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Teachable moments
Both happy and sad times are opportunities to nurture trust and gratitude.

by Jason and Colleen Free

It was a gray and cold afternoon. A typical winter day in New England. Oh, how I wished that it were just an ordinary day. Colleen and I were on our way home from the obstetrician's office, where he had just confirmed our fear that Colleen was having a miscarriage.

I was determined to be strong. To be the man. After all, my wife and three small children needed me. But as we pulled into the driveway, the reality of it hit me. All the anticipation of having another child -- buying bunk beds, painting bedrooms, choosing names -- was suddenly derailed, just like that. Resting my head on the steering wheel, I prayed: "Oh, God, I need you."

Colleen had begun grieving a few days ago, as soon as she suspected what was happening. But I needed the doctor's confirmation before it became real to me. And so now it was her turn to hold me as I expressed my pain. As we entered our home to break the news to our children, the words of our sacred wedding vows echoed in my head: "... in good times and in bad ... in sickness and in health. ..."

Our two older children had been so excited to have a new baby in the family. Colleen cried as she told them that there would be no baby, that the baby was now with Jesus. Maggie's wide blue eyes spoke of her bewilderment at the sight of her mom's tears. She lovingly rubbed Colleen's leg, saying with concern, "It's okay, Mommy, it's okay." Joseph burst into tears and said repeatedly, "But I wanted a new baby."

"Daddy's sad, too," I broke in. "My heart hurts. Daddy and Mommy wanted this baby, too." In their innocence, the kids easily understood this kind of language. They looked from me to Colleen, as if to see how we would deal with this issue. As a family, we cried and hugged one another. Even our youngest, John Paul, climbed onto Colleen's lap -- letting us know that he wanted to be a part of it.

Then we did the most important thing -- we prayed. Together we offered up our pain and this baby to God. Everybody had a chance to say something. We named the baby Mary Rose, and explained to the kids that because she was now with God, they could talk to her, and ask her to pray for them. We wanted to show them that even though we didn't understand why God took Mary Rose, we still trusted Him, and cried out to Him as the Source of our consolation.

Our time of grieving wasn't a planned, neat, or predictable lesson. We are slowly learning that when life takes us on an unexpected detour, we have to seize that chance to teach our children how to integrate their faith into whatever comes their way. Life is full of "teachable moments" like this. All we have to do is pay attention.

One lesson that we need to be continually reminded of, and that we need to model daily for our children, is the command of Colossians 3:15, "And be thankful."

A few weeks after the miscarriage, Colleen and I registered for a First Aid/CPR course. It was something we had wanted to do for years, especially after we had children. I also thought that it would be fun for us to get out of the house and do something different. We both needed a change in our routine.

But, when the training video showed a paramedic performing CPR on a young child, my heart skipped a beat. I couldn't help but think of my own children. What would I do if I ever had to perform CPR on one of them? Why have I taken their lives for granted so much? These questions raced through my mind.

Upon returning home, I rushed into my children's bedrooms to find them peacefully asleep. I fell to my knees and began to thank the Lord for blessing me with this beautiful family.

I watched my innocent baby boy breathe rhythmically in his crib. Brushing back his blond hair, I marveled at how much he had grown. Joseph lay outstretched in a pile of books. I need to take more time to read with him, I thought to myself. Maggie slept with a big smile on her face. When I stooped down to hug her, my right ear picked up the beating of her heart. I listened, and thought back to the evening's CPR class. Oh, God, thank you for her beating heart. What a gift life is!

The next morning Maggie jubilantly called everybody to the kitchen to see the colorful display I had put out the night before. Paper cutout hearts filled the room. Each member of the family had a heart with his or her name written in the middle. The heart in the very center of the display had the sacred name of Jesus inscribed on it. It was St. Valentine's Day.

Maggie was beside herself. Her excitement was like that of Christmas morning. Frustrated with waiting for us to gather, she burst into our room and said, "C'mon, Mom, come and see! It's Thanksgiving Day!" Her innocent error in holidays brought us a chuckle.

I opened the Bible to say my morning prayers and turned to Colossians 3:15. "And be thankful" jumped off the page. That was all I needed to read. My reflection from last night was still fresh in my mind.

I quickly jumped up to find my little girl. "Happy Thanksgiving Day!" I shouted as I approached her.

"Honey," I said, as I bent down to her eye level, "you are so right -- it is Thanksgiving Day. Do you know what I'm thankful for?"

Her wide blue eyes looked into mine. "What, Daddy? Tell me."

"I'm thankful to God for you. You're a gift from God -- do you know that? I'm so happy that you're alive, that your heart is beating. I love being your dad. I'm so thankful I can get Maggie hugs today. And I'm happy we can be a family for another day. I'm thankful for so many things!"

"Me too," she replied.

Maggie's "Thanksgiving Day" lesson solidified the absolute necessity of practicing gratitude daily, especially in the ordinariness of life -- when pouring a bowl of Cheerios, changing a messy diaper, tying a shoelace in double knots, or simply reading the same Dr. Seuss book for the fifth time.

In our role as parents of three young children, Colleen and I have learned that they play a role in raising us. They remind us of the simple things, of the things that really matter. Together, as a family, we share teachable moments and grow in trust and gratitude for the Lord's mercy.

Jason and Colleen Free have been involved in ministry together since their marriage in 1993. They are raising their three children in Lee, MA.

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