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Dearest Little One,

It has been a month and a day since that moment that my heart must have stopped beating for what then seemed like an eternity.  I had been happily recounting to the lady in the room about your siblings and how crazy-happy it is at home with all eight of them.  I really think I might have gone on and on telling her about the family if I hadn’t noticed the heavy silence that seemed to grow in weight by the second.  I closed my eyes then in a vain and half-hearted effort to close out what I could sense was happening.

You see, sweet one, this lady in the room could not seem to find a heartbeat.  For you.  It should have been there, quite obvious for her to see.  But it wasn’t.  Neither was it there two and a half weeks later.  In between these two times, I must have cried enough tears to tire me out completely.  But there were always tears just at the surface, ready to fall almost without missing a beat.  A heartbeat.  I missed your heartbeat.

Little tiddlywink, I want you to know that in the short time you were safely alive in my womb, I loved you.  I still do.  And your daddy loved you.  And so did your three sisters and five brothers.  They could not stop talking about how excited they were about you!  (Personally, I think they would have eventually taken bets on whether you would be a boy or a girl, to be honest with you….)  They’re a crazy bunch, your siblings.  I am so happy that you were a part of the family for that time you were here on earth with me.  And of course you still are a part of the family — just apart from us for now. A Crazy Bunch

Sweetness, I want you to know that if you had continued to live and had been born, you would have been welcomed with open arms into a family that loved you from the first moment we knew you were there.  You are not the first that has gone before us.  There are two older siblings of yours that went the same way — early on in their lives in my womb.  They too were anticipated, mourned, prayed for and are still loved.  And your siblings all pray for them still.  They still pray for you.  We all do.

I do not know where you are, wee one, but wherever it is, I know you are in good hands.  I cannot pretend to be happy that you are not with me, but I am happy that God blessed us with you.  And because I trust in His mercy and in His love, I know you are in good hands.  I know that you are not alone, nor are you lonely.  Before I met you, before I loved you, God already did.  A friend told me recently that crying can be good because it empties the tear ducts and allows us to smile even better.  I believe that.  In this my sorrow, I have found a deeper joy because of you.

My dear baby, you have allowed me to share the good news of your anticipated coming to family and friends.  Your presence gave me a chance to be in awe of how wonderfully made the human body is.  The knowledge of your presence has helped to reinforce my commitment to be generous with our Father God.  I faced the temptation of feeling embarrassed that I was expecting again and fought it because I knew that you were a blessing and not a burden.  How could you have ever been a problem to a family whose faith has been tested over and over again in so very many ways?  You were a gift — a sure and real sign of hope! — and we were grateful.

Because of you, my little treasure, I cherish each of your siblings even more.  I look at each of them and am thankful for each little one that has come into our family.  You accomplished and inspired so much good in your short life — thank you!  I look forward to the moment that I can finally hold you in my arms for the first time.  For now, I hold you in each prayer I say.  My heart will skip a beat at the thought of you and you will remind me to be happy.  You remind me of why I am grateful to be a mother.

We won’t say good-bye, small fry.  Until we can be together, we will for now just say good night.

I love you always.

Mom

For hope to be real, it has to go deeper than the wound and be more substantial than the pain that has caused you to be in that position you are in.  Hope has to be that much broader and that more powerful to be real, because otherwise it is just like a band-aid.”
— Jon Foreman (Switchfoot), interview regarding film “Bella”, DVD (2008).

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The truth is NEVER above anyone’s pay grade.

Barrack Obama says he will not yield on this fundamental issue — that is, what is supposed to be a woman’s right to choose.  I am not an American, but am very concerned about this struggle between a culture of life and a culture of death in the United States of America.  I am concerned as a woman and a mother — as a human being.

The sanctity of life is profoundly fundamental.  This obvious disregard for the life of those who are helpless and most vulnerable can only lead to a slippery slope of others who would be considered useless and disposable.  We — whether American or otherwise — should be concerned about what is happening in the U.S.  It is human life that is at stake — and those that are the future, not only the United States but, of the world itself.

A child is entitled to human rights from the moment of conception.  That is the truth.

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On the Fly

The summer if 3/4 done and this morning we are finally on our way to our Family Camp in Quebec. Every year, for one week, about ten families go the the Dominus Vobiscum camp near the town of St. Gabriel in Quebec for 7 days with family and friends. It is also an opportunity for us to talk more with other parents, learning from them and sharing the knowledge we have ourselves. We celebrate Holy Mass everyday and are able to take this wonderful time for vacation without taking a “break” from our faith — it is such a blessing to have this camp!

So as I type this, most of my family members are in the tan van. We are about 17 minutes past the time we should have left….hence, the rush. (Just been told by my husband, patient man that he is, that I must get in the van already.)

Please do not let the higher gas prices stop you from spending time with your family. It is absolutely possible to still be able to enjoy and have a meaningful time this summer — and you should! This road trip will take us about 9 hours to complete — say a prayer for my husband and I, will you? There will be whining, of that I am certain. But there will be more moments of chatting and thinking and laughing. There will be some pushing and shoving in the back seat, but that’s where the peanut gallery is too — you kind of expect that to happen, after all. But always, we will be with each other: for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in short trips and in long ones, till the need to go to the bathroom do we part (albeit momentarily).

Enjoy the rest of the summer. It’ll be gone too quickly before you know it.

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My children have recently discovered the game of badminton. Thanks to a sale at Canadian Tire, we are now the owners of a badminton/volleyball set that originally came with four rackets. The set is now down to three sound ones and a fourth that is – sadly – quite broken. (This broken racket found itself accidentally whacked against the unsuspecting face of a seven year-old girl during a particularly exciting game.) Such is the way of the world in this big family of ours.I am typing out this entry on a picnic table in the shade of tree and the light of a sun that is not yet ready to set. The fifth boy (a.k.a. the baby & 8th kid) is sitting in his stroller behind me, entertaining himself with the toes on his very chubby foot.

There is a son sitting on the grass a few feet away from me, laying a claim to sheer boredom as he concentrates on trying to dig a hole in the ground with a stubby stick. The four oldest are playing badminton – three with proper rackets while one is — as far as I can tell — like a court jester of sorts. Don’t ask me how that works because I honestly don’t know. It must be working for them somehow because they are keeping score and there is a certain air of competitiveness about them. The two other girls are kind of walking about here and there, not trying too hard to stay out of trouble.

(The game in front of me is evolving. The court jester is now playing at being referee, picker-up of the birdie and the human badminton net. I have to say it looks far more exciting than a regular game and perhaps this should be further explored as a possible alternative to playing this game……….or not.)

How else could I have spent this afternoon of good weather better, I wonder? I sit here breathing in the good, clean air as a breeze makes the tree branches sway gently. I have seen countless number of airplanes in the sky off to some far off place. Would I have a more fulfilling afternoon in Europe or Africa? Would I have more exciting adventures in Asia or the Carribean? Would I have more important things to do if I were working in an office, rushing to meet deadlines, meeting with important people and making way more money than I do now which is – well…..nothing really?

Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (or the Jesuits). My alma mater is the Ateneo de Manila University which the Jesuits founded and run to this day. The Jesuits live out their vocation “for the greater glory of God” – ad majorem Dei gloriam. These are words that call to me, not only because of my Jesuit education but, because of the very clarity of its purpose and the love it professes for my Father in heaven.

What does my most spectacularly ordinary afternoon have to do with all this? At first glance, it would seem as if we spent a day of lazy pleasure outdoors for wont of something better to do. The truth could not be farther from this. This is an afternoon spent doing the kind of “work” I as a mother am so privileged to be doing — and it is for the greater glory of God. Humanly speaking, what do I stand to gain by this afternoon: a nice pile of dirty clothes, most of which will likely have grass stains; a passel of sun-kissed and breathless children who all very badly need a bath; a whole lot of “stuff” that need to be loaded in the tan van and then unloaded by a very tired and unenthusiastic crew at home.

Kid #8, Boy #5

Kid #8, Boy #5

In fact, all I have to do is to look at each child and see the very real proof of divine Providence at work. This is important work, indeed! Learning about each other and about life without even realizing it is a tremendous gift. This afternoon, my children and I spent several glorious hours of being together as a family of unique individuals. We looked around at the beauty of the garden we were in a wished that my husband was with us. The children played volleyball, badminton and soccer with great enthusiasm and – sometimes – one or two bruised egos. I asked each child to take a turn in pushing their baby brother’s stroller around the garden path and the requests were not always met with a smile. But walk around the garden path they did, pushing their baby brother’s stroller dutifully. In this short afternoon, we’ve dealt with happy shouts of victory and not so happy shouts of protests; badminton birdies stuck in a tree and a soccer ball gone AWOL for a brief moment in a dense cluster of trees; sullen looks of disappointment at not getting what one wanted — and a quiet realization that being the grump of the group just isn’t fun.

Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or one who is working full time and then having to rush home to get dinner on the table, know that you are where you are because what you do and who you are makes every bit of difference to those who are around you. You are where you are for a reason – not because of fate or destiny or random luck.
Do you ever wish you were off somewhere else doing something more exciting than whatever it is you’re doing? Don’t. Be where you are because it is where you are needed and where you belong. Do what you do for love and for the greater glory of God.

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Perfectly Imperfect Moments

Every now and then, for the past 34 days, I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about next on this blog. I hemmed and hawed and sat on my mental fence…..and waited. I waited for that elusive and unpredictable friend that is Inspiration to come and sweep me away to flights of creative expression. It hasn’t happened. Yet. And since it hasn’t happened (yet), I feel compelled to make myself write.

Yup, that’s right: I am plunging into the icy cold waters of writing without waiting for warmer, more inviting temperatures in which to wallow. I will not wait for that bright flash of inspiration because it may come when I happen to blink or am otherwise occupied with other things. Life goes on, whether I am googly-eyed and rapturous about this and that or I am mentally kicking myself in the head for managing to snag a spot in traffic behind the slowest driver on the road. Life does not stop to consider my lack of wonderment or awe. It moves along at the pace of ordinary time; neither slower nor faster.

I realized this morning that in waiting for what I would deem a “perfect moment”, I was missing out on the “now moments” that where always taking place. The truth is that my life (and I suspect most people’s lives) consists in way more imperfect “now moments” than THE “perfect moment”. We have twenty-four hours in a day, 60 minutes in each hour. There is only so much a person can do within this time frame of life. I stand to lose a great deal of opportunities for conversation and friendship and love if I do nothing while I wait for the ideal moment – if there is even one.

When I left for Spain to go to Torreciudad more than a month ago, I did not know what to expect. Were there going to be fireworks going off in my soul, transporting me to another spiritual dimension? Was I going to feel time stop as if the world was suspended in motion? Were copious tears going to flow from my eyes, rendering me a sobbing mess of saltiness and pathos? Well, I was moved to tears during the first benediction at the shrine, but thankfully I was not this way for long. But how can one help but be moved, after all, at the genuine beauty of this place of prayer and faith that is Torreciudad?

And the world did not stop revolving. Each day that passed seemed to stretch at first, but quickly filled up with many, many moments I am so grateful for now: quick, stolen moments to greet our Lord at the tabernacle; small, fervent kisses on a cross as I told my Father in heaven that I was putting my life in His hands; precious time spent in conversation with my God. What a luxury! I reveled in the richness of these extraordinarily ordinary moments with God, Our Lady of Torreciudad and those who were with me.

What does Torreciudad have to do with the “perfect moment”? The chance to go came at – humanly speaking – the wrong time. I was still a nursing mom with eight children and our family budget did not include any money set aside for “extraordinary travel to places of interest”. Should I have waited, then, for a better time to go? Perhaps another chance would come my way when I had more money, extra money, more time, extra time……I really don’t know. In my heart, my instantaneous and heartfelt response to the invitation was, “Yes, please!!!” So I went, and I am richer for it in so many ways I cannot even begin to tell you.

At Torreciudad, I realized that as beautiful the whole place is, my own place was with my family back home. I often thought of and brought to my prayers my very generous husband and each of our eight children. I recalled with a slight pang the two souls that would have been born into our family had they not gone straight to heaven after just several weeks in my womb. I remembered with fondness and affection each friend (or at least as many friends as my poor memory could recall….) and his or her particular intention or need. In this beautiful home of Our Lady of Torreciudad, I was strongly drawn home to where God had placed me. I could see that my ordinary life, filled with ordinary and less-than-perfect moments was part of the greater and whole picture of Life. My life means something; what I do matters.

Which brings me back to the past 34 days I’ve spent trying to find the perfect moment to post an “awesome” entry on this blog. It’s never going to happen – the “perfect moment” I mean for that “awesome blog”. There is this time I spend writing, which I must consider important enough so as not to brush off as unnecessary. I do not know exactly who will read what I write, but if it helps even that one person who may or may not have meant to land on my blog – then it will have been worth it. If I write with the conviction that I am communicating with other souls, then my ordinary post becomes something extraordinary in its purpose.

And that is definitely something worth spending time my time on.

The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is. (C.S. Lewis)

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On Wednesday, June 4th, I set off on a spiritual journey to a home that I’d never been:  the shrine of Our Lady of Torreciudad in Spain. Santuario de Torreciudad

It was clear from the get-go that this was no ordinary trip.  It certainly was not a vacation or a holiday jaunt to some quaint European village.  With my husband’s full support and encouragement, I gave each of my children tight, tight hugs and motherly kisses and reminded them to be good especially to each other and their dad.  I had cooked enough food for two armies and knew that — at the very least — they would not go hungry while I was away.  It was hardest to part, albeit temporarily, from my then nine-month old baby.  I knew he would be fine.  My husband assured me he would be fine and certainly he was a man of great experience with babies.  (You’d have to be after eight, you know.) So I found myself walking away, pulling on two suitcases beside me and willing myself not to break into tears at the airport.  (I so do not like good-byes at airports……) My pilgrimage had begun.

The thing with pilgrimages is that the element of some sacrifice is necessary.  No, no….I’m not talking about anything gory.  A pilgrim is one who takes a journey to a sacred place for religious reasons, according to the Oxford American online dictionary.  We’re not talking eat-all-you-can buffets at all-inclusive resorts where the party doesn’t end when the sun rises.  A pilgrimage concerns the soul and things of the spiritual life.  But while we are alive and our body and soul are still united, it is very easy for things that attract and relate to the senses to overwhelm the spirit, making it take a backseat to all the wonderful things that give us loads of pleasure.  For those who go on a pilgrimage, we need to be aware of this and make an effort to really be attuned to what our soul needs and is asking for.  So when I talk about sacrifice I mean the little things that maybe don’t seem like such a big deal but do go a long way into raising the level of our spiritual awareness because we’ve made the effort to deny ourselves a little bit of comfort or pleasure.

Why am I telling you all this?  Well, my whole trip lasted from June 4th to the 14th, but my pilgrimage really started way before I even left my home for the airport.  I had cooked like a fiend the weekend before I left.  Our refrigerator was bursting with so much food.  I spent the better part of the night before I left packing, trying to make sure I did not look some tourist who’s just looking for some souvenir trinkets.  A friend had told me, as a bit of advice, that Europeans tend to dress elegantly — and I took it to heart, of course!  (Ladies, listen up:  Pilgrimage does not equal sloppy dressing.) I managed to send off some emails and toyed with idea of posting an entry on my blog — which didn’t happen in the end because by then I was so tired and just wanted to snuggle up to this little baby in my arms that I was not going to be with for the next ten days.  When I finally sat down to wait for my flight to board passengers, I was tired, wired (read: over-caffeinated) and just anxious to get the ball rolling so I could come back home already.  I had to remind myself of why I was on this trip to begin with.

It was not for sight-seeing or shopping, although these happened to be a small part of my experience.  It was not for wont of something to do because I had many things to do at home.  It was not for the thrill of something exciting, although I was certainly tickled pink to be going.  It was not a trip made on a whim with some extra money stashed away — neither existed.  It was not to get away from my family because I was tired of them — I was tired but loved being with them.  I could think of several reasons why I shouldn’t go given my circumstances.  But a pilgrimage is never convenient, never very neat, tidy and oh-so-pretty.  It doesn’t make sense to go on one if you do not believe in matters of a spiritual nature because it lacks appeal for those whose purpose is pleasure.

It did, however, make sense to someone like me who does believe that our souls need a lot of tender loving care.  I felt myself called by my Father to a journey that would help change my life forever:  as a wife and a mother, as a friend, as a neighbour.  I went to Spain — to Torreciudad — to claim without merit what was being freely given to me:  a stronger faith, a more fervent hope and the love of my Father in my heart and soul.

Nuestra Senora de TorreciudadAnd so my pilgrimage to Torreciudad has ended, but the bigger one that we are constantly on while on earth goes on.  Life continues for us here:  the family survived my absence with flying colours, thanks to my extremely capable and super husband and children.  It is as normal as normal ever gets in our family.  But there is a glimmer of something that wasn’t there before, or perhaps just needed some encouragement.  I find that I can take refuge, during slightly trying or even very trying times, in a little place inside of me where my mother, Our Lady of Torreciudad, has taken up residence.

Over the next few weeks, I will tell you stories of my experiences during my trip and hope that you too are encouraged to take care of your own spiritual needs, not just on special occasions but everyday.  Finally, know that I prayed for you, dear reader of my blog, whether you are known to me or not.  I prayed to my sweet Mother in heaven and to my Father that you would hopefully get something helpful — something good — from having read what I post on my blog.  And if there was nothing of use this time — well, I still prayed for you.  And prayer is the currency of hope.

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Hard Knocks

For a lot of people, this whole “suffering and death thing” is so passé — old-fashioned and to a certain extent inappropriate for any sort of modern or sophisticated conversation. They are topics cloaked in gloom and doom, relegated to the very farthest corners of the attic of one’s existential awareness. A lot of people wouldn’t mind pretending these things are not real and that they’ll never have to deal with them. The problem with this kind of thinking is — sooner or later — it comes back to bite.

Real life is not without its ups and downs, and one’s suffering will almost certainly not come in the form of scourging, a crown of thorns or being nailed to a wooden cross. A modern dictionary defines suffering as “experience or be subjected to (something bad or unpleasant)”. Whether it be physical, mental, emotional, within or outside of ourselves, anything that causes us to have a difficult, troublesome, annoying, irritating, miserable, hateful or dreadful incident or situation can be said to make us suffer. Think about it: in the course of a single day, I am almost certain you can come up with at least ten things that annoy or irritate you. Let’s see……

  1. Having to wake up and get out of bed when it is so much nicer to stay warm and cosy under the sheets.
  2. Having to wake someone up repeatedly because they won’t get out of bed and you know they’ll be late for school/work.
  3. Having prepared breakfast for someone who rushes out the door without eating because they don’t have time for breakfast.
  4. Dealing with rush hour traffic.
  5. Trying to merge onto another lane when other drivers don’t seem to be able to notice (or care) what you are trying to do even after you’ve put your signal light on.
  6. Having some driver tailgate you.
  7. Driving behind a very (very, very) slow driver.
  8. Having another driver cut you.
  9. Getting to your destination only to find out there is no parking spot available. Not a single one.
  10. Checking your email inbox and seeing that you need to sift through what must be 100 spam messages and/or 50 (or so….) forwarded email messages promising untold of riches if you only forward the same emails to 15 of your very closest friends.

That is, by no means, a list that comes close to even being complete — it’s only a beginning. But these little pinpricks of the day come to us and at us during many different moments of our life. How we deal with these pinpricks defines our attitude and outlook on life. If these little things that annoy, irritate and cause a bother are enough to ruin our mood or day, make us feel desperate or the situation hopeless — well what then do we do when something quite serious or major happens to us? Serious illness, financial setback, loss of a job, marriage trouble, a sudden death in the family: these are just some of the problems that can crop up without warning. If we do not or will not bear up to those little annoyances we encounter in our ordinary lives, how can we think to hold up against the challenges that a major difficulty can bring?

One of the best talks I ever heard was on how to teach our children the value of suffering. We do not want our children to grow up like marshmallows that cannot take the hard knocks that life deals them. A child that never has to deal with disappointment or failure never knows how it feels to fall or lose. Even the topic of death should not be off limits to our children because it is a part of life — their life too — that they need to come to terms with. We want our children to develop a spirit of resilience so that they will not be worn down by adversity or shun it when it comes along. We want them to know the truth and to live in it. We want them to love life but not live in fear of suffering because they know how to deal with it: by our example, by their experience and with a great deal of faith and hope.

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