Saturday, July 9, 2011

Cana, Grace and Theology of the Body Institute

After falling in love with Blessed JP2’s teaching on TOB (theology of the body) in 2003, I found out in 2005 that there was a Theology of the Body Institute, where you could attend week long classes/sessions, delving deeper into this truth.  I prayed for the opportunity, wondered if I’d ever be able to go.

That same year, I began serving the youth of our parish, and i met a senior girl at mass.  I had not seen her before, but here she was, sitting next to me, at her senior send off.  She was about to go off to college, in Boston.  After mass, i turned to her and said “who are you and where have you been?”  Her reverence for the Lord was so apparent and it drew me to ask her about her faith.  Her name was Nicole, and I shared how impressed i was with her..and then off she went, far away.  We became friends on facebook, but with limited contact.  I received a card from her after Cana died.  She wrote the most beautiful words.  I thought, i hardly know this girl.  How beautiful she would take the time to write and share her heart with me. That she would pray for our family!  What a gift she continued to be. I had no idea she would have a role in my latest blessing. 

In January of this year, i gave a talk at the confirmation retreat.  I was no longer working for the church, having been quite wounded during my pregnancy with Cana, feeling abandoned and alone.  But I still had a heart for these teens, to continue fighting for THEIR hearts.  On January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, i received an email from a friend of a friend, looking for some consolation as the baby she was carrying had just been diagnosed with Trisomy 18.  I tried to reach out to her, since she knew of my time with our Cana, and she denied my help.  She told me they were terminating.  I continued to reach out to her, pleading for her to wait.  To let me share the gift of my daughter with her...but she wouldn’t hear me.  I was scheduled that night to give a talk to the teen girls at our confirmation retreat.  i shared about femininity, gift of self, and Mary.  I was able to share about Cana and her time with us.  And felt God using me once again.

A few days later, I received a call from a friend, who shared that someone at our church wanted to send me to TOBI (theology of the body institute)!  I had not mentioned it recently and was confused and shocked and thankful and broken and rejoicing!  It was over a two week period during this time that i felt daily reminders from the Lord that He was still proud of me.  I felt Cana interceding for me. 

I celebrated on facebook that someone was anonymously sending me to TOBI.  And a few days later, Nicole, the teen from Boston, wrote and asked what session i was going to be attending. I told her the summer tob1, and she simply said she had heard the presenter speak and loved him and was excited for me and she would be praying.  Just a day after that, the friend who would be the “go between” for my benefactor and me, said that I had the option to go to the summer session or wait for next year, when Christopher West would be presenting again. I paused. I loved Christopher West! I had only heard him present this teaching.  I had never heard of the presenter of the summer session.  But Nicole JUST told me....that she loved him.  I would stick with summer 1.  I began to be filled with what i can only explain was a “holy expectation.”  I even shared with a few friends how i was TRYING to just LET God show me, without ANY expectation. I didn’t want to expect anything. I just wanted to be present to what HE wanted me to experience. But i couldn’t shake it! 

I knew Cana would be a part of “my story” in sharing with the 65+ people attending.  I knew I’d get to share about her, about how God showed us what it meant to truly give ourselves to Him in death of self, only to be renewed in His love and mercy and grace and hope.  On the 3rd day, we were in morning session, reading about grace.  Blessed Pope John Paul II says
“This is the dilemma of anyone who encounters the teaching of Christ: we don’t have what it takes on our own to fulfill it.  “Love and life according to the Gospel [are] beyond man’s abilities.  They are possible only as a result of a gift of God who heals, restores, and transforms the human heart by his grace.”  Living the Gospel, then, is “a possibility opened to man exclusively by grace, by the gift of God, by his love” (Veritatis Splendor 23, 24).

And this quote brought me to the memory of walking to Cana’s room in the hospital, knowing we were getting ready to turn off her machines, and hand her back to the Lord.  We were going to watch her die.  I wanted to share this with Bill D, the presenter of the session at the institute. But i didn’t want to be “that girl,” needing to tell my story, etc.  But I couldn’t shake the push.  So I asked Bill for a moment and he gladly pulled up a chair.  I shared the quote first.  *It was later that i realized how much “Grace” played a roll in the push from the holy spirit.  It was the explanation on GRACE that brought CANA to my mind.  I shared with Bill the memory...walking to turn off her machines, and stopping in the hallway with the words “I CAN’T DO THIS.”  Having to “love and live according to the Gospel” requires DEATH of self.  And so the Lord replied to me with “NOT WITHOUT ME, YOU CAN’T.”  I shared with Bill that in 2008, we were told at 13 weeks that our baby girl was not going to live outside my womb.  We were given a fatal diagnosis.  He stopped me.  He put his hand on my arm and said “Chris, so were we.”  I was shocked.  I almost smiled at the words.  My heart had it’s answer.  See, since our pregnancy and time and loss with Cana, i’ve been searching for another catholic couple who lived their pregnancy the same way.  No amnio, no invasive testing, a full term pregnancy, a live birth.  OF COURSE GOD WOULD GIVE THAT GIFT TO ME AT THEOLOGY OF THE BODY INSTITUTE!  THIS is where my heart is!!!!

Bill shared that their daughter, GRACE ELIZABETH, was given a fatal diagnosis at 16 weeks.  They did no amnio.  She was born live and lived for 10 hours.  Bill and his wife, Rebecca, were pregnant at the same time we were!  Our daughters were born just 3 months apart.  They have an older son, (as do we!) and a new subsequent little girl (as do we!!).  They named their new little girl Clare Grace, her middle name in honor of their Gracie.  We named our new little girl Elizabeth Hope, to remind us and point us to the hope God gave us in Cana..and in the promise new life. 

SO MANY CONNECTIONS!  So many seemingly small coincidences.  So many little details that match up.  It was what my heart had longed for..and long forgotten.  And when I shared with Nicole, the former teen at Boston U, about Bill’s story being so much like ours,..she simply shared that she knew.  My heart leapt again at her gift to me.  She could have very easily shared what she knew about Bill back in february.  She chose to let God gift me!  She knew it wasn’t her gift to give.  I am so proud of her!!!

I am still receiving daily blessings from my trip.  A renewed desire and passion to teach TOB.  An affirming sense that God HAS gifted me with an ability to teach it.  But i’ve also found another renewed desire. 

After we had Cana, within the first year of grief, another family in our parish tragically lost their daughter.  She was the same age as my son, Travis.  Mary was almost 3 years old at the time.  *this week is the anniversary of her death.  Pray for us, sweet Mary.  I went to my former spiritual director, who was close with our pastor. I shared how i had been feeling called to form a support ministry for families/mothers of infant death, stillborn, miscarriage, etc.  I wanted to make sure this family in particular, since they were new to our parish, and their home/support was far away.  I wanted to make sure they weren’t left alone, as we felt we were.  I was told that this kind of grief was too private, and that all we need are prayers.  I was wounded.  But asked God to take that from heal me, and to continue using me in whatever way was possible. I reached out to the family and was received completely, Praise God!  But i still had this continued push and desire to start some form of support, to help bring recognition of life to those with empty arms.  At TOBI, two different women shared with me about The Elizabeth Ministry.  (I KNOW!, ELIZABETH!!!)

I looked up the website and found that it was everything i had envisioned before!  It included teachings and education on theology of the body, infertility and adoption, chastity and healing from past relationships, bereavement support...and especially, support DURING a fatal diagnosis pregnancy.  Support for families who continue to live the pregnancy!  WHAT?!!!  Lord, you still surprise me!

I write this with the main purpose being to shower grace upon grace on the person who anonymously and generously sent me to The Theology of the Body Institute.  I don’t know that i can fully ever express my hearts gratitude and overflowing joy at the gift and opportunity.  God’s hand lead you to gift me..and I am thankful for you both!  I am grateful for every hand that moved at God’s leading in getting me to TOBI.  I am humbled and in awe at how God placed people in my life years ago..that played a role in my time spent there. I know that I am not worthy to receive such graces from God.  I know that He placed all these desires on my heart and that if He wills me to move forward with this passion and desire, then He will show me when and how.  I just pray I am blessed and broken enough to continue hearing His call on my heart.  My time at TOBI truly was “a result of a gift of God who heals, restores, and transforms the human heart by his grace.”   Cana Lynn, pray for us.

“This is the dilemma of anyone who encounters the teaching of Christ: we don’t have what it takes on our own to fulfill it.  “Love and life according to the Gospel [are] beyond man’s abilities.  They are possible only as a result of a gift of God who heals, restores, and transforms the human heart by his grace.”  Living the Gospel, then, is “a possibility opened to man exclusively by grace, by the gift of God, by his love” (Veritatis Splendor 23, 24).


  1. Wow, how powerful your testimony is!!! It is so clear how the Holy Spirit has worked in your life especially through even some tragic moments. Sharing as you have, not only helps us by strengthening our own faith, it strengthens the faith of others as well. Thank you for helping me to be aware of God working in my own life. May He continue to bless you as you go forward to the path He has chosen for you. Praise be Jesus Christ!

  2. Chris,
    What a beautiful reflection. It is an amazing string of God ordained moments. Incredible! and I feel blessed to be a part of it! I think Our Lord has us sharing our stories to raise more and more awareness of the tender beauty of every life. It does not matter how long we live, but simply that we live. That we exist! I know we will see our little ones again. In fact, Cana and Grace already have clearly pulled some heavenly strings to have us meet! And I'm sure we'll meet again soon!

    God bless,

  3. beautiful!! i am so sorry that THIS is the first time i am hearing about this bc we have had yet to talk about it..but it was so beautiful to read, how GREAT is our you lots!! Maria