Just for Catholics - Testimonies

Underneath the Everlasting Arms

By Jean Curtis

I was one of eight children born to Roman Catholic parents. As far back as I can remember, religion was very important in our home. My Mom made sure that we followed the rules of the Catholic faith including infant baptism, first Holy Communion, confirmation and confession.

My Dad was a hard worker when he was sober. Sometimes I’d hear my Mom talking to a relative saying that many times my Dad's wages were seized because of unpaid debts. I didn't fully understand what that was all about until I was older. When Dad wasn’t drinking you couldn’t ask for a nicer Dad. But when he got into the booze it was a very scary time for our family.

We lived in fear of my Dad when he was drunk. Many times the town Police Officer would be called to our home because Mom was terrified of what my father would do under the influence of alcohol. Nothing was done to my Dad. The Police Officer would talk to him and try to get him to settle down and the Officer would leave. For some reason we grew up believing that this was normal in certain families.

I married at 18 and left the area where I was born and raised. My husband was from a large family as well. His mother died leaving seven children behind. The baby was under a year old and the oldest was two years short of being a teenager. His Dad tried his best to raise the children on his own.

When my husband and I met, little did we realize where our dysfunctional lives would take us. We had five children of our own. It was the unexpected pregnancy of our fifth child that changed the course of our lives forever.

I didn't want any more babies. Four was about all that I could handle. To my dismay I discovered I was expecting another child; for some reason I was filled with a fear I had never experienced with any of the other pregnancies. I had always felt my healthiest when I was pregnant, but not this time. A fifth baby on the way should not have turned into the tail spin it did. This fear had nothing to do with having another baby to care for. It seemed to be directed at the actual delivery of this baby.

Emotionally I was a wreck. I couldn't understand what was happening. I felt so alone in my fear. I was a woman, and women had babies; it was a normal fact of life. What was there to be afraid of? I'd already had four normal pregnancies and deliveries, but for some reason, this time, I was overcome with fear.

I remember having thoughts like, ‘When I deliver this baby I will either die in the delivery room, or if I survive, I would be sent to a psychiatric hospital because I would have gone out of my mind during the delivery.’ Where were these thoughts coming from, and why? What was happening to me?

One time I did open up, sharing this fear with my Mom (she had given birth to eight babies). Her answer was, ‘Women have babies all the time, we were made to have babies.’ I never again spoke about my fears to anyone else.

In order that no-one would see what a coward I was, I would wait until my husband was away at work, the older children at school, and younger ones down for a nap, then I would cry and cry till no more tears would come. This was my daily routine throughout the duration of my pregnancy. When I had to leave the house to do errands, on the outside I was smiling but on the inside I was crying.

Whenever I tried to rest throughout the day or go to bed at the end of the day, it was as if the room would turn into the hospital delivery room. The doctors in that room looked so cold and unfeeling in their gowns and masks, and the room appeared even colder.

One night my husband went to bed before me. He had to get up early in the morning to go to work and I was dreading the thought of having to go to bed and go through that experience of the room turning into the delivery room. I couldn't confide in anyone how I was feeling, not even my husband. Nobody would understand. I couldn't even understand it myself. I finally did go to bed and again the room (in my mind) began to change from a bedroom to a delivery room.

My husband and I were devout Catholics. We went to Mass every Sunday and holy days; abstained from meat on Fridays; brought up our children in the Catholic faith and were obedient to the teachings of the Church. The only Bible I saw was the one at church. We never owned a Bible when we were growing up. I didn't have one in my own home either. It was just the book the priest read from during the Mass.

We knew about God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but God was in heaven and we were down here on earth. Not only that. God had bigger problems to deal with like wars and famines; He didn't have time to deal with the problems of one little woman who was afraid to have a baby.

That night as I was lying in bed and the fear was beginning to mount, I began to pray the rosary as I had been accustomed. That was the only way I knew how to pray. I didn't dare go directly to God because I was a sinner, and God, from what I understood, ‘hated sinners.’ I had also been taught that Mary was not a sinner and she would plead our case to God because she was His mother. He would listen to her and do whatever she asked of Him on our behalf. As I was praying, the fear was escalating and I was praying like a drowning man going down for the third and last time. Out of desperation I cried, ‘God help me’.

Suddenly I was aware of arms holding me. At first I thought my husband had wakened and that he had noticed my distress and was comforting me. When I looked my husband was still asleep.

At that moment I felt like a small child being cradled in the arms of a loving parent and held close to his heart. In those arms I felt so safe. It was as though a huge weight had been pressing down on me for such a long time and now it was gone. In those arms I experienced the peace that passed all understanding. I didn't want to fall asleep. I didn’t want those arms to stop holding me.

Eventually sleep did come. When I woke up in the morning to get my husband off to work and the children up for school, I was so busy I didn't have time to reflect on anything except the tasks before me. Once things quieted down, I became aware that I was whistling a happy tune while clearing away breakfast. I hadn't felt joyful in months. I was still pregnant but something had definitely changed. The fear that had once held me in its grip was still present, but now it didn't take over my life or control me. Bit by bit, and piece by piece, I found myself remembering the arms that had held me with so much love and compassion.

I could think rationally again, whereas before fear ruled over my thought life. I had to see my family doctor a few days later. When I asked him what my chances were of having a short labor, he told me that this baby was bigger than my other babies. My last baby was nearly nine pounds. I should have felt quite fearful over this news, but I didn’t. Was I concerned, yes; was I frightened, no. Two weeks before the baby was due to arrive the doctor told me the baby still hadn't turned and that if it didn't turn before my due date they would have to do a Caesarean.

A week later the baby still hadn't turned, so I was scheduled for surgery. I was relieved that I wouldn't have to deal with what was going to happen in the delivery room. The big day arrived. After the surgery and the safe arrival of our beautiful little daughter, the doctor came to see me in my hospital room. Still a bit groggy from the effects of the anesthetic, I asked him what the baby weighed. His answer was six pounds three ounces. My first thought was that she had been far tinier than all my other babies. But the doctor began to tell me what they discovered during the Caesarean.

It wasn't until they did the surgery that they found a huge fibroid tumour blocking the birth canal. The doctor went on to say they missed cutting into the tumour by a fraction and that my baby could not have been born the normal way.

All through the pregnancy my fear had been directed at the actual delivery. It was never about my not wanting the baby once a baby was on the way. It was about getting the baby into the world safely and whether I would be able to look after the other children with my faculties intact.

My thoughts went back to that night early in my pregnancy when I had cried out to God. Something happened that night that set me on a path to find the One whose arms had held me.

I always had head knowledge of God as a devout Catholic. I had learned about God when I was growing up but He was distant and uncaring, somebody who punished me whenever I messed up…and I was always messing up.

The arms that held me that night were not the arms of an uncaring and punishing God. These were the arms of a loving God.

As I look back over that time I see all the ways God moved in my life. He guided me gently to a place where one day the light of the glorious Gospel of Jesus, and what His life, death and resurrection was really about, would take root in my heart and bring forth fruit. He saved me, my husband, our children, and people who saw the changes in us and wanted to know the secret to our joy.

I accepted Jesus as my Saviour and asked Him to be Lord of my life. My life has never been the same. Has it been free of problems? No, but now I have a relationship with my Helper, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I could take my problems to Him every day and know that He would always be with me. He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we could ask or think according to the power that works in us. That power had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with God and what happened at Calvary two thousand years ago.

For a long time, when I heard about Jesus' crucifixion, I didn't understand what His dying on a cross had to do with me. I wasn't even around when it happened. When I began to read the Bible, I came to understand that Jesus' life, death, crucifixion, and resurrection had everything to do with me. It was because of my sins -- past, present, and future -- that Jesus went to the cross. Nobody took His life. He willingly gave it so that I would be reconciled to God the Father. He  died on that cross in my place; He rose from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, and because of that sin, we were separated from God. We need a mediator between God and us. That mediator is Jesus. There was and is no other way to come to the Father but through the Son. I'm so thankful to God that I am finally able to understand why Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, and gave Himself as a sacrifice for sin. He’s the living God. He saved me. He can save you too if you come to Him by faith.