“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you.”
January is Respect Life Month. This year I’m the Aunt of micro preemie TTTS identical twins born at 25 weeks. Isabella born to heaven. Sara fighting for her health & development in the NICU. Both unique, fully alive human beings. Both fully capable of being legally aborted.
After weeks of anticipation (and weeks of cold virus and bacterial infections that aren’t compatible with NICU visitations and medically fragile children), I recently visited my amazing 30 week old niece in the NICU. She is full of personality and spunk. So herself. Not me. Not her mom. Not Dad. Not Grandma. Not her siblings. So Sara. Unrepeatable Sara.
As I saw her roommate fighting for his life or other medically fragile babies in incubators around the NICU, I wondered: What if instead of terminating babies’ lives, we put resources, energy, & creativity into advancing medical care, diagnoses, treatments, & uncovering more holistic care for babies and mothers? What if we developed fetoscopic surgery procedures instead of developing abortion procedures? What if we sowed hope & possibilities in difficult situations instead of fear & hopelessness? What if we empowered & assisted men & women as mothers and fathers? What would our nation be like then?
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Unborn, pray for Us!
“When I closed the eyes of my dear little children and buried them, I felt sorrow through and through… People said to me, ‘It would be better to never have had them.’ I couldn’t stand such language. My children were not lost forever; life is short and full of miseries, and we shall find our little ones up above again.”
St. Zellie Martin
After a very risky and complicated identical twin pregnancy, my family and loved ones buried my niece Isabella born to heaven at 25 weeks. There are no pictures or videos of her funeral, but the memories and emotions are seared forever in my heart and mind. There are few words to adequately describe witnessing your eldest brother carry a tiny white casket out of the Chapel after his daughter’s funeral Mass or watch him place her int he ground. Or hold your niece and godchild for minutes while she cries into your wool coat. Or tell your teary eyed and recovering sister-in-law, “I’m so grateful you’re here, and I don’t take that for granted.” We could have experienced a double to triple funeral. And there is still the hopeful but unknown future for her sister Sara.
We did this together as a family and faith community. Withing the sacraments, we commended and entrusted this beautiful, precious girl to God. I’ve learned through the years not to ask “why” anymore but “how.” How has this child transformed our lives? How has this child reflected God? How have I responded to this gift? How can I act with compassion? Am I grateful for this life? Am I open to this life? Am I open to love- the love of a child? Yes.
Dear, Isabella, Aunt Hannah loves you and misses you. Your entire family loves and misses you. I hope to join you in Heaven someday. Requiem Aeternam, baby girl.
“O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.” – O, Antiphons
Advent a season of preparation- preparation for the gift of a child. While we prepare in joyful anticipation for the Christ child’s birth, we also prepare to bury a child. During the 2nd week of Advent, my family & I will celebrate her life & mourn the loss of my 23 week old niece while her 26 week old sister fights to develop & grow in the NICU. Advent for us is a season of joy & sorrow & of loss & life. Mostly unwavering love.
This Advent heightens that the joyful birth of Christ is intertwined with the Cross of Christ & the Resurrection. One doesn’t exist separate from the other as with the Christian life. As a Catholic Christian, the crucifix & the manger bring me great comfort & perspective. The wood of the manger leads to the wood of the Cross, but neither is the final word. Because we look forward to the Resurrection of the Dead & the Life of the world to come.
Our family friend & priest that baptized me offered Mass for my family & for the repose of the soul of my niece Isabella at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. My best friend is travelling in the Philippines praying for our family. Two innocent little children deemed less than human by many have not only touched our hearts but people all over the world. In the Spirit of Advent, the season of preparation & anticipation of the birth of a child, we find the profound beauty & importance of the presence of a child- a child in utero.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you…” -Jeremiah 1:5
I’ve kept mostly quiet about the TTTS (Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome) pregnancy my brother & sister-in-law are navigating. After 2 emergency fetoscopic surgeries 4.5 hours away, dozens of local Maternal Fetal Medicine appointments, & hospital bed rest, my precious identical twin nieces were born via emergency extraction at 25 weeks Thursday, November 29th. Isabella was born to heaven, and Sara is in the NICU. Mom is struggling with complications, but she is beginning to show signs of improvement.
Both baby girls are so loved & cherished by their parents, siblings, & extended family. Our lives are forever transformed by their presence! They’re parents have fought hard for their girls health and wellness despite the many challenges and risks.
We’ve experienced extraordinary medical situations & miscarriages in our family, but our present situation is uncharted territory. The fragility of earthly life is inescapable, changing within a moment with minimal control or certainty. The prolonged reality unavoidable. Our holidays will be involved in the best and most challenging sense. The intensive, specialized NICU care of Sara will continue into the New Year and beyond. And eventually our family will gather to celebrate her life and mourn the loss of Isabella.
But the certainty of God’s merciful & unending love never changes. He has never abandoned us or the girls. Through the confusion, heartache, & stress, the gentle breath of the Holy Spirit sustains our weary spirits. The sacramental life of the Church brings purpose, perspective, meaning, & grace. The twins’ lives are a catalyst for entering into a deeper understanding of authentic love, trust, hope, & joy. The twins are bringing us closer to heaven if we chose to respond to them through the eyes of God. By love refined…
Prayers are much appreciated! God bless. Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!
November begins with two important Church Feasts: The Solemnity of All Saints & All Souls. Within the month of November, we strive to remember the souls of the faithful departed and the holy souls in Purgatory. Our souls on Earth, the Saintly Souls in Heaven, and the Holy Souls in Purgatory are all connected within the Communion of Saints. Our prayers impact souls.
According to tradition, St. Gertrude the Greatwas told by Our Lord that the following prayer, each time she devoutly recited it, would release 1,000 souls (or a vast number) from their suffering in purgatory:
BE NOT AFRAID. I decided to return once more to the 1984 Apostolic Letter written by St. JP II titled Salvifici Doloris: On the Christian Meaning of Suffering that addressed the ever present question of suffering: why, what, and how? God transformed even something not part of His original design for humanity (suffering, pain, death, dying, etc.) into a means for transcendence: faith, hope, and charity.
We fear suffering. I can emphatically state in my greatest moments of suffering and the suffering of my loved ones, I felt closest to heaven- the veil was lifted. Our suffering, united with Christ, can become salvific. “Suffering seems to be particularly essential to the nature of man. It is deep as man himself, precisely because in its own way that depth which is proper to man, and in its own way surpasses it. Suffering seems to belong to man’s transcendence: it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense “destined” to go beyond himself (3).”
We fear weakness. Weakness means vulnerability & lack of control. Christ chooses weakness as the vehicle for salvation. “To Suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God . . . In [Christ], God has confirmed his desire to act especially through suffering . . . and wishes to have his power known precisely in this weakness and emptying of self (74).”
We fear the acquisition of virtue. Striving is the key word when acquiring virtue. Virtue acquisition takes hard work and doesn’t always “pay-off” in this life. “Suffering contains a special call to virtue . . . and this is the virtue of perseverance in bearing whatever disturbs and causes harm. In doing this, the individual unleashes hope, which maintain him the conviction that suffering will not get the better of him, it will not deprive him of his dignity as a human being, a dignity liked to the awareness of the meaning of life (75).”
We fear purgation. Purgation leads to heaven. God calls you and I to redeem ourselves and the world in our little way. “The Gospel of suffering is being written unceasingly, and it speaks unceasingly the words of this strange paradox: the springs of divine power gush forth precisely in the midst of human weakness. . . The more a person is threatened by sin, the heavier the structure of sin in which today’s world brings with it, the greater the eloquence which human suffering possesses in itself (89).”
We fear true compassion. Our culture & society throws around the term compassion. What is compassion? Compassion comes from the Latin root com (with) and pati (suffer). Together compatior means “to suffer with.” Compassion means “to suffer with” another person. “We could say that suffering, which is present under so many different forms in our human world, is also present in order to unleash love in the human person, that unselfish gift of one “I” on behalf of other people, especially to those who suffer (92).”
In the Gospels, Jesus repeats dozens of times, “BE NOT AFRAID.” It’s time to let go of the fear associated with suffering, death, & dying. And focus on living. Life is beautiful in all its forms & functions. It’s time to relearn how to suffer with each other. In the words of a man who understood and lived suffering: “In the messianic programme of Christ, which is at the same time the programme of the Kingdom of God, suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a “civilization of love (96).” Let us go forth and build a civilization of love . . .
During Respect Life Month, hundreds of thousands of people young and old walked for respect for Life from conception to natural death. Saturday January 28, 2017 marked the 2nd Annual Walk for Life Northwest. Around a 1,000 people attended the rally and walk in Downtown Spokane WA one weekend after the March for Woman drew thousands. Sadly, the latter march denied Pro-Life woman a voice. The “Pro-Life” movement isn’t just a religious movement anymore. Research the Secularist for Life or other related organizations. Sadly, the Northwest along with the entire West Coast is a hotbed for pro-death culture.
At the Mass for Life held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, the pews filled while Bishop Daly led Mass for the respect of life from conception to natural death. By some movement of the Holy Spirit, I found myself reading the First Reading from the Book of Hebrews about the many generations that came from a man and woman deemed infertile (Abraham and Sarah.) Never having lectured at the Cathedral, I found myself reading in front of a full Church in my jeans and snow boots.
My father lightly cried in the pew while I read unbeknownst to me. What my friend the young priest who recommended me didn’t know when I was asked to proclaim the Word of God, my parents were chastised by doctors for my conception and life. My Dad cussed out a doctor in a Philadelphia hospital. Doctors and family members called my parents “irresponsible.”
The doctors worst fears came true. I was born with the same genetic kidney condition my eldest brother and I share. I have been a “burden” on the healthcare and insurance system. My brother and I both defied the odds. He and I are in our late twenties and mid thirties. We are among the first generation of children to survive our particular condition. We are a medical miracle. We are a medical phenomena. But moreover, we have touched the lives of our family and countless strangers and acquaintances. We work. Practice our faith. My eldest brother is married with three beautiful and healthy children. We support and give back to our community and the environment. We pay taxes and practice responsible citizenship. We provide a little extra illumination to the world.
Yes, those grouches deemed our existence a burden and irresponsible. I wonder if these people just had no imagination or just feared the unknown so much it paralyzed them and squashed their ability to dream.
My parents choose life. For that I’m forever grateful. My parents dared to step into the unknown and dream. They dared to be creative and roll with the many many punches. My parents sacrificed money, education, power, success, and prestige for our lives. They sacrificed daily. I don’t know what the future brings or what extraordinary medical interventions my brother and I may or may not need. For now, we are who we are. People. Living breathing created in the image and likeness of God persons.
But because of our irresponsibly responsible lives, other children sharing ours or a similar condition will have a fighting chance at a healthy and whole life. And a dream. Thank you Mom and Dad for choosing life!
Recently, I volunteered at Steubenville NW Youth Conference where I followed Jesus from the basement chapel to the opera house theater in which the Eucharistic procession took place. Darkened and filled with almost 1,300 youth, volunteers, priests, and religious, we all fell onto our knees before our Lord in Eucharistic Adoration. Though I’ve had “my first” moment with Christ, I watched in awe as many youth surrounding me experienced their “first” moment. My hope and prayer is that they continue in that spirit day-by-day.
As Jesus in the monstrance processed around the opera house, the band played “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsongs. Suddenly, I wasn’t there anymore. Like a fly on the wall, I saw myself crying before Christ in a Eucharistic adoration chapel a year before. My brother was dying in an UC Denver hospital. With my eldest brother, father, his wife, and mother-in-law by side his side, I stayed with my mother who was on chemo and too ill to travel. I practically ran from Holy Family Hospital where I was work training to the nearby adoration chapel when I received the text.
I had no intention of crying. I don’t cry, let alone in public. But the foreboding reality of a life without my dear brother, my flesh and blood, and one of the loves of my life weighed heavily on me. If there was ever an “appropriate” time to cry, today was that day. I poured my heart and soul out to God as fast as the tears poured down my face. I knew that unless the emergency blood transfusion/ resuscitation worked within 30 minutes I would never hug or talk in this earthly life with my brother again. My heart shattered. All I could do was abandon myself in Christ.
Abandonment in Christ is an imposing task because it requires practice, much practice. It’s like falling in-love, well unconditional love, slowly but deeply and then there is no turning back. You choose it day-by-day, moment-by-moment. St. Charles Foucauld’s Prayer of Abandonment reads:
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father. Amen.
A friend commented on this prayer saying she was impressed by anyone who could pray the words and actually mean what they prayed because of the grave and challenging nature of the words prayed. I didn’t learn to abandon my potentially dying loved ones in Christ overnight. I didn’t even know I would until life happened. It took practice, years of practice, and something provided beyond my own capacity- GRACE.
While my brother lay bleeding to death and I sobbing in the Eucharistic Adoration chapel, I remember explaining to God the thousands of pieces my heart would shatter into if my brother died, how much I loved him, and how much I would miss his earthly presence, BUT I prayed, “He isn’t mine God, and if you need him more than me, you can have him.” I knew praying that simple line could change the course of my life forever, but I believed I would still have relationship with my brother in heaven. A miracle happened and my brother resuscitated after 14 liters of blood. After an eighteen day hospitalization, he returned home to WY a gaunt shadow of his usual vitality but very much alive. I know one of these days one of my family members won’t resuscitate. In the meantime, I treasure the time I’ve been given.
My brother enjoyed listening to Hillsong United’s “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” during his 18 day hospitalization. A little over a year later, at Steubenville NW, I sang:
“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior.”