17 Sep 2011

Baby Paul's Heart and Ours

by Sherry Antonetti
**First ran in The Catholic Standard, September 11, 2008. 

“Will you accept the blessing of children lovingly from God?”

In every Catholic wedding, the priest asks the question and the couple responds.

There isn’t a caveat or a footnote or an asterisk to that particular answer or question, designed to explain away exceptions or alternatives. It is a promise a couple makes to God in the process of obediently submitting to the sacrament of marriage. The choice to have children was made on that altar amidst family and friends, prayers and flowers. “Yes.”

As the mother of eight, soon to be nine children, even total strangers have remarked to me, “You must have wanted a large family.” No. I have to confess, that wasn’t my plan at all. I planned to get a PhD and run a school, and maybe one day teach English at my Alma Mater. That was my plan. I loved my husband to be and we had dutifully gone through the pre-marital inventory, had the interviews with our bishop, and spent the weekend at the Pre Cana retreat in preparation for the sacrament. But we hadn’t asked the specific question of each other, “How many kids do you want to have?” To be honest, the question had never occurred to either of us, in our youth and inexperience.

When I started on my Doctorate, my advisor asked the question, “How do you hope to prevent yourself from becoming seduced by academia?” I said “My husband and children (at that point I had only one), would be able to keep me humble and out of trouble.” We laughed but God saw the opening I had given Him and took it.

Prudence might indicate that, once kids became a part of our lives, we would have discussed numbers. But again, the question never came up. We couldn’t argue with the consequences of the blessings of our marriage. We loved each new addition to our family fiercely and found the idea of not having known such unique amazing individuals as our sons and daughters, a horrid prospect.

Graduate school was postponed. These people had always been part of our family, though we had never laid eyes on them before they were born. It was as if pieces of our lives and our hearts, our personalities and our gifts, were being revealed to us for the first time in each of these new people. Whenever I would begin to yearn for what had been let go, God would immediately ground me in the present with the people around me. Maybe our family would be smaller if I hadn’t been such a stubborn person, but I wouldn’t wish it. It has been an amazing and unexpected journey these past eighteen years.

God’s plan included this ninth person Paul, who has Down’s syndrome and a heart defect that will require surgery. His heart will have to be remade. Like most parents who discover they will have a child with disabilities the world can see, our hearts had to be remade too. My son’s heart has no walls on the inside. Our hearts had walls that had to be torn down. We didn’t know they were even there.

Paul’s heart will be examined by 35 pediatric cardiologists via the wonders of technology, so that the best possible care can be given to make the four chambers necessary for him to thrive. God has spent the last 42 years peering into our hearts to try and get us to submit to the surgeries of life necessary to make our souls flourish. Neither of us have been terribly cooperative patients, sometimes ignoring the prescriptions that would make us spiritually stronger. There have been moments when we have wanted to say, “No.” Or at the very least, “Why can’t it be my plan?” or “Why this plan?”

I wouldn’t argue with the 35 cardiologists about how to do this pending surgery; I have to trust they will do what is best for my son. Likewise, arguing with God about His plan seems a waste of energy. He’s the expert. God’s plan was for a different sort of Doctorate, born of thus far, fifteen years of study. Once one recognizes God’s plan, acting within it becomes a condition of will, a choice based on trust that the Divine Physician knows more about what’s best than the patient.

God’s plan was much more interesting than mine. I still hope to one day get that Ph.D. if it is right for me to have it, but I must concede, in all honesty, not getting what I wanted thus far has been the greatest gift of my life. God tells us He will make for us whole new hearts, and that is what this journey of life is for, to give Him time to operate on our souls via the trials, triumphs and tragedies we experience. He came to heal us of the illnesses we do not even know that we have.

A dear person in my life asked the question, “How do you know God’s plan?” At the time, I didn’t have an answer but I do now, “If it stretches you beyond your own perceived capacity to love, it is God’s plan. If it makes you devote your whole self to others, it is God’s plan. If the fruits of your actions include joy, laughter, lightness, mercy, healing, hope, forgiveness, patience and peace for yourself and/or others, it is God’s plan.”

Today, my son turns three.  Those three years seem like an instant, his surgery went fine and the time since has been a blur of smiles and joy.  In fact I can't quite remember how I ever got along without his smile. 

Writer's Bio: Sherry Antonetti: I am a Catholic mother of ten and a writer who lives just outside of Washington, DC.  You can email me at sherryantonettiwrites@yahoo.com

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