Like most first-generation Cuban-Americans, I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household. My parents, brother and I only spoke to each other in our native language, after arriving in the United States, and it continued when my grandparents moved in with us several years later, after they too arrived from Cuba via Spain.
While my younger brother and I were growing up, and even until today, Spanish was and is the language we use to communicate with our parents. Even though I was only five when we came to the States forty-two years ago (you can do the math), for me, it’s just unnatural to talk to my folks in English.
Henceforth, when I became a father, my wife, who is also Cuban-American (albeit second-generation), and I also adopted Spanish as the idiom for communicating with our children. Although, since my wife and I speak English to one another, as my girls have gotten older, it has become harder to speak only Spanish to them. We have to make a conscious effort, and even occasionally have “Spanish Only” nights, where we refuse to answer to anything they say in English. My oldest daughter hates them!
It is easier with our son, who is three-years-old and has not been as influenced by school or TV as of yet.
Despite Spanish being my first language, after growing up, studying and living my entire adult life in the U.S., I am much more comfortable in English (verbally and, even more so, in writing).
Therefore, when I was invited by my parish’s Spanish Men’s Ministry to talk to them about the importance of prayer at a retreat, I was both honored and apprehensive. It’s a topic that is near and dear to me since prayer was the spark that ignited and continues to transform my faith during the past five years. However, I had to do it in Spanish. Yikes!
Mind you, I work in a Spanish-language television newsroom and am used to leading a daily afternoon editorial meeting in the tongue of Cervantes (or at least the Hialeah version).
Even so, while I have had many opportunities to speak about my faith to various groups in our parish in English, I have never had to address a group in Spanish on my faith, which calls for a very different vocabulary and mentality then say, explaining a shooting in Little Havana (usually just facts with not much elaboration needed). A talk on faith requires more depth, preparation, and philosophical mindset.
In addition, coming from a television background (working as a reporter early in my career), I am a bit anal about details, like content, energy, pronunciation and delivery. I don’t like to ad-lib for 45-minutes and wander aimlessly when I speak. I only deviate from script briefly to expand on a relevant thought that cross my mind. In other words, I don’t like to babble.
Prayer has been a topic that I have discussed previously to groups in English and therefore, it didn’t take me long to write down what I wanted to say.
My approach on most talks is to go over it repeatedly until I know it and only have to use my notes for reference (we don’t have teleprompters). To my kids, I probably sound like a nut when I’m preparing for a talk since I usually find the best place to rehearse is in my bathroom (aside from my reading room, it serves other purposes too).
Within that process, those that know me can attest, I can get a bit passionate, especially when it comes to faith and my family. This means that when I really get into a talk, I tend to get a bit emotional and have been known to shed a few tears. In fact, when I’m really “in the zone” during preparation, I even break down while going over it in my bathroom (Am I the only one that cries in the bathroom?).
Lately, however, I have shown more composure. I can still muster up the energy and passion but have not been as prone to completely losing it. Maybe, I am getting use to speaking in front of groups.
On Saturday, my emotions came back. I guess hearing myself talk in a different language made me feel like I was giving a talk for the first time. But, even more important was the topic. It’s been a while since I discussed prayer and my son, who my wife and I consider was God’s miracle. While every life is God’s miracle and our daughters are just as precious to us, we are convinced our son is here because of faith and prayers.
Let me explain, after our second daughter was born, my wife got pregnant right away. It was unplanned and a total surprise considering that we had had difficulties getting pregnant with our two daughters. Our third child was to have been born eleven months after our second daughter, an Irish twin.
However, on the eleventh week of her pregnancy, when we felt we had gotten over the hump of uncertainty in the first trimester, we decided to tell our older daughter that she was going to be a big sister for a second time. We told her on a Friday and she was ecstatic. She started calling the baby her little brother. However, that weekend, my wife started bleeding and we lost the baby.
It was very difficult for both of us but especially so for my wife. Women get more attached since the baby is part of them. At the time, God was not part of my life. If I prayed, I don’t really recall doing it. Although, that would be consistent with something I would have done (I usually prayed when I needed help!).
After a D&C procedure, my wife had internal lesions that her doctor said would require surgery to heal.
About two years later, my wife was scheduled to have the surgery but we got pregnant again (surprise!). However, after an ultrasound, the doctor gave us bad news. She wanted to be honest with us. Because of the lesions in her womb, the chances of the baby developing without another miscarriage were not good.
By that time, I had returned to my faith and while I was prepared for whatever God decided the fate of our baby would be, I felt optimistic that everything would be alright.
In fact, although my prayer life was very strong at the time, it got even stronger.
Aside from my prayers and my wife’s prayers, I turned to the brothers in my men’s church group and asked for prayers for our baby. I asked my personal friends and family for prayers for our baby and then I turned to the Communion of Saints.
I remember praying to the Blessed Mother, to St. Joseph, the protector of the Holy Family, to St. Gerard, the patron saint of pregnant women, to St. Theresa of Little Flower, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Augustine, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John the Evangelist, St. Francis, St. Anthony, and any and every saint that I could recall, and asked for their prayers for our baby. I even remember praying to Pope John Paul II and Mother Theresa.
During all this, we were sent by my wife’s doctor to a high risk pregnancy specialist. We made an appointment at the center, where her doctor recommended without knowing any of the doctors in the practice.
I find out that the wife of a friend in my men’s group is a high risk pregnancy specialist. I remember praying that if my friend’s wife was the person that would help save our baby, that it would be her that treated my wife (It was one of those Hail Mary prayers like a quarterback who has seconds left in the game and needs to launch a long pass hoping his receiver catches it in the end zone).
When we get to the high risk doctor’s center at Baptist Hospital, the specialist turns out to be my friend’s wife. Prayer one answered.
When she examines my wife, the lesions that we had seen on an ultrasound were nowhere to be found. Did they disappear? We don’t know. All we know is that there was no lesion and our baby was developing well.
Even so, several times during the pregnancy, my wife started bleeding.
A day after finding out in a sonogram that we were having a boy, at 17-weeks, my wife called me practically in tears, before my group’s annual fund raising softball tournament, to tell me she was bleeding. I told my friends what was happening and before the tournament, everyone gathered around in prayer. It was very powerful. Several of the women then went to our house and prayed over my wife and baby.
Another time, during week 23, we went to London for the baptism of our niece (my wife’s sister lives there), and she started bleeding. My wife had to stay in bed for most of the trip. She was obviously very alarmed.
My wife and I know that our son is alive today because of our faith and the prayers of our friends, family and Communion of Saints. Although, I understand that prayers are not meant to try to convince God of what we think we need, they are to change our heart so we could accept whatever God knows we need.
As I told this story in Spanish on Saturday, I re-lived the experience and couldn’t help but breaking down.
In my men’s ministry, we always say that if God uses us to reach one person with our testimony, it is well worth the effort. Well, after the talk, I was a bit concerned. Although several men came up to me to thank me and expressed their appreciation for my talk, I wasn't quite sure. About halfway through it, I felt like I was not connecting with the guys. That is until I started talking about the story of my son.
Tuesday morning, after Mass, the wife of a good friend approaches me and says, "Do you know how you were concerned that you didn't connect with the men at the retreat? Well, as you know my brother attended and Sunday night, I started asking for his impression and what had touched him the most. He particularly mentioned being touched and identifying with your talk."
It's amazing to me how despite our pride, ego, many faults and insecurities, God can use us to touch someone else... Even in Spanish....