Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Column: We plan, God laughs

This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times 12 May 2011.

The Lord said to Abraham: “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I really bear a child, old as I am?’ Is anything too marvelous for the Lord to do? At the appointed time, about this time next year, I will return to you, and Sarah will have a son.” — Gen. 18:13-14

On Friday evening, when I inquired what the hanging basket was doing on the counter, the laconic reply was, “It’s yours. For Mother’s Day.” Ah. Saturday night, they brought me dinner. Pizza, picked up on the way home from Mass. From the same place we’d gotten it for dinner on Friday. On Sunday morning, as I was getting organized to do the grocery shopping [ed. why there was pizza two nights in row], Chris sidled into the kitchen. He pulled out a watercolor of St. Peter’s and the Tiber, which he’d brought back from Rome and conspired with his brother to get framed. No one bothered with wrapping.

It was not the Mother’s Day of the magazines. There was no breakfast in bed, fancy brunch or flowers — unless you count the faded roses from last weekend’s prom on the table. And it was, at least in my view, an utterly perfect Mother’s Day.

I, like Sarah, once laughed at God. Or rather, doubted the marvels He could work. Twenty years ago I was emptying the grocery cart for my mother. She asked how my social life was, and as I stooped to pull the dog food from the bottom, I confessed, “I’m done dating.” I’d been widowed four years earlier, and had decided that remarriage was just not in the cards. Two weeks later I met Victor. Four years after that, I bore a son.

To this day I cannot pray the Magnificat without wondering at what God has done for me. “He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit.” In preaching on the Magnificat, St. Augustine says, “Come, you who are hungry, who are poor, who are in need. You dare not raise your eyes to heaven, yet you know that is where your heart lies.” I dared not hope, I was willing to settle for peaceful and predictable. Perhaps I was even a bit too proud to admit that I desired hope.

So I marvel at Mary’s openness to the expansiveness of God, to her humble acceptance of things beyond her expectations or even her imaginings. And pray that I, too, might learn from the miracle of my two sons to be more open to whatever wild and unexpected plans God might have for me.

The joy of this Mother’s Day lay in its very ordinariness, in my sons’ unwillingness to limit their gifts to the expected. Instead they continued to be the unlooked for gifts they were when they were born, and let me delight in what it means to be their mother. Nagging about the clutter on the counter, doing the shopping and scrambling to get to their concert on time. Rejoicing in their independence, reveling in the music they can make.

To her credit, my mother never once said, “I told you so.” On the other hand, sometimes I imagine I hear God saying, “Why did you laugh? I told you I could work marvels.” He did. He has. Holy is His name.

My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior; so tenderly has he looked upon his servant, humble as she is. — From the Magnificat


  1. Beautiful! You have such a way with words.

    I felt something very similar as I went about the ordinary Sunday activities - Sacristan, Mass (can you believe I have the grace of a life to call these ORDINARY?), fixing breakfast and playing Scrabble.

    I went to the ballet recital of my 13 year old God-daughter. Upon my return there were colorful placemats on the table, dishes of bright green and yellow from the garden, plates of tomatoes freshly sliced, cards on the counter. Carnations in a little bowl.

    We had a lovely dinner: calm, funny, together. They got the cards out of my basket-of-cards that I collect. They talked of ordinary things. I marveled at where we have been and where we are now.

    I ponder them in my heart.

    "...for He has looked with favor on His lowly servant..."


  2. excellent! awed by what can unfold into a life.

  3. Very nice! We all have those moments where our lives turn in directions we never expected--wonderful directions.

  4. This was today (!)

  5. Totally, flacie!

    And Wayne and Barb - grace abounds, it's nice to be able to step back and notice it from time to time...