My brethren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into various trials: knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience, and patience hath a perfect work: that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing.
This has not been our year.
I'm sitting in the hospital, writing this with the woman I promised to be with for better or for worse.
You should be able to guess what part this is.
I'm a Master Instructor at Aspen Martial Arts, working with an old friend of mine with whom I earned my black belt over a decade ago. Erin started working out again this January, and just tested for her green belt in Taekwondo. Saturday morning, we were supposed to go to a Taekwondo tournament, an intermural contest between our school and my old school (where Jack and I earned those black belts).
But no, I was sick.
Erin was feeling like she had a huge gas bubble, but nothing she couldn't push through. I on the other hand felt like I was going to throw up, and Erin didn't want to go if I wasn't going to go.
So we let everyone know we wouldn't make it, and settled in to relax.
And I started to feel better.
And Erin didn't.
So we called our family doctor who had me check for appendicitis (nope), give her some gas tabs and pain relievers, and call him back in the afternoon to see if she was feeling better.
On top of abdominal pain, she couldn't breathe when she laid down, felt like she was going to break a rib. To the emergency room for us, just as a precaution, Doc wanted a belly CT. Y'know, kidney stones or something.
So a flurry of phone calls later the kids are with a friend, and we're settling in at the ER, informed that this might take a while. Grandparents are called to watch the kids in case things go late, fluids are collected for testing, pretty routine for us at this point to be honest.
At 6:30 the first shoe dropped. "Did you know you're pregnant?" Well, no. Erin had started bleeding on Tuesday, so we thought she was on her period. The ER staff didn't get why we weren't excited, but how could they know that every time Erin has bled while pregnant, she miscarried?
So yeah, kind of a sucky way to spend a Saturday night, finding out that you're pregnant again, and that you've already lost this little person you never even knew was there.
Our doctor is awesome though. Even though he wasn't there with us, he called to check in on us, and we called him with updates. Ever since Gabriel died his whole practice has carried the prayer cards from his funeral and prayed the Angelus. Over the phone, he led us in prayer. We love our doctor.
And then at 8:30, the other shoe dropped. The ultrasound showed a mass. The pregnancy was ectopic.
For those of you lucky enough to not know what an ectopic pregnancy is, its when the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. Our baby got stuck in the fallopian tube, which is good for neither mother nor child. Saturday at 9:30, Erin was being prepped for emergency surgery.
For the record, facing general anesthesia while you feel like you can't breathe is terrifying. Our Pastor had gotten there quickly and anointed her with the Oil of the Sick, so she was spiritually ready to die. If she were to pass during the surgery she would go to heaven, to be with the majority of our children. But she was terrified for our two living children, that she would leave them without a mother; for me, her husband, that she would leave me without a wife after having buried our son only 6 months ago.
To me, she could say "I love you" one more time, give me one more kiss. Thanks to modern technology we were able to FaceTime my dad, so she could see our very sleepy children one more time, tell them she loved them.
Surgery went well. The surgeon tried to save her fallopian tube, but it kept bleeding and he had to remove it. She has both ovaries so there shouldn't be any hormonal impact, but she still has a long road to recovery: 6 weeks without lifting anything over 10 lbs.
And this of course roughly 6 months after we buried Gabriel.
We've been studying suffering in our couple's group the last several months, which gives the opportunity to share our experience of suffering with our friends, and for them to share their experiences with us. Last month's hosts lost their little saint a little over an hour after he was born, and attending were friends who had miscarried, had ectopic pregnancies, everything. If there's one truth about suffering, it is that we are never alone.
I can't imagine being anything but Catholic when suffering. No other religion (and certainly no irreligion) seems to understand suffering quite so well as the Church. In a world where we are told to avoid suffering at all costs, we stare at the image of our God come down from heaven to hang on a tree. We have a God who shares our suffering.
We have a God who share His suffering with us.
It is said that in a particular time of trial, St. Theresa of Avila complained to Jesus of her treatment. Jesus said to her: "Teresa, whom the Lord loves, he chastises. This is how I treat all my friends." She replied tartly, "No wonder you have so few!"
Here's the thing. Even Jesus asked that the cup of suffering from which He was to drink would pass Him by. It's okay to tell God that you're not a fan, He gets it!
What is important, we have found, is to offer Him our sufferings, because He will unite them with His own, and make them effective. On our own, our sufferings are useless, pointless, worthless, but when we give them to Jesus, He takes them and makes them His own just as He makes us His own.
Never have we felt more our dependence on God, our reliance on Him, our belonging to Him, than in the midst of our suffering.
So again we find ourselves praying all too familiar prayers:
"Take this suffering, unite it to yours, and free souls from purgatory..."
"Use this suffering as a prayer for mothers and their unborn children..."
"Why is this happening to us, haven't we had enough? But not my will, but thy will be done..."
And once again, He hears our prayers, accepts our broken hearts as a fragrant offering, and returns them to us overflowing with joy.
And once again, He teaches us.
Suffering is a painful teacher, but you will not receive a more worthwhile lesson.
Suffering puts everything in perspective, especially when united with Christ. There's always someone who has it worse. There's always someone in more pain, more grief, more anguish. There are Christians right now living in daily fear that their confession of Jesus as Lord is going to lead them and their families to being butchered. We at least know that our children are in heaven, we have friends whose children have left the Church, and do not know if their children will die in friendship with God.
Someone always has it worse. So don't worry about it, just suffer. It doesn't make your burden any less significant, though hopefully it can make it lighter in a "join the club" kind of way.
Suffering is always going to happen, and it doesn't pass any faster by smiling the whole time. It just doesn't. Do you think Jesus was grinning up on the Cross? Because last time I read the Passion, He cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"
"Suffering well" is great for sufferings you take on yourself. If you are fasting, don't talk about how hungry you are. If you are giving alms, don't talk about how you're not able to buy something. Nobody needs to know about the penances you impose upon yourself.
The suffering that comes into your life though? Well, consider the parable of the two sons whom the father asked to work. One son said yes and didn't do anything, the other said no and went and did the work. Which one was faithful?
Faith works patience, and patience has a perfect work: your perfection. It's work. It's a job. It is the sandpaper smoothing the wood, the chisel shaping the marble, the hammer forging the blade. It hurts. It sucks. Saying so is not sin.
So speaking of suffering, blades, and persecution, let me introduce you to my son.
We discovered his life and his death on the feast of Saint Perfectus whose entry in the Roman Martyrology reads:
At Cordova, St. Perfectus, priest and martyr, who was slain with the sword by the Moors, because he argued against the sect of Mohammed and firmly insisted on the Catholic faith.
Everyone suffers. To suffer well is to unite your suffering to the Passion of Our Lord, who makes all things new, and promises Erin and I that we will meet His Saint, our son Perfectus, if we but unite ourselves to Him.
Saints Angelica, Jeremy, Gabriel, and Perfectus: pray for us!