During the past year my 6 year-old son was diagnosed with autism, Tourette syndrome, and celiac disease. My 8 year-old daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia and anxiety disorder, and my 3-year-old daughter was also diagnosed as having celiac disease. Then a letter came from the school saying my son was colorblind. My husband took the letter, crumbled it and threw it across the yard. It was the last blow in a series of too many blows.
I was received into the Church at last year’s Easter Vigil after 20 years of agnosticism. As I learned of my children’s autism and dyslexia diagnosis I was also learning about the Catholic faith. Praying the Rosary gave me strength and helped me understand.
As I fought against shock and denial, I learned acceptance as Mary graciously welcomed her fate. As I cried while watching my children struggle, I heard Jesus say, “Not my will, but Yours be done,” and I learned how to let go. As I watched my husband bend under the weight of the sorrow he felt, I learned how to help him carry his cross.
Treatment for celiac disease is no gluten (wheat) for life. I wondered how my pizza, bread and pasta loving children could do it. I wondered how I could do it. I turned to the Saints.
Jesus once said to me: “Do you know, daughter, for what reason I send crosses to souls dear to me? I desire to possess their souls, entirely, and for this I surround them with crosses, and I enclose them in sufferings and tribulation, that they may not escape from my hands; and for this I scatter thorns, that souls may fasten their affections upon no one, but find all content in Me alone. My daughter, if you do not feel the cross it cannot be called a cross.Be sure that under the cross you will not be lost. — St. Gemma Galgani
If you were to ask me “Why Catholic?” I would say, “Because through Catholicism I have learned the value of suffering and that has lifted me up and brought me joy.”
At our children’s Masses there is often a picture projected on the wall as we sing “Hallelujah” of a little girl in a field. Looking up, arms stretched toward heaven, she is smiling. When I see this image I am brought to tears. It is a child full of joy, love and trust. Similarly, my children do not dwell on their disabilities but rather exude love, trust and happiness. As an adult, the suffering I have felt for my children and, in time, the thanksgiving, has brought me closer to this pureness of being. I believe this is the “me” that love has chosen to break so as to embrace.
Like many parents of children with disabilities, I am not where I thought I would be but am in a much better place than I planned. I understand now the trials we face as a family are a blessing. In fact, without the autism diagnosis we might never have been given the tests that uncovered the celiac disease (which can be fatal).
I once believed religion was for people who could not stand on there own. Now I understand that we should not stand on our own. During the past year Catholicism has taught me what love is, how to love and the value of suffering.
This long year of learning reached it’s joyous crescendo at this past Easter Vigil as I watched (with arms stretched toward heaven and a smile on my face) as my daughter was baptized. Thank God, and I am grateful.