“Once upon a time, there was a banana. And he lived in a kitchen…” So began the story my eight-year-old daughter Angela wrote yesterday for a homeschool writing assignment. I laughed and laughed, a big belly laugh. I almost couldn’t stop I loved the opening sentences so much. As I read on, I was tickled with her play on words, as the banana attended the “fruitball games” and the “sink bowl.” I so desperately needed this belly laugh from my sweet creative child.
You see, it seems that everywhere I’ve turned lately, I see stories of sadness and tragedy, even outright evil taking place in city after city, even in my own. I don’t turn on the news anymore because I can’t take the constant barrage of assaults on our faith and stories of disaster that make my stomach turn. In the midst of this media age, it is easy to literally see what is happening not only across our nation, but also across the world, and no tragedy is spared on television: fires, floods, accusations, scandals, murders.
Our own little communities are affected too — accidents on the road, violence. Just recently, citizens in Elkhart County experienced a random shooter in a local grocery store. Sometimes our own parishes or family is affected. These personal trials can be the most difficult to endure. It is easy to become discouraged.
While this is scary and unnerving, it is also what has been happening in humankind since the beginning of people inhabiting the earth. Perhaps difficult to imagine it’s true: the ancient Roman times were full of people in debauchery, scandal and local and national gossip. These things have persisted over time. There just wasn’t always mass media to televise it.
Tragedies can be severe mercies for individuals or communities, which spur us on to humility, repentance and dependence on God. Sadness and struggles bring with them often the gift of wisdom and discernment, of knowledge and Truth. When we realize we cannot control everything, we learn to rely on our Father.
But guess what? There has also been goodness over time — Truth, Beauty and Goodness — as a matter of fact. God. And children. Children born are our hope in their innocence and promise. They remind us of the Eden that once was and the heaven that will be for each of us who choose God. When we focus on them we find a piece of heaven on earth.
There is so much to be thankful for when we look out for and after children. Here are some positive things to ponder:
• For married people, each day is an opportunity to serve a spouse and child, and make a life less burdensome.
• For consecrated religious, each day is a chance to serve one more spiritual child and lighten the load.
• Each day a new baby is born, with unique gifts and talents, an unrepeatable combination of DNA and distinctive gifted soul.
• Each day we have the opportunity to help our children grow in grace and knowledge.
Our greatest achievement is not climbing to the corporate top, or running and winning a marathon or attaining any other honorable goal. It is living our vocation with courage, even in the midst of a fallen world. The “magnum opus” of parents, regardless of their profession, is the raising of their children to know, love and serve God in this world, to be happy with Him in the next. And the wonderful thing about that is that not only do we have the graces to do so well because of our Baptism, but this job, this vocation is overflowing with joy!
The joy of raising children well is not only supernatural “up there” joy but also common, simple every day, “down here” joy.
The same eight-year-old daughter I referenced at the beginning of this column spontaneously informed me moments ago that the dog’s legs are four inches long, her head is three inches and her back is nine. … I turned to see a tolerant puppy on my daughter’s lap, being “tape-measured” patiently. The puppy looked up at me with an expression, that should it be put into human words most likely would be, “Really?”
And I laughed. How could I not?
This little girl invited me to dance with her yesterday. She shared a half a cookie with me the day before. She asked me if God has favorite foods. She performed a magic show with her sister (making that patient puppy disappear).
Children are such hopes and gifts for the world.
We cannot focus only on the tragedies, sadness and other grim realities, because once upon a time, there was a banana in the kitchen, and that’s reality too.
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