Love is the Greatest Gift

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"Love is the greatest gift" by Ellen Mongan (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2018 Ellen Mongan. All rights reserved.

Did you ever receive the perfect gift? You were surprised to receive it and blessed when you opened it. You wanted to say, “Unbelievable! How did you know?” Instead you could not utter a sound. The tears in your eyes and look on your face communicated the joy in your soul.

The perfect present is hard to find, maybe even impossible. You may be asking yourself, “What is the perfect gift?” Read on because this wordy woman is about to explain.

I have lived my life for the last forty-four years as Patrick’s wife. Together we have embraced our marital vocation as husband and wife, mother and father. We began on our wedding day as a party of two but God continued to add to our numbers. Now four decades later we are twenty-seven people in our immediate family. In October, we welcomed our 13th grandbaby, Marjorie Kate, into the Mongan clan.

You mothers of many, like me, may find yourselves laughing out loud, or with tears rolling down your cheeks, as you read this post. However, you younger mothers, or moms of a smaller family may be totally overwhelmed, or desiring another child. Hopefully by the end of this blog everyone will be thankful to God for what they have.

Life is a journey. Each path you take changes you forever. The vocation of marriage changed me totally. I want to add, it was my second choice. I never thought that I would marry at all. I wanted to be a nun, but thankfully God intervened. Rewind to 1974 when a pagan medical student met a Catholic stewardess in Miami, Florida. We were a peculiar match to say the least, and we still are. Only God knew how happy we would be together and how fruitful too. Now, as empty nesters, we look back on our lives with awe of how great is our God.

I love movies that are done with flashbacks. The beginning of the movie is sometimes the middle or even the end. This is the same way that my Heavenly Father presented the greatest gift to me this past Thanksgiving. It was just like a movie. I really had to pay really close attention in order to catch the message. I was all ears, listening for that still, small voice.

In a large family like ours, when we all come together it is sometimes for more than one event. This year as our adult children began to arrive with their families, my mind flashed back to past family gatherings. One get-together in particular was etched in my mind: my father’s funeral. All seven children arrived to honor my dad. My husband, had just been ordained a deacon and was serving on the altar for the funeral. The next day Deacon Patrick had the blessing of baptizing our new grandchild, Ashlyn Hope. This was the first of many sacraments that Deacon Pat would administer to our family members. Ten years later, multiple celebrations seem the norm for the Mongan family.

This Thanksgiving week it was Trey and Kaitlin’s brand-new baby Maggie Kate’s turn to be baptized. Deacon Pat beamed as he took the opportunity to ask the grandkids questions about Baptism during the rite. I was shocked as Ava Caroline, grandchild number nine, raised her hand and answered each question correctly. As she spoke, my mind went back in time to another little girl — Amanda Joy, her mom, who was lost in the shuffle of three sisters in a row, just like Ava. In her faith and her studies she, too, knew all the answers.

I turned my head around and spied the cousins. I know you aren’t supposed to talk in church but I could not help but say, “Ashlyn, Lauren, Ava — Papa baptized you too!” They beamed with delight. All eyes were on baby Maggie and her parents and godparents. Following the baptism Trey and Kaitlin hosted lunch for about forty close friends and family members with ease, with the help of the baby’s godparents, Kaitlyn’s sister Amanda and her husband Kyle.

"Love is the greatest gift" by Ellen Mongan (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2018 Ellen Mongan. All rights reserved.

The next day ,Thanksgiving was hosted by our daughter, Charity, and her husband, Ryan. They and their six children welcomed all by even giving up their bedrooms to house family. Everyone joined in to help. Two of my famous clichés that I drilled in their heads as children ran through my mind: “If mom did everything, she would be dead!” and “Many hands make for light work.” Peace reigned and the Roe home overflowed with love and grace.

My 92-year-old mom, sisters, a brother, nieces, nephews, in-laws, and a Navy couple were among the guests. It was a feast. Charity found time in the schedule to make gnocchi (small handmade potato dumplings). Our oldest son Tyler had prepared the dough in advance. It is our Italian tradition. I made sure mom joined us; after all, she started the tradition. Papa carved the turkey, formerly my dad’s duty. I could not help but remember my dad, and the passing of the baton to Pat was bittersweet for us all.

"Love is the greatest gift" by Ellen Mongan (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2018 Ellen Mongan. All rights reserved.

The next day it was our turn to host. This time the event was an engagement party for our son Tyler and his fiancée, Tomoko. At the first meeting of my first daughter-in-law to be, Tyler put me at ease with the words, “Don’t worry, you will do fine, Mom. Just be yourself!” I took Tyler up on the invitation.

Unfortunately Sean, my youngest son, did not get the memo. “Mom, stop acting like that,” he exhorted.

To which I quickly informed him, “I am sorry; I was told that I could be myself.”

His reply was just as apt, “No, Mom, you cannot do that.”

The engagement party was my second chance to make a good impression. Tomoko, who spoke some English, and her mom, Noriko, who spoke no English, had come all the way from Japan to join us. It was our third celebration in three days. Family and friends from all over the world were joining us, some for all three occasions. We were exhausted but so happy for the couple. We kept going because we were rejoicing that our eldest son, Tyler, had finally chosen a wife. Tyler showed an adventurous spirit even as a little boy. He journeyed all the way to Japan to choose a wife. Now they journey together. I am convinced that Tyler will always have wings.

Seconds before the party began, kind-hearted Tyler walked in the room holding a cake with a lit candle, and the family spontaneously began to sing “Happy Birthday” to sister Tarolyn as Tomoko handed her a bouquet of yellow roses. Tarolyn’s birthday had taken second fiddle to all the other family celebrations, including her son Carter’s birthday. Tarolyn had spent the entire day getting ready for Tyler’s big day. Now Tyler returned the favor.

I wiped a tear from my eyes and remembered how we always celebrated five birthdays from Thanksgiving until January when the kids were young. Life was full. Everyone always pitched in, shared, and gave up for each other. It is that way with a large family. Large families have a way of sharing and caring.

The party was quite a celebration with food, fellowship, and even a photo booth, plus lots of catching up. Since Tyler speaks around the world, we rarely see him. Before too long, family and friends lifted their glasses high to toast the happy couple, first in English and then in Japanese. “Kanpai!” meaning “cheers” became our family buzzword. My mind flashed back to two Decembers ago on our son Josh’s birthday, when we welcomed Trey into our large family with an engagement party. I looked over and smiled as they have started a family of their own. What will the future bring?

For a moment time stood still. I looked all around the room as if seeing everyone for the first time. Nearly all of my family was in attendance in the room, a rare occasion — all except Kendra. I know our son Sean missed his girlfriend more than I did. She is already a part of our circle of love.

All the diapers, dishes, debates, questions, car pools, and hard work were so worth it. At the time it seemed like way too much to do and no time to do it. Now we find ourselves at the harvest time in our lives. Through God’s grace, we had borne fruit and it was abundant.

Sometimes little things with great love were all Pat and I had to give. Now, after coming full circle, our offspring are walking in our shoes. Little things with great love are what they have to give as well. As I viewed each person in the room though Jesus’ eyes, I knew that love was the best gift of all. It was the gift that Jesus also brought to this world. He gave His all.

Our family celebration was topped by the word shared by Noriko. Patrick asked her what the most unexpected thing about her visit was. She said, “The love” (in English)!

My heart was filled with thanksgiving and praise. I was so grateful to God that all our children were building families, making memories, and being family. Jesus was growing His love in all our hearts all along. Love is the greatest gift of all. The tears in my eyes and the joy in my soul somehow cemented the message planted in my heart.

Readers, as you embrace motherhood each day, no matter what age or stage you are in, I pray you too see your family through the eyes of Jesus. Love is the greatest gift of all. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for those you love. It is a work of grace. Look through the eyes of Jesus, and you too will see those same eyes looking back at you.


Copyright 2018 Ellen Mongan

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About Author

Ellen Mongan is a Catholic writer and speaker who has been married 44 years to Deacon Pat Mongan. They have 7 children and 12 grandchildren. Ellen is a Hosts of WOW Radio Podcasts. She is a religious columnist for the Augusta Chronicle, and has spoken on both radio and television. She is the founder of Sisters in Christ, Little Pink Dress Ministry and Women-Fests. She would love to speak at your conference, she goes wherever God leads her.

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