The Gospel of Life–and a Picture Book That Came From It

 

I’m going to take a little different track than normal this time, but it’s for a good reason.

Now, I have to tell you—I’ve been putting this off a looooong time, and I’m sorta’ hoping my mom and her friends and my former schoolteachers won’t read this post…because I grew up in a small town in the South, and in small towns in the South, people just aren’t supposed to talk about their own stuff. See, there are rules down here about things like that. And I really like it that way. It’s a great way to live.

But my publisher has a different idea: they think I should actually be talking about my pro-life picture book (which came out nine years ago :)). They’ve been very good to me, and, when I think about it, I realize that they’re probably smarter than I am, so I should. But I don’t like pushy sales posts, and I’d rather tell stories, anyway, so I’m going to tell you the story behind it…

In 2002, I was far from all my family and childhood friends, in an abusive marriage, and away from my Faith. This was the darkest time in my life. There was a brief separation from the marriage, and then (because of many factors), I made the decision to reconcile. This was the start of some intensely difficult times.

In that dark place, though, my one Catholic friend here, who had nearly become a fully cloistered Benedictine nun in her younger days, directed me to the nearest Confessional.

In that Confessional just happened to be one of the most orthodox priests in our diocese, which was a good thing, because his unflinching commitment to the Truth did much to convince me that Catholicism was “the real thing” (sorry, Coke!) . St. John Paul II was the Holy Father at the time, and so the first encyclical I happened to pick up after my reversion was his Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life).

This little book grabbed me by the heart and wouldn’t let go. It convinced me so deeply of our Father’s love for each of us, so deeply of my own worth, my children’s, and my ex-husband’s, too, that I just was overwhelmed with the sense that I had to let the whole world know that if you’re here—if you’re breathing air—it’s because the God who gave each star its place in the sky, the God who carved out the Grand Canyon with the tip of His finger and built Mount Everest out of dust—He loved you so much that He wanted to create you, to call you the pinnacle of His creation, even (!), and to help you, to lead you to Himself in this life, and to have you with Him in Heaven forever.

I’m a teacher by vocation, and in our child development classes, we learned that most of a child’s personality and intelligence are formed by age 5, so I knew I wanted to reach out to the youngest children with this concept. So one day after my work at the family dairy, I started mulling over ideas for a children’s book. Beginnings was nearly completely written ten minutes later…which is how I know it wasn’t mostly me. (In the words of Bamax, “I…am…not…faaaaaast.” Yes, my children laughed out loud in the theater and pointed at me. :-))

It speaks to children, starting with examples from nature of how little, tiny, seemingly un-influential things develop into the grand and the mighty and the powerful: a tiny, sky-blue shell holds a baby robin’s new life inside; a quiet and decidedly uncaptivating caterpillar becomes a butterfly so beautiful it takes your breath away; harmless, nearly invisible water droplets gather in the clouds and form a thunderstorm powerful enough to shake the earth.

And then, you: “In your beginning—yes, in your beginning—God thought of you, and He loved you…He chose the perfect place for you, inside the safe, warm, shelter of your mother’s womb…”

And that’s it. That’s the thing I wanted every child to know: We’re here because God loves us. And, someday, I hope the whole world will “get it”—really comprehend God’s love for each human person,  and also understand that every Church teaching is rooted in that love (or at least comprehend it as much as a human person is capable of understanding something so infinite).

Until then, let’s all remember that wherever we are now, whatever we’re doing, whether big or small, really is just the beginning. God loves to take the tiny, the seemingly inconsequential, the “nothingness”, and turn it into something wonderful. Every human person, who started as only a thought and then began human life as two cells we couldn’t even see without a microscope, is proof of that.

Here’s the cover, by Shennen Bersani. Everything Shennen touches just turns out beautiful, and I still love looking at this work of hers, even nine years later:

In case you’re in the market for a gift for a child up through about age eight or so (or a baby’s parents), here’s the link to my $5.97 picture book for kids about how God works, how special they are, and why He created them.

https://store.pauline.org/catholic-religious-gifts/beginnings

Thank you so much! It’ll be a really long time before I blog about my own stuff again! (I have to let this one blow over with my former schoolteachers first. :-))

Divorced. Catholic. And Grateful an Annulment Takes So Long.

OK, I wanted to talk about this–even though.

Even though it’s deeply personal.
Even though I’m not an extrovert and don’t usually talk publicly about difficult experiences.
Even though I normally prefer to keep details about family life tucked away tight within the walls of our home.

I want to say something, because I think someone should:

I’m glad the annulment process is long, difficult, and even painful.

Not that I’m enjoying it. (I’m not!)
Not that I don’t wish it could be easier. (I do!)
And not that I don’t wish sometimes that it was all over and done with and that I had a decision so that I would know what to do with the rest of my life. (I wish those things all the time.)

But, really, it just makes sense.

Of course, it makes sense because of the gravity of the decision. To declare an entire marriage covenant null? That’s some pretty heavy stuff. It’s not exactly the kind of thing a Church tribunal judge can just skim over in a printed PDF as it crosses his desk, decide whether to use the stamp that says “INVALID” or the other one that says “VALID” on it, and then move on to the next one-page summary. Of course, the time it takes makes sense for that reason.

But it also makes sense from the perspective of mercy.

I’m not talking about the “short-term mercy” of our culture today, which says, “Do whatever is going to make the person’s life easier for now. Ease their suffering now, and let them worry about the consequences later.”

I’m talking “end-game” here. We need to get back to long-term mercy, which says, “Do what’s best for the person. Do what’s going to help them to be healthier in the long run. Do what will help them to get to Heaven.”

St. Padre Pio said, ” The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self. There is no flowering of the soul to the beauty of its perfection except at the price of pain.”

I can see how this applies in a special way to the divorced person seeking an annulment. When a marriage ends civilly, there’s a lot of pain left. There were mistakes made by the person seeking the annulment–whether they were mistakes that led to a relationship that never should have been, or mistakes that contributed to the end of a viable marriage. And the only way to face those mistakes and make sure they don’t happen all over again is to walk right back through the pain. Those mistakes need to be processed deeply and intentionally, with plenty of thought, prayer, quiet time, and good spiritual direction, until the petitioner understands–not just mentally, but on an action-changing level of the heart–what he or she did wrong and how to keep from repeating that.

Then, there’s the hurt left over from the marriage itself. If there has been a divorce, you have to heal not only from the pain of the family breaking, but also from the pain you endured living in a wounded marriage. These things weaken a person, and they don’t go away overnight just because you separate and divorce.

And, most importantly, there’s the way that Christ draws us very close to Himself when we’re hurting. But that takes time! The annulment process is a “little desert” for each of us–a place where God can re-form and reshape our hearts and bring us closer to Himself.

For me, it’s taken four years so far to go through the annulment process (over half that time was just me working through the questionnaire)–and I’m grateful, because, looking back, I can see that every minute of that time has been a blessing. Even though the marriage was broken from the beginning, I’m grateful that “moving on” hasn’t been made easy. I’m grateful that, in order to move forward, I first had to go back and sort through everything that happened in the past–despite the fact that that was incredibly painful.

Finally, I am ready to wholeheartedly accept the Church’s decision–whatever that may be. This has been, in part, a fruit of the annulment process–because it’s tedious, because it requires the divorcee to relive the pain and analyze it, and because it takes a long time. All of these things were hard to walk through, but, at the same time, were a gift.

After a divorce, the last thing you want to do is end up there again…but if we don’t give Christ the space and time to reshape our hearts, that’s exactly what will happen. “Moving on”, whether into a healthier marriage or a life of single living to honor God, requires healing and recovery first.

Yes, the annulment process can be tedious and frustrating and painful. But Blessed Mother Teresa said, “Pain and suffering have come into your life. But remember pain, sorrow, and suffering are but the kiss of Jesus–a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.” The difficulty of the annulment process gives God space to work on us and to heal us. And that makes it worth the time.