But like the vast majority of pregnant mothers, I'd assume, I treasure these trivial pains. They make visible (or physical) the once invisible reality of the miracle the Lord worked through my marriage: the creation of new life.
Spring brought both new life and an end to life for my family this year. While our family's first grandchild was born in February, the last remaining elderly family member on my Mom's side of the family passed away in April. Never before had we, as a family, experienced an end and a beginning so close together.
Little Lulu's birth came with a tidal wave of rejoicing. The result of a few years' worth of steady rosaries, novenas and some serious entreaties to St. Joseph and the Holy Family produced a little girl as beautiful and charming as the day is long. The fact that she's been outside the womb and kicking now for about three months has done little to damper our amazement when looking at this little person: You're here! You're perfect! You are answered prayer!
And with similar fervor in prayer, (Great) Aunt Rita passed away in the midst of a steady flow of petitions to St. Joseph, only this time for a happy death. The second youngest of nine from a devotedly Catholic and thoroughly Polish family in Omaha, Nebraska, Aunt Rita lived to the ripe old age of 92... and then kept living, past 93, 94 and 95, on through 96, passing away at 97. She not only outlived all of her siblings, but she lived longer than any of them. She never wanted to get old. In some ways, she never did, as seen in the great fear she had of death, right up until an angelic someone (St. Joe? One of her siblings?) came to take her toward it, and she resisted.
Her two wonderful caregivers would tell my Mom (arguably her third caregiver and undoubtedly the person most responsible for her care, well-being and safety for the duration of her senescence) that in the final week of her life, when her body had finally given up on her and her vision and appetite had completely failed, they would hear her crying out at night: "No! I'm not going, I don't want to die! No!" Even at death's door, Aunt Rita was remiss about joining the party on the "other side." For a woman who espoused her own great love for the saints, Our Lady, the Sacred Heart and the Church itself for her whole life, she found joining the Communion of Saints a frightening prospect.
But, when she did pass, Mom found the sweetest expression of calm and rest on her face. When Aunt Rita accepted death, she probably found things not as bad as she expected (or feared).
All this brings me to (what else!) a thought that struck me during Mass last week. Kneeling (or half-kneeling, as this tummy-area protrusion limits many positions these days) during the consecration, five words hit me hard:
"... a death he freely accepted..."
Pause. A thousand times I have heard or read Philippians 2:5-11, a thousand times have I imagined the Passion of Christ, and probably a few hundred times have I received the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus on my tongue.
But this time, I'm struck by the fact that Christ accepted death. He accepted it freely.
He wasn't freely accepting his day going poorly, his fellow drivers on the road being inconsiderate, or his stomach being just a titch hungry before lunch. No, he freely accepted the cruelest, most painful death possible, either then or now.
Oh dearest Lord Jesus: You set the bar pretty high for me, again.
As Christians, we are called to freely accept the will of the Lord in our lives, especially when it comes to our death. The holy martyrs would be quick to remind us of that. And as married people, we take the vow to "accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church"--another promise of acceptance and resignation to the Holy Will.
With either the blessing of bearing children or the call to return home to our Father, freely accepting the Lord's will is easily the clearest and yet most challenging aspect of Christian life. To put it mildly, it's difficult work, birthing a baby. It's harder work still, I imagine, surrendering to natural death. Both my sister and Aunt Rita, though, came to freely accept the challenge before them. And each has experienced the greatest joy yet for their souls.
Freely accepting whatever comes our way in the delivery room will soon be the challenge for my husband and me. Freely accepting everything else the Lord puts on my plate until that time will surely occupy me until then.
So, as we pray for the mercy of God to grant peace to Aunt Rita and the faithful departed, may we, the living, also ask for grace and mercy to freely accept His will in our lives as the chapters continue to unfold. Amen!