Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Children We Fight For

I have longed to be a mother but I’m unmarried and then there’s my health – giving birth to children just isn’t going to happen. Of course, there are miracles but once, when I was most distressed about being unable to have a child, I heard the familiar Voice say: I do not promise that you will have children of your own but I do promise you will have many spiritual children. At the moment, I was thrilled but that moment didn’t last very long. Were I as good as St. Therése of Lisieux or so many others, spiritual children would be enough for me. But I am not so good. I want babies. I love babies. When I was three I asked Marmar if we could have a baby (she told me she wasn’t able to have more children) and I haven’t stopped wanting them since. I did go through a short time in my late teens when I pretended otherwise but I baby sat a lot so there were babies anyway. And while others may read my work and God may use it and just use me in general in others lives and while I might mother all sorts of people giving to them what God has given to me, I still want babies.

A few months ago as I penance, my confessor suggested I pray one decade of the rosary for myself and in particular for those things I was having such difficulty changing in myself (read impatience). He told me it was important to pray for myself – something I have never really done. Other things, other people have always seemed more important; God has always cared for me anyway so I tend to forgot about praying for myself.

The rosary is not always one of my favourite prayers. I tend to drift off into meditation or distraction – often both within the same decade. I get lost and then spend a great deal of time trying to recall where I left off and, in the midst of remembering, drift off again. I begin at the Annunciation and half an hour later discover I’ve been praying for Obama’s daughters and thinking about Michelle Obama’s lack of fashion sense and how horrid it is that some women think she might be worth emulating and then drift off into musing on the way we women are having been raised with mothers whose minds have not really been on us even when they’ve been physically present and then drift off into something else … until finally, I remember I am supposed to be praying and ask God to tell me where I left off. Then there are the times when I don’t think at all, when my mind is blank and I’m just snuggling up but half an hour still passes and I still don’t remember which mystery I’m on or how many Hail Marys are left and sometimes I get the Chaplet of Divine Mercy tangled into the rosary and it’s just a big mess. Praying the rosary is a lot of work. It takes hours and I might not even finish it. But since I was given a penance and penance is important I decided I could handle one decade, if I forced myself to focus and if God helped me.

My confessor didn’t specify which mystery I should use neither did he give me a specific number of times to pray, neither say this once nor for the next week nor anything else that would encapsulate the penance into any sort quantity or time period. So I, as I am wont to do, just began praying a decade of the rosary as instructed nearly every day. Usually, I prayed the Annunciation. It is the first one I remember. But then I discovered one decade wasn’t enough. I kept thinking of Obama’s children growing up believing that babies are punishment and that that’s what they are. So I added a decade for the Obama family and asked Our Lady to protect the Obama children (and defeat their father too). And soon I discovered other personal petitions, other things connected to me for which I had never really prayed: a girlfriend going through a similar experience of discovering Mary as her Mother whose determination has encouraged me, my work and, most importantly, the intentions of my heart – those things that a Mother knows about. Very soon I was up to all five decades, oft times wandering off in my meditations but somehow making it through.

It turns out mothers know their children. Marmar knew me. Once in a while, even my foster-mother knew me: not long before her final illness she came to understand that I lived with deep, deep sadness and pain, that I could not just forget my family, that she couldn’t just fill-in for my mother. I have known that I longed for my mother. And perhaps that too is why I found the rosary so difficult – it is a long conversation with Our Mother about all the wonders and joys in Our Lord’s life. It’s chock full of: And then He did that! and Okay, I’ll go through the scary parts as long as you hold my hand. and Isn’t what happens next wonderful? The rosary is an exciting, cozy nursery experience. But that closeness can be excruciating for those of us who long, especially when we keep such longings from ourselves.

I’ve tried to pretend not having babies was okay since that’s the way God wanted it. (I sort of told myself that longing for my mother was enough longing for one lifetime.) But I didn’t know that my desire for children cuts a deep channel through my heart that joins up with longing for my mother. Certainly, I’ve thought I could adopt or foster a child but as my health declines and as I get older I realize that adoption or even fostering a child might not be a great idea – unless I choose to be selfish.

And haunting me has been the experience of friends who have aborted their babies. Four times I have known women who have been pregnant and have gone from being pro-life to pro-abortion because of their special circumstances overnight. One changed her mind and I hope I had something to do with it – certainly I told her that aborting her child was not taking care of it as she said. That taking care of a child could never be killing him. Not long after deciding not to have the abortion, she miscarried. It hurt her badly. I mourned with her and also rejoiced that she had trusted God and had not murdered her child.

The other three each aborted their children. I understand their fear: once, when I was seventeen, I thought I was pregnant and the terror was amazingly huge – I was hysterical (I do not become hysterical). But I don’t understand their actions particularly since they were not alone. Particularly when they told me about their pregnancies and knew me well enough to realize that I would remind them that they were against abortion, that abortion was wrong. Particularly when I not only offered to help each of them but begged them to allow me to care for their children. Particularly when I was willing to change my life so that I could provide for a baby. Particularly when I offered open adoption or guardianship so that if they changed their minds, at some future point, I would return custody of their children. We were friends. We were close. We loved and trusted each other. And two of them loved God too. But they did not love their children. They did not love and trust me enough to allow me to care for their children. And even the two who loved God did not love Him enough to choose His will over murdering their children. They knew I would do whatever necessary to care for their children. They decided it would be better to kill their children instead.

I fought for those children. And I fought for those friendships. But the children were more important. I wanted to give life to those children, wanted them to become what God had created them to be. I cajoled them and reminded them of God’s love and begged them. I sent the two who believed in God to spiritual directors who also reminded them of God’s love and providence, reminded them that abortion was a mortal sin. I prayed many prays and asked other to pray. I fought hard and I failed.

I would do it again even though my friendships with the children’s mothers were casualties of those battles and I still miss them – our friendships could not withstand such evil. I would fight for any child though again I might fail, though I myself might not have the strength to raise them, would probably need to entrust them to someone else. And that is what I am doing when I insist that Our Lady protect the Obama children, when I ask others to pray for them: I am fighting for them. I have fought for a number of children in my life (and have taken on several terribly remiss parents). But I didn’t know that in fighting for them, in doing what I can, be it fervent prayer, fasting, providing substitute care, seeking to remind their parents that abortion is not an option but simply murdering their own children, in doing whatever I could do the children I have fought for have become my children. I have mothered them when their own mothers did not. I have cared for them, valued their lives when told to dismiss them. God has given them to me to be my children. And in praying for the deepest desires of my heart, in wandering off whilst lying my head on Madrinha’s* lap, I have come to realize both the deep, painful longing for those children murdered in their mothers’ wombs, children I might have raised, and I have come to see that God answered my prayers before I knew to ask. He has given me children that I didn’t know I had – there are babies waiting for me in heaven, caring for me as I tried to care for them. But they are don’t fail because my children are with mi Madrinha and She never fails.

In taking Our Lord into Herself, She was made the perfect vessel of love: She cannot but love us. And She fights for us, fights against the foolish convictions we use to close our hearts off to Her love. She is immensely patient and tenacious and simply wears us down with love. And, like Our Lord, is ready to take advantage of the tiniest chink in our protective plating. She knows we are worth fighting for, worth loving. She cannot but know our hearts, our longings, our prayers and asks Her divine Spouse and Her Son to give us more than we can let ourselves desire.

So I wander off as we rehearse the mysteries of Her Son’s life and have stopped being hard on myself for doing so. I am just a child resting her head on her mothers lap** so at home that my heart shares its entire contents even though the story line sometimes becomes incoherent. She will sort it out. And when I ask to become the woman God would have me be and I pray for the desires of my heart, the things She knows I long for better than I know myself, I can be confident that She is listening and that my prayers are being answered in surprising and wonderful ways. I’m a mother and the day will come when I hold my children in my arms and laugh with them and rejoice at what God has done with us. And my friends are safe with Her – I’ll trust Her to wear them down too. I am not bereft as my heart imagined (I’ve been laughing even more these past few days – and that’s probably getting insufferable). I’m filled with excitement: what lovely things has Madrinha prepared for me next?

* Madrinha is the Portuguese diminutive for Mother. I have called Our Mother that privately, when I needed to call her anything at all, for several years.

** My friend Dawn Eden told me about St. Catherine Labouré’s vision for which I am most grateful. She and it have also been instrumental in helping me to accept Our Lady as mi Madrinha.

*** Please continue to pray for the Obama children.


Rivqah said...

Here through Mark Shea's link... Thank you for this, so much. I am identifying in more than one way, as my husband and I are struggling with infertility - and as I, too, just lost a battle for the life of my friend's aborted child, just last week. Only my friend was never pro-life herself (she's an ex-Catholic, now neo-Pagan), and I did not have the courage you had to risk losing her friendship by confronting her, I only fought by prayer.

It has come to me, this year, that I can be for the mothers in my life as St. Therese was for the missionaries she wished to be like - I can be the invisible prayer support behind them, because I know that motherhood can be its own form of the Cross sometimes. But I love this idea that the child I fought for may, in a way, be mine in heaven. Something to take with me to Adoration tonight!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I too have lost friends to this evil. I have spent nights crying over the deaths of these children...I know someone had to cry for them.
I wish you had a lighter burden.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this beautiful example of the reality of the Church's teaching that all women are called to be mothers (as all men are called to be fathers)! God has an amazing way of answering prayers in non-obvious ways. You are a mother because of your love, and I'm sure he will continue to bless your vocation as mother in ways you could never have imagined. God bless!!