Living Our Vows

It began with a temper tantrum at Costco. I suppose toddler tantrums at Costco are relatively common but, in over 15 years of parenting, I’ve never had to deal with a “shopping tantrum.” Until this one. This was an all-out, irrational meltdown involving a 40-pound nearly three-year-old.

Mercifully, it was fairly short-lived. We all survived and went home. As soon as we walked through the door, my four-year-old started crying pitifully. “I’m sick. I’m really, really sick.” And so he was. In the next five hours, the children dropped like flies, one after another. A phone call from my husband in North Carolina confirmed that every member of my family, except for me, had the flu.

We were the first in our circle of acquaintances to succumb this year and our family’s illness preceded news reports of deaths. We were well-stocked with remedies, both conventional and alternative, and we hunkered down for a week’s worth of wheezing and fever and temper tantrums. These were very sick children and this particular bug made children miserable and mean.

I was stretched to my limit, physically. Nicholas, normally sweet-tempered and easygoing, was especially whiny and cantankerous. The tantrum at Costco was the tip of the iceberg. This child cried and whined for 10 days straight. His mother’s cheerful bedside manner was something that took a concerted effort.

Every time he would crank up the crankies, the phrases “for better or worse” and “in sickness and in health” popped into my head. “But I’m not married to him,” I’d protest to myself (sleepless nights tend to foster much talking to myself). “Ahhh … but he is the fruit of the vows you made. He’s part and parcel of the package.” Actually, the entire scenario was covered by both the commitment and the grace of the sacrament of matrimony.

How long has it been since we’ve heard those vows, since we’ve taken a look at what we promised and what was promised in return? How long has it been since we’ve committed ourselves again to the promises made and asked for a renewal of grace?

Traditional Catholic wedding vows might be, “I take you to be mine. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” The words are so simple, the promises so big. They are certainly bigger than the individual who makes them.

A wedding takes place in front of a community of Christian witnesses. The witnesses, the Church, are called to support the bride and groom and the family that is created that day. That support should extend well beyond the wedding day. Not too many couples need support during the honeymoon. The challenges come later.

On the first day of the flu, before the sun was up, my friend Barbara came to walk with me. I couldn’t leave the house, so she went to the store instead to buy fever reducer in drops, liquid and tablets. Later, grandparents called all the way around, offering sympathy, but I didn’t want to expose them or anyone else, so no practical help was immediately available. I asked for prayers instead. I asked for grace.

A few days later, it was apparent that Stephen was sickest of all. A tiny four-year-old, he’d lost 15 percent of his body weight. I couldn’t get him to eat anything. Barbara mentioned Stephen to a woman in my neighborhood whom I’d never met. That woman appeared on my doorstep about nine o’clock that night with an assortment of food to tempt a sick child. When Stephen awakened, weak and parched, a little later, I spooned Italian ice into his mouth with tears running down my face. I would never have thought of Italian ice and I know the Holy Spirit dropped it on my doorstep.

Another friend volunteered to get our asthma medicine refilled. When the pharmacy was closed, she returned home. Her neighbor asked where she’d been and upon learning that there was a family of seven children with the flu, supplied her own brand new box of asthma medication until the pharmacy opened again. Then my friend Donna appeared with a meal and several videos which were new to my children. The meals from homeschooling friends followed shortly after. Our family was supported by the community. Because of that support, it was easier to live the vows.

We make a promise on a beautiful day filled with flowers and music and we live it out in ordinary time. We face weeklong bouts with the flu and much longer battles against cancer. We have steak feasts and bean soup fasts. We have happy times, sad ones and everything in between. We commit, we promise, to be faithful through it all. More than that, we promise to love through it all. And God honors that promise every day. He pours out abundant grace to enable us to be true. He inspires the Christian witnesses to offer tangible human help and comfort. All He asks is that we love Him and we love our neighbors.

Elizabeth Foss is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia. Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss can be purchased at

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

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