Sunday, July 31, 2016

Leaning into Suffering: Part 4 Reflecting Back

This post is the last in a series about suffering. See the other posts here (one, two, three).

As I laid in the hospital bed, my warm baby in my arms, the different labors seemed to piece together, and I felt an overwhelming sense of how God was with me providing me with exactly what I needed for each unique context, rather than just each time getting easier and faster. Instead, a relatively fast and not too painful labor - my first. My fastest labor - when my husband wasn't there. A the doctor must not have checked very well when he said it wasn't time labor - the time I called out to God. A longer (but still short) labor - when I was comparatively stronger and had a sense of a greater purpose for suffering.

My first two labors helped to provide a context for confidence. In my third labor, I was calmer than ever but then called out as soon as it was not as smooth as I imagined it was. At the time I was arrogant, thinking the doctor didn't know what I knew - it. was. time. Now, it reminds me of Peter walking on water. The doctor wasn't just too tired or wasn't off with his estimation of my progress. It really wasn't time yet, but when I called out, God rescued me immediately (Matthew 14:22-33). He turned it's not time into it's time.

In my fourth, I was stronger and wanting to offer it up and trusting in Jesus that I would be able to handle however it unfolded. I drew comfort from the agony in the garden and the human feelings of Jesus. Yet, I was still looking forward to the relief. I was able to say, "For you Jesus," inspired by Blessed Chiara Badano, but I was definitely not able to say, "Give me more" like Saint Alphonsa. I recognized that I was willingly accepting the pain of something that had to happen - my baby couldn't just stay inside forever. I also knew that the suffering was working toward the joyful outcome of a new life.

I cannot say whether I would be strong enough to go through the pain if it was something that I could just say, "What was I thinking? This is too hard. I don't want to do this anymore." My thinking was more along the lines of wanting to unite the suffering that had to happen with Christ's while simultaneously being very grateful for the relief that would eventually come. Based on hearing the labor stories of others, I also know that I have been very blessed and fortunate with relatively quick and easy labors, so I am unsure of how well I would be able to tolerate a harder labor without medication to dull the pain.

Nonetheless, although there are many reasons to think the suffering was much less than that of others' and that I still have a lot more room to grow with willingly accepting suffering, I know that I have grown through the process of the delivery of my four girls. It has taught me a lot about how to get stronger with time. If I eventually go through another labor, part of my mental preparation process will be to hold back the sense of wanting to push as soon as it gets hard and requesting to do so. I want to be able to better accept the "not yet," knowing there is purpose behind the process.

My labors have provided a lens to reflect on how I want to accept and embrace the suffering that enters my life over time beyond the context of labors. It is especially vital for me to keep in mind with the unexpected, knowing it is easier for me to keep a positive mindset when it is something I am planning and preparing for with some idea of what to expect and time to reflect on how I want to respond before the onset of suffering. All of this closely links to what I envision as a worry-trust continuum. The more I can trust, rather than worry, the better able I am to offer up suffering and to willingly lean into suffering, rather than trying to run away.

As I recognize that I could sense the presence of God in a special way in my labors and as a sense of purpose emerges behind why each labor was perfect for my context at different points in my 20s and 30s, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude and awe.

I don't know whether I will ever be as strong as Blessed Chiara Badano offering up longer term suffering or as Saint Alphonsa asking for more suffering, but I trust that God has a plan for me and for my growth over time to live, love, and serve according to His will, and that He will strengthen me in order to say yes to that plan. I am grateful for the Blesseds and Saints of the Church providing such rich diversity in experiences and inspiration for how we can improve over time in our lives.

What are the experiences in your life when you saw events through a new lens or were able to recognize a strong presence of God? What have you learned because of those experiences? How do the experiences shape goals for future growth?

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Leaning Into Suffering - Part 3 Labor 4

This post is part of a series about suffering. If you did not see the initial posts, you can find them here and here.

April 2016
I thought ahead for months. With three labors past, I was more confident in what labor would be like. I remembered my mom saying how I (her fourth) was her easiest labor. I also let my doctor know my labors were typically fast and how I lost my calm when the doctor in my third labor said it was not time but then my baby was born immediately once the nurse told me to push. My doctor let me know to go in sooner rather than later and to make sure the nurses called her. One of my friends let me know there was a note on my chart telling them to call her as soon as they saw me.

My personal journey had led me to almost a full year of regularly attending daily Mass for the first time ever in my life, I had been investing in my personal faith formation, and had been going to a weekly Adoration for some months (something I had not done since my oldest was 1). As part of those experiences, I had heard about Blessed Chiara Badano from Chris Stefanick and Saint Alphonsa from my priest, which in combination with other readings and faith formation resources, helped me to consider the concept of uniting suffering to Christ's for the Salvation of Souls or the concept of offering it up. I recognized that was a vital piece that I wanted to keep in mind during labor. During Holy Week, I thought about Jesus' Agony in the Garden and the deeper understanding I had about that strengthened me.

I knew labor was approaching. I thought I was in labor on a Friday night but then the contractions went away and I waited and waited. I knew it was getting closer and made a prediction that it would happen by a certain time. Then it didn't. That point in time came and went without any regular contractions. But there was peace. I was able to have a patient mindset and inner dialogue with God that I trusted it would happen when and as it should, even if it was much different than my other labors for which I had a great sense of gratitude.

Sunday night, I woke with the familiar feeling. As soon as I had barely enough contractions to feel like they were regular, my husband and I once again headed to the hospital in the middle of the night. I let him know I just needed to focus and didn't want to be carrying on a conversation, so he stretched out on the bed for dads and rested. I set into my prayers within intermittent interruptions from the nurse. I rotated the Rosary ring on my finger as I went through the decades. When the IV was inserted making that painful, I counted on my fingers. I prayed and prayed. I wondered if I would make it through the Rosary before labor but ended up praying all four sets of Mysteries.

Jesus, I trust in You, I thought as the pain increased rather than yelling out as I had the previous labor. "For You, Jesus," I thought inspired by Blessed Chiara Badano's words. When it got harder, I imagined Jesus as the Good Shepherd, as it was not too long after Good Shepherd Sunday and my priest had talked about an image he has of Jesus carrying the lamb over His shoulders. I was calm and collected, yet ready to have my baby in my arms and the relief of knowing labor was over. I was impatient. "Remember, my babies are small," I said to my doctor when I heard those familiar words, "Not yet" a couple of times.

When I did have the go ahead to push, there was another surprise in store for me - it was not immediate and effortless. I actually had to get coaching from the nurses and my doctor on how to focus my energy while pushing. What? I thought. I needed to lean into the pain more, rather than on shifting too deeply into prayer. "Keep your eyes open. Stay with us," they said.

After my longest labor pushing (unless my first labor is too blurry with time), she was there and I was in awe. It wasn't what I had expected. I wasn't expecting it to be more effort than before. My four labors came into focus; I saw them from a new angle.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Leaning into Suffering - Part 2: Labors 1-3

This post is part of a series about suffering. If you did not see the initial post, you can find it here.

June 2003
With time the labor is a bit of a blur. This I do remember though. I went into labor thinking I wanted to avoid pain medication if possible but was open to it depending on what it was like. Some reading material for baptismal preparation that my husband and I read together mentioned that no matter how hard labor might hurt, Jesus suffered more. I appreciated that concept and asked my husband to remind me of that while in labor. Fast forward to the big day and when it started to really hurt, my husband lovingly reminded me as requested. I was too focused on the highest level of pain I had ever been in to that date that I was not able to embrace that thought and find the strength I thought I might have from that statement. Luckily, when the pain got to that level, it was time to push. The other memory that comes to mind from that labor is that my closest in age sister and mom were also with us, and right after it was over, my sister let me know I sounded like a pig or an elephant while pushing. Fabulous.

June 2006
Contractions were strong and I headed to the hospital. The doctor let me know that I may or may not have a baby that day and suggested I leave for about an hour. I let her know contractions felt stronger at home than they did in that moment, but the recommendation stood. It wasn't time yet. Two of my sisters and I decided to head out for ice cream, rather than going back home with my almost 3 year old and mom. The in and out would have been difficult for her. Afterward my sisters decided they wanted to walk a couple of more blocks down to get some coffee. Then while there, they decided they needed to use the bathroom one after the other as my pain level increased. Shortly after arriving back at the hospital I buzzed for the nurse wanting to let her know maybe I needed a little bit of pain medication after all. I was just starting to get more sad that circumstances meant my husband wouldn't be able to be with me to share in the moment when the nurse let me know it was time to push. She stepped out the door to call another nurse in and told me to go ahead. "Without the doctor?" I asked. She reassured me and just like that my baby was there. No time to feel sad. No time to dwell on the pain. Instead, I was left in awe that it was over so quickly.

April 2013
Seven years was enough to forget for sure what the pain felt like; nonetheless, anxiety built as it got closer and closer. I tried to focus on thinking that based on two previous labors, it would hurt really bad, but that would mean that it was time. Then it would all be over. As a result, when my husband and I went to the hospital in the middle of the night, I was calmer than ever. In my mind I said prayers, I talked to my baby, I visualized how it was going to go. I even smiled to myself thinking that my husband had no idea how close it was getting because I was able to remain so calm.

As the pain started to intensify, I imagined the doctor would walk in, my water would break, the pain would hit, and he would let me know it was time to push. Only, the words that came out of his mouth were "Not yet." And, I lost all the calm I had, along with keeping my words and thoughts in my mind. I tensed up and called out to God - the first time I remember yelling out in labor. The doctor told me to calm down or I would hurt myself. The nurse told me to remember my breathing. "If I can't push, I don't know what to do," I said. To which the nurse replied, "Do what you need to do." Then, there she was, my third baby girl. Once again, labor was over. He didn't know, I thought. It was time.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Leaning in to Suffering - Part 1: Introduction

Last fall I talked to my priest about how approaching another labor in the spring, I knew that I would need to conscientiously focus on trust, rather than anxiety. I knew as the months and days passed and I approached my due date that I would start to worry and wonder. However, I was starting to get a better sense of suffering and the concept of uniting suffering with Jesus's thanks to the influence of different layers of faith formation.

Thinking of the concept of Jesus' suffering was present while preparing for my first labor 13 years ago; however, I was much further from the concept sinking in. This April as I laid in my hospital bed with so many emotions, one of the salient thoughts was those four different labors making sense in teaching me about strength and suffering.

Today as my priest talked about St. Alphonsa in his homily on her feast day with words such as, "The wealth of the bride is the wealth of the bridegroom, and the wealth of my bridegroom is suffering" and her requests to "Give me more" when referring to suffering, I was reminded once again of my labors, what I have learned about suffering, and how far I can still grow in the area. Over a series of posts, I will share glimpses into my journey.

Saint Alphonsa, Pray for us.