It’s been said that creation is God’s first missionary. From personal experience, I know my own heart experiences a new conversion each time I give birth. As soon as I hold my baby in my arms for the first time, I find myself staring at this tiny bundle of perfection and I have a whole new appreciation for the phrase “child of God.” This baby is not my own. I could not do this alone. She’s part of God’s creation – a tiny masterpiece with his love written on her heart.
My babies have all been perfectly formed (thanks be to God!), but how would I feel if one of my children did not turn out “perfect” as humans define the word? What if she had a disfigurement or a congenital anomaly? Would I still be as aware of God’s mighty work, or would I question him?
I hope I’d be like my friend, fellow mom and writer Cathy Adamkiewicz who recognizes that sometimes ten perfect fingers and toes means squat when it comes God’s creation and a child’s ability to bring others to Christ.
In Cathy’s poignant book Broken and Blessed, a memoir of sorts, she tells the story of her “beautiful child, perfectly planned by God, and the work she was to accomplish.” Her baby Celeste was born with a heart defect and only lived four short months before returning to her Father’s care.
Broken and Blessed is about many things: grief, trusting God, knowing when it’s time to let go, the meaning of suffering, a mother’s undying love for her child, but one of the most beautiful themes that stood out to me was how this tiny baby truly was a missionary. She preached with her life and taught others about human diginity and the meaning of suffering.
“A person is a person no matter how small.” These are the famous words of Dr. Seuss’s Horton, who could be called a pro-life elephant since he recognizes life even when we can’t see it.
Similarly, a person is also a person no matter how sick or how much they suffer. “Our value is not in our doing, but in our being,” writes Cathy.
Although Cathy deals with many compassionate healthcare providers throughout her and Celeste’s ordeal, there is one doctor who seemed to be blind to the dignity that is inherent in every single human being – no matter how weak or small, no matter if the only thing they “do” is silently suffer surrounded by a maze of medical tubes. The medical community often talks about quality of life, but Cathy points out that all life has quality. We are all important. Celeste’s life was heartbreakingly brief, but it was still meaningful. And important. Very important, in fact. For this little baby was responsible for at least one conversion. A woman who had been away from the church for 11 years returned home after watching Celeste’s brave dad faithfully return his daughter to God.
“[Celeste’s] suffering was worth it if even one soul comes to Christ because of her,” Cathy writes.
Would I have that much faith and hope wrapped up into my suffering? I hope so. Honestly, as a mom I can’t imagine enduring what Cathy went through, but there’s another mom who can: Our Blessed Mother. Throughout the book, you can see that Cathy’s devotion to Mary is a source of strength.
Just as Mary stood helplessly by and watched her only son endure horrific agonies, Cathy could not do anything to save her baby. She couldn’t even hold her baby much. She ached to nurse her baby girl, to dress her in frilly dresses, and to just rock her – all these mommy moments we often take for granted. Yet, although she certainly questioned, “Why?” and uttered many prayers on behalf of her hurting baby, Cathy, like Mary, recognized that God had called Celeste from the moment of conception to do his work.
Cathy writes, “Each of us here is a reflection of God, a unique person with a mission from Him, a vessel of His grace.”
Mary accepted God’s will for her and her son. Cathy did the same, even when she did not understand, even when she was angry (and she admits that she most certainly did feel angry at times).
She’s able to take her pain and her daughter’s and not leave it broken like the jagged pieces of shattered glass, but together and whole – a reflection of unwavering faith and hope in the redemptive power of suffering. She’s able to say, “Jesus, I trust in you,” during the most trying moment of her life – a sign of true faith.
At one point, Cathy imagines a conversation between Christ and her daughter. She writes,
“Like me, you will be a sign of contradiction. You will be innocent and pure, but you will live a life of pain. It will be hard for some to understand, but the eyes of many will be opened by my grace, and I will use you to bring many souls to my heart. When you return to me, we will never again be separated. I choose you, Celeste. Are you ready to go?”
Celeste Marie means “heavenly Mary.” What a fitting name, for this tiny baby who says, “Yes.”
Cathy, thank you for your tremendous faith. Thank you for being a model of faith to all moms who have had to helplessly watch a child die. Thank you for sharing the story of one of the world’s tiniest missionaries and the mom who loved her child and her God enough to trust them both and to let them do their important work.