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.

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.

 

What Disney’s The Little Mermaid Taught Me About God

What Disney’s The Little Mermaid Taught Me About God

Everyone who knows me in real life knows I’ve had a life-long obsession with Disney’s The Little Mermaid. My dad still tells the story of how when I was a toddler, I would say, “Daddy, tell me about Ariel,” and he had no idea who she was. (Crazy, right? That’s because this was circa 1989-1990 and movie was still new.)

I’ve always identified with her. I had that feeling of being different, wanting something more, wanting to experience the world. I loved to sing (still do), and I even had reddish¬†hair (I was strawberry blonde as a little kid, though my hair turned golden blonde when I got older). As a kid, I spent all summer swimming underwater in my grandparents’ pool, pretending to be her. I still know all the words to “Part of Your World”, which basically was my theme song as I was going off to college.

I basically am¬†Ariel. But putting that aside…

Something about the story in the Disney version had stood out to me recently, and it relates to infertility, but it really applies to any cross that one could carry.

It’s about trusting in God’s goodness.

Ariel had a dream. She wanted to be human. In fact, you could say that she was called to be a human. She loved everything about humanity, and was in love with one human in particular. She knew this was where she belonged. But she had one big obstacle- no legs.

She wanted legs¬†so badly that she was tempted to make a deal with the sea witch. The sea witch gave her those legs- but only temporarily (three days) and at a tremendous cost- her voice, as well and her freedom. Next thing you know, she finds herself changed into a human, but in danger of drowning, trying to swim to the surface. She has legs, but no voice, no clothes, and no way to win the prince’s heart before her time is up and the sea witch takes her captive.

How much is that like sin? We want something so badly, sometimes we fall into sin to get it. Generations ago, they called this “making a deal with the devil”- because that’s what it is. He’ll give us what we want, sort of, temporarily, at the cost of our freedom in this life and our soul in the next. It’s a rotten deal. You can’t really get what you want: peace, happiness, love, and fulfillment.

Ariel fails. She loses that deal with the devil. She’s turned back into a mermaid and taken captive by the sea witch. All seems lost.

Until her father, the king, steps in.

The deal was made. He can’t break it. So out of love for his daughter, he steps in an¬†takes her place. (Sound familiar?)

The battle happens. The sea witch is defeated. The captives are set free.

And there we see Ariel, the little mermaid, still without legs, still longing to be human and be where she belongs. Her father sees this, and his heart is moved.

He uses his power to make her human. And she gets to keep her voice. And instead of leaving her underwater and without clothes, her transformation leaves her on the beach, clothed in a gorgeous sparkly dress, and in the arms of the prince she loves.

Of course, they live happily ever after.

Ariel messed up. But her dad loved her anyway. And he made her dream come true.

Sometimes we have dreams, or even vocations, that seem impossible. Unbelievable, even. But here’s the thing- just like Ariel, we have a Father who loves us. We need to believe that. He really is full of goodness, and he can and will take care of us in his love.

All we need to do is trust.

Romans 8:28 ‚̧

 

 

 

 

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 ‚̧

Faith, Trust, and a little Pixie Dust

Faith, Trust, and a little Pixie Dust

Faith, Trust, and a little Pixie dust!

That’s what it takes to fly, according to Peter Pan. Faith, trust, and a little pixie dust! How many of us spent our childhoods believing that to be true, or hoping it were true, and waiting for the day that Peter Pan would show up at our windows with a little pixie dust- since that’s all we lacked.

Of course, that never happened. And anyone who contemplated jumping off their deck in hopes of flying was most likely stopped by their mom- like I was. But a thought occurred to me tonight- perhaps Peter Pan taught us something more important that we realize.

In our relationship with God, it really is possible to soar, if we want to. We need faith. We need trust. And as for pixie dust? That’s code for Grace. With these three, we can fly.

Remember when Jesus walked on water, and Peter (the apostle, not Pan) asked if he could do it too? Peter jumped out the boat and started walking (by the grace of God), but then he started to sink. Jesus pulled him out of the water and said, “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

How many times does this happen in our lives? We know God is going to take care of us. We may even have enough faith and trust to jump out of the boat- and lo and behold, grace is there to sustain us. But then we notice the waves, and lose sight of the Master. And when our faith and trust are replaced by fear and doubt, we start to sink.

What should we do when we start to sink? Peter Pan says to think happy thoughts, and he’s not wrong. Pray for faith, trust, and grace. And keep your eyes on Christ- that’s the only happy thought you’ll ever need. ‚̧

Trusting in Two Steps Back

Trusting in Two Steps Back

This week, we made the tough decision to put off our adoption plans until we pay off more of our debt. Based on our calculations, this means at least another year before we can fill out our first application.

On the one hand, I know it’s the right decision. With more money in our pockets, I’ll be in a good position to be a stay-at-home-mom, or at least a mom who gets to work from home part-time, or volunteer in a museum. I can concentrate on becoming a writer. And I’ll have another year to figure out if there is a career out there for me. That is all great stuff, and I can live with that.

On the other hand… times like these make me want to run outside and scream, “Why can’t we have babies just like every-f-ing-body else?!”

I hope the neighbors appreciate my restraint.

Another year.

How can you live in the moment when something you want seems so far away?

I’m no stranger to waiting. Our engagement was 2 years, and not by our choosing. At the end of it all, we were able to see how many wonderful blessings came in that time.

I hate that we are doing this again now.

I hope that the people in my life will understand that even though I’m trying my best to focus on finding work I enjoy, making my home beautiful, and getting healthier, I¬†have a huge hole inside of me. And if I’m declining baby shower invites, skipping new baby visits, and crying in the pew when surprise baptisms happen at Sunday Mass, it’s not because I’m not “happy” for them.

It’s because this weight is too much to bear.

I know this year will be good. I know there will be wonderful things to come. I am grateful for a real chance to improve my life. I trust that God has a plan.

It doesn’t make this any less difficult.

Why is there suffering? A Lesson from the Man Born Blind

Why is there suffering? A Lesson from the Man Born Blind

Recently I decided to read the Gospel of John from start to finish, one chapter at a time. This morning before work I read chapter 9, which is the story of the man born blind.

It was crowded. Jesus saw the blind man. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” ¬†Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”

Jesus spat on the ground, made a little mud, put it on the man’s eyes, told him to go wash it off, then disappeared back into the crowd. The man did as he was told, and he could see.

Blindness is a cross. Like every other form of suffering, it is a symptom of our fallen world. It’s nobody’s personal fault.

Very few of us will receive miraculous physical cures for our sufferings. Those kinds of miracles happen, but they are rare. All of us, though, through our suffering have an opportunity to be an instrument for God to show the world some of himself. Like the blindness of this man in the Gospel, God can allow us to suffer so that his works may be made visible through us.

After the healing, the pharisees question the man, badgering him about how he was healed, and whether he believed that¬†Jesus was from God or not. To the man who was healed, it was pretty simple:¬†“One thing I do know is that I was blind, and now I see.”

The man doesn’t really¬†know who Jesus is, but he stands up for the godliness of his healer, and is kicked out of the synagogue. When Jesus hears of this, he finds the man, reveals himself, and the man becomes his disciple. He knows¬†that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.

Why do we suffer? Perhaps because it is through our trials that God reveals himself to us. Through these experiences we come to see that we are completely dependent upon God. We have no control. We are powerless on our own. The one who opens the eyes of the blind and calms the tempest with his word offers his peace in our lives. All we have to do is place our trust in Him.

When Life Gives You Broccoli…

When Life Gives You Broccoli…

This morning I was reading the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 7), and I came across the well-loved passage, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be open to you.” Those are powerful words. We have a Father in Heaven who is all-powerful and WILLING to give us what we ask for.

Jesus goes on to say, “Who among you would give his son stone when he asks for bread, or a snake when he asks for fish? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him!”

So there we have it. God is our Father. He’s there to provide.

So why is it that sometimes we ask for something, and it never shows up? We ask for healing of a disease, and our loved one slips through our fingers. We ask for a baby, and a pregnancy never happens. Our dreams for our life, perfectly good and holy, never materialize.

How is it that God answers our prayers and gives us every good thing, when sometimes it seems we are surrounded by brokenness?

I honestly think that sometimes, when we ask God for bread, he gives us a power bar instead. It doesn’t taste as good, it looks smaller, it’s kind of strange, and it’s hard to chew. You look at it and wonder, “How can this little bar satisfy me like¬†that yummy buttery piece of white bread toast?”

Sometimes we stare at that power bar for years without eating it. We’re angry at our Father for not giving us the bread we wanted. We’re like stubborn children that won’t eat their broccoli.

But at some point, if we are trusting enough, we’ll find the courage to take a bite. We eat that power bar. We might not like the taste. It might be hard to chew. But after a while, we realize something.

Our Father knows what He is doing. He gave us exactly what we needed for the journey ahead.

He takes the pieces of our broken dreams and with them He makes a new creation.

I don’t know why I have MRKH. I don’t know why my friends and family are dealing with so much of their own pain and suffering. Maybe I’ll never know. But I know that for me, I will Trust in my Father.

Today I choose to eat that power bar.

Spring!

Spring!

True to the season, we have so much to be happy about right now. There is so much to look forward to, and so many things to process.

 

Our first married Easter was beautiful. We are truly blessed. My parents joined us for Mass, followed by brunch at our house. It was really wonderful. My sister had gone to the Vigil the night before, so she hung out in my kitchen and cooked while were at church.

 

Later, James and I went to his side for dinner. We had a wonderful time visiting with everyone. After talking with his mom, aunts and cousins over the course of the weekend, there was one recurring idea that was mentioned.

“Why don’t you guys put in the application, get the home study, and leave the rest in God’s hands?”

Wow. Honestly it’s such a mind-blowing idea, though it might not sound like it to some. It’s a little different than just deciding to “try” like our fertile friends. If you get pregnant right away, you usually have 9 months to prepare for the baby. If you get chosen right away, with adoption, it can be WEEKS or, in rare cases, DAYS before a baby is in your hands. Of course, it can also take several years.

That, perhaps, is why many have said to put it all in God’s hands. Nothing will happen without a home study, of course, but after that, leave it, and trust.

I think I can do that. Trusting can be hard, but it is something we’re not strangers to. I know that with our family, if we were stuck and needed baby stuff in a pinch, they would help us. As for careers and child care, maybe God will lead me to something I can do part time or from home. My other worry has to do with all the traveling I want to do. Can we take the baby with us? Will we be good at that? I mean if Will and Kate can take George to Australia, surely James and I can take our baby to the great cities of Europe. Does that sound ridiculous? I mean people live with babies every day in every city of the world. It’s more expensive, but it has to be doable, right?

Maybe this is where trust comes in.