Sunday, February 24, 2019

Hope for the Church

This afternoon, I was looking through old pictures on Instagram and was just filled with awe and gratitude for where God has led our family.

There's more than can ever be told here, but I look back over my own discernment and vocation story, and where I am right now and the people I am surrounded by - I couldn't have imagined this life for myself if I have tried.

I couldn't have imagined a husband like the one I have. I couldn't have imagined God leading us to the opportunity to serve the Church in the ways He has. I couldn't have imagined raising children running through the halls of a seminary, having seminarians juggle for them and Carmelite sisters handing them cookies by the handful. I couldn't have imagined the love and support we've experienced from this spiritual family of ours.

When Andrew and I (very suddenly, only six months into dating) felt an incredibly strong call to marriage, we wondered what it meant. Did God have something special in mind for us?? Years later, I now realize he did - the special, ordinariness of our vocation to marriage. Our vocation isn't flashy. Our holiness is growing through dirty diapers, night wakings, washing dishes, and wiping sticky little fingers. 

But as a bonus to the incredible vocation to marriage and parenthood, He has given us the additional opportunity to be a part of the formation of future priests. As time goes on, I feel the call to spiritual motherhood of seminarians grow stronger and stronger. 

As the recent scandal has broken in the Church, my greatest consolation has been my friendships with seminarians. These young men are entering into their vocation with eyes wide open, knowing the stigma around the priesthood in the culture. They are willingly, lovingly choosing to suffer for the Church. The recent scandal seems to have only strengthened them in their desire to lay their lives down (spiritually) for Christ's bride, the Church.

There is a hallway at the seminary that is lined with pictures of bishops who once were students there. I regularly remind my husband that he is not only helping to form future priests, but future bishops. It is certain that some of the young men we know will be one day be called to be bishops.

And do you know what? That thought fills me with more joy and hope than I can possibly say. These men are real men, men desiring to live lives of sacrifice and holiness. These are men longing for sainthood. These are men wanting to know how best they can serve the laity, and eager to listen to any stories or suggestions we have to share with them. They are undergoing an incredibly rigorous formation process, and that is only the beginning. Priesthood, in a time with fewer priests and increasing opposition to the Church, is harder than it has been in a long time in America.

But these men - these current and future priests and bishops - are men with fathers' hearts. They are the kind of men that quietly cut the meat on the plates at the children's table at a party, so their poor parents don't have to get up for the millionth time. They are the kind of men who will intentionally ring the entrance bell at Mass quieter, because they see you swaying with a sleepy baby in the vestibule. They are the kind of men who will anoint a sick pregnant woman, or offer to say Mass in her home, so she and her family can actually go to Mass together. They are the kind of men who will pray with you at the grave of your miscarried child, and text you years later on his patron saint day.

They are the kind of men who even when they have been ordained a bishop will still treat every person they meet as if they were incredibly important, and even remember to bring goldfish crackers for the children of the family when they come to dinner. 

There is a lot of pain in the Church, but I just want to tell you... don't give up hope. If the men we are friends with are any indication, there is so much hope for the future of the Church. May the Holy Spirit lead us.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Grace of Enough Book Tour!!

When my lovely friend, Haley Stewart, invited me to join the online Book Tour for her new book The Grace of Enough, I said yes in a heartbeat.

When it comes to Catholic books, I am a total book snob. Having studied theology in undergrad and grad school, I have read a lot about the Catholic faith. Sometimes, I try to pick up a Catholic book, but I just feel like the author is saying stuff that I've already heard and it's not making me grow. 

You guys...this book isn't like that. 

I feel like this book came to me at just the right time, which is usually due to some nudging from the Holy Spirit. 

For the first seven years of our marriage, one or both of us was in grad school and our budget was super tight. Our two family charisms are hospitality and generosity (or, at least, those are the charisms we're trying to develop in our marriage), but despite that...I still felt a need to acquire a lot of stuff. It wasn't that I was spending a lot of money, but I would go to a rummage sale and come back with a box of stuff. I just felt like I needed so much, and because we didn't have a ton of money, I felt like, if I saw something for cheap I had to buy it (in case I needed it later). 

Other times, I would go out on Saturday mornings, after a week of taking care of itty bitty kids, and just want to feel like I accomplished something. So, I would spend $10 on a box of potentially useful stuff and momentarily feel really good about myself. Needless to say, that feeling didn't last forever. 

When we moved to our new house a couple of years ago, we got rid of a ton of stuff, but I still held on to so much. The past year or so has been a process of letting go of more...but I still felt like I could be doing more. I still felt overwhelmed by the amount of stuff we had.

I've only had Haley's book for a little while, but her message (gently given, in the context of her own family's story) was exactly what I needed to hear right now. I don't spend a ton of money on stuff, but I definitely know the feeling of satisfaction when you think you've bought the perfect thing that will make you happy forever. (I loved Haley's story about her "perfect" computer bag, and I could totally relate to it.) But I know that, too much, I cling to the temporary satisfaction that I can get from stuff.

In case you don't know Haley's story, a few years ago she and her family made a huge life change. Her husband was in a job that was draining the life out of him. They ended up discerning that they were called to do a farm internship, halfway across the country, and spend a year in a tiny apartment with three kids and a composting toilet. (So, basically, she shaved off years in purgatory.)

Their story is so beautiful and it resonated so deeply with me, because Andrew and I did the crazy thing (i.e. get married and have kids while still poor and jobless, so that Andrew could pursue his vocation as a theologian) and we, like the Stewarts, haven't looked back. Like them, we have experienced that when you trust God (even if it seems crazy to do so) there is so much peace and joy that follows. It isn't easy, but that peace makes a world of difference.

In our case, trusting in God to provide led us to a seminary - a community that has become like another family to us. 

In Haley's case, trusting in God led them to a farm - and a community that has become like another family to them. I love, love, love Haley's descriptions of the farm. I love the community she describes, and the simplicity. It reminds me so much of our life as a family. 

And that's what is so beautiful. Sin is boring, but holiness is interesting. There are only a certain number of ways to sin, but there are so, so many ways to be holy. I love to hear people's vocation's story; to hear how God has prompted them to follow His call in their own lives. Like in the stories from the lives of the saints, it never ceases to amaze me how God is at work in so many people's lives - and in such different ways. It gives me hope, and courage, to live out my own vocation. 

Reading Haley's story gives me that kind of hope and encouragement. Do crazy things for God, and you won't be disappointed, is the underlying message!

But more than just affirming things I already know, The Grace of Enough has been challenging me. Our bedroom closet has been a disaster for years. There was so much stuff I was hanging on to "just in case" I needed it down the line. But instead of using all that fabric and yarn and other various art supplies and ill-fitted was just stressing me out. I would open the closet door and be overwhelmed by so much stuff. But, without realizing it, I was afraid to let it go.

Chapter 2 of The Grace of Enough really challenged me to reexamine why I was hanging on to all of this stuff. Then I realized - it was because I was afraid to let go of stuff that I might use (nevermind the fact that I had owned some of it for years and never used it). "Living simply doesn't mean we cannot own anything," Haley writes. "But if our possessions are owning us, if we are distracted from service and things eternal because we have too much, then we need the courage to make a change." (p.26-27)

Guys, I cleaned out that closet. I let go of so much stuff that I had been desperately hanging on to. 

And do you know what? I feel free.

I'm in the midst of an ongoing letting go of things (something that I've done before, but still need to do periodically), and I feel like this book is helping to refocus my heart. It isn't just about decluttering and being tidy. It's about being a good steward of the things that God has given me. It's about doing everything - even de-cluttering - with love. 

If you would like your own copy of this lovely little book, you can purchase it here:

Thanks for the chance to be a part of the book tour, Haley! Click here to see a list of all of the stops.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Your Anxiety/Depression Aren't a Sign That You're Failing

I've been in a really, really rough patch with my anxiety lately. I tried to explain to my husband what it felt like by telling him to imagine that he thought that his boss was going to fire him and that he spent every day waiting for his boss to come in his office and fire him...but it never happened. Even though it never happened and was never going to happen, his heart would probably skip a beat every time he heard footsteps approaching his office, or every time one of his students turned the doorknob to come and see him.

My husband doesn't have anxiety (and he has an awesome job, so this isn't a real possibility) but the image captures what the experience of anxiety is like. It's exhausting. My nervous system feels like it's always on high alert, like danger is around every bend. Even when I know that I'm safe and everything is fine, my body doesn't seem to get the message.

Motherhood/homeschooling/work is exhausting enough without anxiety. Anxiety makes me want to just curl up in a ball and quit.

What's been hardest lately has been that I've been in a really long dry patch in my prayer life. Praying has triggered more anxiety, and my brain just wouldn't calm down in prayer. I didn't feel any peace when I was praying. And my dear Jesus, who I have often felt so close to, seemed so far away.

Was I doing something wrong?  I have a pretty consistent prayer routine, and I was faithful to it. I thought of Mother Teresa and her dryness in prayer. Surely, it wasn't a sign that there was something wrong with me? In the midst of this, i heard someone talking about a child who got stressed during a deliverance prayer and how surely that was a sign that evil was attacking their family. That may have been the case for their family, but hearing that had me worried. Was I feeling anxiety in prayer because I was an evil person in some way? 

i know that that sounds totally ridiculous, but there are a lot of people who think that anxiety and depression are a sign that someone needs to pray more, or trust God more. And i worried...what if they were right?

Then, I started reading Father Elijah. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. Poor Fr. Elijah deals with some awful stuff, but his interior life was what struck me. It reminded me of consolations I had experienced in prayer. Although nothing like the miraculous stuff he experiences, I began remembering what a source of strength the Eucharist has been for me, throughout my life. And I decided to try to make daily visits to Jesus, even if they were short. 

The thing about Jesus is that when he wants to make you fall in love with him, he can be pretty hard to resist. On one particularly difficult day with my anxiety, I ended up just sitting with him in adoration, and even falling asleep. I felt more joy than i had felt in ages.

My anxiety didn't budge. It didn't go away. It wasn't cured.

But that's okay. Because my bouts with anxiety and depression aren't a sign that I'm doing something wrong. They're just the cross. They're just an opportunity to choose to love, even in the midst of suffering.

If you are in the midst of similar struggles, take heart. You are not alone. The Spirit and the Bride say come. 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

This is What a Father Does

I was going to wait and just share an article that I wrote for Catholic Exchange once it went live...but then the news just kept rolling out. And then I heard the readings for this morning.

The readings for this Sunday include the "husbands love your wives" passage as well as Peter declaring to Jesus, "Lord, to whom else shall we go?" Both of them summarize what's on my heart today.

On Friday morning, I woke up and was terribly nauseous. I was afraid that I was unexpectedly pregnant. (Spoiler alert, I am NOT pregnant.) It turned out that I just had some kind of stomach bug, and I've been in bed most of the past three days.

Thankfully, stomach flu is a piece of cake compared to HG (another post for another time), but I've still spent the weekend noticing how much my Andrew has been doing for me and our whole family. First, he had to stay home from work on Friday (because I was in no shape to be taking care of the girls). For some husbands, that might be a treat, but Andrew ADORES his job, and he is genuinely sad when he doesn't get to go into work. Then, he spent all day Saturday and Sunday taking care of the girls, too. (I was well enough to go to Mass, but that hour at church was really the only stretch of time when he had help....and he spent most of it pacing in the vestibule with the baby.)

That's a piece of cake compared to what HE has to do when I have HG. He basically has to take over most of the parenting and household responsibilities for around two months - and clean up my puke, bring me whatever food or drink I can stomach (and run to the store or get take out if it isn't something in the house, because HG is all about survival, and I can usually only stomach one particular food at a time), and talk me through swallowing a million anti-nausea pills and sticking myself with needles for more anti-nausea meds. To say his life is messy and smells like puke and dirty diapers and wet sheets from a potty-training-someone wetting their bed, etc. would be an understatement. (I mean, maybe not literally, because he has the best hygiene habits of anyone I know, but you get what I'm saying.)

One of my favorite early parenthood memories of Andrew was right after we had had our first baby. I was still home on maternity leave, but he had to go back to grad classes the day after I got home from the hospital. He changed most of the diapers in the beginning, and I remember him coming home from class one day and saying, "I was sitting in class today, looking at my fingernails...and I realized there was yellow baby poop stuck in there."

My husband may not be perfect, but he is genuinely trying to lay down his life for his bride and his adorable little brood.

I was also thinking of this, because a friend of mine is currently pregnant with twins and has HG, and another mutual friend was commenting how - watching this friend and me with our HG - she was struck by how hard pregnancy and motherhood are.  And I was reminded (especially this weekend, as I've been having HG flashbacks with the stomach flu) of the times that I have literally laid down everything that I have to give for the sake of my husband and children.

Added to that is the fact that we, like so many young Catholic couples we know, practice NFP. Chastity in NFP is essential, especially if you are using it to avoid pregnancy. Abstinence and chaste love are a given at times. Self-control is a must. And through that chaste love, real love grows. Through the cross of sacrifice, our marriage is strengthened.

Then, I've been following all of the things happening in the Church.

There is simply no explanation, and no excuse. I sincerely hope that you have a priest or bishop or someone in your corner of the world that is showing you what a father's love should look like right now.

But do you know what? I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure that out. When Andrew and I were talking about what sorts of responses were appropriate to the recent rounds of scandal, I asked him, "Andrew, as a father, how would you respond if someone hurt your child like this?" A look sufficed to confirm what I already knew - he would hold nothing back.

I hope that you - like me - are in a diocese where the bishop is taking some swift and sure action to dredge up all the dirt and begin the work of healing. I hope your pastor, like mine, didn't mince words in his homily. I hope your local seminary, like ours, takes this all very seriously and has been actively working to form priests rigourously.

But, I'm guessing that that's not the case for many of you. And do you know what? Despite that being the case for me, I still feel hurt, confused, frustrated, angry, discouraged, disillusioned, etc. Because even if I know good priests or bishops, it doesn't take away from the awfulness of the many who perpetrated these terrible crimes.

And so, I'm not going to make excuses for any of it. I'm not going to defend any of it. There are no excuses. We have been terribly betrayed.

If that is you, if you are feeling hurt and betrayed right are not alone. God is big enough to take it. And Mother Church - the real Church, not those in the hierarchy who have been masquerading as such - is big enough to take it. It isn't the first time that the Church has been rocked to the core by scandal. The Holy Spirit hasn't given up. I know He hasn't, because so much evil is continuing to be uncovered, instead of getting swept under the rug. I've had fleeting moments when I've wondered, "Am I in the right Church?" Then, I remember the words of Peter, "Lord, to whom else shall we go?" No church can stand as substitute for the Church founded by Christ.

But even knowing that doesn't take away the anger at knowing that here we are - trying our best to live chastely in our state of life, to sacrifice for our children and each other, and yet, many of our spiritual fathers have turned out to be absentee or abusive.

What we need right now, what the Church really needs, is fathers. Good fathers. The Church needs fathers willing to get poop gunked under their fingernails if it means a spotless Bride of Christ. The Church needs fathers willing to clean up puke and run themselves ragged taking care of their children.

I know some men who already fit that bill (both priests and bishops), and I'm happy to call them my spiritual fathers. These men fairly reek of their sheep, just as shepherds should.  But we need a whole lot more of these good men. And we need that fathering especially from those in authority, some of whom it seems have been more interested with their own gain than that of their children. We need fathers willing to lose everything so that their chidlren may live. We need men willing to lay down their lives or for their Bride, the Church.

Please join me in praying for the Church, and especially for the many, many victims who have had to suffer in silence for so long. No more. Come, Holy Spirit.

Please also join me in praying especially for all seminarians. I know so many, and they are a cause for real hope.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Failing as a Mother and the Cross

This summer is flying by, and I have to admit that I've been feeling like I'm drowning. My anxiety has been acute at some points, and it is so hard to parent small children when you're in a state of high anxiety.

This video is a pretty accurate representation of what anxiety feels like. It is relentless, and it can make daily functioning so, so hard.

Thankfully, I have a lot of tools for managing my anxiety and I have an incredibly supportive husband. But that doesn't take away from the fact that this particular cross is one that I really struggle with. One of the things that I struggle with the most about it is the fact that it makes me feel like such a failure. I know that I'm not as patient of a wife or mother when I'm feeling anxious. I know that I'm more productive when my anxiety levels are low. I wish that I didn't have any anxiety and I could just be productive and...well...super human?

So, anxiety is part of my cross. But we all have crosses. Yours may be anxiety or depression or some other mental health struggle or it may be something else. But we all have a cross in our lives. Some of us have heavier crosses than others. Some of us have more crosses than others. But no one is immune from the presence of the cross.

We live in a society that is obsessed with productivity and accomplishments. But the reality is that living a life of holiness is often very mundane. I think often of what one of my best friends (who got married the year before I did) told me before our wedding. "It's like...the little things are what are so exciting about marriage. You get to wash dishes together! You get to cook together! It's the little things." That was so wise of her, because it's true. There is beauty in those little things. 

That's why I love the image of the domestic monastery so much. People don't enter monasteries so that they can advance in their careers. They enter monasteries to embrace a mostly simple, mundane life. A good seminarian friend of mine has a friend in a cloistered religious order. He told me recently, "She says that she mainly does dishes. She does a LOT of dishes." Sound familiar? Monks and nuns wash dishes, clean, garden, maybe do some sort of simple work to support their monasteries. Overall, it is not a glamorous life. 

I was talking to this same friend about my thoughts about the domestic monastery and the parallels between monastic life and family life. "That's what my sister said her Mother Superior told them [about waking up in the middle of the night to pray]. 'It's like getting up with a baby.'" I love cuddling a chubby baby in the middle of the night - but it is also exhausting. And it is anything but glamorous. 

I do some part time work from home, but the important work that I'm doing isn't that - it's taking care of my children. The work that I'm doing has its greatest value in the smallest moments.

The other day I was at the very end of my patience. To add insult to injury, I had a baby who was getting into everything. If you've ever had a baby or a toddler, you know what I'm talking about. She either was whining at me, wanting to nurse, or she was crawling off to find trouble. I was so frustrated with her. My husband had been working longer hours than usual, finishing up a project, and I was just drained. My frustration was pouring out, and poor baby sensed it. As I grew more frustrated, she grew more whiny. She knew I was unhappy, and it was making her unhappy.

We made it to nap time, and I settled down to nurse her, still feeling super frustrated. I texted my husband, pouring out my frustrations. He asked what he could do to help. "Go to the chapel, please, and ask God to give me the grace of spiritual communion. Because I really need him," I requested. I broke down crying as I texted him. Between the tears and the knowledge that he was taking me in his prayers to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I felt peace creeping in. Suddenly, it hit me. "Oh, right. This is just the cross. I just need to offer this up."

(Side note here with a story I don't think I've shared before. At some point a few months ago, I was really struggling with jealousy that my husband could just visit Jesus in the tabernacle at any point in the work day - since he works in a seminary with THREE CHAPELS - and I was desperate for that time alone with Jesus, but couldn't have it. I was talking about this with my confessor, and he told me that, because Andrew and I are one in marriage, whenever he goes to be with Jesus he is actually bringing me with him. At the time I thought, "But that's not the same!" But since then, I've remembered this and occasionally dispatch him to Jesus for me, and it has been such a gift to me.)

As I was texting my husband and calming down, I began looking down at my nursing baby and smiling at her. She sensed the shift in my mood and became ecstatically happy. Her whole little face lit up in a scrunched up smile. Little things indeed.

 Recognizing the presence of the cross doesn't remove the suffering. But recognizing the presence of the cross does make it bearable. When Jesus said, "My cross is easy and my burden is light," he wasn't saying it would be easy. He was saying that we aren't alone in the cross. He is right there, with us.

I'm trying to remember that, as I feel drowned in failure so many days. If only I was more patient. If only I was more selfless. If only I was better at organizing or scheduling or managing things perfectly. It's easy to get so, so lost in the feeling that I am failing.

But this vocation is so much bigger than that. These pictures were from a recent visit to the Carmelite monastery where we got engaged, ten years ago this October. I had no idea what I was saying yes to that day, but I know that what I was longing for is what God has given me. I was longing for the opportunity to journey to heaven with my husband. I didn't know what that would involve. I didn't know what the cross would consist of in our lives. I couldn't have imagined something like hyperemesis gravidarum. I was hoping that I would never have to experience losing a child to miscarriage. And there have been other crosses we've been asked to carry that I couldn't have imagined and certainly wouldn't have asked for.

But in the midst of it all, I hold on to one thought. I remember, over and over again, that this life is so fleeting. In heaven, we won't be able to offer up anything but prayer and praise. We won't be able to offer up our sufferings. We only have this one chance to do that. By no means do I want suffering in my life. I don't seek it or desire it. But I also know that it is an unavoidable part of this world. The world tells us that it is meaningless. But Christ tells us that it is a means of love.

As Pope Benedict XVI famously said, “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness." In my lowest moments, I try to remember that. The world tells us that we're supposed to seek comfort, wealth, health, material goodness, etc. But that isn't what God tells us. "Take up your cross," He says, "and follow me."

And one day? One day there will be heaven. And then, this will all seem worth it.

In the meantime, I fail, I struggle, I fall, and I keep begging for grace. It is always there. Because Love - actual Love made incarnate - is present in the cross. And we are never alone. 

Take heart - you may not be failing after all. You may just be carrying your cross. 

(By the way....I started a YouTube channel recently! You can watch it here.)

Monday, June 4, 2018

Subfertility, NFP, and Spiritual Motherhood

This past weekend, our family finished off ordination season by going to the ordination of our dear friend, Fr. Taylor Leffler, in Omaha.

Taylor was the very first seminarian we befriended, when Andrew first started teaching at the seminary (four years ago!). He was a newly minted "theologian" (the term for the guys in seminary who are studying graduate theology and are in the four years leading up to ordination). His ordination was one of the most emotional I've experienced. The Mass itself (and his packed dinner reception) were incredibly beautiful. But to see this young man who we have welcomed into our hearts enter into this vocation...there are no words. 

The other night I was venting to Andrew about the frustration of our predicament in NFP. On the one hand, we have faced secondary infertility multiple times, and it is not easy for us to get pregnant. On the other hand, because of the seriousness of my hyperemesis gravidarum, we have to actively and seriously work to avoid pregnancy for long periods of time...even knowing that we will probably struggle to conceive again, anyway. It's like a double whammy. We love our babies. We want more of them, so much. But being bedridden for months, hospital trips, home's just not something we can lightly take on. We definitely are willing to take it on again in the future, but I need time to physically recover. I need to be healthy enough to take care of a baby. (I can't even be in physical contact with other people during my early pregnancy because their touch makes me so sick. Definitely a no go with a little baby!) 

I can't begin to put into words how much I love all four of my children. Even on the days when motherhood is really hard, I am so, so grateful for them. I can't believe that we have four children, especially knowing that we went into marriage not knowing if we would be able to conceive (and having a difficult time conceiving initially). But here they are, and they are so beautiful. Therese, Maria, Gabriel, and Zelie. I can't believe four little ones have lived in my womb. 

I don't want to sound ungrateful, but I wish I could have more. I wish I could be one of those people who is able to just take babies as they come. I wish that being pregnant didn't literally make me feel like I was dying. (And, in all honesty, if I wasn't living in modern times, I actually could die from hyperemesis gravidarum. HG is no joke.) Sometimes, I don't understand why God has given us the cross of HG pregnancies. 

But recently, I've been feeling the Holy Spirit increasing my awareness of a different vocation He has called me to - spiritual motherhood. In particular, I feel called to spiritual motherhood to priests and seminarians.

Recently, (I think it was actually when I was talking to Fr. Taylor) I remembered a story from over a decade ago. I was an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame. I think it was before I met Andrew, and I was in the midst of trying to discern where God was calling me. I felt such a strong call to holiness, and I assumed that meant that I would have to be a nun. But I didn't feel called to religious life. I felt called to marriage. That made be feel guilty, like I was somehow taking the easy way out, or something. (Which is hilarious, in retrospect.) I remember trying to bargain with God. I remember praying in my dorm chapel, late at night, about this. I knelt before Jesus in the tabernacle and told him, "Okay, my Jesus, if you are calling me to marriage, then  how about you give me a son? And you can call him to be a priest. Please, give me a son that is a priest."

Flash forward many years and many daughters later...

When I was pregnant with Gabriel, I really thought he was my boy. Andrew was already teaching at the seminary at that time, and I imagined that the baby in my womb - possibly a son! - might one day be called to the priesthood.

Then, we lost Gabriel. He was called to a different kind of priesthood. 

But, right before we lost Gabriel, Andrew was hired on as a full-time professor at the seminary. It would become his job for the foreseeable future. 

Unlike an ordinary teaching position, the seminary is a family vocation. The rector of the seminary is a wise man who knows that friendship with families is an important part of forming future parish priests. From the beginning of our marriage, Andrew and I have felt called to the charism of hospitality. Welcoming these guys into our hearts and prayers (and sometimes over for dinner or yardwork) has been a very natural fit for our family's vocation. Having a background in theology, I have especially enjoyed getting to support Andrew in his work at the seminary. 

In the beginning, being connected to the seminary was just plain fun. It was fun hanging out with the guys, and getting to know them. It was fun praying for them. It was fun having so many priests and future priests in our lives. 

This past year, the seriousness of this is beginning to hit me. In particular, the Holy Spirit began making it clear to me that He was calling me to become a spiritual mother to these guys. I have a friend who promotes spiritual motherhood to priests in our archdiocese, but I felt called to something more. I felt called to spiritual motherhood of seminarians, too. Like with regular motherhood, this means praying so much for all of these men. It means knowing such joy when I see them ordained. It means enjoying seeing them grow and flourish. 

But is also means being open to heart ache. It means accepting that some of the men we befriend will discern they are not called to the priesthood, and will leave the seminary to pursue other vocations. It means others will be ordained to the priesthood, and will leave the seminary to live out their vocation to the priesthood. 

One of my best friends is a foster mother. She's described the emotional rollarcoaster of foster mothering, and the need to love intensely, even knowing that you will lose that child from your life. In fact, if you do foster mothering well then that child will be removed from your care and reunited with his or her family. That is a success story.

This past weekend, seeing our dear friend being given back to his diocesan family, I knew that we had succeeded in helping support him through his formation. I saw him flourishing, and I saw the joy of the people of his diocese, as they embraced him.

But my heart was also breaking, knowing that we had to let go. It was heart breaking knowing that this is what our family's vocation is. We are called to love these guys intensely, knowing that - one way or another - we will have to let them go. Knowing that, we can't love them any less. We have to keep befriending them, praying for them, opening up our hearts and prayers to them. We have to do that, knowing that if we succeed, they will leave us. They will either leave to discern a different vocation, or they will leave to be ordained to the priesthood. But, either way, they will leave. 

But in the midst of this all, I realized that God had answered that old prayer of mine. In fact, he had answered it abundantly. I wasn't called to be the mother of a priest. I was called to be the mother of hundreds of priests. 

In my wildest dreams, I could never have envisioned this life that I am being called to. I could have never imagined being married to a seminary professor, and raising my children in the midst of this beautiful community. I could never have imagined chasing crawling babies and running children through the halls of a seminary. I could never have imagined countless hours spent rocking a baby to sleep in the back of the seminary chapel. I could never have imagined the exquisite little joys - the time I was rocking Zelie to sleep and one of the seminarians went out of his way to ring the chapel bell extra quietly so it would be "perfect for an infant," or the time that I was worn out by motherhood and the seminarians obliged by tossing my giggling preschooler in the air to keep her happy for me. (When I thanked them, I told them, "Thank you guys so much! The next time I'm having a hard day, I should just bring the girls over so you can help me with them." "That would be so fun!" they responded. #blessed) 

But I also couldn't have imagined the sorrows and the separations and the seriousness of taking these men and their intentions into my heart. In a way, mothering Gabriel prepared me for this particular vocation. I wouldn't know how important it was to let go and give a "child" (spiritual or otherwise) back to God, if it wasn't for him. I wouldn't have realized that I was only a small piece of their journey, and that that's okay. 

And as painful as infertility/subfertility/hyperemesis gravidarum and using NFP to avoid pregnancy is, if it weren't for all of that, I wouldn't be as free as I am for spiritual motherhood. If I had a large brood of kids, I wouldn't be able to easily pack them up and take them for Mass and lunch at the seminary every week. I wouldn't have the time or energy to sew up a set of vestments for a friend
 or two who needed them. I wouldn't have the emotional energy to invest so much time and so many prayers into friendships with these guys. 

I look back over the course of my life, and I know that this spiritual motherhood is something that God has been preparing me for all along. I am in awe of this unexpected vocation. 

But that doesn't dull the pain of having to say good-bye to these guys. It also doesn't begin to describe the joy of seeing them live out their vocations. 

And, in this vocation of mine, God has done the unexpected. He has given me sons to love and pray for. He has given me the grace of spiritual motherhood.

Friday, May 25, 2018

My Vocation is Nothing (and Everything)

When I was dating Andrew and in the midst of serious discernment about my future vocation, I remember receiving some truly beautiful consolations in prayer. They aren't really anything I can put into words, but they were moments of knowing in my heart that everything I believed was real. Even in the midst of the dryness and doubt I often feel, I can recall those moments of grace and find strength.

During that time, I remember meeting with my spiritual director and asking her, "What if God has something really special in mind for me?" In her wisdom, she told me to focus on just discerning where God was calling me and not on whether or not it was something really special or great. I had the hubris of a young twenty-something, though, and I envisioned a remarkable vocation, one that might even get me canonized?!

A decade later, I can look at that young girl and know two things: 1) her desire for holiness was not totally off base and 2) her idea of holiness was totally off base.

This August, Andrew and I will celebrate nine years of marriage. I can't even put into words how much I am still in love with him, and how that love looks so different that I could have imagined nine years ago.

But before I fell in love with him, I fell in love with Jesus. I stole away quiet moments with Jesus in the tabernacle, and he was so incredible lovable that I fell head over heels in love with him. As lovers would do anything for their beloved, I knew that I wanted to do anything for him, because he had already done everything for me. I imagined that that might be a call to religious life, or to a great work of ministry, or maybe even to a remarkably holy family life - one where we would pray all of the liturgy of hours together and talk about God constantly.

What I didn't picture and couldn't picture was my domestic monastery.

It really shouldn't have surprised me, though. For goodness sake, when God became incarnate he spent a full thirty years of his life just living in a family and doing mundane things. And I'm sure that the Holy Family didn't just sit around in contemplation all day. There was cooking/cleaning/carpentry to do! There was playing to do! There were diapers to change! There were poop jokes to tell! (Kidding. Well, kinda. There isn't really anything sinful about a good poop joke, after all.)

Even in a monastery, nuns and monks don't just pray all day. They spend most of their day doing ordinary things.  And as much as I find inspiration from their way of life, they find inspiration from mine. I was recently at a reception for a new deacon and was talking to him about his sister (who is about to take her temporary vows in a cloistered order). I was telling him about my domestic monastery theory, and of the hilarity of seeing a monastic schedule as a teenager and thinking, "Oh, way I would want to have to wake up in the middle of the night every night!" Of course, that's exactly what is required of my current vocation. He laughed and said, "Yeah, actually [my sister] said that that's what their Mother Superior tells them when they have to wake up in the middle of the night for prayer. 'It's like waking up with a baby,' she tells them."

That anecdote stuck with me. I always think of the monastic life being an inspiration to those of us who are married. It hadn't occurred to me that we were an inspiration to them, in living out their monastic vocation. The married vocation is

Last weekend, we went to a diaconate ordination in Kansas City (Kansas side) and Archbishop Naumann gave such an incredible homily. Part of his homily was a reflection on the vow of celibacy, and what these men were giving up. Instead of focusing on how holy celibate life is, he focused heavily on how holy and important the vocation to Christian marriage is. His point was to highlight that celibate life wasn't about rejecting a less holy way of life. It was choosing to sacrifice an incredible, incredible good - the vocation to marriage. I can't remember his exact words, but I can tell you that I stood in the back of that church (pacing with a baby I was trying to keep asleep) and suddenly felt that what I was doing mattered. 

Earlier this week, Andrew was out of town for a conference. While he was gone, I hunkered down and just stuck to the basics of making sure that everyone (literally) survived every day. (If anyone has ever had a newly mobile, highly curious baby in the house, you know what I'm talking about.) I'm the social media manager for one of the offices of our Archdiocese and I also had book promotion work to do, but those two "jobs" took around an hour and a half a day max. The other twenty-two and a half hours of the day (actually, twenty-four, because I was watching the girls while I was working, too) was spent doing the tasks of motherhood. One of my days started with putting a child in time out and having her shout repeatedly at me, "You are a bad mommy! Bad mommy! BAD MOMMY!" I was near tears, and that kind of set the tone for the rest of the day. I was exhausted and in an awful mood. And while the same child did later come and hug and kiss me and tell me, "You're a good mommy!" I was in a funk all day. While I was prepping food, checking math worksheets, rocking a baby to sleep, etc. etc. I just felt incredibly grumpy. My biggest struggle of the day was battling my own bad mood and trying not to take it out on my children. They were just fine. Their mommy, though, was a hot mess.

There are days when I am just in awe of my vocation and so happy to be where I am. I genuinely love my daughters. I've worked a lot of different jobs over the years, and I have never liked a job as much I like the job of being their mother. There is nothing else I would rather do. That being said, it's a process of dying to myself over and over again and sometimes I just want a break. Sometimes I want to feel holy. But holiness really isn't about feelings. And the way to sainthood is through the ordinary, mundane moments. Jesus spent 1/11 of his life in public ministry, and 10/11 in ordinary family life. I can't even claim spending 10/11 of my life just doing ordinary, mundane things. I haven't even come close to that level of commitment to the "ordinary."

But that ordinary nothingness is exactly what a holy vocation looks like. It doesn't look like greatness and glory. It looks like cleaning crumbs off the floor for the millionth time and scraping crust out of the corners of the high chair for the hundredth time. It looks like choosing to live the ordinary life for the sake of love.

This vocation is so, so much harder than I could ever have imagined. But do you know what? God really was calling me to something special. Because to Him, the little things are the most special.