I have so many things that I should be doing right now, things that have nothing to do with being on the computer. But…I have the house all to myself, a nice warm cup of coffee, and a thought swirling around in my head, so here I am.
Forgiveness is such a Lenten topic, you know? It is the subject of so many of the Lenten readings. It is the subject of so many of the homilies and podcasts that I listen to. It is the subject of so many of the devotions that I read. This is not a bad thing. Forgiveness is such a gift. And it can be so, so hard.
For me, I can offer forgiveness. It is probably the sanguine melancholic temperament that I have. I don’t like when people are stressed or upset. It really gets to me. I don’t like discord or confrontation. It unsettles me. So if someone has wronged me and offers an apology, I usually accept it, thankful that the issue is settled. However, I have a really hard time believing the reverse. It is a huge challenge for me to accept that I am forgiven. This is something that I have been working on for a LONG time. I have a difficult time remembering that my value and worth comes only from the fact that I am a child of God. I can’t do anything to make Him love me more, just as I cannot do anything so horrible that God will not forgive me. How? How is that even possible, when we, as human beings, can just really…well… suck.
I think that I may have caught a little glimpse into this the other morning. I was running around, barking orders at the kids to hurry up and get their shoes on and eat their breakfast, brush their teeth, etc. You know, the usual morning routine of controlled chaos. I was in my room making my bed when Jonathan came in crying. I looked at his little face and he was a mess. He was sobbing and tears were just streaming down his cheeks. This wasn’t a normal “I’m-not-getting-my-way-Noah-called-me-a-stupid-buttcheek” kind of cry. No, this was a pitiful, from the depths of his little soul, anguished cry. I am instantly thinking that something horrendous has happened, although what, I had no idea. “What is it? Jonathan, what happened?” I frantically asked him. My heart was breaking for him because he was SO UPSET. He looked at me and just kept saying, “I am sorry Mom. I am really sorry.” I just held him for a minute until I felt his ridgid little body relax against mine. I had already forgiven him. It didn’t matter what he had done, I just wanted him know that it was ok and that I loved him. How could he ever think that he could do something to change that?
Lightbulb moment… Here I am, flawed and imperfect, willing to forgive my son anything. I just want him to know how much I love him. Duh! That is just what God does for us, only so, so much better. If I, lowly human that I am, can forgive my son for I don’t even know what, how much greater is God’s ability to forgive us? His is the only truly unconditional love that there is. The heartbreak that I felt at Jonathan’s fear that he could do something, well, anything that could make me not love him, is NOTHING compared to the sorrow that God must feel when we pull away from Him. We don’t need to shy away from Him because we are embarrassed by our actions. He has already forgiven us! (And newflash, he already knows what you did. It doesn’t matter.) We need only offer to him our failings and our weaknesses and alllow Him to transform them. Allow Him to offer you forgiveness and just accept it.
You might be wondering what it actually was that had Jonathan so upset. Or maybe not, but I will tell you anyway. He was trying to be a “big boy” and made his own breakfast. He managed to get a bowl and pour the cereal and milk without any problems. But when he tried to put the, almost full, gallon of milk back onto the top shelf of the refrigerator, it slipped out of his hands. It dropped to to floor spilling everywhere and making a pretty big mess. I just chuckled as he helped me clean it up. “Are you really mad, mom?” He asked me. I smiled and said, “Nope. No sense crying over spilled milk.”
If you are Catholic, I am sure that you are aware of St Therese of Liseux. She is also known as the Little Flower. It is said that if you pray a novena to her, she will give you roses when she answers your prayer. I had, of course, heard stories of this happening, but it wasn’t until I was about 24 that I experienced this for myself. I am sure that many of you are aware of my family’s “story.” But I don’t know if I have ever actually written down everything. Looking back, some 17 years later, it is amazing to see, not only, God’s fingerprints all over the place, but there are also rose petals strewn about.
It all began in January of 1998. My spunky -, mama, had passed away. She was in her 80’s and had lived a long full life filled surrounded by family. She had 3 daughters, who in turn had 12 children, who then had a slew of their own kids. Needless to say, she had a bountiful life. I remember asking my mom if a family friend, Marge, was going to sing at her funeral. Marge had not only been in choir with my dad for years, but she had also been my third grade teacher. It would only be natural for her to sing at Mama’s funeral. But when I asked my mom, she said, “Didn’t I tell you about what happened to her stepson, Brian and his family?” I shook my head no as she went on to tell me about this young family, a husband and wife with 2 year old twins and a 10 month old baby. They had recently found out that they were expecting their fourth little one. They were a beautiful example of a young, faithful, Catholic family. They lived in Michigan near her family, but I vaguely remember seeing them at church once or twice when they were visiting. They stood out because the little girl had red curly hair. You don’t forget that halo of fire around her little face. This little family was dealt a tragic blow. One night when the baby woke up, Andrea didn’t go to him. Brian got up and checked on him and got the baby settled back into bed and went back to bed. He realized that his young wife wasn’t breathing properly. He dialed 911 and started CPR, but it was too late. She was gone. This story about this little family just touched me so deeply. I couldn’t imagine what this poor man was going through. And his children?! Those poor babies had lost their mother! I couldn’t get them out of my mind. I very distinctly remember being in the church at my Mama’s funeral and seeing the light stream through the windows and I just couldn’t stop myself from thinking about them. I remember asking God to heal their hearts from an unimaginable pain. I kept thinking of my Mama who had lived such a long and full life and then thinking about this young mother with babies that needed her and she was gone. I remember asking God to allow them to someday find happiness again and help this widower to find someone to raise his family with. At the time, I was happily dating my college boyfriend and was planning to marry him eventually. I had no idea what God had planned for me, but it was so much more than I could have ever imagined.
Fast forward 2 years… My college sweetheart and I were no longer together. I was living in Ohio and working for nine west shoes as a manager of one of their million dollar outlet stores. I was miserable and I felt so lost. For some reason, St Therese came to mind. I was still attending mass, but not with any consistency as I should have been. I still believed in the church’s teachings, but I had grown lazy. I found myself longing for a peace that I realized I would only find in the Faith. I started to go to mass regularly and felt some of my stress and anxiety start to leave me. It was Lent and I found myself at Stations. The comfort of the old tradition touched my heart and I longed to find my Faith again… or rather find my Faith for myself. As a cradle Catholic we always went to mass and to stations, but I went because it was what we were supposed to do. Somewhere along the line, I allowed myself to make excuses for why all of that stuff didn’t really matter. Of course I loved God and obviously I was Catholic, that should be enough, right? It wasn’t enough. I was feeling drawn back to the church and back to a life that I had lost. I just couldn’t figure out what to do next. I felt nudged to turn back to my old friend St. Therese. So I started a novena. I didn’t even know what I was praying for, I just asked her to help me to figure out what I was supposed to do. A couple of days later, my mom called me and asked me if I would like to meet a guy. This guy was my third grade teachers stepson, the one who had lost his wife a couple of years ago. I have to admit that I was a little bit gun shy after my recent break up. And the idea of going out with someone that had been married and had lost his wife was rather intimidating. Let’s be real, how can you compete with a ghost? You can’t and honestly I didn’t really want to try. But my friends were very encouraging.. “Just meet the guy! It’s not like you have to marry him!” “It’s only one date. It will do you good to get back out there!” Always one to cave under peer-pressure, I told my mom that she could pass along my number, although I was secretly hoping that he wouldn’t call. But I was trying to “be open” to where God was directing me, so I figured what the heck. I was sure that it wouldn’t actually go anywhere. So a few days later, Brian called me for the first time. I remember feeling very anxious when I answered the phone, but he sounded kind of nervous too, so that helped to put me at ease. That and the fact that he had a very nice phone voice. Who could sound that nice and be an ax murderer? I am convinced that it isn’t possible. He said, “So I guess that we are supposed to go out or something? ” I laughed and said, “Yes, I guess so.” We planned to meet up the following weekend at my parent’s house. Because I was living in Ohio, I was going to head back to PA for the weekend to meet up with him. In the process of making these arrangements, I was barely aware that I had finished my novena to St. Therese that day.
The following weekend arrived and I headed to PA for our date. He was late getting to my parent’s house because he kept getting lost. Maybe not the best way to start out our date, but I was so nervous, that I didn’t mind. He finally made it to the house and after a super awkward introduction to my family, with my dad and brother looking slightly scary, we headed to Pittsburgh for dinner. I remember talking about everything from our jobs, to his kids, to religion. I remember thinking that it was so nice to spend time with a guy whose faith was so integral in his daily life. It was so refreshing and at that point in my recently renewed journey back to my faith, I was just taken with him. We joked that we felt like we got about three months worth of dates in that first evening. We are both fast talkers and there was never a lull in the conversation. At the end of the evening, he took me back to my parent’s house. When I walked in the door my sister was waiting to hear how it had gone. I looked at her and said, “I am going to marry him.” She of course laughed and shook her head, but I meant every word.
We continued to get to know one another over the next month or so through phone calls and trips back and forth between PA and Ohio. Several of our dates were with the kids. We would take them to the movies or to a park or just have a movie night at home. Later on he had made a comment at how I had seemed rather uninterested when he first showed me a picture of the kids and I just laughed. It wasn’t that I was uninterested, but rather I didn’t want to seem like some scary weirdo by letting on that it was pretty much love at first sight with them too. Looking back, it had been a few weeks into our relationship that I was struck by the fact that St. Therese had a hand in all of this. I had been talking to the kids and they kept mentioning their grandma in Michigan, Nana Rose. I assumed that her first name was Rose, but it is actually her last name. St. Therese had not answered my novena by giving me one rose or a bouquet. No, she gave me a whole family of Roses!
It became obvious that this relationship had God’s fingerprints all over it. Everything just fell into place perfectly. I was able to find a job back in PA so that I could move back in with my parents and be closer to Brian and the kids. When I realized that he felt the same way that I did, I started to say another novena to St. Therese. I wanted to make sure that we went forward with our relationship in the best way possible for the kids. It was really important to me that we handled everything right for them. I didn’t tell Brian about this novena, I was just quietly saying it on my own. During this time, he said, “You and I are going to go out for a night on the town this weekend, just you and I. I will see if I can get one of the grandparents to babysit, but I want to get all dressed up and take you to Pittsburgh for a fancy dinner.” I am never one to turn down a nice dinner out, so we decided that Saturday was the day. He arrived at my parent’s house on Saturday with a small miniature rosebush for me.( Once again, I wasn’t thinking that I had finished my novena to St. Therese that morning. I am clearly a little bit dense. ) We went to the Top of the Triangle , which was a very fancy restaurant in Pittsburgh, and had a delicious dinner. And then we decided to head up the incline to the top of Mount Washington to look down over the city. The view is beautiful up there. It was a rather warm evening and I tried to get Brian to leave his jacket in the car, because I could tell that he was uncomfortable. I had no idea that it had nothing to do with the temperature, but rather with the small box that he had in his coat pocket. There must have been a prom or something going on because there were groups of kids everywhere all dressed up getting their pictures taken. I just smiled at them, but Brian seemed kind of distressed that there were so many people around. There was finally a break in the crowds and we were looking out over the city. He was standing behind me and all of a sudden spun me around so that we were face to face. He pulled the box out of his pocket and asked me to marry him. When he opened the box, he looked panicked for a minute because the ring was dangling precariously and I think that he had a vision of it flying over the cliff or something. Being the complete romantic that I am, I looked at him and yelled, “Shut Up!” (He has yet to let me live that down. )Here he is asking me to spend the rest of our lives together and I tell him to shut up. I was just in shock. I was so utterly surprised, that was the only thing that popped into my head. “Shut Up!” I just started laughing because I suddenly realized that I had finished my novena that morning and he had given me roses when he picked me up! How had I missed all of that?! I guess that I just didn’t think that everything would happen so quickly. We had only been dating for 77 days on the day that he proposed. It was insanely fast and crazy, but so, so right.
After the fact, he told me that when he had asked me to go out to dinner with him, he had no intention of proposing. In fact it wasn’t until that Thursday, 2 days before our date, that he was felt an overwhelming urge to get a ring. He said that he just kept hearing, “Get a ring. Get a ring.” And so he did…thankfully. We have talked about how we can just imagine Andrea and my mama sitting at a table in heaven, working out all of the details. My mama probably called out to St Therese to join them and told her that her granddaughter needed a husband and that Andrea’s husband and kids needed a wife and mother. I can just imagine her challenging St. Therese with the question, “What are you going to do about this?”
We have been married for over 16 years now and he is still managing to surprise me. We have been blessed to grow our little family of 5 to a little family of 11. Like all married couples we have been through many ups and downs, but we still manage to like one another. I think that it is because from the very beginning we have tried ( we don’t always succeed, but God has blessed our efforts) to keep Him at the center of it all. When things are rough, I think back to that first novena and I thank God that He listened to the prayers of His Little Flower and gave me exactly what I needed.