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nunc coepi (part 3/3)


Don’t you think it’s funny how past experiences will pop up at seemingly random times and you are brought to a deeper understanding of that time in your life?  I have always enjoyed how interconnected my life is and how each experience prepares me for another; how present situations bring deeper understanding to past ones.  And yet, isn’t that exactly how God designed it?  After all, He knows what we enjoy, what we desire, what catches our eye so it only makes sense that He would use those things to communicate with us. 

 

I remember being in spiritual direction years ago and while I don’t remember the specific topic we were discussing, I distinctly recall my director reciting a quote to me by Venerable Bruno Lanteri, “If I should fall even a thousand times a day, a thousand times, with peaceful repentance, I will say immediately, Nunc Coepi [Now I begin].” 

 

Nunc Coepi.  What beautiful, amazing words that freed me from so much at that time and continues to do so.  These words are so meaningful to me that I even tattooed them to my back, much to my mother’s dismay (haha).  Since the very first time hearing this phrase, it has been a significant theme for me in my life and these words will appear to me in beautiful, funny, weird, and sometimes sad ways reminding me that while it takes only a small decision to part from God, it also takes just one small decision to re-unite with Him.  This phrase has also morphed and carries different meanings depending on the current season of life.  This poem found its way to me shortly after delivering Kellan and about a month into our NICU journey:

 

Help Me to Believe in Beginnings – Ted Loder


God of history and of my heart,

so much has happened to me during these whirlwind days:

I’ve known death and birth;

I’ve been brave and scared;

I’ve hurt, I’ve helped;

I’ve been honest, I’ve lied;

I’ve destroyed, I’ve created;

I’ve been with people, I’ve been lonely;

I’ve been loyal, I’ve betrayed;

I’ve decided, I’ve waffled;

I’ve laughed and I’ve cried.

You know my frail heart and my frayed history-

and now another day begins.

 

O God, help me to believe in beginnings

and in my beginning again,

no matter how often I’ve failed before.

Help me to make beginnings:

to begin going out of my weary mind

into fresh dreams,

daring to make my own bold tracks

in the land of now;

to begin forgiving

that I may experience mercy;

to begin questioning the unquestionable

that I may know truth;

to begin disciplining

that I may create beauty;

to begin sacrificing

that I may make peace;

to begin loving

that I may realize joy.

 

Help me to be a beginning to others:

to be a singer to the songless,

a storyteller to the aimless,

a befriender of the friendless;

to become a beginning of hope for the despairing,

of assurance for the doubting,

of reconciliation for the divided;

to become a beginning of freedom for the oppressed,

of comfort for the sorrowing,

of friendship for the forgotten;

to become a beginning of beauty for the forlorn,

of sweetness for the soured,

of gentleness for the angry,

of wholeness for the broken,

of peace for the frightened and violent of the

earth.

 

Help me to believe in beginnings,

to make a beginning,

to be a beginning,

so that I may not just grow old,

but grow new

each day of this wild, amazing life

you call me to live

with the passion of Jesus Christ.

 

I experienced so many new beginnings in the entirety of my journey to begin Kellan’s life: the sudden increase of symptoms wading over into the new normal, living in the hospital, a traumatic delivery which presented new truths about my own health, the NICU, to having a child home with higher needs than typical.  And not only are these beginnings in the physical changes, but there were so many times (and still are) where I was confronted with a new reality about my inner life that I had to accept for the sake of the well-being of my family; a beginning within a beginning, if you will.  Each twist and turn presented another opportunity for me to either part from God or completely surrender to Him.  And to be honest, both happened at various times. 

 

The Lord used this time to refine things in me I didn’t know needed refining.  He broke me down, stripped me of who I thought I was.  I mean you guys, there were days where I didn’t laugh even once.  You know me, you know how rare that is.  And yes, I am a crier, but there were days where I wasn’t sure I would ever stop.  All I could ever say to my family was how hard everything was.  As I write this and reflect back, I see how big of a pity party I was throwing myself.  I mean…. OF COURSE IT WAS HARD!  IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE.  I gave birth to a micro-preemie and my pregnancy had complications from the get-go so... what did I expect?  And where was the glory?  Well, for me, I always find it in the infinite wisdom of Christ’s beautiful bride – The Church.

 

Let’s pause here so I can do my typical brief Catholicism lesson of the day:  The catechism teaches that there are seven virtues and a virtue is defined as “an habitual and firm disposition to do the good.” (CCC 1733)  If you didn’t know the seven and were to sit down and write all the virtues in the world, you would probably come up with a pretty hefty list, but the Church boils it down to seven because each virtue can fall under one of these: Faith, Hope, Love, Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice.  But today, I want to focus on one that is not in this list, ‘Magnanimity’.  Magnanimity is considered a sub virtue because it is a component of the virtue courage. Think of it like this - it’s like a smaller, more specific muscle wrapped up to do some specific work in the arm or leg or what have you.   St. Thomas Aquinas defines magnanimity as the “stretching forth of the mind to do great things.”  And in no way are these great acts to primarily glorify the self.  The reason this is such a difficult virtue to embody is because these acts aiming at goodness must be humble; that is- not to be done for one’s own recognition, but rather to glorify Christ.  There is only a small percentile of disciples of Jesus who have reached a heroic level of magnanimity and these are the saints.  But we are all called to it.  Think of a truly magnanimous person as being a master of virtue.  With all of that said, it is important to note that I am not even close claiming to be magnanimous, but what became abundantly clear in my journey is that the Lord was calling me to be more conscience of this virtue and really strive for it.  Boy, do I have my work cut out for me…    

 

So… why do I bring this up?  Well one of the steps (there are 5) to achieving magnanimity is to embody another sub virtue: Longanimity or long suffering or perseverance.  This is defined as “extraordinary patience under provocation or trial.”  This is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and involves a great deal of forbearance on our part.  Okay so hopefully you and I are coming to the same realization here… in order to be purely and freely great, we have to have a supernatural level of patience during grave suffering and not ever demand [our human sense of] justice….Great.. Sign me up….?

 

I mean is it just me or does this sound impossible and insane?!?!  And yet, these two words were brought to me while I was living in the hospital days before giving birth.  See, I was under the false hope that once I delivered my suffering would be over and maybe we would go to the NICU for a couple of weeks and go home and raise a perfectly healthy child.  And I say false because 1) that’s not what hope is and 2) nobody and I mean nobody led me to believe this.  This was what my own psyche was doing under a tremendous amount of stress.  So it makes perfect sense that the Lord would bring me to the greater understanding of magnanimity.  I was about to enter the darkest season of my life and He wanted me to do it for His glory.  Well, spoiler alert… I didn’t.

 

Ha!  I totally missed this amazing and perfect softball set up for me to just nail it out of the park.  I threw pity party after pity party.  I cried.  I screamed.  I complained.  I blamed.  I swore.  I gave up.  I questioned.  I hid. I demanded justice.  And sure, most of this is a beautiful and messy human acting like a beautiful and messy human, and none of you would even blame me for any of that.  In fact, I had so many people tell me I deserved to do these things.  But what was happening before me was a miracle I nearly missed, and that’s the beauty of longanimity – to just stay out of the way long enough to be able to see the Lord at work.  And this is what He was doing:

 

He gave me a son who was never supposed to survive past 20 weeks.

He stitched my womb long enough for him to stay for a fighting chance at life.

He brought Kellan back from brain surgery.

He breathed life into this child, inflating his lungs so that we could sing sayonara to a ventilator.

He gave this child enough fight and determination to extubate himself.

He brought him back from the brink of sepsis.

He healed him enough to where whatever future diagnosis he may have, it will likely be mild.

He gave Kellan so much fight and hunger for life that nobody could believe he was going home in as good health as he did. 

 

And that’s just Kellan.  There were graces given to me, to John, to our marriage, to our girls, to our family, to our invested community…. Just everywhere.  John and I were told in the beginning that we needed to prepare for the high possibility that Kellan’s quality of life would be poor because everything with which he was presenting, would yield a lower quality of life.  Well, what in the world does that mean and what is the definition of low quality of life?  We would hear these things and we would look at him and watch him be so feisty, gain weight extremely fast, decrease oxygen support like a champ, maintain vitals, avoid BRAIN SURGERY, develop red hair (okay that’s not one, but it’s awesome - he really does have red hair).  I mean by medical standards; he defied an extraordinary number of odds.  And I almost missed it.  Thankfully, I had people (I call them my NICU coaches) to wake me up – these three badass, former NICU moms who could say yes and.  Yes to my pain and look at what He is doing.  The NICU is the perfect marriage of faith and science.  God has given us the ability to take his most perfect design of life and mimic it outside of the womb.  The week leading up to discharge I was debriefing with my favorite doc – the one who apologized to me for having to meet her.  I was crying to her, thanking her for saying yes to her job and for allowing me to watch my son who was born sick, frail, too early, and watch them put a timeline to God’s design and step through it like a perfectly choreographed dance of the heavens.  I thanked her for what was about to be my most favorite new beginning yet – a fully united family. 


Reflecting on this journey, I am profoundly aware of the trials that we endure and how they shape our character and deepen our faith. Long-suffering has been a recurring theme in my life, particularly in this experience. This virtue was essential as I navigated the uncertainty and fear that came with each day, and boy did I have to work for it. It wasn't easy; I faced moments of despair, anger, doubt - you name it. But it was through this suffering, that I could see how it reshaped me, showing me that I was not in control and how that was actually a gift! Oh to not be in control, but just receive grace. It wasn't until later that I remembered the recurring theme in my life: Nunc Coepi; I could begin anew with a perseverant faith.  As I continue to grow and stretch forth my mind to do great things for the Lord, I am inspired by this pure, unassuming greatness and I pray to embody these virtues more fully each day, continually beginning anew in my journey of faith, for the glory of God and the love of my family.


All in all, Kellan spent 96 days in the NICU.  Adding my time of living there up to delivery, it was a total of 121 days of our family being separated.  And then after the fight of our lives, he was discharged and we were together. 


I, like you, am called to magnanimity, and there is an obvious truth in all of this - Kellan, like all NICU babies, are magnanimous.  No, they aren’t of the age of reason, but these babies take their suffering, accept their fate and RISE all for the glory of God.  I see this each time I look over at Kellan and watch him scan the room and process information. We will never know what babies are actually thinking, but I like to think that they are simply marveling at creation and learning that sweet taste of being ALIVE.


And now…?  Well, now I get to mother my three miracles. 


Nunc Coepi.

 

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