Gemma

Gemma

This is St. Gemma. I just finished reading her diary. And, um, WOW.

Gemma Galgani was an Italian girl who lived at the turn of the century near Lucca, Italy. Much like St. Therese, her mother died when she was very young, and from then on she embraced Mary as her mom. Gemma’s diary is all about her love for Jesus and her struggle for holiness. What is really remarkable is that she was frequently blessed with mystical experiences, regularly conversing with Jesus, Mary, her Guardian Angel, and St. Gabriel Possenti.

I loved her diary. I really loved it. She was close to my age, and reading the conversations between Gemma and Jesus were just so…. I can’t think of a word. It was awesome. And in her diary, Jesus comes across as a real person- not just the up-in-the-sky ethereal Godhead, but the real flesh, blood and personality that we know is true but so often forget. He has a personality!! His facial expressions show real emotions, and he laughs. And her guardian angel even says things like, “Gemma, you have to talk to Jesus this way, otherwise he won’t want to do what you ask.” How human is that!!?? As Catholics we believe that Jesus really is human and divine, but how often do we remember the human part? There’s even one part where Gemma says something to Jesus that her guardian angel had told her, and Jesus gets kind of a stern look on his face and said “I don’t like him to tattle on me.”

Reading St. Gemma’s journey to holiness made me think a lot about my life, and I think it has a great lesson for everyone. So much in life is out of our control. Gemma was never able to become a Passionist sister, as was her dream. And some dreams really do not come true, no matter how hard we try. But God has a plan and a purpose for each of us, and that is holiness. We are made for Heaven, and the prayer for holiness will always be answered. This dream will come true.

St. Gemma’s diary is a love story with Jesus.  He loves us more than we can imagine, and all he wants from us is our love in return.

If you’d like to read more about St. Gemma and her Diary, click here.

St. Gemma, pray for us.

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Taking Up Our Cross

Taking Up Our Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus-The-Good-Shepherd

Radiating Fruitfulness: Sacrifice

Radiating Fruitfulness: Sacrifice

We made it! I made it! Welcome to the third and final installment of my first series, “Radiating Fruitfulness: Charity, Hospitality, Sacrifice,” where we explore what it means for a marriage to be fruitful, even for those of us not blessed with children. If you’re just joining us, feel free to check out Part 1: Radiating Charity and Part 2: Radiating Hospitality.

Radiating Sacrifice

Somehow that title doesn’t have the same ring as the last two. The word “sacrifice” doesn’t exactly fill us with warm fuzzies, does it? Still, the Catechism points to sacrifice as a way in which all marriages are fruitful. What does this mean?

Sacrifice means giving something of ourselves, offering something up, as a gift to God. Sacrifice is an act of love, and an exercise in trust. We know that we will be ok without these things, because God is our strength. Christ gave is own life as a sacrifice on the cross, to redeem us. We in turn take up our crosses daily, uniting our suffering to his.

We know that marriage comes with sacrifice. We vow to love and honor each other “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.” Even in the good times, placing the needs of your spouse before yourself isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Sanctification in marriage comes from a daily dying to yourself for the sake of the other. “No, I’m not going to stay at the office later than I have to, because I have a wife who needs me.” “Sorry, I’m going to have to cancel my plans to take care of my husband who’s not feeling well.” “Yes, I’ll hold my tongue in front of your mother.”

Those things are little, and yet we know there are bigger sacrifices that come with love.

“No, we’re not going to live together before marriage because we trust that God has a plan for us, and that sex belongs in marriage, period.”

And then, the struggle of the infertile:

“No, doctor/mom/dad/brother/cousin/myself, for the thousandth time, we refuse to engage in IVF. Yes, we know that that is our only chance for a biological child. Yes, we are suffering, more than you realize. But we trust that God has a plan for us, and that new life is sacred. We make this sacrifice because our souls are more important to us than the fulfillment of our dreams, because our greatest dream is the Kingdom of God.”

What good, truly, comes from these sacrifices? If we look with human eyes, we only see the pain. In the first instance- “My spouse is encroaching on my comfort.” In the second- “Quaint, archaic rules are getting in the way of how I want to live.” In the third- “Old men in Rome are dictating whether or not I can have children.”

If we look with eyes of faith, we see the Glory of God. When we sacrifice and die to ourselves, we open our hearts and become holier people, and that holiness radiates outward.

Like St. Therese’s “Little Way”, we are growing in holiness through small, everyday sacrifices. In the first instance, sacrificing your own comfort to tend to the needs of another bears witness to the love and patience of the Father.  In the second instance, bearing witness to the truth of sexuality goes so far against the grain that it angers those who can’t bear the light. While many won’t have to courage to say it out loud, more than one will be touched by this witness. And on a much more personal note, couples can attest to the many blessings and graces that flow after marriage as a result of this sacrifice.

In the third case, perhaps the witness is more silent. Perhaps not many will know that refusing IVF comes with an immense suffering on your part. But I promise, it is worth it. Graces flow from obedience. In the words of Our Lady of Lourdes, “I cannot promise you happiness in this world, only in the next.” Couples dealing with infertility are on the front lines of the culture wars. Our witness to the dignity of life and the sanctity of marriage matters. It is perhaps a still, small voice- but one that has the power to open eyes and change hearts.

 

We know that all love bears fruit. It is my hope that this series might be a small comfort to my brothers and sisters who are suffering in the throws of infertility. I promise you, your marriage has a purpose. God has a plan. I pray that all who read this will experience the healing touch of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and that whether or not you have children, your marriage will bear much fruit, for his greater glory.

+AMDG+

 

RadiatingFruitfulness

New Series! Radiating Fruitfulness

New Series! Radiating Fruitfulness

The Sacrament of Marriage is always fruitful. It always brings forth new life, even without the gift of children. Understanding this outside of the context of parenthood can be difficult, but it is nonetheless true. Even the Catechism mentions this.

“Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.” (CCC 1654)

I’ve often read these lines and wondered what they meant. What does this mean for my life, for my marriage? Why does infertility get such little mention in the Catechism, as if it were an afterthought?  Of course, the Catechism is a summary, not the exhaustive body of Catholic thought. Still, not much has been written on the subject.

In a way, perhaps those of us suffering infertility have a unique gift. When we are denied the obvious signs of fruitfulness, we are invited to discover the beauty and gift that Sacramental Marriage is in and of itself.

This is a new series exploring what it means for a Catholic marriage to “radiate fruitfulness” through charity, hospitality, and sacrifice.

Part 1: Radiating Charity

The Catechism defines charity as “the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” (CCC 1822)

Charity, sometimes called “love”, is the highest of the virtues: It is what animates and inspires the others.

Fruit of the Spirit and fullness of the Law, charity keeps the commandments of God and his Christ: “Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” (CCC 1824)

And of course, the most famous and beautiful passage ever written about charity comes from St. Paul:

“Charity is patient and kind, charity is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Charity does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Charity bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13)

When we are called to marriage, we are called to be Christ to one another. Our vocation is to love with our whole selves- and this love, by nature, expands outward. It becomes a beacon of hope in our world of darkness.

A loving marriage provides a stable home base for the spouses from which they can step out and share their love with everyone they meet. Some concrete examples of this include community involvement, mentoring, sharing your wisdom with others, being an example of Christian living, and encouraging others to walk in the light.

The love between a husband and wife becomes an energy that transforms their world. Case in point: a wounded woman who thought she had nothing to offer realizes that she is valuable. Through her vocation to love her husband and his vocation of loving her, she learns to open her heart and soul to the world. And through his vocation to love his wife, and her vocation of loving him, a man learns that he is needed. He learns he can be a provider, a hero, that he is strong and able, that he has a purpose.

They say that behind every great man is an even greater woman. The truth is that true love transforms. It makes us become the best version of ourselves.

“All because two people fell in love.”

Radiating Fruitfulness: Charity, Hospitality, Sacrifice. What it means for #marriage to be fruitful, even in #infertility. #Catholic #Christian

 Check out Part 2: Radiating Hospitality

Check out Part 3: Radiating Sacrifice

My Country Valentine

My Country Valentine

With Valentine’s Day upon us, I wanted to take a moment to thank God for sending me my best friend James, and blessing us with the most beautiful marriage. It is better than I ever imagined, and sweeter than I ever deserved.

This morning on my way to work, I was listening to Gus Lloyd on the Catholic Channel ask listeners about their song. People called in and said how many years they’ve been married, what their song is, and how it came to be their song. It was the sweetest show!

On our first Valentine’s Day together James made me a mix tape (CD). Songs included Diamond Rio’s “Unbelievable”, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, Brian McKnight’s “Back at One”,  and Westlife’s “On Angel’s Wings”, among others. Can you tell we were kids in the 90s?

He also included “Amazed” by Lonestar, and that was the one we danced to at our wedding. That is our song. But we also have a few more that are close to our hearts.

Taylor Swift’s “Our Song” is pretty much the story of our first year of dating. Slammin’ screen doors, sneakin’ out late, talkin’ real slow cause it’s late and your mamma don’t know… you get the idea. We were 20 and 22.

The song that always makes me feel super warm and fuzzy though is none other than Thompson Square’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not”. Cause yeah, he got down on one knee… and we planned it all out for the middle (beginning) of June.

So Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone, but most importantly to my handsome, country music loving, best friend and husband James.

Do you have a song that really speaks to you? What song just makes your heart melt?

The Year of Wandering

The Year of Wandering

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 8:28

Finding Our Purpose

This morning on Pinterest, I was reminded of St. Catherine of Siena’s famous quote, “If you are who you were meant to be, you will set the world on fire.” Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my purpose, the purpose of marriage, and the purpose of our marriage in particular.

Building the Kingdom. That doesn’t only mean co-creating children, necessarily. It means living to the fullest in your state of life. Christianity without suffering isn’t Christianity, it’s Paganism. We can all be nice and get along. What makes Christianity different? It’s our willingness to bear wrongs patiently in the name of our God. Its taking up your cross daily, and striving to live according to the Gospel.

We want to adopt someday. We’ve visited several local agencies and are forming a plan of how to go about this. For some reason though, I don’t feel that now is the time to start this process. We’ve only been married for a year, we have some debts we’d like to pay, and some traveling we’d like to do. We’d like to be in a position where I could stay home with the baby at least two or three days a week.

I feel like God is calling us to something else right now. I just don’t know what it is. And yes, we still have major emotional breakdowns whenever someone we know announces a pregnancy, but that has more to do with grief and less to do with adoption. Does it makes sense to say we’re peaceful about our current childlessness, yet grieving our infertility?

And so we will keep praying, keep loving, keep being. We know that God has plans for us, and so far He has only led us to beautiful, beautiful things.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

One Year Into Happily Ever After

This month we celebrated out first anniversary. James surprised me by planning a whole weekend of fun, romantic dates. Saturday we went to Mount Vernon, which I’ve never visited. As a history person growing up in the DC suburbs, I know, it’s surprising. Sunday morning we went to Mass at St. Patrick’s, the place of our wedding. After Mass we walked around Ellicott City and the Baltimore Inner Harbor, and had dinner at Rusty Scupper overlooking the water. After dinner, James took me to the hotel where we spent our wedding night, and the staff had put up a sign for us and scattered rose petals on the bed. Everything was so beautiful. I cried. In a good way.

That weekend of celebrating was kind of like our first year- happy, excited, totally in love and completely elated. We still feel like we’re on our honeymoon.

Yes, we have challenges, but we’re dealing with them together. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I think, thanks to God’s help, we’re holding hands as we go along.

Year 2 of Connie and James is forecasted to be another fun one. Hopefully we’ll be going to the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and Newport Beach, CA in the Fall, and touring the United Kingdom in the Spring. We may continue pursuing the adoption process, but after our last agency visit we learned we might not be in a good enough financial position yet. While I think I might like the idea of spending a few more years to ourselves, the emotional side of infertility is currently our most difficult struggle- but that’s for another post.

No matter what lies ahead, we know we can continue to be as happy as ever, as long as we keep God first, always.

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Some days are Caramel

Today I’m thinking about Forest Gump and his box of chocolates. First off, I have some absolutely wonderful news to report. I have accepted a position with a marketing company that specializes in the food industry. I’m just an administrative assistant, but I am so excited to be in a creative environment with people working on projects that I think are fascinating. I’m looking forward to helping out in any areas I can so that I can learn as much as possible about the industry. They already said they are looking forward to using my writing talents. This job seems like it will be the perfect answer to my prayers.

Tuesday was my last day at the auto body shop, and while I am happy to be moving on, I will miss my coworkers. I am ecstatic that I have found a new direction for my career. I’m nervous too. Starting in a new place is scary. At least I got a new wardrobe out of the deal!

On the flip side, last night was a tough one, infertility speaking. Yesterday morning I had a CT scan to check and see if other systems are formed correctly, since some studies have shown 30% of people with MRKH can also have renal anomalies. Yuck. Last night I was at darling hubby’s basketball game, and there was a couple about our age with a  very cute 18 month old son. Later at home we were going over our health insurance policy because we are considering switching, and hubs wasn’t thinking when he started reading the very long list of free maternity care services included in our current policy. I lost it. In the kitchen. It was too much for me yesterday.

I calmed down. Life continues. And today is set to be a very beautiful one indeed. Charlotte’s coming over for a baking night. And today I’m going to order our Christmas cards and sign us up for an adoption information session in 2 weeks. I am so grateful for this beautiful life and all that is in it, even the chocolates with that gross coconut/strawberry stuff inside.

Pepperoni and Pachelbel

Pepperoni and Pachelbel

When we left our home in 2010 to move in with my grandmother, I felt as though my childhood had officially died, and my family with it. I love my grandmother very much. Losing my home, though, was something that affected me greatly. Throughout those years, James was my rock. Spending time with him was my home. It gave me something to hope for.

Now I feel more like myself than I have in years. I made pumpkin bread on Saturday. On Sunday, I made homemade pizza while listening to Super Hits of 1720. James didn’t even know I had that CD, that’s how long it’s been. I had forgotten how happy I get while listening to Pachelbel and Bach. Harpsichords just do it for me. Go figure.

My life has changed so much. Every day I wake up and thank God that I am finally married to James. I still can’t believe that it actually happened! I am so overwhelmingly happy.

Romans 8:28 We know that all things work for good for those who love God,who are called according to his purpose.