Saturday, August 15, 2020

A Tale of Two Statues

Nobody said anything, but I could tell that most of them didn’t really like the idea.

I could tell by the silence and the lack of enthusiasm.

It had been suggested at a church meeting by one of our church’s elderly parishioners that we place a statue of the Blessed Mother in the newly acquired parking lot across from the church.  There was already a raised bed built of natural stone in the corner of the lot, and she thought it would be the perfect spot to establish a small grotto.  A few smirked, most said nothing, and the suggestion was ignored. 

Months went by and weeds overtook the stone bed in the corner.  Eventually, another member of the parish suggested that a “blessing box” be placed in the corner of the lot, directly on top of the stone bed, a suggestion that was met with enthusiastic support.  Within just a few days, the blessing box was in place, standing atop the would-be grotto.  The church parishioners took turns filling it with non-perishable food items for the local citizens in-need, who came to it within hours, usually leaving it empty again.

More time went by.  But then one Sunday, another parishioner made an announcement.  She and her husband had been given a lovely, vintage marble shrine of the Blessed Mother by their former parish, which no longer had a place for it, and she and her husband wanted to place it in the lot across from the church.  There was apprehension.  There was hesitancy.  But after this parishioner agreed to not only donate the shrine, but to also do all the labor and pay for all the expense of establishing it in the vacant lot across from the church, the church leaders agreed to allow it, and so she and her husband went to work. 

There were doubts.  Some, including myself, wondered how long a public statue of Our Blessed Mother would last.  We live in a wonderful small town, but Protestantism is strong here, and there are certainly a lot of misconceptions about Catholics and idolatry.  I feared that any statue of Our Lady would be vandalized, or be used by non-Catholics in the community as justification for their mistaken belief that Catholics “worship Mary”, as they so often like to say.  Still, I thought about how we, as Catholics, are called to evangelize not just by doing good works (such as the blessing box), but also, and perhaps more so, by publicly expressing our faith.  And so, on a hot Saturday in July, my family joined the husband and wife, and we helped pull weeds and put up new fence and cleaned up the old lot to make ready for the little Marian shrine.

On August 15 of last year, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, our priest blessed it. It was a lovely little shrine.  Following our priest, my children and others from the parish proceeded to the shrine from the church, singing Ave Maria and carrying silken lilies. That same day, my husband and I renewed our children’s consecration to the Blessed Mother in front of it.  Later, other members of my parish mentioned to me privately that they enjoyed stopping and saying a “Hail Mary” in front of it each time they took food to the blessing box.  It was beautiful, and I smiled at myself as I thought about how Our Lady has a way of coming to us no matter how many obstacles we put in her way.

But then she was gone.

It had happened in the middle of the night, about a month later, and was caught on security cameras.  Three young adults approached the statue at around 3:00 a.m., toppled it off its pedestal, and carried it off into the night.   As soon as my family heard the news, my kids began to cry.  Who would do such a thing, they asked?  How could they?  More concerning was what would happen to her?  Would she be used in some occult practice somewhere?  Or sold in a pawn shop?  Or simply smashed into little pieces and reduced to sediment in an act of demonic contempt? 

Feeling somewhat distraught, I reminded my children and myself that the statue had been blessed and consecrated and that it really belonged now to God, not us, and that if we trusted in him, something good would come out of the situation.  Then, we said a rosary, offering it for those who had stolen the statue and praying for its safe return.

It took a few weeks, but eventually, local law enforcement was able to use the video from the surveillance camera and track down the thieves.  And then, late one night, just as it had been stolen, the statue was returned, unharmed, by a sheriff’s deputy.

She was back, but by now, the monetary value of the statue had been made public, and there was a real concern that placing it back in the shrine would elicit another theft.  So, it was decided that instead of returning the high-value vintage statue to the shrine, another, less valuable statue would be put in its place.  The elderly parishioner, the one who had first suggested building the shrine two years earlier, eagerly offered to donate her family’s own Blessed Mother statue to replace the original, and so it was done, and almost a year later, it is still standing there, representing all that is good. 

We had hoped that today, one year from the day that the first statue was blessed, that our priest would bless this second statue that took its place.  We had planned to bring our family to mass, then we would process to the shrine and place roses at her feet and re-new the consecration of our children to our Blessed Virgin Mary, as we do every year on this day. However, it is not to be, as a member of our parish tested positive for COVID-19 this past week, and now our church is closed and locked for two weeks, and we are again left on our own to say our own prayers and ask for our own blessings.   So, instead, I visited the little shrine alone this morning, placed flowers around her feet, said a “Hail Mary”, and then walked over to the blessing box next to it and made my weekly donation of tuna fish, mac n cheese and sardines.

And if you are a long-time reader of this blog, you will know that my family, too, has an outdoor statue of our Most Blessed Mother.  When we lost our first child, Francis, I wanted a statue of Our Lady to stand guard over his grave, and so my husband and I made a special trip to a local statuary to find just the right one.  We placed our statue next to Francis’ grave, which over time, became two more graves as we lost more children in miscarriage.  I cannot express the consolation that seeing that statue over my children has brought to me through the past 15 years, and she has always been there waiting each time that I took “flowers to Francis”.

However, today, there is another statue in her place.  As it happens, when the couple who had donated the vintage statue of Our Lady decided not to place it back in the church lot’s shrine, they were left with the question of where should they keep it.  I encouraged them to take it home and set it up in their own yard, as a place of meditation and prayer, but they resisted this idea.  The wife said she was waiting for “just the right spot” because the statue meant so much to her, and she said that keeping it for themselves did not seem quite right.  And so, the statue stayed tucked away in storage for many more months.

One day recently, while visiting with her, I shared with the wife the story of our infertility struggle and mentioned the loss of three of our children.  I made the comment that we had buried our unborn babies, and she asked me where.  When I told her they are on our property, next to our Blessed Mother statue, she was astonished.  “That’s it!” she exclaimed.  “That’s where she belongs, next to your babies!” and she insisted that we place her beautiful vintage statue of Our Lady at their graves.  A few days later, she and her husband brought the lovely statue to our home, and we placed it over guard of Francis, Karol and Isaac-Anne. 

And there she stands today, on this Solemnity of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, one year from the day that she was blessed in the church parking lot, having since passed through the hands of both evil and good, and then being put into storage but finally ending up just where, as my friend said, she belonged all along.  As always, our Blessed Mother is never outdone, and God responded to our plea for her safe return in a way we never imagined. He is so good and so full of surprises.

Today, as my family stood in front of her and renewed our children’s consecration to her once again, I thought about the words of St. Paul, who wrote that "all things work for good for those who love God”(Romans 8:28). Might I add, for those who love His mother, too.






Saturday, July 25, 2020

And Now He's 10...

I know mothers are supposed to love all their children the same, but I can’t help but think they all have a special little spot for their first-born.  It’s not that the child him or herself is more special than any of their other children, but rather, what that child represents to the mother is extra special.  For women like me, who prayed to be mothers for so long, that first-born represents the end of a long, lonely walk in a barren desert, and an answer to countless prayers. And once that child comes along, after so many years of waiting and wanting, the thought of losing what we desired for so long is almost unbearable.

When my eldest son turned 8 a couple of years ago, I remember thinking he was starting to grow up.  And then in the blink of an eye, he turned 9, and I remember thinking that he was already half-way grown.  And now this week, he turned 10, and my heart is breaking as if I was about to watch him leave for college.  Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s in double-digits (something he likes to point out to me often), or perhaps it’s because he is starting to ask questions about adult things, and reading the newspaper and pulling out my recipe books and planning dinner.  I am very proud this little boy who isn’t so little anymore, and who I now refer to as my young man.  

He’s always been wise beyond his years, asking me questions that I found strangely perceptive for his age.  He’s still small for his age, which he comes by naturally, but his mind is growing by leaps and bounds.  He’s one of those kids who, by the age of four, already had most things in life figured out, and who studies everything.  He knows all the “book answers” and every day is a lesson in putting them into practice. 

Since he was five, I have been his school teacher.  We sat side-by-side on the sofa five years ago as he sounded out three-letter words to me and we tried to count to thirty together.  Today, we still sit side-by-side and I listen as he tries to explain CS Lewis to me, or we tackle mixed fractions together.  And each day now, there is always a moment when I look at him and I think, “When did you learn that?”

He is my metric for motherhood.  His birthday is my anniversary…the anniversary of when I made the crossing and left that barren desert of infertility behind.  And as he counts up to the day that he is fully grown and can leave home and embark upon his own “great adventures,” as he likes to say, for me, every day is a count down to when I have to finally let him go.  And maybe if I start preparing my heart for it now, then in the next ten years (or fewer), I’ll be ready for that day.  But probably not.

So for now, I enjoy the snuggles that he’s still willing to give, the way he walks beside me and still wants to hold my hand, the fact that he still thinks I can answer all his questions.  And as each day goes by faster than the day before, I’ll try to remember what a miracle he is and that, as the doctors said when I carried him, God must really have something important planned for him.  Something that will require me to let him go.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

7 Quick Takes - 7 Photos for June

For such a long year, it certainly is going by fast.  Rather than write another post about deep thoughts, I've opted to go for quick and easy this time and share seven photos from this past month, just for posterity sake, and to keep from breaking my own personal goal of one blog post per month in 2020!  So, here they are, in no particular order.

The garden.  There are people who take long summer vacations.  Serious gardeners are not one of them.  We finally got everything planted by early June and now we are in what I like to call "maintenance-mode" which basically means, keep the good plants growing taller than the bad ones.  To beat the heat, I go out about three times a week at sunrise and work at it for about two hours.  I love it.  The cool mornings, seeing the garden change daily, and having that quiet time to myself does me a world of good.  Each of our two older boys has their own garden this year, too, and I am encouraged to see their enthusiasm increasing a little every year as they take ownership in their own little patch of dirt.  Now, if I could just get them to pull the weeds...

Related to my last blog post and all that's going on in our country today, I guess you could say that this photo represents my form of protest.

And this.  He has recently developed a love of "saying mass" at home.  He walks around and hands out the host to anyone who will take it, saying "Body Christ".  He says he's making his own "home church", which isn't surprising because...

...we are now on week number 15 of having "home church" instead of going to mass at our church.  Because of the social distancing requirements, there isn't room for everyone to fit in our little church now, so we are trying to give others the opportunity to go, plus, ever try to keep a mask on a 3-year old?  My husband has done a beautiful job leading our "dry masses" at home, and then when we wrap that up, we all load up in the car and drive to our church where the priest gives us holy communion in the parking lot.  He is also allowing us to make appointments for confessions and hears them outside as well.  Strange times.

About a week ago, the boys and I joined with two other families and participated in the "Rise Up and Run" 5K organized by Melody over at The Essential Mother.  It was so much fun!  We were lucky enough to have a cool weather spell and took advantage of it to complete the run.  Before we did our run/walk/bike, each of us talked about who or what we were praying for during the run, and I was touched by how thoughtful our little ones were.  One child prayed for her grandparents who had lost jobs due to COVID-19, one for his father, one for a recently widowed friend, etc.  It was such a beautiful moment and I thank Melody for encouraging everyone to "Rise Up and Run", united in prayer.

This past week, we marked the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, which is a very special occasion in our family.   My husband and son both share St. John the Baptist as their patron saints, and it is also my husband's birthday.   St. John the Baptist has interceded for my family on at least two very important occasions, and I truly believe I have him to thank for two of my children.  I keep meaning to write a post on the subject and maybe I'll get one up in time for the Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist on August 29.

Our little John with his name-day gifts.

In the coming month, I will have been a parent for ten years.  Ten years!  It is not lost on me that my little ones are already half grown.  From the time that they turned eight, it seems like my two "twibling" boys have just grown up before my eyes.  It does break my heart, and scares me a little.  Last night, while helping me wash the dishes, my oldest began to explain to me his interpretation of heaven and hell and I really had to stop and listen to him in order to understand it all.  His thoughts were so profound and complex (he's been trying to read CS Lewis lately) and all I could think was, when did he learn all of this?  I focus so often on my failings as a mother, but moments like that remind me that God will redeem anything that I offer up to him, including all of my parenting mistakes.

Now, hop on over to Kelly's blog to check out some other quick takes of life in the Catholic blogosphere.  Thanks, Kelly!