Peggy Writes

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He Would Have Been 18 Today

In our home today, we remember in our hearts how life would be, if he was here.  He would be 18 years old, a senior and in the midst of college preparation.  From the moment you find out you are expecting, most women fall in love and shortly there after we can see ourselves holding that baby, we can smell their sweetness and we play in our mind a reel of watching them grow, laugh and love.

In October 2014, I wrote this reflection and decided to share again, as it is All Souls Day.

My ten year old son came home from school today in a bad mood. He was picking on his sisters, reluctant to begin his homework, and grumpy about the after school snack I offered. I’ve learned to give him some time before trying to figure out the reason behind his irritability.  That night, when I tucked him into bed, I asked “Why such a long face?”  He said that at school that day, his teacher had asked if anyone would like to offer up a special prayer intention, and he said, “I prayed for you and Dad and for the baby you lost.”  He was sad, because during recess, one of his classmates told him he was always making up stories no one believed his story of a baby who died. At that moment, my son began to cry, and my heart broke for him. At the same time, I was also taken aback by his prayer intention. My first pregnancy had ended in a miscarriage over 14 years ago, and my husband and I had only mentioned it a handful of times to our children.

A few days later, on our way to Sunday Mass, my son asked me, “Mom, so why did we forget?” In the rush to get our 5 children to church and still trying to fix his sister’s hair, I responded in a hurried tone, “Forget about what?” He said, “The baby.”  I didn’t process his question until after communion when I was kneeling down to pray, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  Why had I forgotten?  As I prayed, I imagined this child in heaven with the saints and the Holy Family, and was overcome with emotion, I began to weep. For the next week, this image of the little one I had lost continued to resonate in my heart and on my mind, along with the inescapable question of why had I forgotten?

During the winter of 1999, my lifelong best friend and I both found out we were expecting our first child. The babies were due in October and we were delighted not only with our little baby bumps, but to be going through this life-changing experience together. At 14 weeks, however, my pregnancy took a terrible turn. My husband was out of the country, so my girlfriend left work to join me at the ultrasound where together we saw the absence of my baby’s heartbeat. It was unspeakable, but my friend was so incredibly supportive. I have always been so grateful to her for her selfless love, for enduring that experience with me and sharing the grief with the loss of my child.  It must have been even more difficult for her as she was still expecting her own.

To someone who has miscarried, people’s genuine attempts of condolences sometimes feel more like thoughtless words: “Well it must have God’s plan,” or “The baby probably had health issues,” or “You will have others,” or “It was only 14 weeks, and it happens too many.” Unsure of how to really process this type of loss, I did what I imagine many women do: I put my grief behind me and went back to my daily routine.

The following year, I became pregnant again, and we went on to have 5 children in 7 years. Our children knew that Mom had lost 1, but there was no discussion beyond that. Being around many conservative moms over the years, and since I’ve entered the Catholic/Christian blogging world, I’ve often been struck when I’ve heard women say, “I have 6 children on this earth, and 2 in heaven.” It never occurred to me to mention the baby I lost.  I could understand how women, who were further along in their pregnancy when they lost their child, would refer to their child, the loss, their grief and even the soul.  I realized that in my mind and heart, I had convinced myself that our lost pregnancy didn’t carry much weight. I had pushed my feelings down, never allowing myself to love or know this child, not allowing this soul to be present.

I believe in God-incidences. Recently at a conference, I was introduced to a woman who shared with me (without prompting) her similar experience of suppressing her feelings following her miscarriages. She told me how she had been transformed, however, on a trip to Medjugorje, Bosnia (the location where 30 years ago the Blessed Mother appeared to 6 children, revealing messages for the world, visions that continue to this day). The woman had the opportunity to go to reconciliation while at Medjugorje, and the priest, without any prior knowledge of her situation, remarkably asked her about the babies she had lost 20 years ago. Like me, she hadn’t embraced the lives of the children she had miscarried, and told the priest she didn’t know their gender. He proceeded to guide her through a prayer of sorts, in which she imagined herself standing before the Blessed Mother and Jesus, who were holding the hands of the children; she saw one was a girl and the other, a boy. The priest told the woman that God plants information like that in our hearts, and to trust that feeling, to name the children, and to remember them. He reassured her that the children love her and are waiting until the day they are reunited with her. She described the great love she felt from the Blessed Mother and Jesus.

As this woman told her story, tears were rolling down my cheeks. She knowingly asked, “Did you lose a child?” “Yes,” I replied. She continued, “Did you name your child?” I said, “I never knew if it was a girl or boy, so no.” In my gut, however, I had always believed the baby was a boy, so on that day I named our son Riley Thomas O’Flaherty.  The woman encouraged me to pick a day as his birthday, and suggested All Souls Day, pointing out that this was one day a year that I could hold that child in my heart, but also in the community of others in the celebration of the Mass.

Over the next few days, I spent time in prayer and began to imagine this child desiring a relationship with all of us, and in a way, guiding us in our faith and life. I drew comfort in picturing this angel boy riding on the bus with my other children, and as an angel might do, providing them encouragement, comfort or solace on any given day.  My heart is warmed by the image of Riley talking with Jesus about how he wants blessings showered upon my husband, his earthly father, as he strives to launch a start-up business.  How Riley may ask the Blessed Mother to provide me a gentle spirit with my children when I am exhausted at the end of a long day and am feeling so depleted.

This women had also shared with me that through prayer, she has come to feel that God wants all women to know His love—women who have lost a child through miscarriage at week 3, 12 or 40, as well as women who have lost a child through an abortion; that He loves us all, that the children’s souls are at rest, and that the child can be remembered in a special way, regardless of how they are lost.

One morning, weeks after my encounter with this woman, I realized that I, too, felt transformed. The sensation was almost as if our family had expanded by one overnight. What a gift I have been given, to now experience that additional love, both for Riley and from him (even if it’s on a spiritual level and not a physical one). I went back to my other son and thanked him for listening to his inner voice (the Holy Spirit) and for reminding us of this gift we have in heaven.

We will celebrate Riley’s birthday on All Souls Day each November. Another tradition I’m planning, to help keep his memory alive is to buy an ornament for our Christmas tree with his name on it, which will join those we have for our other children. And just as I’ve come to feel Riley’s presence with us here on earth, I now ask him to be an intercessor in heaven for my prayers.

Are you, or someone you know, in need of healing transformation?

  • Check with your local church or diocese many hold a private Memorial Service for families who have lost children in the womb, to facilitate healing and to honor the eternal lives of the children in heaven.
  • Name your child and creating a special day of remembrance may be a first step.
  • Rachel’s Vineyard is “a safe place to renew, rebuild and redeem hearts broken by abortion. Weekend retreats offer you a supportive, confidential and non-judgmental environment…to help you experience God’s love and compassion on a profound level.” Retreats are held in both Catholic and nondenominational settings, in 48 states and 57 countries. www.rachelsvineyard.org

Share your story with me or share this reflection with women or men who may benefit from hearing this story.

This blog is based on the personal experiences and opinions of Peggy O’Flaherty. Any reproduction of the material in this blog may be used with written consent of the author by e-mail at peggy@creatingspaceinyourlife.com.

Peggy O’Flaherty, is a public speaker, blog writer, wife and mother of five children on earth and 1 in Heaven. Her recent writing projects include “Faith In the Family, Night Time Prayers?” and “OneParish Catholic App.” She is the Founder & President of Creating Space, LLC., a ministry helping people enrich their faith. Follow Peggy at www.creatingspaceinyourlife.com.

 

 

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Lilacs, Rwanda, Immaculee and Women’s Inner Strength

Have you noticed the lilac bushes are in bloom?   In the Midwest every spring in early May the streets and yards are lined with beautiful purple fragrant lilacs.   Perhaps you grew up with a Common lilac, Persian lilac, Dwarf Korean variety, Himalayan, Chinese lilac or even a lilac tree.    My sister Linda Kay Doyle had a beautiful white lilac bush that she cherished.  It was an exceptionally fragrant lilac in her yard, just off her deck.    My sister Linda died 10 years ago today, May 5 2005.   She was an avid gardener and whenever I would visit her home, we would walk arm and arm around her yard to explore what was currently in bloom.

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Linda was an educator who was very compassionate and cognizant about the surrounding world.   She was always giving me fiction and non-fiction books that would get me thinking.   We had long conversations about the underlying theme of books such as the Kite Runner and The Red Tent.   The week before she passed she urged me to watch the movie Hotel Rwanda with Don Cheadle.

Hotel Rwanda is the story of the 1994 horrific genocide that took the lives of one million people who were brutally murdered in Rwanda, Africa.   In an era of high-speed communication and round the clock news, the events went almost unnoticed by the rest of the world.   In three months, one million Tutsis; men, women and children were massacred by the hands of the Hutu marauders.   The movie shared the courage of one man who in the face of unspeakable dangers granted shelter to thousands of helpless refugees in the hotel that he managed.

I never had the chance to chat with Linda about her thoughts on the Rwanda genocide.  And yet, two years after she passed, I learned about a woman who survived that genocide and knew that I had to hear her story.  Immaculee llibagiza was a Tutsis college student, who was urged to go into hiding by her father.   Immaculee found shelter at a pastor’s home, where she and seven other women hid from the deadly rebel mob in a 3-by-4 foot bathroom for 91 days.    During those 91 days of unimaginable suffering, Immaculee found her faith, taught herself English and most incredibly, committed herself to a life of peace, hope and forgiveness.  Even for those who had murdered her family.

Last week, I was privileged to attend a luncheon entitled “Aid for Women” and the keynote speaker was again Immaculee.  She again shared her powerful life lessons from her Rwanda experience of love, forgiveness and world peace.    The organization she spoke was in support of Aid for Women, which has been instrumental in providing support for women and especially empowering women to choose life.  They provide funding to Heather’s House, a home for unwed mothers providing education, medical assistance, spiritual and housing support.  You can read more about their organization at www.helpaidforwomen.org.   You can read one of Immaculee’s several books or watch this short video about her story.

Linda placed an enormous value on the inner strength within a women and the bond of friendship between women.   Considering Linda’s own health limitations, nothing held her back and I knew she drew strength from faith, friendship and family.   Where do you draw strength to be the women God intended you to be?  How do you age gracefully and rest within the challenges of your life, the body we have been given and live within our unique giftedness?  How do the relationships in your life help you to fly?  Helping women explore these questions have become my life work.   Thank you, Linda!!!!

Sandy Hook Mom, Nurturing, Healing, Love

I published this back in November and wanted to support this mom and the memory of her son Jesse.

This morning the Today Show featured an interview with Scarlett Lewis, a mother who lost her son Jesse, at the Sandy Hook school last December.   His memory is living strong in her new book “Nurturing, Healing, Love.” .  She writes about his brave act of love that saved the life of his classmates.   I found this interview about Jesse touching, his mother is an inspiration of strength and faith.  She demonstrates amazing amounts of love and forgiveness.   The link below is the interview with Matt Lauer.   I plan to buy this book for a few friends and even a few teachers.

http://www.today.com/news/todays-takeaway-newtown-mom-finds-solace-dylan-marches-osu-8C11498310

They have also established a foundation “Choose Love” in her son’s memory that partners with organization that will support and educate children.

http://www.jesselewischooselove.org/

This blog is based on the personal experiences and opinions of Peggy O’Flaherty. Any reproduction of the material in this blog may be used with written consent of the author by e-mail at peggy@creatingspaceinyourlife.com. Peggy O’Flaherty, is a certified spiritual
director, public speaker, blog writer, wife and mother of five children. Her recent writing projects include “Who Is Listening?” and “Why Clean Your Garage?” She is the Founder & President of Creating Space, LLC., a ministry helping people enrich their faith. Follow Peggy at
www.creatingspaceinyourlife.com.

Tolerance, Faith & Pope

Growing up, I shared a very close relationship with both of my grandmothers, each of whom had a different approach to expressing her faith. My paternal grandmother was exposed to two religions in her family’s home: her father was Lutheran and her mother was Catholic. In her adult years, Grandma Batten practiced Catholicism. I remember her attending daily mass and saying the rosary devoutly. She was humble, and everyone was drawn to her for comfort. Perhaps it was her exposure to different religions as a child that led her to be more accepting of people. Or maybe it was just God’s grace.

My maternal grandmother was Canadian. She had a very difficult childhood, working on a farm at a young age. Her family did without many things, including church. Grandma Sarah believed in God, but she didn’t practice any formal religion. I had always known her to be very generous and a skilled baker. Even though she didn’t attend the local church, she showed her generosity by cooking and cleaning for the pastor – maybe that helped her feel connected to God. I remember her peeling apples for her homemade pies and singing while she worked. Unfortunately her songs often had a racial overtone. Even at my young age, those songs didn’t sit well in my heart. While I didn’t completely understand my feelings, this was my first exposure to intolerance.

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As a child I could sense the ugliness of intolerance, but as a teenager, some of that sensitivity had dulled. I will never forget the Friday evening my mother dropped me off at a weekend retreat that she’d signed me up for called “The Happening.” Standing alone with my sleeping bag, not knowing a single soul, I was terrified, and angry that she had sent me there. In high school, the “coolness factor” was an important consideration in picking friends and social situations. The group at The Happening was not my group of choice. Mom reassured me that if I wasn’t enjoying myself after two hours, she would come back to pick me up. Well that weekend changed my life. One of the most significant takeaways from the retreat was the connection I felt with individuals who were totally different from me. By the end of the weekend, I was overwhelmed by a sense of love for these people whom two days earlier I may have labeled as “weird”. This was my first lesson in how wrong I could be if I judged a book by its cover.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been exploring my faith, searching deeply. My parents raised me in a very charismatic Catholic home. They were involved in our parish and very active in ministry. They taught us respect for the saints and we never missed mass on Sundays or on Holy Days of Obligation. Growing up this way certainly influenced the lens through which I now see the world. I’ve definitely experienced God’s love, mercy and grace. But there have also been times in my life when God seemed absent. This may have something to do with why I’ve always been eager to understand how my friends experience their faith, God, institutional religions and spirituality.

The most fulfilling moments for me have been spent in conversations of faith, especially exploring the meaning of life. As the levels of trust in my friendships have grown, I’ve been profoundly touched by the sharing of burdens and hurts that we’ve each carried. Many of us have been wounded, sometimes going back to childhood, by a parent, friend or spouse. Most of us have not escaped hardships such as illness, death, regrets, and career challenges. Often during these challenges, we’ve been embraced by our faith community; but in some cases, we have felt rejected. We’ve witnessed both moments of tolerance, and lack of tolerance, which have left an imprint on our view of the world and influenced our faith. The scope of pain, or sense of our rejection by church, God or even a loved one, has lasting effects.

I spent the first twenty years of my life in a relatively small Midwestern town. The few trips my family took to Wisconsin and Disney World didn’t prepare me for the bigger world. So at 22, when presented with a job opportunity in San Francisco, I knew my eyes were about to be opened. What great memories I have of exploring the streets of Chinatown, amazed by the architecture and overcome by the aroma of the authentic Chinese fare. I was eager to experience the cultural explosion of San Francisco. There I had the pleasure of working with men and woman who were living a lifestyle different than I had previously been exposed to. My colleagues were of every nationality, married, divorced, single and gay. Each individual taught me a something new about compassion, tolerance, kindness and liberation.

In my early thirties, my husband and I lived in downtown Chicago near Wrigley Field. Our next-door neighbors were a newly married Jewish couple. They shared their religious customs and rituals with us, and demonstrated a tradition and love of God alone that I hadn’t witnessed before. Through this friendship, I once again came to a deeper understanding of my own faith, this time, in its connection to Judaism.

Two months prior to my 40th birthday, my husband and I welcomed our fifth child. We were committed to passing along our shared faith to our children. Around this time, I decided to enroll in a program to study spiritual direction. I specifically sought out a general Christian program so that I could learn other perspectives from various streams of Christianity. For two years, I listened as Protestants, Catholics, Evangelicals, Reformed believers, and people of other faiths shared how they experienced God’s love during the most trying times of their life. This program was another eye-opener for me. While I had never been intolerant of other faiths, I may not have always afforded them the same respect that I gave my own. My adult faith continues to be formed, and this program humbled me yet again.

Recently, my husband and I were talking about how we can better nurture our children to have an attitude of love and tolerance towards each other, and the world in general. Teaching them about kindness is an on-going effort. They can remember the sharp feeling of disappointment when they were excluded from an outing by friends. We’ve also explained how it felt for us to receive a call when one of them was not behaving kindly at school or on the bus. An analogy that we repeat often for them is that when Dad travels on an airplane for his job, regardless of whom he sits next to, he treats that individual with kindness and respect.

Last month I became aware of the buzz surrounding the New York Times article about Pope Francis, by Lauri Goodstein, published on September 19, 2013. Goodstein quotes the pope in the final lines of the article, revealing what I believe to be the church’s view on tolerance:

“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. we must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.” Since that article was published, I have heard many people expressing their joy of the pope’s desire to remain true to the faith tradition and yet expand the heart of the church to be more inclusive, accepting and loving.

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These experiences, and people in my life have influenced how I view the world and my faith. Scripture also guides me, telling how Jesus Christ walked with the marginalized and about his acceptance of them. In the Gospel of Matthew 7:12 we hear, “So whatever you wish that others would do for you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” God’s truth isn’t fully revealed to me, and yet I appreciate the idea of treating people the same way I would want to be treated. I hold close the words of Grandma Batten, “Evangelize like a butterfly and not like a bee.” Because my desire is to bring people closer to Jesus Christ, her words are ones I strive to follow. I think she would agree that demonstrating love in church, communities, work and family is a good place to start.

This blog is based on the personal experiences and opinions of Peggy O’Flaherty. Any reproduction of the material in this blog may be used with written consent of the author by e-mail at peggy@creatingspaceinyourlife.com. Peggy O’Flaherty, is  a certified spiritual director, public speaker, blog writer, wife and mother of five children. Her recent writing projects include “Who Is Listening?” and “Why Clean Your Garage?” She is the Founder & President of Creating Space, LLC., a ministry helping people enrich their faith. Follow Peggy at www.creatingspaceinyourlife.com.

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