Here I Am, Send Me

I have had a bad week of it. My quarterly CT scans for cancer recurrence are approaching again, and every time they bring fear and anger with them. I struggle to prepare myself for three futures simultaneously:

“Congratulations, still no cancer! See you in three months!”

“Hmm, there is something uncertain going on here. We need to run more tests.”

“I’m so sorry. You have relapsed.”

I do not get to choose which one of these three divergent roads I travel by. And that has made me furious, and weepy, and impatient, and persnickety, and even sick to my stomach with terror. I sleep poorly. I have nightmares. I eat my feelings. I throw pans in my kitchen, and talk a mile a minute, and cry at odd times. These are the days I’m most likely to tiptoe up to the question I have told myself I will not ask: “Why?” These are the days that my temper turns inward and I berate myself for lacking the virtues necessary to arm myself against such a challenge: Faith, hope, patience, prudence, gratitude, fortitude, humility, bravery, perseverance, satisfaction with my state in life … Basically I am woefully equipped for battle. And it shows.

Nevertheless, I put on my meager armor and turn to Confession and the Holy Mass to be my strength. Because no matter how weak and unprepared I am, He always come through. This weekend was no exception.

The Old Testament reading from last night’s Vigil Mass was taken from the book of Isaiah, chapter six. In it, the prophet receives a vision of the Lord and his angels in all their glory. He is overwhelmed and frightened by what is set before him. He cries out, “Woe is me! I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

Oh, Isaiah, how I feel you, buddy.

The prophet knows he can’t handle what he is going through alone. He is woefully equipped, and he knows it, so he cries out honestly —“Woe is me! I am doomed!”

How does Heaven respond to this imperfect man, who is unclean and unsure of anything except his own sin?

“Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember that he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it and said, ‘See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.’”

When we come to him weak and sinful and fearful, but honest, and conscious of our own inadequacy, he will always come through to provide us with the armor we need for battle. When we cry that we are doomed in the sacrament of Confession, he will remove our wickedness. Then he will send his angels to touch our lips with the white-hot brilliance and almost painful holiness of the Eucharist.

These gifts are graces in and of themselves. But they are also means to another end:

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who shall go for us?’

‘Here I am,’ I said; ‘send me.”

Send me, O Lord, down the path of good health, joyfully proclaiming your mercies for another three months.

Send me into the waiting room of uncertainty, resting in hope and witnessing in fear.

Send me to share your love from the operating room, the radiation machine, the chemo chair.

Send me wherever I can serve you best, wherever your people need you most.

Here I am, Lord.

I am weak, but I am ready.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The S Word

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It  was 2014, and I had every reason in the world to be happy. A beautiful new baby. A job. A healthy marriage. A roof over my head.

But I was not happy. In fact, for every ounce our precious daughter gained, I lost a little more of myself. I became crabby and anxious, then paranoid and aggressive, and finally, despondent. I did little more than lay in my bed staring at the screen of my iPad or sobbing. My inner voice turned into a warped monster, telling me how stupid and worthless I was. Even that I was better off dead. But I resisted all attempts to be cheered or reasoned with and became angry and defensive when people asked questions. NOTHING was wrong with ME. Finally, during a particularly awful argument, I refused to let my husband hold the baby. I tried to storm away from the house and leave with her, to go who-only-knows where. After this episode had subsided, my husband Sam put his foot down. I can still remember the tone of his voice, since he had never talked like that to me before:

“MAKE a doctor’s appointment. For this week. I will drive you.”

It was an order.

I had postpartum depression.

“Laura was silent again. Then she summoned all her courage and said, ‘Almanzo, I must ask
you something. Do you want me to promise to obey you?’
Soberly he answered, ‘Of course not. I know it is in the wedding ceremony, but it is only something that women say. I never knew one that did it, nor any decent man that wanted her to.”
‘Well, I am not going to say I will obey you,’ said Laura.
‘Are you for woman’s rights, like Eliza?’ Almanzo asked in surprise.
‘No,” Laura replied. “I do not want to vote. But I cannot make a promise that I will not keep,
and, Almanzo, even if I tried, I do not think I could obey anybody against my better
judgement.’”

Like Laura Ingalls, I am none too keen on blind obedience or broken promises. And it seems I think with the mind of the Church, because the word “obey” does not appear in Catholic marriage vows, even traditional ones.
But there’s that one pesky Sunday per year where Sam and I sit in the pew and nudge each other and wrinkle our noses and roll our eyes and snicker like twelve-year-olds. It’s St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

“Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the Church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the Church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her … husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”

We joke and jab and then go have a coffee, but we never dig any deeper into what submission and selfless love looks like in our marriage. Especially because (like the Wilders) our marriage consists of one hot-tempered, independent woman and a soft-spoken, kind man who is simply too decent to want his wife to obey.

While I have rarely encountered that stern voice again in our married life, I am learning to stop, listen and reflect when I do. I remember the doctor and the despair and the depression and remember that I can trust this man, because he will never ask me to obey—unless my body or soul is in imminent danger.

This is true Christian submission in marriage. It is accepting the humbling truth that no matter how strong or independent or smart you are, there is someone else who might know what’s best for you. There is someone who might even know you and love you better than you love yourself. There is someone who is willing to work for your highest good even when you can’t. Even when you won’t.

“This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband’s every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife; nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on a level with those persons who in law are called minors, to whom it is not customary to allow free exercise of their rights on account of their lack of mature judgment, or of their ignorance of human affairs.” -Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii, 1930

This subjection does not demand blind obedience. It does not micromanage or abuse or belittle. It is “not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way.” It is the love of Christ for his Church, which is the only reason it is worth submitting to in the first place.

#HolyPeople: Father Tom’s Story

“He seemed to see God’s fingerprints in nature, and Jesus in the people he interacted with.” 

On this vigil of Pentecost, today’s #HolyPeople story comes from Rita Buettner.

”Rita is a wife, working mother and author of the Catholic Review’s Open Window blog. She and her husband adopted their two sons from China, and Rita often writes about topics concerning adoption, family and faith. Rita also writes The Domestic Church, a featured column in the Catholic Review. Her writing has been honored by the Catholic Press Association, the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association and the Associated Church Press.”