Faithful Not Successful

The storm before the calm


[aka the first post]

I am not sure what the heck this is supposed to be. The tagline I initially chose was “a spiritual memoir of special needs parenting.” But “memoir” implies memories implies the past, finished and done. Past perfect. And this is most definitely a past, present, and future progressive endeavor. What was happening, is happening, will be happening.

Almost two years ago now, we were surprised with a sixth pregnancy. I say surprised but yes, we know how these things happen. So it happened in the usual way: lackadaisical NFP charting with a dash of recklessness, et voila. A pregnancy. Todd sneezing in my general direction during the right week usually results in a pregnancy.

Despite being pretty well underwater already, with our five rowdy young kids and a tumbledown old house surrounded by acres of unmown weeds, we were pleased. We like babies. Babies are good. So things began in the usual way, and progressed in the usual way: contractions, partial bed rest, grumpiness, tears, and great joyous anticipation. At 39 weeks and one day, I had begged for mercy long enough and loudly enough that my OB induced labor by breaking my waters. When I say “induced,” I mean he blew one tiny puff of breath onto the boulder that had been teetering at the knife edge of the cliff for six weeks, and prodromal labor became actual labor.

Less than two hours later, Oscar introduced himself. And yes, everything changed, in the way that these things usually do when a new human makes his acquaintance with the world. We fell in love, the angels danced, the stars and planets aligned as our family welcomed our beautiful, perfect, matchless boy.

This is not that story.

This story actually begins exactly five months later, when our beautiful, perfect matchless boy began seizing in my arms, for the first of what would be many, many, many times, while a beatific, smiling nun spoke to me and 150 other women about the spirituality of motherhood.

img_1163Let me tell you a secret about the spirituality of motherhood: Suffering is required. It comes to all of us in one form or another. It creeps in during the night or in broad daylight, at school or at play. It catches at your child’s breath, or his heart, or her right arm. Or his brain. When your life is inextricably entwined with that of another, you will inevitably suffer. It is impossible to love without opening your heart to suffering. Loving well means baring all the nerves of your body and tentacles of your soul wide open.

Bearing that suffering well is how we achieve heaven. The title of this blog is borrowed from St. Teresa of Calcutta:

“God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.”

If anyone knows suffering from the inside out, it would be St. Teresa, who tirelessly spent half of her earthly life caring for the poor and destitute, purely out of love for a God who she felt was no longer listening to her prayers.

The spectrum of Oscar’s future possibilities for “success,” as most modern Americans understand it, runs almost the entire bell curve. He could catch up and develop into a typically-abled adult. He could also be profoundly disabled, requiring constant care his entire life. The window is opaque, the box is closed, Schrodinger’s cat is both alive and dead. But we do know, already, that his neurological situation will always be precarious.

But God does not call Oscar, or me, or any of us to “success,” and most definitely not to the kind of success most people mean when they say that word. He asks only that we are faithful to Him, throughout storms and calms alike. What does that faith look like, in the context of the daily uncertainty and fear of a chronically sick child? How should faith inform and change that fear? And how does it not, in my brokenness and unbelief? What does that say about theology versus the daily practice of the spiritual life? These are the questions I hope to explore with you.

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