Tales from the Valley

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

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 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.)

Taking Up Our Cross

Taking Up Our Cross

The first followers of Jesus called their faith The Way. Living the Gospel is a journey and a way of life, one that was so strikingly different from their pagan neighbors that they stood out. It’s no different today. As my grandfather used to say, “We live one way, the world lives another.” Our faith is counter-cultural. To put it bluntly, if you truly live as a Christian, you will not fit in.

This can mean a number of things, and none of them are easy. It can mean going out of your way during a busy, stressful day to help someone, or being patient with a cranky call center rep. It can mean refusing to engage in gossip about a troublesome family member, and doing your best to love them as Jesus does. It can mean being the only one of your friends not to live together before marriage, because your faith teaches that marriage and sex are sacred. It can mean giving up an hour of your Sunday morning to get dressed and visit Jesus at Mass, even when you “don’t get anything out of it” because you know its the right thing to do.

It can mean any form of denying yourself and your wishes, even if they are natural, because you believe that there is a proper ordering of things, and you have the gift of free will.

A wise person once said, “Christianity without suffering isn’t Christianity, it’s Paganism.” We can all be nice and get along. What makes Christianity different? It’s our willingness to bear wrongs patiently in the name of our God. It’s taking up your cross daily, and striving to live according to the Gospel.

Our society has indeed reached a new era of paganism. No, not too many people still believe in Zeus and Mars. The modern gods are Money, Conformity, Relativism and Desire, and the king of the gods, Self.

Everybody has a cross to bear, something that makes you say “I could be a perfect Catholic if that one teaching didn’t go against what I need in my life. It works for some people, but it won’t work for me because of x, y and z.” To live our faith, we need to abandon those thoughts. They are not from God. When Peter suggested that Jesus find a way out of his impending crucifixion, Jesus rebuked him saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” And yet we know the cross was hard for Jesus to accept. He sweat blood as he prayed, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Accepting our cross is the hardest thing we’ll ever do. And we’re going to fall on occasion. But God knows this, and he loves us anyway. The beauty of our faith is that we know that if we leave the right path, our Good Shepherd loves us so much that he goes looking for us, eager to forgive us, bring us back, and help us follow the Way.

Jesus-The-Good-Shepherd

When Necessary, Use Words.

When Necessary, Use Words.

Truth be told, I’m rather non-confrontational. I don’t seek out arguments. And if there’s one skill I learned at the auto body, it’s patience and calm under fire.

That being said, it seems rather ironic that I’ve always had an interest in Catholic apologetics- studying, explaining and defending the faith against misconceptions (and the occasional outright lie).

As Christians, we are called to evangelize. What does this mean? St. Francis of Assisi is famously quoted saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” Our love should be the primary witness to Christ in our lives. No one likes a pushy door-to-door Bible salesman, or the people who confront you at the mall on Sundays when all you want is a new pair of jeans.

When Necessary, Use Words.

But what about those times when words really are necessary?

I usually don’t start discussions about differences in faith. My general philosophy is that no one is converted in an argument. If someone asks me questions about my Catholicism, I’m happy to answer. I love religious discussions. But I usually don’t go looking for debates.

Recently, thanks to social media, I’ve been involved in a few of these. The first was quite amicable. It was difficult, but everyone involved was respectful and polite. I truly believe that the participants were seeking the truth.

The second of these was markedly different. It was with a stranger: a professed atheist. He started poking me a little, but he seemed polite enough. It was civil, so I entertained him for a bit. But as the conversation wore on, he lost his cool. He started getting rude. And then he crossed the line: he referred to his atheism as “the way, the truth and the life.”

That’s when I knew who was talking. I said a prayer and ended the conversation.

So what’s the takeaway? How do we handle conversations about differences of faith? Do we never discuss religion at all, be friends with everyone, and go through life never making waves? But what about all the misinformation out there? Don’t we need to be witnesses to the truth of the gospel, and aren’t words necessary at times? How should we handle things like this?

+AMDG+

Anima Christi

Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, sanctify me; Body of Christ, save me; Blood of Christ, inebriate me; Water from the side of Christ, wash me; Passion of Christ, strengthen me; O good Jesus, hear me; within your wounds, hide me; let me never be separated from you; from the evil one, protect me; at the hour of my death, call me; and bid me to come to you; that with your saints, I may praise you forever and ever. Amen.

Anima-Christi


When I was a child, I found this prayer in a book that I kept in my room. I would pray it over and over, completely mesmerized. I don’t remember how old I was, but I remember having to pull out the dictionary for “inebriate”. Is it weird that whenever I hear that word, my thoughts immediately go to this prayer?

Within your wounds, hide me.

When I was a kid, I remember picturing being tiny and Jesus being like a giant, keeping me tucked in his pierced side and me being perfectly content, as close to him as possible. I never thought that was weird. Oh, the mind of a Catholic child.

Now that I’m an adult, this line has new meaning. We know that we are particularly close to Jesus in our suffering, for it was then that I carried you. Perhaps asking Jesus to hide us in his wounds means we are asking him to allow us to suffer with him. Perhaps it is about taking up our cross and joining him, uniting our wounds with his. Maybe it’s asking him to keep us close in suffering. This beautiful line makes me think of St. ThĂŠrèse and her desire to be small and insignificant. It makes me think of what St. Faustina learned from Jesus, that “If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things: one is the receiving of Holy Communion, and the other is suffering.” It’s something I could spend the rest of my life contemplating and never quite understand. Perhaps that is what makes it so beautiful.

I don’t really know why, but this prayer always fills my with a strange and wonderful fire, like a burning peace, if that makes sense. It is so powerful. If you’ve never prayed it, I strongly encourage you to give it a try.

Does anyone else find the Anima Christi to be particularly moving? What is your favorite prayer? Is there one in particular that really speaks to you? I’m thinking about making prayer discussion a recurring topic here at TFTV.

Hope and Lemonade. Or Limoncello.

Hope and Lemonade. Or Limoncello.

“The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” Psalm 147:11

One of the greatest consolations in the world is getting a glimpse of God making lemonade out of your lemons (or limoncello, paisan).

I finally know why I have MRKH/infertility. It’s because of the Fall of Man and the general evil and sin existing in the world from the beginning. That’s it. That’s all. That’s why.

What has recently become therapeutic for me is exploring the what now.

I’ve been dealt a lemon, thanks to the existing evil in the natural world. How am I going to give this lemon to God and let Him create something beautiful with it?

I’m coming to believe that this is what “hope” means for those dealing with suffering or grief. We get so hung up on “hope” meaning waiting for a baby, a miraculous cure, or whatever kind of candy we can get from the miracle store. But that’s not how it works. Hope means believing that there will be something beautiful to come. God will turn our lemons to lemonade, and our limes into Key Lime Pie. If we place our hope in Him, God will make sure that our suffering is used to create a greater good.

The best part is when you being to sense the wonderful things coming from His kitchen.

The Year of Wandering

The Year of Wandering

Trying to assess 2014 for the Connie Ann household is a tough one. There were no major milestones or changes. Our cars kept running, our jobs kept paying, and the sun kept rising over the CA Observation Deck. Brownie continues to be simultaneously adorable and troublesome. It’s a good thing he’s cute.

We hosted a number of parties, including a family New Year’s Day lunch, a Memorial Day cookout, a late-summer s’mores party and a Christmas movie night. We attended 4 weddings: 2 in Maryland, 1 in Nevada and 1 in the beautiful mountains of Western New Jersey.

We took numerous weekends to Williamsburg, VA, and celebrated the 4th of July in the true spirit of 1776. We went to Jamestown and learned about the hardships of the earliest European Americans. We ate cheesesteaks in Philadelphia. We went on our Great Western Adventure and saw Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

We celebrated our first anniversary with a weekend staycation involving Mount Vernon, a stroll in Ellicott City and dinner in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The next day we said goodbye to Skippy, my beloved childhood pet dutch bunny. He was 13, and very much loved.

2014 was a year of wandering. I wrote so much about my spiritual journey and the cross of permanent infertility. I spent a lot of time thinking about my purpose in life. We had very high highs and some deep lows, but both were spent side by side. It was a win for marriage. We don’t know where we are going, when or if we will adopt, or what our purpose is. I truly feel like a wandering soul. And even though I don’t know if the next year will bring any of the answers I seek, I do know that with James standing by me, it doesn’t matter. We will get where we are going, though we do not know the way.

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Romans 8:28

He Cried More

He Cried More

Last night I went to my first healing service. I never would have gone on my own, but my mother-in-law has been inviting me for a few months now, so I went. Knock long enough and the door opens.

At one point in the night, I went to confession to a priest I’ve never met, and I told him about the trauma of learning at age 16 that I was born without a uterus. I told him that I didn’t even feel like I belong at a “women’s night” when I’m missing something that is so central to what we perceive womanhood to be. Little girls play with baby dolls, and as Christians we hold a deep love and admiration for the mother of Jesus. I didn’t even know if I would be allowed to be married. I didn’t know how a potential husband would take the news. Pregnancies and talk of “starting a family” bring up a host of traumatic memories and wounds so deep that many will never understand. We talked about that for a long time. And he said something to me that no one has ever said before.

“As much as you’ve cried over this, since age 16, God cried more.”

The priest continued, “He loves life, He loves babies! He didn’t plan for this to happen to you. He is right there with you.”

I have never “blamed” God for MRKH, but I always just kind of assumed that he must be ok with it, since he allowed it. But there is evil in the world as a result of sin, and it has nothing to do with the paradise that God originally planned. There is physical evil, like Ebola and cancer and the common cold, and there is natural evil, like hurricanes and tornadoes… and being born without a uterus. He didn’t want this to happen. It wasn’t part of the plan. It grieves him too.

He cried more.

The Author of Life

The Author of Life

The infertility stories in the bible have one thing in common. They all end in a miraculous pregnancy. Abraham and Sarah conceived in extreme old age, despite the sins they committed in their distrust of God’s promise. Hannah cried in the temple and vowed to give her child to God, if only he would grant her request. God said yes, and Samuel was born. Elizabeth and Zachariah, the parents of John the Baptist were infertile and advanced in years, yet God answered their prayers, regardless of Zachariah’s doubt.

Some will point to these stories and say that if you pray hard enough, you will conceive a child. They claim that if you’re still not pregnant, it’s because you don’t have enough faith. There are even a number of books that espouse this notion.

I call bullshit.

You heard me.

The point of these biblical stories about miraculous cures of infertility point to one big TRUTH:

We are not the author of life. God is.

God is in charge. God has a plan. God has the ultimate power to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, in whichever way he chooses. Human beings may cooperate with God’s design, but we are not the ones in control. Period. He proves this time and time again in Scripture. Mary, a virgin, conceives. Lazarus is raised from the dead. Job’s life goes in all over the place. The widow’s oil and flour is always replenished, and as God cares for the sparrows and the fields, so too will he care for you (Matthew 6:26).

In our world, there are many beautiful, wonderful, faithful women who never conceive. Infertility is a symptom of our fallen world. It is not their fault. It’s no one’s fault.

God gives each of us different gifts, depending on his plan for our life. This is why we pray for his will, and for and increase in faith and trust on our part. Just because God can doesn’t mean he will. And even though he may say “no” or “not yet,” he always has a perfect plan.

Someone Much Greater Than Me

Someone Much Greater Than Me

Ok, as promised, a post about my veil experience.

Let me start with the fact that in nearly 27 years of existence on this earth and as a Catholic, the only times I have ever worn a veil to Mass were for the sacraments of First Communion and Holy Matrimony. That’s it. A 2nd grader excited to dress like a bride, and an actual bride.

Other than those two events, I’ve never even thought about it. Growing up, my mom told me pre-Vatican II Catholic school stories of teachers bobby-pinning a paper-towel to her head at the last minute for Mass. Vatican II meant no longer having to wear yucky and embarrassing brown paper on your head. Yay for the better world we live in today!

I don’t want to get into a discussion of the wherefores and why-nots of wearing veils to Mass. Personally, I’m fine when people do. And it’s not really for me, because being as ridiculously self-conscious as I am, I hate the idea of drawing attention to myself (this girl feels nervous when her husband starts shouting talking loudly in a noisy restaurant).

Then I had my Burning-Bush moment.

Honestly, I know no other way to describe it.

It was a Thursday evening, about 6:15. The church was dark, except for the red candle near the tabernacle. As I began to pray, I felt this overwhelming sense, “Cover your head.” I mean, it came out of nowhere. I happened to be wearing a hoodie. I hesitated. “What would someone think if they saw me? Would they think less of me and think I was some kind of nut? Or would they think me more holy than I deserve?” “Stop worrying. Cover your head.” I put the hood up. It made me think of the way that God told Moses to take off his shoes in his presence in the burning bush. And then I felt at peace. Who cares what anyone thinks. Pride is my greatest struggle, I think. I prayed about that. And when I looked at the time, three quarters of an hour had passed. It was the most profound spiritual experience I’ve had in nearly a decade.

I know some modern Catholic authors say that women should wear veils because their bodies are sacred life-bearers. As a woman who’s body was created infertile, this never sat well with me. Clearly there must be more to this, right? I remember learning that Jewish men cover their heads in prayer as a physical reminder that God is above them. I like this. And this is what I felt that night. It was an acknowledgement that there is Someone much greater than me, very much above me, and this is what I was to do in his presence.