The Look of Love

Nissa’s column “Let Us Sow Love” appears monthly in The Catholic Free Press. This column appeared on September 1, 2017. 

Corn Poppy | ©Nissa Gadbois, all rights reserved

 

The first time I saw our son and daughter is something I will never forget.  Everyone remembers that day.  The look in your child’s eyes, their sweet heavy warmth in your arms, the smell of their newborn head, the soft perfection of tiny fingers and toes.  You are instantly, deeply in love.

The first time I saw my son and daughter there was a combination of anticipation and fear in their eyes.  They would not be touched nor receive physical affection from me.  They stank of a kind of filth I had never experienced with any of my other children in their dirtiest states.  They were covered in scars and scabs, one of them had hands resembling someone four times his age.  I was instantly, deeply repelled.

Every part of me wanted to turn around and go back to my comfortable life in America.  To my ‘own’ beautiful children.  I wanted to forget about this place halfway around the world and the extreme poverty – material, spiritual, emotional.  I wanted to unsee, unsmell, unfeel.  But God had already marked me indelibly.  These were the ones he sent us to love.  These were the ones he sent us to rescue.  There was no escape.

I left Bulgaria numb.  I felt nothing.  I had no feeling of belonging, no affection.  Just nothing.  I wanted Him to choose someone else for us.  Someone easier to love.  I had no desire to go back.  I was like Jonah in my desire to just walk away.

But we did go back.  And were met with an epic storm for which we were wholly unprepared.  One child violently acting out against me any time we were alone in a room, turning on the charm when others returned.  I begged to be delivered from it.  For ten days my heart pounded and ached, unable to breathe.  For ten days I sobbed bitterly that I couldn’t be what she needed me to be.  We went back and forth about what we should do and ultimately stayed the course.  My husband reminded me that God had brought us this far; and that love wasn’t merely affection.  It was doing the right thing, whatever the cost.

When we arrived home, we watched vigilantly throughout the days and nights in case the storm raged against our other children.  Then the storm began to collapse inward, to consume her, and she completely shut down.  And there she remained, terrified.  Only Jesus can calm that sea.  But she doesn’t know him.  Not yet.  Daily we teach her, suffering the emotional buffets alongside her, trying to shield her from further harm.  Patiently.  Wearily.

While her past with all its conflicts and confusion, all of its pain, assaults her heart and mind, we remain with her.  The backlash cutting into us, tearing at us, our strength ebbing, on our knees.

Love doesn’t always look like moony-faced affection.  Sometimes love looks tired and broken.  Sometimes love looks angry or frustrated.  Love is not just how we feel about someone else, it is, in its highest form, willing the good of another without counting the cost.  It is dying to oneself, letting go of the need for reciprocity.  It sometimes looks – and feels – an awful lot like being stripped naked, arms wide, pierced hand and foot and side, vulnerable, spat on and insulted, thorns pressed deeply into the head, breathless.  And when it feels like that, you’re loving as He loved.

Cooking with Mama

©Nissa Gadbois | All rights reserved

Last week, Geo and I gathered about 5 pounds of crabapples from one of our trees and made some crabapple jam.  I love this time of year.  There is so much to remind us of God’s bounty, so much to be thankful for.   How blessed we are to be able to feed ourselves from our own land, from foods that grow wild all around us.

Besides food, we are surrounded by medicines.  The youngest five went down with a cold virus just three days after their older brother had surgery to repair a shattered knee.  I was able to make a strong medicinal tea from elderberries we harvested from around the barn.  I’m happy to say that they are all feeling better.

William, our 16 year old, is recovering beautifully from his surgery, too.  Thanks be to God.

And that crabapple jam?  It was delicious spread on our homemade sourdough bread. 

 

Crabapple Jam
A gorgeous, rich spread for toast or biscuits.
Write a review
Print
Ingredients
  1. 5 lb fresh organic crabapples
  2. 1 1/2 c. water
  3. 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar (with mother)
  4. 1 1/2 c. raw honey, agave nectar, or organic sugar
Instructions
  1. Place fruit, water, and vinegar in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook fruit until they burst, about 20 minutes. Run fruit through a food mill or sieve. Push pulp through the sieve and discard skins and seeds. Place pulp back into the pot and add honey. Heat gently until honey is completely dissolved and incorporated.
  2. Using a jelly funnel, fill clean, hot jelly jars, leaving 1/2 inch of head space. Process in a hot water bath for 10-15 minutes. Remove and cool.
Notes
  1. This recipe results in a very thick jam. If you were to add mulling spices, you would have a beautiful crabapple butter. The flavour is astringent. Consider serving with butter or cream cheese, or on a piece of shortbread. It would also be lovely served alongside a beautifully roasted pork loin.
At Home With the Gadbois Family http://gadboisfamily.com/
Crabapples ©Nissa Gadbois

Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Some of us that come to Mass every week have a – what could be considered a disparaging name for those Catholics that only appear at Christmas and Easter celebrations – C&E Catholics.  I suppose they come at Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Who doesn’t love welcoming a child into the world.  Christmas is a celebration of not only Jesus’ birth but the birth of humanity – our earthly birth.

And I suppose they come at Easter to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection – our Heavenly birth.  So they celebrate the beginning of life and the end of life.  But unfortunately, they miss everything in between.  Life is not so simple.  Pain and Suffering.  It is something we all face.  Perhaps there are reasons that they do not wish to face this reality in the face of God.  But God did not make it so.  He created the world perfectly.  It was the fall of Adam and Eve that brought pain and suffering – sin – into the world.

There are 2 ways to handle this – The easy path consists of holding onto life at all costs, living exclusively for oneself – doing whatever we can to avoid being uncomfortable or facing painful situations.  Making the «I» the final reason and most important objective of our existence.  This manner of living – always seeking gain or advantage for myself – only lead to destruction.

But Jesus teaches us today of the second and harder path.  Knowing how to live as Jesus does, giving priority to God – knowing how to renounce our own security or profit, seeking not just my own welfare but more importantly that of others. This generous way of living leads us to our salvation.

A short story from my own life – when I decided to become a Deacon – I entered the formation program which involved attending classes two nights a week – for 5 years.  Well I can tell you, that was extremely difficult.  Trying to do school work with – at the time – 7 young kids at home – while working full time and doing everything else young families do.  There was a lot of sacrifice.  There were many times I felt just like Jeremiah does the first reading today.  “you duped me O Lord and I let myself be duped.”  How could I give up my “comfortable” life to follow your calling – why does it have to be so difficult?

Like Jeremiah – I felt the Lord triumphed.  As hard as it was, he led me through it.  Finally being ordained.  But I can tell you THAT just led to more trials.  Being a Deacon now may be even more difficult.  Being in public view, living a Christian life – balancing my Ministry with home life and work life – when at times I just want to do my own thing.

But Jesus tells us – following him is the way to salvation.  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

But how do we do that?  What does this command really mean?

It means that sometimes doing the will of God is hard, and involves suffering.

It means that sometimes following the example and teaching of Jesus is a real challenge.

It means that doing the right thing and loving our neighbor can be downright dangerous.

It means that sometimes loving – demands sacrifice.

So many of us here are already carrying crosses. You do not have to go looking for them. They find us.

And I think if we could see each other’s crosses we would be humbled and in awe at what each one of us does.

You have denied yourself a thousand times and have done the will of God by raising a family and all of the personal sacrifice that goes with that.

You have gone without so – that your kids could have advantages that you did not have.

You have endured the hardships of supporting that family member or friend in his or her personal struggles.

You have put up with the cycle of victory and defeats, ups and downs because of the command of Jesus to love.

You are determined to live a life of virtue and chastity when it seems to you that no one else is. And you think you may pay a price for that. You will sacrifice popularity and hanging with the crowd that calls themselves cool.

You have devoted what seems to be your life to caring for that physically or mentally challenged child or infirm, elderly parent because it is simply the right thing to do and you do it out of love.

You have lost a child or your spouse and not a day goes by that you do not think of that person you have lost, but you find the strength to stand up and carry on and continue being a giving person when you feel that everything in life has been taken from you.

You have carried around a hurt so deep and so stinging for years and even decades and you have never spoken about it to another soul and there have been times that you have wanted to act out in anger and revenge and rage, but you have resisted and turned the other cheek and responded with love.

How will your stories end? Where will carrying your cross lead you?

Maybe through more suffering. Maybe to death. But I know how this story ends (pointing to the cross).

Suffering is conquered by joy.

Death is conquered by life.

Darkness is conquered by light.

Crucifixion is conquered by resurrection.

Something that our C&E catholic friends miss hearing about regularly – our faith tells us that despite our suffering and sacrifices our stories will end with Jesus if we pick up our own crosses and follow HIM.

 Inspiration from Rev James Mazzone and José Antonio Pagola

Homily for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings:  Jer 20:10-13, Rom 5:12-15, Mat 10:26-33

donotbeafraid

Do not be afraid.  That is Jesus’ message to us today.  It is one we hear very often.  If you do a quick google search – some sources will say those words are in the Bible 365 times.  Well, I didn’t count them myself, but it is certainly a frequent message of Jesus.  In fact he uses it three times today.  And it is good for us to hear those words often.  Because, as we hear from St Paul in the Second reading – Adam brought sin into the world.  And it remains with us today.  There is a lot to be afraid of.

In the world today, we are more and more likely to encounter problems.  The values of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus and of the Church, are being called into question by everyone around us.

Our life can easily end up at the mercy of our fears. Sometimes it’s the fear of losing prestige, security, comfort or well-being that keeps us from making decisions. We don’t dare to risk our social position, our money or a small happiness.

Other times the fear of ending up alone, without friendship or people’s love terrorizes us. We don’t want to face life without anyone’s close company.

We’re afraid of being ridiculed, of confessing our true convictions, of giving testimony to our faith. We fear criticism, gossip and rejection by others. We don’t want to be categorized.

Other times the fear of the future seeps in. We don’t clearly see our next step. Facing tomorrow makes us afraid

Do not be afraid.

There have been many times in our life that we, Nissa and I, have put aside our own fears and followed the calling of the Holy Spirit.

We followed a calling to become a Deacon.  I can tell there was and still is a lot of fear in standing in front of you all and telling you what message the Holy Spirit want me to tell you.

We followed the church teaching about being open to life and received 9 wonderful children, even though we were concerned about how we would get a house big enough to raise them.

We chose to Home School them even though that meant giving up a second income that society tells us is required to be comfortable.

We chose to adopt children from another country, even though we had no idea how we would raise the funds to get them here.

Sometime we are still afraid.  Our public image, our calling to preach to others, our family lifestyle makes us targets in today’s society.  Like Jeremiah in the first reading, we are afraid of the persecutions – even from our own family and friends – who can’t understand how we can do it all.  How we can possibly care for all our children.  How we could possibly survive on a single income.  Who see an outward sign of trouble and immediately assume the worst must be happening.

The phrase I hear the most when someone learns about our family lifestyle is “I don’t know how you do it.” 

What I hear in those words … is fear.  I hear their own fear.  I hear their own struggle with choosing to follow Jesus.  I hear their own fear of doing what they think should versus what society is telling them they should do.

Many times in conversation, I can hear other’s fear.  The fear of acknowledging to their work collegues or schoolmates their Catholic faith.

The fear of declining to take certain work because though it may be legal, may be morally questionable.

The fear of leaving a job that may be with a company or an industry that has a reputation for harming humanity more than helping it.

The fear of employers choosing to treat employees with dignity and giving them fair wages.

Do not be afraid.

Jesus knows our fear, but tells us:

Do not be afraid of the future – even if Gods will is hidden and difficult to see now – it will be revealed.

Do not be afraid of those who would make you martyrs by killing you because even if they kill your body they cannot kill your soul – but be afraid of not doing God’s work.

Do not be afraid about acknowledging Jesus before others – he will acknowledge you before the heavenly Father.

Do not be afraid.

Jesus calls each of us, in our own way.

Listen to the Whispers of the Holy Spirit and proclaim it from the housetop.

In everything we say, and in everything we do.

Do not be afraid.

Inspiration from doctrinalhomilyoutlines.com, Fr. Tommy Lane, Abbott Philip – Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Jose Antonio Pagola, Holy Spirit.

Save

To the First Mother of My Children, My Sister

©Nissa Gadbois

 

I don’t know why God chose me to carry your cross.  But I carry it willingly however heavy it is.  Some days it brings me to my knees.  But God has provided abundant graces and many helpers for those times. At those times we all carry your cross together.

You are never far from my mind, my sister.  Every day, I look into their deep brown eyes and wonder if those eyes came from you.  I wonder if your eyes show the same sadness and fear, if they’ve ever shown the same warmth of love that our son’s show when he looks at me.

He’s a miracle, you know.  He has come through God-only-knows-what and still he loves.  Still, he trusts.  He’s one of the bravest people I have ever met.  When he looks at me and says “I love you, Mama” I am shaken to my very core because I know that it has cost him everything to tell me so.  It should have been yours to hear.  And I treasure it all the more because of that. He’s so smart.  He works so hard in spite of the struggles he has.  He tries new things even though the starting terrifies him.  He drinks in every new experience like a much younger child. But he is also maturing into an amazing young man, a sweet and caring older brother to his new brothers and sisters.  He is tender and patient and kind.  He talks to me about growing up to help people, to rescue other kids like him.  I mourn for your loss, my sister.  You’re missing this.

Your daughter – our daughter – is buried deep inside herself.  She lives in a constant state of terror.  She’s safe here but she doesn’t understand that.  Her wounds will take a long, long time to heal.  And until they do, she can’t move forward.  She can’t learn, or mature, or love.  Not truly.  She doesn’t know that family is a safe place, that adults are trustworthy.  She doesn’t know that the world is a place full of love and joy.  Because of this, she may never be able to fall in love –with a worthy man, with God, with herself.  She may never experience for herself the love that mothers have for their children, that fierce, primal love.  You couldn’t have known what would happen to her.  I pray you didn’t know.  Or maybe the same thing happened to you and you couldn’t give these two children what they needed.  And if that is the case then I am so sorry for what happened to you.  I am so very sorry.  I wish someone had been there to rescue you, too.  Thank God someone rescued her.  By the grace of God, she will triumph.

I will carry this cross, your cross, now my cross.  I will care for the children you could not care for.  I will heal their bodies, and work to heal their broken spirits.  I will do this for you and for them.  I am blessed to be entrusted with this ministry.

These children link us together, you and me, dear sister.  We have never seen each other’s faces, never spoken a word to each other, never taken each other by the hand, but we are so very close. I wish you love.  I wish you all that is good. 

One day, when we have both finally laid down our crosses, I pray, we all will meet in Heaven.  On that day, I will embrace you, my sister, and I will introduce you to my children, your children, OUR children.  His children.  And we will see the fulfillment of His plan for all of us and how He has brought all things to good. 

 

Save

Save

%d bloggers like this: