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"Are you happy?" by Nicole Johnson (CatholicMom.com) Pixabay (2016), CC0 Public Domain[/caption] “Are you happy?” he asked. “Yes,” I answered, overcome by this man’s selfless interest in the feelings of a complete stranger at a time that was clearly a defining moment in his life and that of his family. He kindly persisted, “Everything is ok?” “Yes,” I responded, “everything is good.” “Ah, yes,” he said, with a gentle and sincere smile. Then he continued, “My son, he received a new heart today.” Frantically searching for an appropriate response to the proclamation of what was nothing less than a miracle, I simply replied, “Congratulations, I’m so happy for you. We will pray for him.” “Yes, thank you,” he responded, with a joy and relief that seemed to seep out of every pore in his body. He then turned and left, leaving me and my husband with the gift of perspective that always seems to come at the most unexpected times. It was well over a year ago now, but this chance encounter is one that will always stick with me. My husband and I were in one of the many waiting rooms at Boston Children’s Hospital. We had just met with our son’s orthopedic surgeon and were told the surgery to rebuild his torn ACL had gone without issue. In fact, his surgeon happily referred to the repair as “textbook” and was relieved to report there had been no collateral damage to the meniscus. It was, for all intents and purposes, an A-plus report. Our son was in recovery and we were told we would be able to see him soon. We made our way back to the waiting room and took our seats. Just a few moments later, a young mother and father walked in and this beautiful scene played out before us. Without speaking a word, the father walked straight over to another man who had been waiting and was immediately wrapped in a hug, silent tears streaming down both of their faces. I can still remember the loud smacks on one another’s backs: a more intimate, yet masculine high-five of sorts; a release of nerves that had been kept under control for hours on end. I glanced over to the young mother and was taken aback by her guarded, more stoic response. It was as if she had been afraid for so long, she had forgotten how to feel otherwise. I knew nothing of the situation as I watched the congratulatory hugs being exchanged, yet it was impossible not to be affected by the intense emotions that filled the room. As the family members gathered their things, I caught eyes with the father and it was then that he asked if we too were happy. It was the most simple, yet deeply selfless gift for him to even notice our presence, never mind allow his own joy to be somehow buoyed by the response he heard from me -- a stranger on the outskirts of his reality. This man’s son had received a new heart. Our son had received a new tendon in his knee. I often wonder how it came to be that we would have even been in the same waiting room. I’m grateful we were however, as there is much to be gleaned from the extravagant generosity of this man’s heart.

“Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Sam 16:7

In the midst of Lent, this unique glimpse into one man’s life has brought new clarity to what my Lenten goals should be: that of a new heart, a heart somehow changed, transformed, refined, rewired, and renewed, softened perhaps -- all with the goal of being what God needs and wants it to be. I wish it were as quick and easy as placing an order on Amazon, something I’ve become entirely too skilled at. My cart would quickly be filled with all sorts of attributes regarding the new and improved heart I would order up.

More gratitude for each new day, even when it begins at 4 AM because my daughter can’t sleep.

More joy for the moments when the monotony of life (time to make school lunches again?) wants to rob me of fully absorbing the present moment.

More patience when my oldest forgets his breakfast (again), my middle guys misses the bus by seconds (again), and my youngest insists on singing a full chorus of her favorite song on each and every step down to the door.

More understanding and empathy when faced with the teenage angst that faces me behind the eyes of my sweet child.

More generosity of spirit. Less of me, more of others.

More hope when fear takes hold and my thoughts threaten to go down the road of worst possible scenarios.

More trust. More trust. More trust.

Much like the physical shape of my heart dictates the movement, function, and overall health of my body, after 42 years of continually forgetting (or perhaps denying) this simple truth, it is the strength of my faith and my relationship with God that truly dictates the ebb and flow, highs and lows, of my days, weeks and years. When my faith is not the center, I am walking around with the effects of a clogged artery; my soul is not getting the nourishment it needs to be fully functional. When I put God first however, in all things, life is comparable to the euphoric beat of a heart that just completed a marathon. The concept seems so simple and clear, yet it is often unbelievably difficult to get the rhythm of my heart in line with that of my Creator. For months after my son’s surgery, he went to physical therapy to rebuild the muscle in his knee. It was painful for him at first but after time, the new strength in the muscle replaced the pain. When therapy ended and he was left to his own devices to continue his strengthening exercises, it was difficult for him to dedicate time to what he knew he needed to do. I am the same with the exercise of prayer -- quiet, daily, centering prayer. I fight it like my daughter fights bedtime. It is so much easier to be busy, to get “things” done and to insist there will be time for prayer later. Of course, “later” never seems to come and, left to my own devices to run this life of mine, I inevitably find myself floundering, stressed, and anxious. I do wonder just how many cycles of this 40-day preparation it will take for me to get this lesson to stick. I guess, in the end, that is the human side of me. I am, and always will be, imperfect. The gift, however, is that the One who is perfect in all things -- in His timing, His will, and His love -- is ready and waiting to take over, if, and when, I am ready to let Him. I often picture God looking down at His children, running around and “taking care of business,” messing up time and again, insistent that we don’t need His help. I can just see him shaking His head, wanting to grab hold of us, look us deep in the eyes and ask, “Are you happy?”
Copyright 2018 Nicole Johnson