Not the Monastery I Was Expecting
The girls had their first day at our (large and remarkably well run) homeschool co-op. The Catholic homeschooling community in our city is extensive and so supportive.
The girls are taking three classes together. The first one of the day is Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, and if you have been reading this blog for a while, you know how much I love CGS. My three year old was nervous about going into atrium by herself, but she managed to separate from me. When the girls got out of atrium, my first thought was of Maria, and how she had managed. What I wasn't expecting was the picture that my dear Therese handed me. I think I will treasure it forever.
She drew a picture of her siblings. Both of them. I almost cry seeing this picture, but the tears are more happy, grateful ones than anything else. I worried so much, when I was pregnant with Maria that I was doing Therese a terrible disservice by being so sick and not being as good of a mother as I wanted to be. Needless to say, one second of seeing these little sisters together wiped away all my doubts.
But when we lost Gabriel - after another difficult pregnancy - I worried it had all been in vain. I worried that the suffering had been for nothing. At the very least, I worried that I was the only one who knew how precious the child was who had been lost, and how much the suffering I had endured (and continue to endure) was worth it for him.
But I see this picture and I realize - they get it. Therese and Maria love their youngest sibling. They always will. They will always pray for him, and ask him to pray for them. And one day, when they are reunited in heaven, it will be a joyous reunion for them. The suffering was worth it, because the love that Andrew and I had for this precious baby enabled our girls to love him, too. And he is forever a part of their lives.
I'm thinking about this today, because a friend said something (half jokingly) to me at our big girl's first soccer game this afternoon, and it really got me thinking. He joked, "Michele, you're living the American dream - at a soccer game on a Saturday, kids, house, dog...how does it feel?"
(By the way, we did get a puppy. That's another story entirely, but I owed my sweet, long suffering husband this puppy. Her name is Agnes, and yes, he named her after the saint. And, coincidentally, we named her Agnes on Mother Teresa's canonization day, completely forgetting that that was Mother Teresa's given name. Thank you to Andrew's godmother for reminding us!)
Anyway, that comment about "living the American dream" stuck in my head and made me think. I remember a night, over a decade ago. I was in my room, saying my prayers before bed, and looking out my window I saw our neighbors having an impromptu get together with friends. These neighbors were incredibly dear people, and so my thoughts were no reflection on them, but in my teenage zealousness for the faith I remember thinking, "I don't want that for my life. I don't want my life to be ordinary." I didn't know what God would call me to, but I was hoping it would be something dramatic and different and something that would be an obvious path to sainthood.
Surely, God would call me to religious life. Something set apart, something different. Surely, God would call me to be set apart. Was there any other way to be holy?
I remember, as an undergraduate at Notre Dame, searching through the library's stacks and desperately trying to find books about married saints. I think I found one - one book in a thirteen story library. In my heart, I felt that tug to marriage and family life, but I was so terribly afraid that it was too ordinary for holiness.
Fast forward many years later, and I never dreamed that God would call me to the life that He has called me to. I never dreamed that I would be the abbess of my own domestic monastery. I never dreamed the ways that God would humble me, over and over again, day after day. I never dreamed I would be trying to pray the Liturgy of the Hours with a puppy jumping on me and a small child asking for a yogurt tube, or that my daily rosary would be said over the insistent questions of a child in the backseat of the car, on our way home from homeschool co-op. Basically, everything I described in those two sentences was the opposite of how I imagined God would call me to holiness.
But the remarkable thing is, I can't imagine any other way that I could become a saint. I need my Therese, Maria, and Gabriel. I need my Andrew. I even need that ridiculous puppy of ours.
I need the many ways that my life is in direct parallel to the life of a monastic.
A daily rhythm of prayer, even in the early hours of the morning and late hours of night? Check.
A schedule not entirely under my own control? Check.
Obedience to the needs of others? Check.
Sufferings and joys hidden away from the world? Check.
Beauty in the unexpected? Check.
And...holiness in ordinariness? Check.
Because that's the thing about both the monastic life and the life of the domestic monastery - it is deceptively simple looking to outsiders. The daily routine is deceptively ordinary. Working, praying, sleeping, eating, playing? What's so remarkable about that?
But God does not see as we see. And what we consider to be ordinary, He knows to be extraordinary.
G.K. Chesterton, in one of my all time favorite quotes of his, says,
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” source
I didn't understand this before this vocation of mine. God exults in monotony. He also exults in the ordinary.
In fact, He exults in my (and your) own, ordinary life.
And in the midst of this ordinariness, there is a beauty that I could never have anticipated. This is the lesson that Therese and Maria teach me daily. But that beauty can only be truly found in the midst of suffering in love, with an eye always to heaven. That is what Gabriel reminds me every day, that child of mine who has already journeyed beyond this earthly pilgrimage. Earlier today, I had to go to the store and get a few more articles of clothing that Maria's needed for her fall wardrobe, and I was contemplated swinging by a new St. Vincent de Paul store that recently opened, to find a few more pieces for my own fall wardrobe...not clothing that I needed to buy today. Then, in that moment, I imagined my Gabriel - possessing nothing, and possessing everything, all at once. "...for everything belongs to you...all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God." (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)
In that moment, I no longer felt the need to go shopping for something that wouldn't satisfy. Gabriel reminded me that God alone is enough. His way of ordinariness is enough for me.
This is not the monastery I was expecting. But it is clearly the one that I needed.