I play music for the Mass Saturday evenings at my parish. We’re small enough that some nights, it’s just me at a piano cantoring for the Psalm and leading the hymns. The piano in our sanctuary is off to the side and facing the altar, so it’s almost like I can disappear, which is nice. I don’t feel like it’s the “Jon Show”, if you know what I mean. I’m a congregant with all the other congregants. I just happen to be behind a piano.
But tonight was a little more special for me because my son, Isaac, who is five years old, wanted to come with me. He helped me put the numbers for the hymns up on the board. He danced a bit to the songs I practiced on my instrument in the music director’s room in the back and sang when he knew the words. And he sat next to me, quietly, as I played during the Mass, doing all the right genuflections and crossing of himself he was supposed to do – stuff he’s learned at Catholic school (and maybe from us, too).
I listened to his small, gentle voice which reflects so perfectly his calm, gentle demeanor, and I started choking up. I started crying, which isn’t good when you’re trying to sing. I had to consciously push his voice out of my head and focus on the singing. But the dam burst, and after that, I had to really not think about it.
The “it” that I needed to not think about wasn’t him, though. I mean, it was him – partly him. It was just… all of it. The responsorial Psalm we sang was all about how God is our Shepherd and leads us into green pastures and beside still waters, and I can’t tell you how long I’ve wanted to believe that. Two years ago, my wife was on the verge of committing suicide. Our children weren’t living with us for awhile – and when they were, it was, at most, half the week, because I couldn’t hold down a job and parent for the two of us at the same time. I tried to be optimistic, but deep inside, I wasn’t holding my breath. Three years ago, we were living in a two-bedroom, cockroach-infested apartment, trying to make it work with three kids under four, and doing a horrible job of it, even though it was our best effort. I didn’t feel like I was anywhere near quiet waters. These weren’t the verdant pastures the Psalmist speaks of. I didn’t know what was going to happen. Winston Churchill said, “If you’re walking through Hell, keep walking.” That’s what we did. Just put one foot in front of the other, but we were drowning.
But then everything changed, almost miraculously. My wife courageously fought her demons and grew by leaps and bounds, with help from a mix of therapy, meds, and a really good priest. Our kids came back with us full-time. We moved far away from where I work, which means I have a long commute, but it’s also far enough that we can actually afford to live in a real house with a real lawn and nice neighbors. We’re even able to send our kids to an amazing Catholic school – all three of them – where they come home and proceed to school me on how to be Catholic. We have a prayer table now because my oldest son, Jack, came home and said we needed one, and it’s been a spiritually enriching addition to the home. I could not have imagined this kind of life being at all a possibility. I didn’t even pray for some of these things because they seemed so far-fetched.
I thought tonight about all the anxious thoughts I have on a daily basis, almost like emotional reflexes. I thought about how much I complain, even now. But my family is together. My children are learning about the Catholic faith not only from me and my wife, but from the sisters and teachers at their school. We have this home that’s not so big we can all retreat from each other and not so small that we’re in each other’s business 24/7. And it took a three-year wilderness to get here. But God found us a place with quiet streams and green pastures. And to boot, my son who, at five years old, ought to be about as excited about Mass as he is about watching paint dry, wanted to be with me tonight to worship God. As though God hadn’t given me enough.
I know that these moments don’t last. I know not to put my faith in a circumstance. Life could fall apart just as quickly as it’s come together. But for the first time in a long time, I’m not just faking optimism. I think of Psalm 126:1: “When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we thought we were dreaming.” But the dream is real.
I know writing this, there are a lot of people who aren’t “living the dream.” And I’m incredibly wary of the whole “prosperity Gospel” thing going around. But when God does something in your life – hands you a gift you didn’t earn and didn’t even think you were capable of getting – you have to write a blog post about it with a big “thank you” sticker for Jesus.
On a different note, I’m working on a book now expanding on the characters I wrote about in the last three posts, which means, I won’t continue that story on this blog. The last post was pretty depressing – it won’t end there. But for whoever follows this blog, I’ll keep you posted about when you can get the book on Amazon or what not. I’m hoping to at least get it done by the end of summer. And if you feel like it, pray for me about it.