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A Piece of His Heart

“What the Eucharist mean to me” was the theme for an art contest my home parish of St. Mark’s had this past fall. Despite my chances, I decided to enter the contest. I was inspired by the art of Eric Carle. Those with small children will recognize him as the artist and author of the Hungry Caterpillar and many others. I didn’t win, but it was a great exercise in creativity!

A Piece of His Heart, acrylic paint. By Regular Joan, 2020

Looking at my art you will notice that Christ is hanging on a cross above an altar and that a hole is punched out of his chest revealing a red background. Below him on the altar is a chalice with a host suspended above it. The host is in fact the hole that was punched out of Jesus. The cross, corpus, and altar are the silhouettes of those at St. Mark’s in Boise, ID and are positioned similarly.

The title, “A Piece of His Heart” points viewers to the reality that in the Eucharist Jesus gives us the greatest gift, himself, at every Mass. The Eucharist is a piece of Jesus’ heart figuratively and literally! In a word, the sacrament of Holy Communion is about intimacy. Intimacy with Jesus Christ. (See my Mother’s Day at Chuck E. Cheese blog for more on this!)

Intimacy [in-tuh-muh-see] noun

“a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group.”

Intimate friends can be vulnerable with each other. There is such security in being able to trust each other with our dreams and fears, no masks. Jesus shows us his wounds up on that cross, so we know the depth of that profound love. He shares his heart with us, so we can show him ours too.

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

John 15:13

We are the friend he chose to lay his life down for. Although it wounded him to give me that piece, that little piece can fill every hole I have inside of me.

A common Christian principle is that we are “IN the world, but not OF the world.” We see Christ speak of this in John 15:19 “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” Do we seek approval by the world? Do we measure our success by the society’s standards? And if we do, does this lead to happiness or misery? Or do we accept our mission of glorifying God’s name with our lives and becoming rich in what matters to God. The Eucharist is Jesus, IN this world through the grace of the sacrament he established on the night before he died. Here he is mysteriously present in a humble host IN this world, but OF another. Reaching down in friendship to us, being food for the journey. So many times the things that trouble us really do not matter in the big picture, all we need is Jesus and we can have him! The best things in life aren’t things!

In the Garden of Eden there were two trees. The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge. Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and as God warned they perished (not immediately, but eventually). However, to eat fruit from the Tree of Life, one will never perish (Genesis). Jesus is the New Adam. The cross is the Tree of Life and its fruit is the Eucharist(1). Redemption is sweet!

We see in John 6: 54-57 that, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him….the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”

Catholics believe that Christ was speaking literally. This is supported by the reaction of the people. Thousands of people had just witnessed the miraculous feeding of the ten thousand through the multiplication of fish and loaves, yet John 6 continues, “As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

Transubstantiation, it IS hard to understand!

“Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

John 6:60

Many don’t, some do. The apostles accept it. Those that accept it as truth, accept a most incredible gift. The gift of Jesus himself and his friendship known as grace. Jesus is 100% present (double meaning! 100% gift and 100% physically there). However, am I 100% present to receive it? With four kids, Mass can be full of distractions! Is there a correlation between how present I am in Mass and how much I feel Jesus’ Real Presence?

What does it mean if perception and reality do not match? Should we be able to feel that life of Christ within us? Well, ideally, we would. St. Catherine of Siena once snapped at a priest that tried to give her an unconsecrated host as Christ. She would be in communion with him in a most literal way after reception of him going into mystical ecstasies that lasted hours and even included levitation! She could sense the difference between an unconsecrated host and Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist, and felt the priest was trying to trick her! (2)

There are probably many reasons why despite Christ being present we can’t always feel it. We know that sin separates us from God; our sins put up walls between us and God and damages the bond between us. Many cultures outside of the United States you are only encouraged to receive Communion if you have gone to Confession first, otherwise you are seen as an unworthy vessel. Confession isn’t just about forgiveness but healing. Patching up the holes inside of us to create a suitable dwelling for the Lord. We should not conclude that because we cannot sense Him, he is not there.

When a consecrated host is dropped protocol calls for it to be dissolved in water, however this host, grew into living flesh in Poland in 2008.

Eucharistic miracles have captivated me for years. Typically, Christ is wholly present (body, blood, soul, and divinity) under the species of bread/wafer and wine. However, countless times we’ve seen consecrated bread take on supernatural properties. My favorite, are stories like what happened in Sokolka, Poland in 2008 where the host instead of dissolving in water started growing living flesh (3)! The kicker comes when the results of the scientific study come in. The tissue is identified as striated myocardium – literally heart tissue! This particular study of histopathology also included that it was the living heart tissue of a man near death. Click here from more on this story! Is there any other time that Jesus more fully demonstrates the capacity of his love for you than when he hangs on the cross? Of course, it is at that time when he completes his mission of our redemption. That is the piece of his heart he shares with you each week.

Many Catholics, myself included, were shocked to learn in a 2019 PEW Research study that only 31% of American Catholics believe in the True Presence of the Eucharist. Unsurprising, this is not 31% of those that attend weekly. If you don’t believe in the True Presence, there would not be the “pull” to get to Mass! Sadly, of the 69% that believe the bread and wine are symbolic, 43% of them don’t realize that their belief is not accordance with the teaching of the Catholic Church! Plug EWTN and Catholic radio here to fill the knowledge gap! I would also recommend the three 45 minute videos called Presence on Formed (1) (At the end of episode 2 is where I got that the Eucharist is the fruit from the Tree of Life bit from ; )

I hope this blog has fostered your belief in the True Presence. We all feel alone at times. We all feel a hunger for God. When Jesus laid down his life for you, he laid out a banquet as well. Jesus is saving a seat for you at the table. Come, be present, drink deep and know you’ve got a friend to share your heart with.

Congratulations to my daughter Siena on receiving her First Holy Communion! She has a friend in Jesus.
  1. Formed.org, search “Presence” also available through Roku or other TV streaming. If your parish does not offer free Formed membership, it is worth every penny as the caliber of content is high and very diverse through the Augustine Institute.
  2. Catherine of Siena, by Sigrid Undset (I’ve read a lot about the great saint and I’m pretty sure this is the book I found that tidbit in ; )
  3. https://aleteia.org/2017/09/23/the-eucharistic-miracle-of-sokolka-the-host-is-tissue-from-heart-of-a-dying-man/ You can also Google Eucharistic Miracles there are MANY of them. I read a book on them, but the color pictures are where it is at!

Shout My Story: Ferocious Love

The “Shout My Story” campaign was created to give a platform for women to share their life- affirming stories and as a response to the “Shout Your Abortion” campaign. “Shout Your Abortion” sets out to normalize and destigmatize abortion, so women can proudly share their happy abortion experiences. What started as a Facebook post then became a Twitter # and is now a website and book promoted by Oprah Winfrey in July of 2018 by recognizing the movement’s founder Amelia Bonow in the “Inspiration” section of her magazine and website. Amelia’s abortion was in 2014 and that’s where MY story also begins. This is my story.

In 2014, my husband and I decided to run a half marathon. This was challenging, but after already having two girls I really wanted to get my body back in shape before having a third. The race went well. After the race we stopped and got a pregnancy test- I had to know if I could enjoy an adult beverage and the hot tub! I was ecstatic to learn we were expecting again and forgo those trivial rewards! And as this bud grew in my belly so grew my love for him or her.  

Four and half months later, we went in for the big routine 20-week ultrasound scan. We were hoping to hear two things: that we were having a boy and that all looked healthy. Unfortunately, we only got half of what we wanted. Our son’s heart looked small on the left-side and we were referred to see a specialist for a fetal sonogram of the heart known as an ECHO. At 5 months/22weeks, our son was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS). His left ventricle did not properly form, and he would be born with “half a heart,” the most severe survivable congenital heart defect. He would not be able to survive without aggressive surgical intervention. He would have to undergo at least three major reconstructive open-heart surgeries beginning at birth. This was no murmur, no hole. This was major. When I learned about my son’s broken heart, my heart broke too.

We were not given just any baby boy. We were given a heart warrior. Our priest Father Jairo told us God calls people by name and that we needed to name him and start storming heaven on his behalf for a miracle.  We wanted a miracle so bad! We named him Sebastian and call him Ian for short. Sebastian after St. Sebastian, a distinguished soldier under the Roman Emperor Diocletian around 300AD. He showed heroic courage, strength, and perseverance in the face of harsh persecutions. He is also the patron saint of athletes. We knew God would either heal him completely (and he would probably be a great athlete), or he would need to channel those heroic qualities to overcome the challenges ahead. Father Jairo had us start a devotion from his homeland of Colombia to the Divine Child Jesus called Divino Niño.

Why did God lay such a heavy cross on our little baby boy? On us? At the time, I didn’t know the answer. But I found peace knowing that just because I couldn’t see or understand the plan didn’t mean there wasn’t one. God sees the big picture and my faith gave me confidence that if God did not heal our son, he would use this for a greater good. We had four months of agony in the garden. Like Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane as he awaited his passion, his cross, my husband and I also asked the Lord, “to let this cup pass, but not my will be done, but yours.” I recently learned the root of the word passion in this context is acceptance.

God was giving one of life’s greatest gifts and I was resolute to enjoy my pregnancy! After all, he was happy in there with nature’s bypass- an extra blood vessel only the fetal heart has. Sebastian Jairo Naugle arrived right on time in one of the happiest moments of my life. He unbelievably smiled as my husband got to hold him shortly after birth, we have photographic evidence! He is still a happy go lucky kid.  

My First Smile

We took a life-flight from Idaho to California at 4 days old and Ian had his first open heart surgery at 1 week old. During his surgery we went to the old part of the hospital and found a very little chapel. I think the hospital had laundry closets bigger than that chapel. But there were two little kneelers in a corner and two little statues. One statue was very likely older than us of the Sacred heart of Jesus, the other looking brand new was of Divino Niño… our devotion! Jesus was there reminding us, He was there. We gave Him our trust and He gave us his peace. Some babies fly through the surgeries and recovery. Ian did not. He came out of surgery looking very rough. Many tubes and wires keeping him alive.

I was a reflection of my son. As he struggled, I struggled. My baby was blue- literally, and I had the blues. My love for my son was not just tender it was fierce. If he could have survived on my sheer will and prayers he would have. He had so many people praying for him, maybe he did. I tried to comfort him by singing church songs (Catholic) from my childhood like You are Mine and Here I am. The lyrics go, “Do not be afraid I am with you…” “I love you and you are mine,” and “Here I am standing right beside you.” As I tried vainly to comfort Ian, God pierced my heart.  I could feel that ferocious love I had for my son being poured onto me by God my Father. I never felt more intimately His. As I sang those words to Ian, he spoke those same words to me, “Be not afraid, I go before you always, come follow me, and I will give you rest.” These profound moments propelled me forward as there was nothing to do but carry the cross.

Over a spinach salad, I met another heart mom. Her baby girl was fighting too. She wanted me to meet her Josie. I walked into her room and lo and behold she had a statue of Divino Niño! Her aunt from El Salvador had dropped it off the day before! A few days later, on my 33rd birthday, Ian brushed death. As the medical team worked vigorously to get his oxygen numbers up, they were exhausting all options. They eventually “rocked” him by using a terrifying paralyzing agent called Rocuronium. This medication not only paralyzed him, but the small alveoli of the lungs, and his oxygen stabilized. We all took a deep breath with him! His second open-heart surgery was supposed to be months down the road, but it was clear some sort of surgical intervention would be needed soon. His second open-heart surgery was a few days later. The things he will never remember, and I will never forget. Now 33-year-old, Christ’s age at his death, I could feel the weight of the cross as heavy as ever, my birthday was a Friday in Lent. I was laid bare. And as I felt like I had hit rock bottom, I felt close to the Rock, and it was hard, but it was solid. My husband and I clung to each other and clung to the Rock. “No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging,” lyrics from How Can I Keep from Singing were a soundtrack for our life as we constantly kept our eyes on Christ.

Suffering is so much easier to bear when we know that it is finite. My husband and I were buoyed by the fact that this storm would not last forever and there would be brighter days ahead. If God is your co-pilot switch seats! Day after day, we put it all in God’s hands …and we saw His fingerprints! After Ian’s second surgery, our heart warrior was a “flyer.” He got moved from the room closest to all the emergency aids, to a room near the end of the hall, next door to Josie. Josie-the-girl-next-door. We had a blessed assurance that God has a purpose for Ian’s life not his death. We spent weeks working through feeding issues in a step-down unit and discovered Ian had a paralyzed vocal cord as a side effect of when they reconstructed his aorta during heart surgery. The vocal cords are essential to protecting the airway when swallowing liquids. Given babies’ diets are liquid, Ian was required to be tube fed through a g-tube and although I could pump, sadly I was never allowed to nurse him.

Ian’s heart journey was quite a wild ride especially the first 5 months. At four months, he had his third open heart surgery, stage two of his heart repair. Once again, he struggled to recover. He had delirium and his heart was just not quite right. He ended up getting a stent placed in his left pulmonary artery which greatly helped. However, the day after his stent placement, we realized he wasn’t moving the left side of his body and he was blind on the left side of his vision. I was devastated! Through his trials I know God had been telling me to dream in color for our baby boy, but this was not our rainbow! I thought: this changes everything. I thought partially-sighted and handicapped people can’t drive cars, they can’t play baseball, I was teetering on despair for my son’s future, our future. My husband, my champion, my unsung pillar of strength, he told me this changes nothing. Our job is the same. We love our son. Half a heart, hemiplegic, no matter what we just keep loving him!

I went to Mass and the message was, “God will provide for all that you need.” Do I need a fully able-bodied son? I knew the answer was “no.” What did God think? What would He provide? Phrases, “Jesus, I trust in you” [St. Faustina] and “Your will is my paradise” [St. Lucia of Fatima] came to mind as they commonly did between my husband and I as we accepted our sufferings with tears streaming. Inspired by St. Jacinta we put on a brave face and offered up our sufferings like she did. A few days later he showed marked signs of recovery and a week later when he was healthy enough for an MRI. There were no signs of permanent brain damage from a stroke.

There were other twists and turns on the roller coaster, but you get the idea. Ian had his fourth (and hopefully final) open-heart surgery at age 3. The vast majority of Ian’s life he has been pretty normal.  Looking at him you would never guess what he’s been through. We made it through those rocky first years and now have the awesome kid we dreamed of. He recently celebrated his 6th birthday. He is sweet, funny, energetic, and did I mention handsome? That smile he was born with? It’s contagious! He is a light, not just in our lives, but the world! We are so blessed by him. He is even one of the best players on his Kindergarten soccer team! Half a heart, full life!

Ian recently brought home some schoolwork where he had to finish the sentence, “I am special because…” He wrote that he was special because “My mom loves me.” Of course, it melted my heart the sweet little picture he drew and all. If he really knew how I have loved him fiercely! I physically ran a half marathon for him. Then my mind and soul ran an Ultra (Ultras are races longer than 50 miles)! But truly, the reality is that before God knit him in my womb, his soul was born out of the heart of God. God knew him, God loves him. God made him special. And we all are loved with such intensity by God! When you look at him hanging on the cross, do you see how wildly he loves you? If you can see, can you feel it?

This journey though trying has brought many blessings. Like gold tested in fire our marriage and our faith found new strength, new beauty, and new growth. This has manifestly enriched our lives. Inspiration ripples out from our little heart hero who just keeps living life full speed ahead. We have learned so many things! Most especially that every day is a gift. And every life is a gift. We don’t know how many days we’ll get, but we are thankful for each one.  This is my story, but it is also God’s story. As Mother Teresa said, “I am a little pencil in God’s hands. He does the thinking. He does the writing.”

Last year, I read in our local newspaper, a story that sent chills down my spine. It was a story about a woman named Hevan who found out at 5 months pregnant that her son would be born with half a heart (like me). She loved him (like me), and did not want him to suffer (like me), she named him Sebastian (like me). However, she chose to get a late term abortion and had to go out of state to do so (the point of the article, for more read my Let Abortion Break Your Heart blog). I wish she would have trusted God with her story and let her Sebastian have his own story. I know a few things about broken hearts, and I know that every abortion breaks God’s heart. I also know that with God’s ferocious love comes a torrent of mercy for each and every one of us.

Sebast(Ian) today

UPDATE: I submitted my story to ShoutMyStory.org and they chose to feature Ian in one of their videos! Here is the video we made Summer 2021, age 6, you can tell he has a wiggly front tooth!