Being thankful for all of life’s unexpected gifts

It is almost as if God sent this child named Sophia (meaning wisdom) to teach each one of us a separate lesson. For me, the lesson has been profound. Sophia is teaching me how to live, as if for the first time.

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A few weeks ago, a friend and I were chatting and catching up on the last few years, which had taken her all over the world. During this conversation, she casually remarked, “I thank God for all of the unexpected gifts.” She has not had an easy life, so I instantly knew what she meant. She was referring to the joys and blessings in her life, which are the fruit of enormous challenges.

With that comment, I immediately thought of one of the biggest unexpected gifts in my own life. Her name is Sophia and she will be a year old next month. She, too, is the fruit of an enormous challenge.

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I first learned about her when my beloved son, who at that time was a captain in the United States Marine Corps, told my husband and I that he had gotten a girl pregnant. Total shock. There is simply no way to prepare for news like this. The situation was complicated by the fact that he was on the brink of leaving for his second tour of duty, this time in Iraq, only to return a few weeks before the baby was due.

As a woman of faith, I am embarrassed to admit that upon hearing this news, fear overcame me. My mantra for the next nine months was, “Jesus, I trust in you.” I would utter those words over and over, but in truth, there was no trust in my heart because the fear was paralyzing. I was afraid that my son might not come home and that he may never know his child. Likewise, I was afraid that his child might never know him. I was also afraid for the beautiful young woman who would go through this pregnancy alone. Believe me, fear is a total lack of trust in God, and it is miserable.

Even though I have had a wonderful life, I have missed most of it. Somewhere along the way, I chose to live life at a breakneck speed and in doing so, I had simply stopped living.

It seemed like an eternity, but those nine agonizing months finally passed and on November 16, 2015, Sophia was born. Thanks to her mom who took such good care of herself, Sophia was a healthy full-term baby, beautiful in every way. To my great surprise, the fear and anxiety, which had haunted me through the entire pregnancy, vanished immediately upon news of her birth. The cloud that had engulfed me for nine long months was suddenly lifted. I was a grandmother!

Today we are all living in the same city and I am so grateful for this unexpected gift. Sophia is deeply loved, but it is interesting to me that we all love her differently. It is almost as if God sent this child named Sophia (meaning wisdom) to teach each one of us a separate lesson. For me, the lesson has been profound. Sophia is teaching me how to live, as if for the first time.

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Even though I have had a wonderful life, I have missed most of it. Somewhere along the way, I chose to live life at a breakneck speed and in doing so, I had simply stopped living. In spite of the fact that I have a wonderful husband, two incredible children, amazing siblings and friends, as well as a job that I dearly loved, I was taking it all for granted.

I never took the time to smell the roses because I was always on to something else. There was always a new project and a new deadline. New places to go and new people to meet. I will be forever thankful that with the birth of Sophia that lifestyle came to a screeching halt. I just could not do it anymore, as my worldview completely changed.

She is slowly teaching me that even though life is messy, unconditional love overcomes absolutely everything, and that life is meant to be lived.

This year, I have marveled over her first smile, her first tooth, her first word, her first step. I delight over the fact that when I take her to the park to play on the swings, she would rather stare at a blade of grass. I am not sure if I ever stared at a blade of grass.

I buy her a toy and she plays with the box. She makes silly faces during serious dinner conversation. She forgets to use her inside voice. She likes sushi. Sophia is indeed completely unconventional and I love her for that. She is slowly teaching me that even though life is messy, unconditional love overcomes absolutely everything, and that life is meant to be lived.

By far, my favorite time with Sophia is when I get to rock her to sleep, not because she is going to sleep, but because she lays her head and her little clenched fists on my chest in complete abandonment and total peace. It is her way of showing me what trust looks like. After all these years, I am finally paying attention.

Yes, I thank God for unexpected gifts. They are the best kind. Jesus, I trust in you!

Terry Polakovic
Terry Polakovic

Terry Polakovic is the now retired co-founder of Endow (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women), a Catholic educational program for women. A former president and executive director of the group, Terry was awarded the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (“For the Church and Pontiff”), a special award from then-Pope Benedict XVI given for exceptional service to the Church. In 2011, the Catholic Leadership Institute honored Terry as an “Outstanding Catholic Leader.”

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