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God’s Will

12 Jan
Will

William (“Will”) Kurczak

This beautiful story was submitted by Christie Kurczak of Fort Leavenworth.

We had not planned on any new pregnancies after our fourth daughter was born because of complications that I had during her delivery, but God had other plans for us.

In December 2013, just after my husband left for a deployment (we’re a military family), I discovered that I was pregnant with our fifth child. It was a very scary pregnancy from the beginning, with my husband Steve being in the Middle East, and I was having some complications. I continually prayed to God for His Will.

This surely wasn’t my plan. Things didn’t feel “right” from the start. I was struggling to keep up with the four girls by myself. I didn’t know what else to do, but place my trust in Him. I didn’t know where to begin in my prayer . . . For the baby’s health? For my health? For both? It somehow seemed easier to just pray “thy will be done” and “please take care of my girls and husband along the way.”

In March 2014, I was 19 weeks along in the pregnancy when my water broke. I rushed to the hospital and learned that I could expect to lose the baby within a week. The baby was too young to survive outside the womb. There was nothing they could do. I was told that within the next few days one of two things would happen: Either I would go into labor and the baby would deliver, or because of the lack of the amniotic sack I would acquire an infection that would take the lives of both the baby and me. If the second possibility occurred, they would be forced to deliver the baby right away to save me, and the baby would be too young to survive.

My husband returned to the States on emergency leave, and I was sent home from the hospital with strict instructions to return at any sign of labor or infection. And we waited.

At this time I was introduced to St. Gianna Molla. I learned about this modern-day saint’s courage, her faith, and the miracle that confirmed the cause for her canonization.

The miracle involved a mother whose water had broken, and whose doctors were encouraging an abortion. This too was an option that was presented to me when my water broke. We lived in Washington State then, and abortions are legal there up to 24 weeks gestation. (Of course the doctors learned very quickly from me that in no way was that an option.) We began to pray to St. Gianna for her intercession, for God’s will to unfold, and for peace in our hearts with whatever was to come. We had no idea just what was in store.

I was on bedrest at our home for two weeks before I began to have some light bleeding and went to the hospital. I was admitted right away and told that I would remain “in house” as we waited for the baby to come. I was 21 weeks along now, and still being told that the baby wouldn’t have a chance at survival. If we happened to make it to 24 weeks, then NICU would become involved in our care, and they would do what they could. But I was told many times, “You’ll never make it that far.”

Upon admission to the hospital, and further examination, our road became more complicated. The doctors discovered that not only was there no longer sufficient amniotic fluid for the baby to develop necessary lung strength, but the placenta supporting the pregnancy was growing out of control. It had attached itself not only into the lining of the uterus, but had embedded into the uterine wall and muscle, and they suspected that it had grown through the uterine wall and into my abdominal cavity.

Now not only was our baby at risk, but my life was in danger as well. As the placenta grows, it is looking for a blood source to support the baby, and it will attach to whatever it finds. Usually the placenta is delivered shortly after the birth of the baby. But if it has attached to other internal organs, it will not release and will just continue to bleed. In a matter of minutes the mother can hemorrhage and lose her life. This became our predicament. The longer I could manage to hold onto the pregnancy, the better our baby’s chance of survival. But the further the pregnancy went, the greater the chance that my “rogue” placenta was taking over my abdominal cavity and I could bleed out during delivery before the doctors could do anything about it.

So we sat. We waited. We prayed. I continued to pray for God’s Will for our family and for our sweet baby. We had been told we were having another girl, and we had named the child Mary Louise Gianna for our Holy Mother, for St. Louise de Marillac (I loved the name Louise and her feast day of March 15 also happened to be the day my water broke), and of course for St. Gianna, who had quickly become so special to us. Time marched on.

I sat in that hospital room for eight more weeks. It was a miracle, really. There was no medical explanation as to why one of those initial two scenarios had not played out. Everyone was baffled and on edge. Steve began to refer to me as the little IED (improvised explosive device) in room 305 ready to “explode.” The medical staff suspected that when the time finally came to deliver, I might massively hemorrhage before they could get me safely to an operating room.

The goal was trying to wait as long as possible, to give “Mary Louise” the best chance, while at the same time balancing a decision to schedule delivery so that a C-section could be performed in as controlled an environment as possible–that is what would give me the best chance at survival.  After 10 weeks of waiting, and watching, and praying, and missing so many things that were happening in my daughters’ lives outside those hospital walls, at 29 weeks gestation, the time came.

My body went into labor once earlier that week and we were able to slow it. But on May 21st, it became obvious that the time had come to deliver. A scheduled C-section was planned for the next morning in a nice controlled environment (as the docs had wished). But yet again, God’s plans were different. At around 5:00 p.m., labor became almost unbearable, and as the doctors decided to examine me one final time before going home to get a good night’s rest for the surgery the next morning, they found that the cord had prolapsed, and the baby was getting ready to deliver right there. Game on, as they say, and I was rushed to the OR.

I woke up about six hours later in ICU to my husband and my mom telling me how well I had done, and that I was going to be okay. I had received a massive blood transfusion (6 units of red blood cells and 8 units of plasma), but the doctors were able to stabilize me. Unfortunately, the only way to remove the placenta and stop the bleeding was to perform a complete hysterectomy. We knew this was a possibility, but I’d hoped that once they got in there, maybe things wouldn’t be as bad as they had feared.  As it turned out, the placenta had grown through the uterus and was touching the bladder, but had not done any other damage to my internal organs, praise God.

My only concern at this point was the baby, of course. I kept asking how she was, and at first Steve would say nothing about her, so I began to fear that the worst had happened. Though we had held onto hope through all of this that the baby would survive, without amniotic fluid for so long, the chances where very high that her lungs would be severely underdeveloped, and that she wouldn’t have a fighting chance. I knew this, but how I had wanted to be able to see her before she was gone.

Finally Steve blurted out, “The baby is fighting. The baby is really sick, but is fighting.” Then he hesitated a bit and said, “But . . . it’s a boy!” A BOY!!!

I could hardly believe it. God is full of surprises, isn’t He?! Steve shared that he’d had an emergency Baptism performed because things were not looking good . . . especially in those first hours. While I was sad to have not been able to witness my son’s Baptism, I was relieved at the same time. Steve knew how important that would be to me if something had happened and he hadn’t made it through that first night.

Steve named our son William James Robert after my dad, his own middle name, and his grandfather. We’d never discussed boys’ names with any seriousness because we never thought we’d have a son. We called him Will, as often as we called him William. Steve couldn’t have chosen a better name for him. He had a will like no other. His will to live had proven doctors wrong since that moment at19 weeks gestation when my water broke, and the fight he showed from the moment he was born was incredibly inspiring.

We had good moments of hope and improvement with Will, and moments of despair as he would take a turn for the worse. We sat vigil at his bedside for the better part of just over two weeks. There were laughter and tears. All of Will’s sisters got to come and visit and meet him. They read books and sang songs to him. They told him about God and about their friends. He knew only love.

On one particularly difficult afternoon, as I sat next to his isolette in the NICU, I continued to pray that same prayer I had spoken countless times since first learning of my pregnancy. “I don’t understand your ways, Lord. And I don’t know where we are going from here. But I trust in you. I’m praying for Your Will, Lord . . .” And in that moment it hit me like a ton of bricks and took my breath away. All that time I had been praying for God’s Will. God’s WILL!

As I had prayed for God’s plans to unfold in our lives, in the same way I had been praying for my son by name. His mercies never end!  Our son was God’s Will long before he was ours, but I have been forever blessed and changed that I am able to be his momma, though I had him but a short time here on this Earth.

For 18 days our son fought for his life before his body became so tired and worn that he could fight no more. In the early hours of the morning on June 8th, Pentecost Sunday, Will went to be with our Lord.  (That also happens to be the feast day of St. William of York.)  William’s life in this world was brief, but he touched more lives, and accomplished more for the Kingdom of God in that time than many adults could ever dream of. His story brought awareness to the sanctity of life at all stages to people, and in a place where it is sadly undervalued. He inspired people to return to the Lord, or to a new, deeper faith through the miracles that God worked throughout his short life. Will’s story continues to spread a message of hope and faith and trust in the Lord that is far-reaching, as those who were closest to us and forever changed by him have gone on to touch and bless others.

We had to leave Washington only six short weeks after Will’s funeral because of a planned military move. It was extremely difficult to leave that place where we have all of our memories with him, and to leave all of the people who supported, cared for, and loved us throughout that time in our lives–not to mention to come to a place where only one or two people knew anything about him or the trauma we had all been through.

It has only been 18 months since Will left this world, and it is still very fresh and raw at times. I try my best to trust the Holy Spirit as He moves and to share little tidbits when He prompts, to show restraint with sharing sometimes when He’s asking me to, and to be completely open and vulnerable when the Spirit moves me to as well, though sometimes it is harder than others.

Right now I am filled with gratitude at being given a chance to share my son and his story again.  I find peace in knowing that Will fulfilled God’s purpose for him in this world. And I believe with my whole heart that the ripple of love and trust that flows from his story will roll on forever. When I make it to heaven someday (God willing), I can’t wait to put my arms around my sweet William once again. And when I meet the Lord face to face, my question to him will not be “Why did that have to happen?” but rather I will say, “Please show me. Show me all of the good and wonderful things that came from our William’s short life.” I know that it will be far-reaching, and I can’t wait for this heavenly reunion. Until then, I hang on to that trust in our awesome, merciful God.

IMG_8555 (2)This is a photo of Christie Kurczak’s daughters taken at a garden dedication this past summer. With the help of the Knights of Columbus, the family planted a garden bed at the chapel on post dedicated to “Unborn babies with a Will to Live, and the Little Ones Already in Heaven.” It is their hope and prayer that it will be a place of healing for others who have lost children to miscarriage, stillbirth, or early infant loss, as well as a place to pray for those children at risk of abortion.  

The “Becket” List

29 Dec

St. Thomas BecketI’m sure many readers have heard of The Bucket List. It’s the movie in which characters played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman have terminal cancer. They decide to make the most of their remaining time by composing a “bucket list” of things they wanted to do before they die.

And then the adventures began!

A few years ago I started a similar tradition. During the last week of the year—when I can’t put it off any longer–I compose a “Becket list.” This list in named in honor of St. Thomas Becket, the 12th-century archbishop and martyr whose feast the Church celebrates each year on December 29th. The Becket list, part serious and part whimsical, contains things I would like to do before the end of the year.

Without further ado (after all, I gotta get busy!), here’s my end-of-2015 list:

(1) Recall all the blessings of 2015.

(2) Do all the things I put off till the Christmas holiday, when presumably I would “have more time.”

(3) Remember those who left us this year. This not only includes beloved celebrities like Cardinal Francis George, Leonard Nimoy, and Yogi Berra, but also friends and family members who passed away in 2015. I especially remember my sister Dottie. May they all rest in peace, as we put our trust in the Lord’s abundant mercy this year and always.

(4) Set goals and make resolutions for 2016. It’s good that we use the calendar as a motive to challenge ourselves to grow. High on the list is truly taking to heart the Archbishop’s invitation to participate more deeply in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy this coming year.

(5) Finally figure out how to operate the Wii and Xbox 360 before we’re forced to upgrade to Wii U and Xbox 1. I’ll probably always be an upgrade or two behind, to the chagrin of my sons.

(6) Lose ten pounds (five “old” pounds and the five put on over Christmas). I hope the treadmill still works.

(7) Perform intentional acts of kindness. After all, performing “random” acts of kindness leaves too much to chance.

(8) Clean my office! Both of them! If you’ve seen either one, no further explanation is needed.

(9) Tax stuff. Sure, the IRS gives us extra time for some things, but I like to have my “ducks” lined up. And surely this includes end-of-the-year donations to Catholic apostolates and charities!

(10) Playoffs? Playoffs! Of course I have to make plans to watch the playoff run of the Kansas City Chiefs! If I had gotten another puppy for Christmas, I would have named him Tamba, or possibly Dontari or Colquitt. Maybe next year.

What’s on your Becket list?

This article appeared in the December 25, 2015 edition of The Leaven.

What About the Tree?

26 Dec

Christmas treeFor many people, Christmas ends on Christmas day, so over the ensuing few days, amidst the various after-Christmas sales, the trees are unceremoniously taken down and dragged out to the curb.

But for those of us who do have a sense of Christmas extending beyond December 25th, the question still remains: When does Christmas season actually end? When should we take down not only our tree, but also other seasonal items such as nativity sets?

Traditionally, Christmas season is twelve days (like the song), which would take us to January 6th, the traditional date for celebrating the Epiphany, when the wise men brought gifts to the child Jesus. Now Epiphany is only approximately 12 days after Christmas, as in the United States it is celebrated on the second Sunday after Christmas. This year, for example, the second Sunday after Christmas falls on January 3rd.

But while Epiphany is an important feast within the context of the Christmas season, it doesn’t bring about the end of the Christmas season. The Christmas season ends on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, at which point “Ordinary Time” begins. The Sunday after the Baptism of the Lord is thus the second Sunday of Ordinary Time.

The Baptism of the Lord usually falls on the Sunday after Epiphany, which this year will be January 10th.

Lastly, prior to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the Christmas season extended all the way to February 2nd, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord (aka Purification of Our Lady or Candlemas), based on Luke 2:22-38. While that is no longer the case, there is still something of a Christmas “flavor” to the early weeks of Ordinary Time leading up to the Presentation of the Lord.

But what does all that have to do with taking down my tree? And besides, if I wait too long to take it down, the garbage trucks won’t take it!

Well, rest assured there are no “rules” on all this. My recommendation, based on the liturgical season, is to keep Christmas decorations up till the Baptism of the Lord (January 11th). If that seems a little extreme for your household, I’d counsel at least waiting till after Epiphany (January 4th). That’s especially true for Nativity sets that include the three wise men.

And after all, why cut short “the most wonderful time of the year”?

Christmas Proclamation

24 Dec

nativityThe Twenty-fifth Day of December,

when ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world,

when God in the beginning created heaven and earth, and formed man in his own likeness;

when century upon century had passed since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood, as a sign of covenant and peace;

in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith, came out of Ur of the Chaldees;

in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses in the Exodus from Egypt;

around the thousandth year since David was anointed King;

in the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel;

in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;

in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome;

in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace,

JESUS CHRIST, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and when nine months had passed since his conception, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man:

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

Christmas Eve

23 Dec

When you think about it, doesn’t “Christmas Eve” sound like an apt title for the Blessed Virgin Mary? After all, as the Fathers of the Church taught, she is the “New Eve,” the mother of all who are alive in Christ (cf. Gen. 3:20; Rev. 12:17).

As Christmas day rapidly approaches, I thought our readers would appreciate a snippet of a sermon by St. Augustine, which is the reading for tomorrow’s Office of Readings (matins) in the Church’s liturgy:

“Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man. . . .

“Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.”

Come Lord Jesus, do not delay; give new courage to Your people who trust in Your love. By Your coming, raise us to the joy of Your kingdom, where You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Roots of the Messiah

17 Dec

December 17th marks a turning point in the Advent season. We are now unmistakably in the home stretch. As we heard at Mass last Sunday, “the Lord is near”–Christmas is just around the corner.

December 17th also marks the beginning of the “O Antiphons” in Evening Prayer, which draw on some biblical titles of our Lord and Messiah. Today’s “O Antiphon” theme is Wisdom: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, You govern all creation with Your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

A more literal translation (since we’re into new translations, right?) might be: “O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.” Check out this chart giving the biblical roots for each of the O Antiphons.

On December 17th, the Gospel readings at Mass undergo a significant shift. Instead of hearing about John the Baptist, we are now delving into the infancy narratives from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Today we start at the beginning, with the genealogy of Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham, found in the opening verses of St. Matthew’s Gospel.

There is much more to this genealogy than meets the eye. Continue reading

What the Tilma “Said”

12 Dec

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We are all familiar with the events that occurred on this date in 1531 just outside of Mexico City. Our Lady not only appeared to St. Juan Diego and gave him roses that ordinarily don’t bloom that time of year, but also there appeared on St. Juan’s cloak, or “tilma,” the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  

The news of the miracle spread like wildfire. Within two weeks, the tilma was moved to the first of a succession of chapels, churches, and eventually basilicas constructed at the apparition site.

There were three points of great significance to the Indian people:

(1) The lady was Indian, spoke Nahuatl, and appeared to an Indian (Juan Diego), not a Spaniard. The oppressed Indian peoples could relate to her.

(2) The lady appeared, of all places, at Tepeyac, the reputed home of Tonantzin, the mother God. The Indians understood this as meaning that this lady—the Virgin Mary—was the mother of the one, true God. The Native Americans clearly saw that Christianity was to replace the Aztec religion. Even the golden filigree over Our Lady’s rose-colored gown matches the topography of the Mexican lands once ruled by the Aztecs.

(3) The Indians were especially drawn to the image on the tilma itself, which represented God’s sacrificial love for mankind. This image was a welcome change for those who worshipped deities that required human sacrifice. Continue reading