A Love That Never Ends

shutterstock_154303700Yesterday I was absolutely fried by 5 pm. When Dave got home from work I flung the kids and the keys at him and begged that he take them to the gym – and the waiting kid’s club. He was more than obliging and as he loaded them into the minivan I wondered why oh why they are always (okay, usually) so very agreeable for him when they’ve been testing and trying and sometimes tormenting me all day long. Maybe his enthusiasm levels are sufficiently high to mask his weakness from them, and maybe, like hungry jungle predators, they’re less interested in pursuing a healthy, challenging piece of prey?

Maybe I’m over thinking this analogy.

At any rate, I threw some stir fry together, texted my beloved that dinner was waiting on the stove, and fled the house in search of some much-needed solitude. I ended up at Panera, seated across from a table filled with video game design students. Which, from an ambient noise level perspective is somewhere on the list in between Dungeons and Dragons aficionados and frat boys. I ordered a turkey sandwich, which was assembled sans turkey, a reality which escaped my notice for at least 4 bites. From a first world perspective, this night off was going downhill, and fast.

Hastily tucking my impulse-purchased holiday edition of “Real Simple” under my flappy upper arm, I dumped my sad sandwich and made for the door. As I drove aimlessly through the streets of suburban Denver, I found myself turning into the parking lot of a nearby parish.

“Alright, Lord. I’ll stop for Adoration. But like, 5 minutes. Because I’m sooooo tired. And also, Hobby Lobby is still open. You know, arts and crafts.” (I have a mystical union with Christ. Don’t hate.)

I parked in the pleasantly packed lot and lumbered my way to the chapel, picking a pew toward the front right and collapsing into a mass of exhausted mama. I’m sure the lady behind me thought I’d either just gotten dumped or lost my best friend, but the heavy breathing was 100% pregnancy induced, and the pathetic slump forward onto the kneeler was purely a function of my back giving out.

I raised my weary eyes to the monstrance and waited for … something. Mystical union aside, I’m not super adept at mental prayer, and I’m certainly not in the habit of receiving discernible messages from the Lord. But last night, He showed up. Surprisingly quickly.

As I contemplated Him, there physically present before me in a tidy circle of bread, my eyes wandered to the image embossed on the marble beneath the altar: a mother pelican with three baby birds in her nest, tearing at the flesh surrounding her heart to feed them. (This sounds more gruesome than it is, but trust me, in white marble, it’s tasteful.) I bounced my eyes from the scene of avian carnage to the clean, gleaming monstrance and back again.

That’s You. I thought in wonder. That’s you and that’s also…me? 

As I sat in quiet contemplation, a warm sense of camaraderie and comprehension filled my aching brain. The correlation between the early Church’s imagery of Christ’s love for His children and a mother physically suffering – even to the point of self destruction – for her chicks was not lost on me. Indeed, for the first time I found myself profoundly moved by this imagery which so aptly summed up the hours of my day.

See, He seemed to whisper, this is how I love you. This is how I designed you to love, too. You are more than capable of this, but not apart from Me. And days like today? The hard days? That’s you trying to go it alone, without Me.

I squinted at pelican-mommy’s tattered flesh, wincing at the analogy. They’ll kill her, I mentally grumbled.

Yes. That’s the point. She’ll give and give until there’s nothing left to sustain her but Me. But if she asks, I will provide the grace. I will not allow her to be overcome. But she has to ask.

This back and forth continued for the better part of half an hour, (and lest anyone get the wrong impression, I’m not legit hearing voices from Heaven or anything of that nature, it’s just sort of … impressions, an interior knowledge that God is speaking my way.) He is kind of frank with me, truth be told, so I’m not sure a differing temperament from my own would be terribly comforted by our conversations. He knows what I need though, and that looks more like drill sergeant-meets-father than guidance-counselor-meets-life-coach for this stubborn choleric. But I digress. The point is, I showed up last night, somewhat begrudgingly, and He more than met me there.

As I contemplated mama bird and her carnivorous offspring, I realized how much I’ve been trying to do on my own. How little I’ve asked for His grace. How quickly I’ve arrived at the daily conclusion: I’ve got this only to meet Dave at the door 9 hours later, a quivering mess of nerves and anger and exhaustion, informing him that I most definitely do not got this, or much of anything else I’m attempting to accomplish at this moment in my life. I’m a mess. This life? This life is a mess. And that mother bird tearing at her own flesh, literally emptying her heart to feed her children? That’s a hot mess. A hot, bloody, brutal mess…and yet, this is His model to us. This kind of love. That level of sacrifice. Those needy, searching, desperate little mouths.

How can I love like that? The short answer is simply, I can’t.

But He can. And through Him, I can, too. But not without asking for it. Not without inviting Him in to step over the messiness and the disaster of my own failed attempts and to make a grand, clean, pride-shattering sweep of the whole thing.

Come in, Lord. I begged him, my not-turkey sandwich still resting heavily in my ribcage. I can’t do this. Feed my babies. Show me how to love them like You do.

I believe that He will. As I swept breakfast from under the table this morning I pictured their neediness literally tearing my flesh apart, exposing the selfishness, the pride, the inability to love … and I was glad. I am still disturbed by the prevalence of gluten free waffle crumbs on my kitchen chairs, and I will still wince when I get poop underneath my fingernails at some point today, but I am still glad. They’re my living, breathing invitations to love like Him. It’s up to me to RSVP.

image: Nancy Bauer / Shutterstock.com

Jenny Uebbing


Jenny Uebbing is a freelance editor and writer for Catholic News Agency. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband Dave and their growing army of toddlers. She writes about marriage, life issues, politics, sociological trends, and traveling with kids here.

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  • dlm

    Awesome article.

  • JMC

    This is a very close approximation to a sermon I heard in my own church a few weeks ago; the same topic: You have to ask. So many people plod along through the difficult times with the solid faith that God will help them through it, but they don’t think of praying until they are in truly desperate straits. I’ve been guilty of that myself too many times. A prime example was a situation I was in many years ago. I had opened my home to a recently divorced mother with a six-month-old baby…and the woman took shameless advantage of my generosity. But I put up with her for the sake of the baby; I could not bear the thought of that infant, homeless. I was living on minimum wage at the time and was barely making ends meet when I was alone; with two extra mouths to feed, it became impossible, especially since I utterly refused to go the credit-card route. I had sworn to myself that I would never go into debt if I could avoid it. So I prayed. A lot. And help came, often mysteriously. When the rent due date was three days away and payday a week off, extra tasks would come my way that involved extra pay. Or I would find a few dollars blowing around in the parking lot. Once I even found money someone left in my mailbox! However it arrived, it was always *exactly* enough to cover the need, and I mean to the penny. A few times it came in advance of the need; someone would send me some money as a gift, others it might be extra work, and I would think, FINALLY I would be able to get that book I wanted to read, or get my extra pair of shoes repaired; but then a few hours after the check arrived, some emergency would come up that needed…you guessed it, EXACTLY the amount that I had just recieved. So yes, prayer does work…but the other side of that coin is, help doesn’t come without it.

  • This is so beautiful. The image of the pelican is on the tabernacle at our parish and I’ve always loved it. It’s also tattooed on my husband’s chest, so it’s an image I see often and it’s always filled with new meaning. What a wonderful reminder. I so often forget to ask for the grace I need to love my children. Well done, Jenny.

  • Diane

    wow how can no one comment on this. this is the most profound way I have ever heard motherhood described. it is so accurate it is scary. thank you for sharing your insight.

  • James Fambro

    Louisiana’s flag/state bird is this picture of the pelican with her “children”….

  • jmg

    Awesome. The beauty of our everyday struggles as mothers laid bare!

  • chaco

    So glad you stopped at “The Well ” sis.; “Dehydration” can really wear us down. The 1st thing this made me think of was a story Mother Angelica shared on just such a day as you were having; She voiced her dismay about so much responsibility by crying out to Jesus; ” Why Me !? ” In response she heard/ felt Him say: “Yeah, Why me ?” Her reflection on His response caused her to vow to never pray that question ever again. Thanks Sis. for affirming our struggle & reminding us to go to “The Well ” when we thirst. [ Felix Culpa – “Oh happy sin of Adam ! ” ; Anyone who has gone through “The Dessert “, to then be refreshed by the oasis of His Presence, knows that life couldn’t have been as sweet without the dessert (2 Cor. 12: 9). St. Aquinas shares that God allows trials for only 2 reasons; 1) It will cause something better to occur 2) Removing it would cause something worse to occur ]

  • rosebud

    “My yoke is sweet & my burden light.” Matt. 11: 30

  • chaco

    DOH ! Dessert should be Desert. But if you reflect on rosebud’s reply (see below), maybe not.

  • Christy Isinger

    Jenny this is so spot-on and tragically beautiful. Its a pretty tall order to live for someone else, and especially a lot of others, thank goodness we don’t have to do it by ourselves, because I fail all the time.

  • chaco

    I heard that ! Once, I was debating whether or not to go to a Marian conference in Chicago. Money was tight & I didn’t know if we could justify the cost. We live in the country & while taking a walk down our country road, I saw a cigarette carton in the ditch – and wouldn’t ya know it ?; There was a $100 dollar bill in it. GO FIGURE ! – I take it as meaning that Mama is sometimes quite obvious about what she wants.

  • Kelly Halverson

    “They’re my living, breathing invitations to love like Him. It’s up to me to RSVP.”

    this. so true. but so easily forgotten. thanks for the reminder.

  • Don Meziere

    First I laughed out loud: “…over thinking this analogy.” Then as I finished the article nearly teared up. The challenges are not ours alone to bear. I thank Jesus for that!

  • Kristi

    This was great, thank you.