Bugs, Mud, and Jesus

Last week, a perfect storm of events came together in a way that changed my life forever. I went on a trip that I didn’t plan, and I didn’t even want to go on, but I knew it was what Jesus was asking so I said yes and now…

Ok, let me back up a bit.

Two months ago, I got this text from a priest at church: “Want to go to Georgia with some teens?”

I knew exactly what he was talking about. Every year, our parish youth group drives down to Covecrest, a LifeTeen summer camp in Tiger, Georgia. Our group was mostly girls, so they needed another adult female chaperone.

No. Heck no. Oh my goodness no.

I had seen the pictures from last year. People covered in mud from head to toe. Sunburn. Sweat. Bugs.

“No. Freaking. Way.”

So I resolved to call our priest and tell him no. But as I thought “no,” I also felt a little voice pulling me. I was calling him, instead of texting, because part of me, I guess, was a little open to persuasion.

He didn’t answer.

I went to Mass, thinking I would try calling again after. And, well… I looked at the tabernacle and I asked Jesus what to do and don’t you know it… he said Come to Georgia. 

Clear as day, in that gentle voice he always uses so you know it’s him. And his words, “Come” instead of “Go” – he was implying that he was already there waiting for me. It was an invitation, not a command.

I was stuck. I didn’t want to go, but I knew it was him. So I called our priest and gave him my “yes”. He promised it would be awesome, in a way. “No one comes back the same,” he said. I was… a little skeptical.

Knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus himself asked me to go didn’t stop me from spending the next 2 months dreading the experience and sending spiteful text messages to said priest (i.e. if I die of malaria it’s your fault). But he laughed it off, and off I went to Covecrest.

covecrest

“No one ever comes back the same.”

I had never met any of these kids before the trip. I’ve never volunteered with youth group, ever.

The kids were great – very welcoming, kind, well behaved, so much that for many of them it was easy to forget they were in high school. But the activities, the hiking, the bugs, the mud – it was all difficult for me.

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My cross was weighing heavily on me, and my heart was being re-broken, it seemed. I had thoughts like, “If I had kids, no one would ask me to do this.” (Sounds a little like something I’ve said before.)

And yet, I loved being there for these teens. I felt like a mom to all of them. At one point in our small group, I opened up about my MRKH, and it was wonderful to see how sharing this story invited others to open up about their deep wounds too. I knew that God was using me, but it was so painful. I sent my daily guilt-trip text to our priest, but now it had become, “I hate the idea of abandoning these kids after this week.”

This time he threw the guilt right back and told me I could volunteer with the youth group on Friday nights.

Dang.

“Mater Misericordiae”

The last night of camp, something beautiful happened. I was with 4 of the kids, and I mentioned that if I had kids, I would have liked to sing the Salve Regina as a lullaby.

They asked me to sing it to them.

I got all choked up, and invited them to sing with me. So we did. And it was beautiful, and wonderful, and a dream come true. I can’t even describe how much that moment meant to me.

“That’s what Jesus does.”

We drove home singing Taylor Swift and Disney and all the latest Christian pop music. We prayed the Rosary and evening prayer, and my heart was about to burst with joy. We finally parted in the middle of the night with hugs and tears and promises of prayer for one another – and I’ve written some of their names in my prayer book.

I felt as though my heart grew. “You’re going to think this sounds weird,” I told our priest, “but I feel as though my heart has been stretched, in a good way. I feel like I want to love more.”

“I knew it!” he said. “That’s what he (Jesus) does! He makes us capable of loving more. You went on a trip that you didn’t plan and you didn’t want to go on, but you were open just a little bit, and that’s how he was able to work.”

(“I knew it.” Goodness. It was all a set up. Looking at you, two dudes in your 30’s with beards.)

And so here we are, a week out from camp, and… I still can’t sop smiling. I even had a moment in the car driving to work where I found myself overcome with joy thinking about the MANY children that I have.

Remember what I wrote last summer, about that feeling that I would have more children than my Nana? I think I’m watching it come true.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that God is faithful, and that he is working all things together for my good.

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Maybe I fly because I need to.

A few months ago, a friend mentioned that since James and I don’t have children, we’re free to take these amazing trips—and isn’t that just wonderful? Maybe. I started to write this post in response:

Tolkien wrote that “not all those who wander are lost” though sometimes I do wonder if I’m looking for something.

This year we’ve taken a break from Europe to save a little money and relived my childhood in the Outer Banks. James had never been, and it had been 10 years for me.

From our home base in Duck, we visited the Wright Brothers Memorial, climbed to the top of the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, took a stroll on the white sand beaches of Corolla, and left plenty more to do on our next trip.

James loved it so much he was ready to book the house again for next summer.

And… I’m going stir crazy for Europe. We’re currently planning our 2017 trip to the Mediterranean.

People comment that thanks to our infertility we have this awesome ability to travel. Maybe it’s true, but really, what do they mean by that? Would they really trade their own children just for a chance to fly across the sea every few years? It’s not like we live some glamorous life as jet-setters.

Maybe travel is my rebellion.

Maybe I fly because I need to. Because of grief. Because of pain. Because there is such a big world out there, and maybe if I search wide enough, I’ll find what we’re looking for.

 

Throughout my life I’ve often had this image of myself in the future as a grief-hardened and fearless Diana, sailing around the world with her pack of hounds, running from the hole in her heart and searching for her next escape.

Never mind that Diana was a land-based goddess, not a nautical one. But you know, teenage Connie Ann had an imagination.

I was wondering quite a bit, while writing the above, if I was indeed lost. I don’t think I am lost anymore, or at least, I don’t mind if I am. Still…

“Maybe I fly because I need to.”

Maybe I fly because for as long as I can remember, I can’t bear to live in a world where there is a London/Rome/Paris/Athens/you-name-it and I haven’t actually seen it.

The first time I set eyes on Europe from the tiny window of my airplane, I cried.

I cried because it was real. There was this place I had heard of so often, and it was actually there, waiting for me all this time.

It was almost sacred, like a pilgrimage. I wasn’t fasting and praying and crawling on my knees to get there, but travel is sacred in its own way. God made this big, beautiful world, and even though he (and the world) is much too vast for me to ever understand, seeing more of his creation helps me to understand a piece of him.

How amazing is it that you can be 3,000 miles from home, yet everyone looks like your cousins? How amazing is it that you can be in a place where no one understands your religion, but everyone understands your smile?

How amazing is it that after spending only a week in a country where no one knows your language, all of a sudden you bump into another American, and it doesn’t matter that she’s a democrat or a republican or an atheist or a Jesus freak—she’s an American. And right away, you’re sisters, you’re friends, because no one else in the room knows about buffalo wings and George Washington and Saturday Night Live and amber waves of grain.

I haven’t traveled very much, and I haven’t lived very long, but I’ve done both enough to know that my life has been better for it.

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The Vocation of Un-Belonging

The Vocation of Un-Belonging

We just got back from the annual family beach week.

The one we said we wouldn’t go on again, but you know, they invited us, and… beach.

It was really nice.

Honestly though, I remembered why we probably shouldn’t have gone.

It’s like Christmas- lots of togetherness. Lots of food. Lots of alcohol.

And lots of children, including at least one that was young enough to be ours.

As fun as it was, I was basically in a perpetual state of trying super hard not to cry. Between the high sugar diet, the booze, and the continual reminders that my life does not fit the norm, my eyes didn’t stand a chance.

When we got home this weekend and went to mass at our home parish, I remembered a conversation that happened in my 8th grade religion class about vocations.

Our textbook said that there are 3 primary vocations to which we could be called- marriage, religious life, and being single.

Then the teacher (or was it a priest?) said to the class that there is some debate as to whether the single life is actually a vocation. Does God actually call people to that, or is it just something that sort of happens when other things don’t?

What about my single friends who don’t want to be single? The ones for whom being single is a real struggle, a real suffering, a real cross?

Does God call them to this cross? If being single is a suffering, can it also be a vocation?

Is it the same, then, as a childless marriage? Could God really be calling us (and others) to live in this cross as a vocation, whether it be permanent or only for a time?

I don’t know if anyone truly discerns and desires singleness in the same way that people discern and desire the priesthood, religious life, or even marriage. At least, I don’t think I’ve met people like that. I think it’s more like infertility- you have other hopes and dreams, and you desperately want God to show you what he wants for you so you can move on and leave this confusing limbo of un-belonging.

You want a purpose, you want a plan, you want to know that he has not forgotten you.

But maybe, maybe this IS his plan, as much as it hurts. That wouldn’t be without precedent.

I mean, even Jesus asked his Father to change his plan and take away the cross if it were at all possible.

And maybe this feeling that your life is missing the mark will never leave. Maybe the goal of this vocation is to continually pray for the grace to accept your blindness, and to trust your guide, even though it seems like he’s only standing still.

When it looks like there’s no hope- maybe we’re right, in the human sense. There is no cure, there will be no material change. No baby. No spouse. It’s happening—we’re going to be crucified. And it feels completely senseless and useless and stupid and horrible.

And maybe that’s how Jesus felt in the garden when he said that.

But we do have hope, right? But it’s a delicate thing. I don’t think Jesus would have cheered up that night if you were like, “Don’t worry Jesus, you’re going to rise in three days,” because that would have glossed over all the awful suffering he was going through. No, I think we can tell in the gospels that what really pulled him through in that moment was obedience to his Father and knowledge that this was truly the only way to save his beloved.

And that’s what pulls us through too, isn’t it? Obedience maybe, and trusting that this is the only way, and the hope that one day there will also be a resurrection for us, and he will open our eyes and show us that it all did matter, in some way.

“But not my will, but yours be done.”

Constantinople’s Lament

Constantinople’s Lament

My mom still talks about a time when I was a toddler and wanted so badly to see the inside of a church I had spotted on the side of the road. Being an adventurous mom, she pulled over and took me inside. Next thing you know, little Connie Ann is running up and down the aisles from the front to the back, pointing at the cross and shouting gleefully, “Jesus!”

I’ve since learned to control my outbursts (mostly). But I still love, love, love churches. Today I want to talk about my experience visiting one of the world’s greatest, found in the city of my namesake. (Yes, my name is Constance, but when my mom was in a playful mood, she called me Constantinople. And this was before I became a lover of Church history.)

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia, August 2010, Evening

Dedicated on my birthday, December 27 (though in 537), the Hagia Sophia is a beautiful masterpiece of Byzantine culture as well as an engineering marvel. The ring of windows at the base of the dome amazed everyone who saw it. “What is holding the dome?” they wondered. It looks as though the dome is suspended on a ring of light.

If you squint, you can see the Theotokos on the wall in the back, behind me head.
Standing where the Empress Irene would sit. If you squint, you can see the Theotokos mosaic in the apse.

Apart from the columns, the marble, the dome, and the windows, this church was filled with the most ornate mosaics in the empire. Beautiful scenes filled every wall and alcove, designed to lift the viewer’s thoughts to the world above.

HagiaSophiaMary
Mary and the Child Jesus with Empress Irene and her son, Emperor Alexander.

Visiting this great wonder of the world was a dream come true, though it was also marked with sadness. You see, when Constantinople was overtaken by the Ottoman Turks in 1431, they converted our beautiful home into a mosque. The Christian artifacts were removed and the heavenly mosaics were covered in plaster. Islamic art and writings were hung over the images of our Lord and the Saints. The Glory of Christendom was forced to submit to the Muslims, guarded by four minarets.

In 1935, Mustafa AtatĂŒrk had the Hagia Sophia converted once again- this time to a museum. In an effort to honor both the Christian and Islamic history of the building, some of the mosaics were once again exposed, though many remain covered to this day.

Deesis
Deesis Mosaic: Jesus flanked by Mary and John the Baptist.

This is our Constantinople, bound by the shackles of time. Being in this place, seeing what it was, and knowing what it has become created such a storm of emotions in my soul. They say you many not pray in the building- but they can say what they want.

What is there to say when one walks where such tragedy has occurred? What once was the beautiful house of God is beaten down and chained by years of wounds and disenchantment. Would anyone believe the glory it used to house? Will it ever again be what it truly is? How many souls are just like this temple, tragically fallen from grace and seemingly without hope? What glorious beauty hides beneath the whitewash of our conquerors? When will we break the shackles and accept who we were meant to be? Do we have the Faith and Hope to live for the One who built us?

I hope so. And yes, it will always be Constantinople to me.

Lights, Canyons, Action!

Lights, Canyons, Action!

Dreams are so important. I really think God inspires dreams and goals within us to give us something good to focus on in the midst of chaos. I don’t just mean the big dreams. Smaller goals such as learning to knit, to speak a new language, to play an instrument, to write a novel are all beautiful little sparks of light within us. They do so much good for the soul in the best of times, and even more so in the worst.

Today I was thinking back on my travel bucket list from 2012. Since then I’ve really only knocked one off the list: the Caribbean. We had a wonderful time in St. Thomas, and we hope to go back someday soon.

Here’s one Bucket List trip that may not be on the original post, but definitely deserves to be there:

We’re heading out west to see the Grand Canyon and the Pacific coast in southern California! Neither of us have been out west before. We’re attending a wedding in Las Vegas, so we figured it’s the perfect time to do this Great Western Adventure.

Day 1- Arrive in Las Vegas, NV. See the Strip. Go to the rehearsal dinner. See more Vegas at night.

Las_Vegas_Wiki

Day 2- The wedding isn’t until the evening, so we figured we could go see Red Rock Canyon. Does anyone know if it would be possible to see the Hoover Dam this day too?

red rock

Day 3- Mass in the AM followed by the rest of the day exploring Death Valley National Park. Come back to our Vegas hotel at night.

death_valley_01

Day 4- Wake up super early and drive to THE GRAND CANYON!!! Sleep nearby in Flagstaff, AZ.

GrandCanyon

Day 5- Wake up early again and drive to the Pacific!!! Staying in Southern California.

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Day 6- Restful day in SoCal, on the coast.

orange-county-beach

Day 7- Drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, want to see Big Sur. Explore. Staying overnight.

BigSur1

Day 8- Drive back down to LA. Last night in California.

LA

Day 9- Fly home to Maryland. From one Bay State to Another.

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I’m so excited for this trip! Does anyone have any suggestions on things to do, things to see and places to eat?

Faith of Our Fathers

James and I went to our beloved Williamsburg, VA for the long 4th of July weekend this year. One of the wonderful things about Williamsburg is that each time we visit, I am struck by a different facet of our nation’s history. One of the things that really hit me this year is the prevalence of religious faith in our story.

Friday at 12:00, we gathered with a crowd to hear a reading of the Declaration of Independence on the steps of the courthouse. Before the reading, the man doing the introduction said, “Let us begin with a prayer.” I heard a voice in the crowd remark, quite shocked, “Prayer?” As shocked as he was to hear the mention of public prayer, I was shocked to hear his shock. In my mind, I thought, “Yes, you unfortunate product of secular indoctrination. Prayer was acceptable in 18th century America. It was a part of life. Just wait til you hear the language in the Declaration.”

Later that afternoon we listened to a speech by Patrick Henry, where he informed all of us that he faithfully read the Scriptures twice a day without fail, an hour in the morning and an hour at night. His religion shaped every bit of his politics. Why, he even talked about Thomas Jefferson, and how even though evidence shows him to be a Deist, his faith in a God had a profound influence on his work.

Saturday morning, we took a drive down the Colonial Parkway to Jamestown. I haven’t been since I was a little kid, and James had never been at all. We had so much fun exploring something new together. It felt like our honeymoon all over again.

When we got to Jamestown, there was more evidence of God in our history. Check out this monument:

 

"Lastly and chiefly the way to prosper an achieve Good Success is to make yourselves all of one mind for the good of your Country and your own, and to serve and fear God the Giver of All Goodness, for every plantation which our Heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted out."
“Lastly and chiefly the way to prosper an achieve Good Success is to make yourselves all of one mind for the good of your Country and your own, and to serve and fear God the Giver of All Goodness, for every plantation which our Heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted out.”

Religion is part of our history. You can’t erase it. It is so fundamentally embroiled into the fabric of this nation and her people that you cannot re-write the story without it. Our forefathers created a nation on the idea that there IS a God, and that He is the ultimate source of our inalienable rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

One Year Into Happily Ever After

This month we celebrated out first anniversary. James surprised me by planning a whole weekend of fun, romantic dates. Saturday we went to Mount Vernon, which I’ve never visited. As a history person growing up in the DC suburbs, I know, it’s surprising. Sunday morning we went to Mass at St. Patrick’s, the place of our wedding. After Mass we walked around Ellicott City and the Baltimore Inner Harbor, and had dinner at Rusty Scupper overlooking the water. After dinner, James took me to the hotel where we spent our wedding night, and the staff had put up a sign for us and scattered rose petals on the bed. Everything was so beautiful. I cried. In a good way.

That weekend of celebrating was kind of like our first year- happy, excited, totally in love and completely elated. We still feel like we’re on our honeymoon.

Yes, we have challenges, but we’re dealing with them together. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I think, thanks to God’s help, we’re holding hands as we go along.

Year 2 of Connie and James is forecasted to be another fun one. Hopefully we’ll be going to the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and Newport Beach, CA in the Fall, and touring the United Kingdom in the Spring. We may continue pursuing the adoption process, but after our last agency visit we learned we might not be in a good enough financial position yet. While I think I might like the idea of spending a few more years to ourselves, the emotional side of infertility is currently our most difficult struggle- but that’s for another post.

No matter what lies ahead, we know we can continue to be as happy as ever, as long as we keep God first, always.

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Spring!

Spring!

True to the season, we have so much to be happy about right now. There is so much to look forward to, and so many things to process.

 

Our first married Easter was beautiful. We are truly blessed. My parents joined us for Mass, followed by brunch at our house. It was really wonderful. My sister had gone to the Vigil the night before, so she hung out in my kitchen and cooked while were at church.

 

Later, James and I went to his side for dinner. We had a wonderful time visiting with everyone. After talking with his mom, aunts and cousins over the course of the weekend, there was one recurring idea that was mentioned.

“Why don’t you guys put in the application, get the home study, and leave the rest in God’s hands?”

Wow. Honestly it’s such a mind-blowing idea, though it might not sound like it to some. It’s a little different than just deciding to “try” like our fertile friends. If you get pregnant right away, you usually have 9 months to prepare for the baby. If you get chosen right away, with adoption, it can be WEEKS or, in rare cases, DAYS before a baby is in your hands. Of course, it can also take several years.

That, perhaps, is why many have said to put it all in God’s hands. Nothing will happen without a home study, of course, but after that, leave it, and trust.

I think I can do that. Trusting can be hard, but it is something we’re not strangers to. I know that with our family, if we were stuck and needed baby stuff in a pinch, they would help us. As for careers and child care, maybe God will lead me to something I can do part time or from home. My other worry has to do with all the traveling I want to do. Can we take the baby with us? Will we be good at that? I mean if Will and Kate can take George to Australia, surely James and I can take our baby to the great cities of Europe. Does that sound ridiculous? I mean people live with babies every day in every city of the world. It’s more expensive, but it has to be doable, right?

Maybe this is where trust comes in.

The Beginning

The Beginning

Once Upon a Time on June 1, 2013, I married my true love, James. We had a beautiful wedding with 200 of our closest family and friends. Even though we had so many people, to us it felt small and intimate. Having James’s uncle, a priest, as the celebrant made it all the more moving. James’s cousins were the altar servers, and our siblings, cousins, niece and nephew were the attendants. For our dedication to the Blessed Virgin, we used a rose from James’s grandfather’s funeral. My sister sang “The Servant Song” after Communion. We were surrounded by our family. It was perfect.

The Bells of St. Patrick's
The Bells of St. Patrick’s

We were so unbelievably happy on that day and we’ve been glowing ever since.

We honeymooned on St. Thomas, USVI. It was Amazing. Capital “A”. Neither of us had ever been to the Caribbean. We were more than impressed. When we weren’t lounging at the Marriott resort, we were exploring the 17th century Danish sights and hunting down postcard beaches. The day we spend on St. John was my favorite.

Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI
Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI

One more place crossed off the bucket list! I suppose I’ll have to do a travel post soon.

A few weeks after we came home, we went to Avalon, NJ with all of our aunts, uncles, and cousins on James’s side.

Our Family in Avalon, NJ
Our Family in Avalon, NJ

It was probably the best beach vacation I’ve ever had, excluding our honeymoon, of course. I love our family so much and it was such a wonderful experience to spend so much time with them.

I know we’re not even 3 months in yet, but I have to say that I feel so blessed. I have a wonderful husband and the best family in the whole wide world. 🙂

Planning Our First Adventure Together

Planning Our First Adventure Together

James and I are in the middle of planning our honeymoon. It’s so exciting! The only problem is that there are so many places I’d love to go, it’s hard to pick just one.

Of course, a honeymoon is different from a normal vacation. We want something super relaxing, preferably with nice beaches. We want someplace we’ve never been. We also want some place that’s not more than 5-6 hours away from DC in a plane. This pretty much puts us in the Caribbean. Neither of us have ever been, and I’ve always wanted to go. So what’s holding me back from booking?

First of all, for someone who’s never been to the Caribbean, picking an island is intimidating. We were leaning towards Puerto Rico, but since we’re using Marriott points and the only Marriotts are in the middle of San Juan, we decided against it. Right now we think we have narrowed down our options to St. Kitts and St. Croix (USVI). We want nature, calm beaches without huge waves, history, and great dining options (it’s not for nothing that I own TheCheeseLog.com). Also, as someone who spent many a childhood vacation in the Outer Banks, a little pirate lore is a plus.

The other problem with picking a honeymoon spot is that I keep thinking of all the other places on my travel bucket list. I definitely have a bad case of the travel bug. You might call it daydream overload. Luckily, I’m only 20-something. Hopefully I have many more trips in my future. In fact, our Tour de France excursion is already in the initial planning stages…