Sometimes in life you stumble across a little gem of advice or a shining anecdote so winsome that you commit it to memory and vow that it is probably – definitely – going to change your life.
Then, before you can make good on your resolution, you find yourself plunged back into the privileged business of ordinary life and … the illumination fades. Thankfully, life has a way kicking the good stuff back up to the surface.
This morning as I enjoyed a rare a.m. shower (praise hands for my competent and incredibly sweet 7-year-old who is home for summer and can wield a tv remote in one hand and unwrap Go-gurts for a preschool sibling with the other) I recalled this little exercise I’d been meaning to try; a gem of wisdom that a friend had proffered at our women’s group weeks earlier. It was something she’d actually been given as a penance by a wise and creative confessor, and I couldn’t wait to get home and try it myself.
But then, you know, life happened. Life happened and time marched along and ears were infected and laundry was washed (and unfolded) and dinners were dropped into the cracks of the dining room floor and I forgot, which is deeply ironic and appropriate and the precise reason I think that making regular use of this technique is going to change my life.
Because it is so easy to forget, and it’s even easier to coast along and let the current of life just kind of take you. And in the steady stream of ordinary business it becomes difficult to see the extraordinary business that is constantly happening to and through and for us. Every day.
So my friend was instructed by this priest to go home and make a list of all the miracles she had seen God do. She must have raised an eyebrow at him because he clarified “in your own life.”
So she pulled out a sheet of paper and started writing, probably wondering “how am I going to fill a whole page?”
It’s probably no great surprise that she didn’t fill one page. She filled seven.
As she was sharing this story with us you could hear the mental light bulbs going off around the room.
Naturally, I went right home and…went to bed, forgetting all about her story.
Until the shower this morning, relishing the momentary peace and freedom of hot water and silence and no chubby fingers peeling back the curtain to “check” on me and I thought to myself “it’s a miracle that…all my kids are safely and quietly playing together downstairs right now.”
And I remembered.
And then I couldn’t wait to sit down and start the list in earnest as miracles – ordinary and extraordinary – started filtering to the surface, pulled from memory banks that might as well have been labelled “high school” or “unimportant” or “what have you done for me lately?” or, best of all, “coincidence.”
I tend to dismiss the miracles God has done for me. I dismiss them by failing to give thanks, I dismiss them by failing to call them to mind over and over again, rejoicing anew at His faithfulness and His provision, and I dismiss them by attributing them to some benign, dumb force of equilibrium that I imagine – even unconsciously – that the “universe” is maintaining for me.
A lot of the Psalms are miracle lists, when you think about it. So are a lot of St. Paul’s letters. “Beaten, shipwrecked, scourged, imprisoned…” miraculous? Well, he was there afterwards to tell the tale, wasn’t he?
So here’s mine. Brief and a highlight reel, for sure. The girlfriend who shared this with me said something else really beautiful. She said it was important to her that she create – and maintain – this list for herself, because she owed it to her children. “Someday I will be able to show this to them and say, “look, see the miracles that God has done for Mom.”
I can’t think of a more beautiful inheritance to pass on.
Because it is a miracle that I have children. 5 of them, so far, all full-term and healthy and conceived without difficulty, arriving at the end of pregnancies that, if enormous, were largely (roundly?) uncomplicated. It is a miracle that I bungled my NFP charting and Zelie is here at all. It is a miracle that I didn’t lose my mind, as I feared, when she was born. It is a miracle, in fact, that I did not suffer from postpartum depression after she was born, after living through it with our first four babies. It is a miracle that my dear friend gave me more than 100 ounces of gluten free/dairy free breastmilk she had stashed away in her freezer when she couldn’t.stop.producing last summer. when it turned out that I couldn’t produce enough.
It is a miracle that I’m alive, that I didn’t die in a high speed rollover accident at age 17 when I fell asleep at the wheel of my dad’s Volvo station wagon going 75 mph on the freeway in the wee hours of the morning. It is a miracle that my dad didn’t kill me himself when he met the ambulance at the ER and found me entirely unharmed, save for the shame of having snuck out and wrecked his car. It is a miracle that my dad owned a car like a Volvo, which just happened to be the make his brother in law had bought a few years earlier and then decided to upgrade from, but not before selling it to my father at a ridiculously below market “family” price. The paramedic told him as much, explaining how the steel frame encased me like a monster truck roll cage and kept me from being crushed. Did I mention that I was a little different in high school than I am now?
It is a miracle that I had a conversion. That some mysterious lightning bolt of grace hit me one morning in April 13 years ago when JPII died and God broke through all the drunkenness and pain and partying of college and invited me to come home. It is a miracle that only 6 years after that I stood in St. Peter’s Square in Rome with my 7-month-old baby listening as he was proclaimed “Blessed” John Paul II. And then, 3 years and 2 babies later, it is a miracle that we were able to return to Rome as a family to stand in the same spot and hear him proclaimed a saint. Somebody bought our plane tickets and paid for our lodging, asking only that we visit a particular church and offer prayers in front of a particular image of St. Joseph on his behalf. And we still don’t know his name.
It is a miracle that my 4-year-old, whilst careening down our hill into the busier street that intersects ours en route to the park last night, dug into the pavement sufficiently hard enough with her little pink Paw Patrol sandals to bring her Plasma Car to a full and relatively non-violent stop with fewer than 4 inches of sidewalk to spare. It is a miracle that I didn’t dispatch her myself when I’d caught up to her (“but mommy my heart was exploding with joy because it was so fast and exciiiiiting”- hold me, I’m parenting Moana.)
It is a miracle that any of us are here. That whatever God is permitting to happen – or to not happen – in our lives today is unfolding according to His plan. My dad’s cancer diagnosis the day after we brought Zelie home was a miracle, but only in retrospect. Elevated PSA in some routine life-insurance bloodwork. Cancer had possibly been growing for a decade. Asymptomatic. Initial pathology showed only 30% containment. Not good. Secondary MRI 6 weeks later showed…total containment. We’d been praying a 54-day rosary novena, my 6 (practicing, Catholic, miracle!) siblings and I, the doctor was now cautiously optimistic. Surgery. Good news: total excision and no spread to lymph system. Bad news: loss of 70% of nerve tissue. Quality of life TBD. Good news: 3 weeks post op and entirely absent of any nerve damage. But the nerves are…missing. But what nerves are left have picked up the slack? Cancer free with normal quality of life. Miracle. Grandbaby number 13 (not mine) due to arrive next Fall and no worries that our patriarch won’t be around to greet the youngest of the baker’s dozen.Miracle.
Turns out I could fill a page or seven, myself.
What’s on your list?
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28