The latest joy at my 36 week mark is called "irritation of the ribs." Picture breaking a rib during a sudden coughing fit. Then picture a little foot kicking that sore rib for the next three hours. That's the feeling I get from my rib muscles being pulled too tightly from a rapidly growing little body. Nothing serious. Nothing that can harm me or my baby. It's simply an awful experience to endure several times a day.
On Saturday, I pushed my three year old to Starbucks in the new stroller that my sister snagged at a garage sale for my expected baby. (My husband had taken our older kids to a trip to the pool while I ventured outside alone with younger set.) The 110 degree heat index didn't help my mood. However, the combination of heat and a smooth ride lulled my 3 year old to sleep instantly.
I found myself at Starbucks in an unusual moment of solitude. I sipped my ice-coffee. I read the paper. And I grumbled excessively to God about my painful left rib-cage that made it hard for me to sit down.
In the Metro section, I read a story about a couple who have started lobbying Congress for an increase in funding for cancer research after their only child died of bone cancer at the age of nine. I read placidly along, filled with ice-coffee and sympathy and prayers.
Then I reach this sad sentence: "As cradle-Catholics, the [couple] found their belief in God diminished [after their son's death.]"
That sentence hit me in the gut. It's not all about me.
My sore ribs and the frequent heartburn, and the brown circles under my eyes are not all about me. I'm not simply shortening my own time in purgatory here. I'm not simply reliving the ancient curse of Eve to suffer "pain during childbirth." I'm not simply sacrificing a pleasant summer day in order to grow a new human being.
Instead, my pregnancy pain is also a form of redemptive suffering for others.
There are real people who are cut off from the life-giving sacraments of the Catholic Church. Life hurts for them. If there is anything sadder than a seven year old child coming home with a sore arm from tennis camp only to have x-rays show there are four types of rare tumors in his bones, it's having his Mom suffering a worse spiritual death, all alone, her faith in God "diminished."
As children of Mary, we know for certain how much comfort and peace is waiting to be poured into a grieving mother's soul during the Mass, during Adoration, or during a tearful recitation of the rosary.
If I'd happily bring that grieving family a casserole, couldn't I offer up one day of a sore rib in order to reintroduce those same parents to the gentle hugs of Our Blessed Mother?
I'm not very good at enduring pain. I'm not very good at refraining from grumbling. I'm praying this week that I grow one inch bigger in my capacity to offer up redemptive suffering. There are so many poor souls on earth and in purgatory who need our prayers.