We were at Mass one Sunday, and a couple came and sat down a few pews in front of us. They had a teenage girl with them, and the woman was carrying a very young infant in her arms. Ken mentioned that he’d seen that same woman at daily Mass when it was his turn to take Lotus to serve, only then she didn’t have “the nanny” with her.
“Nanny?” I asked, wondering what he was talking about. “The nanny they brought to Mass,” he said, motioning to the teenager with them. “That’s not the nanny. That’s their daughter. Or the daughter of one of them, I guess. I bet it’s a second marriage.”
Yes. This is the conversation my husband and I were having in front of the Tabernacle while waiting for Mass. Even while I was having it I knew how horrible it was. I knew it, I felt a flicker of uneasiness about it, and- wait!- I allowed it to get worse.
“I saw that quite a bit when I taught. There’d be a remarriage and a new baby, and you’d end up with an age gap like that.” Ken nodded, but was still going with the nanny theory, and I lapsed into semi-moody observations about how thin the new mother looked. How is it possible to have such an obvious newborn and still fit into size 2 pants? Then I further disintegrated into full-on loathing of my body, my appearance, me, me, me. It was so ugly, and so horrible that I would usually avoid writing about it altogether, or at the very least, try to sugar coat it, but to understand what happened next, I have to show you the full extent of my awfulness.
Mass started, and while I cannot honestly say if I asked God to forgive me for the terrible things I had just thought and said about my neighbor, while sitting less than 20 yards from Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, I knew that I had done wrong.
That night, before bed, I was reading a section from St. Faustina’s “Divine Mercy in My Soul” and I was struck by the following passage:
It struck me so deeply, that I resolved to ask Jesus the same thing next time I received the Eucharist. The next morning, very,very early, Lotus came into my room and asked if we could go to Mass. Well, what kind of mother says no to a request like that, even if it is made in the pre-dawn darkness?
A few hours later, while I knelt in Church after receiving Our Lord, I asked Him to heal my tongue. I helpfully suggested using, like, titanium bands to sort of bolt it down; anything weaker I would surely break through. At that moment, while I was earnestly trying to convince Our Lord to make me mute, I heard a baby behind me. I knew it was the woman from Sunday. And I felt this enormous, overwhelming offer before me- “Go speak to her after Mass”.
I sort of reminded Our Lord that I was asking for a mute tongue, why would He immediately respond with an offer to go speak? And to speak to the woman I had gossiped about a few days before?
But I said, “Ok,” patiently waited until Mass was over, dawdled a little by telling a lady next to me that her shoes were fabulous (they really were, it wasn’t just a time-wasting movement on my part), then went up to the woman with the tiny baby in her arms.
“She’s adorable,” I said. The woman smiled and thanked me. I asked her the baby’s name. “Joselyn,” she replied. Joselyn, meanwhile, was sleeping that sleep a friend of mine has described as “Willful Sleep. No matter what happens around me, I will sleep!” “How old is she?” I asked, totally, completely in love with little Joselyn. The woman replied that she was six weeks old. “Well you look great,” I said, and as I said it, I realized I had said it without a trace of envy in my heart. The sixth week is a rough week- you’ve used up all your birth endorphins, your body’s trying to re-balance hormonally, and sleep is such a rare commodity you wonder if you’ve only imagined its existance. The woman looked tired, but beautiful and serene.
“Oh,” she said, smiling at me, “I’m her foster mother.” I tilted my head for a moment, not understanding.
Then suddenly, the weight of the situation rushed into me, and I was full of sorrow for my gossip, yes, but more intensely, immediate gratitude that the birth mother had chosen life for Joselyn, gratitude for this woman in front of me who opened her home and her heart to Joselyn, and gratitude to God who so gently, but so undeniably, showed me why judging people, even idly, is so foolish.
“Her foster mother? How long will she stay with you?” My head was still whirling, but my mother’s heart immediately went to that question. The woman smiled sadly and shrugged. “Until the mother decides she’s ready for her. Or until she’s adopted.” I was floored. I can’t imagine how that woman’s heart must feel, looking at sleeping Joselyn, knowing that the mothering she was called to would be so uncertain in nature. “Is she your first foster child?” Dimly I was aware that I was now entering the “your questions are becoming creepy in their intensity” realm I sometimes get with people who ask about my family, but the woman didn’t seem to mind.
“No, we’ve fostered quite a few children.” And then, it seems that Jesus didn’t take my advice on bolting my tongue down with titanium, because I said to the mother, “God bless you for this. I can’t imagine what it’s like, but thank you for doing it.” I realized that my clearly functional tongue was praising God for the grace He give to both the birth mother and the foster mother. The grace to bear this child, and the grace to provide her with a home. The grace to work together to give her love.
As I walked to the car with Lotus, I was silent, thinking about what a gentleman our God is- how He never forces His will onto us, how He always waits until we’re ready for Him. I thought about the lousy god I would make, because if I had seen one of my followers sitting right in front of me and gossiping about another of my followers, my response probably would have involved thunderbolts and severed tongues and such. Instead, my lesson in humility and reserving judgement of others took place in an encounter that left me so full of love and gratitude that I felt I was trailing clouds of glory as I left Mass.