Bugs, Mud, and Jesus

Last week, a perfect storm of events came together in a way that changed my life forever. I went on a trip that I didn’t plan, and I didn’t even want to go on, but I knew it was what Jesus was asking so I said yes and now…

Ok, let me back up a bit.

Two months ago, I got this text from a priest at church: “Want to go to Georgia with some teens?”

I knew exactly what he was talking about. Every year, our parish youth group drives down to Covecrest, a LifeTeen summer camp in Tiger, Georgia. Our group was mostly girls, so they needed another adult female chaperone.

No. Heck no. Oh my goodness no.

I had seen the pictures from last year. People covered in mud from head to toe. Sunburn. Sweat. Bugs.

“No. Freaking. Way.”

So I resolved to call our priest and tell him no. But as I thought “no,” I also felt a little voice pulling me. I was calling him, instead of texting, because part of me, I guess, was a little open to persuasion.

He didn’t answer.

I went to Mass, thinking I would try calling again after. And, well… I looked at the tabernacle and I asked Jesus what to do and don’t you know it… he said Come to Georgia. 

Clear as day, in that gentle voice he always uses so you know it’s him. And his words, “Come” instead of “Go” – he was implying that he was already there waiting for me. It was an invitation, not a command.

I was stuck. I didn’t want to go, but I knew it was him. So I called our priest and gave him my “yes”. He promised it would be awesome, in a way. “No one comes back the same,” he said. I was… a little skeptical.

Knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus himself asked me to go didn’t stop me from spending the next 2 months dreading the experience and sending spiteful text messages to said priest (i.e. if I die of malaria it’s your fault). But he laughed it off, and off I went to Covecrest.

covecrest

“No one ever comes back the same.”

I had never met any of these kids before the trip. I’ve never volunteered with youth group, ever.

The kids were great – very welcoming, kind, well behaved, so much that for many of them it was easy to forget they were in high school. But the activities, the hiking, the bugs, the mud – it was all difficult for me.

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My cross was weighing heavily on me, and my heart was being re-broken, it seemed. I had thoughts like, “If I had kids, no one would ask me to do this.” (Sounds a little like something I’ve said before.)

And yet, I loved being there for these teens. I felt like a mom to all of them. At one point in our small group, I opened up about my MRKH, and it was wonderful to see how sharing this story invited others to open up about their deep wounds too. I knew that God was using me, but it was so painful. I sent my daily guilt-trip text to our priest, but now it had become, “I hate the idea of abandoning these kids after this week.”

This time he threw the guilt right back and told me I could volunteer with the youth group on Friday nights.

Dang.

“Mater Misericordiae”

The last night of camp, something beautiful happened. I was with 4 of the kids, and I mentioned that if I had kids, I would have liked to sing the Salve Regina as a lullaby.

They asked me to sing it to them.

I got all choked up, and invited them to sing with me. So we did. And it was beautiful, and wonderful, and a dream come true. I can’t even describe how much that moment meant to me.

“That’s what Jesus does.”

We drove home singing Taylor Swift and Disney and all the latest Christian pop music. We prayed the Rosary and evening prayer, and my heart was about to burst with joy. We finally parted in the middle of the night with hugs and tears and promises of prayer for one another – and I’ve written some of their names in my prayer book.

I felt as though my heart grew. “You’re going to think this sounds weird,” I told our priest, “but I feel as though my heart has been stretched, in a good way. I feel like I want to love more.”

“I knew it!” he said. “That’s what he (Jesus) does! He makes us capable of loving more. You went on a trip that you didn’t plan and you didn’t want to go on, but you were open just a little bit, and that’s how he was able to work.”

(“I knew it.” Goodness. It was all a set up. Looking at you, two dudes in your 30’s with beards.)

And so here we are, a week out from camp, and… I still can’t sop smiling. I even had a moment in the car driving to work where I found myself overcome with joy thinking about the MANY children that I have.

Remember what I wrote last summer, about that feeling that I would have more children than my Nana? I think I’m watching it come true.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that God is faithful, and that he is working all things together for my good.

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So we wrote a letter…

So we wrote a letter…

Hi Everyone!

We talk a lot on this blog about what it means to be a woman, and a Catholic woman at that.

We talk a lot about hope, and what it means to have hope when the outcome you’d like just isn’t going to happen.

Last week I got the change to talk with Chloe Langr of OldFashionedGirlBlog.com about the experience faith, femininity, and infertility on her podcast, Letters to Women.

Here it is:

https://www.oldfashionedgirlblog.com/letters-to-women-podcast/infertility-letter-woman

Enjoy!

On Four Years of Marriage

On Four Years of Marriage

Today is our fourth wedding anniversary.

I know, four years is just a baby in marriage terms. But it’s worth reflecting on, I think. Especially since so few of my fellow millennials seem to be interested in marriage these days.

If you know me in real life, or if you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that my life isn’t perfect. But there is one thing that has stood out above all else:

These four years have been, hands down, the best of my life. God blessed James and I with the most beautiful marriage, and it’s only getting better with time.

I’m aware that not everyone has this experience. God gave me a tremendous blessing that I don’t deserve. I won’t pretend to speak for anyone else’s experience here. I simply want to share a little bit about what this blessing has been for me, especially since the majority of this blog is primarily focused on the lack of one particular blessing (namely, a womb).

So, without further ado and caveats, here we go:

Four years ago, we entered into this life with the expectation that we would continue to grow and to change. We imagined that our lives wouldn’t be easy, but that we would grow together, love and support each other, come what may.

We knew from the get-go that this was beyond human ability. But we also trusted that, from that day forward, God would give us all the grace we needed to make it work. “Christ abundantly blesses this love.”

What we didn’t know yet, on that day, was how far above and beyond God would take us.

I know that in the grand scheme of things, four years of marriage is nothing. We’re basically newlyweds, right? Speaking of being newlyweds…

People said that newlywed feeling would wear off. I’m still waiting for that to happen.

People said I would wake up one day and wonder who the heck I married and why. I’m still waiting for that to happen.

People said that the first year would be the hardest. Or that marriage, in general, would be extremely hard.

What I’ve seen is this – LIFE is hard. Marriage is a vehicle that makes life better. And like any vehicle, it occasionally needs tune-ups and repairs. Maybe it gets a few dings and scrapes. Maybe it gets in a wreck at some point. But you spend those hours in the garage applying enough sweat and elbow grease, and you get that baby shining.

And you remember that you can’t do it alone. It’s not a one-person job. It’s not even a two-person job. It’s a you + me + God-person job. God’s in charge, and you two just do your best to listen to his direction.

You’re always going to change. I’m not the same person I was four years ago, and neither is James. And we’re certainly not the same two college students who met on a dating site nine years ago. And that is wonderful, because with God’s help, we’re growing together into a life that our 20 and 22-year-old selves would be thrilled to catch a glimpse of – which brings me to my next point.

People, especially pious people, like to say that marriage is about “self-donation”, “service”, “life-giving love”
 all of those things are true, of course. But I’m going to channel my inner Flannery O’Connor and tell you, in practical terms, what this really means:

Marriage is a life-long activity of continually helping another person get their sh*t together.

You do this for each other, on both spiritual, emotional and literal(physical) levels. And maybe you spend a little too much time in the weeds, helping your spouse find their wallet for the umpteenth night in a row, and you get a little frustrated. But in a moment of grace, God calls you out of this and gives you a glimpse of the big picture.

Maybe he lets you see the love in your husband’s eyes when you came home from work late, again, and he took it upon himself to make your lunch for the next day. Or maybe you see it when you’re in confession, and you realize that everything you feel guilty about stems purely from wanting to love him more, and better, and the only reason you’re crying is because you just love him so darn much and you need Jesus to help you do better, because “the spirit is willing…” And then you realize…

It’s ok. It’s all ok. All of the mess. All of the suffering. All of the crazy. Because He’s doing great things for you, and even if you don’t see it all here, that’s ok, because it’s not about here. It’s about heaven. He’s making you saints, in and through your struggles.

Marriage was never meant to be a destination – marriage was and is always about the journey. “Happily ever after” is the way all the good stories begin.

Happy Anniversary, James. I love you. I love our life together, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And we’ve only just begun.

Love,

Connie

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How Not to Hate Winter

I’ve always dreaded Januaries.

Maybe it’s because the post-Christmas solitude often feels empty and uncomfortable.

And it’s cold outside.

Instead of counting the days until Spring, I’ve decided this year to find ways to enjoy the long, dreary winter and live in the moment. I’m baking. I’m watching old movies. I’m visiting people. These are all things that you can do any time of year, of course, but somehow they seem like they belong to the winter.

And of course, celebrating post-Christmas winter traditions helps too. For example, we did out first ever Epiphany house blessing where we chalked the door.

20+C+M+B+17 stands for the names of the three magi, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, and it also stands for Christ Bless this House in Latin.

The changes in the liturgical calendar really help to keep us centered. Ever since I started going to daily Mass, being aware of the different feast days and their associated traditions has really made my life feel more full. (Actually, if you’re interested in a really cool blog on liturgical living, check out Carrots for Michaelmas. I’m a big fan).

But of course, as with most things, there’s a deeper level of this “living in the moment” thing. I’ve been trying (for the last year) to step away from all my plans and dreams, and just exist. I’ve been trying to stop thinking about what I should be or what I would like to be and just be, well, me.

Specifically, I’m trying to just be God’s daughter.

Many years ago as I was talking to a priest at my high school, I told him, “You have no idea how much fun it is to be someone’s daughter.”

I was speaking in reference to my human parents, but I meant it in respect to God as well.

Being able to love someone as their daughter is a unique gift. I really believe this, and I think that is also why it hurts so much for people when their human parents are unable to allow their sons and daughters to love them.

And even if our earthly parents aren’t perfect, we have this opportunity to be in a love-filled relationship with our heavenly father.

What does this look like?

Jumping into his arms to hug him at the end of the day. Crawling into his lap when we’re sleepy or scared. Pouring out our hearts to him and listening as he does the same with us. Stopping by his house to say “hi” in the middle of a busy day.

It’s pretty simple, really. He’s Dad. I’m Connie Ann. And this is where I am right now – trying not to worry about the future, or whether or not there is anything else that I’m supposed to do or to be. If he wants me to do something for him he’ll let me know. For now, I’m just going to sit right here and be his little girl.

Be an Encourager

Be an Encourager

“Encourage each other daily, while it is still today.” -St. Paul in his letter to the Hebrews.

Listening to Catholic radio on my way into work this morning, radio host Gus Lloyd reminded everyone that an important part of being a Christian is to give encouragement to others.

What does that mean?

When people are struggling, whether they’re just having a bad day or maybe dealing with serious issues, what can we do to be encouraging? How can we help, especially when we might not understand the depth of their struggle?

Pope Francis recently said that sometimes there really isn’t anything you can say to make them feel better. In these cases, he said, it’s best to just be there and cry with them.

Having been on the receiving end of well-wishers who maybe haven’t understood the depth of the problem being faced, I think he’s right.

But here’s the thing. There is one thing that can always be said, no matter the situation.

“You are loved.”

And isn’t that what the pope’s tears of solidarity are really saying, after all?

You are loved.

I’m no expert, but I believe that is what is at the very core of being a Christian. Knowing that we are loved in spite of everything, and spreading that love to everyone, everywhere.

So to everyone, no matter who you are or what you may be going through, take courage and remember that you are loved.

Now let’s get out there and spread this.

You Are Mine

You Are Mine

Pslam 139:13-14

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

“For you created my inmost being…”

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

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

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

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. ❀

Should you talk to the homeless?

Should you talk to the homeless?

Growing up in upper-middle class America, I was taught that when you see panhandlers and homeless, you shouldn’t give them any money “because they’re probably going to use it on drugs or alcohol.” This popular middle-American proverb has a cousin- “Don’t engage, don’t make eye contact, you don’t know what they’re going to do, and you can’t trust them.”

I never questioned these at all. I never even thought about them. Sure, in high school we would make sandwiches for soup kitchens and have toy drives and can drives and all sorts of events to help out in the community, but the actual, in-person encounters with homeless and beggars was still something that was out of my ability, as far as my teenage self was concerned.

And then something happened. I was riding in the car with a friend, and we came across a homeless man on a street corner. My friend rolled down his window, opened up his wallet, and handed the guy a $20 bill. Being startled (and naturally obnoxious), I said, “I thought you’re not supposed to give to those people, because they might use it for drugs and it will feed their addiction.”

My friend said, calmly, “Well, it’s his choice what he does with it. It’s my job to give.”

homeless_jesus_sm

My friend had planted a seed in my teenage brain. It lay dormant for years, but it was there, and it nagged at me every time I passed someone on the street. Then, something started to happen.

There’s a thing with virtue, called, “fake it til you make it.” (That’s how Aristotle put it, right?) If you want a virtue that you don’t have, start practicing it. For example, if you’re cowardly, start acting as though  you have courage. It will be hard at first, but soon enough it will become second nature. I took this approach with the homeless. I started giving them things, and even saying hello. It was absolutely terrifying at first. But every time I chickened out, I would feel terrible. After all, when Christ himself says, “Whatsoever you do for the least of these, you do unto me”, and “If anyone asks you for your tunic, give him your cloak as well.” Who are we to argue?

I’m ashamed to admit that even recently, I’ve sometimes been afraid to help people in need. Beating back against your ingrained fears is not easy. In the last few months, I’ve been trying this “fake it til you make it” thing- trying to make eye contact, give what I can, and tell them that they are in my prayers. It’s been years and I still haven’t “made it”- but I’m getting better.

And as for those “proverbs”- I know what they are now. They’re from devil, and they’re designed to make us afraid of doing good. The father of lies delights in twisting our thoughts until we’ve decided that it’s wrong to do good. When Christ says to give to those who ask, without counting the cost, Satan says, “Yeah but not to those people who look really poor, because they might hurt you, and your gift might be used wrongly, and it’s not your job anyways- send them to a church.”

We are called to be Christ’s body in this world. We are his hands. We are his heart. We shouldn’t worry so much about the details, but rather we should remember that it is our job to show love, wherever we go, and to whoever we meet. It’s up to them to decide what to do with it, but it’s our job to show love.

The Miracle of the Flowers: A Wedding Story

The Miracle of the Flowers: A Wedding Story

The wedding industry is a bully. It pressures cash-strapped brides to have a Pinterest-perfect wedding no matter what the sacrifice. Add in a deeply entrenched Italian-American culture that says parents must provide for their daughter’s big day (or face eternal embarrassment), compounded with the fact that our Catholic families equaled over 250 people (not including friends), and you’ll start to get a picture of the impossible situation we found ourselves in when my darling James got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife.

I didn’t think I could have one of those dream weddings. My parents had just sold our home at short sale and we were living with my grandmother. James hadn’t found a full-time job yet. A traditional Italian wedding seemed impossible.

Impossible, but here’s the catch. God is Love. And with Love, all things are possible.

love

One day, during lunch, I went to a nearby church and prayed. I was doing that famous novena for James to get a job so we could get married. Yes, I wanted a nice wedding, but what I really wanted was to start a marriage with the man I love. I opened the hymnal to a random page, and it happened to be a song about marriage and the miracle at the wedding at Cana. That’s when it hit me:

Jesus would take care of it. His first miracle was making wine at a wedding to keep the party going. Not only would he find James a job so we could get married, but he would make sure we had a nice wedding, too.

cana

My parents are the ultimate fighting team when it comes to art projects. One Artist + One Engineer= Two brilliant, imaginative people who turn visions into reality. There’s really nothing that these two can’t do. And they channeled their genius into my wedding.

My mom single-handedly made all of the favors. The programs were printed (by my dad!) on gorgeous parchment-style paper and bound in scrapbook paper and ribbons assembled by an in-house team of relatives and friends. My mom and sister made all the boutonnieres, bouquets and corsages out of gorgeous silk flowers a year in advance. We basically kept the glue-gun manufactures in business throughout the whole of 2012.

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One of our gorgeous DIY programs. We had an assortment of paper and ribbons so each one was unique.

Then came the unexpected gifts. My dress alterations and veil were all FREE from a friend of my mother. My gorgeous and unique centerpieces were also done by another friend of my mother. The beautifully engraved cake-serving set and the elegant toasting flutes were gifts from my dear friends. That delicious dessert buffet was a community effort on the part of our friends and family who volunteered to bake their favorite sweets for our big day. And our dream honeymoon was a gift from James’s parents.

Jesus did it. He provided for our big day. Yes, he cares more about the marriage than the wedding, but he cares about the wedding too! There were so many examples of how his love poured through our friends and family and made our day amazing. And family was everywhere. The priest who married us was family. The altar boys were family. Even our wedding coordinator was family. We were completely overwhelmed by love.

And to top it all off…

Out of all these gifts and blessings, there was one little miracle, one gift that stood out as a reminder that ALL the gifts, big and small, were signs that Jesus was taking care of this wedding.

In an effort to curtail expenses, we had decided to forgo altar flowers. Those big, gorgeous arrangements are very expensive, and we just didn’t have the money. We decided that someone would run to Home Depot in the morning and get potted flowers to place around the altar.

In the rush of that morning, no one remembered to purchase our little potted flowers. Oh well. Except when we arrived at the church…

There were flowers on the altar! Three huge, gorgeous, professional arrangements that were the PERFECT colors for our wedding were on either side of the tabernacle and in front of the altar. They’re in all of our pictures and they were incredible.

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See those GORGEOUS flowers on either side of the tabernacle? Those were the anonymous gift! There was a third arrangement in front of the altar. And of course, our wonderful priests (an uncle and a friend), and the bouquet my mom and sister made.

We have no idea where they came from. We’ve guessed that maybe one of our friends or relatives did this for us, but we will never know. Working through loving human beings, God made a miracle happen, and showed us his overwhelming, gratuitous love. As the Rite of Marriage says, “Christ abundantly blesses this love.” And he did. Like making wine out of water, the way our wedding came together was a beautiful, mysterious example of the overflowing love of God.

Sacred Heart Prayers

Sacred Heart Prayers

As promised, a little published update and thank you for prayers heard.

I said this novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the intercession of St. Jude:

May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be adored, glorified, loved and preserved throughout the world, now and forever. Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us. St. Jude, worker of miracles, pray for us. St. Jude, help of the hopeless, pray for us.

You say this prayer 9 times a day for 9 days, and you are guaranteed to have an answer on or before the 8th day. It has never failed. It didn’t fail this time, either.

I prayed for either a new job or career direction. I have so many interests and I’ve been so confused, I haven’t really known what to look for.

This Saturday (the 7th day), I decided to go pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I tried to go in the morning before meeting a friend for lunch, but I ran out of time. Then, when I met my friend, she mentioned that she parked right near a really cool old Catholic Church. Wait, what?

After lunch (and shopping!) we went inside the church to explore a little. Then, when my friend left, I stayed for about 20 minutes to pray.

While I was praying, I looked up and noticed that up above the tabernacle there was a very large statue of the Sacred Heart, front and center. Looks like I’m in the right place. I looked at that statue for a while and remembered why Jesus asked to be portrayed that way- because he loves us. He loves us so much and his heart continues to burn with love for us. He doesn’t want me to be miserable, directionless and without purpose. He has a plan for me.

My eyes were then drawn to the right of the altar, and a statue of St. Paul was there. St. Paul? What’s he doing here? Wait… this church is called St. Paul’s. St. Paul is the patron saint of writers!

St Paul

Yes, the Paul who wrote half the bible (basically) and who is quoted more than any other source in Christianity was an intellectual with many gifts who was called to use those gifts for the Kingdom of God.

I thought this must be the answer: to look to St. Paul, to be a writer, and to ask for his intercession in finding fulfilling employment using those gifts. I still wanted a little confirmation though. And after all, this was only day 7.

That night I started googling St. Paul novenas. I had never heard of a novena to St. Paul. He’s not exactly known to be a heavy hitter like Anthony, Jude or Therese. And then came God’s second whack over the head for me:

It turns out, the Daughters of St. Paul have a special novena to St. Paul, and it starts JUNE 21.

June 21. Sunday. The 8th day.

Boom.

So last night, we continued with our Sacred Heart novena (must do all 9 days in thanksgiving), and we began a novena to St. Paul the Apostle, patron saint of writers.