Friday, July 31, 2015

7 Quick Takes - Goodbye July

First, thank you to everyone who took the time this month to read the story of our crossing over into parenthood. I suppose in some ways, it read like a fairy tale, which was a big reason why I debated whether or not I should share it.  Of course, none of us gets to live a fairy tale and for every prayer answered the way I want it to be, there are many more prayers that simply leave me wondering if I am even heard.  For example, this photo that I used in the story?

It was taken the day we buried our last baby, in March of 2013.  We had just had the burial and were walking up the hill when I spotted this rainbow through the trees. I took the picture because I wanted to remember that moment.  My heart was filled with sadness at losing the future I'd envisioned having with that child, but looking up and seeing this symbol of hope reminded me that what I have lost in this world will be gained in the next.  That is what I hope and pray for most.


Prayers that yield happy endings are cherished but they are also rare.  I suppose most of my prayers do little more than lead me towards acceptance, and I got a good reminder of that this past week.  I was participating in the Sts. Anne and Joachim novena, both saints who are very dear to me. Our petition was (and always is) for God to bless us with another child.  Imagine what I thought when, four days into the novena, an adoption situation came up that sounded perfect and not only that, but the birthmother's name was Anne.  I just knew it was a sign.  But while we were in the process of getting our profile to her, we got word that she'd already been matched.  It had only been a couple of days but in those two days, I'd let my mind run wild with the idea of having a real adoption possibility in the works.  Now, we are back to waiting again with no prospects.  So no, I am not a big believer in prayer always changing things, but prayer does change me.  Even though this situation fell through for us, Tom and I had an important change of heart regarding what we'd be willing to accept in regards to the kind of adoption situation we'd consider, and perhaps that was the best thing to come out of our latest novena. Perhaps that was the answer to those particular prayers.

And so life goes on, and we've been trying to make the most of it.   I'm proud to say that the boys took first prize again in our local Fourth of July Children's Parade this month.  This year, we went with the theme "Keep America Beautiful" and decorated their wagon with recyclable or reusable materials. Inside the wagon, we placed sorted recyclables and encouraged people to "reduce, reuse, recycle".  I think Pope Francis would be pleased with our environment-friendly theme!

We've also been hanging out a lot at the local splash pad.  The Hillbilly Shower as my husband (who is not from Kentucky) likes to call it.  Next time, maybe I'll bring a bar of soap.

We kept John's birthday party small this year, just us and the grandparents. How did I end up with a five-year old?  More importantly, how did I end up with a five-year old who prefers grilled salmon for a birthday dinner?   We're raising a pretty odd kid, I think.  Apple, meet tree.  He also requested his usual cake...chocolate with chocolate frosting, same as last year.  He may be an odd duck, but at least he's consistent.  We wanted to take him and his brother swimming on his birthday, but we had yet another rainy day here, so he opted for seeing his first theater movie instead.  It was a big hit, but I think he loved the popcorn more than the movie!  Can't say that I blame him.

A few days after John's birthday, we celebrated the feast of Sts. Anne and Joachim.  St. Joachim is Joah's patron saint (you can read about how we chose Joah's name here) and so he got to have some fun and extra treats on that day. For once, we had a sunny day on his feast day, so we finally got to go swimming and then came home to feast on Joah's special request...whoopie pies!


It's also harvest time around here.  The deer were kind enough to leave a little behind in our garden for our family.  We're enjoying sweet corn (a variety called "Ambrosia" and it lives up to its name) and lots of green beans.  Okra and tomatoes, plenty of basil (which the deer do not touch, strangely) and lovely sunflowers and zinnias.  We're picking blueberries too, which I call "bear bait". I'm amazed the bears haven't found them yet but I know that day is coming.  A neighbor lost 30 ears of corn in one night to her friendly local bear last week. Twenty years ago, I helped with the re-introduction of black bears to this area.  It seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, I ask myself "What were you thinking?"   Needless to say, the program was a success.  Ah, the irony.

We're into week eight already on kindergarten homeschooling.  I wanted to start during this summer to give it a trial run.  It has been going really well.  John loves "lesson time" and Joah mostly observes for now.   I'm very happy with how it fits into our lifestyle so far. I wish we had more support (we have none) from our family and friends but Tom is totally on-board with homeschooling and John is doing great.  Perhaps in time, the rest of our family and friends will come around.  We've joined the local home school co-op too, so maybe we'll find some kindred spirits there eventually.  In the meantime, we're just going to keep plugging along day by day.

This blog will be quiet for a while after this post.  I'll be playing biologist in the wilderness while the boys enjoy the city life with their grandparents.  With God's grace,we'll reconvene back in our hillbilly homeland in time for the "dog days" to be over and the taters ready for digging.

Happy August!

And thank you, Kelly, for hosting another Quick Takes.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Crossing - Conclusion

For John.

Sometimes, it is the mundane ordinariness of our lives that saves us.  I can’t imagine what I would have been like during the month that followed your fetal diagnosis of ventriculomegaly if I had not had my day-to-day obligations to keep me distracted.  I woke each morning during those next few weeks focused on the tasks at hand, and filled my days with staying busy at work and at home.  The nights, however, were long, and hours were spent saying countless prayers for you before I cried myself to sleep.  Your father and I were praying for a miracle, of course, but our expectations were low.  We knew the odds, and we knew that we no more deserved a miracle than anyone else.  The fact that I’d been carrying you inside of me for nearly seven months was already more miracle than we’d ever expected. 

Four weeks after the initial diagnosis, we went back to the perinatal center for a follow-up ultrasound.  This time, the ultrasound was intended to tell us how advanced the ventriculomegaly might be so that we could begin making preliminary plans for your pending surgery and prognosis.  That morning, I worked from home on reports and file transfers and tried not to think of the news and decisions that we’d have to face later in the day.  No longer did I look forward to the doctor visits or sonograms.  Instead, each carried with it a sense of dread as I continued to wait for the other shoe to drop. 

The day was June 14.  Your father and I said a rosary on our hour-long drive to the perinatal center, but otherwise, spoke very little. Our hearts were heavy and all we could do is just hold hands.  We walked into the now familiar sonography room and the process of scans by the technician was repeated again, only this time, with less small talk.  And again, she finished and left the room and the doctor returned.  He repeated the scan, again saying very little, then put his hands in his lap, took a deep breath and exclaimed, “The ventriculomegaly seems to have resolved.”   And then he smiled.  

And that was it.   That was how we found out that we’d been blessed with not just one, but two, miracles. 

And it was in that moment, more than any other, in which I began to truly understand that you did not belong only to your father and me, but to a much larger heavenly family as well. Your life and your destiny would be guided by all of us, and I was already little more than a witness to God’s grace and mercy as it was being revealed through you.

So, when my water unexpectedly broke eleven days later, at 32 weeks, on the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, your namesake, I knew that it was no coincidence.  We had chosen your name, John, many months before, as a tribute to your father because he shares his birthday with this great saint’s feast, and also, as a way to honor the parents of St. John the Baptist, Elizabeth and Zechariah, who’d also longed for a child.  As I lay in that hospital bed in the labor and delivery room, listening to doctors and NICU nurses explain to me the procedures for preterm deliveries, I felt a strange calmness.  I knew that God was going to have the final say, as He had proven already.

And so He did.  After being informed that 90% of all preterm premature ruptures of membranes (PPROM) result in birth within 24 hours, you were still in-utero and growing 48-hours later.  And then, after being told that the risk of infection was great, and that I would most likely need to be induced within a few days of the PPROM, daily ultrasounds and an amniocentesis indicated that my amniotic fluid levels were gradually replenishing and that there were no signs of infection.  Every fetal stress test came back with the same result and nurses would exclaim, “In spite of everything, your baby seems to be doing great!” and they did little to hide the genuine amazement in their voice.  Two weeks after my water had broken, your father and I went back home.  You had beaten the odds again and once again, we had witnessed another miracle in your life.

But our trials were far from over. A few days after going home, we learned that a potentially serious bacterium, Clostridium bifermentans, had been found growing in the culture from my amniocentesis.  My doctor said he had never seen such a thing and his concerns were beyond serious.  Such dangerous bacteria in-utero, he told us, could have a devastating effect upon both your and my health, and he urgently encouraged me to undergo a second amniocentesis immediately, which I did. Three more sleepless nights passed, filled with prayers for you, as we waited for the results. All was good, we learned a few days later; for reasons unknown, the Clostridium was gone.  

And so, despite all odds, the pregnancy continued, and I anxiously awaited the ninth month.  Only, it did not turn out to be nine months, because two weeks after returning home, my water broke again, this time, at 36-weeks.  And this time, my doctor decided that enough was enough, and that all miracles aside, it was time to introduce you to the world before all our luck finally ran out.  I did not argue.  After so many tests of faith and months of fear and anxiety, I wanted more than anything to see you and touch you and know that you were real. I wanted to hold you in my arms and feel like I could protect you from anything else that may cause you harm, even if, in my heart, I knew that I really couldn’t.  But more than that, I wanted the uncertainty that had come the moment I learned of your existence, and that had haunted me every day since, to come to an end. 

Twenty-four hours later, it was finally over, and I was holding you. I looked at you, and I thought about all the years of waiting and hoping and crying and praying.  I thought about how you’d already beaten the odds not once, not twice, but three or four times, and how little control I’d had over any of it.  I thought about how you had already been prayed for and loved by so many whom you would never meet on this side of heaven.  But most of all, I thought about how I started preparing to lose you the moment I knew you’d been given to me. 

The months that I carried you inside me were the time during which God taught me my greatest lessons in parenting. From the moment I conceived you, I’d had so little control over your life and your destiny. Through every trial and moment of great jeopardy, I’d had no choice but to trust God completely with your life. When we were faced with having a child with ventriculomegaly, I learned that I would have to be willing to love you and care for you regardless of whatever shape or form your life may take. When doctors and nurses assured me that you would be born within a few hours and it turned out to be a few weeks, I learned that even when I and others believe that your life might go in a particular direction, none of us would necessarily be able to predict the final outcome.  But most of all, during all those times when I expected the worst and was sure that I was losing you, I learned to cherish having you with me in that moment, and to be willing to trust God with your future. These were lessons I needed to learn in order to be your mother, and the lessons that molded me into the kind of mother that I am today.

Some might say you are a gift but you are more than that.
You are God's treasure (Deut. 7:6).  

~ Happy Birthday ~

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Crossing - Part 2 of 3

For John.

The ultrasound technician did the run through, showed us your face, your shoulders, your fingers and feet.  You wiggled and squirmed and your father and I were filled with awe and pride as we stared at the monitor.  Without any prompting, the ultrasound technician got up and left and in her place came a doctor.  He repeated the process again, politely showing us your various features, and then he paused, looked at us, and said calmly and deliberately:

“The ventricles of the brain are enlarged.”

Of course, he said much more, but for me, all the other words seemed to just float around in the air, and only some of them came to land in my consciousness.  Words like “normal life”, “shunts to drain”, “surgery after birth”, "one in a thousand".  And then I stopped listening, and I just stared at your image, still on the monitor, still squirming and growing and full of so much life.

When we got home, your father tried to explain to me what the doctor had said.  Borderline bilateral ventriculomegaly.  It is a term that, to this day, I still cannot recall, and I must ask your father each time to tell me again.  From the moment I first heard it, I have blocked it from my mind.  Your father researched it, and when we discovered just how enormous the odds of you being diagnosed with this condition were, our hearts broke into pieces.  We were convinced that this didn’t just happen by chance; instead, we believed it was yet another way that God had decided to test us.  Never before had I felt such betrayal by the God whom I had only recently begun to trust again.  I felt like we’d just been subjected to one of the dirtiest tricks that providence could play on us.

But where do you turn in times like that if not back to God?  We knew that we must carry on, and that we would love you no matter what your future held, and we asked God to not forsake us in that moment of desolation.  We cried at night and each morning, we washed away our tears and faced our days.  We told no one of your diagnosis, for we knew that the weight that would be added from well-meaning yet careless comments would be more than we could handle.  Time would reveal all, we believed, and so we prayed for a miracle, and began our journey toward acceptance of God’s will for you and for us.

In was during the midst of this journey, only a few days after that devastating ultrasound, when your father found himself in the cathedral. It was the same church in which he’d frequently prayed for a child, and where he’d often gone to find peace during those many years that we waited for you.  As he fervently prayed that day, he looked up and noticed a bishop walking towards the sanctuary.  Your father felt moved to approach him and rushed toward the front of the church and caught the bishop’s attention.  And he poured out the whole story to this holy man, the story of our years of struggle to conceive, the loss of a previous child, and now the story of you and your miraculous conception, and our most recent tragedy of facing an uncertain future with you.  The bishop listened carefully and then he simply asked, “When can you come back here with your wife?  I want to pray with you both.”  

Two days later, we sat in a quiet room with the bishop, and we talked of our lives and our various journeys in faith.  He told us that he was going to pray for you specifically and also, that your father and I would be blessed with even more children.  He then stood, walked over to my side, and asked your father to do the same.  The bishop placed his hands upon my head while your father placed his on my shoulders, and as your father and I listened, the bishop prayed aloud using words that I did not understand.  Peace filled the room and your father, in particular, said that he had felt something come over him that he could not explain.   Unlike me, he was certain that something had changed.

We went home and for the first night since we’d learned of the ventriculomegaly, we slept soundly.  But little did we know that God would be granting us one more very powerful intercessor as we made our way on this journey.  It was three days after our prayerful meeting with the bishop that your great-grandmother died.  She had been our last living grandparent and she had been so excited to meet you.  When we had last seen her, only a few months before, she had appeared well, and she spoke excitedly about your pending arrival. She loved all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren so much, and we couldn’t wait to introduce you to her.   To learn of her unexpected death was yet another blow to us.  Why now?   And yet, somehow, I felt like I knew the answer to that.   “She wants to help us,” I told your father, “and now she can help us more than ever.” So, as we stood beside her casket and looked upon her one last time, I made one final request of her, “Please, ask Jesus to heal our son.”

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Crossing - Part 1 of 3

This is not a birth story; it is the story of our crossing from the island of infertility into the land of parenthood.  We waited for a long time to make this crossing and when it finally happened, it was far from what we'd always dreamed becoming parents would be like. I like to think that the years we struggled to have children prepared us for this crossing, but maybe not.  Maybe instead, those years and this crossing prepared us for what still lies ahead. Only God knows.

This story has a happy ending, and to this day, I am not sure why.  We didn't expect it, certainly did nothing to earn it, and even less to deserve it.  Why did everything work out the way we prayed for it to when, for so many, it does not?  I do not know. I don't think anyone really knows.  Those kinds of questions are the great mysteries of this life that we are not meant to solve.  All I know is that we were blessed, not favored by any means, but blessed.  We have been entrusted with much and now, much more will be expected of us (Luke 12:48).

It was during the infertility years and even more, during this crossing, that I asked so many, many times, "Why me?"  "Why us?"   It took years for me to understand that it was a pointless question, really, because there is no satisfactory answer.  I suppose if God gave us the answer to that one, we'd have no reason to long for our greatest crossing yet to come. and the only crossing that truly matters.


For John.

It was December 9, 2009, and you were about to change everything.

Two weeks before that, a miracle had occurred, and you had entered our world. However, I was far from being ready to accept that you were real when I looked at that positive pregnancy test with your father on that Wednesday morning.  “This won’t end well,” was all I could think, and I gathered my lunch and headed to my office, where I was determined to bury any thought of you with my piles of paperwork and the distraction of our annual office Christmas party.

I wish I could say that there was rejoicing; I really do.  That was the way it was supposed to be, and the way your father and I had imagined it would be all those years ago.   Instead, now we guarded our hearts and prepared for the worst because, after almost nine years of trying, and after saying goodbye to the only baby we’d ever conceived four years earlier, we were convinced that we would never know the joy of having you in our lives.

The first few days after we discovered you existed were long and trying.  Your father and I felt the stress of waiting for blood work results and our mood was tense and anxious.  When the doctor called and said everything looked good so far, I felt relief, but not peace.  The next eight months, I knew, would be the longest of my life.  We called your grandparents soon after, and gave them our news, but in my diary, I wrote that their response was “anti-climatic” because they too, could no longer picture your father and me as the parents we longed to be.  The image of me as a mother holding her child in her arms had faded away over the years.

The next few weeks were exhausting in every way imaginable.  Every cramp in my abdomen convinced me that your time with me would be short.  Instead of giving me hope, the soreness from the weekly progesterone injections served only as a daily reminder of how much at-risk my pregnancy was.  The biggest thing that I felt grateful for at the time was morning sickness that was not too severe, thus allowing me to continue through my workdays with the same intensity and fervor that had been my antidote to all the depression and sadness I’d been fighting during the past several years.  On December 28, 2009, I saw you for the very first time, the flicker of a heartbeat, and I thanked the Holy Innocents for this gift on their feast day, and I prayed that you would not become one of them. 

The new year came and went and you grew inside me.  My doctor seemed surprised by how well you and I were doing, and after a few months, the progesterone injections were discontinued.  My pregnancy seemed to be progressing normally, but I still could not bring myself to believe that you would one day be real and sleeping in my arms.  Other than our immediate family, your father and I shared the news of your existence with no one and our family kept our secret.  We had all become accustomed to keeping our pain to ourselves. 

Eventually, I had to buy maternity clothes and could no longer hide you.  When our co-workers and friends discovered that I was expecting, there was astonishment.  Your father and I had fit their image of the “childless by choice” career-couple well.  As a 41-year old woman who had been married almost a decade, it had been assumed that children were not part of our future. To see my protruding belly now shattered every perception that others had of me, and I took a certain amount of pleasure in finally being shed of that image of me that reflected nothing of the person I was inside. 

The second trimester was a time of healing for me both physically and spiritually.  As the morning sickness subsided and eventually disappeared completely, I found myself relishing in a newfound energy.  Your father and I would take daily walks down our countryside lane each evening and talk about our future with you.  What would your name be?  Would you be a boy or a girl?  Would you be a red-head like your daddy was?  Spiritually, I was growing as well, and my prayers of petition that had been endless for years slowly became prayers of thanksgiving.  “This could really happen to us,” I thought.  “Why not?” 

In mid-April, we went in for our 20-week ultrasound.  We were excited because we had been told that this was the point at which we would learn if we had a son or a daughter.  We had decided that we wanted to know your gender as soon as possible. Because the fear of losing you was still great in our hearts, we wanted to know as much as we could about you for as long as you were ours.  When we walked out of that sonography room, we thanked God for giving us a son.  A son!  Even more, our sonographer had indicated we had nothing to fear, and we thanked God for a child who was growing and healthy. For once, we felt peace.

Another month passed.  Of my entire pregnancy, those four weeks turned out to be the best of all.  It was spring and everywhere around me, I saw life was bursting forth and I rejoiced in it. We planted our garden, took walks in the woods, and made plans for our future with you.  I finally felt confident enough to set up a baby registry, and your grandmother began planning a baby shower.  My blood work and regular checkups indicated that all was going well with you, and each day was better than the one before it.  I had never felt so incredibly blessed.

But then one day, your father called me while I was at work.  “They want us to have another ultrasound,” he said, “and this time, they want it done at the perinatal center.”  He went on to say that he had asked the doctor’s office why this was needed, and the nurse had only said that they wanted to keep a close eye on me because I was still considered high risk and that it was just a precaution.  “Plus, we get a 3-D image of our baby,” your father told me, which made me excited, and I naively looked forward to the day.  And so, two days later, we got another look at you, and our world turned upside down.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Almost Five

We have a birthday coming up next week.  Our eldest (by a whopping six
months and two weeks) will be turning five years old.  I still find myself staring at this little man, wondering if having him in my life is just a dream.  To say he is a miracle to us just doesn't seem adequate.  He is a daily reminder to me of God's mercy and compassion.

I don't know what the future holds for this little guy.  I pray for him and his brother daily, but I do not worry.  I know beyond any doubt that He belongs to God more than he belongs to me and that God holds his future.  And it was in thinking about that during the past few weeks that I felt inspired to finally write the story about the months that preceded his birth. Although it obviously has a happy ending, it is still a story filled with fear and pain and hope and faith, and it has taken me five years to face the emotions again and be ready to tell it.  In honor of his birthday, I will share it here this coming week.

In the meantime, here are a few wise words from an almost five-year-old.  We were killing time one rainy day last month and I had my laptop out and just started randomly asking John questions and jotting down his answers.  For posterity's sake, I decided to record them here.  The time just goes by way too fast and I will soon forget these moments.   

Oh...and don't let the second question fool you. His birthday really is next week. I asked him these questions on June 10 and he was hoping that by saying his birthday was in June, he'd maybe score a chocolate cake a month earlier. He's always thinking and usually a step ahead of me!

What’s your name? John 
When were you born? June
Where were you born? Missouri
What’s your favorite food?  Candy!
What’s your favorite color? Blue
What do you love to do with Mommy? Sleep
What do you love to do with Daddy?  Play drums.
What do you love to do with Joah?  Hug him and throw him in the air.
What do you want to be when you are a grown up?  Old.
What do you love about your mommy?  Your eyes.
What do you love about your daddy?  His drums.
Do you like summer or winter better?  Summer!
What’s your favorite thing to do outside?  Swimming
What’s your favorite thing to do inside?  TV
What’s your favorite prayer?  Angel of God prayer.
What scares you most?  Lightning
What’s your favorite animal?  Zebras
Do you like Christmas or Easter better?  Easter because I get a lot of candy.
What makes you sad?  If Joah is crying and hurt. 
What makes you happy?  Going places.
What makes you angry?  Joah biting me.
What is something mommy always says to you?  Go poo poo.
How old are you?  Four.
How old is mommy?  I don’t know.  Twelve? Thirty?  Eighty?
What are you very good at?  Maybe helping Mommy.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

To The Top

I trudged up the narrow footpath, slowly putting one foot in front of the other, stopping every few steps to suck in the cool mountain air and to look up.  Ahead, I saw only more rock, more ice, and more mountain; the mountain that went up and up with no end in sight. With my hand, I shielded my eyes from the glaring sun that pierced through the deep blue sky, and through my squinting, I could make out the distant clouds that would soon bring the afternoon thunderstorms.  My friends and I had only a few hours left to make the summit before the distant clouds unleashed their powerful force.

“This was supposed to be fun,” I said to myself as I took another sip from my self-rationed water. My head was pounding, but the light-headedness I’d succumbed to the day before during my first climbing attempt had mostly subsided.  Now, I only needed to conquer the breathlessness that came from being unaccustomed to the high altitude.  I looked back down at the ground and focused on the path in front of me and my next step.

I was 28-years old and trying to make it to the summit of Mt. Uncompahgre, a majestic 14,321-foot mountain in the Colorado Rockies.  The day before, I’d attempted to climb its sister mountain, Wetterhorn, but had been forced to stop less than a hundred feet from its summit due to extreme dizzy spells. I had sat on a rock just below its pinnacle while my three comrades summited without me.  I tried to convince myself as I sat there, looking up at them from below, that the view from my location was just as good as theirs and that making it to the top didn’t really matter that much, but still, I felt disappointed.  I had not reached my goal, and my body had failed me, and I was not accustomed to feeling like a failure, even if it was for the sake of my own safety.

Now, as I trudged up Uncompahgre in my second attempt to summit my first fourteener, I was beginning to feel defeat closing in again.  This time, my body was willing, thanks to another 24-hours I'd had to acclimatize to the altitude, but my spirit was weak. Suddenly, the effort and fatigue no longer felt like they had any meaning, and my desire to summit meant nothing to anyone, including myself.  If I decided to stop now, nobody would blame me, and really, no one would care. I could just turn around, I told myself, and walk back to camp and take a nap, and have a perfectly good time while I waited for my friends to return. Nothing was worth so much effort, I told myself.  This was not supposed to be so hard.  Let others do it, I said to myself.  They are in better shape, enjoy it more, want it more.  I just…can’t.

And then an image came to my mind.  It was from a photograph that I’d seen not long before I’d made this journey to the Colorado mountains.  It was a picture of a young man, about my age, standing atop a mountain with snow and peaks surrounding him.  He looked strong, and confident, and full of spirit and life, and everything that I wished I could be, as he stood on top of that mountain. And more than anything, he looked like someone who never quit and who faced every physical and spiritual challenge with determination, faith, and fearlessness. The look on his face seemed to say, “I can conquer anything,” and from what little I knew about his life, he had.  But, I also knew that he had not done it alone.

And so, trudging up that mountainside that day, I decided to call upon him.  To ask him to walk beside me each step until I reached the top.  Surely, I thought, he too knew the feelings of fatigue and disillusionment that I was facing in that moment.  I pictured him in my mind, climbing with me, step by step, encouraging me to not quit and to not lose heart.  And slowly, my spirit began to improve, and I began to focus on the thrill and jubilation that would come when I reached the endpoint of my journey up the mountain, instead of focusing on the agony of the journey itself.

Before I knew it, I was there.  After thousands of steps, each pushing upwards, suddenly, there was no more climbing left for me to do.  The ground had leveled out, my breathing became easy and relaxed, and I was able to rejoice and relish in the 360-degree view around me, in which I was elevated higher than anything or anyone else in my surroundings.  To be standing above all else, even the birds, was an incredible feeling and worth every tortured and painful step.

I never climbed another fourteener after that.  Life went on and I returned to the low lands.  A few years later, I would be married, and soon after that, I would be climbing spiritual mountains much higher than any Colorado fourteener.  And again, I would find myself facing defeat, thinking none of it matters and nobody really cares, not even me.  And more than anything, I would feel incredibly alone, climbing a mountain that nobody else could see.

But as I learned on that mountainside many years ago, at those moments when the struggles feel insurmountable and the mountains too steep, I can turn to divine help.  I need only to recognize that many have climbed these same mountains ahead of me, and if I ask them to, they will help me make it to the top.  They will walk with me, maybe even ahead of me, and show me the way.  They have made it to the summit and more than anything else, they want to share the view with me. 

And if I ever doubt this, I need only to recall my climb up Uncompahgre many years ago. Because little did I know, on that 4th day of July, in 1997, that it was also the feast day of Blessed Pier Georgio Frassati, upon whose intercession I had called upon that day to help me make it to the top.

Bl. Pier Georgio, pray for us.

At the Top
July 4, 1997