Be an Encourager

Be an Encourager

“Encourage each other daily, while it is still today.” -St. Paul in his letter to the Hebrews.

Listening to Catholic radio on my way into work this morning, radio host Gus Lloyd reminded everyone that an important part of being a Christian is to give encouragement to others.

What does that mean?

When people are struggling, whether they’re just having a bad day or maybe dealing with serious issues, what can we do to be encouraging? How can we help, especially when we might not understand the depth of their struggle?

Pope Francis recently said that sometimes there really isn’t anything you can say to make them feel better. In these cases, he said, it’s best to just be there and cry with them.

Having been on the receiving end of well-wishers who maybe haven’t understood the depth of the problem being faced, I think he’s right.

But here’s the thing. There is one thing that can always be said, no matter the situation.

“You are loved.”

And isn’t that what the pope’s tears of solidarity are really saying, after all?

You are loved.

I’m no expert, but I believe that is what is at the very core of being a Christian. Knowing that we are loved in spite of everything, and spreading that love to everyone, everywhere.

So to everyone, no matter who you are or what you may be going through, take courage and remember that you are loved.

Now let’s get out there and spread this.

A New Year’s Resolution for the Broken Hearted

A New Year’s Resolution for the Broken Hearted

I look around the world right now, and as far as I can see, we are walking through a crimson field of broken hearts.

My sisters and brothers are lying wounded.

Death. End of a Relationship. Unemployment. Infertility. Sickness.

The loss of a dream.

When you’ve had dreams or expectations for  how your life would go, you often don’t realize how dear they are to you until you’ve lost them — when the wind has been knocked out of your sails and you’re left wondering, “What is left?”

Who am I, since I am not who I thought I was?

What hope is there, what way out, since what’s done is done and there is no returning to the innocence I have lost?

It’s not an easy question to answer. It’s one that I myself have struggled with for many years, and still fall prey to on occasion.

After many years of turmoil and grief, my identity was lost, and the one that I had tried to form for myself was becoming twisted and more painful than ever before. It was like a broken bone that had attempted to heal but had never been properly set.

There was nothing more that I could do. I was done. I was done trying to form a new identity for myself. And so, I prayed.

I asked the Lord to do it for me. I asked him to take these shattered pieces of the little girl that once was, and make from them a new creation. To tell me, since my sense of self was gone, who I truly was.

And once I had surrendered all my defenses, the answer came.

You are my daughter.

As clear as that. Not booming out of the sky, but through the words of the priest in the confessional, and echoed again within my heart.

You are mine.

And this, as simple as it may be, is the answer. This is the hope that we have when all is lost. That we are His. He made us, he loves us, he cries with us, and has plans for us. Nothing at all happens without his permission, and from the evil that befalls us, he brings about the good of our salvation.

To all the broken hearted, to all who face this new year with anxiety and sadness, I want you to resolve to take this life one moment at a time, remembering with each step that you are the child of a God who loves you deeply.

Whatever you have lost, however shattered your heart, you have a Dad in heaven who wants to pick you up and carry you, if you let him.

Give him the pieces of your heart. He knows what to do with them.

 

It’s 2017! And I only have 12 months left until…

It’s 2017! And I only have 12 months left until…

Hello, 2017! And Merry Christmas, Day 12.

I have so much to share with you all, but I need to get this out of the way first.

I’ve now entered the last year of my 20s.

Yikes!! I know that sounds so young to many of you, but I have a history of freaking out before important milestones:

  • I was terrified of 1st grade because I didn’t yet know how to read. There was nothing my parents could say to convince me that reading wasn’t a pre-requisite for beginning school.
  • I had a panic attack the night before I turned 25. My life was a quarter over and I thought I had nothing to show for it. Nevermind that I had already bought a house, traveled to Europe, and gotten engaged to the man of my dreams.

So, my New Year’s resolutions are also a bucket list of things to do before turning 30. Um I did not just type that number, did I? Ok, here goes:

Personal:

  1. Go to Fatima. (Portugal and Spain trip is happening!!)
  2. Learn image editing and graphic design skills.
  3. Finish the draft of my memoir.
  4. Stop being a perfectionist and just publish stuff.

Spiritual:

  1. Keep up First Friday and First Saturday devotions when possible and totes get to Confession at a minimum of once a month.
  2. Stop worrying about other people and be more confident in my own life.
  3. Forgive those who have hurt me in the past.

Bloggial:

  1. Write more mini-posts (150-200 words).
  2. Share YOUR stories (more on this to come!).
  3. Do more guest-blogging.

I have NO idea if I’ll actually be able to keep most of these. It’s more of a wish list, but I’m putting this here so you all can keep me accountable.

Now, enough about me.

What about you? Does anyone else have milestone freak-outs or major bucket lists for this year? What are your New Year’s resolutions?

Looking forward to a wonderful 2017 with all of you!

 

3 Phrases About Catholic Family Life that Need to Change

Let me say right now that I fully support and accept everything the Church teaches as true. If there is error in the following, please let me know.

Full disclosure, I’m not a theologian, and the following article is solely my opinion.

Now that that’s out of the way…

In my life as a Catholic woman (28, almost 29 years), I have noticed that in our beautiful, rich, life-affirming culture as Catholics in this country, certain phrases or sentiments have taken root in our lexicon that:

A) Over-simplify the truth to the point of becoming false, and

B) End up hurting people unnecessarily as a result.

Notice that in all of these statements, the problem in the second half of the sentence. We get the “what” right, but our “why” needs a little refresher.

 

Phrase #1: Women are sacred because they “bear life”.

Everyone assumes all women have wombs, and they extrapolate on that. (Example, Alice von Hildebrand in her final chapter of The Privilege of Being a Woman). “All women” have the capacity to bear children, therefore we’re sacred.

The problem: Women are indeed sacred—but not all of us have the capacity to bear children. In fact, not all of us even have wombs (I don’t). Not all of us are called to be physical mothers, and hinging our value on that doesn’t work. At best, it’s only hitting the surface, and ignoring the tremendous depth of what it truly means to be created female. At worst, it’s hurting tons of women who aren’t perfect and making them question their identity and sense of belonging as a daughter of the Lord.

Solution: Let’s avoid the kitsch and get right to the honest truth: Women have a beautiful calling from God to love and nurture and support and encourage and help everyone around them. God calls women to all sorts of beautiful vocations that reflect this: some to be mothers, some to care for the elderly, some to teach, some to guide, but all of us are called to LOVE.

 

Phrase #2: Marriage is like the Trinity because when husband and a wife love each other SO MUCH their love becomes a new person, a baby.

We’ve all heard it before, either in CCD, Catholic school, or even an occasional homily. It’s sappy, it’s cliche, and it’s not entirely true, either.

The problem: Here’s the thing: it’s true that marriage mirrors the Trinity, but this particular phraseology is ridiculous. The Father and the Son didn’t create the Spirit- the Spirit was there from all eternity. This statement sends the message that marriages to which God doesn’t grant children are somehow not complete, not successful, or worse, not even real. Furthermore, many beautiful, sacramental, fruitful marriages do not result in children (CCC 1654).

Solution: Let’s re-write this: “Marriage mirrors the trinity in that the love of a husband and wife radiates new life.” Marriage is life giving, but this doesn’t always mean physically. It means that the love in the marriage generates a spirit of love that spreads outward, affecting the world around them. And that is a beautiful thing.

Phrase #3: That’s a “Good Catholic Family” because they have enough children to fill up the pew.

This seemingly innocent phrase is commonly uttered regarding families with 6 kids under 10 with one on the way. Or, you know, a minimum of 5.

The Problem: NOBODY LIKES THIS. If you ARE a big family, you don’t want to be put on display, and you know that your life is far from perfect. You’re probably embarrassed when strangers say it.

If you’re NOT a big family, this kind of talk makes you feel like you are living contrary to God’s will. Almost every infertile or sub-fertile Catholic that I’ve met in my life has admitted to feeling supremely judged by their fellow parishioners. People assume that they are using contraception, or that they’re afraid to say “yes” to God, when really their “yes” just looks a little different. (Yes, I’ll accept this cross. Yes, I’ll accept another humiliating family gathering, Yes, I’ll accept another excruciating loss.)

This kind of talk, which is embedded into our culture as Catholics, is not only false, but also extremely hurtful all around.

Solution: Do we want to encourage the faithful living of vocations? Absolutely. Does holding up someone’s blessings as evidence of their faithfulness achieve this? NO. In fact, it borders on Osteen-esque Prosperity Gospel. Come on, people, we know how wrong this is. Think of the man born blind.  Let’s talk more about the reality of life, the reality of crosses, the reality of holiness, and stop assuming things about other people, period. We know that blessings come because of God’s insane generosity, not because of our glittery awesomeness. Holiness comes from the cross.

There Is Always Hope

You all know the story of Jairus, right? His daughter was sick, so he ran to Jesus and asked him to come help. Jesus and Jairus were walking back to Jairus’s house when someone came running up to them and told Jairus, “Your daughter has died. Do not trouble the teacher any longer.”

Your daughter has died.

Most likely the absolute worst news of Jairus’s life.

Do not trouble the teacher any longer.There’s no point. No hope. What can Jesus do now?

Here was Jairus, whose world had just ended. But Jesus looks at him and immediately says,

“Do not be afraid.”

Really, Jesus? Do not be afraid? How could he not be afraid?

“Have faith, and your daughter will live.”

We know how the story ends. Jesus goes back to the house, sees the girl who has died, takes her hand and says, “Little girl, arise.” And she does. And he tells them to feed her. (Ever notice how in the Gospels whenever people come back from the dead they’re hungry, like when Jesus asked for food after his resurrection? Strange. I wonder if there’s a treatise on this somewhere.)

What really struck me today when my eyes fell on this passage was the part that Jairus was walking with Jesus as he got the news that his world had ended. And Jesus looked at him and said, Do not be afraid. Have faith…

Many times we find ourselves on the road with Christ when we get our own earth-shaking news. Sometimes it’s the loss of a person, like it was for Jairus. Other times it’s the loss of a dream, the loss of something we’ve worked for, a diagnosis we never expected, etc. And the world tells us to abandon all hope.

But that’s not what Jesus says.

Do not be afraid. Have faith.

There is hope.

 

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.

wales-075

We’re Going to Fatima.

 

October 13, 2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the famous Miracle of the Sun at Fatima.

Something’s been nagging at me for a while that we should go. We were already planning on going to Spain next October, so why not add in Fatima? And regular readers know that I’m not one to discount interior feelings.

I told Jesus that if we’re supposed to go, let me know and make it happen.

Nothing really stuck out at me, but that little feeling of “let’s go there” has stayed with me.

So we’re going.

I never thought I’d be going on a pilgrimage—or to Portugal, no less. We love to travel, but these things were never on our list.

And really, I’m not sure what it means to me. We’re not Fatima groupies or apparition junkies. We do pray the rosary most days. I would like to say daily, but I tend to skip it most Saturdays and Sundays. I’m working on that.

I’ve been on quite a faith journey in the last year, and who knows where I’ll be next October. But this feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’m going to take it.

Maybe this trip will change my life.

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

 

 

What exactly is Eternal Life?

What exactly is Eternal Life?

One of the best homilies of my life happened on a weekday morning mass at St. Matthew’s in DC. 

It was several months ago now, so I don’t remember all of the details, but it had such a profound effect on me that it must have been the Holy Spirit speaking through the priest that day. 

I don’t even remember whether the gospel reading was the Bread of Life discourse from John, or the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, or something else.

What I do remember is that the priest was talking about eternal life.

Here’s where my whole perspective on my daily living was changed.

What is eternal life?

Joy.

Pure, unnatural, overwhelming joy and a peace that surpasses all understanding.

When we say that Jesus offers us eternal life, we think this refers to when we die and go to heaven. Yes, it means that, but it’s more than that. Eternal life starts NOW.

Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He is life. This gift of eternal life is the gift of Himself. And He is love, peace, and JOY.

What does it mean to be joyful? Does it mean we’re always stupidly happy no matter what happens, even in the midst of tragedy? No, that’s not what joy means. There are times when we grieve, there are times of suffering and many, many tears. But this doesn’t mean we lose our joy.

Joy is the peaceful assurance and hope that God loves us and reigns over all. We know in the depth of our being that we are LOVED. 

Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It’s a grace, a sign of His life within you. It’s the only real comfort in the midst of suffering. It comes from the faith that God loves you, rescues you, and works all things for your good.

Eternal life isn’t something I have to wait for. I have it now.

And I have never felt so free.

What a glorious thing it is, to give him our hearts.

I confess, I’ve been a bad Catholic. Or at least an annoying one.

Ever since we found out that God was NOT calling us to adoption right now, I’ve been nervously pestering him. I pray “Jesus, I trust in you,” but he knows how weak a line that is. My usual prayers have gone something like this:

“Please, please don’t let me miss my vocation. I know you said don’t adopt and I’m ok with that,  but what if those other people are right and if we don’t raise children then we’re missing our vocation? Please don’t let me miss my vocation. Please don’t let my life be a waste. Please let my life and my marriage mean something.”

His answer has always been the same:

“Don’t you trust in my goodness?”

And clearly that wasn’t doing it for me so he sent me a lightening bolt. Allow me to explain.

My Uncle Silvio died this week, 81 years old. His joy and humor was an inspiration for everyone. But it was his cross that was an inspiration for me, and this is what I want to share with you.

He was married for 59 years to my Aunt Violet. They were never able to have children, and they never adopted. And even though this lack of children was indeed a suffering their whole life long, this couple had an amazing gift. Everyone could see how much they were in love, and they were always such a pair. Everyone’s favorite aunt and uncle.

Aunt Vi’s sister, my Aunt Annie, was married to Uncle Sil’s brother Ben. In what seems like an incomprehensible twist of fate, my Aunt Annie and Uncle Benny had 8 children.

I don’t know how Aunt Vi and Uncle Sil dealt with this, or if this in itself was a struggle. I’ll have to ask my Aunt Vi one day. But this is what I do know: Aunt Vi and Uncle Sil loved those 8 nieces and nephews so much and became their second parents.

Now that Uncle Sil has passed, watching the outpouring from Aunt Annie and Uncle Benny’s kids and grandkids just shows how much this couple was truly loved by everyone. They were always so joyful and happy and funny and the life of every party—a party that traveled wherever they went.

I want to be them when I grow up.

Even though sometimes God doesn’t take away our crosses, he still loves us so, so much. He has a plan for us. We are going to suffer, but he is going to give it meaning. He is going to use it for his glory and our salvation. “He wants our hearts more than he wants our healing,” as Fr. Mike Schmitz said. And what a glorious thing it is, to give him our hearts.

vi-and-sil
My heroes.

Being a Good Catholic Woman

Being a Good Catholic Woman

What a week in the world of Catholic women’s blogging.

On the one hand, we have this awesome article from Haley Stewart at Carrots for Michaelmas, Things You Don’t Have to Do to Be a Holy Catholic Woman.

Brilliant piece, and remarkably, one that an infertile female like myself doesn’t feel excluded by. I’m very happy that someone took the “wear skirts and homeschool your 10 kids or else you’re going to hell” people to task.

And then there was this garbage– and article that takes a narrow view of womanhood, and says that working outside the home means you’re “indulging in disordered emotional appetites.”

I expected better from Catholic Answers.

 

Being a stay at home mom is a beautiful vocation, and there are many good articles about that. This was not one of them.

Denying that women can find fulfillment in work, denying that many women are called to other or additional vocations beyond motherhood is not Catholic, not true, and not very nice.

Defending your vocation by putting down others is NOT acceptable.

Here’s a direct quote from this article:
“Even if I disliked most of the duties involved in homemaking, I would still do it. Once again, it’s about accepting God’s will and fulfilling the role he appointed—even if one is not titillated by every aspect of that role. Ironically, my working friends will often use this same rationale in defense of their boring jobs, though they will try to stop me from using it.”

Excuse me? “Boring jobs”- God called me to a wonderful vocation of being a wife–and a writer. And a singer. And a composer. And other things yet to be discovered.

 

Almost every female saint contradicts what this author says.

St. Zelie had kids AND her own business- and one of her kids is St. Therese!! St. Elizabeth Ann Seton had children, and she founded a school.St. Theresa of Avila was a brilliant scholar. St. Catherine of Siena was a powerhouse of thought. St. Mother Theresa, enough said. Sts. Agnes, Cecilia, Gemma, Therese, Mary Magdalene– none of these women were stay at home moms, and yet all of them faithfully followed a vocation given to them by God.

 

Really, I have three words for this author:

Joan of Arc.

Rant over.