App for Life

It was such a great privilege to be part of this App for Life promo video. When my sister Roselynn told me she was pregnant at 16 years old, I didn’t know how to speak up for the life of her unborn baby. She said she was thinking about abortion because a friend of hers recommended it, and her boyfriend had the money to pay for it. Of course she was scared and didn’t know what to do. After talking to my mom, Roselynn decided to keep the baby and sadly lost little Jocelyn in miscarriage. What love our mom showed to her in the midst of family hardship, even as we struggled with our dad’s illness and his eventual passing that same summer of 1995. We are so glad that my sister chose life because an abortion would have not only killed my niece but also caused Roselynn more emotional pain on top of everything she was already dealing with.

Now as educated Catholics, we understand how valuable the life of each human being is from the very moment of conception until natural death. No matter the circumstances, it is not up to us to determine when a person’s life should end. When we get the notifications through the App for Life to pray for these pregnant mothers and their babies in crisis, we don’t know how difficult their situations are. We have no details about whether they are married or not, whether it is their first pregnancy or their fifth. All we know is that they need our prayers…so we pray.

We pray that Jesus will give them the courage to choose life for their children and that they will get the support and resources necessary to either grow their family or allow their babies to be adopted by generous and loving couples. The App for Life has become part of our family culture. And I invite you to make it a part of yours, too.

Please download it onto your phones and offer your intercession for life. Donate if you can. Volunteer when you are able. Join the movement. Change the culture. Help save lives. The next generation depends on it.

Because 56 million lives in the U.S. alone have already been taken.

It’s time to take a stand. #prolife

My Portion is the Lord: A personal reflection

As soon as we walked into the rectory, my eyes were welling up with tears. I’m not typically a super-emotional person, but when something special tugs at my heartstrings, it’s hard to hold the waterworks in. This is what made me cry:

20140527-234718-85638480.jpg

It’s a painting of St. Thérèse and her family. ALL OF THEM. Mom, Dad, the Little Flower, her sisters who became nuns, and her other siblings who died in infancy/childhood. I was so touched to see how the artist honored every single person in the Martin family, especially the little ones…and here we were to speak at the retreat about our own babies who had gone to Heaven.

What a comfort it was to have her so present with us! From the very beginning of my career as a teacher to my own vocational discernment…novena after novena, I would ask St. Thérèse to pray for me, and just as she promised, she showered down roses upon me in so many different forms. This was yet another way of letting me know she was still walking with me…

20140527-234718-85638938.jpg

Seven and a half years after our first baby died, we described the loss as if it happened yesterday. It was an amazingly beautiful experience…to stand in front of these couples who knew exactly what we were feeling in our grief…to see their tears and feel their pain as if it were our own.

Other stories followed from those who knew similar heartache but were called to adoption and valuable service to the greater community. If we just unite ourselves with Our Lord in His complete surrender at Gethsemane and Our Blessed Mother in her Fiat…how good God is as He opens doors and gifts us with blessings beyond our wildest dreams.

20140527-234719-85639216.jpg
How we prayed for each one of them…for the husbands and the wives…and also for an openness to share again in the future so others will know that they are not alone. Praise God for inspiring Jack and Katrina Crow to organize the whole day. On so many levels, it was no easy task. I wish there was a retreat like this when we lost Little Gary. Even moving on with our lives can be agony at times…not because I am ungrateful for the four children we do have with us, but because our family is separated. This longing to be reunited with our babies reminds me that this world is not our home…that one day we will be filled with nothing but joy and the longing will be no more. Until then, we set our eyes and hearts on Jesus with the hope that we can live and love as He did in order to make this reunion possible.

When all was said and done, I was so grateful for my husband’s support. Preparing for this talk opened up a floodgate of emotions, and I learned so much not only about myself, but also about Gary. We are definitely stronger because of the sacramental grace God blessed us with when we got married. The ebb and flow of life isn’t always smooth sailing, and things truly do not happen as you expect them to. I am incredibly privileged to journey with this man who knows how to navigate the waters and console me in the storms. Thank you, Gary, for holding my hand through it all…

20140527-234719-85639399.jpg

“It’s okay, Mommy. It’s okay.”

Gary and I are going to speak at a retreat this weekend for couples struggling with infertility, miscarriage, and stillbirth. I personally have never had any problems getting pregnant; my issue has been staying pregnant.

We lost our very first baby. And our fourth…our fifth…and our eighth.

I wrote this entry on Wednesday, November 22, 2006 – the day after our little boy’s body left mine. He lived for about 5 1/2 weeks and I loved him with my whole heart. He was the baby who first made me a mother…

There is no pain greater than losing a child. It doesn’t matter how young or old the child was, or whether you ever got to see him or hold her. He was still your baby. She was still your child.

I knew there was life growing inside of me even before the test read “Pregnant”. And somehow I knew when that same life had gone, leaving me with an immense feeling of sadness I had never known before. I tried to stay hopeful, but I knew. We wouldn’t get to meet our baby in July. Our reunion would have to wait until the Eternal Someday.

Last night, the worst had passed. However, the events of the day unfolded before I even opened my eyes. It began with a dream – we were holding a baby boy, who looked much like my nephew Jacob…but after sometime I realized it was our baby boy, and I felt so complete with Gary and my son. We were together – so happy and peaceful, enjoying each other’s company just as any other family would.

Then I awoke to the symptoms I had been hearing of…facing the fear I dreaded the most…trying to prepare myself for something I felt would inevitably come. Gary and I had talked about it. We even gave the disclaimer when we shared the good news that there would be risk. But as much as you try to prepare, you really can’t. It still hurt. It still broke my heart, and it broke his, too.

At least we got a picture. Our doctor was able to find the baby in the ultrasound this time, but he warned us that I was probably already in the beginning stages of a miscarriage. He gave us a copy of the scan as a memento of our baby, and he said that we would look back at this time five years from now and be grateful for the support we gave each other through such a difficult circumstance.

We struggled with the painful emotions of loss throughout the day, trying to come to grips with the reality of it all. I cried. Gary cried. Our family had been crying tears for us, knowing what it felt like to also lose little ones. It came to the point where I didn’t think my heart could feel any emptier. I couldn’t help but be sad, even if I tried to be strong. Nothing anyone could say or do would bring the baby back to life, and it felt like this feeling would never go away. My insides were screaming so loudly but all I could do was cry, until I heard his voice.

“It’s okay, Mommy. It’s okay. Don’t worry, Mommy. Everything will be all right.”

His little soul spoke to mine because God knew that it was his voice I needed to hear at my deepest point of despair. The sobbing calmed as Gary and my niece Leilani held me close, and I told them that the baby was talking to me.

It was then that we named him “Little Gary”.

20140522-025314.jpg

Our baby helped me through the emotional and spiritual pain so that I would be able to endure the physical pain that would soon follow just an hour later. For an hour and a half, I waited and prayed through the whole ordeal under the care of my family and the specialized coaching of my sister Emeline. Everything she said would happen did. I don’t know what I would have done without them all.

After it was all over, Gary and I sat with each other on the hallway floor and thanked God that it was done. As hard as it was, the whole day couldn’t have gone more smoothly, considering. And we attribute it to the mercy and love of God poured upon us through the prayers of our family and friends who have lifted us up every day since they found out about the pregnancy.

I realized last weekend as I sat at the funeral Mass of my cousin’s friend Audrey, her husband Damian, and their two little girls Elise and Gianna (who Audrey was carrying in her womb), that life on earth is so temporary. There’s nothing about it that we can completely control. In the homily, the priest said that sometimes you find a rose that buds but never blooms, as so it is also in the garden of souls. We never understand why a life doesn’t get to run its full course but we can only trust in the grace that God has given for that life to live at all.

I had long looked for roses as signs throughout my faith journey, and it comforted me to hear Father use St. Therese’s expression of the “garden of souls”. It was on that Saturday that my heart was enlightened to know…

Our baby – Little Gary – is our rose.

20140522-034312.jpg

And what of the other three? Garrison, Mercy, and Christiana… I have nothing tangible to hold on to and remember them by, except for the distinct signals from my body and the deep knowing in my heart that they were here with me…alive. And then suddenly they were gone.

Our oldest daughter Meleana (now 6) is very aware of her siblings in Heaven. She talks about them, draws pictures of them, and understands that we will see them later on when God calls us home.

20140522-025544.jpg

I recently told her about the new sister she has who also waits for her and prays for us every day, just as the others do. So there is yet another little Dyogi soul – the one I couldn’t deny when I sat teary-eyed watching Heaven is for Real as Colton Burpo hugged his sister who had no name.

20140522-034133.jpg

A million questions run through the heads of family members, friends, and strangers alike about the size of our family. “Aren’t you done yet?! How can you handle them all? Are they all yours? Four?!?!”

If they really want to know, I smile and answer: “I don’t know. By the grace of God. Yes, they’re all mine. And actually…I have eight.”

Some people just don’t understand what it took to bring into the world the children that they see…

Celebrating Papa Joseph

20140320-003319.jpg

Today is the feast of St. Joseph, and I must thank him for being the epitome of everything an earthly husband and father should be. I am also grateful for his intercession because were it not for his prayers, Gary may not have been formed the way that he was after his conversion.

A friend of mine shared this beautiful video of “Joseph’s Lullaby” to Jesus. It really enters into his mind and heart as the foster father of our Savior.
What an amazing privilege it was for him to be chosen, as Our Blessed Mother was, to help raise the Son of God and teach Him everything he knew.

It was not an easy time period to live in for the Jews. They were not completely free, and the cultural and political pressures imposed by the Roman Empire surely took their toll on Joseph and Mary. But they trusted in the Father’s plan and believed in the greater mission of ushering in the kingdom of God for the salvation of all humanity. Heaven was always their focus and not once did they lose sight of it. From the moment they were each aware of His presence within Mary’s womb through the years that they would watch Him grow into adulthood, the King of kings would serve as a daily reminder to His parents that they were meant for greater things than this world had to offer..

Gary and I were talking about how desperate our society has become – hungry for power, material wealth, and self-indulgence. The thought of eternal Paradise was the only thing that kept us from hypothesizing all the despairing possibilities for our children’s future. We have to prepare them, we said. At least they will have each other, as well as the other young ones whose parents are instilling and preserving the values that yield a resilience no one person or government can destroy.

Following the example of Joseph, I watch my husband take the lead as head of our family to guide and protect as best as he can. We are not perfect by any means, but it is a great consolation to know that we can beg for the grace to walk in the footsteps of history’s most courageous husband and wife team. May we fall into the merciful arms of Jesus as we actively engage our children in the Culture of Life. There is much work to be done…saints to be made…truth to be taught. So with the long and narrow road ahead of us, here we go!

St. Joseph and Mama Mary, pray for us!

Enter “Mama Hawk”

Time and again have I heard parents openly express their fears when it comes to raising girls. Fathers half-jokingly declare that the day their daughter brings a boy to the house, they will either be cleaning a shotgun…inviting 20 of their closest friends over for a panel interview…or digging a hole 6 feet deep in the corner of the backyard.

It is inherent in the heart of a daddy to want to protect his little girl. Thoughts projected into the future spark anxiety about the loss of her purity and the possibility of teenage pregnancy. On our visit to the Aquarium of the Pacific last summer, Gary and I complimented a man boldly wearing a shirt that read “D.A.D.D.” (Dads Against Daughters Dating). Yeah, we thought it was pretty cool, too.

Something happened the other day, however, that woke me up to the harsh reality of society’s double standard when it comes to boys. I always knew that many parents did not exercise the same vigilance with their sons. Boys seemed to have more freedom. Certain behaviors were more acceptable among males than females. I’d worked in co-ed schools for most of my teaching career and witnessed these differences first-hand. But never had it struck the depths of my soul until my own child was affected.

A few days ago, I took our four little ones to the playground where some middle school kids happened to be hanging out. My two-year-old son Kali couldn’t keep up with the girls so he circled the play structure, making his way up a side ladder. A young boy of about 12 coached him up and cheered him on as he reached the top. I thanked the boy for his encouragement and watchful eye.

Ten minutes later, this same boy says to Kali, “Hey, tell your mom you learned a new word. #%@!”

Oh no, he didn’t. But, yes, folks…he did. And the junior high teacher in me let him have it. “EXCUSE ME! We do NOT say that word in our house, and YOU shouldn’t either!”

Thank God that Kali was totally oblivious to anything that boy said to him. I was unquestionably angry for a good while, but then I started feeling sorry for him. Who knows what kind of background this kid had with the barrage of negative influences leading him to think that trying to taint the innocence of a toddler would be funny.

All of a sudden, the whole incident became my day’s meditation. Sure, our girls need to be guarded…but so do our little boys. They are introduced to impurity at a much younger age and at a much more aggressive intensity than the girls are. “Locker room humor”, pornography, relationship conquests – all seen as normal in the lives of our men – find their roots in the culture they grew up in as children.

It makes my insides churn.

I always intended to raise all my kids with the same morals, rules, and expectations regardless of their gender. They are taught to love God and to see everything He made as good and beautiful, including their bodies. Other people are to be respected and treated with the dignity they were created with. And anyone who has ever heard Gary and I speak about courtship knows that we will do our very best to help them understand the nature of sacrificial love and all that a lifestyle of chastity entails.

It is our God-given duty to shield them from harm, both physical AND spiritual. To protect the body and neglect the soul would only lead them down a tragic road laden with unnecessary heartache and suffering. But our family will not be enclosed in a “box” completely separated from reality. That’s not the life God calls us to live. Gary and I will decide together how to educate them about the world…about the way that it is and the way God intended it to be.

We want them to be salt and light. We want them to reach out to those in need. We want them to know that they have a great mission only they can fulfill. Their foundation will be the life and example of Jesus Christ…the One who was sent to love those who did not know love…to convict those whose hearts were hungry for the truth…and to forgive those who did not know what they were doing.

So when our children do encounter sin in its different forms, we pray that they will face it the same way Jesus did: with a pure heart formed in the Word of God and fully enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Will they fall? Probably. But hopefully with the faith we are passing on to them, they won’t fall as hard. If they should ever stray, at least they will know that Mother Church will always be here to embrace them with open arms.

‘Tis quite a scary time to take on the challenges of parenting, but if we do our job right, maybe our children will be numbered among the faithful whose courageous witness proclaims to the world that God’s love surpasses any fleeting pleasure…wipes away the shame of sin…and fills us with the hope of eternal life.

May this generation rise up and become the saints they were made to be. And may all my fellow parents embrace the huge responsibility in being models of virtue for their families. AMEN!

+AMDG+

20131207-044542.jpg

The Hidden Life…As I Now Know It

A dear friend of mine is currently discerning religious life. The very fact that she has been spending a good deal of time with the Carmelites of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles has made me reflect back on my own season of vocation discernment over 10 years ago. It was this very same community that I was to join as a candidate until my lupus diagnosis closed the door in March 2003.

20131107-002536.jpg

I had given up a long-term relationship to follow the call of Jesus I heard so clearly the year before. I was ready to sacrifice the treasured time I spent with my family and friends. I wouldn’t be able to come and go as freely as I pleased. And my love for eating out? Now that had to go, too. Examining all the attachments I had and asking God for the will to let them go was an incredibly painful cleansing process, but looking back, it was something I had to do in order to prepare me for the ultimate Plan that He had in store for me.

Interestingly enough, the Lord was also asking me to release my desire to be a Carmelite Sister. The one pursuit I had that required me to let go of all else, I needed to surrender into His hands as well.

Why?

Because instead of becoming a bride of Christ, I would marry the man who would love me as Jesus loves His Church.

Instead of waking up at 5am for Morning Prayer and meditation, I would rise at 3am for early morning feedings and diaper changes.

Instead of wearing the brown Carmelite habit as an outward sign of my commitment to Jesus, I would tote my four little children around everywhere I went speaking volumes to the world of openness to life and trust in God’s providence.

Instead of gathering in community with my fellow Carmelite Sisters, I would find fellowship with other women working to build the kingdom of God as homeschooling moms and Creighton Model Practitioners.

20131107-005231.jpg

Instead of living a vow of chastity through celibacy, I would develop a ministry dedicated to promoting chastity in the single life, courtship, and married life.

Instead of retreating into meditative prayer, I would find His presence in the hustle and bustle of everyday life…and then go on to blog about it.

Instead of basking in the glorious sounds of harmonious melodies resounding from the choir loft, I would drive through freeway traffic with an SUV full of kids crying at all kinds of pitches…each taking turns to fill the silent pauses…with one child bearing the cross of a fever, quietly praying that the ride home would just go faster so they all can get some relief (which happened today, by the way…ironically on our way back from the Sacred Heart Retreat House).

20131107-004748.jpg

THIS IS WHY.

In the summer of 2003, I didn’t understand. Mother Angelica held my hand, looked me in the eyes, and told me to pray. I said to another Poor Clare nun at the Our Lady of the Angels Monastery that all I knew was that I wanted to teach. I didn’t know if God was calling me to be a sister anymore, but I couldn’t see how it was going to happen if I was sick. I knelt in the chapel at the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Plock, begging Jesus to help me believe that there was a purpose for my life. “Iesu, Ufam Tobie” (Jesus, I trust in You) became my mantra for the rest of that pilgrimage to Poland.

Now…I get it.

My heart will always be Carmelite. I will spend the rest of my days seeking Him in the desert, but my contemplation will be on the lives of our Lord and our Blessed Mother as they are revealed to me here – exactly where I am planted. This little flower will give God the glory that is due to Him alone for the amazing blessings He has worked so perfectly in my life.

20131107-005055.jpg

And I glance behind me, not with sadness, but with a smile…because He has been good to me. So very good…

+AMDG+

My Journey to Bethlehem

Well…I’m not REALLY going to Bethlehem.

On July 13, I began the preparation for total consecration to Jesus through Mary using Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book 33 Days to Morning Glory. I made my very first consecration in 2002 and have renewed it repeatedly over the years, but this time I experienced a much deeper connection to our Blessed Mother because now I am both a wife and mother. I have also switched roles with my husband and become the full-time homemaker. And I’m PREGNANT.

I was expecting my re-consecration day (August 15 – the Feast of the Assumption of Mary) to arrive with this monumental epiphany accompanied with profound revelations about the new and ever-growing responsibilities I have taken on. But, no…it was very quiet on God’s end…probably because it was very noisy on my end.

Being a Holy Day of Obligation, we needed to go to Mass – and we did. However, I had to take the kids without Gary because he had already started work at LMU and was going to catch a Mass in LA. So…we were late. Really late. It was the second week he was working, and these were some long hours he was putting in. I don’t adjust to major changes very quickly, so I was tired…overwhelmed…and spent in every which way possible.

The one thing that helped keep me going was my “FIAT”.

No, not the car.

It was the “YES” I had given to God, to my husband, and to my children to accept wholeheartedly the place reserved for me in the home during our kids’ most formative years. This was a big decision and a huge transition for us to make as a family, and it was something I wanted since I was carrying Meleana in my womb six years ago.

But, let me tell you… This is no easy job. I have a belly the size of a basketball, currently starting my 33rd week with baby Jean-Paul. It is now my job to take food orders throughout the day…homeschool our two girls…change Kali’s diapers…wash dishes…cook meals…clean…do laundry…take them all grocery shopping…run errands for the family…and get myself (still with the 3 kiddos) to all my prenatal appointments. Oh, and of course there are days when they’re sick, and I have to clean up “other stuff”.

On top of all that, it’s HOT.

There would be nights when I was so exhausted, I would cry. I missed having Gary here all the time to talk to and help with the kids. He’s been going through his own adjustments with an incredibly rigorous practice schedule and a trying commute, so I tried to hold down the fort as best as I could without too much complaint.

After a while I couldn’t hold the frustration in anymore, and I needed to find balance for the sake of our marriage…our family…and my own sanity.

The consistency of my prayer routine rooted my relationship with God, and it gave me the courage to be honest with my husband about what I needed. Now that we’re both used to the daily grind, it’s a little easier to carve out the time to check in with each other. Gary has been great about sharing the household duties, as time permits, and taking care of a sometimes fussy Kali when I just need a full night’s sleep after a challenging day.

As much of a roller coaster that the last few weeks have been, I have not once regretted the choice we made to do this. It was time.

It’s always an incredible comfort to know that my husband understands what I’m going through (apart from the pregnancy). He devoted five years to these little ones, and they all truly were his priority. Everything I do now, he did, too. So when he comes home from work and I look frazzled, he knows why. On the days when I share our small victories and lessons that the kids are learning, he is also able to appreciate them all right along with me.

So what does this have to do with Bethlehem?

Around this same time in her pregnancy, Mary hopped herself with her growing belly on the back of a donkey and rode some 100+ miles away from home so that her husband would not have to travel alone to his birthplace for the required Roman census. She did not worry about where or when she would give birth. She didn’t even give a second thought to the discomfort she would endure for the last trimester…again, on the back of a DONKEY.

There was no air-conditioned SUV. No restaurants to stop at. No hospitals in case of an emergency. When they arrived at their destination, there wasn’t even a clean, comfortable place for them to stay.

All the while, she knew that the child in her womb had a very special purpose, and whatever God led her and Joseph to do in each and every moment would play an important part in the Plan for her Son.

It was TRUST and OBEDIENCE at their finest.

Although my own journey does not completely mirror that of Mary’s, I am realizing more and more how close she really is to me as I live out God’s will in these days. I am called to faithfully and prayerfully support my husband. I must put my complete trust in the Lord to care for all our needs. If He should summon us out of our comfort zones, I have to obey Him without fear because His plans are always good and perfect. And should I be graced with difficult moments, I will choose to offer them up so that Jesus Christ Incarnate will reveal Himself to each one of my children, as we teach them about His merciful Love and the eternal Truth handed down to us through His Church.

I will reach Bethlehem. And then I will make my way to Nazareth…Galilee…Jerusalem…and Calvary.

When all is said and done, there will be Heaven…and that will be the final reward.

+AMDG+

20130829-020943.jpg

“As for me and my household, we will serve The Lord.” (Joshua 24:15c)