Thursday, August 28, 2008

Part 7: A Message

Once we finish contemplating Jesus' Childhood, we fast forward to the heart of His mission in the Sorrowful Mysteries. At this time, we can join with Jesus in His suffering. We can unite our sufferings with His.

The Agony in the Garden is the first Sorrowful Mystery. It calls us to meditate on Jesus’ decision to accept all that He would suffer for the redemption of the world. This mystery always draws me in. I find a particular fascination with it. You might say it is my favorite mystery.

After eating the Passover Supper with His disciples, Jesus brings them to a nearby vineyard called Gethsemani. The group is accustomed to His habit of going off by Himself for prayer as He does on this particular night.

Since Jesus is God, He knows full well what lies ahead for Him in the next day.

One of His closest companions will betray Him with a false show of affection. He will be arrested and tried, against all the rubrics of Hebrew law. The leaders of His Chosen People will subject Him to an illicit and sham trial. They will taunt and mock Him. His own people will hand Him over to foreigners for disposal. The ‘legitimate authority’ will abdicate to the pressures of the crowd. Soldiers will further humiliate and cruelly torture Him. As weak as He is, He will carry the heavy beam of the cross through dirty, dusty streets while the crowds continue to jeer Him, although a few women lament at His treatment. His wounds from the earlier beatings will be renewed as He is stripped naked. He will die in the most cruel way that mankind ever devised.

He also knows the end result of all His efforts. He knows that it is necessary for Him to take on all our sinfulness in order that Heaven be opened for us. He knows that God ultimately wants each of us to spend all of eternity with Him in Heaven. Yet throughout time, many will reject His efforts.

As a human, He feels the same dread we would when faced with such an ordeal.

So our Lord agonizes over choosing the difficult Way for our salvation. Three times He asks God, His Father, to spare Him from the intense pain and suffering. It is such intense agony, that capillaries burst, allowing blood to seep out with His sweat. Each time He prays, He resolves that He wishes, above all, to do God’s will. In the end He accepts the mission as God’s perfect will, and offers no further resistance throughout the entire process.

Meanwhile, His disciples sleep, oblivious to all that their Teacher and their Friend experiences in His prayer time. He wakes them with a warning to watch and pray. Prayer builds strength of spirit to overcome human weakness.

This dramatic story is related through the gospels: in the twenty sixth chapter of Matthew, the fourteenth chapter of Mark, and the twenty second chapter of Luke.

By this time, we finally entered the city limits of Joplin. As we rode along, I began to think about what we might find once we finally arrived at the hospital. He was already gone when Joe got to Goodman. None of us saw Arif after the accident, so we had no idea what injuries he might have. There was no information about his condition. We were directed to St. John’s to find out any information at all.

Auto accidents happen every day. Some people walk away, seemingly unscarred by the event. We could hope for this outcome, but we already knew that was not Arif’s situation, because he went to St. John’s. Some end up with aches and pains, like whiplash or various bumps and bruises. We hoped this was the worst we could expect in Arif’s case, but a mother’s mind continues to review the full range of possibilities. I knew people who needed stitches or surgery after an accident. Others spent time in the hospital with more serious injuries: broken bones, damaged organs, or coma. Some came out with some sort of brain injury. Many times, in my healing ministry, I offered advice for recovery to those who had been devastated by some of the drugs that they became dependent upon. The emergency medical care can be life saving, thank God, but sometimes, the continuing intervention can interfere with the overall health of an individual. We may need a good bit of discernment to make appropriate choices on his care. Of course, the seemingly worst case scenario would be death.

Since I have a Master’s Degree in special education, I have seen the full range of human functioning. Many people I have worked with were severely limited either physically or cognitively. I knew that these outcomes would be extremely difficult for my family, especially Joe. The impact on my other four children could also be devastating. I prayed for all of them and Joe to be able to cope with whatever the outcome might be.

I had no idea what to pray. I know that God has wisdom and insight that are way beyond mine. He would know what was best for us all. I prayed and hoped against hope that he would not be allowed to live with such serious injuries that he would not be able to fulfill his hopes and dreams. But in the end, my prayer resolved: “Lord, You alone have the wisdom. Your will be done.” It was the only prayer I could bring myself to pray for days. I didn’t even know if I would be able to handle any number of the possible outcomes.

At this point, I was given a message: “You have everything you need to deal with this situation.”

It was not a voice, it was just a sense of resolve. Although I had no idea what it meant, I knew it was sent as a comfort.

I did not have much time to ponder. Jo’s cell phone rang.

How does this contraption work?

It was Mary, a Founding Mother of our home school group.

Jo called her asking for prayers. Her family felt close to Arif as he helped them move the previous summer. She wanted to make sure we knew that her family was praying for Arif. If there was anything we needed, be sure to let them know.

I filed that away for later. Who knew what we might need later.

By the time I finished talking with Mary, we arrived at the hospital. We would finish the Rosary later. When we had some idea of what we were praying for, there would be ample opportunity to follow Christ through His Passion and Death, and hopefully be able to rejoice in His Resurrection.

Meanwhile, our only – our best – prayer was: “Thy will be done!”

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Part 6: Wisdom Beyond His Years

The fifth joyful event, from Jesus’ Childhood, brings us to meditation on His parents finding Jesus in the Temple after searching for Him for three days:

Each year, the Holy Family takes a trip to Jerusalem to celebrate the High Holy Days of the Passover. Their extended family and the people from their village go in a caravan.

When Jesus is 12 years old, they make the trip as usual. However, after traveling for a day on the trip home, His parents realize that Jesus is not with the group.

Imagine the panic that seizes them. They return to Jerusalem, looking everywhere for Him.

On the third day of their search, they find Him in the Temple. He is calmly and patiently speaking with the elders and the teachers. These holy, learned men are amazed at the Boy’s wisdom and knowledge. He asks them questions which lead them to think about the subject they know so well in an entirely different way.

In that day, a boy was considered a man when he reached twelve years old. He began training in earnest for his career, often apprenticing with a family member.

Jesus’ response, when His mother chides Him for causing so much worry, logically explains that this place – the Temple in Jerusalem – provides the background for His future mission. She probably recalls the message of Simeon.

Then, He returns home with them to fulfill His place in His family as an obedient and dutiful son.

The second chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel relates this story, and tells us that Mary pondered the events of His life. For this reason, we reflect with love on the mysteries and the details that the Bible gives us about the life of our Savior.

There was no question that Arif, and any other children we were graced with, would be brought up with faith in God.

One of the benefits of home schooling is that we can carry God throughout the curriculum. Arif and all his siblings were taught about their faith from their earliest years. We tried to instill in them a sense that they were created by God for a purpose. They each have a unique calling to do something that God planned for them from the very beginning.

Arif seemed to enjoy being in church and at Mass even when he was very small. At the Consecration, the highest point of the Mass, I directed his attention to the altar as soon as he was aware enough. He ooh-ed and ahh-ed. Later, he described ‘sparkles’ around the bread and wine at that moment.
As toddlers are wont to do, he got squirrelly after a certain time in the pew. I took him out of church and explained that he could go back in as soon as he calmed down. He calmed quickly and soon asked to return to the service. We only observed this ritual a handful of times.

Mom encouraged us to teach Arif his prayers starting quite young.

We moved to Virginia, Arif was 3.

The first time we attended our new church was Christmas Eve. The children were invited to come forward for the ‘children’s homily.’ Arif trotted right up there and plopped right into Father’s lap.

“Well, hello there! What is your name?” Father queried.

“Arif.” came the reply.

“Well hello, Reese.”

“No, Father, it is Arif: A, R, I, F.”

“Very well, then. Do you know what holiday comes tomorrow?”

“Yeah! It’s Christmas. It is Jesus’ birthday! Happy birthday to you....”

The parish offered ‘children’s church,’ taking the children into a classroom during the Bible readings and homily to instruct them at their developmental level. One day the following spring, the teacher of the preschool group called in the pastor. One of her pupils already knew the Lord’s Prayer. You guessed it. That child was Arif.

I never taught any of my children to read. They learned to read the same way they learned to talk. We read to them from the time they were babies. When they were ready, they picked up a book and read to themselves. Only then did I undertake to teach them phonics.

Joe read bedtime stories every night. As children were added to his audience, he read one story for each child. We used to tease him about getting taller: by the time Arif was in school, Joe was a ‘four story Papa.’

At a certain point, Joe switched to chapter books. His first venture was The Witch, the Lion, and the Wardrobe, first in C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series. Arif grew impatient with stopping at the end of each chapter, so picked up the book during the day to read on his own. He was seven at the time.

“So, do I need to skip ahead to where you read?” Papa inquired.

“No, it’s all right. I don’t mind hearing the story again.”

Arif decided, when he was eight years old, to read through the Bible. Several months later, he announced that he accomplished his goal.

When Arif was in fifth grade, I tired of fighting him to do writing assignments. So I hit upon the idea that he publish a newsletter. He loved telling stories and sharing what he knew about his faith.

For almost three years, he and his siblings put together “The Mustard Seed Press.” We built a subscription base of about a hundred and twenty five. The addresses on our list included not only people from thirty four states, but three foreign countries as well. One was a missionary in South America who visited our prayer group, read the Mustard Seed, and wanted to see more of it.

Our prayer group leaders, the Buttaccios, published a newsletter with a circulation of over two thousand. When they saw the first few issues of “The Mustard Seed Press,” they felt it would be a harmonious addition to their publication.

We received accolades from our subscribers. A number of people wrote to us requesting permission to use Arif’s writings in Sunday School classes.

The diocese of Knoxville planned a trip to Paris for World Youth Day. Those who were too young to go petitioned the bishop to make some concessions. The bishop organized a trip to Rome and Assisi for them. Arif was 13. His heart was set on going. We scraped, begged, and did fund raisers to make it possible.

The trip was all he hoped for and more. Arif admired St. Francis from the time he first heard of him. As it turned out, two weeks after the trip. Assisi was hit by a devastating earthquake which ravaged St. Francis’ church. Arif felt he was blessed to be there before the destruction.

On Wednesdays, the pope gives a general audience. He stands on a balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square. Pope John Paul II used these sessions to teach key concepts about the Bible and about the Christian life.

After the general audience, our bishop arranged for the youth to meet the pope on the steps of St. Peter’s Cathedral. The youngsters and their chaperones lined up for the greetings. The pope shook hands with each one of them.

Pope John Paul II gave Arif special attention by touching him on the cheek after the handshake.

At first we figured that he recognized Arif’s Polish heritage. Perhaps the holy man we called ‘Papa’ knew Arif would be in need of special graces.

I prayed again that each person who came into contact with Arif, in whatever lay ahead, be drawn closer to God. It was something I knew Arif would want as well.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Part 5: What's in a Name?

The Presentation in the Temple (the Fourth Joyful Mystery) leads us to think about the Holy Family fulfilling the Law of Moses, initiating their Child into their religious community:

On the eighth day of a child’s life, the Jews celebrate bestowing a carefully chosen name on the child. Joseph gives this Child the Name, Jesus, as the angel instructed him in a dream.

Forty days after a boy is born, the parents bring him to the temple, present him to the Lord, and redeem him by an offering – a picture of our infant baptism. When the Holy Family proceeds to fulfill this law, as many poor people do they present two turtle doves.

Two elderly people, Anna and Simeon, greet the Family. They joyfully offer confirmation of the mission of this Child. Simeon goes so far as to declare that the Boy’s mission will be a source of controversy. He also predicts deep sorrow for His mother.

The details of this story can be found in the middle of the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke.

As I think about St. Joseph bestowing the Name on his foster son, I remember how many times people questioned us about Arif’s name.

I need to take a few steps back before answering.

Arif’s father and grandfather share the name ‘Richard Joseph Marshall.’ Grandpa goes by ‘Dick.’ Papa is called by his middle name: ‘Joe.’ A family story tells that at some point, his parents gave their son the choice to be called ‘Dickie’ or ‘Joey,’ and he chose the latter.

As is often the case, we wanted our first born son to be named after his father. So that left us with the choice of putting a numeral after his name (III) or being more creative.

On the one hand, a numeral after a man’s name bears a sense of nobility. It gives a sense of a family legacy of success and elegance.

My oldest brother (may he rest in peace) carried the numeral III. It seems he bore it as a badge of the darker aspects of his heritage. Both Edward Radke I and II had background stories that would make you cry. Ed seemed to pick up not their strengths, but their weaknesses. He was often teased by being given the nickname ‘Da Turd.’

I had no intention of allowing my son even the possibility of being subjected to this sort of treatment. After all, his very existence was a miracle.

I grew up Catholic, and have always had a special place in my heart for St. Joseph. My godfather is named Joe as is another favorite uncle.

As Rachel from Genesis, I felt I was given a gift, ending my infertility. Granted, it came with much less pain and anguish than she experienced. A child would surely add to our joy (the Bible gives us the meaning in the story of Rachel's son). So, if our child was a boy, we would keep the name Joseph.

Joe, on the other hand, traveled far and wide in his spiritual journey: He was baptized in a Methodist church. In Junior High School, he experienced being ‘born again’ with his Baptist friends. The Lutheran church confirmed him.

Joe’s first love is music. It is the highest form of worship he encountered. So, in college, he joined a Sufi community. Their worship centers around music from a variety of musical traditions and borrows from all religions.

In the Sufi community, Joe was given the name ‘Arif.’ He was told that the name means: ‘the one who understands the deeper side of life.’ We have since confirmed that meaning with people from an Arabic background. We also found that it refers to a military leader. One man told us that an arif is the one a teacher chooses to lead and supervise his classmates.

Wow! That is a lot to fit into four letters! We liked the way it sounded.

When we met, half of the man's friends called him Joe, and the other half called him Arif. So we decided too keep both names – Joseph and Arif. The next question would be what order they would take. He would be called Arif either way.

Once the baby was born, Joe announced to his co-workers that he had a son. The name he announced was ‘Joseph Arif Marshall.’ So that is the name listed on all his official documents. He is called by his middle name and often signs ‘J. Arif Marshall.’ There is an air of nobility about using a first initial.

So he was Christened with a name which means: ‘the one who adds understanding to the deeper side of life.’ Joe often remarked that we are a lot smarter since he came along. Additionally, since his first name comes from the Hebrew, and his middle from Arabic, perhaps he is destined to be a peace maker.

Because of the diagnosis of endometriosis, and the doctor’s prognosis, Joe and I vowed our children dedicated to God’s service,

When he was four weeks old, we brought him to be baptized. It was also our first anniversary, so we also renewed our marriage vows.

As the children grew, we practiced an active prayer life. Each day we gathered to pray the Rosary. We took our time, telling the stories between the prayers and relating them to our daily life. The youngsters never seemed to notice – or care – how long it took.

When Arif was eight years old, the family traveled to Massachusetts to research the family history on my side of the family. My Uncle Joe’s wife, Ann, is a very faith filled woman. She advised us to visit a nearby shrine. The shrine promotes a devotion to the Divine Mercy. There, we learned prayers which led us to meditate on the abundant mercy of God. On the way home from Massachusetts, we were shown that the prayers carry great power. The devotion became a daily habit upon our return to Alabama. The growth in our family’s spiritual life seemed to hit warp speed with its practice.

I prayed that all those who encountered Arif throughout whatever happened would be drawn closer to God – that he would add to their understanding and foster a deeper faith.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Part 4: Birth Memories

Third, we joyfully meditate on Jesus’ birth – the Nativity: Because of a ruling from the government, each family is required to return to their ancestral home for a census. Joseph (and we presume Mary as St. Luke intimates) can trace lineage to King David as an ancestor. So they travel to the village of Bethlehem, where the great king was born.

The Holy Family’s journey to Bethlehem comes about at the very time when Jesus is due to be born. The crowds and their poverty result in Mary and Joseph finding lodging only in a stable – in a cave with animals all around. The Holy Child’s first bed is made of the hay meant for the animals to eat.

Although most people around pay little heed to His birth, those we would least expect come to honor Him: shepherds from the surrounding fields, and some mysterious visitors from eastern lands.

In the end, however, the Family is forced to flee to Egypt because King Herod wants Him dead.

Both St. Matthew and St. Luke weave the story of Jesus’ birth.

As I meditated on the birth of God’s son, I found myself thinking about our own eldest son’s arrival in the world.

Since I recently healed from the ravages of endometriosis, my health was at its best when I became pregnant. Further, our diet was still top notch. I sailed through my first pregnancy with very little difficulty beyond those which come from the drastic changes in the structure of a body over such a short time.

We knew we wanted our birth experience to be as natural as possible, given my hyper sensitivity to various chemicals. Our new baby deserved the best start we could offer, too.

I was delighted to find a doctor within walking distance of our apartment. The group he belonged to had a birthing room, which offered promise of minimal medical intervention, but proximity to medical facilities -- in case of an emergency.

Full of optimism, I strolled to the doctor’s office for my first prenatal visit.

First, the necessary tests confirmed the pregnancy.

The doctor’s examination was a bit disappointing, as he barely spoke to me, dictating notes to the attending nurse. Some of his observations seemed trivial and irrelevant.

His only direct interaction with me was to ask: “Any nausea or morning sickness?”

I responded that I felt wonderful. The only nausea I had occurred one day when we headed out to a retreat in Alabama right after work, without stopping for a meal. By the time the two hour drive was over, my stomach hit serious rebellion. Of course, it settled down quickly once we ate our dinner.

“Well,” the doctor replied, barely acknowledging my response. “Here’s a prescription for Bendectin, just in case. There is no reason to be uncomfortable if you don’t have to.”

The following day, the New Orleans Time-Picayune posted an article that Bendectin was under investigation due to its association with birth defects and neurological problems. Needless to say, I never filled the prescription.

Three weeks later, when I was preparing for my next appointment, I got a call informing me that this doctor was no longer with the practice and that I would have to go to their other office in Covington, a 45 minute drive from my home. Later, I found out that my doctor was dismissed for reasons related to alcoholism.

We decided we needed to investigate the whole range of birth alternatives. After a good deal of research into the range of options, home birth emerged as our favorite choice.

That was when we met Dee Ann Dominick, nurse-midwife.

Every three weeks, we spent what seemed like hours waiting to see the doctor, only to spend five minutes in the exam room.

One week, the doctor looked at my chart, found I had gained four pounds (never mind that I had lost five previous to the last visit) and declared that I was gaining too much weight. He advised me to go on a diet. End of exam.

On the other hand, our three week check ups with Dee Ann were filled with information and fellowship. We discussed the biology of pregnancy, nutritional issues, the ins and outs of herbs, family relationships, and on and on.

When I related the ‘weight’ incident to her, she picked up my boney left arm and declared that the man didn’t even look at me. We all had a good laugh.

She delivered our second child, Honnah, as well.

We became fast friends with Dee Ann and her family. Later, Dee Ann took one of my herb classes. Now, that class is listed on her vitae. She became an integral part of our family for the next three years, until we moved to Virginia.

My mother was so excited about the birth of her third grand-baby. She was not sure about this home birth stuff, so scheduled to arrive after the baby was born to help out (and, she declared, to make sure this one got spoiled right from the start).

Arif was due June first in 1983. It seemed like he waited for his grandmother to arrive. We went into labor ten minutes after she walked in the door – at ten o’clock on Sunday night, the sixth. Mom later declared that if she knew what home birth was like, she would have had all six or hers at home.

The labor progressed uneventfully. I actually slept between contractions through the night, waking to breathe through the working phases, then drifting back into a dream-filled haze. In the morning, however, things really picked up. Arif made his entrance to this world an hour before lunch. And he was certainly hungry. He was such an avid nurser, relatives worried that i would have to go to college with him. They wondered if it would be embarrassing for his room mate.

We had all five of our children at home – not in a stable in some far away city. Dee Anne and each subsequent midwife declared ours to be among the easiest births she attended.

Each time, the children were able to attend as much of the birth experience as they found comfortable. Mostly, they got bored and wandered off until after Baby was born and ready to be passed around. We felt the atmosphere of family unity surrounding each sibling’s birth helped to forge strong bonds between them.

I prayed that God would keep those bonds intact as we faced whatever was ahead.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Part 3: Caring Heart

The second joyful event for our meditation is called the Visitation: Since the Angel Gabriel tells Mary that her relative, Elizabeth, is to have her first baby in her old age, Mary quickly travels to help the elderly woman. It is a clear picture of Mary’s humility and confirmation of her nature as God’s servant. Surely, the angels’ message about Elizabeth was not only a way to confirm that his words were true, but a coaxing to provide an extra pair of hands in what must have been an exhausting time.

I imagine the rigors of traveling, on short notice, for a week or so when the Woman is first pregnant. Early pregnancy does take a toll on the body, even if a woman is healthy. I am sure the Blessed Mother maintains optimum health, as she undoubtedly follows the dietary laws prescribed in the Pentateuch.

Elizabeth – and her son at six months in utero – recognizes the newly conceived Savior. I always marvel here, about the interaction between the two unborn babies. Surely, life is precious from its first moments after conception until natural death.

Mary sings a song of joy about God’s favor shown to those we would least expect. God’s ways are surely not our ways. He always honors His promises, in His own perfect time.

The two women revel in their friendship and kinship for the next three months. The care that Mary undoubtedly gives to Elizabeth is freely given in love and joy.

You can find this story in the first chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel.

Throughout his life, Arif never knew a stranger. Always ready with a smile, he showered care and conversation on whomever he met. Everyone who knew him felt that he was their best friend. He was so full of life and love – so full of dreams and schemes and always ready to lend a helping hand, or an ear, to anyone in need. His prayer life was deep and rich with concern for those he knew were in need.

Over the past few months, Arif struggled with thoughts that others might think he had a superior attitude. He did not want them to think he felt he was smarter, stronger, or holier than anyone else. It caused him some deep agony. It was important to him that he be viewed as an equal by each person he encountered.

In the fall when he was 3 years old, my sister, Tina, called me in tears: She was pregnant with her first child. Her AFP test came back positive. The doctor told her she was going to have a child with spina bifida. She would have to go to Ft. Knox for further testing. Her concern that the testing might put the child in danger of miscarriage. Her doctor assured her that it was the least of her worries as she had a monster in there. He must have missed the class on bedside manner.

I assured her of our prayers. The test does not tell how much damage there may be. Spina bifida may present at a variety of levels. Tina, herself, has vertebrae missing at her tail bone. I also explained that the AFP test has a high rate of false positives. I stayed on the phone until she was more calm. With further assurance that we would pray for her and her baby, I hung up the phone.

As soon as I hung up, I called Arif from the other room. We spent a few minutes in prayer. Then I asked Arif for his reaction. He looked at me with shining eyes, explaining that when he had his eyes closed during the prayer, he saw a beautiful little girl with golden hair. He described her singing and dancing. She was happy and healthy.

A few days later, Tina called back saying that she was informed that the lab put the decimal in the wrong place. Her test was negative. We felt that God moved that decimal point for her.

The next May, Tina gave birth to a beautiful baby girl with golden hair. Heather loved music. She had a beautiful singing voice and loved to dance.

My mother (who was also named Elizabeth) lived with Congestive Heart Disease for five years. Although she had only eight percent of her heart function, she lived an active life: keeping up with her six grown offspring, running the family business, and working in her garden.

From time to time, however, she hit a crisis point. Several times each year, we traveled from Louisiana to Florida to help take care of my mother when she was so sick. Arif always found a way to bring a smile to her face. He told jokes, did magic tricks, made origami creations, or got his sister and brothers together to do skits or puppet shows.

Mom died when Arif was 8 years old. Arif and I both knew the moment she died.

When she was in ICU during her last few weeks, We faced issues about the appropriate use of life support.

I prayed we would not need to make any hard decisions about life support for Arif. These issues were also raised before my grandfather died during my freshman year at college.

How I wished Mom could be here to help and comfort us, now. I knew that she would be Johnny-on-the-spot to hop in her car and run right out to Missouri to take care of kiddos or whatever needs we might have while Arif was in the hospital. Who knows, she might even pitch in and milk goats.

Yet, I drew some comfort as I realized that she knew of the predicament and offered her prayers for us from her heavenly home.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Part 2: The Great Physician

In the first joyful mystery we ponder the events of the Annunciation. The Angel Gabriel tells Mary that she has been chosen to be the mother of God’s own Son. The angel speaks of the glorious heritage of the Child, as a descendant of King David. He tells her of His ever lasting reign.

Mary does not scoff. She questions only the practical issues – how she will conceive a child while she is a virgin and has vowed to remain so. She is told that God’s mighty power, through the Holy Spirit, will bring it about without the loss of her virginity. The Child’s miraculous conception assures us that He is not the product of human desire, but of divine intervention. Nothing is impossible with God.

The angel gives her further example of God’s power in the news that, Elizabeth, an elderly relative beyond her childbearing years, is six months pregnant.

Mary consents to this mission with a humble “Fiat.” – saying: “I am God’s handmaid. Let it be done as my Lord asks.”

Mary trusted that God would work out the issues. She gave her consent knowing that an unmarried woman found with child could be stoned. Joseph, the man to whom she was engaged was a pure and holy man, who would know the Child was not his. He certainly found himself in a quandary, until God made known to him his part in the plan of salvation.

Read the details in the first chapter of the Gospel written by St. Luke

I do not even pretend to be a pure and holy as Mary, nor as ready to do what God asks of me. In meditation of this event in the life of our Savior, I found myself pondering the circumstances leading up to the birth of our first child: Arif:

“Bottom line,” the doctor said, “the best treatment for endometriosis is to get pregnant. But with the diseased tissues, it will be difficult, if not impossible to conceive. When and if you do, however, there is a good chance you will miscarry.”

The doctor, a specialist in gynecological complications who came highly recommended, offered three alternative solutions:

A hysterectomy would essentially remove the problem tissues. But the wise doctor felt that would be too radical for a woman in her mid-twenties. I have always been extremely sensitive to medications, so surgery posed some greater risk.

He did recommend some exploratory surgery. I submitted. Instead of an hour in recovery, as was typical, I spent four hours in recovery, then got sick on the way home. During our post-op consultation, he confirmed the diagnosis of endometriosis.

Another common treatment was to administer male hormones to overwhelm the production of female hormones, thus shrinking the displaced tissues. The side effects of hormone treatment are daunting – even dangerous, according to this doctor.

We opted for treating the pain as I had for the past twelve years. The Motrin I took caused a severe reaction. When I called the doctor about my symptoms, he took me off the Motrin immediately. He said it had already caused damage to my liver. He also recommended that I not take Motrin ever again.

Aspirin made me sick to my stomach. Tylenol didn’t even touch it. When I was a teen, my doctor prescribed Percodan. I still had severe pain, but it provided bizarre hallucinations. Back to chamomile tea or skullcap, the best relief I found through the years. Only a hot bath followed by a heating pad and my herbs made any difference.

I once noted to an older relative that the cramps were like having a baby. She declared that could not possibly be true. I later found out that labor was indeed less painful, not to mention shorter in duration.

Eight months before our impending marriage, endometriosis was not good news. Both of us loved children. We were looking forward to starting our own family.

“Then, I can not marry you.” Joe said. “I always planned to have my own children.”

“What about adoption?” I replied.

“No, I want to raise my own children. Let’s just enjoy this relationship while we have it. I can’t promise you ‘ever after’ but I can promise you ‘happily.’”

However, our bond was forged from above. The power of the Holy Spirit goes beyond that of human preconceptions. Over the next few months, it became more and more obvious that our union was meant to be.

A few months later, when I worked at a therapeutic massage center, we met a naturopathic doctor. She put me on a deep cleansing and rebuilding program for six months to get to the root of the problem. In the process of carrying out this plan, I found a return to health in many other areas as well.

I had a background in natural healing, starting with my grandfather. Now I realized that I needed to return to it in earnest.

My last painful period was the day before my wedding. What an ordeal! But it did not ruin the honeymoon, or any other encounters that we had.

Each time we celebrated our marriage, we prayed that if it be God’s will that we have a child, we would dedicate that child to God’s service.

Eight weeks into our marriage, we received a positive pregnancy test.

What joy we had when we found out we were pregnant! The joy was not even dampened by relatives heartily declaring that it was too soon to bring a child into our relationship. They declared that we needed to spend a couple of years getting to know each other better, first.

We responded that only God can create life and He does not create without rhyme or reason. So, who are we to tell Him how to do His work?

Around that same time, I had the most wonderful dream of baby hands scooping away the damaged tissue. Joe always says that Arif opened the flood gates. We now have five wonderful children with us and several more in heaven waiting and praying for us.

As he grew, we often told Arif – and pretty much anyone who cared to listen – of his miraculous conception and of the promise we made on his behalf.

Several years later, when I consulted a doctor after the conception of our fifth child (two of whom miscarried at six and eight weeks), he declared that the diagnosis must have been wrong (imagine that: a specialist in the condition mis-diagnosed me). He declared I never had endometriosis at all. I am glad I put my trust in the Great Physician, Who knows my history and my needs in greater depth than any other.

I prayed that the Great Physician take up Arif's case once again.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Chapter 2: Is This Car Moving?, Part 1: Getting There

I am no stranger to traveling. Planes, trains, boats, buses, or cars took me to many parts of the globe. My family, both growing up and after my marriage, moved several dozen times. During a certain move, I rode in a bus for days, with all my possessions in just two suitcases, not counting the guitar, of course. Another move was similar, except on airplanes. On one of those flights, I was the only passenger. I have even been halfway around the world, as I spent one summer studying and adventuring in Europe.

Still, this was the longest ride of my life. It seemed that the road hardly passed beneath the tires. Although it was a mere 40 miles away from Anderson, in the previous five years we made the trip to Joplin only a handful of times. Little did Honnah and I know how familiar this stretch of road would become.

We had no idea what was coming next. Only one way presented itself to cope with the endless journey. We fell back on the habits of faith and prayer that we developed through our family’s life. I don’t even want to imagine what torture it might be without some sort of belief that good can come from whatever happens in one’s life.

Our habits played out along that interminable leg. Honnah and I found ourselves relying on an old friend. We prayed the Rosary.

Far from being empty repetition, the prayers accompany meditations on events in Jesus’ life and how those events relate to our own life’s journey. Repeating the well known prayers – taken from the Bible – provided background music to wide ranging thoughts, bringing a sense of grounding and calming our frazzled nerves. Heartily entering into the meditations bears much fruit, bringing comfort for the situations in which we find ourselves.

We know that our God is no stranger to the trials and tribulations with which we find ourselves confronted. Further consolation comes from seeing these events through the eyes of the one who loved Jesus the most – his mother. We remember that another famliy suffered trials and tragedy through what happened to her Son. Mary provides for us a model of faith and an empathetic ally through our difficulties. We realize that even those closest to Christ on earth were not spared pain and sorrow for which they could see no rhyme or reason. They met these events with faith and humility, allowing God’s power to shine through for the benefit of all mankind.

The first five meditations, called the Joyful Mysteries, re-tell the incidents in Jesus’ early life that we find in the Bible, mostly in the Gospel of Luke. While each was indeed an occasion of joy, they were fraught with difficult circumstances as well. This line of thinking helped us to recall God’s merciful intervention in Arif’s younger days.

Following these, we enter into the Sorrowful Mysteries. The stories span all four Gospels, informing us of the Lord’s Passion and death. We are reminded of His redemptive Love for each of us. Beyond that, we can join our suffering with His, to know that there is a higher purpose for even the most tragic of circumstances.

Finally, we meditate on the glorious Mysteries, found in the Gospels, in the Acts of the Apostles, and in the Book of Revelation. These mysteries give us hope that this world of woe is not all there is. God has a plan for each of us and for the world. His deepest desire is that we spend all of eternity with Him in unending joy. In the end, His victory over all evil and tragedy is assured. Our part in it is to grow closer to Him each day: to know Him and see His hand in all that happens and all that is around us; to love Him with all our hearts, minds, and strength, knowing that He will not allow anything to happen to us that is not for our greater good and to trust that He will not give us more than we can handle with His grace; to serve Him and to offer all that we think, say, and do for the good of our souls and of those around us.

Our meditations on these mysteries ranged far and wide. It is amazing how many thoughts crowded into the space of each decade – each cycle of prayers.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Part 2: Preparations

After Joe called home, preparations began to get Mom to the hospital.

Honnah, our only daughter, woke up about this time, wondering what was going on. I recounted the call from her father. She grabbed something to eat along the way and headed for the creek to get the boys.

For a few precious moments, David and I cuddled on the couch. I hugged him and rocked him. His 3 year old innocence inspired me to form a plan. Little did I know that this precious little one would become my lifeline.

I was scheduled to go to a Catholic Women’s Council conference in eastern Missouri as the recently elected president of the women’s group at our church. Earlier that spring, our pastor, Fr. Roger, and I sat down and made some terrific short and long range plans for the group. It was necessary to go to this conference to get ideas about carrying them out and for the fellowship of other women in similar positions in other parishes.

Somehow though, over the last few days, I found myself reluctant to get ready for the conference. Something did not seem right about the trip.

In addition, during the previous week I felt somewhat tense whenever Arif and I went somewhere. He was generally a good driver, so it was nothing about the driving, just an uneasy feeling. The Friday before, on the way to a home school group gathering, while we sat in a traffic jam with a number of big trucks. I got a bad case of the willies, for no apparent reason.

Now, I needed to call the church and tell Sister Ayleson that I would not be able to go to Cape Girardeau until I found out what the story was with my son.

I picked up the phone in a daze. I miss-dialed: 4 - 7 - 5 - 3 - 1 - 5 - 3. The church phone was: 475-3144. My fingers must have been on auto-dial. I reached the treasurer of our home school group, and a dear friend, Jo.

“You’re not Sister Ayleson.” I astutely observed.

“Not last time I checked.” Jo responded. “You sound upset. What’s wrong.”

I told her about Joe’s call.

“That’s terrible. Is there anything I can do?”

“As long as I have you on the phone, we need prayer for the situation. Would you please initiate the prayer chain for the home school group and let them know.”

“You got it. No problem. Is there anything else that I can do?”

“Well ... now that I’m thinking about it ... could you watch the boys for a few hours ... while I find out what’s going on?”

“Not a problem. When do you want me there?”

“As soon as you can get here. Steve and Micah are down at the creek fishing. I sent Honnah down after them.... And we will leave for the hospital as soon as you get here.”

“I’ll be there in 15 minutes. Let me get the prayer chain started.”

Thank God for good friends! I knew the boys would be in good, loving hands. Little did we know that those few hours would last all weekend until my mother-in-law arrived.

Many of our home school group members participate in other support groups besides ours. As the story continued to unfold, they connected with those groups with our prayer request.

Several husbands in the group also pastor churches. They contacted other pastors throughout the county.

Soon, a vast blanket of prayer started forming.

Now it was time to call Sister Ayleson. But the line was busy. So, I took a little more time to call some other people and inform them of our need for prayer.

First call was Bernadette, a shut-in and another close friend. I knew I could always count on her powerful prayers. She offered to call the priests, Fr. Roger and Fr. Joseph. The thought had not crossed my mind.. I gave her the go ahead. She also decided to call a number of prayer ministries she knew.

Next, I called Rosie, my best friend for years and years. Our children grew up together when we lived in Mobile. She loves Arif like her own son. I knew she would want to know. Her family’s prayers carry much power as well.

Rosie offered to call her home school group’s prayer chain. As it turns out, some of those members also had connections with other home school communities. I often gratefully wonder just how much of the home school community throughout the country supported us with their prayers.

Rosie and I prayed together on the phone. At that point, I began losing my concentration and things started to become a blur. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I felt comforted by her words and her loving attention.

Finally I got through to Sister Ayleson. Certainly, there was no question of my need to stay home from the conference. She, of course, also had words of comfort and promises of prayers – the whole congregation would pray for him.

In our small church, everyone knew and loved Arif. His knowledge and the depth of his faith made an impact on all -- from the elders, to the youth group. Three years ago, he made his Confirmation with several other teens. He sparked lively discussions in his religion classes. The youth group counted him as a vital member, although less so since he started attending Crowder. He frequently served at Mass with a reverence that drew everyone into the heart of worship. Yet, his sense of fun delighted – and sometimes startled – many of his associates.

Jo arrived just as the boys came in from the creek. She loaned me her cell phone with a few hurried instructions on how to handle this new-fangled thing. She thought it would come in handy to keep in touch with those at home.

A quick explanation was given to the boys about the crisis, and we went our separate ways, the whole family in shock. Later I was told that Micah cried off and on all day.

It would be days before I could bring myself to cry. However, there is still probably a wet spot on the carpet in St. John’s hospital chapel.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Chapter 1 Into the Tunnel, Part 1: Eclipse

On a picture perfect Thursday morning one April, all of our lives were changed forever.

April 18, 2002 dawned bright and clear. It was the ideal spring day.

The merest hint of a breeze played with your hair. You couldn’t ask for a more pleasant temperature. The sky was that rare sapphire blue you only see in early spring: just blue, no hint of red or green hues.

The animals in the newly greened pasture lined up at the gate, ready for the day’s routine.

Life was beautiful and full of promise.

Our oldest son, Arif, awaited graduation from Crowder College in the next few weeks. In fact, the next day he was scheduled to test out of the psychology class he lacked for humanities credit.

Shortly after graduation, we planned to celebrate Arif’s nineteenth birthday.

The local community college was a great experience for him. He made numerous friends, as he easily did throughout his life. Among them numbered not only students, but faculty as well.

Arif never met a stranger. Everyone who met him felt the warmth of his care and concern for them. He touched many lives. Each was enhanced by his influence. His fondest desire was to make a difference in the world. To all observing, it looked like he was on target with his aspirations.

Growing up, Arif always held a broad fascination with science. He was captivated with how things work. From the time he was three, we rarely missed science shows on Public Television. Since we home school, we spent considerable time, beyond the three R’s, on the wonders of God’s creation. Some project or experiment in progress often occupied considerable space in the house.

He took an avid interest of Mom’s use of natural healing. He offered suggestions of his own remedies if a situation presented itself.

When Pop brought a computer project home, Arif showed up. He liked to be right in the middle of things, asking questions and helping out where he could.

As a teen, he took over many a project. He finished it’s construction, installed software, delivered it, and provided training to the owners. People were pleased with the work he did and how clear and personal he made his training.

In high school, he began building small robots and looking into alternative energy. At Crowder, he considered getting involved with the solar power project.

The English department became the source of his favorite classes as his time at Crowder advanced. After years and years of responding "Do I have to?" whenever he was given a writing assignment, he found that, after all, he really loved writing. Transforming words and ideas into compositions delighted him.

Arif reveled in giving creative presentations in his speech classes. Many times he dressed up for them or brought ingenious visual aids. His professors enjoyed his work and looked forward to what he handed in. They proclaimed that he wrote much as he spoke, using clever puns and turning phrases in delicious ways.

As he looked at career choices, he was torn: Should he go into a technical area of engineering? Would it be more satisfying to dedicate his life to this newly-found love of writing?

Always the diplomat and master of compromise, he decided the best choice would be to combine them. He planned to double major in Engineering and English Perhaps he could teach at the college level. Imagine training engineers to speak and write – to communicate in English!

He found balance for his intellectual pursuits in activity. Athletics gave expression to his competitive spirit, especially on an individual level. He enjoyed a weight training class at Crowder, finding that years of work on the farm left him quite physically fit.

A few short months ago, he took up the age-old sport of fencing with the encouragement of a long time family friend, Chris. Arif’s instructors and Chris were pleased with his progress and skill.

In a week and a half, Arif was slated for his first fencing tournament. He looked forward to it with growing excitement. He knew he was up against many seasoned fencers and welcomed the chance to learn from them, even if it meant his defeat in some contests. Arif did not fear losing. He found, in his years of chess playing, that he often learned a great deal from observing the tactics of his superiors.

Next year held new adventures. He looked forward to moving on, with a full scholarship for the University of Missouri at Rolla. The university is one of the top engineering schools in the country. Home schoolers often took on mentoring roles with other students on campus. The administration was delighted to have another potential leader on campus.

The English department welcomed him with open arms. The chair, an expert in Shakespear, was impressed with Arif’s depth of knowledge of the Bard.

Today, however, there was more pressing business. He had a research paper due in his English Composition class. He chose to write on 'The Craft of Writing.' He particularly wanted to do a good job, to make the piece an example of its subject.

Excited about the topic, Airf discussed his finished project with his father the night before it was due. In the discussion they came up with a few ideas and some clever puns, so he undertook to put them into the paper.

As is often the case, when you fix something in one place, it looks broken somewhere else. So, Arif fiddled with the paper.

Next thing he knew, the sun was up and it was time to go to school to deliver his masterpiece. Maybe he was a little tired, but he was young and he could handle it....

Micah and Steven, the middle children, emerged with fishing gear as Arif prepared to head out. They decided it would be a good day to go fishing at Indian Creek, bordering our property on the east. Arif, wishing them good angling, prepared to head out the front door for school.

I bid him a fond farewell.

So we each headed out in different directions. As I went out the back door to milk our goats, I noticed that he posted a quote form Hilaire Belloc on the fridge:

The goats were in good form. They willingly hopped up on the milking stand and munched contentedly while I milked. I sang and prayed my way through the morning chores. Plenty of milk flowed easily into my pail. I couldn’t wait to check on the babies and bring them back to their mothers.

While I was milking, I suddenly noticed a large black shadow in the lower right corner of my visual field. Blinking made no difference. I wiped my right eye with the back of my hand and then with a fresh soapy wash cloth. Nothing I did would get it to go away.

I have been warned from the time I was twelve to watch for signs of retinal detachment – dark spots are one of the signs. This meant a call to the eye doctor later. Then again, it wasn’t like the symptoms I was directed to look for. It was more like a shadow, I could still see through it.

Sometimes, I have trouble getting down to prayer when I am called to it.

Nonetheless, after letting the baby goats into the pasture with the rest of the herd, I came in from the barn filled with the beauty of the season.

My husband, Joe, found some difficulty enjoying the beauty of the day. The world had turned so watery and foggy that it was hard to see clearly enough to drive.

In Goodman, a police officer talked with Joe about what they knew. He offered to escort Joe to Joplin. Joe thanked him, but turned him down.

On his way, he stopped in Neosho to find the nearest pay phone and called home.

David, our youngest, woke up as I came in. I fixed him some breakfast. Then I filtered the milk and put it away. As I wondered how the fishing was going, the phone rang....

"Good morning." I sang.

"It's not a good morning!" came the reply. "Arif was in a car accident.... I just saw the car.... I can’t imagine how anything alive ... could have come out of it. I am headed for ... St. John’s hospital ... to find out what the story is.... Have Honnah ... bring you to Joplin.... I will meet you there."

I hung up the phone.

Suddenly, It made no difference that the warm sun was shining brightly in the living room windows. Everything went dark. I went numb.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Miracle Boy Song

Came a call this morning:
a parent’s worst nightmare come true.
“No, it’s not a good day.”
So we rush to be at his side
we call on Your mercy
asking only “Your will be done.”
Now, our child lies so still.
We watch our lives turned inside out.

Still You hold us near.
Your heart enfolds all our lives.
When we cry “Abba!”
Your love shows through everything.

Days and weeks of waiting:
his life hangs by less than a thread.
You give him all the best.
You promised we’d have all we need.
We watch the monitors--
try to make the best decisions.
You take the hardest ones
We cling to You as best we can.


You send us Your comfort:
Prayers come from all over the world.
Hear: “Can I pray with you?”
His short life touched many others.
Still he shows You to all.
And we marvel at Your power
to meet not just our needs,
but those of all who brush our lives.


His Recov’ry comes slow.
Days and weeks flow into long years.
We use the gifts You give
and struggle to keep our focus.
The love we hold for You
carries us when we’re discouraged.
We thank You for his life
And now wonder what You have planned.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

A New Start -- The Story's Own Place

I write the story of my eldest son's car accident. It is a story of miracles. It is a story of trials. It is a long story which may not find its conclusion until one of us comes to our end.

Until now, the story has been on my Xanga blog, mixed in with any number of other writings. For those who have followed my ups and downs in the struggle to put our experiences on pixels, it must be somewhat frustrating.

So, I am providing the story with its very own space. The completed parts will migrate here and each new section will post here at its completion.

Until the migration is complete, follow these links to read it:

Song: Miracle Boy

Chapter One -- Into the Tunnel
Part 1 -- Eclipse
Part 2 -- Preparation

Chapter Two -- Getting There
Part 1 -- Is This Car Moving?
Part 2 -- The Great Physician
Part 3 -- Care for Everyone
Part 4 -- Birth Memories
Part 5 -- What's in a Name?
Part 6 -- Wisdom Beyond His Years
Part 7 -- A Message

Chapter Three -- Finding Out
Part 1 -- Extent of the Damage
Part 2 -- Our New Home
Part 3 -- Last box of Toothpicks
Part 4 -- Dispatch Scramble
Part 5 -- Jigsaw Puzzle

Chapter Four -- Weekend of Waiting
Part 1 -- Good News and Bad News
Part 2 -- Blanket of Prayer
Part 3 -- Spike!
Part 4 -- Hospitality

Chapter Five -- A Little Hope?
Part 1 -- Numbers and More Numbers
Part 2 -- Sacrifice of Praise

We invite you to pray with us for Arif's healing.

I also entered a contest with this video.

After talking with Steve, I fiddled with the video some. This is the result. Which do you like better?