"Big Four" Highlights


Surprise Packages

God’s gifts enlarge our hearts

by Kathleen M. Basi

My husband was sitting at the kitchen table with our daughter, working on First Communion prep.

“What do we bring to the altar?” Christian asked her.

Julianna, who has Down syndrome, sucked in a great, giggly breath. “Presents!” she shouted.

It was one of those hilarious moments you can neither plan nor predict, when the fresh perspective of a child who doesn’t process the world the same way as everyone else tosses a sparkler amid familiar terms. I had never thought of the gifts of bread and wine as “presents.”

For that matter, as often as I’ve written about the gift of motherhood, I never once associated it with a brightly colored box you unwrap, having no idea what is inside.

It’s a fabulous metaphor, though. Motherhood is a package you unwrap time and again, never knowing what you’re going to discover within it — about your child, your husband, or yourself. Sometimes, what you find is the exact opposite of what you wanted.

It’s hard for me to believe, now that our dinner table holds a lively crowd of six every night, but motherhood didn’t come easily to my husband and me. It took us three years to conceive our first child. We obsessed over our NFP charts. We raged at God. We saw a specialist who pressured us to pursue artificial insemination contrary to our Catholic faith. Infertility is a lonely experience, but when even your physician thinks you’re foolish, it’s a loneliness like no other.

Infertility scoured my soul — but it turned out to be one of the most important gifts God ever gave me. That period of my life did more to prepare my soul for motherhood than pregnancy itself. It made me so grateful for the gift of my unborn child that I was able to react with grace when my dreams of natural childbirth were overthrown by an urgent C-section. So grateful that I didn’t mind having to nurse my son every hour and a half for the better part of a year. Infertility made me intentional about looking for the blessing in each moment.

Most of all, though, it forced me to grow up — and I needed to grow up, because God had a bigger challenge in mind for me. The arrival of Julianna, our second child, sent my life veering off in a direction I had always viewed with terror.

I was not open to having a child with a disability. Not me. Not at all. I felt that God was two-timing me. Hadn’t he put us through enough already?

But he knew that this child was exactly what I needed. Being Julianna’s mother has shifted my relationship with God and with the world in ways I would never have explored on my own. It has made me more open to God’s precious ones, those who exist outside the boundaries of my middle-class comfort zone. It has stretched my mind and my heart to recognize that very few of the rigid standards by which I want to measure the world reflect the mercy and goodness of the God I profess to believe in. 

Being Julianna’s mother has taught me how inconsequential most of the things we’re conditioned to desire really are. It has brought me into contact with a world full of beautiful people who will never meet the standard definition of “success,” yet who for that reason more clearly reflect God’s heart. It has taught me how to defend my children without burning bridges, to apologize when I am wrong, and most of all, to have an open heart.

Motherhood has made me a better person — but being mother to a child with special needs has made me far more than I could ever have dreamed. Julianna takes my heart by the hand and leads me where I was afraid to go—and where my destiny lies.

I always knew motherhood was a gift. Yet like the abundant graces in the “presents” of the Eucharist, the gift I was given is not the one I was expecting. And for that, I am so very grateful.

Kathleen M. Basi, mother of four, writes an award-winning column for Liguorian magazine. Visit her online at kathleenbasi.com.