St. Josemaria on Marriage and Infertility

St. Josemaria on Marriage and Infertility

Of all the saints who have ever helped me along my journey, I have yet to find one who writes as beautifully on the topic of infertility as St. Josemaria Escriva.

Josemaria

If you’re a St. Josemaria lover or an infertility junkie, you may have already seen his most well known quote on the subject:

“God in his providence has two ways of blessing marriages: one by giving them children; and the other, sometimes, because he loves them so much, by not giving them children. I don’t know which is the better blessing.”

It’s a beautiful quote. I’ve seen it before. And I love it, I really do. You could meditate for hours on it and still not really reach the end of it. But this isn’t the only thing he’s ever said on the subject.

Recently, I was looking for this quote, and the magic of Google brought me to a larger passage of St. Josemaria’s. Someone had asked the question:

“The frustration caused by not being able to have children, leads, at times, to discord and misunderstanding. In your opinion, what meaning should Christian couples who are childless give to their married life?”

The Saint’s answer was brilliant. Here’s what I considered to be the highlights:

“Often God does not give children because He is asking them for something more. ….

There is, then, no reason for feeling they are failures …..

If the married couple have interior life, they will understand that God is urging them to make their lives a generous Christian service, a different apostolate from the one they would have fulfilled with their children, but an equally marvelous one…

God, who always rewards, will fill with a deep joy those souls who have had the generous humility of not thinking of themselves.”

I read this, and I was stunned. Thrilled. Overjoyed. Finally, there was someone (a Saint even!) boldly proclaiming the truth:

Marriage is holy, in and of itself. Even if God doesn’t give you children.

(If you want, you can read the whole thing here. Scroll down to number 8.)

As Catholics, we often think that we are failures if our families don’t include many children, running around and singing in matching outfits on an Austrian hillside. That not having several children means that we are less loved by God. That our marriage is worthless. But that’s a lie.

God has a plan for marriage—and he even has a plan for YOUR marriage, in particular. And the particular number of children he gives you (even if it is zero) is not what’s important.

What matters is your daily living of your marriage vows— your daily “I do” to your spouse and to God. 

Marriage is a vocation, a call from God, and “the vocation to love is in fact a vocation to the gift of self, and this is a possibility that no physical condition can prevent.” (That’s Pope B-16 for the win, by the way).

“…a different apostolate… but an equally marvelous one.”

Marriage is a path to holiness. And guess what? Everyone’s path is going to be unique.

This is the message that I’ve felt in my heart for a while now (ever since we felt God asking us to set aside our adoption plans), but finally they come out of the mouth of a Saint.

If I had read these words two years ago, I would have hated them. I would have felt my chest and shoulders tightening up and my eyes getting blurry. I would have thrown my computer. I’ve done that before.

I was so wounded and full of grief that I couldn’t have recognized the Lord even if he stood in front of me.

21 Since my heart was embittered
    and my soul deeply wounded,
22 I was stupid and could not understand;
    I was like a brute beast in your presence

Psalm 73: 21-22

I’m still wounded. I still have grief. But it’s different now.

I have hope.

I’ve learned that I’m not bound to procure children at any cost. If God’s plan means I’m not going to be a mother, it’s ok, because it’s not about here – it’s about heaven.

 

But what if you’re not there yet?

I shared the passage from St. Josemaria with a secret Facebook group of Catholic women dealing with infertility, and while many were just as excited as I was, some of the members had a less favorable take:

“This quote would only be helpful if I knew for certain that I would never have a baby. Then I could pick up and move on.”

This really summarizes our initial gut reaction for most crosses, doesn’t it? “If I knew for sure what the outcome would be, then I could get on with my life.”

Have you ever found yourself saying something like that? I sure have. It’s understandable, for sure. After all, we’re all human. We crave stability and certainty. But here’s the thing about the cross:

There is no human certainty in it. There never is.

Jesus isn’t asking you or me to reach a point where we feel safe and sure, and THEN pick up our cross. It can’t work that way – it doesn’t make sense. Instead, Jesus is saying, “Take up your cross and follow me.” He wants us to trust him.

He’s not going to give us the details in advance. Maybe because it would make things too easy. Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe if he let us see all of the pain up ahead before we’ve built up the soul-muscles to handle it, we’d quit before we even tried.

At the end of the day maybe faith is about learning to embrace the cross in the midst of all the uncertainty and instability and specters of hope. Maybe it’s about learning what “hope” truly means, and discovering that as much as we desperately want “x”, there is a wound in our souls even deeper, that requires something even more, that Jesus alone can satisfy.

And that’s where our certainty comes from, isn’t it?

That’s where our assurance lies: in Christ, who loves us deeply, knows us intimately, and is always at our side.

“Do not focus so much on the path, but on the One who guides you, and to the heavenly home to which he is guiding you” – St. Padre Pio

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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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.

A Light in the Darkness

A Light in the Darkness

This year, James and I hosted our first Thanksgiving. My parents and sister came to our house, and everything was wonderful. We have so much to be thankful for: each other, our continued “newlywed” status (almost 3 years in), our home, our parents and siblings, our trip to England this year, and my new job, which is a total gift from God. After 6 years I am finally doing what I want to do, AND it’s right across the street from a cathedral where I can go to daily Mass on my lunch break. Wow. What a blessed year!

You’ll notice I left out the adoption stuff on our gratitude list. Not long after started the process, something began stirring in my soul. That something, I am convinced, was God. What we were doing (domestic infant adoption) just didn’t feel right. At least not now. I can’t help but feel that there’s something else he wants us to do, at least for now. Maybe we’re supposed to be foster parents. Maybe we’re supposed to wait a few years before adopting. Maybe we’re supposed to adopt internationally. Or maybe we’re supposed to do something radically different, like become missionaries for a while.

I don’t know what it is we’re supposed to do, but I know it’s not domestic infant adoption. At least not now. Every day I’m praying more than I ever have, and going to Mass. So far, the overwhelming message is “Wait.” I have no idea what he wants from me, but I keep asking. And waiting.

And it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating not knowing what to do next. Part of me wishes God gave us this message before we paid money to an adoption agency. But I know he has his reasons. Maybe I just wasn’t open before. It’s also frustrating being the only one without a baby… but also knowing that I cannot adopt simply just to “fit in.”

Yesterday, as per tradition, we put up our Christmas tree. Instantly, my heart breathed an overwhelming sigh of relief. Finally, it’s time to start getting ready for Christmas. And everything is better at Christmas, because having that tree in the living room reminds me that Jesus is here. It reminds me that God loved us so much that he became one of us, and he lives, and he is with us, and he is here in this home. And everything is going to be alright because nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ.

You Are Mine

You Are Mine

Pslam 139:13-14

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

“For you created my inmost being…”

I was born without a uterus. And though I never consciously blamed God for this, of course he allowed it to happen—and that is something that needs reconciling.

While I never knowingly said, “How could you, Jesus?” I know that deep down, part of me used to think that maybe this disease was a result of neglect on his part. I have thought, many times, “God forgot to give me a uterus.” I know that others, in their situations, have thought similar things: “Maybe God forgot to make a plan for me,” or “maybe God forgot to keep an eye on me, and that’s why this happened.”

The truth is that he never turned his eyes away. He never neglected me (or you) for even a second. He made us, on purpose. He did, actually and truly “knit me together in my mother’s womb.” And you are, in fact, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” He created you—every part of you—and you were never a mistake. You are his child, and he loves you more than you could ever imagine.

“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!