhero birthday party with his little friends that he goes to daycare with. He loved it so much and we've received so many compliments on the party, that I decided to share what we did in case others wish to do something similar for their children.

First for the invites. To make them extra special, I used some of my Photoshoping skills to take a picture of some superheros and place our son's head on one of them. You wouldn't believe how much he loved seeing his likeness on a superhero and believe me it was the talk of his daycare class.



Now onto the party though. Every respectable superhero needs a cape so we decided to give each child who came to the party, their very own cape. Prior to the party, my wife cut a bunch of capes out of various colors of felt. Then she found some felt stickers sheets that she used to cut out each child's first initial along with other fun shapes including bat emblems, Spiderman emblems, horse silhouettes, crowns, stars and crescent moons. At the start of the party, each child got to choose a cape and then decorate it with their favorite pre-made felt stickers. To finish off the cape, we had little velcro squares that we attached to the sides to fasten the cape comfortably around the child's neck. These capes couldn't make the kids really fly but they sure had a blast running around pretending.


Next my wife read a superhero story to the kids while I took some small (maybe 3 inch tall) toy ninja figurines that we had purchased inexpensively from our local party store, and hid them all over the playground at the park we were holding the party at. My wife then told the kids that they needed to go find some little "badguys" hiding on the playground. It was basically an Easter egg hunt with little plastic figures instead of eggs but the kids loved it. They darted around and were so excited when they would find the little men. To make sure each child got at least one figure we told them they could only take one until everyone had one and then they could hunt down the rest. Of course some kids found them right away and then others had a more difficult time. Fortunately I had some hidden better then others and was able to guide these kids to the better concealed villains.


Once the bad guys had all been captured and peace had been restored to the park, we moved over to Spiderman pinata. Hind sight being what it is, it would have made more sense to have the pinata be a villain as well so that the kids weren't swinging a bat at a good guy but you live and learn. Once it was opened and the candy was pouring out, they didn't seem to mind what the pinata had started out as. Once all the candy had been picked up by the swarm of kids, we finished up the party with the traditional cake and ice cream and present opening. But before the kids left, they had had so much fun running around the playground earlier that they all wanted to do it again. I tried to add to the fun by chasing them around the playground and then letting them chase me. Once they caught up to me I let them "take me to jail" or a certain corner of the playground.


As fun as the entire party was, it was pretty special that my son told me afterwards that his favorite part was running around the park with me. That made my day and made me even more happy then all the parents of the kids who expressed what a fun and creative party it had been. Hopefully this will inspire you on how you can give your child a super Superhero Birthday.