Meeting Mommy

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Reflections on the Stations of the Cross

Jesus Meets His Mother

Does anyone actually say “This hurts me more than it hurts you”?

I have to admit I have my doubts. I certainly never heard it except in a Bill Cosby routine. I can’t help thinking that’s one of those “elder” tales that everyone learns without ever being told, like walking three miles uphill both ways in the snow.

20111201-115727.jpgAnd yet there are times when I know there’s a truth beneath the tall tale–at least in the case of the pain a parent feels on behalf of his or her child. How many times I’ve wished I had that horrible virus instead of my kid, because I can take medication and I know how to cope with it. How many times I walked into the PICU/NICU braced against that heartsick twist as I looked at the masses of wires and IV lines and sometimes vent and NG tubes. My baby couldn’t feel it; she was heavily sedated. But it hurt me.

There are other kinds of heartsick on the way. Every once in a while I snag a glimpse of them, when Alex wilts under a slight real or perceived, when awkwardness or embarrassment sends his tender soul diving for cover. In temperament he is exactly like me, and I still get the heebie jeebies when I think about adolescence. It warn’t pretty, folks. Not at all.

Yeah, exactly.

Yeah, exactly. Apropos of nothing, I think that may be the tractor my mom used for my first driving lessons.

But there can’t be anything quite like watching your child die.

Jesus Meets His Mother

I can only imagine that as Mary watched her son approach the cross, she wasn’t thinking of angelic visions or gifts from kings, prophecies fulfilled or miracles achieved. She must have been remembering that game he played, where she threw her arms open and he, giggling, ran full-speed into them. That glimpse of tenderness he showed when he was only six or seven, the one that filled her with awe at what a beautiful soul had been entrusted to her care. Maybe even the exasperation she felt when she discovered yet another clay pitcher lying in pieces on the floor.

It must have been hard to be faithful that day.

Our children stretch us in ways we could never have anticipated, or likely borne if we knew about it in advance. They give us battle scars we wear with pride. They bring us closer to Heaven than we’d ever get on our own, not because they’re so angelic (though they are sometimes), but because they grow our hearts, our tolerance, our capacity for unconditional love–perhaps when they suffer, more than any other time.

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Fallen

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Reflections on the Stations of the Cross:

Jesus Falls

Sunday morning, 8:35 a.m. The family hurrying to and fro, getting coats on to get to church for choir warmup. Nicholas didn’t like the side of his reversible coat that was facing out. He wanted me to change it. I was trying to show him how to do it himself, and he went fish-limp, lip stuck out like a sulky three year old instead of the all-but-five year old he is.

I lost my temper.

Sunday afternoon, deep in the middle of trying to upload a home video–a job that’s been hanging over our heads for months (two Christmases on this video, if that tells you anything). Our camcorder uploads in real time. And woe to you if you touch anything on the computer while it uploads. Ten minutes before it finished, some little finger managed to get over there and disrupt the upload, causing us to have to start over.

I lost my temper.

Sunday evening, after dinner, tearing through video edits and feeling conflicted about not having cleared the table. “I’ve got it,” Christian said, and I breathed a sigh of relief–until, at 9:30 p.m., I discovered he stacked them in the sink instead of loading the dishwasher.

I lost my temper.

(News flash: bedtime is not a good time to lose your temper. Especially if you have a history of trouble sleeping.)

There’s been a lot of stress the past six weeks. The details aren’t important, but my self-appointed task during this time has been to keep the household running and the kids sane–and above all, to make Christian’s life easier by shouldering things I would ordinarily pass off to him. I always knew I had a husband who did a lot, but I didn’t realize just how wearing it was going to be to try to do those things myself on a sustained basis.

Until yesterday.

Falling under the weight of a cross is, unfortunately, something we’re all much better acquainted with than we’d like. Jesus fell down three times on the way to Calvary. So many parts of the Passion got skipped when they put these stations together; why did they put three falls in?

Maybe it’s precisely because the experience is so familiar, so inescapable, for all of us. It’s not falling, per se, that is so hard–although a fall definitely bruises my sense of self as follower of Christ. The trick is to get back up, which requires greater emotional and spiritual energy.

What’s really hard, though, is when I have to do it over and over and over again. Times like these, when stress makes itself known through lack of sleep and a sense of swimming upward through sand, the falls come faster and closer together. And the more times I have to pick myself up, the harder it becomes–especially when so many other people are depending on me.

That last time, it had to be a sheer act of will that brought a bruised and battered Christ to his feet. And although the act of being crucified and rising from the dead to break the power of death certainly outweighs an example of persistence, that example is what I most need to get me through.

Carrying The Cross

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Reflections on the Stations of the Cross
The Second Station:
Jesus carries the cross

I spend a fair amount of time puzzling over the lack of faith in the modern world. Although there are a lot reasons, the one I keep coming back to is this: life in the western world is pretty easy. We can have whatever we want to eat, whenever we want it. Entertainment and distraction is available at the touch of a button 24-7. There is plenty of shelter, plenty of space, and the law of the land protects us from the kind of terror that results from unbridled power.

So much is taken for granted, we no longer recognize the bounty and the institutional safety that has been given us by those who came before us–or by the sheer dumb luck of living here and now. It’s easy to lose touch with how fragile and precious life really is. Without obvious, visceral reminders to the contrary, there’s a place deep inside that says “I don’t need anybody else, least of all some higher power telling me what to do. I’ve got this.” Or, as Julianna would say, “I do ee (it)!”

So faith founders because faith is based on a recognition that we are small and weak and in need of something we can’t even quite put a finger on.

It is life’s crosses–mental or physical suffering, illness, untimely deaths; the moments when we recognize our smallness, our pettiness, the habitual sins we can’t shake and the faults in our souls–that send us running back to God.

Christian and I give witness talks on natural family planning. As part of that, we tell about how irregular cycles caused extended periods of abstinence early in our marriage, and how we spent all kinds of time growling at God over it. We talk about infertility, the outraged howls we sent Heaven-ward, and the long, painful struggle to say–and mean–the words “Thy will be done.” And then we come to Julianna. Every time, Christian chokes up as he pulls it all together: the fact that all the crosses we have born in our reproductive life led to this moment, this ultimate “thy will be done.”

I do not think we could have accepted Julianna’s presence in our lives as easily as we did if it hadn’t been for those other crosses.

My crosses make me a better person.

Realizing this has changed a lot of things for me. I’m no more enamored of suffering or of confronting my own demons than anyone else. At the same time, I recognize that in the absence of a cross to bear, I become complacent, self-satisfied, obnoxious and generally insufferable. So I am grateful for the everyday crosses, and yes, even for those protracted periods of soul stretching. In the rawness of my soul I go looking for God, and God is always there: shrouded, perhaps, lacking the clarity of a billboard with my name on it, but present nonetheless. And always leading me through the darkness, one hesitant step at a time.