Human In Utero – No Matter What

Between the 8th and 12th week after your life began, you had your own unique set of fingerprints! Yet another way to identify you as YOU. Of course, God doesn’t need any physical markings to know who you are. As He says through his prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”

three-month-old human fetus

Your mother was only near the end of her first trimester of pregnancy when you looked like this picture. And you were less than five inches from the crown of your head to your heel. Small as you were, you bent your knees and elbows and wrists, moving your little muscles with increasing strength – yawning, stretching, squinting, turning your head, and moving your tongue. Your tiny face, hands, and feet were sensitive to touch. Any pressure on your feet would make your knees bend up, pulling your feet away from the stimulus. Your teensy, tiny hands were already capable of grasping.

Yet, despite your sensitivity and action, your mother couldn’t feel your movements. From her, through the umbilical cord, you received the oxygen that you needed while you breathed amniotic fluid in and out to exercise your lungs. As you sucked your thumb, the amniotic fluid that you swallowed was processed through your digestive system. Your incredibly itty-bitty fingers and toes were growing nails, and you touched your hand repeatedly to your face, where your little nose and lips were completely formed. Your facial appearance continued to change, as it continues to change through every stage of your entire lifecycle. At this tender and tiny age, in the fetus stage, you made complex facial expressions – and even smiled.

Given all of this, many might still have dismissed you as nothing but tissue, using the scientific term of fetus as a way of denying your humanity. But, you were you from the beginning. YOU – who are made to grow, developing and changing in both large and subtle ways, every day of your life for as long as you live.

And even if, through deformity or disease, your knees, elbows, or wrists could not bend, or your nose, lips, fingers, or toes could not neatly form, you were still you – and you are human. Physical appearance and abilities do not limit your humanity. From the moment God created you with a spiritual soul, animating your unique life form, you were a living human being. No matter what size or shape, no matter how limited or weak, the Creator of All delights in your existence. You are created in the image and likeness of the Divine, which has no physical criteria, and that is why you are sacred from the beginning – independent of length of time or breadth of space – and for all eternity.

You are God’s beloved human creature, no matter what.

© 2016 Christina Chase

originally posted on my parish’s website: CatholicSuncook.org


Jeremiah 1:5

Sources:

The Endowment for Human Development 

Web M.D. (uses LMP for age)

The Archdiocese of Baltimore (image source)

A Prayer before the Feeding

Life-of-Pix-free-stock-restaurant-glasses-tables-LEEROY

Picture it:

An elderly couple sit in a restaurant with a third person at their table.  This person appears to be their adult daughter, but she is disabled, needing a wheelchair to sit with them.  Her head is flopped over on her left shoulder and she appears to have a squished torso and a hunched back.  Her arms are extremely skinny and do not move.  The elderly man, gray and balding, sits next to her and feeds her.  She asks for something from her plate and he stops eating his own food to give her some of hers.  Carefully, he positions the fork into her tilted mouth so that she can close her mouth around it and chew.  Sometimes, it falls off of the fork before entering her mouth and spills down onto the napkin tucked into her shirt.

This is me with my parents every day – visible to the public when we go out to eat.  For years, when I was no longer able to feed myself, I didn’t want to eat in public.  We didn’t go to restaurants.  At social gatherings, I always made sure that I ate before I left so that I wouldn’t have to partake of any food at the party.  I didn’t want to gross people out with my messy feeding.  And, mostly, I was embarrassed.  I hated drawing even more attention to my crippled, crumpled self. Continue reading

A Prayer before Eating

This is the famous 1918 photograph by Eric Enstrom called “Grace”.

 grace by Enstrom framed

It has hung in the dining room of my parents’ house since before I was born. Interestingly, although my mother was raised by a devout family in a very religious village, her family never said “grace” – a prayer said before eating. It’s hard to say whether or not my father’s family did… probably they didn’t, except, I would guess, on holidays and, then, probably only at his aunt or older sister’s promptings. This helps to explain why my parents never said a prayer at mealtime when they were married. Not until my older sister changed things. Continue reading

Morning Prayer

I’m not alone in believing that we need prayer now, more than ever. Why? Perhaps, because ordinary people aren’t praying as much. People like you. And me.

It’s not like I believe that we get whatever we pray for – far from it. (And don’t I know it.) Sometimes, the greatest blessings come from “unanswered” prayers. (So, if you don’t get Continue reading

Favorite Things: Quotes from Saint Therese

It’s a human inclination to want to be famous, wealthy, or influential in some grand way. I want to be a successful author, with big dreams of making bestseller lists and overcoming my severe disability to support myself and my family. It may happen, God only knows.  But, it won’t start there.  The purpose for which God created me begins here and now, in this moment, as tiny and seemingly insignificant as this moment may be.

Our lives are made up of small moments. What we do in those small moments and how we do them determines how we live – how we live here and now, and how we live forever. Joy is in the loving of each moment of each day – not in amassing.

quote Saint Therese little things with love

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux said it best. Because she lived it. She had big dreams Continue reading

Heroic Dads

 

Last night, I was sick. Pain, throwing up… miserable. I won’t go into the details. What I will say is that being sick is even more difficult when you can’t move. So you’re lying on your back and you need to vomit… Yuck, I know. But, what would you do? You would Continue reading

My Mother

My mother and father are not only good parents, they are excellent parents because they have been greatly tried and are continuing to be tried. Having a severely disabled and dependent child makes their lives difficult and abnormal. (Will they even get to go out and celebrate their anniversary?) Their lives are not what they hoped for or planned, because their youngest daughter is not what they hoped for or planned. And yet… and yet they are beautiful people living a joyful life.

They didn’t try to find a way to be like everyone else even though their lives weren’t like everyone else’s – they chose to sacrifice, to give of themselves selflessly and generously. Therein lies their greatness, their excellence – and their beauty and joy. I can never thank them enough. I can never repay them. But, that’s why they are so great – because their love is so completely unconditional.

As we have just passed the celebration of Mother’s Day here in the United States and my parents’ wedding anniversary is coming soon, I’m sharing some of my own poetry dedicated to motherhood, and, most specifically, my mother. I love you, Mom and Dad!

Francine & Christina

Mama

Within her hands, now rough and worn,

A little girl once held the morn,

Once swept the stars and shook the tree,

And played with possibility.

Then, clutching fists could only pray

When hopeful dreamings slipped away,

And learn to beat and dig and tear,

To toughen skin and smother care.

And yet, within her hands I find

The strength to live outside my mind;

The world she formed with blood and pain

Has housed a little girl again,

Misshapen, yes, and less than planned,

But never lost within her hand.

 Virtue

 I learned from my Mother
forgiveness and forbearance…
even in the deep of dark,
before my eyes could see or ears could hear,
she was putting up with the difficulties
of my life in hers, in
Faith and Hope
that all things work together for the good
and pain can bring forth joy…
In the giving of herself always,
my mother’s gift to me
is the lesson and fruit of
generous and self-giving
Love.

© 2016 Christina Chase

 

5 Steps to Letting God Love You

Apparently, it’s common blogging knowledge that people like lists. Who knew? Bloggers are suggested to write posts like “Top 10 Famous…” or “5 Easy Ways to…”. Personally, I’m not much of a fan of a step-by-step approach to spirituality – but I can’t help but like the convenience of a how-to checklist. So, here’s mine, a kind of companion to last week’s post:

5 Steps to Letting God Love You

1.) Be open and honest. This may seem like two steps, but it’s really only one. If you really want to let God love you, so that you may become the person that you were created to be, then you must look up from the closed in darkness of your little life to honestly assess all around you. And within you. Being truthful is the most important step to letting God fully into your life, because God is Truth. Know the truth is that you are not in this life alone. There are people all around you in a great big world created by the Infinite/Eternal One. Be brave enough to open your little eyes and your little ears to truly see and hear.

2.) Be not afraid of your limitations. You are small, weak, and imperfect. This is a true fact that your open honesty should be able to perceive. There are some things that you simply cannot do. For example, I cannot walk. And there are some things in your life that you simply cannot change, like the mistakes of your past, the wrongs that have been done to you, etc.. Too many self-help guides to happiness want you to live “without limitations”. But there are some limits that are truly and inexorably LIMITS. There is no shame in this. Every person has limitations! Just being human comes with its own set. So, know yourself, and accept the fact that there are some things that you simply can’t change. It’s okay. This is part of humility. When you bravely acknowledge your littleness, you open yourself up to the greatness of God.

3.) Desire forgiveness. Since you can’t go back in time and undo the mistakes of your past, you need to accept them and forgive. Mistakes that others have made that impacted you also need to be accepted and those in error forgiven. Sins, too, must be honestly acknowledged. Be not afraid! Rather, repent of all of those times that you chose to be unloving, that you chose to close yourself off from God’s love, and ask God to forgive you. Desiring His forgiveness, you will certainly receive – then, forgive yourself. Knowing that God desires to forgive all, forgive those who have sinned against you. Without this step, there will be no love in your heart.

4.) Trust. Each step that you take requires bravery – know that God is right beside you, holding on to you. Trust that God’s love is the answer to every problem, the healing balm for every wound, the inspiration for, and safeguard of, every practical action that you need to take in order to become a fulfilled human being. Trust that the difficult, unchangeable things that come into your life can never, ever take you away from the goodness and joy of God’s love – unless you let them. Don’t let them. Instead, let go of your desire for control and let God take over. Let God love… forgive… heal… lead… through you. You are never alone!

5.) Be generous. Receiving God’s forgiveness, receiving God’s love, you must share it with others! True love can never be bottled up and kept to yourself, or it will become stagnant and poisonous. Rather, true love must flow. God is infinitely pouring His Divine love into you. When you are honestly and mercifully open enough to receive that love, then you will naturally and joyfully overflow with it, giving God’s love to all that you meet. This doesn’t simply mean that you will tell other people “God loves you.” Being generous requires much more than words. Give your whole self away and do not be afraid! You can never run out of true love. So, choose to generously love your fellow human beings – family and friends, neighbors and strangers, even the people that you don’t like very much. Be truthful and know that every person that you encounter is beloved by God, intimately and infinitely. Treat every person that way. Honor every person’s sanctity and eternal beauty – eternal beauty that is seen clearly by God if not by you.
clipart angry-smiley-01

Putting It into Practice

Let God love that irritating person through you. How, you may ask? Following the steps, like this:

+ Accept the truth that this person is sacred and eternally loved by God.

+ Note, not only the person’s shortcomings, but also, most importantly, your own.

+ Forgive that person for not understanding, for being angry, slow, lazy, ignorant, mean, impatient – for you know perfectly well that there will be many times when you will need someone to forgive you.

+ Now, trust that this situation is completely seen and known by God and that it is good for you, that it is a moment full of God’s flowing love – if you are open to it.

+ Smile and be generous with the love and wisdom that God has given to you, accepting, empathizing, forgiving, and believing in the goodness of the irritating person, being generous with your time, talents, efforts, goodness, and your unshakable joy from God….
clipart relieved-face

When this works out the way you want it to, be grateful. When this doesn’t work out the way you want it to, be grateful. God’s love is in this situation, no matter what. And you know that this is true because God made it happen – and, by the grace of God, you let it happen. You chose to cooperate with the Holy Spirit – you chose to let God love.

There. Now for me to live it …

© 2016 Christina Chase


You may also like:

 Who God Loves More  (last week’s post)

Mercy Is Joy or It Is Nothing

 Righteous Not Riotous

The Heavy Laden One

 Obedience Is Nothing without Love

 

Life Is Pass or Fail

In my last post, I wrote,

If life is pass or fail, then I don’t want to fail.

I know that we don’t usually think of life as pass or fail. Perhaps, this doesn’t even seem like a Christian idea. God is merciful, after all, and, as long as we try, surely we are not failures. This is true. But… we shouldn’t play the mercy game, teetering thoughtlessly on the edge of every decision because we believe that God’s grace will catch us no matter what. “Greasy Grace”, as one of my acquaintances has called it, might be a slick way to get into Heaven, but it isn’t noble and it isn’t kind.  It is neither loving nor brave.

Should we really be aiming to take the lazy, mediocre way?

lazy cat Naniel

Failing to Not Be Vomited (yup, keep reading)

Lounging comfortably on God’s mercy can cause us – not to be cool about injustice, thus turning a cold shoulder to God’s will, nor passionate about righteousness, thus on fire to do God’s will – but, rather, to just be lounging. Sacred Scripture warns us, rather graphically, about the danger of being lukewarm:   “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth.”[1]

That seems pretty clear.

When disciples of Jesus asked him if only a few people were going to be saved, he responded, “Strive to enter the narrow door.”[2] This, of course, is in line with his teaching: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.”[3]

Christ even refers to himself as the gate. He tells us that those who enter through will have life and have it abundantly.[4] I want abundant life! But, I must remember… “those who find it are few.”

Failing to Seek the Way

This is personal. This is about my relationship with my very Creator. Either I give of myself or I don’t. Either I love fully, or I don’t truly love. For, love that is not actively forgiving, compassionate, and generous is more akin to really, really liking. Not love. There’s no halfway with love. As the the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi wrote: “Half heartedness doesn’t reach into majesty”.

God is merciful. Yes. Thank God! God loves us unconditionally, even more than parents love their child. God will forgive us when we are lazy (I confess, my tendency is definitely toward laziness) but, will He congratulate us for it? Yes, as long as we don’t reject His forgiveness and love at the end of our lives on earth, God will mercifully forgive us and mercifully receive us into eternal life with Him. We can rely on God’s mercy. And that’s good, because each and every one of us will need God’s mercy, because each and every one of us is far from perfect and in need of forgiveness for something or many things. But… wouldn’t it be best if we didn’t rely on God’s mercy too much? Wouldn’t it be best if we tried our very best to do what God wants us to do?

Failing to See Godpoverty Neil Moralee

I don’t want to fail as a human being.  And that means that  I don’t want to fail to see God. I don’t want to fail to see the full truth of reality. I don’t want to fail to seek truth and to see glimpses of the Divine when they appear. For, God is ever-present and wants us to seek Him and to find Him, because therein lies our fullest satisfaction and greatest joy. God wants us to be joyful – not only forever with Him in Heaven, but also here and now.

When Jesus tells us to seek the narrow door, he goes on to say that some will knock on the door after it is locked and beg the Master to let them in. But, the Master will reply “I do not know where you are from.”[5] Indeed, Jesus tells us that not everyone who says to him, “Lord, Lord” will enter Heaven. He may very well say to them, to us, “I never knew you.”[6]

How will Christ know us after death if we never truly sought in him during life? I don’t believe that it is enough NOT to kill, NOT to commit adultery, NOT to steal. Our lives shouldn’t be about what we don’t do as much as what we DO. Yes, I want to avoid sin (as much as humanly possible) AND I also want to seek Christ. I don’t want to fail to see the face of God here and now in the faces of my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, my nephews, my home health aides, my neighbors, strangers on the street, my friends, and even the people I don’t like very much. I will truly love God, here and now, by finding God in every person that needs love. And, yup, every person needs love. Jesus tells us that whatever we do for the least person, we do for him. We do to him.

This is how Christ will recognize me at the end of my life. If I ministered to him, then he will truly know me. And, wait, there’s more! This also means that I got to know him here and now, in this life – if I didn’t fail in recognizing him. And wouldn’t that be a joyous and fulfilled life?

And, so, I say,

Life is pass or fail.

May I not fail…

© 2016 Christina Chase


Photo Credits: (Creative Commons license)

Lazy Days, Naniel

Made in the USA, Neil Moralee

You may also want to check out these other posts on Divine Incarnate:

Before I Die

Heartedness Doesn’t Reach into Majesty


[1] Revelations 3:15-16

[2] Luke 13:24

[3] Matthew 7:13-14

[4] John 10:10

[5] Luke 13:25

[6] Matthew 7:21-23

Before I Die

Before I die, I want to_____________________

How would you complete this sentence? It’s a good question to answer during this season of Lent, when we contemplate our own mortality and focus on what’s most important in life. Artist Candy Chang[1] invited people to fill in this blank in a public-participation art project, which revealed something very human…

 Before-I-Die-NOLA-wall-angled-1000x602

When we accept the fact that death is certain, then we think more about what it is to be alive.

This has been my own experience, knowing, since childhood, that my lifespan would be cut short by my motorneuron disease. Every spring, with its blooming daffodils and gurgling streams, was more beautiful and poignant because it could be my last. The love of my family surrounding me, upholding me, filled me with a deep sense of blessedness and gratitude. Of course, there were plenty of times when I took things for granted, became annoyed, impatient, and angrily dissatisfied. But, even in the shadow of death, or, perhaps, because of the shadow of death, I have always, always loved life.

So… How would I complete the sentence?

Before I die, I want to become the person that I was created to be.

Okay, now I know that some of you may be rolling your eyes thinking, mmph, that’s a highfalutin, easy out. But, it’s not. This quest is utterly difficult, the singular challenge of every human being. The whole of my existence, my reason for being, rests upon this sharp point. If life is pass or fail, then I don’t want to fail.

Who I Am Created to Be

I know that I was created. And I know that I was created by Someone, who knows and loves me intimately, for an infinite purpose that I can never see, so long as eyeballs are doing the looking. The truly big picture is beyond my limited understanding, but I want to take part in that picture exactly as my Creator intended. He is the Master and I am an extremely tiny but integral part of His Masterpiece. I am a masterwork in progress, if I let the Master work. Therein lies every decision of my life.

And, perhaps…. Perhaps, this is my answer because I don’t yet know what I have been created to specifically do….

I could write that I want to become a published author before I die. People would understand that and not accuse me of being too lofty or esoteric. It’s true that I would like to be published. But… I also want to become a daughter who honors her parents, a sister who sympathizes and encourages, and an aunt who inspires. For everyone that I encounter in the world, I want to be a witness to truth and love and an example of mercy and joy – whether I am a published author or not. I don’t know… maybe I am meant to be published posthumously – or maybe not….

Things to Do before Dying…?

Thinking about the rich beauty of the small wonders of life, I can say that I would quite like to taste Baked Alaska before I die… or listen to an exquisite string quartet in an intimate setting… or travel to see – no. You know, there really isn’t any place in the world that calls me strongly enough to make a bucket list. Especially not with all of the logistics involved in getting me anywhere – me, who is physically as weak as waste, bound to either wheelchair or bed, unable to even fly on a plane… I don’t want to travel to Rome, Nazareth, or Marrakesh strongly enough to try to meet that challenge. Besides, we could all make a list of things that we would like to enjoy – but my life doesn’t hinge upon those things.

People matter.

Yes, people matter so much more. And what matters is not seeing people, meeting people, or having people – like “having” a spouse or children or employees – but loving people. This, to me, is most pointedly revealed by the person who filled in the public art project with the desire to teach one particular person how to read.

Actively loving. That matter matters. For, though it is not exclusive of matter, it transcends.

Love never fails.

Beyond death, love endures and is the greatest. I have been loved into being. I am made by Love, for Love, in order to Love. I don’t want to let Love down. Before I die, I want to become the person that I was created to be.

That’s the point.

Life is pass or fail. Love is pass or fail.

I don’t want to fail Love.

… Hopefully, as I strive to live my life daily mindful of the Love that binds me, I will figure out what it is that I’m specifically supposed to do in order to become the person that I was created to be. Perhaps it doesn’t need to be any more specific than reaching out to others with all of the honesty/wisdom/forgiveness/truth/sympathy/guidance/protection/encouragement/love that I have to give.

So, now I invite you, dear reader, to try to complete the sentence for yourself by adding a comment:

Before I die, I want to_____________________.

© 2016 Christina Chase


 

More on ” life is pass or fail” in next week’s post.  If you liked this week’s post, you may also like When I Die

1] see more on this public art project at http://candychang.com/work/before-i-die-in-nola/