Normally I would have rolled my eyes at such a word, thinking it too trite, like a home decor sign that says, “Dance like nobody is watching.” Such a saying was clever enough to begin with, but now it’s just cliche. I looked at the word in front of me and considered rejecting it outright. I was using Jen Fulwiler’s Word of the Year generator. For those unfamiliar, it is a simple website that randomly picks a word of the year for its users, a word that is to serve as a theme or focal point for one’s year. In 2020 I chose my own word: detachment. It was kind of a hardcore word that ended up being very appropriate for 2020. This year though, I didn’t really have a strong pull to any word or theme, so I used the word generator. My word? Blossom. It sounded like the kind of word a middle-aged woman who is deeply unhappy about her life would choose at the start of her mid-life crisis. But then I considered that ‘Blossom’ seemed to be a great word to follow ‘Detachment’. After all, we do not seek detachment for itself, but in order to clear space for new growth.
I also thought about how I recently bought an online course on herbalism that I plan to start soon, and I’ve been imagining my 2021 living like St. Hildegard of Bingen, nearly cloistered in my home studying plants and making my own herbal remedies for common ailments. The word also seemed to support my desire to immerse myself in the real, as opposed to being immersed in the virtual. I want to make more time to nurture in-real-life friendships, spend more time praying, baking, reading books — both fiction and non — and also reading poetry, playing board games, spending time in nature, and puttering in my house. If anything will save our world, I’m sure it is real-life connections and being rooted in the Divine stream, not media consumption, doomscrolling, and internet fights. I don’t know what joys and challenges 2021 has in store for me, but I figure a flower can bloom in a pristine forest as well as from a crack in a field of concrete.
Do you have any plans, goals, or a word for 2021? What will you be doing to nurture yourself?
“They are like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It does not fear heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still produces fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:8)
St Joseph edition ofthe New American Bible Revised Edition. (New Jersey: Catholic Book Publishing Corp, 1970).
It was always there in the language and theology of my Catholic upbringing, but I never really gave it much thought, until one day there it was, fresh and new, a treasure hidden in plain sight. The Church is referred to as she, and she is called Mother Church. Scripture is full of references to Christ the Bridegroom, and his bride, the Church. Ancient iconography has depicted the Church as a woman. Theologians also speak of Mary, the mother of God, as the image of the Church, but perhaps it would not be wrong to say that all women have a share in this role as icons of the Church. In fact, it seems to me that the physical realities of femaleness reveal this spiritual truth: women are icons of the Church.
The Liturgical Cycle
Let us consider the Church’s Liturgical Cycle, that is, the Church seasons that order the year around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The first day of the liturgical year is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is a season of Preparation, in which we prepare our hearts (and environments) for the celebration of Christmas. Christmas day is the first day of the Christmas season, but the whole season lasts a couple of weeks. After the Christmas celebration comes the season of Ordinary Time, or, as it is sometimes known, the “Growing Time”. So we prepare for Christmas, we celebrate it, then we grow.
Then the pattern repeats. With Lent comes another season of Preparation in which we prepare our hearts to celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The Easter celebration begins on Easter day. It is the liturgical high point of the entire year, and so we really celebrate — for a whole fifty days, in fact. Pentecost is the concluding feast in Easter, when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, and then comes Ordinary Time. This second Ordinary Time in the Church year is quite long, lasting almost the whole second half of the year.
The fertility cycle
One day, as I was studying a material designed to explain the Liturgical Year to young children it dawned on me that the liturgical calendar looks remarkably similar to a woman’s fertility cycle. And, in fact, my previous struggles in explaining and classifying the different parts of a woman’s cycle were clarified and resolved when viewed through the lens of the Church year.
Let me explain. We can separate a woman’s fertility cycle into three parts: the Early Infertile Phase, the Fertile Phase, and the Late Infertile Phase. The first day of a woman’s cycle is the first day of her menstruation. Physically, of course, this phase of her cycle is characterized by her menstrual flow. Interiorly, however, it is characterized by a heightened interest in reflection and reevaluation. She naturally feels pulled inward during this time and she wants to let go of unhealthy behaviors or thought-patterns that are not serving her well. This can be a powerful time of prayer with renewed clarity of her calling and her purpose. After menstruation ends some women have what we Fertility Awareness Instructors call her Early Dry Days. Not all women will have a time of infertility between menstruation and the start of their Fertile phase, as women with short cycles may go from menstruation right into their time of fertility. Therefore the Early Infertile Phase is typically the time of menstruation and it may or may not include some days between menstruation and fertility.
In the language of the Church, the seasons of Preparation are penitential, and there is a heightened emphasis on metanoia, that is a turning around to face a new direction. We are called to examine our lives prayerfully and discern what is holding us back from being who God is calling us to be. This is exactly what women naturally do during their Early Infertile Phase, and therefore I think we could call this time in a woman’s cycle a season of Preparation.
Following her Early Infertile Phase is a woman’s Fertile time. This is the time in which she is capable of becoming pregnant. Despite the fact that I have spent a significant portion of my fertile times avoiding pregnancy (and therefore abstaining from sex) the Fertile time has become a treasured season for me. It is the time when I feel my best. I feel energetic; creativity comes more easily; I’m brimming with ideas, and I’m ready to take on the world. Physically, a woman is most interested in sex at this time and wants to give her yes to a man (and she’s emitting pheromones that make her husband most want her as well), and this is also true in her spiritual life. She wants to be generous with what God may be asking of her. Like the Blessed Mother, she will more easily give her yes. Spiritually, it is the task of every woman who is in her fertile phase to discern how God is asking her to give life. Is she called to be open to physical life through the conception of a child within her? Or is she called to give her yes, and give life to the world through some other creative endeavor? Because a woman experiences peak creativity and energy at this time, physically feels her best, and is also capable of conceiving a new life, I think it is appropriate to call her time of fertility a season of celebration.
Previously, in my discussions and writings on the fertility cycle, I have always struggled to classify the Late Infertile Phase. What goes on interiorly? The couple of days prior to menstruation a woman feels more sensitive and vulnerable, but what about the ten or so days before that, when a woman is no longer fertile, but she’s not preparing to menstruate either? While the time of menstuation is certainly noticable, and the time of fertility is sort of epic — the high point of the fertility cycle, what about after these times? In my experience I always just feel, well, ordinary. I’m not tired and super reflective, but not overflowing with creativity either. But perhaps that’s precisely it. Like the Liturgical Year, after Preparation and Celebration come the woman’s Ordinary Time.
The word ‘Ordinary’ though comes from the Latin ordinalis, which means ordered, but this understanding of the word is also fitting in regards to women’s fertility cycles. Like the Church calendar, a woman’s bodily calendar, and the pattern by which we are to live, has been ordered for her. In the Liturgical year, the second Ordinary Time lasts almost the whole second half of the year, and likewise, in a woman’s fertility cycle, her ordinary time (or Late Infertile Phase) is also almost the whole last half of her cycle. It would also be appropriate to call this phase in the fertility cycle the Growing Time because physically, the inner lining of the woman’s uterus is growing in thickness under the influence of progesterone and also, if she has conceived during her fertile phase, the new life within her is already growing, though she won’t know it until her missed period two weeks later.
universal church and domestic church
So in the Liturgical Calendar, the whole Church prepares, celebrates, then grows, and fixed into the body of every woman we see this same repeating cycle. Mother Church calls all her children to live by the rhythms of this cycle, this pattern around the life of Christ. Similarly, in my home, the Domestic Church, my family is pulled into my rhythm. My children all know that I have a “rest week” when I don’t have as much energy and my husband and children do some of my chores to allow me more time for rest and reflection. During my time of fertility they see me buzzing about full of energy and ideas (and maybe roping them into things), and then life is again ordinary.
My husband observed that a woman’s whole life also reveals this pattern. A young girl is in her Early Infertile Phase, a woman in her childbearing years is in her fertile phase, and a post-menopausal woman is in her Late Infertile Phase. Preparation, Celebration, Ordinary Time. My husband likened it to the self-similarity within a fractal, that is, the same pattern repeating at different scales. To be a woman is to enter into the lived experience of this repeating pattern, and hopefully, the wisdom that living this pattern inspires.
So it strikes me, if God has placed this pattern into the body of every woman from the beginning of humanity, and the Holy Spirit has placed this same pattern into the Church year, it must be important — maybe even vitally important. God seems to be saying, “Pay attention! Something great and significant is here!” It seems to me that if the very physiology of women model the liturgical cycle of the year which is itself patterned around the life of Christ, then it is also true that women’s bodies, from the beginning of humanity have prefigured the life of Christ, and, from the time of humanity’s redemption on the cross we have modeled it. Christ is the blueprint for all creation and it is a singular gift to women that we physically image and model Christ’s pattern of redemption in such an incarnational way.
In its teaching on the Church as mother and teacher (and which I think could be applied to women as a particular image of the Church), the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
From the Church [the Christian] learns the example of holiness and recognizes its model and source in the all-holy Virgin Mary; he discerns it in the authentic witness of those who live it; he discovers it in the spiritual tradition and long history of the saints who have gone before him and whom the liturgy celebrates in the rhythms of the sanctoral cycle (CCC, 2030).
As the Church goes, however, so go women. To me, it is no surprise that a culture that has decided it no longer needs the Church, her sacraments, her rhythms, and her traditions has also decided that it no longer needs femininity itself. In fact, so useless does our culture deem our way of existing in the world, that it routinely convinces millions of women to expunge our natural rhythm from our lives entirely. I believe it is one of the biggest tradgedies of the modern world that millions of girls and women have been convinced that their time of peak energy, creativity, and generosity that they experience mid-cycle is of no importance or use, or worse, is actually a burden and thus better to just be medicated away through chemical birth control. And on top of this, so many fail to recognize the dignity of women and girls in their full humanity and instead view them solely as a means of their own selfish gratification.
you are beautiful in every way, my friend, there is no flaw in you! (Song of Songs 4:7)
Woman, the culture in which you live might not understand or value who you are, but your Creator does. I am convinced that each part of your being is the result of a loving decision by the One who made you. Furthermore, your value doesn’t come from your ability to emulate the masculine pattern of living. On the contrary, it is your pattern of reflection and reevaluation, of celebration and growth that should be the model of a holy life centered on the incarnate Christ because you are a woman, bride of Christ, and icon of the Church.
The Church is essentially both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realities, zealous in action and dedicated to contemplation, present in the world, but as a pilgrim, so constituted that in her the human is directed toward and subordinated to the divine, the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, the object of our quest.
O humility! O sublimity! Both tabernacle of cedar and sanctuary of God; earthly dwelling and celestial palace; house of clay and royal hall; body of death and temple of light; and at last both object of scorn to the proud and bride of Christ! She is black but beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem, for even if the labor and pain of her long exile may have discolored her, yet heaven’s beauty has adorned her.
St Bernard of Clairvaux (CCC, 771)
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 2030.
St. Joseph edition of the New American Bible Revised Edition. (New Jersey: Catholic Book Publishing Corp, 1970).
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 771.
I didn’t exactly hear Jesus’ voice saying to me, “Homeschool all your children.” Instead, I heard my husband’s voice saying to me, “I’m not comfortable sending the children to school this year.” And the man never has opinions. He is the most laid-back, no pressure husband on the face of the earth. If I decide I want to homeschool the children, fine. Raise the kids Catholic and do a bunch of crazy Catholic stuff at home? Fine. Load up the van and go on a 24-day roadschooling adventure? Fine. He’s cool with it all. So if he actually has an opinion about something, I think I better listen and respect his desires.
Today is the first day of school. Like many people, I thought that this year would look differently than it does. I had planned to send two of our four children to school. My middle girl would be at school all day, and my four-year-old son would be at 4K for the mornings to give me time to focus on his two other sisters who would be eagerly homeschooling.
It’s a strange thing. Last year I had discerned that school was a better fit for one of our children, but I believe that the will of God can be discerned in the ordinary (or extraordinary) events of life, including in the input of those around us. So when I physically heard my husband say, “I’m not comfortable sending the children to school this year” what I really heard, like the apostles when faced with 5000 hungry people, was Jesus voice saying, “Feed them yourself.” So here I am, stepping out in faith, to give my best, and believing that the grace of God will make up for what I lack.
Despite some stress, there is also peace, because I believe that God always wills what is best for us — for all of us. So if it is God’s will that E be homeschooled, then it must also be the best thing for me to homeschool her, and the best thing for each member of the family. And when I say “the best thing”, I always mean that it is the best thing for our spirtual health and eternal welfare. Sometimes God’s will is definitely not the easiest, most relaxing, or the most comfortable. Sometimes God’s will brings us to our breaking point, but I believe that the cross transforms us, and we are better in the Resurrection than we ever could be before the cross, in life.
So, here I am, stepping out in faith and trust. I’m looking forward to the joys of this year and happy to have the whole family at home together, and I’m praying for the grace to be transformed through the struggles (like the stuggle of homeschooling a strong-willed child). Perhaps you will say a prayer for me as we begin this path for another year? And let me know if I can say a prayer for you.
“God leads us in the path of life eternal: let us give thanks and praise!” (“Morning Prayer”, Magnificat 22, no. 5, (July 2020)
Shortly before Thanksgiving, I learned, for the ninth time in my life, that God chose my body as the place where He would create a new person. Someone got his or her beginning inside my body — someone who has never existed but who will exist for all eternity. A couple days later, I learned that, for the fifth time in my life, I will not get to meet that person this side of heaven. The gift of life and the reality of loss is at once beautiful and tragic.
Despite this pregnancy being something of a surprise, and despite my history of pregnancy loss, I had no fear. I was just completely and utterly happy. I wasn’t afraid of motherhood this time or fearful of the demands this child would make on me. I was just filled with gratitude. I remember when I was pregnant for the first time I wondered if I would be a good mother and if I would bond with my child. I wasn’t a woman who particularly liked children or who enjoyed being around them. But when my daughter was born I was totally blown away by the intense love I felt for her. When I was pregnant with my middle daughter I worried if I would love my second child as much as my first. How could my heart stretch that much again? At times I’ve worried about having a child with a choleric and strong-willed temperament. I’ve worried about having a child on the Autism spectrum, and I’ve even worried about having a boy. Would I love my son as much as I love my daughters? I just absolutely loved having a bunch of daughters and wasn’t sure how I would react to having a son. God, in His wisdom, however, has brought me a child “on the spectrum”, a choleric child, and eventually even a male, (and luckily in the middle of all of that a sunny, easy-going girl). And I love them all so much and so fiercely and can’t imagine my life without each of my children. Are there challenges, and have I been brought to my knees wondering how to parent them all in the way that each of them needs? Yes, but there is also joy — so much absolute and intense, soul-warming joy over each one of them.
So this time, when I learned I was pregnant, I wasn’t afraid. I’ve finally learned that whatever is the personality of this new person, whatever the sex, whatever his or health status or ability, I will fall in love again, and physically and spiritually I will grow to meet the needs of my child, and physically and spiritually my child will fill me up in a way I didn’t know I was lacking. I knew, too, that my other children would grow to love this new person, and our family would be blessed. We would grow together, stretch together, laugh and cry together, and this person would be just who our family needed, perfectly designed and willed by God to both form us and to be formed by us.
So the day I learned I was expecting again I was just happy with anticipation, and the next day too. By the third day, a Sunday evening, however, I had begun to bleed. I opted to avoid the emergency room and to wait it out until I could hopefully get in to see a NaPro physician in the morning. In the middle of the night, in addition to bleeding, I began to experience pain on my left side. I had had four miscarriages so I knew this bleeding was different, and the left-sided pain was definitely different. I suspected a tubal pregnancy. I knew it was an emergency situation, but as the pain was not severe yet, I said a prayer that things would be okay until the morning.
Having been to a number of emergency rooms in a number of hospitals through many miscarriages, I have unfortunately always found lacking their level of compassion, their trust in my knowledge of my body, and their ability to do anything to prevent a miscarriage. On the other hand, when I began to show warning signals of a possible miscarriage when I was pregnant with Nadia, my NaPro physician increased my dose of progesterone and overnighted some HcG shots for me. My bleeding stopped and I was able to carry Nadia to term. So I felt that if anything could be done to save my baby, a NaPro physician would do it, and if it could not be prevented, I trusted that my baby and I would be treated with compassion and dignity.
In the morning, as workmen arrived at my house to begin tearing up old carpet in preparation for new flooring, I called the medical clinic. A friend was able to watch my children for the day, and after dropping them off, my husband and I drove to the clinic. There, I learned that I did indeed have a tubal pregnancy. Though an ultrasound revealed that the gestational sac was in my left tube, the baby could not be found within it, so he or she must have died early in development. Nevertheless my tube was actively bleeding and filling my abdomen with blood. The situation was serious and I would need to have surgery as soon as possible. Before noon I was in surgery. In the end, my Fallopian tube could not be saved. Despite various efforts, it wouldn’t stop bleeding and the doctor had no choice but to remove it.
Though the situation was so serious and big, the procedure itself was a simple outpatient affair. Around dusk, my husband and I left the hospital to go home. My in-laws had picked up my children from my friend’s house earlier in the day and took them to their house for the night. So my husband and I went home to a quiet house, ate some take-out pho that we had picked up on our way home, and just went to bed. The next two days I lay in bed while the workmen banged around downstairs installing the new floor, and on Wednesday afternoon, we packed up our four kids and three cats and went to the AirBnB we had rented as we wouldn’t be able to walk on our floors for a few days once the stain was applied. The week after that we celebrated Thanksgiving and had my middle daughter’s 11th birthday, and then Advent began.
I more or less went through the motions of lighting the Advent candles and putting up our Jesse tree. The children were the ones reminding me to light the candles and to read the story about each ornament this year instead of the other way around. And now we are in the Christmas season, what the culture says is “the most wonderful time of the year”, a season about creating picture-perfect moments and cramming as much fun and happiness into as few weeks as possible.
Perhaps now more than ever, I’m so grateful for the way my faith celebrates this season. Maybe I never noticed it before. Maybe I never needed to notice it before, but it’s decidedly less happy-clappy than the cultural Christmas. I’ve noticed, in fact, that Catholic Christmas is decidedly darker. The Church, in her wisdom, always holds the duality of both life and death together. In Catholic Christmas, this season of celebrating the birth of our Savior into the world, we are constantly reminded that Jesus came to die, and that, this side of heaven, there is suffering. So even at Bethlehem, Calvary is present. We are reminded of this the day after Christmas, when we celebrate the Feast of Stephen — the first Christian martyr, whose death is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Two days after the feast of Stephen we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, all those baby boys who Herod had murdered trying to kill the long-awaited Messiah.
Also during Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, when the three Magi from the East came bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold was an appropriate gift for a king, frankincense a gift for God, and myrrh was an oil used to anoint dead bodies. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were quite strange gifts for a little boy, but perfect gifts for Jesus, who is God, who became man, and who was born in order to die. Some Christian communities celebrate the Christmas season until the Feast of the Presentation, on Feb 2nd. At the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Simeon celebrates Jesus’ birth, but also warns that he will be a sign that will be contradicted and that a sword will also pierce his mother’s heart. Simeon celebrates with joy this little baby — a Savior, come into the world, but does not shy away from the reality of his painful mission.
And so this Christmas, I am enjoying family, and all our Christmas traditions. I am celebrating the greatest gift of God coming to earth to save me, but I am holding this tension between sorrow and joy, and even holding and experiencing them both in the same moment. I am rejoicing at my children in heaven where there is no pain or sorrow and still mourning that I don’t have their physical presence with me now. I have truly enjoyed feasting and laughing with family, and still at some moments grief feels like its wrapped around me like a blanket. And I suppose it should be so because this is Christmas, a season of celebrating life, even life that ends in death.
I said in my last post that my family’s healing came through no merit or action of my own, but I suppose the truth is a little more nuanced than that. It is absolutely true that healing is not earned, and it is also true that it was not my own doing that brought it about. Christ is the doer. However, I did try to be open to healing if that was what God willed for us at this time.
Just as a woman must try to relax her body and allow the contractions for birth to come more quickly, so in healing and in all the invitations God sends to us to come into our lives, I believe God asks for our yes. Scripture recounts the story of Jesus visiting his hometown of Nazareth. There everyone knows Him as the carpenter’s son and saw Him grow up and they take offense at His preaching and His wisdom. The Gospel of Mark says, “So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there […]” (Mark 6:5a). It doesn’t say that Jesus would not perform any mighty deed because of their lack of faith; rather, it says He could not. Could it be that the God of the Universe stoops down to ask our permission to act in our lives?
But I should back up.
The healing itself happened on a Saturday in Lent. My diocese had decided to offer a number of healing masses in the area with Bishop David Ricken and Father Ubald, a priest from Rwanda known for gifts of healing.
On the day of the mass, my three daughters and I got into our van and set out to the church. Father Ubald’s masses have the reputation of being quite lengthy, so I opted to have then two-year-old Mateo stay home with his dad. Also, my son was born while we were transitioning to the GAPS diet, so he has had a pretty excellent diet from the beginning and has no known health issues.
On the way, my daughters and I talked. I wanted them to trust that Jesus could heal us, but I also didn’t want them to be disappointed or lack faith if that wasn’t God’s will for us at this time. I don’t believe that God wills suffering, as suffering and death entered the world with sin and was not part of God’s original plan. On the other hand, God can use suffering to bring about amazing transformations in us. Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity said that when we are suffering we should think of how God is increasing the capacity of our soul, making it infinite, indeed, in order to hold He Who is infinite. In our fallen state, suffering can be the antidote against selfishness that we need. “As the angel Gabriel told Mary at the Annunciation,” I told my daughters, “nothing is impossible with God. God has the power to heal us, so we should have faith that He can. But no matter what happens, we should know that God loves us so much and wants what is in our best interests.”
When we arrived at St Gabriel’s church, both large parking lots were filled, and cars were lining the streets. My heart kind of sank. “There probably won’t even be room for us in the body of the church,” I thought. With the assurance that everything was in God’s hands, we got out of our van and walked toward the church. Once we entered, an usher saw me and my brood and motioned for us to come forward. So we went up to him and he led us to the very front row. Four spots right there as if they had been reserved for us. I tried not to read into it too much, but part of me was thinking, “This is a really good sign! Maybe we are going to be healed!” I didn’t want to be presumptuous, but I also didn’t want to doubt, so I knelt in the pew probably over-complicating things with my inner dialogue trying to figure out the balance of trusting that we could be healed without presuming that we would be, while also trying to be humble enough to let God act as He saw fit.
The mass lasted two hours, but the children did marvelously. The six year old was sort of at her wits end by the conclusion of mass, but I explained to her what would happen next and she seemed interested in that and calmed down. Being in the front row where we could see everything certainly helped. During the homily, Father Ubald told us of his experience surviving the Rwandan genocide, but also of the fact that his parents, most family members, and tens of thousands of his parishioners didn’t survive. He believes real healing can only come with forgiveness, and he spoke of his process of forgiving those who killed his family members. He also told us of the time that he met the man who murdered his mother and speaking to this man and forgiving him. When he preached forgiveness, he spoke with the authority of one who has himself forgiven in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
When mass ended, the Eucharist was exposed on the altar and placed in the receptacle. Father Ubald guided us through his process to help open ourselves to the healing of Christ.
The first step to open ourselves is to have faith, and we are helped in this when we take time to recognize and be grateful for all the gifts that God has already given us.
The second step is forgiveness. Father Ubald believes that lack of forgiveness is the greatest block to healing. So he asks us to offer forgiveness to anyone who has wronged us and to ask forgiveness of those we have harmed. Forgiveness is hard, but we need to ask for the grace to forgive.
The third step is to renounce evil and take authority in Jesus’ name. For example, a person struggling with feelings of bitterness and resentment could say “In the name of Jesus I renounce the spirit of bitterness and I command you to leave. In the name of Jesus, get out.”
The fourth step is to make a decision to change one’s life and to decide what one will do to live for Jesus. This should be a concrete, actionable step. Our culture acts as though happiness comes when one has accomplished his or her life goals and the circumstances of one’s life is ordered to one’s own preferences and liking. The Church reminds us, however, that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and that “This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium Et Spes, § 24). I believe the gifts that we receive in life are not meant simply for our own enjoyment, but rather we are to act as a reservoir, letting whatever we have been given overflow to benefit others.
After this, Father Ubald took the monstrance, carefully descended the steps, and walked directly over to me where he paused for a few moments. Then he continued on to process through the crowd, pausing every now and again. When this was finished, the Eucharist was placed back on the altar, and Father Ubald went to the podium. Father is not completely comfortable speaking English, so when he wants to speak off the cuff, without having to translate his thoughts into English, he will speak in French. A French-English interpreter went to the podium and Father Ubald stood aside and just seemed to enter into himself. After a moment, he began to speak quietly to the interpreter. “There is a woman here who has a lump in her left breast,” said the interpreter into the mic, “Jesus has healed you. Several people are praying for healing from their Parkinson’s. Jesus has healed you.” This continued for quite some time, perhaps half an hour or more. Father would pause, then tell the interpreter of several healings that had taken place. Some healings were physical, some spiritual, some emotional or relational. “There are several people here praying for healing of their food allergies,” said the interpreter toward the end, “Jesus has healed you.”
I looked at my children, and they looked at me with excitement.
On our way home I was filled with hope. I was also filled with questions. “There are several people here praying for healing of their food allergies. Jesus has healed you,” the interpreter had said. That crowd was pretty big. How was I to know how many people there could have been praying for the same thing? Was everyone who was praying for the same thing healed? Were just some of us? Was I one of them? My children? I mean, how does this miraculous healing thing work, exactly? So despite my excitement and hope, I was still trying not to get my hopes up too much, but also trying not not to get my hopes up because maybe that wasn’t trusting. My daughter Eva in particular was simply happy. She couldn’t wait to eat a variety of foods without feeling sick.
Later that evening, my husband (who is agnostic) said to me, “So, Eva is convinced that she’s been healed and she wants me to buy her some ice cream when I go grocery shopping tomorrow.” “Buy her some ice cream, then,” I said. What was the point of going to ask for healing, if, when it comes, we don’t believe that we were healed and so we continued to avoid all allergens the same as before? “If she hasn’t been healed,” I said, “we will know soon enough, because she WILL have an eczema flare up otherwise.” I made a new grocery list. I wanted to continue to eat healthy because I didn’t want to be given the gift of healing, only to ruin our health again by eating poorly, but oh, was I excited about the variety of foods we could eat. We would even be able to eat grains again! (In moderation and properly prepared, of course.) I bought a cookbook based on the Weston A Price diet, which takes into consideration the wisdom of many traditional cultures that ate quality, high-fat diets, with properly prepared grains, nuts, and vegetables, and a wide variety of whole, natural, unprocessed foods. In my opinion, this is the diet humans probably should eat, but if their gut has been damaged, they need the stricter GAPS diet (or something similar) to heal it before they can enjoy the variety.
For myself, avoiding my food sensitivities without cheating was my Lenten practice. So whether I was healed or not, I felt I should continue avoiding my allergens through Lent. We could, however, incorporate back into our diet all the things that Eva couldn’t eat previously, and that alone was heavenly. For some weeks, I would check the inside of her elbows and her knees for dry, itchy eczema flare ups, but they didn’t come. She ate whatever and didn’t feel sick, didn’t get rundown, didn’t look grey and pasty. Her cheeks kept their healthy, rosy glow and she stayed healthy.
After a few weeks went by, I read to the children the story of the 10 lepers who were healed. All ten were healed, but only one returned to give thanks. I said I wanted to be like the one who gave thanks, so we should be thinking about what we can do to say thank you for our healing. I also read them the story of Peter’s mother-in-law who was healed. She was healed of her fever, and then she arose and waited on them. I told them that when we are healed, like all gifts from God, He gives them not just for our benefit, but for others as well. We are healed for service. So I asked them to think of ways that God might be asking us to be of service to others.
After some praying and researching, I came across the “gratitude rosary”. I had never heard of it before, but basically, for every ‘Hail Mary’ bead, one says one thing they are grateful for. So for each gratitude rosary, one comes up with 50 things for which they feel gratitude. Many people have said it transformed their lives because it trained them to see all the good things in life instead of just focusing on the negative things, because people generally start by saying the big things they are grateful for—family, children, maybe some possessions, but before the end they have to get creative and really pay attention to the many small things that would have gone unnoticed to them before. So the children and I decided to do a novena of gratitude rosaries in thanksgiving. Sure enough, it forced us to see and express gratitude for many of the things that we were taking for granted, like, for example, not having our arms or legs amputated (in the words of my 12 year old daughter)!
Easter arrived, and oh, I celebrated and ate all the things for 50 days. And guess what? I didn’t get itchy, or belchy, or nauseous. I felt fine. Like I said, we still try to eat wholesome, nourishing food. But life gets busy, and so sometimes we go out to eat or buy convenience foods. We accept invitations to things and eat whatever is set before us. This summer we took a 24 day road trip where most of what we ate was definitely not very traditionally wholesome or nourishing, and it was okay. I think the biggest gift for me is to see my children remain healthy and to be able to not eat perfectly without guilt.
I also enjoy cooking now. I’ve come to enjoy the process of it. I remember early in my marriage when we were too poor to buy many Christmas gifts, so out of sheer necessity, I learned to craft a number of things. I learned to sew, crochet, bind books, and more. I wasn’t crafty at all before, but necessity forced me to learn to be a maker. I found the act of making things with my own hands empowering, more thoughtful, and so much more enjoyable than shopping for things. I think one of the problems in our culture is that on the one hand we have this cult of productivity where people feel like they have to do all the things all the time, and simultaneously, so little of what we do is actual physical work. So often we are not making things that we can touch, hold, smell, and see before us. Many of us live most of our lives and do most of our work in our heads. As a result of my family’s health issues, however, I get to cook now. I mean, really cook. I peel carrots, chop onions, squeeze lemon, chop and dry herbs, mash squash with my potato masher, roll out flat bread, check on the broth or dried beans that sit simmering for hours on my stove, and more. It’s creative; it’s physical; and eating it is enjoyable, filling, and nourishing.
I still ponder the gift of healing. I feel like I had faith before, but nonetheless, being healed of our food sensitivities reiterated that God sees my littleness. He sees me trying my best, and He has compassion for me. He saw my struggle and He accomplished our healing in an instant. It makes me think of my little son trying with great effort to put his shoes on himself. When he can’t do it and he needs me to put them on him, I don’t resent him for being small and unable. His littleness gives me greater tenderness for him. So I believe it is with God and us. We do our best and it is enough. God will make it enough. We don’t have to know everything and have it all together. Our littleness endears us all the more to Him and He will pull us close and accomplish with ease everything that we struggle with trying to do ourselves. Whether in the struggle of carrying our crosses, or in the gift of reprieve, God will be with us every step of the way. We can count on it.
The New American Bible, Revised Edition. 9 March 2011. USCCB.