Sunday, September 30, 2012

Rejoicing with friends

I don't know if you remember, but several months ago I mentioned a friend of mine and his wife who were fostering a little boy. They had struggled with fertility, as my friend's wife was born with Turner's Syndrome and couldn't have children.

One previous foster situation, with two little girls, didn't work out. But when a little boy with strawberry blond hair was placed with them, Joe and Mary immediately fell in love. The boy's birth mother was addicted to drugs, and his biological father was in jail. He was just shy of a year old, and despite their trying to discourage it (because they didn't know how long they would have him), he took to calling them mommy and daddy.

Both attorneys, they knew the system, but that didn't stop them from being frustrated at delays and the repeated rescheduling of hearings. When the boy's birth mom left the state in June (something tantamount to abandonment), they knew they were close. Still, they had the termination of parental rights hearing to get through, and then an appeal period of nearly a month to endure. With only a week left until the appeal period was over, they found out the boy's biological father was out of jail on parole. Would he try and contest their petition to adopt? For days they lived a knife's point, praying. Messages were sent asking for more prayers, and saints were invoked.

Well last week, their dream of becoming parents finally came true, as they officially (legally, at least, as they'd been a family in their hearts for well over a year) adopted their son, Elijah. The minute they could finally do so, they flooded Facebook with pictures of Elijah they'd been hoarding for just such an occasion. The very first photo Joe posted, in fact, came with the caption "Behold my SON, with whom I am well pleased."

Immediately, there was an outpouring of congratulations. Although we didn't live it first-hand, so many of us as friends prayed with them and for them, talked them through daily struggles, and encouraged them that this day would come. I cried several times for the sheer joy of it, rejoicing that their patience had been rewarded. I wasn't the only one, with even other men admitting to wiping away tears in their offices, posting the most heartfelt messages of thanksgiving.

I have been reading, and just finished, the Venerable Fulton Sheen's book "Way of Contentment," and toward the end of the book, came across this quote:

"Every man rejoices when he has a partner in his joy.
He who shares tears with us wipes them away.
He divides them in two, and he who laughs with us makes the joy double.
Two torches do not divide, but increase the flame.
Tears are more quickly dried up when they run on a friend's cheek in furrows of compassion."

It made me think of the hundreds of their friends and family members who had shared in this family's happiness. Their love and joy was multiplied a hundred, even a thousand fold. There are no two parents more deserving of this blessing.

Joe has told me he's still a little bit in shock. There are so many things they can do now: take a family vacation without having to file and carry paperwork giving them permission to cross state lines; have a date night where they can leave Elijah with a trusted friend, not someone who's undergone a rigid background check; discipline him (within reason), whereas before they couldn't, as he wasn't theirs; have to have a Children's Services worker come inspect their home.

And now this little boy is part of my life forever, too. On Saturday, I had the honor of becoming his godmother. He is my fifth godchild, my second godson. Elijah is 2 and all boy. He loves fire trucks and dogs, cartoons, drums and books. He has made complete the family of my friend and his wife.

I have been around for so many of my friend's pregnancies, and they are all special, all gifts from above. Somehow, though, this particular child seems more so because, the funny thing is, even though he's adopted, Elijah seems to look like both his parents. He makes the same goofy faces as Joe, and has a similarly shaped face to Mary. He really was meant to be theirs.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Never doubt God's sense of humor

Have you ever met a man you swore up and down was God's plan for you?

When I was a junior in college, I developed a hard and fast crush on this guy I will call Diego. He was the brother of a friend of mine and had come up for the weekend from one of the other state colleges to attend the Catholic campus ministry group's spring retreat. He was just beautiful: tall with dark, longish hair, brown eyes, glasses, great smile, with a little bit of a Hispanic accent (his family was from Miami), funny, smart (he was working on his computer engineering degree), athletic (he played soccer) and a Godly man to boot (he was helping run his campus' Catholic student organization). We hit it off pretty quickly after being introduced, getting into a conversation in the church parking lot about shared musical preferences while eating a pizza dinner before piling into cars for the trip to the retreat center.

Since I was on the retreat team, helping run a small group and involved in several skits, it was a busy weekend for me. But I we managed to hang out a little bit over the course of those few days. On Sunday, with the retreat at an end, we exchanged email addresses and took a photo together, his arm around my shoulders (oh, how giddy I was about that! Plus, this was 1999, ladies, so I had finish off that roll of film and send it away to be developed. Oh, the anticipation waiting for it to come back--would it be blurry? would my eyes be closed? -- was hard!).

Back from that weekend, I waited a few days to send him an email, just a "hey, it was great to meet you on the retreat! Hope you're having a blessed week" sort of thing. I'm sure I squealed when I saw his name pop into my inbox a day or so later.We began email back and forth -- at least once a week, but sometimes more -- discussing various classes, our family backgrounds and having spiritual conversations. Goofy girl that I was, I printed out all his emails (they are probably languishing in a box of old college papers somewhere...unless I tossed them. I actually can't remember!). I was completely enamored with him, teasing him about something silly he'd done and then told me about. We prayed for each others intentions. 

Then, his emails became slightly more infrequent. I figured he was busy studying. When they stopped altogether, I was stumped. Had I said something? Done something? I poured over every detail of conversations I could remember, filled journal pages with speculations and discussed it ad nauseam with several girlfriends, parsing every word of his emails to see if there was some sort of hidden meaning.

That summer, I lived in community with six other women. Over the course of the summer, I came to find out, through one of them who was dating a roommate of Diego's brother, that Diego had decided he was called to the priesthood. Well no wonder I hadn't heard from him! I spent much time wondering why he hadn't at least told me himself.

The summer passed, and it was fall semester of my senior year. I still thought about Diego a lot. It was hard not to, with his brother in my same circle of friends, and they strongly resembled each other. One day, a friend called me and said "Hey, your man is back in town." "Who?" "Diego." "He's not my man," I protested, but inwardly I was suddenly high as a kite. He was at our spirit night that Wednesday and he gave me this huge hug, in fact he practically lifted me off the ground. He seemed nervous around me, though, and when I asked a friend why, she said maybe he didn't trust himself with me. It was a thought I'd never had before, that I was somehow that enticing to a man. I remember writing in my journal how even though I knew he would make a good husband and father, I suppose I couldn't win if he was following God's calling.

Still, in my heart, I didn't think he would become a priest. I clung to a courtship story told by an older (who at the time where, gasp! in their 30s!) married couple with several children who spoke to our student group on vocations night: they had been friends for years, she was in love with him, but he was in seminary and she didn't give anything away because she didn't want to be known as a VC: a "vocation crisis" (as such women were quasi-jokingly called in our circle by the monsignor in charge of diocesan vocations). Finally, he was thisclose to making his priestly vows when he realized he was called to marriage with her. I even (embarrassingly. I cringe even now to think about how idiotic I was to do this) wrote an essay for my article and essay class that semester called "On Reading a Romance" about interpreting literature (I made a number of Jane Austen references) and also about how I was convinced that despite his current longing for God, Diego was really called to be my husband.

To shorten what has become an already overly long story, time passed. I graduated from college and moved onto grad school. Then one day, out of the blue, I got an instant message from Diego. The sight of his name on my screen could still give me flutters, even though time had gone by. Those flutters only increased when I asked him about his priestly studies and he told me he was no longer in seminary! Could it be? Was he finally going to tell me he couldn't stop thinking about me?!

Wow, I must have thought a lot of myself. But God put me in my place pretty quickly. Sure, he was out of seminary, but after exchanging a few other pleasantries and discussing mutual friends, he asked me for some advice. See, there was this girl he wanted to ask out and... I just burst out laughing. I remember looking heavenward and saying out loud, "Ok, Lord, I get it."

We kept in touch for a bit longer, as friends. Last I heard, he was happily married. I am still single, and that's ok. At one point, I found those emails he'd written me, and when I counted, there were only 24 of them! I'd had an extended crush (and we're talking something like two years, here) on a man who I'd seen in person only twice and who had sent me exactly 24 emails. Looking back on it now, it almost seems idolatry, the amount of attention I gave this man, the daydreaming I did and time I spent imagining conversations we'd was mostly a fiction, when it comes down to it. My, the flying leaps a woman's heart and head can make!

I still, because I'm a girl and this is how our minds work, occasionally find myself drifting down those imaginary primrose paths sometimes when I have a crush, but I try and keep this situation with Diego in the back of my mind when I find my brain jumping too far ahead. It reminds me that God's will is not anything like mine (Hallelujah for that!), and that the Lord has an exceptional sense of humor. I was right, after all. Diego didn't become a priest and is now a husband. He just wasn't mean to be mine. :-)

Sometimes I feel like I fail my faith by failing to defend it's tenets.

Recently in my office, one of my coworkers comments on political ad on the TV in the newsroom, an anti-Mitt Romney commercial with women talking about his anti-abortion plans. The conversation between several of my fellow workers turned to Roe v. Wade and how it would be ridiculous in this day and age to even try to reverse it. The coworker who was the primary conversationalist said "It's about control." In the past, she has spoken with fervor in favor of Planned Parenthood and their services and how much good they do by providing gynecological care for those who otherwise couldn't afford it; never mind the lives they've taken through abortion.

She's also Catholic, and will be the first to claim it when a question about Catholic practices comes up in the office. Although she now covers city government, she started her journalism career as a sports writer (not so common in the 70s) and is an ardent feminist. She always has to have the last word.

I never argue with her, even though I feel like I should because, when it comes to Church teachings, she's wrong. Almost the time, she's wrong, and she's giving other coworkers false information and a bad example of how faithful Catholics live. Still, I don't feel like I'd be able to win an argument effectively, so I say nothing. I know what I believe, and am passionate about living it, but despite my father being a retired attorney and a champion at persuasive arguments, it is not a skill I inherited. I'm not a debater. Plus I have to work with this woman every day.

Then yesterday, I came across a quote on one of the blogs I read. Over at The Anchoress, Elizabeth Scalia posted a quote from Carryl Houslander (I've seen some of Houslander's reflections in Magnificat, and keep thinking I need to read more of her writings, and this quote further convinced me of that fact). It spoke to me on several levels. First, I'm coming up next week on 7 years with my company, and I wonder what purpose I serve there, still plodding away when I yearn for something more. But secondly, it made me think that maybe even my (probably too) silent presence does some good:

“Sometimes it may seem to us that there is no purpose in our lives, that going day after day for years to this office or that school or factory is nothing else but waste and weariness. But it may be that God has sent us there because but for us Christ would not be there. If our being there means that Christ is there, that alone makes it worthwhile.”
— Caryll Houselander, Reed of God, Page 60

I'd never thought of it that way before. It made me think that one thing I can do, any one of us can always do, especially when feeling inadequate, is to pray.