There are Roses in my Soul

My husband can attest to the fact that I haven’t a single green appendage, i.e. green thumb; however, I’ve planted rose bushes at every house we’ve shared. Planting them was easy, but the rest I left to nature. Typically, my minimal efforts had produced results to match. When we moved here four years ago, I again planted some new rose bushes just beside our front porch and relocated a resident climbing rose bush to the Marian garden in our yard. Last year, having purchased two apple trees, I felt compelled to try a little harder and so I rummaged through the shed and found a container of plant food. Food in hand, I circled my way around the yard sprinkling here and there our azaleas, apple trees, and my rose bushes.

I’m not really sure why I have this affinity for rose bushes, but just the thought of them brings three beloved people to mind. My mother had some roses planted just across the driveway from the side door (the door we actually used to go in and out as opposed to the front door that only strangers entered through). I think they were peach in color and I have a picture in my head that my mom took of my sister posing beside them. Then there is the story of St. Therese, the Little Flower, dropping roses to those who ask for her intercession. A grammar school teacher first taught me about her and my college roommate renewed my interest in this dear saint years later. In fact, I offered a novena to the little saint in those hours after our first child, Dimitri, was born when the details of his illness began to unfold. And, of course, roses always evince a connection to my Blessed Mother. Most of the time when I bring blooms in, I offer them to our Lady by placing the vase on our kitchen shrine.

This spring those rose bushes decided to reward my little efforts in so many more ways than I understood at first. Each in turn, the tall, thorny, green stalks began to produce tiny buds that erupted into beautiful flowers of yellow and then red. The timing of this was something of a gift in and of itself. I began to spy the changes during the weeks surrounding the loss of my husband’s job and the loss of our dear expected baby, who was still cradled in my womb. That is when my secret, daily ritual started. Waking up each morning, I would walk through the house opening windows and doors before stepping out onto the front porch which I’d cross in order to peer over the railing to see what those bushes had in store for me that day. Simple and perhaps a bit silly, but those bushes filled me with an inexplicable hope and peace. The dilemma for me then was in deciding whether I wanted to cut those blooms and carry them inside to enjoy or allow them to remain on the stem, where their beauty might last a bit longer.

At the end of April when the roses first made their appearance, we had the privilege of being godparents to our friends’ son. In thanksgiving for this blessing and that of our expected little one, I carried those first blooms to the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and placed them at her shrine. It was an easy offering on my behalf. Although I admit, I was humbled measuring my tiny bouquet against the two matching arrangements that decorated the table. To the eye, my gift looked unimpressive, but I knew that I hadn’t retained a single blossom for myself. My satisfaction was derived in knowing that I had given everything I had.

During the next few weeks, our personal trials increased and so did my daily ritual. Then, one particular Thursday came. We’d discovered the baby’s death some days before, but I was still clinging to the hope of a miracle. Knowing that Lazarus had been raised and so too had Jarius’ daughter been woken from her eternal slumber, I was praying that death would not win again. Since my husband was home, we had the rare opportunity of attending Thursday morning Mass as a family. As we rushed around preparing nine people to leave by 7:30am, I’d not had time for my peaceful ritual. But, the thought washed over me that I needed to bring today’s blooms to my Mother. I headed out to quickly clip and plant today’s bounty into a vase for transport when I was overcome by sadness and then anger. There they were in all their splendor, five roses. Five, I counted them again, five. In an instant, without a moment’s hesitation, I realized there was one bloom for each of our five heavenly children. One for Dimitri, one for Mary, one for Simeon, one for Philomena and now one for Matthew, too, how could this be? “No, no,” I wanted to scream, “You can’t have five from us. You have four already, you don’t need this fifth soul.” I wanted to pretend it didn’t mean anything, but I knew better. I wanted to leave those roses home because surely Our Lady didn’t need those stupid flowers anyway, but I knew better. So, holding fast to my unspoken anger and searing sorrow, I grabbed the scissors and I cut all five of those opened roses. Hurriedly, I stuck them into a vase as the family waited in the van. It was an internal tug-of-war for me, but I knew I had to give them all, so silently I did.

At the same time the roses were busy in the front yard, the climbers in the Marian garden were also joining in. The whole Marian garden was filled with the colors of red roses, orange Day Lilies and white Easter Lilies. During the time we were waiting for Matthew’s delivery, I remember thinking at least the garden was ready for his arrival. It brought me some solace to consider this tiny family graveyard would be well decorated when it came time for his funeral. Perhaps, even more fitting that after we laid Matthew’s hand-sized coffin in the ground, the blooms died, too and roses stopped appearing.

My memory is rather cloudy nowadays, so time seems to slip pass me and I cannot remember the exact sequence of days and weeks, but you might imagine my surprise and delight when beloved friends brought us a new rose bush in memory of Matthew. They had no idea of my rituals. And it wasn’t until days later when I asked my little ones to prepare a spot in the front yard, that I read the tag. This bush was a John Paul II commemorative rose bush, and we all know whom he had great devotion to. So, sometime in June we were gifted with this new plant that was nothing more, seemingly, than a stick with roots in a pot. I was thrilled to have a tangible, continuing sign of Matthew’s brief, earthly life and I figured that if I was lucky, or more rightly blessed, we might see Matthew’s roses in a year or two. Perhaps, I’m just garden-ignorant (okay, I am, there is no perhaps about it) but I didn’t understand when Greg told me that the bush was growing not even a month later. Finally, I saw those first tiny red leaves for myself, but still I didn’t believe. When Greg mentioned that buds were appearing, I simply ignored what he was telling me.

In truth, I liked the idea of a bare stick jutting out of the ground. I wanted it to remain bare and to hide its growth from sight for a year or two. I wanted that rose bush to mirror the way I felt, ugly and unproductive. Time was necessary, lots of time, for that bush to bloom and for me to start the process of healing, but God had other plans again. He often does. Without my consent, that stump grew its leaves and White Rosethen it had the temerity to produce a single white blossom. Unwilling to relinquish my denial, I allowed that pure, white flower to turn brown without much more than a fleeting glance from me. The bush, however, isn’t dependent on my will to make it grow or not, so it continues to defy me.

In the course, of these many trials I have wrestled with what I perceived as an inability to pray and a test of my faith. In the weakest moments, I’ve cried out, “My God, why have you abandoned me?” Listening for the answer, I’ve heard nothing. Having given those five roses to Mother, I’ve felt unable to give her anything more or even to ask for her intercession. Adoration and Mass have brought me comfort and temporary peace, but inside an emptiness has remained. A small prayer formed from this loneliness, in which I simply say, “Here I am Lord, I am empty. I have nothing left to offer, but I am Yours. Fill up my emptiness with Yourself.” A recent gospel reading ended with the command, “Whoever has ears ought to hear” which might also include whoever has eyes ought to see. Today I realized that I have been watching God’s love bloom in my yard and in my empty places. He did not need my conscious consent. He was not dependent on me to feed Him. My soul is a rose bush planted in His Divine Marian garden and He has fed me with His word, nurtured me with His love and caused my heart to bloom with hope. He used my affinity for these simple creations of His to teach me. Like the parables He used to explain the kingdom to His disciples, so are the rose bushes He is using to help me to understand.

There is one tiny white rose in bloom right now on Matthew’s bush and another bud due to burst. The bushes that began my ritual have decided their rest is over and they, too, are ripe with buds. I’m not sure that my time of mourning has fully ended, but I understand that my roots are planted deeply in faith. And God’s love has the power to transform my ugly emptiness into something beautiful and fruitful.

I wasn’t capable of getting past this pain

It is difficult to write this story, though the words have been ingrained in my mind and heart for a very long time. No woman ever gets over the loss of her child, does she?

I was all of twenty-three years, and in a serious year-long relationship with my boyfriend at the time. He was a difficult man to love, and yet I think I loved him deeply. I should mention that I have always been a person with strong maternal instincts, and I’ve dreamed of being a mom someday for as long as I can remember. My boyfriend and I, we were intent on getting married, and our relationship became physical only a few months after we started seeing each other. We tried to be careful and practice safe sex, though I admit, most times we weren’t, and I ended up having to take emergency contraceptive pills. I didn’t use any regular contraceptives.

One day, we messed up. I’m not exactly sure how; maybe we miscalculated the safe days, or I might have taken the emergency pill late. But one day, I realised that my period was late by a week. And I bought a home pregnancy test. My boyfriend came over, and my heart thumped painfully as I waited for the result. Positive.

For a few minutes, I was completely numb with shock. Now I wonder why, since I hadn’t been very careful at all. Then the tears came, and we never spoke the words out loud, but we both had decided that I couldn’t possibly keep the baby. I was living on my own and my very Catholic parents would have been devastated, not to mention my boyfriend, who never stepped up to at least discuss keeping our child. But yes, at the time, it was both of our decisions that lead to it. On the way to the hospital, I thought bitterly, how perfectly fitting this punishment should be, for me to have to willingly decide to give up a gift I’ve dreamt of for so very long.

Things moved like a blur. One moment, I was at the hospital and the doctor had just confirmed my pregnancy (I was 6 weeks along), and somehow she knew that I needed an abortion. And the next moment, I was at her clinic a few days later and being told the procedures for a medical abortion. At home, after I had taken the first pill, I was in tears again. I felt I was losing my mind; I had just read on the internet about the development of babies at 6 weeks, and I wanted to hold those words in my arms and never let go. When I read that babies sense their mother’s emotions even when they are so tiny, I tried to speak to my baby and hope that she would know how much I wished I could keep her, and how I wasn’t brave enough. The next day, I was given the next pill and the bleeding and the pain began, and then it was all over.

Only, it wasn’t truly over. I was deeply depressed. I believe that a woman’s body instinctively senses the wrongness of an abortion. When the body that is created to nurture a living being is forced to reject it, the body knows it and you feel just “wrong.” I would wake up with a heart that felt like lead and would remember the nausea I had felt for those achingly short days, and I would cry about how if I could go back, maybe I might have done the same thing again. I thought constantly about how God, in his mercy, had allowed me to get out of this situation with dignity, and yet, how it all couldn’t remotely compare to the unjustness of my child having to lose its life.

I am sad to say that my boyfriend did not truly understand my grief, nor did he try to help me face it. He is not Catholic; he felt forgiven after a few prayers and wanted us to move on with our lives. Only, I couldn’t. I didn’t know how. I couldn’t even think of confession. I felt that unless I was ready to consider myself worthy of forgiveness, I couldn’t be forgiven by God either. I had decided to fast on the day I would have delivered had I kept my baby. For my boyfriend, it was a ridiculous idea. He couldn’t understand why I wasn’t capable of getting past this pain I was in, and was losing patience. Soon I stopped mentioning my grief to him altogether. It was my cross to bear and mine alone. I needed time to face what I had done in its entirety, and I wasn’t willing to sweep it under the rug and forget it ever happened.

I continued to see my boyfriend for 2 years after the abortion. If you wonder why I didn’t leave him right then, it was because I felt that our mistake could be mended if we still stayed together and were able to have other children and raised them as we would have done our first. And yet during those two years, my depression stayed with me. I hadn’t gone to confession and I still hated myself terribly. I continued to be physical with my boyfriend, if only just to feel something, anything, and my skin would crawl with self-revulsion. I was doomed to hell already, why stop? All this while, I was working, was successful, and was ever so charming in the presence of company. It is strange to think how the people who are the happiest on the outside may be living such dark lives on the inside.

The first time I sensed a ray of light was the time I went back home for Christmas that year. My family being so joyful and happy was overwhelming and during Christmas mass, I prayed the most heartfelt prayer I could pray. I asked God to tell me what to do and give me a sign, any sign. He, my ever merciful God, showed me what my life would look like if I continued down the path I was taking, and I realised I could never be fully content with a person I didn’t respect, and feared losing myself completely.

When I got back, I broke up with my boyfriend and quit my job to go back home and be with family. I realised that it was my only sanctuary, where I could try to rebuild myself again. And yet, it has been a long, long road to get to the place I am in right now. For a whole year after I came home I was hurting inside and couldn’t make myself go to confession. It was a vicious cycle and I felt unable to let go. That year, around the beginning of Advent, I was reading up on abortion and the Catholic Church. And when I read that abortion is an excommunicable offense, my heart sunk in my chest. If I was closed off from the Church, what hope was there of my redemption? How was I to go on? And I read further that if the sinner had no knowledge that his sin was excommunicable, then it is not, and that sin is forgivable.

As I read the words, it suddenly occurred to me how egotistical I had been all this while, to presume to understand God’s judgement and think myself unworthy of forgiveness. I had it all worked backwards. If God was able to forgive me, then I could begin to forgive myself. I couldn’t sit still. I called a taxi in the middle of the work day and headed to the church and right to the confessional. As I confessed I broke down and cried and that wall that had hardened over the years crumbled, and the priest then said those magical heart-touching words: “God knows how sorry you are. Your sin is forgiven. Now you must work to forgive yourself and the father of the child. Go in peace.” I felt so light I must have floated out of the church!

It has been two years since and I feel blessed and forgiven. Yes, I still have a long road ahead to absolve myself and maybe I never will. But the love I feel for my child who is with the Lord surpasses it all. There are still nights that I dream of being pregnant and wake up hurting, but I believe that time will find a way to help me heal.
In the many years that have passed, I have analysed my actions and intentions to no end. I would like to say that God has shown me that my past boyfriend was not the right person for me. And now I wait in hope for the time when I am wed to the most perfect person that God brings into my life; and I wait in hope for the time, with God’s grace, I bear children and raise my family to love Him as much as I do. Until then, His love sustains me and keeps me moving forward with hope.

I write my story as a message to all those who have experienced the pain and despair of abortion as I have. If you are feeling lost, know that God is waiting for you to take that tiniest step and say “Help me.” He will come to you in an instant and take away all that pain, I promise you. To those who are still considering abortion, I beg of you to please, please talk to your boyfriend, a parent, a friend, a priest or a counsellor, before you decide to go down this path. Families are most resilient when it comes to situations like this; trust in them. Trust God, for He will help you do the right thing and will give you the strength you need.

God bless!

 

***EDITOR’S NOTE: If you or someone you know has been involved with abortion, or is having an unexpected pregnancy, please contact Project Rachel post-abortion healing or Gabriel Project pregnancy help for confidential support and assistance.

Dreaming of my Daughter

I was 24 years old, performing at a dinner theater. I had a graduate degree and a whole life ahead of me with aspirations of becoming an actress. That summer I was free as a bird and full of high hopes and dreams. It was sometime in April that I slipped up and spent the night with an old ex-boyfriend, who was no longer in my life. I had always had irregular periods, so I didn’t give it a second thought that it had been a couple of months since my last period. But something inside me made me go to Planned Parenthood to have a pregnancy test. The result was positive. I drove home from work to look in the yellow pages for “abortion.” Since I was close to 12 weeks along, I had to make a quick decision. I made an appointment for the next week, called my ex-boyfriend, told him he needed to come with me and spend the night to take care of me after the surgery, and pay for half. That was that.

Fast forward. Throughout my twenties, I anxiously wondered if I would ever get married and had a few relationships, but none were Mr. Right. I had become irritable, and I came to see that around June 1st of each year I was especially ornery, and I had developed a pretty bad temper – easily agitated, impatient, and intolerant. Constantly keeping busy to numb a guilt I had suppressed, my life was full. But the busy-ness was a mechanism to survive – suppressing the truth of the damage I had done to myself, my baby, and my relationship with God. I was a strong feminist – it was the 80’s after all, and women had rights.

After meeting and dating for four years an exceptionally kind man who respected my intelligence and independence, I married happily, looking forward to a life filled with blessings. He was not ready to have children and I had another four years of waiting. We ended up blessed with 3 boys, but somewhere along the way I was overcome by a great depression. I had visions of a beautiful little girl coming to me in mind’s eye. I knew I was meant to have a baby girl. She was going to be talented, maybe an actress, a dancer, a singer, or a writer. I yearned for her with excruciating pain. My desire for her to arrive was filled with angst and frustration. Why is God punishing me with only sons? Was I destined to live without the life-giving bond that happens with a mother-daughter relationship? Who would truly understand my needs and care for me in my old age?

I sought out other women in my church, to find solace and intimacy in a life filled with diapers and talk of babies. My faith began to grow and I attended a Cursillo, (a weekend retreat of faith talks, confession, and mass). It was there that the Holy Spirit revealed to me the true source of my pain, an unresolved death – I had killed my baby girl 17 years earlier, and she had been coming to me all these years to reveal her existence. She wanted me to know that I only needed to seek her out, come to know her, and I would be forgiven and peace would finally be granted to me. But first I was to undergo the deepest despair and depression I have ever experienced. I attended a Project Rachel retreat, where forgiveness and healing finally began. It took one full year of psychological and faith-filled counseling, several confessions, and much prayer, before I achieved any ability to reconcile what I had done with my faith.

I had been a victim of a society that had taught me that there are no hard values of right or wrong – our rights are a matter of personal choice, and we were to respect any choice. But what those lies don’t tell you is that when you commit a wrong, your conscience beckons until you ask for forgiveness, and then sometimes the hardest part is forgiving yourself.

It was the Catholic Church that provided me with the only true solace I could ever receive, the merciful and tender love of Christ, who took me right where I was and held me in His arms. Once I had embraced the cross with Him, and understood it would be my testimony to witness for His mercy and glory, I began to see a purpose in my suffering and have hope.

Today, with 3 grown sons and the joys and sufferings of their trials and tribulations, I rely on my faith to get me through each day. It is only by trusting that the Lord, in His infinite mercy, wisdom, and love, will work through my daily labors to provide the grace to see me through each day.

 

***EDITOR’S NOTE: If you or someone you know has been involved with abortion, or is having an unexpected pregnancy, please contact Project Rachel post-abortion healing or Gabriel Project pregnancy help for confidential support and assistance.

Healing after an Abortion

Mine is a story of the great compassion, forgiveness and healing I have received through the Catholic Church.  For those who say that the Catholic Church is waging a war on women, I say, “read on.”

I am a Catholic woman. My husband and I have four children.  I go to mass daily, to confession twice a month, and I am very active in my parish.  I also had an abortion.

Abortion is the secret shame carried by a great number of Catholic women.  If we are to believe the statistics, three of every ten women sitting in the pews with us have had an abortion.  That was a shocking statistic to me when I learned of it.

My abortion was thirty years ago.  The circumstances were not unusual: failed birth control, no family support, very low income, no spiritual support, and a newcomer to the area.  I frankly didn’t see any other way out.  I also didn’t know that my decision to have the abortion would affect me for the rest of my life.

I told absolutely no one what I had done.  Only my boyfriend (now my husband) and I knew.  While I was attending mass at the time, I was not going to confession.  After we landed at a church in the Diocese of Arlington, a good friend took me to make my first confession in 25 years. I confessed the abortion, felt pretty good about doing that, and then went on with my life. However, I still carried my secret shame around with me, and not a day went by when I didn’t think about what I had done.  I felt like such a fraud, living this great Catholic life, but with this horrible sin in my past. I cannot fully describe the depth of the shame I felt.  The day of the March for Life and Mothers’ Day were always the worst days of the year for me.

It wasn’t until we had a parish priest who organized healing services that the thought ever occurred to me to talk to anyone about it.  The priest was my regular confessor, and he was already working with me on healing some of the wounds from my childhood.  It was after he prayed over me in a healing service that the Holy Spirit placed it on my heart that I should to talk to him about it.  It took every ounce of my courage, and it was a very painful conversation, but we met and I told him about it.  I was pretty sure he was not only going to throw me out of his office, but out of the Church.  I had read all those examinations of conscience about abortion being a sin that results in excommunication.

That wasn’t what happened.  My priest was incredibly kind, gentle, and most compassionate.  I wasn’t condemned or judged.  He was relieved that I had confessed the sin some years ago.  Then he suggested I go on a Project Rachel retreat.  Was he crazy?  Show up on a retreat for post-abortive women?  Then everyone would know about my secret shame!

I think my priest continued to pray very hard for me, because about a year and a half later, I did go on a Project Rachel retreat.  It was one of the best decisions of my life.  If you are a post-abortive woman, I cannot recommend one of these retreats more highly.  There were eight women on my retreat, and they were of all ages and walks of life. Not only were we not judged or condemned, we were treated like royalty! From the warm greeting at the door of the retreat center, to the many gifts lavished upon us, to the warmth and kindness of the priest staffing the retreat, it was a wonderful experience.  With the help of the Project Rachel team, I took great strides on my healing journey, and I am now more at peace than I have been in years.  And through it all, my confidentiality was assured, and even now, no one knows I went on the retreat except for the Project Rachel team and my confessor.

I hope sharing my story encourages other women to pick up the phone and call Jo at the Project Rachel office (1-888-456-HOPE; projectrachel@arlingtondiocese.org) and register for one of these retreats.  You will receive healing, forgiveness, and hope through this ministry of the Catholic Church.

submitted from Virginia

It Does Require Sacrifice

“Your vocation is to be a wife and a mother.”

I read and re-read my grand-aunt’s letter to me. She was a holy, elderly Carmelite nun who had given me a one-on-one retreat a couple of weeks before my wedding. I had just shared with her the great news that my husband and I were expecting our first child; she responded with joy and that simple statement reminding me of our talks.

I was a few months shy of graduating from my MBA program and both my husband and I were excited at the prospect of my working full-time and bringing in some much-needed income to augment his lowly salary. We were looking forward to vacations, new cars, and enjoying all the pleasures that money could buy. So when I read those words from my grand-aunt, I thought, “Is she crazy? Does she not realize how much we had to put in for me to finish my MBA? Is she asking me to abandon my education and become…of all things…a stay-at-home mom?!” I resisted the idea and put the letter away, but those words just kept gnawing at my heart. As my baby grew inside me and I felt every little movement of life inside my womb, I felt pangs of love and I couldn’t, for the life of me, imagine giving that baby to someone else to care for. Our families lived out of state and we didn’t have the emotional and family support that other couples may have had. As I grew closer and closer to my due date, I made the decision: I was going to stay home. My husband was disappointed with my choice but knew that it was the best for our family. I promised to start working once the baby got into school, but one baby followed and soon another and another. Before I knew it, 20 years had passed and I remained a stay-at-home mom. When people ask me if I regret that decision, I immediately tell them “No.”

Truly God is good! With my decision to stay at home, I was able to help support my husband’s career one hundred percent and we enjoyed a charmed life. With no career for me to worry about, I was able to follow my husband to Asia. We traveled around the country and vacationed for free. We saved enough money to get ourselves out of the debt that we incurred in the beginning of our marriage. We raised 4 beautiful children who are solid in their values and faith. Our marriage is stronger than ever, as we learned to prioritize our faith, marriage and family before anything else.

We may not enjoy the luxuries of a huge house, several cars, or fantasy vacations that would have been easily acquired if I had made a different career choice. But the blessings that came with that decision are immeasurable. A good and loving marriage, the joy of having children, and the peace that comes from submitting to the Father’s plan are truly treasures that money cannot buy! We were never in need of anything and even in the lean years and during the times when my husband lost his job, God always provided. Today, with my youngest in Kindergarten, I have finally started working full-time as a religion teacher. It is truly rewarding to be able to share the faith with other children, to be home when my own children are home, and to augment our income as expenses rise and college tuition is on the horizon. God is truly a generous Father and wishes to bestow on us all His blessings, but we just need to give Him a chance to do so. In all these years of walking in faith, I’ve learned that the more I say “Yes” to him, the more He blesses me. It’s not always easy and it does require sacrifice, but it has strengthened my hope and trust in His love and promises.