Freedom of Separation

When I had my second child, I went back to hospital work (36-hour duties every 3 days included) when she was around 4 months old. By the grace of God (and, thankfully, hyperactive milk ducts) I was able to stock up more than a week’s worth of breast milk in the freezer by the time I had to report back for duty. I would then pump at work, and replenish her frozen stash. She always consumed more than I could pump in a day, but thankfully, the roughly 10 days worth of milk that we started with afforded us a comfortable margin until I stopped breastfeeding at 6 months (it gets hard to squeeze in a pumping session with a full house ICU).

I was so proud of my month-or-so of hard work, I actually took a picture. *blush*

With my third, even if I didn’t have to go back to work right away, I still regularly pumped some milk for freezing, partly to afford me some flexibility when going out, and partly, I suppose, out of habit. When my number of frozen bags were reaching a week’s worth again, it hit me: what was I saving up for?

So when a friend consulted in behalf of a household member whose milk supply seemed to be on the low, I asked if she would like me to send some of my surplus her way. Of course, she willingly obliged. And I won’t lie, giving felt good. For nursing mothers who have to work hard for it, breast milk is nothing short of liquid gold, and I felt like a rich man with a generous heart.

But wouldn’t you know it, after I gave that ~30oz of milk away, my baby went into an apparent growth spurt (read as: always hungry) as my own supply, for one reason or another, began to dwindle. At around the same time, I needed to take a medication that was known to pass through to breast milk, so baby further created a dent on our frozen stores. It never really reached a point that my stocks were depleted, but the difficulty of keeping up with the daily deficit was enough to make me nervous, insecure (the negative side of being used to a freezer full of milk).

What? The freezer’s only HALF full? What if that’s not enough?!

It was during this time that another friend asked for help: a common friend of ours had just given birth to preterm twins, and badly needed some milk to supplement her still inadequate supply. I was about to say that this was the worst possible time to ask me as my own supply had been unreliable as of late, when I stopped myself. It wasn’t as if my baby would go hungry–I knew I was just attached to my liquid gold, or rather, the idea of having plenty of it. And so I gave, from the less that I had, to the babies who needed more.

This time, it hurt (a tiny pinch) to give. I was no longer the rich man with plenty, but I cannot deny that in the end, giving still felt good. And it got even better when I realized, on reflection, that these opportunities for milk-giving were little lessons on how letting go affords generosity.

A few weeks ago, while visiting a mentor-physician at her clinic, I overheard a breast cancer patient talking with the doctor’s secretary about how she had just given birth at the tail end of her chemotherapy course. The baby, as it turned out, was still at neonatal intensive care, and was foreseen to stay there for at least another 2 weeks. As their conversation drew on, I eavesdropped (guilty as charged) that she was still waiting for clearance from her doctor if she could breastfeed, whether it was safe in light of her recent chemo. My heart pounding, and before I could change my mind, I blurted out, “Excuse me, do you need breast milk? I can afford to give you some.”

No, my freezer was not full. But I’d like to think my heart was.

Call me a sap (pun intended), but this story makes me cry EVERY time.

We hear a lot about detachment from worldly things as a necessary part of the path to holiness. But as we look at the way we live our lives, the priorities we set for ourselves, how much have we really valued temperance, discipline? Just look at how the “rules” for fasting have been loosened over the years. In a world that continues to invent ways to make life easier, we’ve come to undervalue the worth of self-denial, and have instead raised the banner of self-love.

But, I digress. Sacrifice is a beautiful call to holiness and discipleship, but the point I wish to make is how detachment from worldly goods serves another purpose: making us available, able and ready, to give even from the little that we have to those who need it more than we do.

Stop, think and reflect for a moment. What things are you attached to? Your possessions, your lifestyle, your career (and the many things you have to do for it)? Now, think of how much you have given to those in need, to those who ask, and even to those who don’t. What keeps you from giving? Or perhaps a more appropriate question would be, what hinders you from giving more? Have we really reached a level of such hardship and poverty that giving today will affect how many meals you will eat tomorrow? Are we willing to let go a little bit of that luxury fund, or our savings-for-a-rainy-day, just so we can be a blessing to someone in need?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. – Matthew 5:3

The more we are detached from this world, the more, I pray, we are attached to Christ. And the more we are attached to Christ, the more our eyes are opened to the people around us who need us to be Christ to them.

I pray we all be granted the grace to let go of the extras, that we may be able to give to others what is essential.

P.S. The link below is a very moving and enlightening article about how the poor, in spirit and/or in reality, are blessed with the heart (and capacity) to give selflessly. I’m glad Filipinos are mentioned to be the most generous. This pushes me to give more, and love more.

America’s poor are its most generous givers

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