Containing Joy—Rainbow Baby After Miscarriage Maelstroms

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Life events such wedding your best friend, celebrating an anniversary, graduating school, overcoming major illnesses, and learning to overcome addictions normally lead a person to joy. Usually such cathartic experiences bring incredible joy—joy that cannot be contained! However, I am currently struggling to bring myself to seize the joy of the anticipate birth of my fourth child. Let me provide a little background to clarify my hesitancy.

Dating back to late 2017 and beginning of 2018, my wife and I lost two children due to miscarriage. Because of the previous loss, and the insane amount of pain associated with it, I conditioned my heart, mind, and soul to be cautious. In fact, I guarded my expectations to prevent possible pain of future loss so much that I am neutral, stoic, non-responsive to the current joy in my life!

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Sifting through writings, thoughts, and quotes about miscarriage I came across profound wisdom from the great C.S. Lewis,

If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing that she may still hope to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.

While I am not a mother, the Christian apologist’s words still pertain to me and my fatherhood [really any father who suffered the misfortune of having a child not survive pregnancy. A lot of my writings over the course of the year relate to my suffering, pain, distress, worry, and ultimate purgative experiences with miscarriage. Along with the pain and memory of hope dashed, I struggled mightily with letting my guard down to feel joy, to reacquaint myself with happiness of a birth announcement, and to re-orient myself toward hope.

According to Bishop Robert Barron in his book Catholicism, “We say something is beautiful—a face, a painting, a golf swing—when it hangs together as one (it has wholeness), when all of its parts work together in consonance (it has harmony), and when it shines forth as an archetype of what such a thing should be (it has radiance).” A family missing a member(s) cannot reflect the truth and power of the Holy Trinity. I sense that same is true for my family now.

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Gazing at my three children playing at the park and helping each other go up the various climbing apparatuses or going down the slides, I imagined a fourth playing. Difficult to describe this scene it occurred more in the inner recesses of my heart that actually a physical vision or daydream.   During my wife and I’s engagement we talked about being open to life, raising a larger family, and we both seemed to desire [at least open to the desire] for at least four children. I cannot quite fully articulate this desire into words expect that I believe God’s Providential plan is at work in my life.

I pray for continued support, strength, and opportunities to unleash the joy of the Gospel during our family’s time of anticipation and cautious yearning for a safe birth and delivery of our child!

 

5 Matt Maher Songs that Help Develop Trust in God

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The great American poet  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow declared, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” Echoing this truth, U2 lead singer Bono said it this way, “Music can change the world because it can change people.” Over the course of my life, music played a pivotal role—throughout high school I participated in show choir, played in jazz band, and tried out for All-State Choir as well. In college, I even received a music scholarship and completed voice lessons during my four-year tenure. My favorite singer is Matt Maher. His positive and uplifting music soothes my soul.

Through periods of desolation and despair, Maher’s music sustained my trust in Divine Providence even when I did not feel God’s presence. Below are five songs I highly recommend you listen to for inspiration and a positive sustaining message of the Good News when tough times hit.

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  1. Firelight:  From the album Saints and Sinnners (2015) Maher’s Firelight provides a positive and upbeat message. Looking for a new song to incorporate into my weekly playlist the title intrigued me. Immediately, listening to this song I knew that this was a staple song for me to lean during periods of doubts. Below is a short excerpt of the lyrics along with a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kq3-OyRh3Zw

Dear Jesus where are you tonight
I bear a sadness deep inside
I’m aching for a faith in things I strain to feel
I need to know that you are real

 

2. Because He Lives: Coming from the same album as Firelight, Matt Maher’s Because He Lives offers a beautifully simple and consistent message of obedience to God. The word Amen occurs 19 times in this song. Translated into English as “so be it” amen conveys certitude and truth. In fact, amen is derived from the Hebrew āmēn, which means “certainty,” “truth,” and “verily.”  I highly suggest listening to this song as a way to provide a stable mantra of trusting in God.

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3. All the People Say Amen: Along with Because He Lives, the Catholic songwriter’s All the People Say Amen contains a strong theme about confidence in the Lord. This is the song that I probably listened to the most times over the course of my life. Often substituting the word babies for people I jovially danced with my children [and still do currently]. Much laughter and smiling ensue when this song plays in our household–plus the opening words remind us of the promise of Matthew 28:20.

You are not alone if you are lonely
When you feel afraid, you’re not the only
We are all the same in need of mercy
To be forgiven and be free
It’s all you got to lean on
But thank God it’s all you need

4. Hold Us Together: Published from the Alive Again (2009) album, this song always seemed fitting to listen to during stressful periods where I felt rushed and impatient. Right away the tempo calms your nerves and the refrain provides a much needed reminder during the onslaught of today’s go, go, go culture:

And love will hold us together
Make us a shelter to weather the storm
And I’ll be my brother’s keeper
So the whole world would know that we’re not alone

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5. Deliverer: I saved me favorite and from my experience the most powerful Matt Maher song for last. Deliverer came from the epic album Saints and Sinners (2015). Reeling from the losing our unborn child to a miscarriage I sunk into a deep despair. Feeling completely numb and detached from reality and on the brink of near apostasy to my Catholic faith, I hurried searched for YouTube for positive songs to ease my suffering as I wrote my lesson plans for the following week of high school classes that I taught. After listening to my standard playlist [this included the four previously mentioned Maher titles], I still suffered desolation.

Miraculously, his song Deliverer pulled up, randomly–or perhaps not so coincidentally, after one of his other songs. Something about the combination of the opening lyrics, beat, tone, and inflection of Maher’s voice infused hope into my heart, mind, and soul.  I hit the replay button immediately once Deliverer ended. I went on to listen no less than a 12 times that winter night. Here is a link to this incredibly powerful song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pb_DT0MhY0&list=RD2pb_DT0MhY0

For any of my readers that never heard of Matt Maher I strongly encourage you to listen to his music. He is a true disciple of Jesus Christ and the love of his fellow man shines through when you listen to his songs. I am thankful and praise God for the gift of music and the ability to listen to Matt Maher on a daily basis. I hope you find his music positive and uplifting as well!

I was a drifter, I had nowhere to go
I was hanging by threads of dust and bone
Every angel I knew was singing son come home
But the melody was hard to sing along

Oh God, You’re my deliverer
The One, the One who carries us
Oh God, You’re my deliverer

I was on trial for everything I did
And there’s no way I could make a stand and win
When you realize the verdict is already in
You let go of the brokenness within
Well there’s only One who can ever stand and win

Oh God, You’re my deliverer
The One, the One who carries us
Oh God, You’re my deliverer
The One, the One who carries us

And now I’m like a child at night
Who never has to think of why
We’re free to love and live and die
And there’s no need to justify
The sinner that’s inside of me
Has lost all his control of me

My God, from the flood and from the fire
You brought me out, I am alive
With a faith, just like a child
I’m not afraid, I’m running wild
For everything that will be done
I am yours and you are my
Deliverer

The One, the One who carries us
God, You’re my deliverer
The One, the One who carries us
Oh God, You’re my deliverer
The One, the One who carries us
Oh God, You’re my deliverer
The One, the One who carries us
God, You’re my deliverer

I was hanging by threads of dust and bone

 

3 Lessons from Super Bowl LII

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First uttered in 1973 during the National League Pennant race by baseball legend Yogi Berra, the phrase “it ain’t over till it’s over” is now a staple colloquialism in American society. Watching Super Bowl LII made me think of this saying over and over. After last season’s epic comeback by the New England Patriots [and major collapse on the part of the Atlanta Falcons] in American football’s biggest stage, nothing is truly surprising to me anymore in the world of sports. We should be prepared for the unexpected! Actually, that is what most of the world received as the clock waned done to 00:00 in Super Bowl LII—a largely unexpected victory of the Philadelphia Eagles over the celebrated, and seemingly invincible juggernaut that is Tom Brady. I want to share three lessons I took from this game and how a sporting event provided some perspective to my spiritual journey.

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  1. Never Give Up: Anyone who has played a sport, whether professionally or at the amateur level knows that the overcome of the game is not done until the closing minutes—or even the final play. Whenever my friends and I played a pick-up game of basketball or football to relieve the stress of finals testing, the games were heated and typically ended in a close score. The first lesson I learned from watching Super Bowl LII is to never give up. It is always worth fighting until the end.

 

St. Paul often uses sports terminology when referring to persistence in the journey of faith. He tells us in Acts 20:24, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” Lessons from football, and other seemingly ordinary activities, can translate to the spiritual life. My time on this earth plane of existence is short, but the key is there is still time. God grants us time to have many chances at asking for forgiveness and bestowing mercy on others.

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  1. Be Bold: Another message I gathered from watching Super Bowl LII is that boldness pays off. Several times throughout the game the Eagles head coach decided to go for it on 4th Knowing he had to be gutsy in order to even have a shot beating an NFL dynasty like the Patriots, Doug Pederson, selected a trick play that may go down in football history as the most intrepid play ever—a direct snap to the running back, pitch to the tight end, and pass to the quarterback for a touchdown!

Possessing confidence in his team allowed for Eagles head coach Doug Pederson to boldly go where teams [aside from the New York Giants] went before—hoisting the Lombardi trophy in victory over the dynamic duo of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Such boldness captivated my attention along with the millions of other viewers of the Super Bowl. Bold and confident people attract others to themselves.

Saint Pope John Paul II was that type of individual. He once stated, “Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” His words relate directly to my life situation. Struggling with confidence within my new job, I act in hesitancy that hampers my ability for achieving greater heights. Ironically, playing things safe, both in my professional and spiritual life do not lead to successes. God does not want us to worry about things outside of our control. Witnessing the football game of the year showed me that some risks are worth taking.

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  1. Rely on Him Who Gives Us Everything: During the trophy presentation of the Lombardi Trophy and the Super Bowl LII MVP award, the excitement of the coaches and players possessed a unique quality this time around. Obviously, any sane person would be ecstatic after winning such a highly touted championship event, but the joy the Philadelphia Eagles displayed seemed a bit different from previous awards ceremonies. All of the major figures in the Eagles franchise: owner, coaches, and quarterback—all opened their speeches with specific praises to God.

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Listening to various post-game interviews I came across this video of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. His major message is to recognize our failures and look to God for stability in those tough times. We cling to God during the storms of life. Below is a link to this press conference:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5s7Ge7GkhO4

Nick Foles told reporters after the game, “I may be in the NFL. We may have just won the Super Bowl, but we still have daily struggles—I have daily struggles. But that is where my faith and family. When you look at a failure in your life it is an opportunity for your character to grow…I would not be out here [playing football] without God, without Jesus in my life.”  God seems to use normal, maybe even trivial stuff—like an NFL football game, to teach me about the importance of perseverance in the faith and cling to Him in time of need. In my daily struggles to grow in holiness, being a better parent, and a more loving neighbor to my fellow mankind I am grateful that God displayed Himself again to me through the ordinary example of a sporting event!

 

The Legacy of the Gospel

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“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine,” Jedi Master Obi-wan Kenobi warned the evil Darth Vader moments before his death via  the crimson blade of the Sith lord. I got to admit I thought this line seemed pretty lame as the audience does not get to witness the resurrection or return of Obi-wan in his physical form. I felt a sense of disappointment as I loved this Star Wars character. Years have passed since my first binge watching of the cinematic intergalactic series. New educational experiences, life events, and spiritual moments shaped me into the person that I am currently. Re-watching Episode IV: A New Hope allowed me to view Obi-Wan’s final words in a different perspective—through the lens of hope [no pun intended]!

According to G.K. Chesterton, “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead (Chapter 4 Ethics of Elfland, Orthodoxy). What the great English journalist means is that death does not disqualify a person from impacting the present. The weight of tradition should be pondered and analyzed whenever present life’s realities are discussed. I found the joy of Chesterton’s seminal work Orthodoxy in early 2017. I am convinced my discovery of Chesterton did not simply occur by random chance—Divine Providence directed this seeming coincidence. Fast-forwarding to the beginning of 2018, the words of Obi-Wan and Chesterton, fiction and fact intersected in the event of my grandfather’s death in mid-January. Having been able to process his passing a single word remains steadfast in my mind with I ponder his life—legacy.

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The dictionary defines the word legacy as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past”. Legacies pervade nearly all topics and discussions. NFL players always strive to leave a good and lasting legacy—they especially ponder this during the sunset of their careers. Politicians seek legacy that extends beyond their time in elected office. The mark of a great legacy is the ability for it to stand the test of time. Assuming this is the gold standard upon which all legacies are judged, I wager that the legacy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest and most permanent of all legacies!

Matthew 28:19-20 details the great commission of Jesus to his Apostles, “Go, therefore,* and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,20i teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.* And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Through the force, power, inspiration, and protection of the Holy Spirit the Good News of the Gospel is able to be passed on from generation to generation without fear of distortion or corruption of Jesus’ message. The Catechism of the Catholic Church echoes this sentiment in paragraph 74,

God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”:29 that is, of Christ Jesus.30 Christ must be proclaimed to all nations and individuals, so that this revelation may reach to the ends of the earth:

God graciously arranged that the things he had once revealed for the salvation of all peoples should remain in their entirety, throughout the ages, and be transmitted to all generations.31

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Death is not a finale for people with believe in and love truth. Instead, authentic love and obedience to the truth of the Gospel leads to an encore of life—life in eternity. A prime example of an “Obi-Wan instance” is the martyrdom of St. Stephen. In the face of his impending death by stoning, confident in Divine Providence he declared, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Similar to Obi-Wan, Stephen did not seek vengeance for his murderers—rather he asked God to forgive them (Acts 7:60). The Early Church Father Tertullian famously said, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church“.  St. Stephen’s death acted as a catalyst to God performing arguably one of His greatest miracles—the conversion of Saul [great killer of Christians] to Paul [great evangelizer of Jesus Christ].

Reflecting on the death of my grandfather gave rise to several emotions: sadness, joy, sorrow, and hope. My grandfather left a legacy of a wife of 67 years, eleven children, and a multitude of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The greatest legacy he left—was continuing the legacy of the Gospel. Started by Jesus and kindled by the saints through the ages, I am confident my grandfather lived a life worthy to be called a child of God.

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Us to death: If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine [as long as we continue to hope in the Lord]!