By Josie Bopp
In the life of missionary discipleship, gratitude stirs in all of us a recognition of God’s presence and love, His activity in our hearts and lives. Gratitude opens the heart to the workings of the Holy Spirit. Gratitude is first a response to God’s action of loving and pursuing us.
Even when life gets difficult, He continues to offer abundant graces.
Trust leads to gratitude
Fifty-five minutes of CPR. Fifty-five minutes of waiting, wondering, is my daughter going to make it?
Rachel and Matt Mueller sat for 55 minutes watching, waiting and praying as their 11-year-old daughter Alisha went into cardiac arrest on February 12, 2018. Earlier that morning, Rachel had driven Alisha to the emergency room after Alisha started having trouble breathing while dealing with a fever. Minutes after arriving in the pediatric intensive care unit at Sanford Health, Alisha went into cardiac arrest from toxic shock, experiencing multi-organ failure. The staff immediately started CPR, calling for a pulse check every couple of minutes.
“After a while, you’re thinking, ‘Why aren’t they calling this?’” recalls Rachel.
What the Muellers didn’t know is their only option was a life-support device called ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) which had never been tried at Sanford during an emergency before. As providence would have it, the surgeon and the expert on the device were in the building and available, so the team in the PICU room kept Alisha’s heart going with CPR while they prepared the device.
The Muellers had called their pastor at Christ the King Parish in Sioux Falls, Father Richard Fox, who came to be with them in the PICU room. He administered an apostolic pardon on Alisha and was texting the Christ the King school and parish staff to pray while leading Rachel and Matt in prayer.
“Everybody from preschool through sixth grade marched over to the church and prayed a rosary,” Rachel said.
And in about the time it took for a rosary to be prayed, Alisha was put on the ECMO machine and ultimately, her life was saved. That was the first of what the Muellers say were many miracles that kept their daughter alive, from the healing of her lungs to Alisha not having debilitating brain damage due to the trauma and swelling of the brain.
“God gave us a glimpse—more than just a glimpse—of His healing power,” Matt said.
While Alisha would have a tough road ahead of her, including a stint at the Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis and a partial leg amputation, the Muellers were immediately struck with gratitude by the outpouring of support in all areas of their lives.
“We were just so blown away by how blessed we were by so many people,” Rachel said. “We realized what a blessing it was to be able to experience it because we got to see really good things in people. It opened our hearts…and it helps us to be more generous and empathetic.”
Rachel says she remembers praying to God to help her little girl that day at Sanford, but it wasn’t a grace that came out of nowhere, and surrender to God’s will throughout their lives as a couple and family allowed the Muellers to receive God’s love and grace through others during the most challenging time of their lives.
Blessings abound in surrender
Cassie Heim knows the power of gratitude in the life of discipleship well. As a young adult, she says she had always wanted a large family. While serving as a missionary in our diocese for Totus Tuus during the summer of 2010, Cassie met her future husband, Alex, and the two were married in September 2011.
The Heims excitedly began their married life together, Alex as a rancher and Cassie as a kindergarten through third grade teacher in a country school. Cassie also spent time as a DRE and youth leader. But Cassie’s dream of a large family seemed to fade as the couple dealt with issues of infertility, ultimately being told they would only ever have a five-percent chance of conception. Cassie’s doctor told her not to get her hopes up.
“You have that craving to be a mom,” Cassie recalls, saying she really struggled in the beginning with wanting to know why. “But a few years into it, we got some answers on the whys and once I knew that was the way it was, I felt a lot of peace.”
But two years in, Cassie and Alex experienced their five-percent chance miracle: they found out they were pregnant.
“We felt such an overwhelming sense of joy,” Cassie said. “We felt so grateful that God, who could do anything, felt that our greatest desire was worthy of being answered with a yes.”
The Heims were blessed with their son Luke in September 2014, and Cassie became a stay-at-home mom. What they didn’t know was that God was going to continue filling that desire in ways they wouldn’t have expected.
A few years after Luke was born, while pursuing adoption through an agency, Cassie and Alex had a clear Holy Spirit moment during Mass when the mom of a family from their parish who fosters children walked by them after receiving Communion.
“When we got in the vehicle after Mass, I told Alex, ‘When she walked by at Communion I felt like we should be doing foster care,’” recalls Cassie. Alex responded by saying he’d had the exact same experience.
“Our plan was that we were going to do foster care until we got a match for adoption,” Cassie said. “But as soon as we started, we just knew that was what we were supposed to be doing.”
For Cassie and her family, fostering has brought a deeper sense of trust in God’s call and His plan for their marriage and family. As they get to know and love the children they care for, much remains out of their control.
“Surrender—that’s been our word,” Cassie said. “We’re going to give everything we have every day we have them, and when it’s out of our control, we have to trust that God’s got the next step. We’ve been very happy and thankful for every day we have these kids and then when it’s out of our hands, it’s been a gift that we’ve been able to let go.”
Giving from what we receive
Gratitude in the life of missionary discipleship prompts us to return in love what we have first received.
For Cassie, teaching her young son Luke, now 6 years old, about gratitude has been about living the works of mercy as a foster family. In the fall of 2020, the Heims were caring for two babies about three months apart, and Luke told his parents he thought they probably needed another baby for Christmas.
“His heart has really grown to love these kids—even when he knows they may only be here for a short time,” Cassie said. “There are no walls up. We just give them everything we’ve got.”
That doesn’t mean living gratitude is easy. Cassie says her advice is to approach everything with prayer, something that she and Alex have done in particular in their marriage.
“The more you pray the more you get to understand God’s voice when He speaks to you,” she said. “It’s the easiest way to get your life led.”
Even when dealing with the pain of infertility and the uncertainty of foster care, Cassie says surrendering to God in prayer has made all the difference in her family.
“I can look back and see how God has stretched us to be where He wanted us to be and how He has been with us through it all,” Cassie said. “It’s not at all where we thought we were going, but now we can’t imagine it differently.”
Gratitude continues to open up the Heim’s hearts as they expect the birth of their second miracle baby, finding out about the pregnancy just two days before a foster placement they’d had for a year went home.
“It was such a surprise,” Cassie said. “God’s timing was so beautiful. It was a huge way for Him to show us that He was with us and was going to provide for us even during the hard, confusing times in life.”
This is the day the Lord has made
For the Muellers, living in gratitude continues to mean recognizing God’s blessings and remembering that His will, no matter what happens, is good. Rachel recalls Psalm 118: “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
“We still go through suffering, kicking and screaming and complaining,” Matt said. “But something that I have come to realize so much more is how grateful I am for the sacraments that the Church provides, especially with the sacrament of reconciliation, knowing that I need that because I can’t do this on my own.”
From the gift of the Catholic faith to the power of intercessory prayer, the Muellers know gratitude is not a one-and-done moment. Rachel says she wonders if she would still be grateful to God if she had lost Alisha.
“I would hope so,” Rachel said. “How can you not be grateful when God’s generosity is so incredibly amazing?”