Tales from the Valley

"Not all those who wander are lost"- J.R.R. Tolkien

“Littleness”

“Littleness”

Any time we go through grief or suffering of any kind, we have good days and bad days. Sometimes we have good minutes and bad minutes. The other night I was having a bad hour (after a very good day, no less) and an image came to mind of  “the poor little MRKH girl,” like “the poor little match girl” but without the dying part. And it made me think.

Perhaps it is in the carrying of our cross that we become all the more special to our Heavenly Father. Maybe it is our greatest pain that endears us to him. Maybe seeing us in our most trying agony moves his heart and makes him want to hold us. Like the way Tiny Tim was special to his father Bob Cratchet, maybe it’s the same with God. Maybe the littler we become and the more we recognize how desperately we need God, the more he yearns to give.

Feeling “little” isn’t a bad thing. Christ himself said that we must become like little children. The greatest saints all recognized their own helplessness and need for their Savior. Maybe that’s why children and poverty are such a popular theme in Christmas stories. Jesus came into the world as a helpless infant, and we are meant to recognize how small we really are. That’s why he taught us to call God “Abba”-the equivalent of “Daddy”. It’s only when we are comfortable in our littleness that we can reach our arms up to heaven and call for our daddy to pick us up.

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Half Agony, Half Hope

Half Agony, Half Hope

August 2015 has been the most stressful month of my life to-date. That is a fact. On August 1, we started the adoption process (yay!). On August 6, I learned that I am being let go on October 6 (?!?!). I could go into lots of detail about both of these things, but suffice it to say that, in the words of my beloved Jane Austen, “I am half agony, half hope.” I’m trying so hard to focus on the hope. And so, I wrote this:

The Tightrope

They say the way is narrow and lined with rocks.

It’s narrow alright, and on either side, a terrifying chasm.

It’s a rickety bridge of ropes and broken boards,

And at the canyon’s bottom, sharp rocks and rushing water,

But my Lord is holding my hand.

He’s walking with me, carrying me,

And I am trying not to look down.

He asks me, gently, to fix my eyes on him

As he leads me across this tightrope

Above the never-ending abyss.

He whispers that I will not fall,

And commands his angels to guard below.

I do not know the way,

Or how long it will take,

Or how much more difficult the journey will be.

But I do know that I can close my eyes,

And worry not, because he is with me always.

My Lord will lead me home.

Starting a Prayer Journal

Starting a Prayer Journal

I love my diary. Always have, always will. In fact, I have diaries documenting my life from middle school onward. Some parts are fun to go back and read. Others, not so much. Still, it is fascinating for me to see how much I have grown and changed throughout my small 20-something years of life. Things that worried Miss 15-year-old Connie Ann seem ridiculous to me now. Other times, I marvel at what could only have been the Holy Spirit working in my life.

I record all kinds of things in my diary- things people said, places I visited, achievements, etc., but the most fascinating part for me to read now is the development of my relationship with God. There were times in my life where I was on fire with love for him, and other times when I was not. Things happened. Hard things. Looking back, I can see how God used them for his purpose.

My diaries have been great for tracking my faith journey, but now I think it is time for something more. Something deeper. Something more focused.

Something for recording my spiritual travels.
For recording my spiritual travels

I’ve decided to start a prayer journal. I want to keep track of my relationship with God, and where he takes me, and where we’re going, so that someday I can look back and see all the places we have been together.

Some prayer journals list things prayed for, and the way they were answered. Some prayer journals list things to be grateful for each day. Mine may include these things, but really I’m most interested in paying attention to the way God speaks in this life. I hope this exercise helps me to see these things.

Has anyone here kept a prayer journal of some sort? Did you find it helpful? Was it difficult to keep up with? Any thoughts, tips, and suggestions are welcome!

What about me?

What about me?

Remember the parable of the laborers in the vineyard? At the end of the day, the owner pays everyone the same wage, a full daily rate, even to those who had been working for only an hour. The workers who had been there all day got upset and thought they should be paid even more. The owner, (God, in this case) says, “Are you jealous because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:15).

How many times when dealing with our sufferings have we thought, “How come she gets babies and I don’t?” “How come they have a good marriage and mine didn’t work out?” “How come they get money and I can’t pay my grocery bill?” All of these things can be summed up in our minds as, “Why do good things happen to everyone, even to bad people, but never to me?”

We don’t wish anyone ill will, but we question why they get the things we desire most, while we are kept waiting. We have been laboring in the vineyard day after day, through the heat and without rest, and yet these people get the things we think will make us happy. So God asks us,

“Are you jealous because I am generous?”

We know that he will take care of us. Who among you would give your son a stone when he asks for bread? But we don’t always understand what this means in our life. What if he doesn’t cure your physical illness, give you money, or make your problems disappear?

God will satisfy the desires of our heart, but that doesn’t mean he’ll give us everything we think we need. Just like 6-year-olds praying for a pony, sometimes adults still don’t understand what they truly need. God is not our personal genie, and we cannot control the way that our Divine Physician chooses to heal. Instead, our job is to seek first the kingdom, to be more like him and to be with him. As we become holier, our wills align more closely with his. Only then will our hearts be satisfied.

He will heal our wounds. He will make us whole. He will bring us to himself.

Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.

The Miracle of the Flowers: A Wedding Story

The Miracle of the Flowers: A Wedding Story

The wedding industry is a bully. It pressures cash-strapped brides to have a Pinterest-perfect wedding no matter what the sacrifice. Add in a deeply entrenched Italian-American culture that says parents must provide for their daughter’s big day (or face eternal embarrassment), compounded with the fact that our Catholic families equaled over 250 people (not including friends), and you’ll start to get a picture of the impossible situation we found ourselves in when my darling James got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife.

I didn’t think I could have one of those dream weddings. My parents had just sold our home at short sale and we were living with my grandmother. James hadn’t found a full-time job yet. A traditional Italian wedding seemed impossible.

Impossible, but here’s the catch. God is Love. And with Love, all things are possible.

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One day, during lunch, I went to a nearby church and prayed. I was doing that famous novena for James to get a job so we could get married. Yes, I wanted a nice wedding, but what I really wanted was to start a marriage with the man I love. I opened the hymnal to a random page, and it happened to be a song about marriage and the miracle at the wedding at Cana. That’s when it hit me:

Jesus would take care of it. His first miracle was making wine at a wedding to keep the party going. Not only would he find James a job so we could get married, but he would make sure we had a nice wedding, too.

cana

My parents are the ultimate fighting team when it comes to art projects. One Artist + One Engineer= Two brilliant, imaginative people who turn visions into reality. There’s really nothing that these two can’t do. And they channeled their genius into my wedding.

My mom single-handedly made all of the favors. The programs were printed (by my dad!) on gorgeous parchment-style paper and bound in scrapbook paper and ribbons assembled by an in-house team of relatives and friends. My mom and sister made all the boutonnieres, bouquets and corsages out of gorgeous silk flowers a year in advance. We basically kept the glue-gun manufactures in business throughout the whole of 2012.

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One of our gorgeous DIY programs. We had an assortment of paper and ribbons so each one was unique.

Then came the unexpected gifts. My dress alterations and veil were all FREE from a friend of my mother. My gorgeous and unique centerpieces were also done by another friend of my mother. The beautifully engraved cake-serving set and the elegant toasting flutes were gifts from my dear friends. That delicious dessert buffet was a community effort on the part of our friends and family who volunteered to bake their favorite sweets for our big day. And our dream honeymoon was a gift from James’s parents.

Jesus did it. He provided for our big day. Yes, he cares more about the marriage than the wedding, but he cares about the wedding too! There were so many examples of how his love poured through our friends and family and made our day amazing. And family was everywhere. The priest who married us was family. The altar boys were family. Even our wedding coordinator was family. We were completely overwhelmed by love.

And to top it all off…

Out of all these gifts and blessings, there was one little miracle, one gift that stood out as a reminder that ALL the gifts, big and small, were signs that Jesus was taking care of this wedding.

In an effort to curtail expenses, we had decided to forgo altar flowers. Those big, gorgeous arrangements are very expensive, and we just didn’t have the money. We decided that someone would run to Home Depot in the morning and get potted flowers to place around the altar.

In the rush of that morning, no one remembered to purchase our little potted flowers. Oh well. Except when we arrived at the church…

There were flowers on the altar! Three huge, gorgeous, professional arrangements that were the PERFECT colors for our wedding were on either side of the tabernacle and in front of the altar. They’re in all of our pictures and they were incredible.

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See those GORGEOUS flowers on either side of the tabernacle? Those were the anonymous gift! There was a third arrangement in front of the altar. And of course, our wonderful priests (an uncle and a friend), and the bouquet my mom and sister made.

We have no idea where they came from. We’ve guessed that maybe one of our friends or relatives did this for us, but we will never know. Working through loving human beings, God made a miracle happen, and showed us his overwhelming, gratuitous love. As the Rite of Marriage says, “Christ abundantly blesses this love.” And he did. Like making wine out of water, the way our wedding came together was a beautiful, mysterious example of the overflowing love of God.

Paul, meet Connie. Connie, meet Paul.

Paul, meet Connie. Connie, meet Paul.

So, I recently started talking to St. Paul.

In case you’re not familiar to praying to saints, this is where God grants his buddy Paul a special grace to be able to hear me, and I ask Paul to put in a word for me to the big man. Much like asking a friend on earth to pray for you, I’ve asked Paul of Tarsus to give our friend JC a little nudge to “wake him up”, if you will. After all, Jesus was known to fall asleep at inconvenient times. (Mark 4:38, anyone?)

Well, St. Paul woke him up.

On the 3rd day of our St. Paul novena, I got to speak with the Creative Director at the ad agency I work for. I told him I want to write, and he wants to help me! He said he would start throwing me some things to play with, and, “You never know,” he said. “I’ve met people who started at the front desk like you and ended up as Creative Director eventually.”

God bless that man.

On day 6 there was another mention from the Creative Director about hoping to hook me up with some writing in the near future, and an apology that he’s been overly busy lately. Clearly, it is on his mind.

Now I’m waiting. Still praying, still hoping, still waiting. But there is hope, and that is a wonderful thing.

Honestly, I don’t even know if a writing position at this company is the answer. Maybe this nod from the creative director is just meant to give me a little encouragement as I continue to seek meaningful work as a writer. The path is still foggy up ahead. All I can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, and keep praying that the fog clears soon.

To keep the hope going, I’m looking for prayer stories. When has God given you a clear answer to your prayer? How did you hear his voice? Where did it lead? Do you have a favorite go-to prayer when you really need guidance?

Sacred Heart Prayers

Sacred Heart Prayers

As promised, a little published update and thank you for prayers heard.

I said this novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the intercession of St. Jude:

May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be adored, glorified, loved and preserved throughout the world, now and forever. Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us. St. Jude, worker of miracles, pray for us. St. Jude, help of the hopeless, pray for us.

You say this prayer 9 times a day for 9 days, and you are guaranteed to have an answer on or before the 8th day. It has never failed. It didn’t fail this time, either.

I prayed for either a new job or career direction. I have so many interests and I’ve been so confused, I haven’t really known what to look for.

This Saturday (the 7th day), I decided to go pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I tried to go in the morning before meeting a friend for lunch, but I ran out of time. Then, when I met my friend, she mentioned that she parked right near a really cool old Catholic Church. Wait, what?

After lunch (and shopping!) we went inside the church to explore a little. Then, when my friend left, I stayed for about 20 minutes to pray.

While I was praying, I looked up and noticed that up above the tabernacle there was a very large statue of the Sacred Heart, front and center. Looks like I’m in the right place. I looked at that statue for a while and remembered why Jesus asked to be portrayed that way- because he loves us. He loves us so much and his heart continues to burn with love for us. He doesn’t want me to be miserable, directionless and without purpose. He has a plan for me.

My eyes were then drawn to the right of the altar, and a statue of St. Paul was there. St. Paul? What’s he doing here? Wait… this church is called St. Paul’s. St. Paul is the patron saint of writers!

St Paul

Yes, the Paul who wrote half the bible (basically) and who is quoted more than any other source in Christianity was an intellectual with many gifts who was called to use those gifts for the Kingdom of God.

I thought this must be the answer: to look to St. Paul, to be a writer, and to ask for his intercession in finding fulfilling employment using those gifts. I still wanted a little confirmation though. And after all, this was only day 7.

That night I started googling St. Paul novenas. I had never heard of a novena to St. Paul. He’s not exactly known to be a heavy hitter like Anthony, Jude or Therese. And then came God’s second whack over the head for me:

It turns out, the Daughters of St. Paul have a special novena to St. Paul, and it starts JUNE 21.

June 21. Sunday. The 8th day.

Boom.

So last night, we continued with our Sacred Heart novena (must do all 9 days in thanksgiving), and we began a novena to St. Paul the Apostle, patron saint of writers.

Which Way to Adoption?

Which Way to Adoption?

Recently, our hearts have been moved toward becoming parents. We seem to have decided on a home study agency, but still need to find an out-of-state placement agency. Still, we haven’t done any paperwork. Why?

Money. Career. Where-the-heck-is-my-life-headed. You know, that stuff.

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You see, as much as I LOVE our life at home, I still haven’t found a satisfying occupation, let alone career. And we can’t yet afford for me to be a stay-at-home-mom (thanks, Maryland economy). I’m not sure if I’d rather find a great job or be able to quit, but I know that I do not want to have a baby when I’m working full-time at a stressful job that I don’t enjoy. That would be a nightmare that I would prefer to avoid.

So, what do I do? Let’s look at the options:

1. Start adoption paperwork now. Pray I find a new job. And if I don’t, hope that we can afford the unpaid maternity leave. And hope that we don’t enter the realm of nightmares (see above).

2. Wait 3 to 5 years more before starting the paperwork, by such time we would hopefully be able to live on my husband’s income alone, or that plus something part-time for me. Downside: waiting, even more. And who knows if 3 to 5 years is enough. The DC area is expensive. It could be more like 5-10! And what if we’re not supposed to wait anymore? What if the one that is meant for us is coming sooner than we think?

3. Find the new job ASAP, one that uses my talents and (hopefully) has resources for adoptive maternity leave. Start the adoption paperwork after I get settled in that. Maybe have to struggle a bit with the full-time work in the beginning, but hopefully transition to something part-time in two or three years. Downside to this is getting a new job and making sure I like it. And given my track record, finding a new job takes a long, long time.

And as much as number 3 sounds the most logical, and number 1 the most insane, I’ve often seen that things fall together in a pinch when God’s involved with something. What do you think? Am I letting fear hold me back? Or should I focus on finding a career (as unlikely as that could be)?

After promptings from a number of people we know, we started praying a novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the intercession of St. Jude for my job situation. I know that something will come of this (it never fails), but I do not know what, yet. It is guaranteed to be answered on or before the 8th day, which is Sunday. I will publish a thank you after that date. June also happens to be the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart, so this is rather fitting.

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I know I’m asking the world in this post, but, basically, what is my vocation and how do I find it?

The Couple in the Pew

The Couple in the Pew

This is my article that was published in the Catholic Standard a few months ago. I found it online today and thought you all would like to read it.

The couple in the pew: the impact of infertility

By Connie Poulos
Thursday, April 23, 2015 2:26 PM

There is a couple sitting in the pew on Sunday. You know they have been married at least one, two, three years now. No children yet.

If you’ve spotted me, or any of the thousands of local Catholics dealing with infertility, our childlessness is not by choice.

The desire for children is deeply rooted in our human nature. We see this in the excitement and hope of those trying to conceive. We see it most profoundly in the pain experienced by those for whom this desire is unfulfilled.

According to a recent study, one in six couples struggle with some form of infertility. Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after a year of trying, or the inability to carry a pregnancy to term. Infertility can be primary (no living children) or secondary (unable to conceive or carry an additional child). Affecting men and women in equal numbers, infertility is a true medical condition and not the result of stress, “not doing it right” or “not relaxing.” Worse still, it is a real emotional and spiritual trauma that can potentially wreak havoc on a husband and wife.

The inability to achieve something so natural, so expected, so inherent to the dignity of marriage, cuts at the heart of our sense of self. Broken dreams serve as a painful reminder that children are indeed a gift; they cannot be created on demand. They cannot be earned. We are not the Author of Life, God is.

Emotionally, there is no way to “get over” infertility. It is a continual loss, day in and day out. Even years after acceptance, something unexpected can trigger uncontrollable tears. Baptisms, Mass readings mentioning pregnancy, pregnancy announcements and receiving a shower invitation are all situations that can re-open the wound. Holidays are hard. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day Masses bring a unique degree of torture. Why should all these happy events cause such grief? Simply this: the wound is too deep. The weight is too much to bear.

Part of this cross, unique to Catholics, is choosing to put God above our own desires. With some forms of infertility, the only way to fulfill the good, natural, and burning desire for a biological child is through illicit treatments. Laying down our God-given desires and freely choosing to forgo these technologies (sometimes out of pure obedience) is a tremendous sacrifice. Many friends and family cannot understand why we choose this. Instead of supporting our faith, they act as though we are bringing pain upon ourselves, and plead with us to try IVF. What keeps us going? We trust that in his wisdom, God does not give us these rules to make us miserable, but because he knows what is ultimately going to make us happy.

Learning to live in an infertile reality is like climbing a mountain barefoot in a blizzard. First things first, hold tight to your spouse and to God. No matter what is causing infertility, the important thing to remember is that this suffering, this pain, was not given to you by God. Suffering is a reality of our fallen world, as unavoidable as earthquakes and hurricanes. As much as we cry over infertility, God cries more. He loves life; he loves babies! He cries for those who are unable to conceive or who lose a child. The beauty of our faith is that we believe that our suffering itself is fruitful. We have hope that God can and will use our suffering to create something glorious. “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

Even in the cross, there are gifts to be explored. Infertility opens our eyes to the reality that fruitfulness in marriage takes many forms, and that our call to life and love is a daily occupation, regardless of our circumstances. Infertility, viewed from the cross, reminds us that the gift given in marriage involves a new life, even if it may not be expressed in the beautiful gift of children. All married love is fruitful. The light of Christ that comes out of the sacramental union shines forth into the darkness of our fallen world. “The vocation to love,” said Pope Benedict, “is a vocation to the gift of self and this is a possibility that cannot be impeded by any organic condition.”

When God calls us to marriage, he calls us to love and honor our spouse all the days of our lives. He calls us to be open to whatever life he has planned. Our vocation to marriage is as real and as serious as any other vocation. A family of two is no less a family. We are a visible sign of God’s love.

If you or someone you know is struggling with infertility, we would like to invite you to the upcoming Archdiocesan Morning of Hope and Healing, to be held on Saturday, April 25 at 10:00, at the Saint John Paul II Shrine in Washington, DC. Planned with all types of infertility in mind, we welcome all those who carry this cross, along with their friends, families and supporters. There will be simultaneous translation into Spanish for our Hispanic faithful. For more information, please visit http://www.adw.org/event/mass-hope-healing/ or email or call Mary Hamm in the Office of Family Life at hammm@adw.org; or 301 853-4499.

(Connie Poulos is a local Catholic blogger at http://www.TalesfromtheValley.com . #Visible Sign is a column on marriage and family life produced by the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office for Family Life. For more information, see http://www.adw.org/visiblesign.)

Blessed are the Invisible

Blessed are the Invisible

You know that dream, the one where you’re screaming for help but no sound escapes your lips? It’s terrifying. You desperately need help, but no one sees your plight. You are invisible.

Many of us feel this way in our suffering, especially if that suffering is infertility, singleness, or difficult marriages. We have a hard time finding spiritual support, and we feel completely alone in our journeys. We feel like we are forgotten by our fellow Catholics. Why?

The Church is made of humans, and humans fall into judgement. Humans beings make assumptions like, “The more children you have, the better Catholic you are,” and “Anyone without a happy marriage and several children must be in a state of sin.”Amidst these assumptions, those who suddenly find themselves single or without children tend to shrink back and hide. They’re ashamed and embarrassed, though they did nothing wrong. And you know what happens when good people are ashamed for no reason? They keep their mouths shut. They’re afraid to be outed as a misfit. They accept their invisibility, and the shroud of secrecy is allowed to grow. When the secrecy grows, the judgmental stay ignorant, and the stereotypes continue. This is not what God wants.

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I’m here today to tell you, all of you who are invisible, to have hope. Rejoice in your invisibility. Yes, it is awful to be one of the misfits, the different, the hidden people on the margin. But we have a God who sees what is hidden. Ours is a God of the marginalized.

Jesus spent much of his earthly ministry saying over and over again that those who are smallest are the most precious to him. He lifted up the powerless: women, children, and backwater fishermen. He ministered to the lepers, the sinners, and the poor. His message wasn’t for those with perfect lives. It was for you.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” You are suffering, you have a problem, you are powerless, you need God. Therefore you are blessed, because he has promised you his kingdom.

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” I’m sure you’ve done your share or mourning. You will find comfort, even if it’s not in the way that you would expect.

And when people judge your cross, remember this:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Each of us is called to something different. God wants us to live our lives for him, whatever that entails. If your life doesn’t fit the mold, live it anyway. He loves you just as much. In fact, he has a soft spot for you.

Jesus always roots for the underdog. ❤