Loving Well

It struck me again this past Sunday as our family walked up to communion.  My husband was leading the way, holding Mary-Rose in his arms, TJ and Noah followed behind and I brought up the rear.  It was the perfect opportunity to absorb the strength in this man I love and take in the image of the role my husband fills.  He is the leader of our family and we are all honored to accept him as so.  With Father’s Day approaching, I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to thank God for this guy that that shows up every day, heart and arms open wide.  He’s here when it’s fun and “easy” and he’s here when it’s overwhelmingly difficult.

My husband was named after Saint Joseph, the humble, quiet and selfless leader of the Holy Family.  Of course when his namesake was bestowed, the kind of man he would grow to be remained a mystery only his own to solve.  And this is where my sincere gratitude is owed to my father-in-law.  The head of a family of eight children, my father-in-law taught my husband much about living the vocation of fatherhood.  He modeled hard work, the emptying of self and the importance of doing it all for God.  My husband learned what it felt like to be loved and he now holds nothing back when it comes to loving his own family.

Although each unique in their own right, I would say there are three words that aptly describe my husband, father and father-in-law; provider, selfless and faithful.  I realize how fortunate I am for the lessons I have gleaned from each one.  All, in their own way, emulate the kind of man I pray my sons will grow to be.  Each are examples of what it means to live out their faith, to live well their vocation of fatherhood and consistently look to fulfill the needs of those they love before their own.

My own father was one of three boys.  His Dad passed away when he was only in high school, so his mother was left to raise three boys on her own.  She was tiny in stature, quiet in nature, a bit feisty in spirit and seemingly unafraid of anything.  When my father ended up with three daughters, lets just say he was a fish out of water.  All of a sudden he needed to learn how to play with dolls, dress barbies, put long hair in a ponytail, decipher the dramatic, ever-changing emotions of this strange breed and learn how to snuggle better than he could wrestle.  He courageously stepped up to the challenge and raised three girls who continue to look to him for wisdom, guidance and the kind of love only a father can give.

There were many lessons hidden in my father’s calm and logical demeanor, his patient and understanding approach, his integrity and strong work ethic and his selfless commitment to his family.  I am most grateful perhaps for his model of what to look for in a husband and father for my own children.

In looking at the precedent set by the Holy Family, the importance of the father’s role is undeniable. It is not one that seeks recognition, but should be both acknowledged and honored when it is done well.  It is a role that many, be it due to generational dysfunction or other reasons, have fallen short to fulfill.  I have cherished friends that have a void in their hearts, dug deep by an “absent” father.  The good news, amidst their pain, is that their one true Father has more love for them than any earthly father is humanly capable of giving; and He is certainly worth celebrating this Father’s Day.

Thank you God, for placing not one, not two, but three men in my life who speak loudly without words, exhibit strength in their vulnerability, are forever rich in their poverty of self and have earned great respect in their humility.  I pray that those who have been hurt by their earthly fathers will turn toward your open arms and recognize your irreplaceable love and affection for them.  I pray for healing for those that have said goodbye to the fathers that they loved.  And I pray for your continued wisdom, guidance and perseverance for all fathers out there who are just trying to get it right.

Happy Father’s Day

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The Treasure of Friendship

The email read as follows,

“I have wanted to connect with you since we met over the summer and went to the women’s retreat.  The story you shared on the way home really touched me and I am really feeling moved to pray for you – I mean really pray consistently for you– for your strength, your peace, your joy and – God willing – for a new baby.”

I was so taken aback, I had to read it again and then sit for a minute to let it process.  I don’t know if I was more overwhelmed by the selflessness and striking humility of her spirit, the generosity of her offer, or the fear that now gripped my heart in wondering what it was God had planned for us that would require prayer from a woman I hardly knew .

I had met her only once.  She was a friend of a friend and the three of us had attended a day-long retreat together several weeks prior.  On the way home that day, in the midst of our conversation, I was asked by our mutual friend to share with Jennifer how both my husband and I had been overwhelmed by the Blessed Mother’s presence in our lives after losing our third baby to miscarriage.  Little did I know at the time that my sharing this small piece of our journey with Jennifer would open the door for God to use her as he worked His next miracle in our life.

We ended up meeting one evening for coffee and so began a friendship for which I will always be grateful.  We sat and talked for a few hours and I came to learn that she could personally identify with the pain of miscarriage and also found herself at a place in her life where she was longing for another child.  At the time, her life and heart were full with the blessings of three beautiful daughters, two of them twins.  Much like me, she wondered why this desire for another child was so strong and we each questioned whether we were being selfish in wanting more, considering all we had already been given.  We had both spent years on the roller coaster of wondering if and when our prayers for another child would be answered.  Jennifer was at the point where she was ready to pray for God to take her desire for another child away if in fact it was not His will for her family.  And I was ready to start praying about God honoring us with new life through the miracle of adoption. We promised to commit one another’s intentions to prayer and left that evening in thanksgiving for the beauty of a new friendship.

In thinking of the many friends that have graced my life, I love to ponder God’s role in each friendship and how He must have smiled when we first met.  I imagine when I first met Jennifer, God sat back, delighted with His handiwork and excited that His plan had been set in motion.  I truly believe God uses our friends as tools to set us on the right path and help us become the people we are meant to be.  It is clear that each one of my friends is a gift designed by God, given to me for a special reason.

My lot of blessings spans all age groups.  I have dear friends who are in their “later” years, from whom I garner great wisdom and priceless life lessons.  I have friends with whom I’ve journeyed down the perilous road of anxiety and found within their understanding a certain comfort and peace no one else could offer.  I cherish my fellow “mom” friends with whom I share this crazy job called parenting and reap continued encouragement from each one as we navigate this uncertain world together.  Some friends have stepped briefly into my life, making an appearance just long enough for me to learn a valuable lesson, and others I know will always remain.  I am so thankful for the role each has played and am astounded at the intricate way God has weaved together such important pieces of our lives.

It was over twelve years ago now that I sat with a cherished friend in a small bible study group and listened to her tearfully recount the news from her doctor.  She so wanted to have another baby, a sibling for their son.  She had been told however, that this would most likely not happen for them.  The exposition of her heart touched me deeply.  I sat and absorbed the depth of sadness in her eyes, completely unknowing that I would someday be carrying the same cross.  I learned a great deal from watching her continue to smile amidst the pain and frustration, be thankful even in her longing and trust God in what was such a trying time.  Years later she would tell me that they had decided to adopt and before I knew it, she was holding her precious daughter in her arms.  Once again, I stood before her, unaware that God was using her strength, her undeniable faith, her example of trust and perseverance to begin to prepare my own heart to bring our daughter home.

There is nothing quite like the gift of being able to relate to another person. Although we all walk at various paces, so often we find ourselves travelling the same paths.  I don’t think any friendship can be reduced to mere coincidence.  Living this way would be like carrying around a gift that you never felt was necessary to open.  Stopping along the way to chat, to share, to relate; that is what we are called to do.  And it never fails to surprise me what treasures friendship holds.

When we found out we were adopting our daughter, I remember calling a friend to share with her our exciting news.  “It’s a little girl”, I told her.  “She is 2 and ½ months old and she has Down Syndrome.”  The line went quiet for a brief second and I was so surprised when my friend responded through tears that her late sister had Down Syndrome and quickly added, “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having had her in my life.”  I hadn’t known anything about her sister.  My friends words that day did more than she will ever know to calm my anxious heart and I continue to cherish the unique understanding and love she has for our daughter.

Over a year after our first cup of coffee together, Jennifer and I ran into each other while dropping our kids off at summer bible camp.  She approached me with an unusually serious look on her face and asked if she could speak with me in private.  I was alarmed that something was wrong and immediately followed her over to a quiet corner.  She grabbed my hands and said, “I’m pregnant.”  God had decided it was time to answer her prayer! I was overjoyed at her news, and once again in awe over God’s work.  Just a few weeks later, we got the call from our social worker about our daughter that we would bring home a week later.  God’s blessings were abounding and my friend and I were rejoicing. Jennifer came over to meet Mary-Rose and as she snuggled in the arms of my dear friend, her own sweet daughter growing strong in her womb, we both thanked God for the treasures among us.

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