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.

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Apparently God Likes Banana Bread.

Apparently God Likes Banana Bread.

Apologies for so much silence lately.

I actually have several attempted drafts sitting in this account, none of which I feel are good enough to publish. This one isn’t either, but there you go.

I’ve decided to share a little snippet from my life this weekend.

God told me to make banana bread.

Ok, no, he didn’t actually come out of the sky and say “Make ye bread of bananas.” Nothing that Monty Python-ish.

And no, no interior locutions. I’m not that special.

But nevertheless, I was sitting at my kitchen table Sunday night, checking emails or Facebook or engaging in some other mode of escapism, when my mind was drawn to all the things I’d heard this weekend about vocation, and doing God’s will in our lives.

I had heard a story this weekend about a married couple who were missionaries, and it stirred up my continued longing to do something more, something different, something radical in service to the Lord.

So I looked up at the crucifix above the front door and said, “What do you want me to do?”

My eyes then went over to the bananas that were sitting on my counter, just hitting that point between “too ripe to eat comfortably” and “let them sit one more day so I won’t feel as bad about throwing them out” and I kid you not, in the span of a moment, this is the rapid-fire stream of thoughts that came through my head:

God’s will is always expressed through the lens of your Vocation, big-“V”.

Your Vocation is to marriage- specifically, to be James’s wife.

Remember that line in Proverbs or something where it says a good wife makes stuff out of other stuff and whatnot?

You could totally be like that and make banana bread, instead of waiting another day and throwing those out.

So I made banana bread. On the seventh day.

And it was good.

 

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.”

You’re not a native

You’re not a native

I’ve decided that today I want to tell you it’s ok if you’re hurting.

It’s ok if you’re not doing great.

It’s ok if you’re feeling like you can’t handle the cards you’ve been dealt.

And it’s ok if you cry.

 

You know why?

Because you weren’t designed for this. You weren’t made for sorrows and suffering and crap happening in your life.

All of that stuff–that’s part of this fallen world.

But you weren’t made for this. This isn’t your true home.

You were made for Heaven.

So it’s ok that you’re having a hard time handling all this. It’s ok if you just need to lean your head on your Friend and cry. That’s what He’s there for. And He gets it. Because He made you.

 

Let me tell you a little story.

Once upon a time….

I forgot that I used to be normal.

I’d been on “infertility island” so long, I’d almost forgotten that I wasn’t born here. I’ve been drinking the water and thought I was a native. Like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, I’ve forgotten that I had a life before this island.

Then, as with the Lost Boys in Neverland, something triggered an ancient memory.

My mom shared an article on my Facebook page about toys in the 90s, asking if I remember Baby All Gone. Of course I do! She was only the coolest baby doll ever with the niftiest spoon of cherries that disappeared when you fed them to her. Coolest. Baby doll. Ever.

Wait a minute… baby doll?

Yes, I had one. And I loved it. And while my mommy was taking care of my baby sister, I was taking care of my baby doll. And in my little curly head I was assuming this was perfectly normal. I’m doing what mommy does and someday when I grow up I’ll be just like mommy and have a real baby too.

I wasn’t born on this island. I was shipwrecked here at age 16. But this is not my true home.

It wasn’t always like this. I wasn’t always like this.

I realized that I was being too hard on myself. I was echoing the voices of well-meaning people who have never been on this island. You should be better at this, I would say. You’ve been here for over a DECADE. You should be able to handle it now. Why did you break down in the baby section? Why did you cry on your way to the shower? You can do better.

The I saw the post from my mom, and remembered the truth.

I had a life before the island. I am not a native. I never was, and I never will be.

And truthfully, none of us are.

When we are wounded by the world, we become so hard on ourselves. We say that we should be better at this. We say, “I should be able to handle this.” But maybe that’s our pride talking, telling us to forget the truth about who we are, and whose we are.

We are not from here. This is not our home; we are only pilgrims passing through. And so we keep walking, keep trying, keep moving forward, but we can’t get anywhere on our own because we’re not made for this place. When people (including yourself) say, “You should be able to handle this,” remember the truth. You can’t handle this—at least, not on your own. And you’re not supposed to. That’s what God is for.

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Whoever gives up children for my sake…

Today’s Gospel has a very special place in my heart.

Peter began to say to Jesus,
“We have given up everything and followed you.”
Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you,
there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters
or mother or father or children or lands
for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel
who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:
houses and brothers and sisters
and mothers and children and lands,
with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.
But many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Mark 10: 28-31

I’ve been touched by this passage before, and I was super excited that it surprised me at Mass today. It’s like Jesus was speaking right to us. Knowing that we will never have our “own” kids without a surrogate, and therefore giving up “our” kids for the sake of the Gospel. I know they say there’s no getting pregnant in heaven, but it reminds me that God is going to do something great, and somehow I won’t be sad about it anymore.

 

I promise I’ll write better posts soon, but I felt it was important to get this out there into the world today for someone.

Love,

Connie ❤

What Disney’s The Little Mermaid Taught Me About God

What Disney’s The Little Mermaid Taught Me About God

Everyone who knows me in real life knows I’ve had a life-long obsession with Disney’s The Little Mermaid. My dad still tells the story of how when I was a toddler, I would say, “Daddy, tell me about Ariel,” and he had no idea who she was. (Crazy, right? That’s because this was circa 1989-1990 and movie was still new.)

I’ve always identified with her. I had that feeling of being different, wanting something more, wanting to experience the world. I loved to sing (still do), and I even had reddish hair (I was strawberry blonde as a little kid, though my hair turned golden blonde when I got older). As a kid, I spent all summer swimming underwater in my grandparents’ pool, pretending to be her. I still know all the words to “Part of Your World”, which basically was my theme song as I was going off to college.

I basically am Ariel. But putting that aside…

Something about the story in the Disney version had stood out to me recently, and it relates to infertility, but it really applies to any cross that one could carry.

It’s about trusting in God’s goodness.

Ariel had a dream. She wanted to be human. In fact, you could say that she was called to be a human. She loved everything about humanity, and was in love with one human in particular. She knew this was where she belonged. But she had one big obstacle- no legs.

She wanted legs so badly that she was tempted to make a deal with the sea witch. The sea witch gave her those legs- but only temporarily (three days) and at a tremendous cost- her voice, as well and her freedom. Next thing you know, she finds herself changed into a human, but in danger of drowning, trying to swim to the surface. She has legs, but no voice, no clothes, and no way to win the prince’s heart before her time is up and the sea witch takes her captive.

How much is that like sin? We want something so badly, sometimes we fall into sin to get it. Generations ago, they called this “making a deal with the devil”- because that’s what it is. He’ll give us what we want, sort of, temporarily, at the cost of our freedom in this life and our soul in the next. It’s a rotten deal. You can’t really get what you want: peace, happiness, love, and fulfillment.

Ariel fails. She loses that deal with the devil. She’s turned back into a mermaid and taken captive by the sea witch. All seems lost.

Until her father, the king, steps in.

The deal was made. He can’t break it. So out of love for his daughter, he steps in an takes her place. (Sound familiar?)

The battle happens. The sea witch is defeated. The captives are set free.

And there we see Ariel, the little mermaid, still without legs, still longing to be human and be where she belongs. Her father sees this, and his heart is moved.

He uses his power to make her human. And she gets to keep her voice. And instead of leaving her underwater and without clothes, her transformation leaves her on the beach, clothed in a gorgeous sparkly dress, and in the arms of the prince she loves.

Of course, they live happily ever after.

Ariel messed up. But her dad loved her anyway. And he made her dream come true.

Sometimes we have dreams, or even vocations, that seem impossible. Unbelievable, even. But here’s the thing- just like Ariel, we have a Father who loves us. We need to believe that. He really is full of goodness, and he can and will take care of us in his love.

All we need to do is trust.

Romans 8:28 ❤

 

 

 

 

When your path isn’t His path

When your path isn’t His path

Sitting in my living room during the Blizzard of 2016 seems as good a time as any to finally write my first blog post of this year.

2015 was the year of dreams. In just 12 months, by the grace of God, I accomplished all this:

  • I did the Whole 30 twice and lost 27 pounds between January and September.
  • We fulfilled my life-long dream of visiting England. I’ll never forget it as long as I live.
  • I finally became a full-time writer! I love my new job writing marketing content in the heart of Washington, DC.

If you’ve been following here, though, you know there have been some internal struggles. We started an adoption home study, then stopped, all because I froze and didn’t feel right about it. And I stressed over it, a lot. So much that I gained 20 pounds in the last 3 months. Ouch.

After months of serious, consistent, intense soul-searching, we’ve decided to postpone adoption all together. How do I feel about this? Relieved. Sure, I’m a little uncertain about what it means to be a married, childless Catholic. I always assumed that not having a uterus meant that I was therefore meant to adopt. I have learned now that this is not so. And while it is sad to know I will be childless (at least for now), it is also liberating to know that God is in fact leading me on HIS path. Yes, liberating. I feel free. Relieved. Peaceful. My path was not His path, and now I know that. Having handed Jesus the wheel (thanks Carrie Underwood), I am now free. Which leads us to my theme word for 2016:

TRUST.

It’s a little terrifying scary when you know that your life has to change, that you have to give something up that is good, but not for you. It’s almost like breaking up with that long-term boyfriend that’s just not the one. It requires a lot of trust-something that I don’t really have, but I’m working on. I mean, really, why can’t my path be a “normal” one-marriage, kids, family, etc.? I would be so nice to just fit in. But I know that that is not for me, not now. Instead, I’ll be focusing on my health, my new career, my marriage, my house, my relationships, and my faith. I know this is where I’m called to be. And there is peace.

Romans 8:28 ❤

For Nothing is Impossible with God

For Nothing is Impossible with God

Any day you get to sing “Hail Holy Queen” at Mass is like, the best day ever.

I mean, maybe it’s because of Sister Act, but singing “Salve, Salve, Salve Regina” at the top of my lungs in church is just… exhilarating.

But it was more than the music at today’s Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in DC that struck a deep chord with yours truly.

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (meaning Mary’s conception, not Jesus’), and day one of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

The gospel reading was the story of the Annunciation, when the Angel told Mary she would conceive Jesus. And the angels words end,

“And behold, your cousin Elizabeth has conceived in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren. For nothing is impossible with God.”

Nothing is impossible with God. Not even curing “her who was called barren.”

I’ve usually avoided this gospel passage, for obvious reasons, but today, my reaction was totally unexpected. My reaction was…

Tears. But not the sad kind. The excited, hopeful, wow God is awesome kind.

No, I don’t expect a miraculous pregnancy (although, God, if that’s what you’re feeling these days, I’m not objecting). But I know that there is hope.

I’ve recognized that I am a wounded, broken person. There’s the physical- the broken, unconnected pieces of a uterus that never developed. But there’s also… and stick with me here… broken, unconnected pieces of woman-ness that never formed. That part of me that still feels like a confused young kid stuck in a woman’s body, and doesn’t get why the grown ups are happy and excited when new life enters the world. That young teen that’s completely oblivious to maternal feelings. In a way, my physical reality mirrors my physiological and spiritual reality. But that can change. And herein lies the hope.

Today, God, I offer you this broken, unformed uterus and this broken, unformed spirit of womanhood. I know that in your mercy, you will take these pieces and make from them a new creation, so that she who was called barren will become a real and complete daughter and servant of yours and for your glory, for nothing is impossible with God. Amen.