Matters Of The Heart: How It All Began

zelie-just-bornShe seemed perfectly healthy just after she was born. The labor and delivery were hard work, but worth the reward of meeting our beautiful daughter for the first time in the peaceful setting of a free-standing birth center. My husband and I reveled in the glow of her first hour of life. Her big, dark eyes were wide open, taking the outside world in. I delighted when she took to nursing immediately, and thrilled at the feeling of bonding with my baby.

Then, everything changed.

Right after one of her feedings, our baby girl Zelie was lying in bed next to me, alert and looking around. Then, suddenly, she closed her eyes, went limp, and started turning blue.

“She’s not breathing,” I said to my husband, not believing that what I was saying could possibly be true. Rob quickly picked her up, flipped her over, and started rubbing her back. Thankfully, she started to cry and her color came back. We told my midwife what happened, and she checked Zelie over again. Her lungs seemed clear, and we weren’t quite sure what had happened.

And then it happened again. And again. We knew something was wrong.

My midwife listened to her heart and heard a “significant murmur” that she hadn’t heard just after birth.

After that, everything happened so fast. The call to a doctor. The ambulance arriving. The drive to Wesley Hospital NICU in Wichita. The machines. The tubes. The doctors. The wondering. The waiting.

And, finally, the consultation with a pediatric cardiologist via video conference around 2am at Zelie’s bedside in the NICU. We finally had an answer.

Our Zelie had a heart valve that had never formed properly. “Severe pulmonary stenosis.” Lots of big words meaning that one of her heart valves was so small and constricted that blood and oxygen could not flow properly, leaving her with too little oxygen in her lungs and body. Leading her to stop breathing and turn blue.

Amidst the cardiologist’s explanation of my daughter’s condition, my spinning, tired thoughts realized that we were dealing with something rather serious, but fixable–and something that meant a transfer to a bigger, more specialized hospital.

Before leaving for Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, we had Zelie baptized by azelie-hospital-baptism local priest. I didn’t want her going under general anesthesia to have a catheter poked into her heart without receiving her first Sacrament. The NICU provided a beautiful baptismal gown made from a donated wedding dress and there, hooked up to her machines and medications, our little girl officially entered into the graces of the Catholic Church.

I was in a fog. I had just given birth to a beautiful baby girl, and now she was being prepped to fly on an airplane to another city, while my husband and I drove behind. I had just been nursing her only hours before, and was now told that I couldn’t feed her due to potential complications with the medicine she was taking.

All we could do was move forward in faith that God would give us the strength to handle whatever the future held.

Rob and I arrived in Kansas City and checked in to the Ronald McDonald house right across the street from Children’s Mercy Hospital. We immediately knew we were blessed to have a room there, as the house was beautiful and would provide for all of our basic needs (and then some!) during Zelie’s stay in the hospital. What a relief not to have to worry about where we would sleep or get our next meal while under so much stress already!

mom-and-zelie-before-procedureThe next several hours were a whirlwind of learning more about our daughter’s condition and the procedure she would undergo Christmas Eve morning.

Then Christmas Eve came.

We arrived at the hospital early to see Zelie before she was prepped for her heart catheter procedure. At this point, I felt like every moment with her could potentially be my last. The doctors had assured us of the high success rate of the procedure, but there were also serious risks associated with putting a 2-day-old under general anesthesia and poking something into her heart.

While in the pre-op room, we were suddenly bombarded with a list of the risks and asked to sign a consent form, in the midst of which Zelie had another episode of not breathing and turning blue. I’d held it together fairly well until then, but as I said goodbye to my new baby girl, the tears started flowing. And I started to pray harder than I ever had in my life.

I waited for Zelie in the Ronald McDonald family room in the hospital while my husband drove back home to pick up our other children and bring them back for Christmas.

I had a small private room to wait in during the two hour procedure so I could lie down and rest my post-birth body. I clutched my Rosary and the tears flowed. With each passing decade, I received updates about Zelie. And soon after finishing my Rosary, I got a phone call that Zelie was done and that it “went great!” What a relief! She came through well, the ballooning procedure had stretched open her valve, and she is now on the road to recovery.

After spending about a week and a half at Children’s Mercy Hospital, Zelie and I finally got to come home. That week and a half was filled with experiences and small miracles that I will never forget, many of which I hope to share in future posts.

But, for now, I will end this part of Zelie’s story by saying we are grateful to be home, and thrilled that she is progressing well after the heart catheter procedure. She has been blessed with the fruits of a multitude of prayers!

zelie-coming-home

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Preparing For Christmas, Preparing For Baby: What The Final Weeks Of Pregnancy Can Teach Us About Advent

empty-manger

I recently read an article in Our Sunday Visitor that was summarized: “Prepare for the coming of Jesus as you would prepare for the birth of your own child.” God has granted me a unique perspective during this year’s Advent season, as I am, indeed, expecting the birth of my own child–and my due date is Christmas Day!

The following are some ways that my pregnancy is teaching me how to find hope, not only amidst the aches and pains of the third trimester, but also in the chaos of the Advent season.

1. Slowing Down

I make big babies.  My biggest baby was nearly ten pounds at birth, and I remember times during that pregnancy that I would walk into a room and hear an audible gasp at my…well…hugeness. I’m grateful for my big, healthy babies, but they take a lot out of my normally small frame.

As our family prepares for Christmas this year, I can only handle putting out a few decorations at a time. I won’t be able to hike around much (if at all) at a tree farm to find the “perfect” Christmas tree, and spending hours in crowded stores Christmas shopping? Forget it.

I’ve had to slow down, I’ve had to create space, I’ve had to minimize. But rather than despairing that I can’t get my kids many gifts, or that I can’t bake dozens of cookies, or that my house won’t be clean come Christmas Day, I’m finding hope that I’ll teach my children to crave the joys of heaven, that I can nourish their souls with conversation while I sit and rest, and that we’ll see the joy of new life outshining dusty tabletops and smudged mirrors.

2.  Immersion In Prayer

By slowing down, I’ve found more time for prayer. Prayer is something that becomes more essential as I prepare for a new baby. It is God who sustains and grows this new little being. It is God who gave us the gift of His Son Jesus, and it is God who continues to loan us His children–to bless us, to teach us, and to help us grow in holiness.

Through prayer, we allow ourselves to enter into the wonder of Advent.  We find time to ponder the child God gave us–the child Mary surrendered for the good of the world. During pregnancy, prayer leads me down a path of trust, hope, and surrender. It brings me comfort as I sense the communion of saints working together to protect my child. It fills my heart with a longing to meet and raise my baby, and, most importantly, to raise my baby to one day be united with God in heaven.

So, too, does prayer during Advent remind us of our priorities.  It carves out space during the busyness of the season so we can breathe, surrender, and hope with gleeful anticipation for the One who can truly satisfy.

3.  Fasting and Sacrifice

I love coffee. And sharing a bottle of red wine with my husband. And DOING: caring for my family, bustling about to my older children’s activities, exercising until the sweat drips down my back.

During pregnancy, I have to think about someone other than myself every second of every day and with every decision I make. There are moments when giving up things I enjoy is difficult, but most of the time, it’s pretty easy. After all, this is my baby. I wouldn’t even think of putting my baby in danger, because I am filled with the hope of delivering a healthy child who will bring our family joy. A child who will make every sacrifice, every muscle spasm, and every contraction completely worth it.

Is this how we think of baby Jesus during the penitential season of Advent? Are we willing to make some sacrifices in order to show our Savior the kind of hope that He gives us?

4.  Stay Awake!

Sleeping soundly becomes difficult during the last weeks of pregnancy. Body aches can come on with a vengeance in the dark of the night, baby’s kicks are getting stronger, and even mild contractions wake me up, making me wonder Is it time? This is the question Jesus reminds us to ask throughout Advent and the rest of our lives. “Stay awake! Be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” (Mt. 24: 42, 44)

We are reminded to be vigilant and hopeful, that in any given moment, God would catch  us perfectly fulfilling His will and ready to join Him in heaven.

5.  Emptiness–Where Hope Flourishes

In preparation for our sixth child, I’ve found myself emptying rather than filling. We’re trying to make room. Thin the toy supply, only keep the baby clothes we really need, and focus on simply cleaning the home we have rather than major remodeling or adding another room.

So, too, during Advent do we clean our homes and our souls in preparation for our King. Our family has an empty manger and minimal decorations out right now. We’re planning times to receive the Sacrament of Confession. We’re making ourselves empty.

Because there is nothing like looking at those specially chosen baby clothes that are waiting to be worn. And there is nothing like looking at the empty manger that waits in hopeful expectation.

It is in emptiness, in the deepest sense of longing, that hope can truly flourish. It is only when we see the nothing that we can truly hope for the something. And during Advent, we can rest in the promise of something that is worth slowing down for, worth sacrificing for, and worth seeking through prayer and vigilance. The promise of a Savior, wrapped up in the joy of a baby. This is our hope.

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The Importance of Piano Lessons And Other Pursuits Of Beauty

artistic-treble-clef

“I’m soooo bored!” my ten-year-old son whispered to me, as he fanned himself impatiently with his piano music.  Spending a beautiful fall afternoon listening to a piano teacher work with elementary level students probably wasn’t the most thrilling use of a young boy’s time.  So why were we here?  Why did I insist that my son sit and listen to other students, as well as work with the guest teacher himself?  Why bother with the discipline and, yes, sometimes tedious work of learning how to play the piano?

As classically trained professional musicians, my husband and I have had ample opportunity to experience the fruits of our labors.  The euphoria of performing a great orchestral work–of exposing all of your emotions; all of your blood, sweat, and tears; your past; your future; and everything that lives inside of you that can never be quite fully expressed this side of heaven–this expression, this vulnerable revelation is what helps us to be more fully human.  As St. John Paul II says in his Letter to Artists, artistic creativity allows us to shape the “wondrous ‘material’ of [our] own humanity.” (LA 1)

True, not everyone is called to be a professional musician, painter, or playwright.  But we are all called to seek and create beauty in our lives.  We are all called to “mirror the image of God as Creator.” (LA 1)  “All men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.” (LA 2)

Life is filled with drudgery at times.  Whether it’s a musician slogging through scales and technical exercises in the practice room, someone in the work force completing dreaded paperwork, or a stay-at-home mom washing up another sink full of dishes, Polish poet Cyprian Norwid reminds us that “‘beauty is to enthuse us for work, and work is to raise us up.’” (LA 3)

Raising an audience to their feet after a Mahler Symphony, finally seeing the completion of a magnificent work of architecture, or having a clean kitchen table for making playdough snowmen with a happy toddler–these are the moments of beauty in our life that we seek.  These are the moments that remind us why work is good.  These are the moments that remind us of the value of sacrifice and self-donation and bring meaning to the mystery behind the man hanging on the Cross.

“Every genuine art form…is a wholly valid approach to the realm of faith, which gives human experience its ultimate meaning.” (LA 6) and “Even when [artists] explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption.” (LA 10)

The beauty of art can unite us like nothing else.  It gives us a safe place to express our emotions, an arena for exploring what makes us who we are, and a medium for inspiring wonder at the world around us, rooted in the mystery of the Incarnation and the miraculous capabilities of God the Creator.

We are all artists with a “‘noble ministry’ [in which our] works reflect in some way the infinite beauty of God and raise people’s minds to him.” (LA 11)  Whether that be through what we write, the music we perform, the photos we take, or our efforts to craft our family with love, we are all called to incorporate beauty–that which reflects the Truth for which we all yearn.

“This world…in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair.” (LA 11)  Beauty gives us enthusiasm for life.  “Thanks to this enthusiasm, humanity, every time it loses its way, will be able to lift itself up and set out again on the right path.  In this sense it has been said with profound insight that ‘beauty will save the world.’” (LA 16)

So why did I bring my son to a piano masterclass on that gorgeous fall afternoon?  Because when it was his turn to have a lesson with the guest teacher, every technique correction brought him closer to the beauty of the piece.  And as he released the last chord perfectly, and its harmonies resonated off of the room’s stained glass windows, he smiled.  He knew.  Something inside of him was satisfied.  And he was one step closer to saving the world.

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Exalting The Cross: A Letter To My Miscarried Baby

crucifix-at-sunset

Dear Julian,

On this day, your due date when I thought I would surely be holding you, I instead find myself holding a cross.  A cross of pain and sadness to be sure, but also, I’ve come to realize, a cross of great joy.  A cross of surrender, a cross made lighter by the wondrous promises it holds.

My children (your siblings) teach me new things every day, and you are no exception.  Through you, I’ve come to a greater understanding of the Exaltation of the Cross, the feast we celebrate today.  Yes, the cross, that splintered device of torture and agony is something to be celebrated!  For out of the death it represents arose the reality of new life that will never end.  It is through the cross that we find our way to heaven.

And if we exalt the holy cross upon which Christ hung, should we not also exalt the daily crosses which come into our lives?  Not always a joyful exaltation perhaps (even Jesus had His moment in the Garden of Gethsemane), but a submissive one–one which allows Christ’s strength to pour into our weaknesses–one which recognizes that, without Him, we are nothing.  It’s you, Julian, who has taught me that the knowledge of what I could gain is the only thing that can fill the emptiness of my loss.  It’s you who has taught me to let go of my desire to control, to worry, to try so hard, and allow God to be my strength.

I am so grateful for you, Julian.  I am grateful to have a member of our family who keeps our eyes and hearts looking ever toward heaven–who helps us long, not for the things of this world, but for a seat of purity and glory next to our Father for eternity.  It is only by losing you that our true longings could be revealed.  It is only by losing you that this bittersweet love could fill my heart and expand my faith.

Thank you, Julian, my gem, my jewel in the crown of glory that I hope to someday be worthy of wearing.  I’ll always love you and can’t wait to meet you!

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Holding On To The High Chair: What Our Stashed and Stored Baby Items Reveal About Hope and Trust

 

high chair

Photo via etsy.com

I’ve reached an age where many of my peers are letting go of their baby items.  Whether it’s a huge garage sale, advertising items for sale on social media, or giving away items to others who can use them, the message is the same.  We’re “done.”  We’re moving on.  The baby phase is over.  And while I and my peers may have recently entered the “older parent” category, I would wager that very few, if any, of us are physically incapable of bearing any more children–at least by any natural biological occurrences.

I sometimes joke that I’ll have our big baby item garage sale once I reach menopause, but beneath the joke lies a serious truth: it is God who determines (or should determine) when we are truly “done.”  It is God, our master designer and creator, who knows best when the baby phase has truly ended.

Certainly, some couples are faced with reasons to postpone pregnancy for a time, or even indefinitely, and this can be done effectively using a method of natural family planning.  But within the devastation of a cancer diagnosis, within the agony of infant loss or miscarriage, within the burden of financial difficulties, the window of hope and trust should remain open.  God will sustain us in this vocation of marriage that seems to ask so much of us sometimes.

He may provide a cure for our disease, healing for our emotional pain, or a way out of a hole of debt…or He may not.  But, regardless of what happens on this earth within our earthly bodies, our vocation of marriage calls us to keep the hope of heaven alive in our souls and the hope of new life alive in our bodies.

Shortly after I lost one of our precious babies to a miscarriage, I was tempted to start parting with the baby things we had stored away.  The knowledge of having them in our possession combined with the thought they might never be used again was so painful.  For the first time, I realized that being open to life also meant being open to death.

But something held me back from giving away our baby clothes, toys, and high chair.  My body, and my heart, were telling me that the possibility of more children still existed.  There was still hope, and the only chance of that hope being manifested into action was to throw my trust completely into God’s hands.

And now, we are indeed expecting another baby.  My fear of something going wrong is gradually evolving into trust in God’s care, and I’ve been thrust into a whole new level of appreciation for the miracle of life.  Every new day, every little kick, even every painful stretch of the muscles supporting my growing baby are gifts, and I’m working toward accepting the fact that our children are not our own–that even if this baby should be taken from us as well, he or she was never ours to begin with.  It is sometimes through the most unimaginable pain that God gifts us with the grace to become truly holy.

So until our newest little one arrives safely in our arms, and after he or she is well past the baby stage, our bins of baby clothes, our toys, our booster seats and high chair will sit and wait–signs of hope for the future and of our trust in God to care for us like the loving father that He is.

Posted in Chastity, Faith, Family Life, Hope, Language of the Body, Love, Marriage, Miscarriage, Natural Family Planning, Theology of the Body | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

New Prayer Resource To Include Some Of My Reflections!

CM Prayer Companion cover image

I am thrilled to announce that I will soon be a published author! This book has been in the works for nearly 3 years now, and it is a joy to see it come together. It has been a huge collaborative effort between many contributors to CatholicMom.com. In The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion, Lisa M. Hendey and Sarah A. Reinhard bring together more than eighty moms, dads, and trusted spiritual companions to provide fresh, uplifting meditations for every day of the year. You’ll find encouragement when you’re struggling, comfort when you feel alone, and reassurance when you’re distracted by worry.

I’m honored to have some of my personal reflections appear side by side with reflections from other respected Catholic authors like Danielle Bean, Donna Marie Cooper O’Boyle, Lisa Mladinich, Elizabeth Scalia, Carolyn Woo, Mark Hart, and Jeff Young. This book provides short but powerful “mom-sized” daily reflections, inspired by scripture passages and quotes from the saints and other Catholic sources. It’s sure to greatly enhance any mom’s spiritual life, no matter how busy she is!

The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion will be officially released August 29. You can pre-order your copy by clicking on the cover image of the book above.  Please help me spread the word about this wonderful new prayer resource!
‪#‎PrayerCompanion‬

 

 

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Maintaining The Integrity Of Our God-Given Sex: Why It Matters

man and woman feet

In my latest post over at CatholicMom, I explore the roots and meaning of our masculinity and femininity through the eyes of St. John Paul II and his great work, The Theology of the Body.  

We all crave love. A gentle touch, an acknowledging look, a tender word. These sentiments all reach to our core. They lift our spirits, they give us confidence, and they fulfill something deep within that relentlessly demands to be satisfied. But why? What is it about this communion with another that can instantly cast light over what we thought was a drab and dreary world? 

Because, within love, lies the remembrance of perfection and the hope of redemption. When we come together with another, we memorialize the “first feast of humanity.” (Theology of the Body 19:6) We remember that moment in Eden when, before the inception of sin, man and woman came together and experienced the ecstasy of intimate union, unmarred by the loss of innocence. A union that “draws its origin from the divine sources of Truth and Love in the very mystery of creation.” (TOB 19:6)

These “divine sources of Truth and Love” reveal that it is through union that self-knowledge is discovered. It is through union that man discovers that he “appears in the visible world as the highest expression of the divine gift, because he bears within himself the inner dimension of the gift. And with it he carries into the world his particular likeness to God, with which he transcends and also rules his ‘visibility’ in the world, his bodiliness, his masculinity or femininity, his nakedness.” (TOB 19:3)  Read more…

Posted in Chastity, Hope, Language of the Body, Love, Marriage, Theology of the Body | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment