Saturday, January 11, 2014

Changing the World One Diaper at a Time: Parenthood and the New Evangelization

This past fall, my diocese hosted a young adult retreat that offered childcare. To put that in perspective, imagine if Starbucks began offering car washes as you pulled through the drive thru lane. Babysitting at young adult events is an unexpected and welcome indulgence. I've thought about starting a childcare program at church, but to be honest, the thought of being around more kids than my own is kind of exhausting.

If my transition experience from young adult ministry to marriage and family life were a NASCAR race, I pulled into pit row for a tire change four years ago and still haven't made it back to the track.

There is a New Evangelization taking place, and I AM STUCK ON THE SIDELINES!

I so badly want to be a part of the transformation of parishes from within, a passionate next generation of Catholics who won't be conservative or liberal or Catholic lite or Catholic Taliban, and the conversion of entire parishes.

I want to join the think groups at the heart of program and event planning, to build up the small groups of life sharing within a parish, to be on the wave of this next awakening. But I can't even make it to the weekly moms' group at church more than, well, so far my record is three times a year.

So I excitedly signed up for this cutting edge, parent-friendly conference, anticipating the same experiences of college retreats from years earlier: journaling in nature, full spiritual immersion, new revelation, new friends, chats with speakers.

On a cold, rainy Friday night, my kids already in pj's, I dropped them off in a well-staffed nursery, printed my name neatly on a nametag, and headed down the hall to the conference. I made it 30 minutes before my cell phone buzzed: your child needs you.

The rest of the weekend was spent pacing the parish hallway, holding my panicked and clingy two-year-old who would sooner resort to repeat asthma attacks than play with his brother, new toys, and nice volunteers in the nursery.

I kept overhearing inspirational proclamations from the conference and wanted to be in there, learning and networking. All the while, pacing with Josh and wondering about the big picture of what God's doing in the world: how can I be part of all this, when my family seems to need me on-call and mostly in-person 24-7?

Ennie Hickman was one of the last speakers of the retreat. I was sitting cross-legged against the back wall of the gym, with ears on the speaker and eyes on Josh, who had just discovered the A/V cables. (I had been standing with him, until he reached over my shoulder and found the light switches.)

Ennie said, "Outreach to our world starts in our city." And then he asked, "What is your city?"

He scaled down from world to country to state to Metroplex to town to neighborhood to home to family to marriage, and then stopped. The whole New Evangelization is rooted not in shouting out to the world, but in letting God in to change me. Just me. Letting God past the pretty parts I bring to Mass each week to see the broken, sharp, disillusioned pieces within, and then to find out, He's been there all along.

I've been a little distracted the last four years. If I'm home, there's a toddler clinched to my leg (or in my arms, if the leg pull was successful), and if I'm at work, files are hopefully sorting themselves to alphanumeric homes while I wonder what my kids are doing, and all of it, always, with a constant sense that I'm missing out on greater things God is doing in the world. Did I take a wrong turn somewhere?

I thought joining the movement of New Evangelization in my Church would mean a commitment to being more places, talking with more people, a line up of more babysitters, and a whiteboard of more projects. It's the stuff that makes tired moms of young children panic.

But after a weekend of pacing halls with my little one, I realized it was only my own voice shouting, "Suck it up, figure it out, and be all things to all people!"

Through the immersion training experience at the young adult retreat, I came away realizing that all of my distractions from the holier things in life -- kids without babysitters, menial work, and clingy babies -- are actually a personally prescribed path to holiness. Of course it looks different from what everyone else is doing. That's how God works

Rescuing worms from the sidewalk after it rains: #784 in things to do instead of drinking delicious coffee and talking with people about deep spiritual things

Fifteen years ago, on World Mission Sunday, the Church named the Patron Saint of Missionaries as a new Doctor of the Church. Surprising to many (including me), this wasn't a parish priest, an evangelist, the missionary who had traveled the farthest in the history of the Church, or even someone who had traveled at all. The Co-Patron of Missionaries is a sickly obscure French girl who spent her few years cloistered in a convent, entrusted only with the most menial tasks of community (dishes, cleaning, and cooking -- sound familiar?).

My little insane asylum of life is actually compiled and gifted by a God who's more concerned with making me holy than me making the world holy. And just maybe, if I can get over all the comparing and complaining and questioning, one will actually lead to the other.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Craniosynostosis, Part III: The Surgery

Joshua hadn't slept longer than three hours -- and usually less -- since we'd brought him home from a complicated delivery four months earlier. But there he was, nurses coming and going, triage lights glaring, mom and dad whispering, going on four hours without food, and passed out asleep.

Sleeping through check-in and vitals

I still count that as one of the greatest miracles of his surgery (besides the fact that some doctor discovered this surgery is even possible).

At about 6:45 am, all of the pediatric surgery patients were moved into one large room for a final check of vitals, each patient in a little curtained cubby with a bed and a chair and a nurse. I paced and bounced Josh around, and said it was to distract him from hunger. But the truth was, it kept me pulled together in those last few minutes before surgery.

Other parents talked reassuringly to their older kids, and all of our eyes glanced curiously around the room. We tried to guard the private moments of other families with quiet whispers and diverted eyes, but there was also comfort in this shared surreality, about to entrust our babies to the talents and wisdom of people we'd only met a few times, even if they were among the best surgeons in the world.
Wally gave Josh a blessing, and then a cheerful nurse distracted us from the moment with a welcome nonchalance. He won Josh's smiles in a few expert tummy rubs and silly faces, then told us to get some breakfast, while he carried a perfectly content Joshua back for surgery. 
We wandered through the waiting room crowded with people curled up on chairs with travel pillows and small blankets, but everyone wide-awake. We ended up in the cafeteria, mindlessly following regular customers through the breakfast line, then sitting at a table close enough to a TV monitor with patient updates. It was hard to believe that just two months earlier, we had no idea anything was wrong.
One of many monitors around the hospital to track patients through surgery. Each patient's name was encoded, so only those with the patient could follow their progress.

For some reason, Medical City Hospital used a scalpel icon on the TV monitors located throughout the hospital, to indicate a patient was starting surgery. We joked to keep our minds off the moment, suggesting any other icon would be more comforting to the loved one watching a patient's status on the monitors. It took a long time for Joshua's icon to change from scalpel to bandaid, and we jumped up to meet him at the pediatric ICU.
They transferred Josh directly to the pediatric ward, the last room at the end of the hall. We walked in to find him covered in blankets and still unresponsive, but stable. He really improved after a blood transfusion. I wish I'd had the confidence to insist on letting him breastfeed, even if only a couple of drops. He was fussy and uncomfortable, and I think the familiarity of breastfeeding would have helped him settle.
A hospital chaplain showed up, uninvited but welcome, and we found comfort in the prayers he offered for Joshua's recovery.
In the next room over, I heard a girl wheeled in from a bad car accident. She kept asking for her mom, and my eyes filled with tears as I sat next to Joshua, unsure of why this little girl couldn't be with her mother, and fearing the worst. Even at four months old, I knew my presence with Joshua made such a difference to him. And I wanted to run next door to be a motherly presence for the little girl too. The nurses spoke all kinds of reassuring, comforting words, and we were transferred out of the ICU before I overheard anything else.
After a few hours, the nurses said I could finally hold Josh. It was quite the ordeal keeping him connected to all of his wires and IV's while transferring him to my arms. I couldn't believe how different he looked, with the cranial sutures opened again. There was a huge rectangular soft spot from just behind his hairline to the crown of his head. At this point, I could feed him again. He drank a few drops and immediately relaxed and fell asleep.
After 12 hours, Joshua's head began to swell. The surgeons assured us this was normal, but it made me nervous to see his little swollen face. My brother came to visit us at the hospital, and Joshua settled down in his arms for a nap. The pre-op nurses had warned me that even at 4 months old, Joshua might hold a grudge against his mom for a few days, since I was the last person to hold him before the most traumatic event of his life.
Mike holding Joshua in the pediatric ward

After only 36 hours at the hospital, the craniofacial surgeon gave us the choice to stay overnight or take Joshua home. We felt we would all rest more comfortably at home, without the 2-hour vital checks and ambient hospital noise. Joshua settled down in his crib, propped up by his teddy bear and blankets to alleviate the swelling in his head. With the surgery behind us, we finally turned the corner to focus on recovery and helmet therapy.