By Charlie Johnston
While the Internet was down (which is still sporadic up here – down four times yesterday when it was fairly steady. We have rain and hail and now a forecast of snow coming Sunday) – a very good friend of this site and a dedicated Christian Missionary asked urgently for prayers. Andrew Pocta and his wife, Cristina, have dedicated their lives as Missionaries with the Missioners of Christ – one of the permanent “Go Forth” links I have up here. Their three-year-old daughter, Bella, was born with Spina Bifida and is in a wheel chair. Now they are told their unborn son has the same. Andrew asked for the prayers of this community as we entered into the Novena to Our Lady of Fatima.
I began my Novena on May 5 – but you can properly say such a Novena up to beginning nine days before the Feast Day, which is May 13, to ending nine days after – or any nine days in between. So if you have not begun a Novena yet, you can. If you have already begun, you can add Andrew and Cristina’s intentions. Adding a serious intention to an existing Novena is kind of like receiving the Eucharist in one species – If you have received any part, you have received fully. Here then, is Andrew’s urgent request:
“I know you need a few days to generally respond to emails – but I have an URGENT prayer request that I hoped you could pass along to readers!
As I’ve shared with you in previous emails (I sent a photo of my daughter Bella), my wife Cristina and I have a 3yr old daughter – Bella, who was born with Spina Bifida and is wheelchair bound. Cristina had multiple tests done and the doctors said that she doesn’t carry a mutation or gene for this birth defect.
We just went in for a routine ultrasound at 18 weeks of pregnancy, and the doctors are SHOCKED….our son, Andrew Joseph, also has Spina Bifida, in the same location of the spine that Bella had when she was in the womb. We were/are devastated…..shocked….but know that He is in control above all else. The doctors said the chances of this happening is the same as a person getting struck by lightning twice…..they are completley perplexed.
We are asking people to pray for us during the novena to Our Lady of Fatima (the follow up ultrasound lies on the feast day – May 13th)
……our intentions are 1) A miracle healing, if it’s in God’s Will. 2) If a healing is not His Will, we ask for Grace and Strength to embrace this cross for our son and daughter
3) for God to provide financially/physically for the many things to come – building an in-law suite on our property so that our in-laws can move in and help Cristina with Bella (her wheelchair weighs a ton and she has to be lifted up too!) when Andrew Joseph is born in late August/early Sept.
Charlie, THANK YOU for your prayers….if it is at all possible, please share this with our community of readers! – Andrew Pocta”
Let us offer our prayers of solidarity and petition on behalf of the Pocta family. I have asked the Lord to send St. Peter to stand watch with them and to comfort and guide them.
I very much appreciate all the prayers and Masses being sent up for me by so many in response to my request yesterday. I was both inspired by and uncomfortable with the many expressions of affection written to me yesterday. I need the prayers and Masses enough I can bear the “virtual” testimonial dinner that ensued.
But one thing worried me for a very specific reason, as I will explain shortly. If all I have been shown continues to come to pass, I certainly have been appointed an honored position in the Master’s livery. But it is very important never to mistake the coachman for the King.
When my daughter, Christie, was 11 years old, she shocked me by asking me if I was secretly God, here to check things out. I was so stunned I asked her what could ever put such a wild notion in her head. An articulate child, she laid out her case – mostly centered on little kindnesses she had often seen me secretly do for people who I was in public disputes with. (I am no pious sap who glories in petty martyrdom. I simply do what seems best able to defend the faithful or to open up a hostile heart to the hope that is in God. Sometimes there can only be battle; sometimes a small anonymous kindness can open a heart. I do what seems most effective). I emphatically told her that that was not the case. I noted that God is all truth, that there can be no lie emanating from Him – and she agreed. Then I told her, “I am not God – and if I were, I would not be able to say that.” She sullenly accepted that and quit arguing with me.
I know some wonder here why I speak so frequently about my son and so seldom about my daughter. It is not for the reasons you probably think.
When she was 12, things started ripping through Christie, horrible disordered behaviors. I won’t go into detail, but it was bad enough she was made a ward of the state on a delinquency petition and was in and out of residential facilities, hospitals, and juvenile detention facilities. She was a master of escape, too. Alternately perfectly normal and charming – and deeply disordered, the problem was made far more difficult because she was far smarter than any of her therapists. She loved to play them for fools, first convincing them she was a wounded child, then when they were completely bought in, slam-dunking them. We had many therapists who started by thinking I was a monster and that they had reached her – and suddenly ended by thinking she was a monster and refusing to have anything more to do with her. We visited her every week and I emphasized she had to stop doing that to people. She looked at me and said, dripping with contempt, that those people didn’t care at all about her – they only wanted to be the special “one” to reach the troubled little girl. “It’s not about me at all for them, Dad, it’s all about them – and they deserve what they get.” The time came when she waged a sort of war against her brother and me. It was an agonizing time. Once, about a year and a half in, while pleading with her, she told me she did it to force my hand, to make me reveal who I was, for that was the only thing that could stop her. I was stunned again for I thought that was settled – and emphasized again that she had it wrong and I had proved it to her. She looked at me with the same contempt she had for her therapists. Her story took several other iterations over the years of the troubles, but that was the beginning of it.
When she had been there for about a year, she started complaining of voices speaking to her and troubling her. The staff thought it was a gambit, but I was alarmed. On our visits, she could come on little day trips with me, as she was in on a delinquency petition, not any abuse or neglect. Often, we stayed at the farm, and had little softball or other games involving the other kids. It would break your heart how utterly abandoned many of the children there were – and their absolute hunger for kind, non-predatory adult attention. They looked forward to our visits almost as much as Christie did. But on this occasion, I made sure we went to a Museum and left Charlie with relatives, so we could talk privately. I told her then of my situation – and that she should take those voices very seriously and pray Our Father’s, Hail Mary’s, and Glory Be’s until they left her alone once they started. Her response was not what I had ideally hoped for. With a look of triumph, she said, “I knew it! I’ve always known it! I was right!” I told her that having the Master speak to me was NOT the same thing as being the Master. Her response was merely, “Close enough.”
Things got worse from there and the real trials commenced. She would escape from a facility – often taking several others with her. Usually it was just for a few days. When she wanted to go back, her and her little gang would walk prominently into a town, where she knew police would be looking for them. At one point, she was banned from all shelters in the St. Louis area…not because she was violent or anything, but because they knew she could – and would – escape under their very noses. That would have been okay if it had just been her, but she often took a few with her. Authorities knew there was nothing they could really do to stop her, but that she could take care of herself pretty adroitly – but the others were not so astute and put in real danger from the escape by the areas they frequented. Then she started staying gone on her own for months at a time, before being caught.
Just after she turned 18, whatever had driven her vanished as mysteriously as it came. We were reconciled. She tearfully told me she did not know why she did the things that she did, except that she wanted to do what she wanted to do – and knew she could bend officials to her will. Her memory of it all was even fuzzy – dreamlike, as she put it. In thinking of it, that is where I came up with the example of having wildcats tearing through your house. It is a wonderful relief when the wildcats are finally gone – but you still have a house that is torn up internally that needs a lot of work to get set right. So it is with my daughter, and so I speak sparingly of her so as to give her room to try to overcome the disorders that trouble her outside of any spotlight.
She is one of the most brilliantly talented people I have ever known. Utterly fearless, she can conceive of a brilliant, very original plan to solve a problem, then carry it out with flair and startling effectiveness. Several times, when I have had a crisis in my work, I have called on her to manage short-term projects that were nigh impossible – and she comes through. Once, when she was living in Alabama, a mail house made a huge blunder. I had a week and a half to get several thousand signatures on a petition to qualify a Senate candidate. It was a grave crisis. I called her and brought her up for two weeks. She got up, and with a little direction, recruited a team of volunteers in Chicago, where she did not know anyone – and had them competing with each other to see who could get the most signatures. We got 5,000 new valid signatures in a week, with her team coming up with about 3,000 of them. It was brilliant – and well-nigh impossible. And it was technical…there are specific criteria involved for getting VALID signatures…and Christie followed and enforced it. On the review before submission, only about 500 had to be knocked out – and that was over and above the 3,000 valid ones she got. I know right now that if I need to accomplish the impossible very quickly, Christie is the one to go to, whether she knows anything about it or not. She will learn immediately and make it happen. But she can’t sustain it for more than a few weeks, before she succumbs to dysfunction and erratic behavior, fueled by substances.
So this is my great sorrow. My little girl is one of the most brilliantly talented people I have ever met. Before the troubles came, she was a dear friend. She used to wait for her brother to fall asleep and have marvelous little witty and insightful conversations with me before she drifted off to sleep herself. Those chats remain among my most cherished memories. If she manages to get her disorders under control, she will be a truly world-class talent and a great asset to many during the Storm. There are several family members working hard and giving of themselves to get her through into what she can be and is called to. But she is not because she cannot sustain the brilliance for more than a few weeks at a time before crumpling into a truly hot mess. For me, it all began when she sullenly and determinedly mistook the coachman for the King. You can see why I have a visceral horror of that, even when it is offered as a compliment. I know what it can beget. Pray for my dear little girl. I need not be reticent about my son, for he has embraced his work with steady sobriety.
In the next few months, I will meet many of you. I fear, reading some comments, that the expectations may well exceed the reality. Many expect me to be soft-spoken, relentlessly pious…all the religious stereotypes. I am none of them. When I speak, there sometimes rises a passionate intensity that moves and inspires people profoundly. I thank God for that. But I am very plain. I like to laugh, I can be loud and bold, and when I am working through a problem, I usually work through indirection. Sometimes, I focus intently…more often, when I reach a sticking point, I watch a detective show, play a video game, or read a suspense novel. My mind works powerfully on its own when I am not consciously thinking of the problem. Turning away from the problem altogether clears away a lot of weeds and allows it to work through particularly thorny matters. Alternately, I sometimes relentlessly withdraw into silence. I need it desperately. I like plain things – chicken-fried steak, chili, beef stew. Shoot, I am not what even I would expect an emissary appointed from heaven to be like. It is all too big for me…way too big…so I just focus on the work. If I do the work well and steadfastly, it won’t matter who or how intense the critics are. If I don’t, all the encomiums in the world won’t help me. I stick to the work, live plainly and trust God to help me. I am a coachman – with the appetites and tastes of one. I try to be there when it is time to ride and, so far, I have done okay. But that is what it is.