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.

St. Gabriel – Not to be confused with the archangel.

St. Gabriel – Not to be confused with the archangel.

Today (February 27) is the feast of St. Gabriel Possenti, also know as St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows. I actually have a fun personal story about this particular saint.

stgabriel

St. Gabriel Possenti¬†was a Passionist, living in Abruzzo (the Italian region where my family is from) during the 19th century. He’s the patron of students, young people, and the Abruzzo region.

My great-grandmother had a special devotion to him, as she grew up right next door to the church that housed his incorrupt body. I always heard growing up that my she and her family used to take care of this body, and that our family was blessed because of this.

In my crazy, imaginative Catholic child brain (the same one that thought magical things would happen if you’d only apply a little holy water), I heard this story about “St. Gabriel’s body” and was perplexed. “How does an archangel have a body?”

Different Gabriel, kid.

But still, this question bothered me for years until the advent of Google and just goes to show how truly ridiculous my mind is.

A few years back, I started doing a little more research on this saint, and stumbled upon a link to a website about St. Gemma Galgani, who lived after Gabriel’s death, but had visions of him throughout her life. I was immediately¬†taken with Gemma. Her diary is beautiful¬†and has been a true help to me in the last few years. I really believe God sent Gemma to me right when I needed her, and used Gabriel to introduce us.

This is what is really amazing about the communion of saints. As Catholics we believe that when we pass from this world, we are not dead, but alive in Christ. We are all part of His body. And just as we ask our friends on earth to pray for us, we have friends in heaven that will also give us their love and their prayers. We have a family that loves us, and nothing can separate us from each other, not even death.

The story of St. Gabriel and his friendship with St. Gemma is a real testament to this. And in particular for me, it’s a reminder that saints aren’t always ancient people from distant, far-off lands.

They’re family.

 

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.

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.

A New Year’s Resolution for the Broken Hearted

A New Year’s Resolution for the Broken Hearted

I look around the world right now, and as far as I can see, we are walking through a crimson field of broken hearts.

My sisters and brothers are lying wounded.

Death. End of a Relationship. Unemployment. Infertility. Sickness.

The loss of a dream.

When you’ve had dreams or expectations for ¬†how your life would go, you often don’t¬†realize how dear they are to you until you’ve lost them ‚ÄĒ when¬†the wind has been knocked out of your sails and you’re left wondering, “What is left?”

Who am I, since I am not who I thought I was?

What hope is there, what way out, since what’s done is done and there is no returning to the innocence I have lost?

It’s not an easy question to answer. It’s one that I myself have struggled with for many years, and still fall prey to on occasion.

After many years of turmoil and grief, my identity was lost, and the one that I had tried to form for myself was becoming twisted and more painful than ever before. It was like a broken bone that had attempted to heal but had never been properly set.

There was nothing more that I could do. I was done. I was done trying to form a new identity for myself. And so, I prayed.

I asked the Lord to do it for me. I asked him to take these shattered pieces of the little girl that once was, and make from them a new creation. To tell me, since my sense of self was gone, who I truly was.

And once I had surrendered all my defenses, the answer came.

You are my daughter.

As clear as that. Not booming out of the sky, but through the words of the priest in the confessional, and echoed again within my heart.

You are mine.

And this, as simple as it may be, is the answer. This is the hope that we have when all is lost. That we are His. He made us, he loves us, he cries with us, and has plans for us. Nothing at all happens without his permission, and from the evil that befalls us, he brings about the good of our salvation.

To all the broken hearted, to all who face this new year with anxiety and sadness, I want you to resolve to take this life one moment at a time, remembering with each step that you are the child of a God who loves you deeply.

Whatever you have lost, however shattered your heart, you have a Dad in heaven who wants to pick you up and carry you, if you let him.

Give him the pieces of your heart. He knows what to do with them.

 

Apparently God Likes Banana Bread.

Apparently God Likes Banana Bread.

Apologies for so much silence lately.

I actually have several attempted drafts sitting in this account, none of which I feel are good enough to publish. This one isn’t either, but there you go.

I’ve decided to share a little snippet from my life this weekend.

God told me to make banana bread.

Ok, no, he didn’t actually come out of the sky and say “Make ye bread of bananas.” Nothing that Monty Python-ish.

And no, no interior locutions. I’m not that special.

But nevertheless, I was sitting at my kitchen table Sunday night, checking emails or Facebook or engaging in some other mode of escapism, when my mind was drawn to all the things I’d heard this weekend about vocation, and doing God’s will in our lives.

I had heard a story this weekend about a married couple who were missionaries, and it stirred up my continued longing to do something more, something different, something radical in service to the Lord.

So I looked up at the crucifix above the front door and said, “What do you want me to do?”

My eyes then went over to the bananas that were sitting on my counter, just hitting that point between “too ripe to eat comfortably” and “let them sit one more day so I won’t feel as bad about throwing them out” and I kid you not, in the span of a moment, this is the rapid-fire stream of thoughts that came through my head:

God’s will is always expressed through the lens of your Vocation, big-“V”.

Your Vocation is to marriage- specifically, to be James’s wife.

Remember that line in Proverbs or something where it says a good wife makes stuff out of other stuff and whatnot?

You could totally be like that and make banana bread, instead of waiting another day and throwing those out.

So I made banana bread. On the seventh day.

And it was good.

 

When your path isn’t His path

When your path isn’t His path

Sitting in my living room during the Blizzard of 2016 seems as good a time as any to finally write my first blog post of this year.

2015 was the year of dreams. In just 12 months, by the grace of God, I accomplished all this:

  • I did the Whole 30 twice and lost 27 pounds between January and September.
  • We fulfilled my life-long dream of visiting England. I’ll never forget it as long as I live.
  • I finally became a full-time writer! I love my new job writing marketing content in the heart of Washington, DC.

If you’ve been following here, though, you know there have been some internal struggles. We started an adoption home study, then stopped, all because I froze and didn’t feel right about it. And I stressed over it, a lot. So much that I gained 20 pounds in the last 3 months. Ouch.

After months of serious, consistent, intense soul-searching, we’ve decided to postpone adoption all together. How do I feel about this? Relieved. Sure, I’m a little uncertain about what it means to be a married, childless Catholic. I always assumed that not having a uterus meant that I was therefore meant to adopt. I have learned now that this is not so. And while it is sad to know I will be childless (at least for now), it is also liberating to know that God is in fact leading me on HIS path. Yes, liberating. I feel free. Relieved. Peaceful. My path was not His path, and now I know that. Having handed Jesus the wheel (thanks Carrie Underwood), I am now free. Which leads us to my theme word for 2016:

TRUST.

It’s a little terrifying scary when you know that your life has to change, that you have to give something up that is good, but not for you. It’s almost like breaking up with that long-term boyfriend that’s just not the one. It requires a lot of trust-something that I don’t really have, but I’m working on. I mean, really, why can’t my path be a “normal” one-marriage, kids, family, etc.? I would be so nice to just fit in. But I know that that is not for me, not now. Instead, I’ll be focusing on my health, my new career, my marriage, my house, my relationships, and my faith. I know this is where I’m called to be. And there is peace.

Romans 8:28 ‚̧

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.