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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.
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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 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.

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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. 

 

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Homily Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Image result for bulgaria city buildings

Sofia, Bulgaria (shutterstock.com)

As you may or may not know, Nissa and I adopted two children from Bulgaria about a year ago.  As part of the adoption process, we visited with the children in Bulgaria two different times.  The first was in a very small village in the far distant region of the country.  And the second was in the capital city Sofia.  We got an opportunity to see much of the country.

Bulgaria is a former republic of the Soviet Union, who recently became an independent nation.  No matter where we were, the country looked like pictures you’ve probably seen, all the buildings are the same color, the same architecture.  Almost all are what we would consider run down, walls cracked, plaster and paint falling off.  Inside, they were not any better.  Even the national museums were obviously in disrepair.  The roads were terrible, torn up and patched together.

By our standards, Bulgaria is a third world country.  The thing that really stood out was within that environment of poverty, everyone was wearing designer clothes, everyone sported their own smart phone, everyone drove expensive cars. 

And there we were, traveling 5000 miles to rescue two children abandoned in an orphanage, minimally cared for, while everyone around them was more concerned with pretending to be wealthy than loving their neighbor.

Everyone was focused on the wrong thing.

And that is exactly what today’s Scripture readings are trying to save us from.  We must stop and reflect on what God is telling us!

The first reading is from the Prophet Zephaniah telling us how to follow the Lord:  do no wrong and tell no lies!  What a wonderful world this would be if everyone lived that way! 

Even when we fail, we need to keep striving to live that way.  The challenge of course is that our present world no longer knows what is good and what is wrong.  The world does not know truth from lies. 

We are surrounded on every side with values that are so different from the values given to us by Jesus that we can become confused.  Far too often, whatever the present cultures wants to call good is accepted as good and whatever it wants to call bad is accepted as bad. 

Yet, we who follow the Lord Jesus, have the Word of God to form us and to guide us into all truth.

The second reading is from a Letter from St Paul to the Corinthians.  This letter reminds us that if we actually do choose to follow the Word of God and to follow Jesus as our Savior, we will be considered fools.  And this is still true for us today. 

But we are told in this reading:  “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise.”  It is our foolishness in following Jesus that can actually bring light to the world and perhaps even draw the world back to God. 

The early Christians knew that to live in Christ was to fight against the values of their world.  The early Christians even knew that they might have to die to proclaim the truth given to us in Christ Jesus.

Today, we like to be comfortable and to be well off.  There is nothing wrong with that by itself, but when we are willing to water down the Word of God in order to maintain a comfortable life style, then we must recognize that we are betraying Jesus as our Lord. 

We must be able to stand up for the truth of the teachings of Scripture and of our Catholic Church.  When we find ourselves compromising because we don’t want to bother others, then we are guilty of passing on the lies of our current culture.

Today’s Gospel reading gives us what is called the Beatitudes.  These are the all important teachings of Jesus that tell us how to follow the Lord:  poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, persecuted for the sake of righteousness, insulted for Christ, persecuted for Christ, and evil spoken about us because of Christ.  This is a pretty strong list of characteristics for us!

The implication today is that we must give our whole being to God.  We must follow Jesus with all of our strength.  When we fail, we must get up and start again.  Compromising with anything less than Jesus simply means following the world and its values and not following our Lord.

Today we are invited us to renew our commitment to the follow the Lord.  We should walk in His ways and accept all the suffering that may bring us.  That way we can walk in His kingdom but now and forever.

Some content from Homily by Abbott Philip OSB

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