Mary of the morning glories…..

(In tribute to the loveliest Mother of all…a favorite post from the archives.)
Happy Mother’s Day, Sweet Mary!

The above statue of Our Lady has accompanied my husband and me throughout almost our entire life together.

He surprised me with it at our first real home in Greenville, NC, three years after we were wed. He placed it on a pedestal beneath a large maple tree in the backyard. Then he planted a vine of large blue morning glories at the base of the tree. It quickly took root and wound gracefully around the trunk, creating a blanket of blue each morning behind Mary’s statue.

I loved looking out of my kitchen window, sipping my first morning cup of tea and seeing morning glories and Mary. As the day wore on, the warmth of the sun would cause the flowers to fade and by afternoon, their beauty was gone. But each morning, they returned, glorious, with the dawn.

During those happy days, I never imagined how much Mary and the morning glories would soon come to mean to me. Only a year after she took her place beneath the maple tree, I was diagnosed with the cancer which destroyed all of our dreams of having babies…an unexpected tragic end to four years of trying to conceive.

I packed a small statue of Mary to take to the hospital with me, and placed her upon the window sill where I could glance at her comforting presence. But there were no morning glories for me, and I felt that there never would be again.

Eventually, I came home, and I would sit on the backyard swing, near Mary’s tree and pray my rosary..over and over. I prayed to live, and I prayed for some relief from the unbearable pain of losing children I had never even known. And Mary listened, and the morning glories brought beauty into an otherwise barren, thirsting, aching season of my life.

We moved back to our home state in the deep South a year later. My husband could not get morning glories to grow in our sunny yard which had no mature trees. So, he placed Mary’s statue in front of the rose garden he had planted. And she reigned there for twenty years.

She smiled, I know, on the day we brought home our adopted infant son. And as he played in the yard as a little boy, I imagined Mary watching over him. When he was old enough, we sometimes had May crownings with his friends who lived next door. And when he became a teenager, I would run sobbing to the rose garden and unburden my heart to Mary…just as I had years before with the cancer. Only this time I was too distraught to even say my rosary. But I knew she understood.

Now, it is just my husband and I again, and we have moved to yet another home. As you can see, Mary’s garden is now filled with lilies and roses and other assorted flowers which change with the seasons. Right across from her statue, there is a garden bench, a place where one can sit and pray or simply enjoy the sounds of the birds and squirrels playing. Often my husband will relax there with a beer, after cutting the lawn. Sometimes, I pray my Divine Office or a rosary in this shady spot. Glancing at Mary’s statue, I feel a certain peace. She is still with us, and we have survived the many crosses which have fallen upon us since Mary of the morning glories first took her place beneath the maple tree.

Her statue reveals the toll of decades spent in the sun, wind and rain. The surface is no longer a smooth gray color, and her features have been worn down from their original loveliness. She, like my husband and me, reflects the passage of time. Yet we would never dream of replacing our precious statue with a new one. She has watched over us all these years…through all the joys and sorrows life brings. And we want her with us until the last page of our lives has been written.

The blows of life have buffeted and scarred us as well. But they have taught us to depend on God alone and to put all of our faith in Him. Gone from this life forever are those carefree morning glory days of youth …now we dream of the glory of Heaven. There we hope to see, no longer a faded statue, but our Most Beloved Mother in all of her eternal beauty….

Thank you, Mary, for accompanying us with your living presence, throughout our lifetime together. I know you have held us when we were broken with sorrow and that you have rejoiced with us in the good times. What a comfort to know that you will always be with us until that day when at last we behold Your Divine Son Jesus in Glory.

Stay near, dearest Mother, until the morning glories bloom again….forever.  I love you!

She who was called barren is in her sixth month….

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While my husband was checking out at Sam’s this afternoon, I took a seat in the snack area nearby.  And it was there that it captured me….a tiny, delicately sculpted foot with dimples and miniature toes….a perfect work of art.  I always marvel at that fresh beauty of a baby’s little fingers and toes, appearing almost too perfect to be real…like a masterpiece of purest wax.

This tiny, kicking foot was kissed and cuddled by an adorable little girl of about four, no doubt sister to whom I later saw was a baby boy of a few months, peacefully nursing from his bottle.  And, I didn’t cry.  Those of you who know my story might have expected that.

But not this time.  As I watched the husband and father of this trio gather his family together, I was lost in thought over the wondrous power they possessed.

Do they ever think about such things….these life- bearers entrusted with clothing in flesh the very children of God?   I know that we, the infertile, the barren, probe this mystery in breathless and unending fascination, turning it round and round, in wondrous contemplation.

But what of us?  Are we forgotten, somehow cursed by God, disgraced and covered in shame as once believed not so long ago…and surprisingly, somewhat in our own day.

I think not.  I think not, on this day when we celebrate the Birth of John the Baptist, son of Zechariah and the once hopelessly barren Elizabeth.

And… there were so many others.  So many women with “closed wombs” whom the Lord permitted to suffer the agony and disgrace of barrenness before blessing them with many of His most chosen servants.

Who can forget Sarah, who “laughed” because she was so old, but gave birth to Isaac a year later?  And what of the beautiful Rebecca, wife of Isaac, who had to wait 45 years before conceiving Jacob and Esau?

“Give me children or I shall die,” wailed Rachel, wife of Jacob.  And the Lord heard her cries and she brought forth Joseph and Benjamin.

Why were the wives of these great men of God, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, all afflicted with such long periods of barrenness, before the Lord blessed them with sons through whom He would in turn raise up His people, Israel?

And then there was Hannah, who is remembered for her tears as she cried before the Lord for a child, and was answered and brought forth the great prophet Samuel.

Another barren woman….another great man of God conceived.

There is mystery here.  There is emptiness filled to overflowing.  There is agony and shame brought to glory.

Elizabeth knew the glory, as her once barren womb was filled with the Holy Spirit rushing upon her child of whom Jesus later said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist.”

But what of us?  What of those women who, unlike our sisters above, will never have fruitful wombs?  Or those who have given birth, but who yearn for more children?  Has God forgotten us?

God never changes.  He is the same God Who heard the cries of Rachel and saw the tears of Hannah….and He has seen our tears, and heard our cries.

I do not pretend to know Why.  But it is enough to know that He Hears.

God Who IS Life and is the Giver of all life must weep when He lays this particular Cross on His daughters, created to give life too.  We must trust in His tenderness, His goodness, His Love.

We can be sure that there is nothing He will allow us to suffer that we won’t rejoice over one day… when we understand.

Meanwhile, let us pray for those struggling with infertility.  Let us pray for the unborn.  Let us pray for couples who stifle their life-giving gifts.  Let us pray for those who have miscarried or lost children in other ways.  Let us pray for those who suffer anguish over past abortions.

And let us rejoice with those who are fruitful, and praise God for every precious life, and for every tiny hand and foot and baby smile.

He expects no less of us…..we who are called to bear the mystery of our barrenness into the Glory of Eternal LIFE….where the mystery will be revealed at last… in His Presence!

LORD, I bow before Your Perfect Will.  It is enough to know that Your Love could find no better path for me than the one I tread.  I walk it willingly into Your Loving Embrace.  Glory and Praise to You forever, Most Holy Trinity!

Some helpful resources for those suffering from infertility:

http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/catholic-fertility/
http://hannahstearsinfertilitysupport.blogspot.com/
http://www.popepaulvi.com/fcco_Home.htm
http://blessedarethebarren.wordpress.com/ (An inactive blog, but with some beautiful, insightful articles by a Christian blogger bearing the cross of infertility)

“Give me children or I shall die” – Genesis 30:1


“Rachel, seeing that she herself gave Jacob no children, became jealous of her sister. And she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!”  (Genesis 30:1)

It happened again.  I allowed myself to be distracted by children at Mass yesterday.

In the pew in front of me was a mom with identical twin boys who appeared to be about fourteen years old, and two additional sons in the six to nine age range.  All of the children behaved beautifully, and the older boys each helped a younger one follow along in the missalette

And I cried.  And when I received Jesus in Holy Communion I apologized to Him for being so transfixed by this family, and then I cried again, in His arms…..like countless other times.

Sometimes the cross of infertility falls with crushing weight upon me, even after all these years….decades.  I writhe beneath this cross, my face pressed into a puddle of my own tears.

Nothing else in my life has ever caused me such aching, screaming, exhausting pain….not even having endured the cancer which did not take my life, but which wrenched from me the precious gift of giving life.

For four long and painful years, we had tried to conceive without success.  Then came my totally unexpected diagnosis.  Everyone else worried about my survival, while I mourned the fair-haired babies who would never be.  The children I had dreamed about all those years, when my husband would press his ear to my tummy and playfully ask, “Anybody in there yet?”

Those who read my blog regularly, know that I have an adopted son. And I want to state emphatically that this grief in no way diminishes the love I have for my son.  When my four-week old infant boy was placed into my arms, I experienced a love I had never known before.  I was “in love,” and my precious baby occupied not only my waking moments, but my dreams as well….

I no longer avoided baby showers, or wept when I had to buy a baby gift.  Those once dreaded reminders were now a source of joy for me.

I was so happy raising my son that I pushed the pain of never having conceived and given birth deep down into a hidden place in my heart.  And, for the most part, it stayed there….until he grew up.

It is impossible to explain the pain of terminal infertility, which describes the condition wherein a child has never and will never be conceived.

During the years when my friends were having babies, I felt like an outcast.  It wasn’t their fault.  I simply could not participate in those pregnancy, labor, delivery, nursing, rite of passage conversations which women have bonded over since the beginning of time.  I was an outsider, and always would be. (And was told as much by at least one well-meaning “friend.”)

When my sister got pregnant, she sobbed when she told me, both times.  And I wept for her, that her joy had to be tinged with sorrow because of my infertility. And I wept for myself as well, because we had always shared everything, but  I couldn’t share the miracle she was experiencing inside of her.  I helped her shop for maternity clothes, and gave her baby showers and was there when her boys were born, but I couldn’t really understand…..

God’s very first commandment to Adam and Eve was, “Be fruitful and multiply….”  I feel as though that command was seared into my soul when my husband and I received the Sacrament of Marriage.

And it remains, unfulfilled, and yearning, burning, demanding to be satiated.

The night before my hysterectomy, alone in my hospital room, I caressed my abdomen and said goodbye to my dreams of watching that belly swell with new life, and of seeing the joy and wonder on my husband’s face as we cradled a child we had created together…..the fruit of our love, and a part of us who would live on when we were gone.

I hurriedly scribbled in my journal, “tomorrow, that beautiful part of me created to give life will be gone forever… ”  and then the sleeping pill stole my consciousness.  I was 27 years old.

And yes, I am often distracted by families I see at Mass, those with older children as well as those with little ones.  And, I blink back tears when my husband expresses concern about the young couple a few pews up, who lost a baby, and who are now expecting again.  It’s not that I don’t care about them or that I don’t pray for a happy outcome this time.  But his tender interest in a pregnant woman innocently revives that awful feeling of failure which comes with infertility.

As I type, I am wondering if anyone will even read this far.  I guess I am really writing this for myself.  It is how I deal with the pain…. try to take it out of me and put it into words.

I have hardly even mentioned God in all of this, but He has held me in every moment of this sorrow, and has caught all of my tears in His Heart.  Without Him, I would have gone mad with the pain.

He has given me the grace to accept without understanding, and to trust when it all seems unbearable.

And when I told Him I was sorry I had trouble carrying this cross, and that I wish He didn’t have to see my tears, He told me that He fell beneath His Own Cross, and that He too cried during His Passion.  And He reminded me that we are never more dear to His Heart than when, covered in blood and tears, we fix out eyes on Him, and allow Him to pick us up when we stumble, and to carry us when we need relief.

Then He said it was okay to admire the children in Church, and that He admires them too and that they bring Him great joy.

Finally, He said:

Wait and see!  One day, you will be so surprised, and you will never cease to thank Me for this heavy cross I have chosen for you…….but how pleased My Sacred Heart would be if you would thank Me NOW…..and simply have faith in My Infinite Goodness.

Yes, thank Me, and when the pain is too great, rest awhile on My Heart, burning with Love, that Heart which would never permit you to suffer one moment more than is necessary for My Glory and your eternal happiness.  Wait and see, My child.

Wait  and see! 

Infertility resources:

http://www.catholicinfertilityjourney.com/
http://hannahstearsinfertilitysupport.blogspot.com/
http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/catholic-fertility/