He Did or He Didn’t

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I use this same graphic for everything, but really, this is what it boils down to for me.

Last week I received the news like a punch in the gut: a relative and his wife are divorcing. It was shocking partly because the marriage never seemed troubled and partly because an hour or so before I had prayed with the day’s gospel reading in which Jesus says, “they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

While I was thinking about the coincidence, my dad plunged into one of his new-but-becoming-habitual condemnations of Catholicism, holding up in turn each of my mother’s siblings who were married in the Church but subsequently divorced. “Look at all those Catholics! They say they don’t believe in divorce, but now look at them. Your mom and I were married in front of a judge. We didn’t want any of that wedding crap, and look at us! Thirty-seven years!”

I am grateful for my parents’ marriage, of course, but I also thought that in terms of spiritual warfare it isn’t too shocking that the Sacramental marriages would face more obstacles than a civil marriage. I digress. There is so much suffering and heartbreak. I can so understand when people leave their marriages to pursue happiness elsewhere when their gaze settles only on the happiness that the world can provide. My own marriage has not exactly been a tiptoe through the tulips, and I have experienced a lot of ups and downs. I do believe that Jesus meant what he said about the indissolubility of marriage and I do believe holding things together is worth making some significant sacrifices for.

Looking at my life, sometimes I see the long road ahead of me and doubt my ability to persevere to the end in faith. Not just in marriage, but in every difficult detail. Jesus talks in the parable of the sower why someone would abandon the faith. Even when I try my best to follow Him there will be times when I’m rendered a hypocrite. We’re a church of sinners needing medicine. Shocker. I so hope to avoid being the seed that fell among the thorns, and I pray for perseverance often.

Flannery O’Connor says it best through the Misfit in A Good Man is Hard to Find shortly before he murders an old woman:

“Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead,” The Misfit continued, “and He shouldn’t have done it. He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can–by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness,” he said and his voice had become almost a snarl.

Either He did or He didn’t. The Misfit, in his deplorable violence, was at least intellectually honest. If Christ didn’t raise the dead, then what’s keeping us from doing whatever would make us most happy here in this world regardless of its cost to other people? I think He did, and now I owe Him everything. He told me that following Him comes with a cross. Would that I could be honest, too, and embrace my sufferings for love of Him.

“I pray you, good Jesus, that as you have given me the grace to drink in with joy the words of your knowledge, so in your loving kindness you will also grant me to come at length to yourself, the source of all wisdom, to stand forever before your face. Amen.” – Venerable Bede

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Make the Wait Worth It

weddingI keep writing about the same subject, but perhaps it’s as helpful as writing about the reflections in the many facets of the same gem. Here we go again!

I fall, sometimes, into the dangerous trap of seeing Oliver’s conversion as a goal which, once attained, will make my life easier and more enjoyable. I would be able to hang religious images in my house, and I might have someone who can take Lillian out of Mass if when she becomes unruly. I might be able to create family celebrations around feast days. I might be able to pray over my dinner, or hold a rosary in a thunderstorm without being questioned. I subconsciously think that if I can just hold on until that moment, then my entire life would be renovated and made new.

But that’s selfish.

Extremely selfish, I might add. I ought to desire Oliver’s conversion solely because I think it will do him good to have a relationship with a person, Jesus Christ, and be able to ultimately inherit eternal life with Him. It’s wrong of me to ever view my husband’s spiritual life as a problem to be fixed. The view is too narrow. I should always be praying for him in every aspect of his life.

The goal mindset also discounts God’s ability to use this indeterminate wait to allow me to grow in holiness and shape me into someone entirely new. Someone who may be able to more consistently rise above her selfishness to desire the ultimate good, even at tremendous cost to herself, of her spouse.

My homegirl, Servant of God Elizabeth Leseur says this of the same trial in which I have been living:

And then one’s self-love does not like a state of things that makes one less esteemed and appreciated and apparently unequal to one’s task. That perhaps is the true, hidden fruit of this trial: a little useful humiliation, less dangerous sympathy and admiration, very deep pain that does not elicit any praise.

Y’all. Don’t waste the wait.

Trust God and allow him to infuse your wait with meaning. There is no “happily ever after” here. We are all pilgrims. There is only more journey.

[Funny story. Oliver and I were married as two non-Christian, unbaptized people in a Catholic Church before the Blessed Sacrament by a Church of Christ minister. It sounds like it could be the start of a joke. For serious.]

On Tending My Garden

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In my vocation as wife and mother, God has given me three people to nurture, three little plants in to keep in my own little garden.

I keep a close eye on each one. I pick off the beetles and caterpillars. I cover them in the frost. I give each one the nutrients fit for the particular plant, watching soil acidity and drainage. Making sure that each receives the correct amount of water and sun. Under this discerning care, the plant thrives and produces its fruit.

At least that’s how my garden should be tended.

Sometimes I feel as though I’ve made an awful mess of my garden. I’ve treated my peppers the same way as my tomatoes while ignoring my pecan tree altogether, all the while tapping my toes, scowling while waiting for that fruit to drop into my crotchety crossed arms.

That is to say, I’m learning to love my family selflessly and the process takes time. Time and practice. You learn in the doing.

There are times in my marriage when my husband says something that, in some small way, by word or look or sigh, resembles a type of soft persecution. He loves me, but not always in the way that I want to be loved.

In my hurt pride I am tempted to withdraw my love and affection to weep and mourn remember to trust less next time, at least until he gives me what I think I deserve. I find I have a tremendous capacity for self pity.

But that is the exact opposite of what I should be doing.

He is not my enemy. We have a common enemy.

My duty is to love more and be patient and tend my pear tree with the same tenderness as I do my delicate sprouts.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:44-45

On the Absence of Dad

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Happy Easter! With eyes that say, “hurry up and take the damn picture so I can let go of this kid’s arm!”

I was nervous about going to Mass this Easter with my littles in tow.

I usually go to a specific Mass, sit in my designated spot right next to a pillar (otherwise known as a toddler blockade). I go to this particular Mass because it’s typically not crowded and I sit behind a kind family always willing to grab my rambunctious toddler and hold on to her while I wrestle with the baby. I go to Mass alone, yes, but not always without help.

This Easter I had to attend Mass alone and with no helpers. I recall one moment in which Baby Cara was strapped to my chest and Lillian bumped her head on the pew as a result of a certain level of mischievousness and started screaming, suddenly in dire need of being picked up and comforted. I had a baby on my chest, a toddler on my hip and sweat on my brow. Other parishioners couldn’t help but observing, “you have your hands full, don’t you?” My reply, “Yeah, it would be a great time for my husband to convert!”

There are occasions at Mass when I see families attending together and my heart aches. At moments like that it’s helpful to remember how lucky I am to be at Mass a baptized Catholic.

God spent years tending to little seeds planted in my bitter heart to bring me to this place. The fact that kneel before the blessed Sacrament and sing Alleluia every week without a hint of cynicism or irony while earnestly trying to quiet babies and occasionally hissing at a toddler through clenched teeth is a blessed miracle!

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Thoughts on an Unequally Yoked Marriage

ringsOliver: Mass would be better if the priest would talk longer, and they got rid of all the singing and praying.

Me: Um…that’s the liturgy?

I live in an “unequally yoked” marriage. In a certain sense, every marriage is unequally yoked by nature pairing together two flawed human beings. I frequently find myself baffled by singular male habits. After years of study I still haven’t discovered the reason why underwear never lands in the hamper and empty beer bottles adorn the counters like trophies after Friday or Saturday night festivities. I couldn’t tell you the number of times I have grumbled in my head, “why am I the only person who can see this mess?!” He thinks I am equally crazy, but also has enough sense not to tell me in what way.

Drawing inspiration from Scripture, I like to see my husband and I as a couple of oxen pulling the cart that is our life and family together. My husband and I contribute in our different ways to the greater good of our family and pick up the slack when each other fail. What that means in my marriage is that I am the only ox pulling the cart in the “faith” department. He procures the money and multimedia. I take care of the children and prayers.

It’s taken years to come to some kind of peace about this arrangement for both of us since I converted after we were married. I believe that my having faith does both of us good as it challenges me to keep chipping away at my natural selfishness in a way that my former Paganism never would. Imagine converting from, “An’ it harm none, do what you will” to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” My creed as a Pagan was about taking what you could get and putting yourself first. As a Christian it’s about giving all that you have and becoming the least. What this means on a practical level is that when I fail and shrilly nag, “why am I the only one who can see this mess?!” I might actually feel sorry about it.

Our disagreement about faith also presents us with certain challenges that couples who are united on that front don’t face. For instance, I diligently keep my symptothermal charts and he has the freedom to procure contraception if he chooses to do so. I invite him to come with me to mass, and he has the absolute right to decline the invitation. He allows me to baptize our children but I have no intention of teaching them that their dad is in any way “less”.

St. Paul says that in his opinion the unbelieving husband is made holy through his believing wife (1 Cor 7:14). I have to carry on and believe that even in the basest way, my prayers and example (Lord, help me) will benefit my husband and everyone else in my family. I have to live my faith for the both of us and not just personal fulfillment. I have to look to God to tear down barriers of pride and build us both up.

At least that’s the goal. The doing is the hard part.

Naming Imaginary Babies

Me: “What, are you crazy?”

Lillian: “Yes, mama.”

And crazy has to come from somewhere, doesn’t it? I have spent the last several days agonizing over my NFP charts trying to discover the state of my fertility. I have tracked every variance in my waking temperature, parsed out the vagaries of cervical mucus and peered through the tiny lens of my ferning microscope. I have consulted oracles, observed the phases of the moon and read the conglomeration of tea leaves in the bottom of my tea cup. Okay, not that last part. But my midwife has told me that I have a good chance at VBAC if I wait at least 18 months to get pregnant and I am determined, by the grace of God, to follow her advice.

Nevertheless, I have also spent the last few days concocting complicated names comprised of layers of meaning (much like a fine baklava) for future children. Because that’s what happens when you leave an English major librarian type in charge of creating permanent labels for people. And because ultimately, babies are always good even if they arrive outside my narrow and small-minded plans. And because I am a crazy person. So I said.

Gilbert_Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton

My boy name at the moment is Gilbert Keith. Gilbert because of Gilbert Blythe (be still, my literary heart), and Keith because it’s my father’s name. When the two combine, some magic happens and you conjure Gilbert Keith Chesterton, famed brilliant Catholic-convert essayist.

Girl name? Audrey Therese. Because Audrey is beautiful and because St. Therese is my own dear confirmation saint. Of course this is not nearly complicated enough to pass my crazy, self-important naming criteria.

Anyway.

Tingling and Anxious

My scalp has tingled several times today.

Yes. Tingled. For me, that is a pregnancy symptom. Consequently, it’s also an anxiety trigger. You know what else is an anxiety trigger? Going to the grocery store with a baby and toddler in tow to buy a $1 pregnancy test. I find the entire prospect not a little humiliating. Yes, I know how these things happen.

My scalp tingled several days ago while my husband was home and he mercifully retained our post-natal children while I went alone to the grocery store to procure the magic stick of destiny. I tried to be discreet. I am a 30 year old married woman, and I still feel the need to hide the pregnancy test under a load of produce and other grocery essentials.

I made the mistake of getting in a line with a woman cashier and woman bagger. Had my merchandise been handled by a male it would have been unceremoniously scanned and shoved into a bag without commentary. This time, the cashier unearthed the thing from under my sacks of onions and broccoli with the comment, “I just have to look at those things and they go positive. Good luck!”

Good luck! The thing could go either way: positive or negative. Really, either outcome is positive. Becoming pregnant at this period in my life would be a little crazy. I would end up being a mother with three under three. Finances are tight now and would become tighter. I may have to postpone my debut into the glamorous world of working mother. On the other hand, it is a tremendous privilege to incubate beautiful, unique and unrepeatable life created by Almighty God.  A positive pregnancy test would be nuts in the short term, but marvelous in the long term. Life changing. I could almost see myself holding a little son. I would name him Gilbert. Probably because I just finished reading Anne of Green Gables, sigh. 

The stick was negative.

It was also slightly defective-looking and didn’t totally relieve my anxiety, which is why I am sitting here weathering another anxiety spiral set off by the same tingling scalp a mere 5 days since taking my last pregnancy test.

NFP life. I tell ya.