Tales from the Valley

"Not all those who wander are lost"- J.R.R. Tolkien

Being a Good Catholic Woman

Being a Good Catholic Woman

What a week in the world of Catholic women’s blogging.

On the one hand, we have this awesome article from Haley Stewart at Carrots for Michaelmas, Things You Don’t Have to Do to Be a Holy Catholic Woman.

Brilliant piece, and remarkably, one that an infertile female like myself doesn’t feel excluded by. I’m very happy that someone took the “wear skirts and homeschool your 10 kids or else you’re going to hell” people to task.

And then there was this garbage– and article that takes a narrow view of womanhood, and says that working outside the home means you’re “indulging in disordered emotional appetites.”

I expected better from Catholic Answers.

 

Being a stay at home mom is a beautiful vocation, and there are many good articles about that. This was not one of them.

Denying that women can find fulfillment in work, denying that many women are called to other or additional vocations beyond motherhood is not Catholic, not true, and not very nice.

Defending your vocation by putting down others is NOT acceptable.

Here’s a direct quote from this article:
“Even if I disliked most of the duties involved in homemaking, I would still do it. Once again, it’s about accepting God’s will and fulfilling the role he appointed—even if one is not titillated by every aspect of that role. Ironically, my working friends will often use this same rationale in defense of their boring jobs, though they will try to stop me from using it.”

Excuse me? “Boring jobs”- God called me to a wonderful vocation of being a wife–and a writer. And a singer. And a composer. And other things yet to be discovered.

 

Almost every female saint contradicts what this author says.

St. Zelie had kids AND her own business- and one of her kids is St. Therese!! St. Elizabeth Ann Seton had children, and she founded a school.St. Theresa of Avila was a brilliant scholar. St. Catherine of Siena was a powerhouse of thought. St. Mother Theresa, enough said. Sts. Agnes, Cecilia, Gemma, Therese, Mary Magdalene– none of these women were stay at home moms, and yet all of them faithfully followed a vocation given to them by God.

 

Really, I have three words for this author:

Joan of Arc.

Rant over.

 

 

 

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.

 

The Vocation of Un-Belonging

The Vocation of Un-Belonging

We just got back from the annual family beach week.

The one we said we wouldn’t go on again, but you know, they invited us, and… beach.

It was really nice.

Honestly though, I remembered why we probably shouldn’t have gone.

It’s like Christmas- lots of togetherness. Lots of food. Lots of alcohol.

And lots of children, including at least one that was young enough to be ours.

As fun as it was, I was basically in a perpetual state of trying super hard not to cry. Between the high sugar diet, the booze, and the continual reminders that my life does not fit the norm, my eyes didn’t stand a chance.

When we got home this weekend and went to mass at our home parish, I remembered a conversation that happened in my 8th grade religion class about vocations.

Our textbook said that there are 3 primary vocations to which we could be called- marriage, religious life, and being single.

Then the teacher (or was it a priest?) said to the class that there is some debate as to whether the single life is actually a vocation. Does God actually call people to that, or is it just something that sort of happens when other things don’t?

What about my single friends who don’t want to be single? The ones for whom being single is a real struggle, a real suffering, a real cross?

Does God call them to this cross? If being single is a suffering, can it also be a vocation?

Is it the same, then, as a childless marriage? Could God really be calling us (and others) to live in this cross as a vocation, whether it be permanent or only for a time?

I don’t know if anyone truly discerns and desires singleness in the same way that people discern and desire the priesthood, religious life, or even marriage. At least, I don’t think I’ve met people like that. I think it’s more like infertility- you have other hopes and dreams, and you desperately want God to show you what he wants for you so you can move on and leave this confusing limbo of un-belonging.

You want a purpose, you want a plan, you want to know that he has not forgotten you.

But maybe, maybe this IS his plan, as much as it hurts. That wouldn’t be without precedent.

I mean, even Jesus asked his Father to change his plan and take away the cross if it were at all possible.

And maybe this feeling that your life is missing the mark will never leave. Maybe the goal of this vocation is to continually pray for the grace to accept your blindness, and to trust your guide, even though it seems like he’s only standing still.

When it looks like there’s no hope- maybe we’re right, in the human sense. There is no cure, there will be no material change. No baby. No spouse. It’s happening—we’re going to be crucified. And it feels completely senseless and useless and stupid and horrible.

And maybe that’s how Jesus felt in the garden when he said that.

But we do have hope, right? But it’s a delicate thing. I don’t think Jesus would have cheered up that night if you were like, “Don’t worry Jesus, you’re going to rise in three days,” because that would have glossed over all the awful suffering he was going through. No, I think we can tell in the gospels that what really pulled him through in that moment was obedience to his Father and knowledge that this was truly the only way to save his beloved.

And that’s what pulls us through too, isn’t it? Obedience maybe, and trusting that this is the only way, and the hope that one day there will also be a resurrection for us, and he will open our eyes and show us that it all did matter, in some way.

“But not my will, but yours be done.”

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 ❤

 

 

 

 

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.

Which Way to Adoption?

Which Way to Adoption?

Recently, our hearts have been moved toward becoming parents. We seem to have decided on a home study agency, but still need to find an out-of-state placement agency. Still, we haven’t done any paperwork. Why?

Money. Career. Where-the-heck-is-my-life-headed. You know, that stuff.

PA281186

You see, as much as I LOVE our life at home, I still haven’t found a satisfying occupation, let alone career. And we can’t yet afford for me to be a stay-at-home-mom (thanks, Maryland economy). I’m not sure if I’d rather find a great job or be able to quit, but I know that I do not want to have a baby when I’m working full-time at a stressful job that I don’t enjoy. That would be a nightmare that I would prefer to avoid.

So, what do I do? Let’s look at the options:

1. Start adoption paperwork now. Pray I find a new job. And if I don’t, hope that we can afford the unpaid maternity leave. And hope that we don’t enter the realm of nightmares (see above).

2. Wait 3 to 5 years more before starting the paperwork, by such time we would hopefully be able to live on my husband’s income alone, or that plus something part-time for me. Downside: waiting, even more. And who knows if 3 to 5 years is enough. The DC area is expensive. It could be more like 5-10! And what if we’re not supposed to wait anymore? What if the one that is meant for us is coming sooner than we think?

3. Find the new job ASAP, one that uses my talents and (hopefully) has resources for adoptive maternity leave. Start the adoption paperwork after I get settled in that. Maybe have to struggle a bit with the full-time work in the beginning, but hopefully transition to something part-time in two or three years. Downside to this is getting a new job and making sure I like it. And given my track record, finding a new job takes a long, long time.

And as much as number 3 sounds the most logical, and number 1 the most insane, I’ve often seen that things fall together in a pinch when God’s involved with something. What do you think? Am I letting fear hold me back? Or should I focus on finding a career (as unlikely as that could be)?

After promptings from a number of people we know, we started praying a novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the intercession of St. Jude for my job situation. I know that something will come of this (it never fails), but I do not know what, yet. It is guaranteed to be answered on or before the 8th day, which is Sunday. I will publish a thank you after that date. June also happens to be the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart, so this is rather fitting.

sacred-heart-of-jesus

I know I’m asking the world in this post, but, basically, what is my vocation and how do I find it?

The Couple in the Pew

The Couple in the Pew

This is my article that was published in the Catholic Standard a few months ago. I found it online today and thought you all would like to read it.

The couple in the pew: the impact of infertility

By Connie Poulos
Thursday, April 23, 2015 2:26 PM

There is a couple sitting in the pew on Sunday. You know they have been married at least one, two, three years now. No children yet.

If you’ve spotted me, or any of the thousands of local Catholics dealing with infertility, our childlessness is not by choice.

The desire for children is deeply rooted in our human nature. We see this in the excitement and hope of those trying to conceive. We see it most profoundly in the pain experienced by those for whom this desire is unfulfilled.

According to a recent study, one in six couples struggle with some form of infertility. Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after a year of trying, or the inability to carry a pregnancy to term. Infertility can be primary (no living children) or secondary (unable to conceive or carry an additional child). Affecting men and women in equal numbers, infertility is a true medical condition and not the result of stress, “not doing it right” or “not relaxing.” Worse still, it is a real emotional and spiritual trauma that can potentially wreak havoc on a husband and wife.

The inability to achieve something so natural, so expected, so inherent to the dignity of marriage, cuts at the heart of our sense of self. Broken dreams serve as a painful reminder that children are indeed a gift; they cannot be created on demand. They cannot be earned. We are not the Author of Life, God is.

Emotionally, there is no way to “get over” infertility. It is a continual loss, day in and day out. Even years after acceptance, something unexpected can trigger uncontrollable tears. Baptisms, Mass readings mentioning pregnancy, pregnancy announcements and receiving a shower invitation are all situations that can re-open the wound. Holidays are hard. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day Masses bring a unique degree of torture. Why should all these happy events cause such grief? Simply this: the wound is too deep. The weight is too much to bear.

Part of this cross, unique to Catholics, is choosing to put God above our own desires. With some forms of infertility, the only way to fulfill the good, natural, and burning desire for a biological child is through illicit treatments. Laying down our God-given desires and freely choosing to forgo these technologies (sometimes out of pure obedience) is a tremendous sacrifice. Many friends and family cannot understand why we choose this. Instead of supporting our faith, they act as though we are bringing pain upon ourselves, and plead with us to try IVF. What keeps us going? We trust that in his wisdom, God does not give us these rules to make us miserable, but because he knows what is ultimately going to make us happy.

Learning to live in an infertile reality is like climbing a mountain barefoot in a blizzard. First things first, hold tight to your spouse and to God. No matter what is causing infertility, the important thing to remember is that this suffering, this pain, was not given to you by God. Suffering is a reality of our fallen world, as unavoidable as earthquakes and hurricanes. As much as we cry over infertility, God cries more. He loves life; he loves babies! He cries for those who are unable to conceive or who lose a child. The beauty of our faith is that we believe that our suffering itself is fruitful. We have hope that God can and will use our suffering to create something glorious. “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

Even in the cross, there are gifts to be explored. Infertility opens our eyes to the reality that fruitfulness in marriage takes many forms, and that our call to life and love is a daily occupation, regardless of our circumstances. Infertility, viewed from the cross, reminds us that the gift given in marriage involves a new life, even if it may not be expressed in the beautiful gift of children. All married love is fruitful. The light of Christ that comes out of the sacramental union shines forth into the darkness of our fallen world. “The vocation to love,” said Pope Benedict, “is a vocation to the gift of self and this is a possibility that cannot be impeded by any organic condition.”

When God calls us to marriage, he calls us to love and honor our spouse all the days of our lives. He calls us to be open to whatever life he has planned. Our vocation to marriage is as real and as serious as any other vocation. A family of two is no less a family. We are a visible sign of God’s love.

If you or someone you know is struggling with infertility, we would like to invite you to the upcoming Archdiocesan Morning of Hope and Healing, to be held on Saturday, April 25 at 10:00, at the Saint John Paul II Shrine in Washington, DC. Planned with all types of infertility in mind, we welcome all those who carry this cross, along with their friends, families and supporters. There will be simultaneous translation into Spanish for our Hispanic faithful. For more information, please visit http://www.adw.org/event/mass-hope-healing/ or email or call Mary Hamm in the Office of Family Life at hammm@adw.org; or 301 853-4499.

(Connie Poulos is a local Catholic blogger at http://www.TalesfromtheValley.com . #Visible Sign is a column on marriage and family life produced by the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office for Family Life. For more information, see http://www.adw.org/visiblesign.)

New Series! Radiating Fruitfulness

New Series! Radiating Fruitfulness

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1: Radiating Charity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All because two people fell in love.”

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

 Check out Part 2: Radiating Hospitality

Check out Part 3: Radiating Sacrifice

It’s Valid. Period.

It’s Valid. Period.

(This is the post where it becomes evident that I once considered a career in Canon Law- the legal governance of the Catholic Church. Enjoy.)

It has come to my attention that there are many people, even members of the clergy, who do not know what the Catholic Church teaches about the validity of marriage with regards to infertility. This is a huge deal! How are we supposed to grow awareness and compassion among Catholics when even some of our priests don’t know if our marriages count? Yikes.

So, is a marriage suffering infertility still valid? YES. Of course.

Here is what you need to know:

Infertility has no bearing whatsoever on the validity of the Sacrament of Marriage. It is neither here nor there. Marriage is not only about children. It is also about the good of the spouses. (See Exhibit A.)

If perfect fertility were a requirement for marriage, then women past menopause wouldn’t be permitted to marry. Hysterectomies would come with annulment proceedings. Couples found infertile would be sent to the tribunals. Pre-marital fertility testing would be required. All kinds of ridiculous pandemonium would ensue.

This sounds crazy because it IS. We know from our good common sense that marriage is about more than fertility, or lack thereof.

So what DOES the Catholic Church officially teach about marriage with regards to physical infertility? The Code of Canon Law (the official “rule book”) states this clearly:

“Sterility neither prohibits nor nullifies marriage, without prejudice to the prescript of ⇒ can. 1098″ –Canon 1084.3.

Boom.

And that Canon 1098 is all about being open and honest with your intended spouse:

“A person contracts invalidly who enters into a marriage deceived by malice, perpetrated to obtain consent, concerning some quality of the other partner which by its very nature can gravely disturb the partnership of conjugal life.”

In other words, the ONLY way that infertility would POSSIBLY become grounds for annulment is if you intentionally LIED about it and hid it from your spouse prior to marriage. Lying and deceit are never cool.

Bottom line: If you discovered infertility after marriage, or if knew you were infertile ahead of marriage (like me) and you were perfectly open and honest with your dearly beloved, your marriage is 100% valid, licit, and recognized before God and the Church.

Period.

And, much more beautifully, Pope Benedict XVI put it this way:

“I would like to remind the couples who are experiencing the condition of infertility, that their vocation to marriage is no less because of this. Spouses, for their own baptismal and marriage vocation, are called to cooperate with God in the creation of a new humanity. The vocation to love, in fact, is a vocation to the gift of self and this is a possibility that no organic condition can prevent. There, where science has not yet found an answer, the answer that gives light comes from Christ”.

So, we haven’t talked in a while…

In the last few months, I have felt an unusual stirring in my soul. A pull. A tug. Whatever you want to call it.

I don’t know what it is he wants, but I know God wants something.

When I was a child, I was completely in awe and would love nothing better than to spend hours in prayer. This fervor faded a little bit when I was started college. It never completely went away, but saying I’ve had a 10-year spiritual dry spell wouldn’t be completely inaccurate.

In the last few months, I know he’s been calling me back. I have this overwhelming sense that there is something he wants me to do, but I have no idea what it is. I can’t see the big picture. All I can see so far are the little steps.

He asked me to start reading again. Every morning before work, I read as much as I can from the bible over breakfast. So far I’ve been through the Gospel of John, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and 1 Samuel.

He’s been nudging me to pray the rosary at various unusual times. A few times in bed after my husband was asleep, and occasionally at other points. This is kind of strange, as I never really liked praying the rosary, even when I was younger.

I stumbled across St. Gemma. Never heard of her before, but I can’t stop reading about her.

Last month, on what happened to be a Thursday, I had an overwhelming urge to pray in front of the Eucharist. I went before the tabernacle at 6, and by the time I looked at my watch it was almost 7. What happened during this hour was unlike anything I had experienced since I was a girl. Non-stop tears, and an inexplicable desire to wear the hood of my jacket. So I did. And more tears. More about this in a future post.

I don’t know where this is leading. I’m trying to be patient.

I can’t focus on anything else.