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The Ministry of Bellies and Babies

Inside there's the temptation to turn away, to pretend I don't see her eyeing him up as she peruses the red bell peppers and bags of precut squash.

There's no time today. In and out of the store. Get the job done like the well-oiled machine I know how to be. There's no room for the questions or the pleasantries or the small talk that could prove awkward here. I'm a busy mom, you know. There's a dinner to be made and schoolwork to take care of and, after all, he needs to get home for his nap soon. Besides, I tell myself, everyone else is busy, too. They're not looking to be bothered and certainly aren't at the store for small talk. Get in, get the stuff, get out. Above all, don't make eye contact.

But He stops me. Again. He pulls me out of myself and reminds me of the gift that this little one is, not just to me but to the world. I angle my body so that she can get a better look at the little boy strapped to my chest. I stroke his cheek and whisper in his ear so that he'll give one of his famous big grins. She inches over. "I had six children." And the conversation begins.

It's one of many encounters prompted by my babies, both in utero and out. Whether sporting an obvious pregnant womb or a baby strapped to the chest, or a toddler in the cart, these babies pull us out of ourselves and pull others out, too. They provoke a response, an encounter, and they are an opportunity to witness and to love.

It's easy to see the big evangelists. The preachers, the ministers, the sisters, the missionaries. It's even easy to see how we normal lay people have a role to play in the Body of Christ and how our work and actions can be a part of His work in the world. Volunteering, praying, sacrificing, evangelizing. The little ones, though, we often think as the recipients. The baby is to receive, to be cared for, to be taught and tended. They are the little ones upon whom Christ begs our compassion, yes. But how very often I forget that these little ones have a part to play in the Body, too, now and even in utero.

The baby in the mall, in the church, in the park, in the checkout line, in the womb pulls us in. People who would never have anything in common on the surface find themselves having a conversation. The baby draws the shy/busy/self-absorbed/suspicious mom (or stranger) out of herself and initiates a conversation and sparks a new awe at the majesty of His work. The baby begs to be noticed, unconsciously giving us a glimmer of hope, a reminder that God is in charge, that God loves, that He hasn't forgotten us or the world. They tell us that He is still in the business of creating, of making things new.

The baby loves. The baby indiscriminately smiles at the stranger or stares blatantly and without apology - noticing, seeing, observing the other. They don't pretend to not see that other person and they instead stare unashamed, noticing their existence, acknowledging the presence of another soul, another image of Him. Their cry in the grocery store demands our response and calls us outside of ourselves to compassion when we'd rather just get the job done and do it without distraction or remembering the other in our midst.

The pregnant belly is, too, a sign of life and hope, a sign of God's work continuing in the world. It elicits responses from glee, intrigue, and awe to cynicism, critique, and grief. Just the sight of that growing life can draw out both deep longings and deep wounds. We sometimes cringe at the unprompted hand reaching out but perhaps we can also see the beauty in that instinct, too, While we can absolutely decline unwanted touch if it makes us uncomfortable, we can also recognize the goodness and purity that may be there, the draw within the other to touch something so pure, a desire for a real tangible encounter with hope and even with God. Perhaps we can even view our growing wombs as a sort of sacramental, a tangible sign giving grace to the world.

Our babies can be such a lesson to us in openness to the people around us. They prompt the conversations that would never otherwise have begun. They give a natural segue into a conversation that perhaps one would like to start. They give courage to approach the stranger or allow us to even see the stranger to begin with.

Their ministry goes farther still. Their mere existence brings joy to the sorrowing, comfort to the suffering, acknowledgement to the depressed and forgotten. They minister to the hurting. They bring His love and hope better than we may ever have as an adult striving to do the same. They minister unaware because it is so much a part of who they are. Even those who are annoyed by their presence are offered in that presence the opportunity to love, to make a choice, or even take a glimpse into the mirror that God offers them in that moment - facing the reality of their own cynicism towards innocence and life.

I remember once as a college age girl searching, hurting, trying to find where He was speaking to me. The mission in the inner city where I often attended Mass was filled with little children. One little boy reached out. He wanted me to hold him during the Mass. The love he shared, just holding that sweet little frame against mine, was so healing. It brought grounding and a bit of solace and heart mending in a time of confusion and hurt. And though he probably would've been happy in anyone's arms, he had chosen mine. He ministered God's love and healing to me, without shame, without asking anything in return.

We can let our little ones do the same. We can let them bring that joy and love and offer of a hope they don't even know they possess to the people around us. We can let them draw us out of ourselves and be present to others. These babies and children are a gift. In a time of life when time and energy and ability to minister to the world might feel inadequate - like pregnancy and postpartum and years of wrangling little ones - we can choose to see that we have been entrusted with a gift better than any we could muster up in a structured program, outreach, blog post, or classroom.

He has entrusted them to us, the mothers, and through our discernment and generosity, we can help them be a gift to the world. Of course it must always be with prudence, protection, and their needs met first. As mother, the baby's needs, safety, and best interest are priority before those of others. No one is owed a touch of our baby or belly or even necessarily our limited time or energy. But allowing these little ones to be the gift that they are to us AND to the rest of the world is a true ministry indeed. The part that the babies play in the Body of Christ - in utero and out - cannot be replicated and is designed to be shared.


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