In God’s kindness, the hope, joy and love of Easter arrived early to our family this year. We welcomed a little morning star – Mariah Grace Mimoni – into our arms on March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of Our Lord. Mariah was born in the wee hours of the morning, safely in the quiet intimacy of our home.
For me, Mariah’s soft, chubby cheeks and teeny tiny hands are an incarnational reminder of what trusting God with every fear looks like. To me she is an enfleshment of the Angel Gabriel’s exhortation to Mary, “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:30). I cannot stop staring into her bright face with a heart full of warmth, gratitude and heightened trust.
The reasons are manifold and involve many miraculous details related to her gestation and birth. These nine months were dominated by the principle concern to protect her which, many times, seemed to be against all odds. This was especially the case with the backdrop of a pandemic.
News headlines read that pregnant women who contracted Covid in pregnancy were more likely to give birth prematurely to low-birth-weight babies, along with other potential complications. That’s if the mother herself could survive the illness. Add to these unusually daunting concerns that our last pre-pandemic baby was low-birth-weight.
I contracted Covid in September, at the height of Covid fears about the Delta variant – when Mariah was only 13 weeks gestation. In all honesty, this was a very uncertain and difficult time. I was afraid.
In difficult times, when I feel weak and helpless I cling to this Scripture passage:
“‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 9-10).
My faith gave me the strength to carry on, while still experiencing a yo-yo-like daily existence. In Alberta, one week we were “open for summer” with the promise of no more mandates, and the next we were faced with our harshest mandates, including the restriction exemption program, QR Code and national and international travel restrictions to name a few. These outward signs pointed to an inward reality within the hearts of many Canadians: fear. This fear has had very real-world consequences including loss of hope and trust in the future. According to Statistics Canada there has been a decline in Canada’s birth rate during the pandemic.
All glory and praise be to our God, I am happy to share a different story – one of faith and trust, even if it’s imperfect with shaky knees. Mariah was not born preterm, as the headlines warned. She was actually five days overdue. Neither was she underweight. In fact, she recorded the biggest birth weight of her five older siblings – 8lbs 11oz.
Call me and my husband fools for Christ, daring to bring another baby into this broken world. But, with the Holy Spirit as our guide, we’ve faced our fears head-on, trusting that God has a good plan for our lives (Jer 29:11). We believe, if we give God our childlike “yes”, He will work out the details. Mariah’s life testifies to these fine-tuned details. And her life emboldens us concerning the certainty that He will continue to do so, no matter what those trembling knees caution sometimes.
We had the “perfect nuclear family – a boy and a girl” and then we kept being open to new life to the surprise of family and friends. God has gifted us with a son, three daughters, a miscarried baby and then two more daughters.
I was an only child for seven years before my brother, and then sister, came along. My husband is the middle child of three. Raising a bigger-than-average family is new territory for us, and we certainly don’t have all the answers.
A question we get asked is: How do you do it? I can tell you, whatever we have managed to accomplish, it’s by the grace of God. By grace, we have been able to hold fast to the belief that we are not called to be successful in the eyes of the world, but rather faithful to God’s call to grow in love. And family life is rich in opportunities to sacrifice and put others before oneself. It has been so beautiful to watch Mariah’s siblings jockey for a chance to change her diaper, burp her, hold her, talk to her, rock her to sleep. The school of family life is not something you can pay someone to take lessons to learn. It is a gift freely given. It’s where The Potter moulds our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh (Ezek 36:26).
Being open to life is a spiritual discipline. I’ve thrown out the saying, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” and replaced it with “Indeed, God has given me more than I can handle, so that I can more easily place my trust in Him, instead of myself, my plans, my wants, my needs.”
When we’ve been worried about how we are going to pay our next bill, we cut back our expenses, or someone will drop by with a bag of clothes, or ask if I’d consider providing before and after school care. When I’ve been ill with morning sickness, I’ve scaled back my expectations and aimed to just cover the basics. Would I like to be sipping a pina colada on a tropical island, of course, but these childbearing years are ones I won’t be able to get back. The island vacation can wait.
My prayer was that Mariah’s arrival would bring hope and healing, and that intention is being answered each day. New life has the potential to bring out the best in humanity.
The isolation and distancing of relationships in the Covid-restricted fall and winter has been replaced with community, connection and support in the spring. Leading up to Mariah’s birth, friends gathered in person and over the phone to pray with me. Every day for three weeks family and friends dropped off a meal at our house to help with the transition of becoming a family of eight. Our parents braved the airports to come visit and meet their new granddaughter. We celebrated the Easter Triduum in person this year with a three-week-old Mariah in tow, because we simply could not take our freedom to worship and freely assemble for granted.
If there is one thing Covid has taught me, it’s to have gratitude for the present moment. We can’t change the past nor control the future; all we have is now. And children – babies in particular – help tremendously to focus our attention on the here and now.
This Easter season I’m excited to build into our family anew. I’m excited to live in the moment as we faithfully fumble forward finding our footing, forming new routines, forging new relationships and experiences.
In these days of celebration we look to our Annunciation baby to inspire Marian devotion and faith. “Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’” (Luke 1:38).
The question I kept pondering during my pregnancy was: what would happen if I placed my trust in God? In His kindness the answer was the gift of Mariah. This Easter season I invite you to join me in continuing to ponder this question, especially when new fears and doubts arise.
Jesus, I trust in You.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers