Wednesday, December 21, 2016

An Advent Meditation

She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."
Luke 2:7

A manger was a trough that was used to hold the food for animals to eat….

Many people make the correlation that the Bread of Life had, as His first resting place, something that was used to hold food.....  I had another thought, and it has really struck me these last few days…..

In order for the manger to be a decent resting place, it could not be full.  It had to have some room in it, else the tiny baby would have rolled right off and fallen to the cold hard ground.... The animals HAD to eat of the food in the manger before the babe was lain in it, thus giving Him room…

I want my heart and soul to be a resting place for Christ, empty enough to receive Him, Who is Bread of Life, and Lord of All.
This Advent has not been easy.  Some real opportunities to offer things up - and some real struggles...    I felt, at times, like my soul was being devoured and I was being torn apart or eaten alive....  

There I was in Church.  Tearfully begging God to let me have peace and take my sin and my pride and my anger and there it was.....  "I AM"  And it hit me - like a ten ton dump truck of bricks (because I am just that obtuse)  The animals were eating the food that was fit for them in my internal manger to give me a resting place for Christ, Who is the only food I want.....  

At that moment, I had Peace.  The struggles and temptations haven't stopped.  In fact, the doctor called me last Sunday (you read that right, Sunday.  The doctor called me on a Sunday to discuss my blood work....) with "news" but I am at peace with whatever now….

As the animals seen and unseen clear my manger for Christ, I will take whatever Our Lord gives, and I will give whatever He takes with peace and joy in my heart…

So, I ask, what are the things in your manger that need to be cleared out and “eaten” to make room for The Bread of Life?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

And thus was stated the most powerful praise and surrender to God that I have ever been witness to.

You see, we were on our family road trip with Grandpa when we heard news that the son of friends of ours had an accident in the home and the family was asking for prayers.  We had no idea what happened, only that it was serious - very serious - and the little Sebastian might be going to his heavenly home far sooner than anyone had ever thought....

All I knew was that we needed to pray.  Princess' friend texted her and told her something happened...

The first request for prayers from the family came out on Facebook a couple days later:

"It is with profound anguish that I make this plea for prayers for my little son, Sebastian. Our sweet silly boy... went into cardiac arrest and was deprived of oxygen for an extended period of time Thursday afternoon. He was flown to ... Hospital and has been in critical condition ever since. At first, we were given no hope, but he is still here, so there is still hope. We are praying for a miraculous recovery, but the immediate concern is survival, and between now and tomorrow night is the most crucial time, though he will remain precarious. Please, please pray for Sebastian. We have already received a miracle, because there is no explanation for his survival up to now. Please keep praying for him. We have hope."

Then....  after a night of anguish:

My dear friends, it is with immense pain but also with peace that I tell you Sebastian took a turn last night. He stepped closer into the eternal love and joy and peace that we all hope for. The story is actually a love story, a beautiful story, and I will share more details in time. Right now, we are waiting yet again for morning rounds, but our expectation is that he will be pronounced brain dead upon examination. He will need at least one more definitive examination 12-24 hours later before he will be truly pronounced dead. This blessing of time will hopefully give us all a chance to say goodbye to him, and Godspeed his embrace in Love. His heart could possibly stop at any time, and we had a scare this morning, but we believe he weathered that storm and will stay with us, peacefully, for a little longer. We love him, we rejoice in him, we accept God's will for his precious life and for our family's cross to bear. Thank you for your love and prayers.

With pain and with peace.......    This was the first glimpse into just how beautifully faithful Tabitha and her family are.....     With peace.....   Anguish, agony, and yet comfort and peace. 

On August 10, through tear filled eyes, I read this update:

My sweet boy has been through so much, so I haven't really been able to take a moment to update everyone. A great number of his family and friends gathered here yesterday to take pictures and pray and be with him. My brother Luke said mass for everyone, and gave Sebastian the Precious Blood. Sebastian's neurological exams consistently showed no brain activity except for one last faint tiny reflex, and because of that, he still cannot be declared brain dead. His poor sweet little body is really struggling now, and the nurses are constantly needing to offer extraordinary support, through medicines and clearing his lungs and giving him extra fluids and all kinds of things. Nothing remains stable for long, if at all. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see his sturdy little body so handled, because we know it is not for the purposes of healing, but just to suspend him here for a time, as the last recesses of his brain cease to be. If he were not being supported, the last steps of this agonizing process would be complete. As dawn comes, he will be reassessed, and if the last reflex cannot be found, he will be pronounced dead. If the reflex remains, we will have a conversation about removing the support that is allowing that last bit of brain activity to persist, so we can hold him in our arms and kiss him everywhere and rejoice over the gift of his life just exactly as we did when he was born in our bedroom just 19 months and five days ago. That is another very hard thing: if we were to offer his organs for donation, we would have to kiss him goodbye in his bed and just walk away...which is not such a great sacrifice when he could give life to so many other children, but still tears us apart. And he would need to be sustained for a prolonged, indefinite amount of time, as well; his pronouncement of death would need to be repeated 24 hours later, and then there would be a great deal of preparation for surgery and for the recipients and everything...and we have watched his little body go through so much just to stay here now. So we are having a hard time determining how to best care for our little boy right now. Also, we gathered all of our children together yesterday and told them Sebastian would not be coming back to our house, because God has received him into eternal life. But we tried to explain that even though Sebastian's body has stopped working, we still need to be with him in the hospital a little longer. Those moments were the most exquisitely painful of our lives. The kids were so, so sad. How they have always loved Sebastian, or Seabass, or Goobie, or all the silly things they called him. So we miss our other children, who are hurting and sorrowing and missing us, and we are here with our beloved baby boy, whose existence is so delicate and so hard to disentangle from all the machines and wires and procedures. But since they removed the EEG stickers from his dear head, I was able to sponge bathe his hair, which just recently got long enough for him to twirl in his fingers the way he likes, so I spend a lot of time holding his head in my hands and kissing it and his face and cupping his brown shoulders and trying to memorize him, whose body I know so, so well. It's just like labor is for me: I always want to just stay in those moments forever, to take those sensations and put them into a bottle I can open anytime. But I can't. This time of having his body to hold and keep is about to pass, and if I step outside of the exact moment, it's so unbearable, there are no words. Even now, his temperature is so low, and they keep trying all kinds of measures to raise it, without much success, so when I touch him, he is so cold. But I can still feel the heft and contours of his body. I don't want to sleep even a single moment that I could touch him and smell him and feast on the sight of this beautiful life. The big girls spent a lot of time yesterday making molds and prints of his hands and his feet, but I want his sturdy, dense body with its bubble toes can this be borne? As much as I rejoice in the fact that my son is a saint, now and for all eternity, I just can't understand how to live without taking care of him every day. I know it will be done, by the grace of God, but letting my thoughts go backwards or forwards is torture. I'm sorry I am so dark this morning. This is the usual time Sebastian would wake up and his big brother and godfather Tommy would bring him downstairs and change his diaper and give him breakfast and take him on a walk. I would be nursing the baby in bed and listen to him ordering Tommy around. The loss of his life is so great--how can it be borne? Please pray during these next hours for us to have the prudence, wisdom, and fortitude to choose the right course of tender, loving care we can give. Pray for his siblings. Pray for peace. Thank you.

August 11was the single statement of praise and abandonment to Providence I have ever heard/read:

The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

I will never hear, or think, this praise again without it having such a deep wellspring of meaning!  All we have is from God, and it is our best to offer all we have to God.  Sometimes, God accepts our offerings even when we think we are not prepared.....    Our children are but a gift from Him, and we all return to Him.  But it hurts so to think about the loss of a child.  One so young, so innocent, so free from sin....  So perfect....  But, i suppose, in God's great Mercy and Grace, that is our assurance that we now know one of Heaven's littlest Saints.....  And the incredible beauty and simplicity of a mother's statement of praise!  Words fail.....

Then, Tabitha recounted all they had been through in one post......  Again, the grief and sorrow and palpable anguish of the one post....    At the same time, the hope and the faith and the peace....

My friends,
I hope to thank many of you in person soon, for all the love you have shown our family. Before we gather, I want to share more about the series of events we endured this past week. 
A natural question is, "What happened?" The honest and tragic answer is we do not know, exactly. We may never know. He was found unresponsive, not breathing, no heartbeat. His sisters performed CPR. The emergency responders arrived mere moments later, and tried to revive him, but couldn't.
Those are the simple facts. The greater circumstances are so mundane. He had just woken up from his nap. He was a little fussy, so I was holding him at the computer as he kept his two fingers in his mouth and twirled his hair, the way he always did. I was signing the girls up for their fall classes at NOVA. They had to leave for work and jiu-jitsu soon, so Mary offered to take Sebastian upstairs while she got ready and I finished up on the computer. Mary carried him upstairs, and chased him around her room and tickled him as he giggled. He came into the bathroom with her and started to play with our new kittens as she went to her room to get changed. Elisabeth then went into the bathroom mere moments later, and found Sebastian, and called for me, and brought him downstairs.
When we bought our house, the lady who had lived here left a "cat tower" behind. It is short, and has a tunnel on the bottom for cats to hide and sleep. Sebastian was wedged in the tunnel, his arms above his head.
This entire little series of events took a few minutes, from 4PM to 4:10. The reason I know this is that I was keeping an eye on the time to make sure the girls made it out the door. Quite literally, one moment I was holding my baby as he cuddled with me, and the next moment, I was holding his limp body and screaming for 911. 
Such a thing seems ludicrous, absurd--but it really happened. He had no signs of life. CPR did not change him. The EMTs could not revive him. When they put him in the ambulance, they did not rush. There was no need. I knew why.
When they drove away, I started wailing and weeping, seeing a life without Sebastian in it. The girls frantically called family and asked them to pray while I rocked and sobbed on the front steps. Then the radio crackled and I heard, "He is breathing."
There is no possible explanation for this. This was his first miracle, just like his namesake's story. There would be others.
When I arrived at Fairfax Hospital, where he had been flown, the charge nurse came out of the PICU and found me, and told me to have a seat. I knew what that meant. I stared at her with the most wild eyes--Babu was still parking the car, so I was alone, clutching Rita--as she told me that Sebastian had arrived unresponsive to any stimuli, his pupils fixed and dilated. She asked me if I knew what that meant. I said yes--he had been that way at our house, in my arms. She told me they would let me back to see him as soon as he could be prepared. Then she left me alone with my anguish.
I had to tell Babu what she had said. We had to wait. We had to talk to the police and CPS. We had to listen to a doctor who came out some time later. She said he was not dead, but there was no real hope for survival--his blood Ph was too low for life, below 6.8. He had been deprived of oxygen for too long. Even if he survived briefly, there would be catastrophic brain damage. But they were working on him, and he had opened his eyes. At those words, I collapsed. Hope.
The first couple of days were a slow dawn of hope in the midst of torment. We spoke to him, caressed him, encouraged him, wiped the tears from his eyes, traced his heartbeat, watched his limbs twitch and jerk, first sporadically, then incessantly. Friday, we had him receive confirmation in the morning, and then he received his first communion in the evening. We did not sleep, eat, or stop crying. Saturday afternoon, for a few blessed hours, hope bloomed. The attending doctor actually said that survival could be possible. Somehow, his pupils were responsive again. 
His father had been praying the Lourdes novena. I took water from Lourdes, given to us by dear friends, and washed his eyes with it. His eyes then fluttered and tried to open, over and over. He was breathing on his own above the ventilator. My boy--would you give us another miracle? Would you not just survive, but thrive?
As the evening went on, signs of hope faded. We knew this was when the brain swelling would grow worse and worse. He stopped opening his eyes. He stopped breathing on his own. His limbs went very still. The lines of his brain waves diminished. He was slipping away.
Frantic and desperate, I prayed the St. Jude novena. St. Jude and St. Joseph are our family's special patrons, and I knew this was what I had to do. Partway through, I went out to nurse Rita, then returned and decided to play my list of songs from when I labored with Sebastian. Since Spotify was on "shuffle," it chose a song for me, called "Broken," by Lifehouse.
The lyrics of the song told me what my answer would be. And sure enough, when the nurse came in for her next check, I saw the look on her face. His pupils were fixed and unresponsive. His reflexes were gone. His brain was swelling too much.
Babu had been trying to sleep, but I knew he had heard, too. We held each other, talked about Sebastian, and accepted God's will for him and for our family, then decided to finish the St. Jude novena out loud, together.
As soon as we spoke the last words, Sebastian's heart rate and blood pressure began to fall. The nurse said she had to run for the doctor. We stood on either side of him, telling him how much we loved him, how proud we were of him, how beautiful he was, and how we had accepted God's will for him. We told him not to be sad or afraid, that we would miss him, but we wanted him to accept God's will, too.
He squeezed my hand.
This was no twitch or reflex. It was a gentle, strong squeeze, like when he would reach up and take my hand. I cried out, "He squeezed my hand--look! Do you see!" Then he did it again. And he gently nestled his head, rocking it side to side, like he was getting comfortable to sleep. After nothing at all ever since his accident.
This was in the midst of alarms shrieking, all his vital signs disappearing. I felt only surprise and joy. I asked him to show his daddy, to show him what he could do. So my husband took his hand. He asked Sebastian to intercede for his siblings, to take care of them in their dark times, to protect all of us from sin so we could be together for eternity. He asked Sebastian if he could do that for our family.
He squeezed his father's hand.
We kissed him, touched him, kept speaking to him. We watched his brain activity disappear. We felt him rest.
The doctor, who had been checking everything fiercely, turned to us and said urgently, "I need to ask you a most important question, and I need an answer right now. Do you want us to perform CPR?" We both said no. We already knew it would be futile. We knew our son. We listened to the Holy Spirit.
They left the room, and we were alone with our baby. We watched his heart continue to slow, and we cried and held him the best we could. We still told him how wonderful and beloved he was, and a peace spread. The room was dark and still, just like the night he was born. It was sacred, intimate, love. Pure love.
Then his heartrate began to climb, as did his blood pressure. We looked at each other, and said almost immediately, "Should we ask about organ donation?" We did so, and were promised more information as soon as possible. Somehow, even without any brain activity, Sebastian was still there, just enough to offer his body as a sacrifice. We had to honor this reality, no matter how difficult. 
Only the grace of God can explain the peace we had from that point onward. No words can ever capture it. We knew what we needed to do. We gathered our family. We took pictures. My brother said mass, then brought communion to Sebastian. Then we brought the children together and broke their hearts. We told them their brother could not come home, but was with God, Who is Love. We let them say goodbye. We sent them home. And we waited for Sebastian.
The staff at the hospital worked so hard to keep him going, but their measures grew ever more extraordinary. His little body was battered and beaten by all that they had to do. There were no medical measures left to save his life, and all of the interventions were only to keep him alive long enough for a match to be found for his organs. Even though we knew he was beyond pain, it still destroyed us to witness his ongoing sacrifice, all for the sake of giving life to another child, or, perhaps, other children.
But we had peace yet, because when we met with the organ donation team, the attending doctor reviewed his history at the PICU, and she stated that at 5AM Sunday morning, Sebastian's brain had herniated, with his parents at his side. Therefore, our spiritual and mystical experience perfectly aligned with the physical reality of his brain death. How good to know that what we felt was right, and true, and yet another miracle.
After consulting with Church teaching, several neurologists and priests, and fervent prayer, we gave over the possibility of organ donation to Divine Providence. We knew all was being done, but that Sebastian might not last long enough. Even though he still had a faint echo of one last reflex, the rest of his body was giving up. His lungs, especially, were unable to maintain air, even with multiple interventions, people around his crib, machines and medicines and techniques. The hours slipped away.
Monday night, he seemed more stable than he had been, and we asked to hold him. The kind nurses all worked together to make it possible. As soon as he was carefully nestled in my arms, I knew a soaring bliss unlike any other. My baby was in my arms. He felt so good, and looked so exquisitely beautiful. I could never have imagined such ecstasy. When my husband took his turn, he cried tears of joy, as well. Then our daughters who had been there at the house and performed CPR, Mary and Elisabeth, both had a turn. We all loved every blessed second.
But then Sebastian needed to go back to the bed, and there would be no more cuddles like that. He was so precarious, a crowd gathered around him, in constant motion. We prayed and watched and threaded our way close to him when we could. But we knew what everything meant.
Visitors, strangers, slipped in and whispered words of wisdom and encouragement. We gathered our belongings, and I nursed Rita in the waiting room one more time. Finally, around 4AM, the operating room was ready, and the transplant team was at hand. A slow, careful, shuffling procession moved his crib down the hall, down the elevator, down another hall, with all his supporting equipment trailing all around. 
We gowned up. We waited even longer. And then we walked into the room where we would say goodbye to our son, to his physical body.
As we had been told, there were two chairs waiting for us next to the operating table. We sat down, and Sebastian was gently and reverently placed in our arms. Tenderly, the ventilator was removed, and yet again, we kissed and cradled our sweet boy, our little tough guy, as his heart slowed and his pulse weakened. After about 10 minutes, the doctor whispered that his heart had stopped. We held him close for a few more moments, then laid him down so softly, and walked out.
Everyone who knows me knows how much I love birth. I love everything about birth. I now realize that birth and death are so very similar. They are intimate, and unique, and palpable, filling the senses, thrilling the soul. I cannot say I love death. But I can say that I see love abounding through death. That the love of God, a loving God Who never willed for us to suffer, has triumphed over death.
I cannot fathom how I will go on living my life after this weekend. I tremble to think of the universe of pain that awaits me, and my family. But I know what I saw, and felt, and experienced through Sebastian's trials and death. I am grateful. I am thankful for all of it. I never understood the verse "The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." But now I do. I am thankful for all His gifts, even those that take away that which is most dear to me. It is all love.

That last paragraph will bless and haunt me.....   Its total surrender to Providence.....   Its beauty.
Then.....   The Mass of Burial....    NEVER in my life did I experience such a joyful mourning!  The entrance hymn was "Joyful, Joyful We Adore".  I could not get through a single verse without choking up.  I tried to sing, but the words just got caught in my throat and the tears streamed.....   When I saw my friend's face, her family, their sorrow.....    And knowing they choose a theme of joy....    Not only was it a theme, but an honest rendering of hope and peace in the midst of loss and grief...
There was a beautiful quote by St Augustine on the program for the Mass.  It is:

Of necessity we must be sorrowful when those whom we love leave us in death. Although we know that they have not left us behind forever but only gone ahead of us, still when death seizes our loved ones, our loving hearts are saddened by death itself. Thus the apostle Paul does not tell us not to grieve but: "Not to grieve like those who are without hope."​
​Let us grieve, therefore, over the necessity of losing our loved ones in death but with the hope of being reunited with them. If we are afflicted, we still find consolation. Our weakness weighs us down but faith bears us up. We sorrow over the human condition but find our healing in the divine promise.   Saint Augustine of Hippo - Sermon 172,1

The readings they chose for the Mass were again reminding us to hope.  Sebastian's sister, and Godmother, read the first reading (Rev 21:1-6) and his mother read the second (2 Cor 12:7-10).  Then, the Gospel.....    The Gospel was read by Sebastian's uncle, Fr Luke.  The Gospel was John 16:20-23:

Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.21When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world

So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.

On that day you will not question me about anything. Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.

Jesus was talking about His leaving the disciples and preparing them for His Passion, Death and Resurrection, but as a mother, and as a mother who has seen such anguish suffered by a mother who bore a child not only once for this world, but also once for eternity, this Gospel passage has opened to me a whole new world of depth and meaning......   

Witnessing Tabitha and Babu's Joyful Agony, I am reminded of the saint stories I have read of men and women offering everything to God.  I know that the Lord has touched souls through this family's experience.  I am confident that souls have been won over to Him.  Souls that may have been lost without such a strong witness to life, to love, to the Peace and Joy that only He can bring....   I have no idea how or why, and I certainly do not wish it on anyone, but I really do believe that Tabitha and Babu's witness during their Agony has not only birthed Sebastian into eternal life, but has also birthed a seed of faith into souls they will never know about.  And that is a miracle!

Dearest Tabitha, Babu, and family, thank you for sharing this journey of love and sorrow and faith and hope with us. You have been constantly in our thoughts and prayers these last few days. And you have been an amazing inspiration to so many as we grieve with you, hope with you, and rejoice in the promise of eternity with you! May God continue to keep you in the light and comfort of His Grace and Mercy, and may Our Lady, Queen of Sorrows wrap her mantle around you and your beautiful family and be your comfort as you grieve!

In Loving memory of Sebastian Babu Thaddeus Kaza
January 5, 2014 - August 11, 2015

Sunday, May 17, 2015

HCG Diet Success


Once again, forever since I have written.  This time I make no promises about writing more frequently....    I AM learning....

On April 13 my dearest and I embarked on a diet that I had heard of from a mom in a yahoo group I am on.....  I read the book written by the doctor who came up with the protocol and thought it made sense and what did I have to lose...  Really....    I have been some shade of fat my entire life.  I came across a baby picture of me and it finally clicked why my aunts used to call me a Weeble when I was a babe.

I will post more later, but I wanted to save these photos of some of our meals on the diet (today is actually "clean the computer" day - I got the "disc is almost full" warning and needed to purge, but I want to save these photos for when I am on round two :-)  )

Cucumber, strawberries, 4oz chicken and a grissini

Chard, 4 oz fish, strawberries and a grissini

 Asparagus (my FAVORITE!!!!), 4oz steak, an apple, and a grissini

Personal favorite, 4oz shrimp on bed of spinach, 1/2 grapefruit and a grissini

These meals were all quite basic.  Home educating four little souls and trying to keep a house in order has not allowed for tons of creativity this time.  I will say that Liquid Aminos and Apple Cider Vinegar have become my new best friends.  

Oh, and did I mention, since I began this diet, I have lost about 40 pounds?  I am going to do the protocol at least one more time, probably twice.  My goal is to lose a minimum of 100 pounds total.  I am already 40% of the way there!!  I am, right now, 31 pounds from the lowest I have been in 20 years.  After the maintenance phase I have to begin shortly, I plan to make that my next goal...

I am already fitting into clothing I was sure I'd never wear again but wasn't ready to abandon all hope...  That is a good start!