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May 13, 2018 | The 23rd Times

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A Mother’s Cross can Change the Past [Mother’s Day]

By Damian Hanley

Any woman who’s lost a child can understand the pain of our Blessed Mother. Catholics believe foremost in the sanctity of life, and when a child’s life is cut short, it is tragic because it is the worst possible thing happening to the embodiment of innocence.  When Mary witnessed the tragedy of her Son’s final days on Earth she remained pure of heart and refused to fall prey to the resentment we would have all forgiven her for. She is the perfect example of unconditional maternal love, and the inspiration behind our newest ministry at St. John XXIII. Emily Johnson and her husband Cory share the Blessed Mother’s pain, and they’re using it for good.

Heavenly Children – a support group for mothers who’ve lost a child of any age, is the answer to the question “What do we do when our loss is too great to bear alone?” There is no more dramatic a reversal of fate than the pure potential of a new life being cut short. Emily delivered a stillborn baby boy, Aiden, on May 4, 2012. His GI tract was underdeveloped and she went septic during the delivery. She was given last rites – twice.

After genetic testing her doctors told her they could try again. And they did. And 10 months later she delivered Asher. He came into the world after only 23 weeks weighing 1 pound, 4 ounces. The prior pregnancy had damaged her cervix, so he ended up spending 110 days in the NICU. Little Asher won the battle and is doing fine today.

We think we have control over our lives until something like this happens. Their ministry will serve as a beacon of hope for parents who are currently living through a special kind of misery.

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Catholics are good at taking responsibility for our sins of commission. We’ll even own up to misfortunes that we knowingly played a part in via omission. But when it comes to random, inexplicable tragedies, nothing renders us as powerless. ‘Helpless’ is a good way to describe it. Cory can identify.

“I’d always been the calming rock of our relationship, and when that happened, there’s nothing you can do to help. Sitting there and watching my son pass away, and then watching my wife go through such an intense situation… I felt more frustration and anger, and I couldn’t help but think ‘I wish I could have gone. I wish He could have taken me instead and let my son have his life on earth.’ In my mind I thought I’d lived long enough. I just wish my son could have had the chance to live his life.”

Who hasn’t bargained with God? “God, if only I promise X, can we undo Y and change Z that happened in the past?” “No!” says God.

The events won’t change, but our faith gives us the tools to change the meaning of the past – which is what Emily and Cory are doing with this ministry.

Many, many mothers and fathers know what it means to lose a child. Heavenly Children is a means through which parents can share their pain, process their grief and celebrate life – no matter how brief it may have been. The Johnsons could have done nothing, and no one would have blamed them.

Hiding from life is a normal, human reaction. When we’re traumatized, it’s natural to retreat into ourselves and isolate. Life takes energy. People stress us out. Why can’t we just ignore all our calls, go through the motions, escape, and bury that burning ember inside of us for….ever?

For one, because it doesn’t work. We all know people that deal with life like this. Heck, we’ve probably been that person ourselves! But when we do this we’re ignoring a central tenet of Christianity. That is, a refusal to take up our cross is a refusal to confront life like Christ confronted it.

He showed us that it is very possible to transcend the tragedies of earthly existence through sacrifice and adherence to God’s law. And our Blessed Mother showed us that when God asks you to make a sacrifice, you make it. You willingly confront the call because your life is meant to teach others how to love unconditionally.

Through little acts of charity and kindness, the Johnson’s have been doing this for the past four years. In January 2014 they formed a non-profit, Miracles Around Us, whose explicit mission is to make infant burial gowns out of wedding dresses. They also help families with children in the NICU who are struggling to provide basic necessities for their infants. For most Americans, a trip to the hospital is also a financial crisis. “We took a double-stroller to a family that had twins. We help people with car seats… There are families that are homeless. They leave the NICU and go directly to a homeless shelter. So we take them items so they can properly take care of their babies,” Emily shares.

Cory explains that “a lot of people go through what we’ve gone through, and not a lot of people talk about it. It happens more than what you’d think. But knowing that one day I will see my son again – it’s not my place to say when – but knowing that is one of the greatest joys I look forward to.”

And this is the Good News. The Johnson’s changed the meaning of the past and are sharing their experience of brokenness with those whose suffering is fresh. All Christians know how to do this, but we need constant reminders. Meaning is derived from picking up one’s cross and humbly taking responsibility for it. Meaning in motherhood is discovered upon conception. As soon as a woman learns she is with child, she is trusted with the greatest responsibility of all – to bring forth the pure potential that could save the world.  Every life is a chance to bring glory to God.

So, on this Mother’s Day, meditate on the sacred image of the Divine Mother and Child, and remember that in suffering they bring forth new life so that we can continue this thing called humanity. There is no greater sacrifice that can be made, and no greater gift worthy of celebration.