Things I Should Be Doing

Things I Should Be Doing

One of the common themes you find among groups of those suffering is the thought that there is something else that you should be doing, and would be doing, if it weren’t for this cross in your life.

For example, James and I have been married long enough that we could easily have a preschooler by now.

And many of our friends do.

Had we stuck with our adoption plans, we could easily have a baby by now.

And many of our friends do.

Last weekend, I looked at myself in the mirror and saw a woman for the first time. Not a girl anymore.

I should be making cookies for my preschooler’s class.

But instead, I put on my best face and made cookies for the parish picnic.

More than one child at the picnic grabbed my leg for a moment and thought I was their mamma.

Lord, we have a lot to talk about, you and I.

He heard me.

When one of his children wants to talk with him, you can’t expect him to remain silent, can you?

Take courage, it is I.

For years now I’ve had this nagging, pulling feeling in my heart, that Jesus is calling me to something. I don’t really know what it is, but that feeling is real and it’s not going away.

Radical Trust.

What do these words even mean? They’re also there, repeating in my heart. It’s like he’s telling me that he wants me to abandon all of my plans and desires and wait to accept whatever he places in front of me. And so this is what I’m doing.

And it’s been bringing me so much joy.

The reason I’m putting it out there is because I want you, in whatever you’re going through to have hope.

Maybe Jesus is calling you to this radical trust too – this idea where we can see that yes, bad things have happened, or they loom on the horizon, but no matter what we know that Jesus is with us. The only reason he allows any of this to happen is because he wants your salvation. He wants you to be with him, to have eternal life, and the shortest way there is through the cross. All of our pain, confusion, grief, trials – it’s not the end of the story. The cross is just a gateway to the resurrection.

 

(As a little side note, as soon as I finished writing this post, I Googled “radical trust” and found this amazing post from Jennifer Fulwiler: The 7 Habits of People Who Place Radical Trust in God. I think you’ll like it!)

 

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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

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

A few years ago (November 2014), I thought of a story of a little bird who couldn’t fly. It was sad, and it was short, because I didn’t know any ending for it, other than the continual sadness of this little flightless bird. And so I put it out of my mind.

Then, over two years later (this past February) as I was praying, the story came flooding back to me, and suddenly there was an ending. I’ve sat on this for two months and, well, I think it’s time to share it. Here goes.

The Little Bird

Once upon a time, in a beautiful green meadow, lined with trees and bathed in sunshine, lived a flock of sparrows.

Free of cares and full of purpose, they spent their days flittering, fluttering, swooping and soaring in the glittering morning sun. It seemed they lived only for the enjoyment of a kind young man who lived in a little cottage at the edge of the field. Day after day, year after year, the birds lived this charmed life.

Yet in the midst of these sweeping, soaring, swooping sparrows, there was one little bird different from all the rest.

Something had happened to her wings, you see. As a baby bird, they seemed normal enough, but when her turn came to fly, something was wrong. She could flutter enough to hop onto a low-lying twig, but try as she might, she could not fly.

Day after day, year after year, she watched as all the other little birds took wing.

I don’t know if birds can cry, but it seems a tiny little tear dripped down her beak when another bird flew for the first time. She wished with all her heart that she could be like them.

The other birds weren’t quick to understand. You see, none of the other birds of the meadow had ever had this problem before, and so she was lonely.

Some birds had a harder time learning than others. And some even complained about the strain that flying put on their wings. “Flying isn’t such a big deal,” they said. “You’re lucky you don’t fly!” And all this did was make her feel more and more sorrowful, seeing as the some birds didn’t understand the gift they held.

Still others saw what a gift it was to fly. They knew that this is why they had been created. And each time a new little sparrow took wing, these birds got together to celebrate the occasion. “Be happy for your friends who can fly!” They said to our little flightless bird. “Why are you sad that our Creator has given other birds such a gift?” This pained her little heart even more. You see, she wasn’t sad because they could fly. She rejoiced that they could fly. She was only sad that she could not. All she wanted was to be like all of them, flying and singing and exploring the distant meadows beyond the trees.

Our little bird grew confused. She asked the wise old bird, “Why would our Creator make me a bird, yet not allow me to fly?” The wise old bird didn’t have an answer, but told her to be patient and wait, for surely the All-Knowing One had his reasons.

Her sorrow continued to grow.

The little birdie was so sad as she watched all the other birds soar and swoop and flitter around in the glorious sunshine. She stopped wondering what she was for, or why she was made, as no answer seemed to be coming. Her little heart grew numb with pain.

One day, as he was watching the birds, the man in the cottage noticed our little sparrow sitting on his porch all alone. He saw her watching the others, unable to join them.

His heart was moved for that little bird, so lonely and forlorn, hanging it’s head and uttering hopeless little distress chirps. He wanted to help somehow, and so he approached, quietly.

When our little bird saw the man come out onto the porch, she tilted her head and gave him an inquisitive look. He didn’t seem threatening. And “Oh,” she thought, “what does it matter, since I cannot fly like the others, if I would cease to exist at all.”

The man bent down and held out his hand, “Come here little birdie.” Our sad little bird took two hops closer, looked at the hand for a few moments, and hopped into his palm. The man gently picked her up and looked at her intently. “What’s the matter little birdie? Why are you so sad?”

He had a closer look at her wings. It didn’t look like there was much he could do, yet he didn’t want to leave the little sparrow alone. So he took the bird into his home and made it a bed out of a shoe box and some cloth, and gave it some water and seeds. “Sleep well little bird. I’ll take care of you.”

The little bird gingerly ate a few seeds and drank a little water. The she peeped out a soft little chirp of thanks and fell asleep.

The next day the bird awoke to a stream of glittering sunshine and the sound of running water coming from the kitchen. The man was cheerful, humming to himself as he came over with new water. “Good morning little bird! Did you sleep well? It’s a lovely morning, did you see?”

The sunshine only reminded her of the heights she could not reach. She let out a weak little tweet. Oh he was a nice man, but what could he understand about being a bird who cannot fly?

Days passed, and after a week our little bird began to look more closely at the man who was caring for her. He was sweet and kind, and every morning, he loved to sing as he moved about the house. What he was singing she didn’t fully understand, but it sounded sweet, like a happy little love song. The little birdie loved this song so much. One morning, without realizing it, she was chirping along!

The man stopped for a moment, and with a twinkle in his eye, he looked at the bird, his little bird, and said, “Little birdie, what a sweet voice you have! Would you like to sing?”

The little birdie tweeted a little more.

He put out his hand, and the little birdie hopped onto his finger.

He said other words to her, but being a bird she couldn’t really understand all of them. She was simply delighted to receive his attention, and tweeted right along  everything he said, as happy birds often do.

As the days passed our little bird became more and more confident in her song and her surroundings. She tweeted and chirped and warbled and sang, all for happiness and love for the sweet and gentle man who first sang to her.

Every morning he would smile and say (or rather, sing) to the little bird, “Arise my beloved, my beautiful one. Let me hear you, for your voice is sweet.” And the little bird sang. For with such practice and patience, it truly was a beautiful song.

As time went by, our little sparrow came to see that even though she could not fly, she could sing, and perhaps it was for this that she was made. She was delighted to perch near the Man and be his little songbird, bringing her songs to him every morning.

And even though she could still see the other sparrows flying up above, she was no longer in sorrow, for she was soaring in her little heart. She had a new life, a new purpose. She had finally found the reason for which she was made: to sing for the One who rescued her from her sadness, and filled her heart with song.

Jesus my savior, I cannot fly, but I can sing, and you have chosen me to live close to you and bring you joy with my songs of love. If I had wings, perhaps I never would have learned how sweet this is, how you truly are close to the brokenhearted. You have rescued me from my sadness and given me a new life as your beloved. You are the song within my heart, and it is your own song of love that I return to you.  

What to do when Mass hurts

What to do when Mass hurts

Raise your hand if you’ve ever cried at Mass.

I don’t know for certain, but I get the sense this is a very common thing.

To be honest, I’m not sure why Mass is often so tear-inducing.

Sometimes it’s a manifestation of Jesus healing something deep within us, and your body manifests this in tears. Sometimes when you feel his presence that’s all you can do. A nun once told me that this is called the gift of tears, but I might not be remembering that correctly.

Other times, though, those tears aren’t about the beauty and the glory of God- not in the obvious sense, anyways.

Sometimes, they’re about pain.

Whenever one is dealing with grief (whether it’s infertility, a painful diagnosis, a death, etc.), it’s common knowledge that one of the absolute most painful places to be is at Mass, particularly on a Sunday.

Why is this?

God is Truth. And when you’re right there in the presence of absolute Truth, you can’t hide your wounds. You can’t cover them up and lie about them to yourself, and certainly not to Him. He brings all things into the light.

And when those wounds (loss, jealousy, confusion, a lack of faith, whatever it is) are exposed like this – it hurts. And it doesn’t take much to send you over the edge into full-blown sobbing.

The priest says something that makes zero sense to you in your situation. You hear a little one scream in the back. You notice a family with living children. Or you see an engaged couple when you’ve been praying for a spouse for years – and your heart just cannot bear it.

“God bless them,” you think. You wish them nothing but the best. But seeing them makes even more obvious the massive, throbbing wound in your own heart.

And you can literally feel the knife in your chest.

What, then, are you to do – besides pray like heck that no one notices your uncontrollable tears?

Trust me – it’s not fun (especially when you’re the cantor and you’re desperately trying to clean your face up before standing in front of EVERYONE and announcing the next hymn).

We could go on and on about why you should or shouldn’t feel what you’re feeling, but that’s besides the point.

That pain is real. So let’s you and me get real for a minute.

The next time you feel that happening – whether you’re hit with a surprise infant baptism after the homily, or an unbearably adorable family of seven, or a little old lady who reminds you of your grandmother you lost long ago, here’s what you do:

Look at him.

As the tears are streaming down your face, look at him. Stare intently at the Eucharist, and as that knife is twisting it’s way into your heart, let yourself feel it. Try to accept that actual, in-the-moment pain and offer it in union with Our Lord’s suffering on the cross, and in reparations to his Sacred Heart.

I know it can sound overly pious, but in a practical setting this is the way you get through this. Acknowledge the real, physical pain of your grief, and try to think about how wounded his heart is, and keep each other company that way. Even to the point of picturing yourself on the cross with him.

I remember several years ago when I had it out with a priest on the phone for something that he did during Mass that really upset me, and I said, “I don’t come to Mass to be crucified.” But in the years after I had said that, I realized, well yes, I do. I mean Jesus sure does. And we’ve been given this amazing opportunity to join him there. Even if it doesn’t feel amazing in the moment.

And sometimes, when you’re looking at him in that way, through the pain of your own crucifixion, you’ll feel him looking back at you as he says, “This day, you will be with me in paradise.”

Anima-Christi

 

When Your Life Doesn’t Fit the Poster

When Your Life Doesn’t Fit the Poster

Yesterday, I was listening to a recording of a clinical psychologist who was speaking to an audience of Catholics dealing with infertility. His talk covered a number of struggles that he had seen in his patients, and one that stood out the most was this experience of an existential crisis.

“If I’m not going to have children, either by birth or adoption, then what is the purpose of my life?”

So often in Catholic circles (and society at large, for that matter), we try to tie our purpose in life to a specific, tangible mission. In the case of the married, this means raising children.

And this thought is pervasive. I remember being a young teen standing in a driveway talking to my Dad, telling him about discerning my vocation and wondering what I was here for. He looked at me and said, “I used to wonder about that too. You know what my dad said to me? Your purpose is to get married and have kids.”

Picture the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding: “Get Married! Make Babies!” This Mediterranean style of fatherly pontification was not at all foreign to me- my dad and his dad before him were both Italian.

And while this simple, straightforward way of directing the young may have done well to keep our families in line for centuries, it glosses over one important truth: not everyone is called to domestic life, and not everyone who IS called to domesticity will have everything work out as they would wish.

So what then, when the plan doesn’t play out?

I’ve heard a few answers. I’ve heard of some who say that they found themselves called to adopt, or even to forgo adoption and consciously dedicate their lives to the Church. These are beautiful things, but they’re very specific. They work for these particular individuals, but they’re not always helpful for everyone facing these challenges.

What about the rest of us?

What is the purpose of our lives when they don’t fit the poster?

The answer, I think, is very simple. And it’s our propensity to ignore or overlook the simple that leads us into so much distress as we continue to suffer through the searching.

Now, I’m much too young for the Baltimore Catechism, but I am aware of it’s famous beginning. Pardon as I paraphrase from memory:

Who made me?

God made me.

Why did he make me?

To know, love, and serve Him.

There you go. 

It really is that simple. Your purpose, no matter who you are or what your state of life, is to know, love, and serve God.

“Ok,” I can hear some of you saying, “I get that. But when I got married I thought I would serve him by raising children.”

This is where we need to bring up a spiritual concept called “abandonment.” specifically this means giving up (abandoning) our own will and desires and trusting our Shepherd to lead us where He wishes. He knows the way home, and even though sometimes we think we know better, we don’t. We’re just little lambs.

Furthermore, not only are we just little lambs, but we’re not God. We’re His servants. And as the servant, our job isn’t to say, “Ok God. I’m going to serve you my way by doing this thing I want.” No- He’s the boss. He’s the Master. He’s going to show us how He wants us to serve. This is why, even though some of our desires are good, they are just not what He wants from us at the moment. Hence the need for this deeper abandonment.

I can think of a lot of examples of this from my life. You probably can too. The time I wanted to be a retreat leader in high school and the committee rejected me. The time I wanted to study theology to become a religion teacher but the classes left me feeling like something was missing in my life. The time I wanted to adopt but was left with a horrible pit in my stomach and just knew this wasn’t what He wanted from me at the time.

We have great ideas, great desires, great potential to do great things. But none of it will work and none of it will be any good until we learn to abandon all of this and let our Shepherd carry us where He wants to go.

I don’t know where your life will go, or what great mission the Lord has for you. I don’t even know what my own mission is. But I do know that He loves you, and has created you out of this great love. Your job, and mine, is to trust.

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.

Maybe I fly because I need to.

A few months ago, a friend mentioned that since James and I don’t have children, we’re free to take these amazing trips—and isn’t that just wonderful? Maybe. I started to write this post in response:

Tolkien wrote that “not all those who wander are lost” though sometimes I do wonder if I’m looking for something.

This year we’ve taken a break from Europe to save a little money and relived my childhood in the Outer Banks. James had never been, and it had been 10 years for me.

From our home base in Duck, we visited the Wright Brothers Memorial, climbed to the top of the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, took a stroll on the white sand beaches of Corolla, and left plenty more to do on our next trip.

James loved it so much he was ready to book the house again for next summer.

And… I’m going stir crazy for Europe. We’re currently planning our 2017 trip to the Mediterranean.

People comment that thanks to our infertility we have this awesome ability to travel. Maybe it’s true, but really, what do they mean by that? Would they really trade their own children just for a chance to fly across the sea every few years? It’s not like we live some glamorous life as jet-setters.

Maybe travel is my rebellion.

Maybe I fly because I need to. Because of grief. Because of pain. Because there is such a big world out there, and maybe if I search wide enough, I’ll find what we’re looking for.

 

Throughout my life I’ve often had this image of myself in the future as a grief-hardened and fearless Diana, sailing around the world with her pack of hounds, running from the hole in her heart and searching for her next escape.

Never mind that Diana was a land-based goddess, not a nautical one. But you know, teenage Connie Ann had an imagination.

I was wondering quite a bit, while writing the above, if I was indeed lost. I don’t think I am lost anymore, or at least, I don’t mind if I am. Still…

“Maybe I fly because I need to.”

Maybe I fly because for as long as I can remember, I can’t bear to live in a world where there is a London/Rome/Paris/Athens/you-name-it and I haven’t actually seen it.

The first time I set eyes on Europe from the tiny window of my airplane, I cried.

I cried because it was real. There was this place I had heard of so often, and it was actually there, waiting for me all this time.

It was almost sacred, like a pilgrimage. I wasn’t fasting and praying and crawling on my knees to get there, but travel is sacred in its own way. God made this big, beautiful world, and even though he (and the world) is much too vast for me to ever understand, seeing more of his creation helps me to understand a piece of him.

How amazing is it that you can be 3,000 miles from home, yet everyone looks like your cousins? How amazing is it that you can be in a place where no one understands your religion, but everyone understands your smile?

How amazing is it that after spending only a week in a country where no one knows your language, all of a sudden you bump into another American, and it doesn’t matter that she’s a democrat or a republican or an atheist or a Jesus freak—she’s an American. And right away, you’re sisters, you’re friends, because no one else in the room knows about buffalo wings and George Washington and Saturday Night Live and amber waves of grain.

I haven’t traveled very much, and I haven’t lived very long, but I’ve done both enough to know that my life has been better for it.

wales-075

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.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.

JesusgirlFootprints

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 ❤