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 ‚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.

 

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?

The Stages of Grief, MRKH style

The Stages of Grief, MRKH style

I’ll be throwing a few personal details out there with this post, but if it¬†helps¬†one other girl struggling with MRKH or the prospect of permanent infertility, it is worth it.¬†I truly believe that God has been holding my hand through the entire ordeal, and that his grace makes all things possible.

In the months leading up to the discovery of my MRKH, I became profoundly spiritual. I would spend¬†every available moment in the church that was across the street from my high school, praying before the Blessed Sacrament. I was the sacristan of the school chapel, and the chaplain was my spiritual director. I had a deep desire to give my whole life to God as a religious sister. I know now that this was our Lord’s way of preparing me for the trauma that would soon enter my life.

Outside I look completely normal, and up until that point I had developed normally for a teenage girl, so no one suspected anything was different. Finally, when I turned 16 and I still hadn’t menstruated (even though I felt cramps), we knew something was wrong. After a long series of doctors and tests, a laparoscopy finally proved¬†that I had “congenital absence of uterus and vagina.” I learned later that this is also known as Mayer-Rokitansky-K√ľster-Hauser Syndrome, or MRKH.

When I first heard the news, I was calm.¬†I’m going to be a nun, so this doesn’t matter,¬†I thought. Not a big deal.¬†Let’s call that Stage 1: Denial.

Next came the identity crisis. Also known as Stage 2: Anger and Confusion

Stages of Grief: MRKH Style

True story: this question plagued me for a long time. People associate womanhood with motherhood.¬†In our culture we call getting your 1st period “becoming a woman.” As Catholics, we hold a deep love for the mother of Jesus. Growing up in a big family, all of the women I knew were mothers. Female conversation topics almost always included children. Where did this leave me? If I didn’t have a womb, was I truly a woman?

After much anger, tears, and throwing theology¬†books (looking at you, Alice von Hildebrand), I came to realize that being a woman has nothing to do with one’s body parts, or lack thereof. My faith teaches that God created me female on¬†purpose, and that even my soul was created¬†female. After a lot of over-thinking and crying, I figured it must be true. Womanhood is more than skin deep. And it is so much more than reproduction. But what about marriage? Would I be permitted to marry in the church? Thank God I felt very close to my spiritual director at the time, and he guided me to Canon Law that stated, yes. Absolutely. Sterility is not an impediment to marriage, and impotence is only an impediment if it is permanent and irreversible (mine was easily corrected). Marriage and sex is about more than the ability to bear children. My future marriage would be valid.

After the identity crisis (which lasted at least 2-3 years), we hit Stage 3:  Bargaining.

AKA, learning to trust.

I knew that the Church was opposed to IVF and surrogacy. I had a decent knowledge of why, thanks to Catholic high school. But I still wrestled with accepting this. Being in love with Jesus, I never wanted to knowingly disobey his Church, even if I disagreed (thank you, Mom and Dad, for filling my head with tales of great Saints who became my childhood heroes). And so, it was in this frame of mind that I lived the next several years of my life.

I knew there would be no special dispensation for¬†IVF. I knew if it was considered a sin, it was¬†bound in heaven. But still, I thought there should be some “ethical” way of doing the illicit. Though¬†I would obey the Church, I frequently opened the conversation about it, hoping she would change her mind. I even published an article on this blog in 2010 (6 years after diagnosis) about why I thought the Church should change her stance on IVF (though I’ve since removed the post).

I think I hit Stage 4:¬†Depression not long after my wedding.¬†I was so unbearably sad that my husband and I would never be blessed with a child that was genetically related to us. We would never see what that looks like. Our love would never be “fruitful” in the traditional sense of the word.

Thanks be to¬†God, I married a man who was similarly committed to obedience. Even before marriage, we trusted¬†that these rules were given to us by God not to make us unhappy, but because he loves us and knows what is best. I believe it was the grace from the Sacrament of Marriage that opened my heart to the truth about IVF, and led to Stage 5: Acceptance.¬†Even if you don’t kill any embryos, and you collect sperm in a “licit” way, it doesn’t matter. The act of marriage is so profoundly sacred and beautiful, and absolutely nothing should get in the way of that. We have a right that, if we are blessed with biological parenthood, it will¬†only be through each other. Our bond is sacred. Nothing should mess with that, or cheapen it. The marital relationship should not be subject to manipulation, for any reason. This is a beautiful thing.

(Note: if you would like to read an in-depth explanation of the Church’s teaching on IVF, written by a Catholic dealing with infertility, please see this awesome post from Conceiving Hope.)

Clearly, as evidenced on this site, I still grieve. I’m sure this is a thorn that will be with me all the days of my life. I will always need God’s help. But I write because I want you to know that there is hope, even though it might not be what you think.¬†Hope is not the confidence of a¬†miraculous cure, but the confidence that God is with us and will sustain us. He has a plan. I know this. And no matter what¬†you’re facing, he will carry you through.

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Anima Christi

Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, sanctify me; Body of Christ, save me; Blood of Christ, inebriate me; Water from the side of Christ, wash me; Passion of Christ, strengthen me; O good Jesus, hear me; within your wounds, hide me; let me never be separated from you; from the evil one, protect me; at the hour of my death, call me; and bid me to come to you; that with your saints, I may praise you forever and ever. Amen.

Anima-Christi


When I was a child, I found this prayer in a book¬†that I kept in my room. I would pray it over and over, completely mesmerized. I don’t remember how old I was, but I remember having¬†to pull out the dictionary for “inebriate”. Is it weird that whenever I hear that word, my thoughts immediately go to this prayer?

Within your wounds, hide me.

When I was a kid, I remember picturing being tiny and Jesus being like a giant, keeping me tucked in his pierced side and me being perfectly content, as close to him as possible. I never thought that was weird. Oh, the mind of a Catholic child.

Now that I’m an adult, this line has new meaning. We know that we are particularly close to Jesus in our suffering, for it was then that I carried you.¬†Perhaps asking Jesus to hide us in his wounds means we are asking him to allow us to suffer with him. Perhaps it is about taking up our cross and joining him, uniting our wounds with his. Maybe it’s asking him to keep us close in suffering. This beautiful line makes me think of St. Th√©r√®se and her desire to be small and insignificant. It makes me think of¬†what St. Faustina learned from Jesus, that “If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things: one is the receiving of Holy Communion, and the other is suffering.”¬†It’s something I could spend the rest of my life contemplating and never quite understand. Perhaps that is what makes it so beautiful.

I don’t really know why, but this prayer always fills my with a strange and wonderful fire, like a burning peace, if that makes sense. It is so powerful. If you’ve never prayed it, I strongly encourage you to give it a try.

Does anyone else find the Anima Christi to be particularly moving? What is your favorite prayer? Is there one in particular that really speaks to you? I’m thinking about making prayer discussion a recurring topic here at TFTV.