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 Wobbly Pillar of Potential

About a week ago, I went to a local pro-life rally. Clergy from several denominations gathered at our county courthouse, along with choir members from our local Catholic school, Knights of Columbus and a good cross-section of community members. Even one of our county commissioners spoke. It was heartening, respectful and peaceful. One part of the ceremony featured speakers who read out the names and birthdates of hypothetical children, some killed before they were born and some who were born and went on to have families, careers and other achievements. As each name was read, a student laid a rose in front of the podium. Together, we decried the loss of so many children, brothers, sisters, doctors, lawyers, mothers, fathers, even citizens and taxpayers. 

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Some days later, I was listening to Catholic radio as the hosts again described the devastating loss of human potential to abortion. Who knows what these baby lives could have grown up to be? 

In the same week, New York passed a new abortion-rights law, stating: “A health care practitioner licensed, certified, or authorized under title eight of the education law, acting within his or her lawful scope of practice, may perform an abortion when, according to the practitioner’s reasonable and good faith professional judgment based on the facts of the patient’s case: the patient is within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.”

A few days after that, a friend mourned the decision with a beautiful picture of a lit manger, stating simply, “one unplanned pregnancy saved us all.”

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“The patient’s life or health:” So much is left unsaid in those five words. So much pain and disappointment and anguish. So many mothers and fathers hoping for the same thing pro-lifers long for: a living and beautiful newborn, soft and snuggly, sleeping in peace and full of potential. A healer, a mother, an artist, a warrior. A bouncing baby boy or giggly girl. A hero that saves us all. 

Then, reality intrudes, rudely shoving away our dreams. Fear flies in and nests in the space we have prepared for the stork. 

“The delayed results are in. Part of your daughter’s brain is missing. She will be blind, deaf, and paralyzed. Her head will swell to an abnormal size due to the fluid pressure inside her skull. Death will occur likely within the year.” 

“Listen. Your child has Down syndrome and congenital heart disease. We suggest reading up on the hardships your family will go through as you support him into his adulthood.” 

“Ma’am, the tumor is malignant, and your prognosis is bad. You need to start chemo right away. Baby is 29 weeks old. We could deliver her, but we also know you don’t have the family to care for her while you’re undergoing treatment. And your future is uncertain.” 

“This kid is already addicted. Mom just HAD to go and relapse. It would be better for everyone if she could get clean without this and try again. She’s only seventeen.” 

Life and health. 

Nobody wants to abort a pink and promising future. But these babies? We imagine them grim and gray and white. Lonely in a clear box in the NICU. Drooling or writhing in pain. Abandoned or incarcerated or in tiny graves in the “little angels” section of a cemetery. They are children and never parents. Patients and never doctors. “Takers” and never taxpayers. 

We don’t mention them at the pro-life rally or on the Catholic radio show because we want to give people hope and drive away fear and remind people of miracles. What kind of an anti-abortion meme shows an infant gasping amid a tangle of wires? “One unplanned pregnancy could end just like this.”

But this is the truth and the fear that drives late-term abortion. It will never be dispelled with rallies and platitudes or even earthly hope. As Catholic pro-lifers, we must do better than “potential” and “promise” and “success” and “miracle.” To combat the fear and evil of New York’s Reproductive Health Act, we can only make progress by pointing to the deeper, eternal truth that clings to each of us like a garment: 

My life, my thirty-one years, my motherhood, my marriage, my bachelor’s degree, my achievements, my everything—they are worth not one whit more than that pallid baby doomed to die. I am neither better nor worse than the young man with Down syndrome. I am of equal dignity to the mother on crack and no more valuable to the Lord than her child, the one who will “drain the system” without “breaking the cycle.” I am no more worthy of life than the mousy “blob of cells” miscarried at ten weeks gestation. Me, my child, the future saint, the serial killer, the President, the Honduran drug dealer, the zygote, the healthy six-month-old, the snotty teenager, the terminal cancer patient, the elderly woman who screams and cries and wets the bed alone in the nursing home— our human dignity and value in the eyes of our God is exactly equal. We all came out of nothing, and we will all return to eternity. Our faith, thoughts, words, actions —they make us worthy of this or that, fame or failure, heaven or hell—but they do not affect our worth. 

We know this, Catholics. We should know this better than anyone and we should proclaim it loudly instead of leaning on the wobbly pillar of potential. In fact, this equal dignity is one of the most amazing promises of Christ for his faithful: “For through faith you are all children of God in Christ. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Galatians 3:26-28

The Scriptures bear us this same lesson over and over again. The late workers receive the same wages as the early. The Prodigal gets the fatted calf. The prostitute is allowed to anoint the King. Martha works, but Magdalene is favored. The sick and the young receive His attention while others are made to wait. The last will be  first. And far from being scary or unfair or even hard to understand, it gets simpler and easier the longer you think about it. 

Even without the lens of faith, it is easy to see that we are all human beings. Even without religion, it is easy to see that the history of humanity is that of the strong subjugating the weak, the worthy eliminating the unworthy, the fearful building fortresses to keep out heartache and pain. Even when these actions are undertaken with the best of intentions, it is easy to see the unraveling, devastating evil that rides in their wake. It is easy to see that pulling even one thread away from the tapestry of human dignity mars the whole picture. If we treat even one wisp of humanity as disposable, we forfeit our ability to preach liberty, dignity, and equality for all the others. 

Christ’s truth, which is everyone’s truth, is the only way out of it all. 

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him.”  1 John 

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”  Matthew 10

“But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’
nor again the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’ Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker
are all the more necessary,
and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable
we surround with greater honor … If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.” 1 Corinthians

Christ’s message is more liberating, more egalitarian and more radical than any social movement or uprising or revolution. It dignifies us with protections no law can provide or revoke. He loves us individually and fully without expecting anything of us. He asks, pleads, only love in return. He values us for WHO WE ARE, not WHAT WE CAN DO. We are the children of I AM, not I CAN. The language of human potential pales in comparison. 

If we continue to ask only who the unborn could grow up to be in our fight against abortion, we are traveling on a crash course with those who would reply: “the poor, the sad, the sick, the criminal, the unworthy, the helpless, the suffering, the selfish, the lazy, the lonely, the wretched. The same people you didn’t talk about.” 

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As the New York legislation becomes law, it is time for Christians to re-examine our language and our hearts, then go out joyfully to proclaim the greater truths. 

 

** I am not the owner of any of these photos, and with the exception of the free stock photo used as the featured photo, all of them were found on Facebook being used as memes.

The Year I Lived

In counseling with my priest, I let out all my anxieties and fears surrounding my cancer treatment and my future. I don’t even remember what I said. I just remember crying and fistfuls of tissues and staring around the room at the shelves full of books. I’m sure it involved my fear of dying, my fear of going away and leaving my family forever, my fear that there was nothing left for me. 

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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.