What does it mean to be a woman?

What does it mean to be a woman?

What does it mean to be a woman? Certainly there are a lot of conflicting responses to that question. Catholic women in particular have a rich history and wealth of tradition in the theology of femininity. A lot of what we talk about, though, has to do with motherhood – both physical motherhood and spiritual motherhood. But for women dealing with infertility, this can be a painful thing to think about.

Shortly after my diagnosis (in my late-teens) I went through a gender identity crisis. If I was born without a uterus – actually created by God, but without a womb – could I truly call myself a woman? I bought a copy of Alice von Hildebrand’s “The Privilege of Being a Woman”, hoping that it would give me some answers. When I got to the part near the end (maybe the 7th chapter?) where she begins, “Every woman has a womb…” my eyes welled up with tears and I threw the book in a rage. I cried and cried, and told my mom, “I just wish someone would write a book to tell me what it means to live and be a woman with this condition.” My mom is no theologian. She didn’t know how to answer. But she did say, “Maybe you’re the one who’s supposed to write the book.”

Maybe. Does this blog count?

It’s been over 13 years since I started this journey, and I’m finally at a place now where I can enthusiastically answer this question:

What does it mean to be a WOMAN who is a follower of Jesus Christ, a Catholic, a daughter of the Most High?

Let’s take a look at some real-life examples (who also, coincidentally, were not physically mothers).

St. Mary Magdalene

Contrary to Dan Brown novels, Mary Magdalene didn’t become the secret matriarch of a centuries-old bloodline. But she did have a unique relationship with Jesus.

Mary Magdalene was a woman who, in her desire to be loved, fell into sin and became broken. Jesus saw her in the midst of this, and had compassion on her. He lifted her from her life of sin, freeing her from seven demons and accepting her beautiful act of contrition and repentance saying, “Her sins are forgiven her, for she has loved much.” She understood what it meant to be loved and rescued by Jesus, and wanted nothing more than to sit at his feet and listen as he taught her. She was the first one whom he appeared to after his Resurrection.

Having finally known true love, she gave her whole heart to Jesus. She teaches us that to be a woman means to love deeply, to run and jump into our Savior’s arms, and never look back. She shows us that, as women, we have the privilege of having a special, deep love relationship with our Rescuer. A woman’s relationship with Jesus is a very different thing than a man’s relationship Jesus, something that is worth reflecting on further.

St. Joan of Arc

Jumping 13 centuries into the future, we find the most adventurous example of Catholic womanhood the world has ever seen. This peasant farmer’s daughter bravely gave her “yes” to God when she was asked to leave her home and lead the French army during the Hundred Year’s War.

What is perhaps most impressive about Joan is her profound courage and trust in the Lord. She went where he led her, even though it was unheard of for a woman (let alone a teenage peasant) to go before the future King of France and be given leadership of his army. She trusted in her Voices (Sts. Michael, Margaret, and Catherine) and not in herself. When she realized that she had been trusting too much in herself, she confessed the sin of pride. After that, she gave everything she had over to the Lord, even though it led to her death by burning at the stake. In her last moments, she asked that a crucifix be held level with her eyes, and as the flames roared around her, witnesses say she called out the name of Jesus.

Joan of Arc teaches us that to be a woman means to be brave. It take courage to give our full trust and reliance on Jesus, no matter the circumstances. Courage and bravery are things we typically associate with men, but Joan of Arc shows us that they belong just as much to women, and perhaps more so. Her unyielding loyalty and trust in the Lord are uniquely feminine as well.

St. Therese of Lisieux

Being a woman means being the Lord’s daughter, and no one understood that better that St. Therese. Jesus was her first and only love. Her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, is full of sweet, simple thoughts about how a “little” soul like hers can reach the heights of sanctity simply by giving every little thought, word, and action over to the Lord. She writes that Jesus never showed himself to her in a vision, never even in a dream. But “weak” and “little” as she was, she knew that Jesus loved her, and would always carry her in his arms.

Therese shows us a uniquely feminine combination of gentleness, humility, and trust.  She fully embraces the Lord’s words, “Unless you become as little children…” No matter what happens, no matter what you do or do not achieve in this life, you are Jesus’ little girl, and nothing will ever change that.

 

 

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St. Josemaria on Marriage and Infertility

St. Josemaria on Marriage and Infertility

Of all the saints who have ever helped me along my journey, I have yet to find one who writes as beautifully on the topic of infertility as St. Josemaria Escriva.

Josemaria

If you’re a St. Josemaria lover or an infertility junkie, you may have already seen his most well known quote on the subject:

“God in his providence has two ways of blessing marriages: one by giving them children; and the other, sometimes, because he loves them so much, by not giving them children. I don’t know which is the better blessing.”

It’s a beautiful quote. I’ve seen it before. And I love it, I really do. You could meditate for hours on it and still not really reach the end of it. But this isn’t the only thing he’s ever said on the subject.

Recently, I was looking for this quote, and the magic of Google brought me to a larger passage of St. Josemaria’s. Someone had asked the question:

“The frustration caused by not being able to have children, leads, at times, to discord and misunderstanding. In your opinion, what meaning should Christian couples who are childless give to their married life?”

The Saint’s answer was brilliant. Here’s what I considered to be the highlights:

“Often God does not give children because He is asking them for something more. ….

There is, then, no reason for feeling they are failures …..

If the married couple have interior life, they will understand that God is urging them to make their lives a generous Christian service, a different apostolate from the one they would have fulfilled with their children, but an equally marvelous one…

God, who always rewards, will fill with a deep joy those souls who have had the generous humility of not thinking of themselves.”

I read this, and I was stunned. Thrilled. Overjoyed. Finally, there was someone (a Saint even!) boldly proclaiming the truth:

Marriage is holy, in and of itself. Even if God doesn’t give you children.

(If you want, you can read the whole thing here. Scroll down to number 8.)

As Catholics, we often think that we are failures if our families don’t include many children, running around and singing in matching outfits on an Austrian hillside. That not having several children means that we are less loved by God. That our marriage is worthless. But that’s a lie.

God has a plan for marriage—and he even has a plan for YOUR marriage, in particular. And the particular number of children he gives you (even if it is zero) is not what’s important.

What matters is your daily living of your marriage vows— your daily “I do” to your spouse and to God. 

Marriage is a vocation, a call from God, and “the vocation to love is in fact a vocation to the gift of self, and this is a possibility that no physical condition can prevent.” (That’s Pope B-16 for the win, by the way).

“…a different apostolate… but an equally marvelous one.”

Marriage is a path to holiness. And guess what? Everyone’s path is going to be unique.

This is the message that I’ve felt in my heart for a while now (ever since we felt God asking us to set aside our adoption plans), but finally they come out of the mouth of a Saint.

If I had read these words two years ago, I would have hated them. I would have felt my chest and shoulders tightening up and my eyes getting blurry. I would have thrown my computer. I’ve done that before.

I was so wounded and full of grief that I couldn’t have recognized the Lord even if he stood in front of me.

21 Since my heart was embittered
    and my soul deeply wounded,
22 I was stupid and could not understand;
    I was like a brute beast in your presence

Psalm 73: 21-22

I’m still wounded. I still have grief. But it’s different now.

I have hope.

I’ve learned that I’m not bound to procure children at any cost. If God’s plan means I’m not going to be a mother, it’s ok, because it’s not about here – it’s about heaven.

 

But what if you’re not there yet?

I shared the passage from St. Josemaria with a secret Facebook group of Catholic women dealing with infertility, and while many were just as excited as I was, some of the members had a less favorable take:

“This quote would only be helpful if I knew for certain that I would never have a baby. Then I could pick up and move on.”

This really summarizes our initial gut reaction for most crosses, doesn’t it? “If I knew for sure what the outcome would be, then I could get on with my life.”

Have you ever found yourself saying something like that? I sure have. It’s understandable, for sure. After all, we’re all human. We crave stability and certainty. But here’s the thing about the cross:

There is no human certainty in it. There never is.

Jesus isn’t asking you or me to reach a point where we feel safe and sure, and THEN pick up our cross. It can’t work that way – it doesn’t make sense. Instead, Jesus is saying, “Take up your cross and follow me.” He wants us to trust him.

He’s not going to give us the details in advance. Maybe because it would make things too easy. Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe if he let us see all of the pain up ahead before we’ve built up the soul-muscles to handle it, we’d quit before we even tried.

At the end of the day maybe faith is about learning to embrace the cross in the midst of all the uncertainty and instability and specters of hope. Maybe it’s about learning what “hope” truly means, and discovering that as much as we desperately want “x”, there is a wound in our souls even deeper, that requires something even more, that Jesus alone can satisfy.

And that’s where our certainty comes from, isn’t it?

That’s where our assurance lies: in Christ, who loves us deeply, knows us intimately, and is always at our side.

“Do not focus so much on the path, but on the One who guides you, and to the heavenly home to which he is guiding you” – St. Padre Pio

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.

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 — 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.

 

It’s 2017! And I only have 12 months left until…

It’s 2017! And I only have 12 months left until…

Hello, 2017! And Merry Christmas, Day 12.

I have so much to share with you all, but I need to get this out of the way first.

I’ve now entered the last year of my 20s.

Yikes!! I know that sounds so young to many of you, but I have a history of freaking out before important milestones:

  • I was terrified of 1st grade because I didn’t yet know how to read. There was nothing my parents could say to convince me that reading wasn’t a pre-requisite for beginning school.
  • I had a panic attack the night before I turned 25. My life was a quarter over and I thought I had nothing to show for it. Nevermind that I had already bought a house, traveled to Europe, and gotten engaged to the man of my dreams.

So, my New Year’s resolutions are also a bucket list of things to do before turning 30. Um I did not just type that number, did I? Ok, here goes:

Personal:

  1. Go to Fatima. (Portugal and Spain trip is happening!!)
  2. Learn image editing and graphic design skills.
  3. Finish the draft of my memoir.
  4. Stop being a perfectionist and just publish stuff.

Spiritual:

  1. Keep up First Friday and First Saturday devotions when possible and totes get to Confession at a minimum of once a month.
  2. Stop worrying about other people and be more confident in my own life.
  3. Forgive those who have hurt me in the past.

Bloggial:

  1. Write more mini-posts (150-200 words).
  2. Share YOUR stories (more on this to come!).
  3. Do more guest-blogging.

I have NO idea if I’ll actually be able to keep most of these. It’s more of a wish list, but I’m putting this here so you all can keep me accountable.

Now, enough about me.

What about you? Does anyone else have milestone freak-outs or major bucket lists for this year? What are your New Year’s resolutions?

Looking forward to a wonderful 2017 with all of you!

 

What exactly is Eternal Life?

What exactly is Eternal Life?

One of the best homilies of my life happened on a weekday morning mass at St. Matthew’s in DC. 

It was several months ago now, so I don’t remember all of the details, but it had such a profound effect on me that it must have been the Holy Spirit speaking through the priest that day. 

I don’t even remember whether the gospel reading was the Bread of Life discourse from John, or the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, or something else.

What I do remember is that the priest was talking about eternal life.

Here’s where my whole perspective on my daily living was changed.

What is eternal life?

Joy.

Pure, unnatural, overwhelming joy and a peace that surpasses all understanding.

When we say that Jesus offers us eternal life, we think this refers to when we die and go to heaven. Yes, it means that, but it’s more than that. Eternal life starts NOW.

Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He is life. This gift of eternal life is the gift of Himself. And He is love, peace, and JOY.

What does it mean to be joyful? Does it mean we’re always stupidly happy no matter what happens, even in the midst of tragedy? No, that’s not what joy means. There are times when we grieve, there are times of suffering and many, many tears. But this doesn’t mean we lose our joy.

Joy is the peaceful assurance and hope that God loves us and reigns over all. We know in the depth of our being that we are LOVED. 

Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It’s a grace, a sign of His life within you. It’s the only real comfort in the midst of suffering. It comes from the faith that God loves you, rescues you, and works all things for your good.

Eternal life isn’t something I have to wait for. I have it now.

And I have never felt so free.

What about me?

What about me?

Remember the parable of the laborers in the vineyard? At the end of the day, the owner pays everyone the same wage, a full daily rate, even to those who had been working for only an hour. The workers who had been there all day got upset and thought they should be paid even more. The owner, (God, in this case) says, “Are you jealous because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:15).

How many times when dealing with our sufferings have we thought, “How come she gets babies and I don’t?” “How come they have a good marriage and mine didn’t work out?” “How come they get money and I can’t pay my grocery bill?” All of these things can be summed up in our minds as, “Why do good things happen to everyone, even to bad people, but never to me?”

We don’t wish anyone ill will, but we question why they get the things we desire most, while we are kept waiting. We have been laboring in the vineyard day after day, through the heat and without rest, and yet these people get the things we think will make us happy. So God asks us,

“Are you jealous because I am generous?”

We know that he will take care of us. Who among you would give your son a stone when he asks for bread? But we don’t always understand what this means in our life. What if he doesn’t cure your physical illness, give you money, or make your problems disappear?

God will satisfy the desires of our heart, but that doesn’t mean he’ll give us everything we think we need. Just like 6-year-olds praying for a pony, sometimes adults still don’t understand what they truly need. God is not our personal genie, and we cannot control the way that our Divine Physician chooses to heal. Instead, our job is to seek first the kingdom, to be more like him and to be with him. As we become holier, our wills align more closely with his. Only then will our hearts be satisfied.

He will heal our wounds. He will make us whole. He will bring us to himself.

Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.

Paul, meet Connie. Connie, meet Paul.

Paul, meet Connie. Connie, meet Paul.

So, I recently started talking to St. Paul.

In case you’re not familiar to praying to saints, this is where God grants his buddy Paul a special grace to be able to hear me, and I ask Paul to put in a word for me to the big man. Much like asking a friend on earth to pray for you, I’ve asked Paul of Tarsus to give our friend JC a little nudge to “wake him up”, if you will. After all, Jesus was known to fall asleep at inconvenient times. (Mark 4:38, anyone?)

Well, St. Paul woke him up.

On the 3rd day of our St. Paul novena, I got to speak with the Creative Director at the ad agency I work for. I told him I want to write, and he wants to help me! He said he would start throwing me some things to play with, and, “You never know,” he said. “I’ve met people who started at the front desk like you and ended up as Creative Director eventually.”

God bless that man.

On day 6 there was another mention from the Creative Director about hoping to hook me up with some writing in the near future, and an apology that he’s been overly busy lately. Clearly, it is on his mind.

Now I’m waiting. Still praying, still hoping, still waiting. But there is hope, and that is a wonderful thing.

Honestly, I don’t even know if a writing position at this company is the answer. Maybe this nod from the creative director is just meant to give me a little encouragement as I continue to seek meaningful work as a writer. The path is still foggy up ahead. All I can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, and keep praying that the fog clears soon.

To keep the hope going, I’m looking for prayer stories. When has God given you a clear answer to your prayer? How did you hear his voice? Where did it lead? Do you have a favorite go-to prayer when you really need guidance?

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.

My Patron Saint

My Patron Saint

“Which Saint are you going to choose for your Confirmation?” It’s a question I heard about as frequently as “What are you going to be when you grow up?” The dreaming, the imagining and the pressure was pretty much the same for both questions.

I always thought I would choose St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Elizabeth is a pretty name, I thought. And living in Maryland, I remember the time my parents took me to Emmitsburg to see her shrine.

elizabeth

St. Agnes was a favorite of mine as well. Patron saint of girls? I’m a girl, so that’s cool. She was always a favorite. The martyrs are all inspiring.

agnes

Finally, push came to shove and 7th grade came around. I had to make a decision. “No, you can’t just pick a pretty name,” my teacher said. “You have to pick a saint whose example means something to you. Which saint lived a life that you would like to imitate?”

Well, now things changed. St. Elizabeth became a nun. I did not want to be a nun, at least not yet in my life. In fact, I decided right then and there to rule out every female saint that was a nun, which seemed like 90% of them. The mothering ones didn’t quite appeal to me either. That narrowed it down to the early martyrs and a handful of others, including:

St. Joan of Arc.

joan

That’s it! That’s the one! There’s an adventure story if you ever heard one. God told her to put on men’s clothes and lead the French army to victory, which ultimately led to a martyr’s death by burning, all the while fixing her eyes on the crucifix and calling out the name of Jesus.

I always had a sense that someday there would be some sort of revolution or underground movement, or that Christianity would go underground (like the early days), and I would be heavily involved as a leader. More childish nonsense, perhaps. But it lasted the whole of my childhood, and St. Joan of Arc fit that narrative.

Did I imitate this saint’s path to holiness, like my religion teacher said I should? Looking back at the last few decades, I might not be much of an underground leader, but I’ve definitely gone against the grain. I still love that I chose St. Joan of Arc because her attitude of “who cares what society thinks” has been a big inspiration for me. Maybe the Holy Spirit was guiding me there, knowing that I would soon face a lot of things that would set me apart. As much as I love her, I’m ashamed to say I don’t ask her intercession nearly as often as I should. I’m trying to get better at that so she’ll know me when we meet in heaven.

Who did you pick for your Confirmation saint, and why? Are you still happy with your choice? Do you talk to them much?