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.  

How not to be a baby about Lent

How not to be a baby about Lent

I don’t know about you, but I’m really bad at Lent.

I live in fear of those TWO DAYS A YEAR of fasting (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday). This might be because I used to have a condition that made me extremely nauseous whenever I was hungry. It’s gone now (thanks to Whole 30!) but the association of fasting with throwing up (and the fear) remains.

And this fear… usually makes me forget all about Lent. Well… at least to the point where I put it off until the night before, and then panic about what it is that I’m going to give up.

That changes this year.

Several weeks before Lent, I started actually wanting Lent to start. “I can’t wait for fish fries and stations!” Oh boy. Can you say, “retreat high”? I haven’t even been on one in years but after the best Christmas season ever that was how I reacted.

In the last few weeks, my prayers went a little something like this:

“Hi Jesus. It’s me. I’m looking forward to our trip into the desert. What should I bring? You know I like to travel. Furthermore could you please tell me what it is that you’d like me to do during these forty days? Whatever you say is fine, I can’t decide.”

And you know what he said?

Fast.

Woa woa woa hold up.

No way. For real?

Commence fear and trembling (and not the kind the Lord wants to see). I continued to pray about this. “Ok Jesus. Maybe I can consider this. Are you sure? Like are you really sure? I mean this is kind of a big thing for me.”

I’m sure.

So now we’re at the start of Lent. My prayer has changed again. A little less trusting, a little more fearful, a little less laudable:

“Ok Lord. I’m ready. I mean not really ready. But I’m coming into the desert with you anyways. I promise I’ll try to be good and not complain. I’ll tell you right now that I do NOT have the patience, fortitude, strength, endurance or will power required for this. I need your help. You’re the best teacher there is, and I know you love me. Please help me and please hold my hand and please carry me if necessary and please please please be with me. I promise you won’t have to drag me kicking and screaming and I will suck it up and trust you and not be a baby about this.”

I’m pretty sure he saw through my wishful thinking and knows I’m going to fail at this.

I feel like a little kid whose parents are going to climb a mountain. I don’t have the legs to do this but I want to come with them. And like that little kid, I’m going to trust that at some point, my dad’s going to carry me when it gets to be too much.

I know all of this is true, intellectually. Now I just need to make my heart be still.

So… how about you? Are you ready to set out into the desert?

Comment below and let me know what you’re planning to do for Lent.

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

 

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.

 

Whoever gives up children for my sake…

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

Peter began to say to Jesus,
‚ÄúWe have given up everything and followed you.‚ÄĚ
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.‚ÄĚ

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 ‚̧

Dear infertile Catholic, it’s ok to be different

Dear infertile Catholic, it’s ok to be different

The world promises you¬†comfort, but you weren’t made for comfort. You were made for greatness.

-Pope Benedict XVI

Last week, a marketer on Twitter assumed I had daughters. Granted, it was a doll company, so it wasn’t the world’s most unreasonable assumption. Still, though, it felt rather uncomfortable.

I politely tweeted back that I won’t be blessed with daughters as I have permanent infertility, but I have always loved dolls.

Crickets.

The next day, they tweeted back “I have a sister who is adopted. And you can be a mother to people through…” Fill in the blank with the same spiritual motherhood things you hear all the time as an infertile.

Now, I don’t bear these people any ill will, but I’m bringing it up here to say why is it that when people hear “infertility”, the first thing that pops into their head is that I’m interested in adoption?

Sure, plenty of people with infertility decide to adopt… but the two do not go hand in hand. Still, there is a lot of pressure on infertile couples to “just adopt” (as if it’s that simple). Why?

Maybe it’s because people are Pollyannas, always looking for an up side. Or maybe it’s because our society likes to have quick fixes, and sweep any pain or suffering out of sight as quickly as possible.

Maybe it’s a deeply ingrained assumption that marriage must always include children, at any cost, no matter what, or it’s not real. At least not as real as those marriages with children.

The truth is that God has a plan for each of us. And each one is unique.

When Christ calls you out on the water, what can you do?¬†It’s wet and it’s cold and it’s scary, and everyone else thinks you’re nuts and tries to convince you to stay in the boat. But once your eyes are caught by¬†his penetrating gaze, how can you do anything but move towards him, no matter what it takes?

Giving up our¬†adoption feels like that–like stepping out of the boat when everyone is telling you that you need to stay put. And though part of me wants to cling to that security, I know deep inside that I have to step out onto the water.


 

Have you ever had a moment when you knew God was asking you to make a choice that no one else was going to understand?

 

 

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‚ÄĒand 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‚ÄĒevery part of you‚ÄĒand you were never a mistake. You are his child, and he loves you more than you could ever imagine.

Faith, Trust, and a little Pixie Dust

Faith, Trust, and a little Pixie Dust

Faith, Trust, and a little Pixie dust!

That’s what it takes to fly, according to Peter Pan. Faith, trust, and a little pixie dust! How many of us spent our childhoods believing that to be true, or hoping it were true, and waiting for the day that Peter Pan would show up at our windows with a little pixie dust- since that’s all we lacked.

Of course, that never happened. And anyone who contemplated jumping off their deck in hopes of flying was most likely stopped by their mom- like I was. But a thought occurred to me tonight- perhaps Peter Pan taught us something more important that we realize.

In our relationship with God, it really is possible to soar, if we want to. We need faith. We need trust. And as for pixie dust? That’s code for Grace. With these three, we can fly.

Remember when Jesus walked on water, and Peter (the apostle, not Pan) asked if he could do it too? Peter jumped out the boat and started walking (by the grace of God), but then he started to sink. Jesus pulled him out of the water and said, “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

How many times does this happen in our lives? We know God is going to take care of us. We may even have enough faith and trust to jump out of the boat- and lo and behold, grace is there to sustain us. But then we notice the waves, and lose sight of the Master. And when our faith and trust are replaced by fear and doubt, we start to sink.

What should we do when we start to sink? Peter Pan says to think happy thoughts, and he’s not wrong. Pray for faith, trust, and grace. And keep your eyes on Christ- that’s the only happy thought you’ll ever need. ‚̧