My kids had been watching the Veggie Tales DVD “Mo and the Big Exit,” and my four-year old asked a question. I turned to the book of Exodus and began to read aloud: “Doesn’t that sound familiar?” I asked, linking the bible verses to the show. But very quickly, she lost interest and I found myself reading on.
Moses, hearing the voice of the LORD from the burning bush, said to him, “When I go to the children of Israel and say to them,
‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’
if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?”
God replied, “I am who am.”
Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the children of Israel:
I AM sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:13-14).’
I pondered that for a bit.
Not “I was.” Not “I will be.” Not “I am doing.”
About 12 weeks ago, I suffered an infection that damaged my vestibular nerve. It caused vertigo, coordination problems and difficulty concentrating. For a time, I could no longer walk. I could not drive. I could no longer do most of the things I was used to doing.
As a stay-at-home mom, I was still at home. But my husband now had the duties of caring for the kids and the household. I wasn’t cooking, cleaning or doing the shopping. I wasn’t dressing the girls or helping with homework. I wasn’t grocery shopping or shuttling the kids where they needed to go.
As person who helped in ministry, I was also suddenly unable. My slot as lector and adoration guardian were given to subs. I had to stop meeting with my prayer groups. I finally had to admit I wasn’t going to be able to help with Vacation Bible School (VBS). My heart still hurts over that one. I really love VBS.
And generally, as a person of prayer who wants to worship, I was quite unable. For a few Sundays, I received the Eucharist at home through a homebound ministry. Then my husband brought me in the wheelchair. It was some time before I could physically participate. It is very hard to remain seated when everyone else is standing.
But I was disheartened to find myself unable to participate mentally. I found it difficult to catch on to the readings, learn the tune of the Psalm or concentrate on the prayers. My head was very unclear for visiting the tabernacle, on the now rare opportunities I could get a ride there. Praying in structured ways, like the Rosary, was difficult because I kept forgetting where I was. And praying in unstructured ways was also difficult. I couldn’t think of anything to say.
It hurt very much that so many of the places I found solace and purpose were now stressful. All of the things I felt I needed to do, I couldn’t do anymore. And I felt like I was a very poor wife, mother and Christian.
So often in the secular world, we are reduced to what we do. When you meet someone, you ask, “What do you do?” And then in your mind you associate them with their name and their job. You think of that person who “is” a teacher or who “is” a nurse or who “is” an accountant. You know that’s not all there is to them, but we mortals tend to look at the outside.
Norine used to be the stay-at-home-mom who was rarely home because she was driving her children back and forth from schools and appointments and also spent an amount of time at church that was either admirable or ridiculous depending on whom you ask. Now I was none of these.
“I am stripped, Lord,” I told Him. “I cannot find my value in any of my previous work.”
And so, as I read the Lord define Himself in Exodus as “I am,” I felt the Lord tugging me to stop defining myself as “I do.”
I have heard from beloved priests and ministers again and again that our definitions lie in nothing except our relationship to God. “You are the beloved daughter of the Father,” they said.
The Father Himself told me this profoundly after a very powerful confession about 18 months ago. He told me, “Do not take for your identity your failings. But do not take as your identity your gifts either. In Heaven, there will be no need to evangelize or teach. Everyone will know. There will be no need to heal; everyone will be healed. Do not define yourself as intercessor. In the end, everyone will have me directly. Your definition is solely my beloved daughter.”
“Yes,” I nodded in agreement with my head. But in my heart, there were apparently some places that said, “La, la, la…not listening!”
Nowhere did I realize how much my heart wasn’t listening as when so many things were taken away by illness.
I felt very out of sorts now that I lost my jobs. It was frustrating not to be able to go back to the way things were. Did my family still love me and need me if I couldn’t do my “jobs” as wife and mother? Did God still love me if sitting at Mass meant my head wasn’t there? Did my Rosary count if I kept forgetting where I was?
“You are stripping me, Lord,” I told Him. “I don’t help my family. I don’t go to the chapel to pray. I cannot pray at home either. I do not minister. I can’t hold good conversations. You’re stripping me. I cannot take pride here or find my identity here any longer.”
And the Lord opened my eyes to see how much of an attachment I had to “doing.” As a person who once did much, I cared more for performance and productivity than God did. But as a person capable of little, I was still His beloved.
I considered in a very tangible way how those who produce little in society are no less valuable, whether that is the baby or the aged or the infirm. As society sometimes pushes to do away with them by abortion or euthanasia, I had a clear understanding that value isn’t solely in doing.
Unable to pray, worship or work as I wanted, the Lord showed me the only title I can cling to is “Beloved Daughter.” He doesn’t define Himself as “I do” and I found out I can’t either.
God does not see as a mortal, who sees the appearance. The Lord looks into the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).