Shaun usually takes off Good Friday and unfortunately this year he announced on Wednesday that had to work. We talked about it and decided if at all possible, in future years we could do all we could to make it a family day together and that way Ava and Clara would be able to see from a very young age that this day was different than any other and we would remember that we treated it as such. I expected him to be gone for the day, but yesterday he told me when he arrived home that he found a way to take it off and I was delighted as this was a surprise.
It was a quiet day at home and the plans that we had to finish a few things we needed to do at this house and the other fell by the wayside as we enjoyed the time together as a family. We attempted to put Ava down for her usual morning nap (she still takes 2 most days... but don't hate me, as she's weaning of the 2nd soon I think) and for some reason she fought it like crazy today. Not with screaming or crying, though... that's not usually her way. I laughed to Shaun later that we could never use her crib as a "punishment" because she loves her crib. She laid in there singing and talking (with us checking in from time to time and trying to rock her/sing her to sleep) for a good two-two and half hours. Eventually I gave in as she'd now been up there longer than her normal "nap time" and I figured if she was going to sleep, she would have. She came downstairs and kept me company in the kitchen until it was time to go to the 3pm Chaplet of Mercy/Veneration of the Cross at our parish. As she's been quite noisy and active in church lately, we expected a nightmare on this solemn day due to an overtired 1 1/2 year old (sorry parish family!).
Upon pulling into the parking lot she pointed to the church and excitedly exclaimed "Je-ji!!!" (her nickname for Jesus). I was planning on singing for much of the service and had asked my Mom if she'd join us, in case we needed an extra set of hands. As soon as we entered the church, Ava was delighted to see "Nana". I headed over to practice a bit with the organist, Clara awake and humming away in my arms. Ava yelled "Mama-mama-mama" all the way to the pew. I looked up while practicing to see our pastor talking to Shaun. I soon realized he was asking him to do the readings. I wondered how this was going to work as he'd be up in front doing the readings and I'd be in the back of the church singing the psalm and responsorial acclaimation and couldn't help but think... well... who was going to watch the babies if he was reading and I was singing??? I knew my plan of having two adults and two sets of hands was changing at that moment, but couldn't do anything now, so I'd just roll with the punches.
Upon arriving in my seat, my usually sleeping infant was wide awake and very hungry (I think she's going through a growth spurt... for all those of you who have nursed, you know what that means in regards to how much she's nursing) I tried to discreetly nurse her without flashing the parish and hoped she'd finish and go to sleep by the time I had to head back to sing. Ava was busy crawling under the pew over and over as she liked to pop up on the other side. I tried to breathe and pray knowing I couldn't grab her if I needed to as I had an infant attached to my breast and was essentially glued to my spot. I tried to fight back the urge to say something to the two adults sitting beside me along the lines of "A little help here???" Deep breath... keep praying... feel better.
The time came for me to sing and as I walked back to the rear of the church and Shaun headed up to do the readings I could hear the voice of my firstborn nervously exclaiming "Mama? Mama? Mama? MA-MA???" over and over from her enclosure in the vestibule of the church (my Mom had taken her for a walk). I could also hear her opening the doors in order to try and get to where I was. I knew she was in good hands, though and while rocking Clara in my arms, sang "Father into your hands I commend my Spirit". I thought of the trust Jesus had in His Father and the very real image of my own little girls and the level of trust and dependance on me came sharply into contact with each other. I listened with pride to Shaun's voice as he read beautifully and was moved that I would recieve the word of God through my husband's lips this year. It seemed the readings sunk in even more deeply than if it had been anyone else proclaiming them.
I am so happy that our parish is pretty "laid back" about my singing and allows me to return to sit with my family in between. It would be impossible if I had to be apart from them throughout the entire Mass and this way I can still offer my gifts. We also talked on the way home about how I hoped that our children would be more likely to "get involved" and not be afraid to use their gifts, having witnessed their parents do so from a young age.
I carried a sleeping Clara up to venerate the cross and placed her hand on it and Miss Ava who had fought her nap so hard, finally had given in to it by this time and was out in her father's arms. It seemed that her skipping it had become a blessing in disguise. I headed back to sing "Were you there" and returned afterwards to sit beside my husband, who now had tears in his eyes. Shaun has always loved my voice and has given me the genuine encouragement I need to continue to offer it.
Upon recieving communion I again walked to the back of the church and began to sing the song I honestly believe my voice was made for as it is the one that began my singing (a story for another day) and the one I tease that my husband fell in love with me over. It's the strangest thing, but still now every time I sing it, I feel almost surprised when I open my mouth and the sound falls out... I still can't believe it's me making that noise! I sang each verse of "O Holy Mary" and Ava was now awake and looking for me. Shaun walked her towards the back of the church in an attempt to find a quiet place for her and just before he walked into the vestibule, she broke away from him and found her way to me. He knew he couldn't catch her and carry her away without screams of protest breaking the silence of the church, so he let her go and we both hoped she wouldn't shout "mama-mama-mama!!!" into the microphone.
She stood beneath me looking up and then turned and leaned into my legs with her back so I could stroke her face while I sang. I knew the song by heart, so I put the book down and placed one hand on the face of my oldest, while rocking Clara in my other arm and tried with every fiber to contain my emotion as I sang about Our Lady. "...with joy beyond all measure, she cared for God's own Son, and pondered in her heart, the new age now begun..." Each verse took on new meaning as I thought of the love of Our Blessed Mother, now from my own heart as a mother.
Then came the verse that I always struggle to proclaim without my voice cracking, "Exquisite was your sorrow, unequalled was the loss... you suffered when your Son... was raised upon the cross... O Holy Dwelling place of God, O Holy temple of the Word, O Holy Mary... Holy Mother of God..."
Upon finishing the song I quietly made my way to my husband's side with both of my babes. I pondered the gift I'd been given this Good Friday to see the love a mother has for her children and the strong bond between them.
I thought of my own children and all I would do to protect them from anyone trying to harm them.
I thought of how deeply I wanted them to grow to love Jesus and to know his deep love for them.
I thought of the hopes and dreams I had for their future which was so bright and open and full of possibilities and purpose. ...and then I considered Our Lady.
I thought of the love she had for her Son.
This same love I had for my own children...
The same desire to protect Him and hope for him and dream of what would become of Him...
...I thought of how deep the bond was between them...
...and I pictured her at the foot of the cross.
When the service was over I told Ava it was time to say goodbye to Jesus and she quickly walked right up to where the cross was laid in the front of the church, bent down and kissed him right on his face. Tears welled in my eyes. There, behind the cross was a magnificent statue of Jesus laid in the tomb right at the level she could see and reach, placed directly in front of the altar. She put her finger in his bloody hands, in then in his side and looked up at me wondering... but what do you say to a one year old to explain? Then she caressed his hair and stretching on her tippy toes kissed him again right on his face. I fought back tears. I knew we had to go, and tried to encourage her repeatedly "Ava, we have to go", but she sat down beside him with her hand on him and refused to leave. Immediately I thought of Mary Magdelene and her childlike faith and love of Our Lord that made it so difficult to part from Him. I almost wanted to let her stay as long as she liked. I eventually bent down whispered to her, "He loves you SO much, Ava" and finally she came with us, but not before blowing three more pronounced kisses in his direction.
When we were driving home, Shaun and I were talking and I asked him if he ever thought all those years when he would watch me sing "O Holy Mary" if he ever imagined I would be his wife singing it with his babies in my arms? Later I thought about it again and realized that even if Shaun didn't imagine it and I had no idea... Jesus did see it. He saw into the future and He knew that if we were open to his will for us we would see this day when I would sing that same song but with my arms full of our children. It's something to think about and how none of us see the future clearly or what God has planned for us. I didn't, Shaun couldn't and neither could Our Lady, but if we walk forward open to and embracing his plan for our lives ...even when the cross comes... he will fill our lives with far more than we could ever imagine. Our Lady stood suffering at the foot of the cross and her suffering was real and it was great... she didn't see that when she said her "fiat" BUT on Sunday we will remember what came after the suffering... and He saw that too.
I thought of how so often we think it's US who are supposed to teach the lessons in life to our children... but I think it's many times the other way around. I thanked God that today, it was my children who were instrumental in bringing these lessons and reflections home to me. How I pray that I will love Him in the same way Ava does, without consideration for time or convenience, or who is watching. Without thought to what it will "cost" me or how it will "change" me or what others will "think of me". She doesn't care about any of the things we worry about as adults. She doesn't think of any of these things...
She just loves her "Je-ji"