Thursday, June 27, 2013

The universal call (an antidote)

After writing my post yesterday, I felt good at getting out some thoughts that had been eating at me...but I also felt not-so-good for airing criticism without offering a positive antidote. It's always easier to tear down rather than build up, to say what's wrong about a situation instead of saying what could be done better.

And Catholic Mutt's comment in particular got me thinking. She wrote: "I think there's a lot more we need to do for all those that do not fit into the appropriate boxes." (For example, the unmarried, whether they be single or divorced; my "pet issue" of couples struggling with infertility; or basically anyone who seems overlooked in the parish family-focused setting.)

So here's the positive antidote to my complaining yesterday, and I think also the solution to those folks who don't "fit" into parish life.

*drum roll please* =)

The universal call to holiness!!!!

It's so simple, right? Like right under our noses this whole time.

There's a whole chapter in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium about the universal call to holiness. It's chapter 5. I encourage you to read it!

Money quote: "Thus it is evident to everyone that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity" (no. 40, my emphasis).

Then it goes through a list of various people in the Church (ordained, lay, single, married, those who are suffering) and explains how they can live out this universal call.

The thing I love the most about it is that it is a universal call.

Universal: for everyone.

There is no one who is exempt from the call to holiness.

There is no circumstance in life that can remove you from this path toward heaven, toward sanctity.

But the call to holiness looks different for every person, which is pretty easy to grasp when you think about it. You just have to look around at your particular circumstances and ask, "How can I love God by loving the people He's put in my life and the circumstances He's given me? How can I become a better person through the "raw material" of my life's situation?"

It's that easy. (Or that hard!!)

So for me, as a married childless woman, living out my call to holiness looks different than a mother with many children. Just as it looks different than a single person, or a bedridden person, or a refugee, or a homeless person, or [fill in the blank].

I think the universal call to holiness is the perfect antidote to what I was complaining about yesterday. My gripe (in large part motivated by an disordered love of self and want of attention, I'm sure, but somewhat motivated by the desire for truth) was that sometimes it seems like there is only one way to holiness: having a large family. (Even writing that, I am sure that my particular woundedness right now makes me myopic here. In other words, I have no doubt I am keenly, overly sensitive to adulation of big families, given my unwanted childlessness.)

The point is, everyone can and in fact is called to life a holy life!

For me, my path toward holiness comes from accepting what I did not want: childlessness, and from loving my husband as best as I can.

For a single person, perhaps his/her path toward holiness comes from living chastely and offering up desires for marriage, and then more concretely, loving people: siblings, parents, co-workers, friends, and doing a great job in whatever profession they have.

For abandoned spouses (aka divorcees who didn't want the divorce), maybe the path to holiness is still loving the spouse who abandoned you and being faithful to your marriage bond (this is my MIL, and trust me it is a path of holiness!)

For a mother of many, maybe the path to holiness is striving to be free of impatience and giving of herself constantly to her children's needs.

Even the disabled, the infirm, the very young and very old can walk the path of holiness by loving God, offering up their sufferings, and loving everyone around them.

I think the problem comes when we forget that sometimes how people live out their call to holiness is very hidden. Sometimes it's not: the mother of many comes to mind here, as does the martyrs or those who are being actively persecuted. But so often those movements of the soul toward acceptance, love, forgiveness, and hope are entirely hidden from everyone but God. (And that is hard for my pride to accept.)

All that is to say: there is a "box" for everyone to fit in the Church, regardless of their circumstances! It's called the "I am called to holiness" box. It's universal. No exceptions.

(Just writing this makes me feel so joyful and excited, because it gives me something to do and strive for instead of sit around and whine about what I don't have.)

So I for one would LOVE to hear more homilies on the universal call to holiness! Because it's so unifying - it's something we all share, and all can journey together.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tales from therapy

I met with my awesome therapist this past Saturday and told her that I was doing quite well. Overall, this is true. Thank God, I haven't had another major angry episode since the chart-ripping incident a while ago, which I'm really happy about.

In general, I feel at peace most days and have come to a new level of acceptance about our current situation as a childless couple. I'm less anxious about what others think about me/us and more able to enjoy the blessings we've been given, even though that doesn't mean my heart isn't always longing to be a mother, which it is. Every single day.

My therapist and I agreed that we didn't need to meet monthly anymore, but on an as-needed basis.

But I had one particular thing I wanted to talk about with my therapist, and it's related to my feelings of anger at the Father's day blessing two Sundays ago.

I'm not sure how to put this into words, but I think it's worth trying. (And I'm sorry in advance if I say something wrong or insensitively.) Basically I've been feeling really frustrated with how some people in our Church talk about children and childbearing.

Sometimes I get the impression that people think having children is as easy as not using contraception. And then the implication is that if you have a "small family" (whoever decides how that is defined), you're probably using contraception, statistically speaking at least. If you have a "big family," you automatically get the Catholic gold star of approval.

I feel frustrated with how sometimes childbearing is spoken of as something you do, vs. something you receive as an un-earned gift.

I feel frustrated when I hear large families being lauded, and never hear praise for faithful infertile couples. Like the other day in conversation with some folks planning a mass, someone said, "We found a family with 9 kids to take the gifts up to the altar. What a witness!!" to which there was much head-nodding. And I thought, "I wonder if anyone would ever think that Mr. M and I were a witness? Would anyone ever ask us to take the gifts up? We're following Church teaching, after all. Isn't that a witness?"

(Please know that I am not at all meaning to criticize big families. I'm sure it is really hard to have more than whatever the socially acceptable number of children is, and I'm sure it's a heck of a lot of work to raise a big family! I think my gripe comes more from sometimes sensing that people laud big families as if their family size were entirely in their control: "How great and generous of them to have so many kids!" Yes, it is an awesome thing to accept many children into your family. But no one can take credit for having a big family as if it was entirely their choosing.)

I guess what I'm getting at is that I feel frustrated on a pretty frequent basis with the way people within our Church family talk about having children as if children were a "when" and not an "if."

For example, I read an article the other day about how the reason Catholic schools are failing is that people don't have as many children as they used to. Now sure, fine, lots of people contracept and artificially limit their family size. But as an infertile woman, I felt so lousy reading that article. The author only mentioned infertile couples once, and then only to comment how bad it is when infertile couples resort to IVF. Ugh.

So yeah, there are times when I feel personally responsible for demographic decline, Catholic schools failing, etc. etc. For goodness sakes, don't people realize that there's this thing called infertility and that not every Catholic has the large family they desire??

Or I'll read articles by NFP-skeptics who say NFP is bad because it has led to smaller family sizes. Same reaction: are these people living in an alternative universe where you're completely in control of how many kids you have?

Or I'll read reflections from engaged women who talk rosily about "when" they become a mother and all the wonderful homeschooling they're going to do, and how they don't care what society says, they're going to have 10 children, and I just cringe and pray that they never experience infertility because it will be a huge shocker to their plans!

I don't know. I know this sounds so pessimistic and is awfully poorly worded.

And I know I could just steer clear of articles with titles like "One-child families: boring" and "The solution to everything: large families!!!" (the first one is real; the second I made up). But the thing is, these are articles coming from my fellow Catholic brothers and sisters. My fellow pro-lifers. My fellow followers-of-Church-teaching. And I think it's pretty lousy that I have to tiptoe my way through certain articles and/or conversations, guarding my heart and leaving comments about how "You know, having a large family isn't guaranteed to anyone..." and "Not all infertile couples resort to IVF..." and "NFP isn't just to avoid pregnancy, but it can help couples struggling with infertility to get pregnant."

More than that, I dread to think about infertile couples who have left the Church because they felt like they didn't fit in, because they didn't feel that their marriage was valued, because they got a message (however wrongly interpreted) that Good Catholic Families (TM) fill a mini-van, at least. Infertility ministry, and just plain accurate theology about children and child-bearing, is not catering to a special-interest group but being welcoming in the best sense and truly evangelistic.

Okay, off the soap-box...

My therapist acknowledged that this is difficult, and that it's okay to be angry when I feel unappreciated by the Church or feel unfairly judged. She told me that when she and her husband were struggling with infertility, on three separate occasions people approached them to tell them that contraception was wrong (!!!!) I would have flipped out.

And I need to remember that God is my ultimate judge, no one else. I'm far from a perfect Catholic, but I have a clean conscience before Him that Mr. M and I are living out marital chastity, despite appearing outwardly like contraceptors (maybe to some anyway). It's all part of the hidden cross of infertility, I guess. And maybe it's good that I'm going through this, and learning to look for God's approval and not man's. Because man's sure doesn't happen often for infertile couples. At least not in my experience.

So that's my rambling tale from therapy. And hopefully my next post will be happier and include more pictures =)


Monday, June 24, 2013

When it rains, it pours

Since returning from vacation last Monday... mom's cousin died of brain and lung cancer. He was younger than my mom. My mom is very close to his mom, her aunt, whose husband died last year and who had already lost two sons. dad's youngest brother died in what appears to be a self-caused car fire (i.e. suicide). He struggled with mental illness all his life (manic-depression) and everyone is reeling, wondering what more they could have done. He had two sons in their early 20's, one of whom is an alcoholic.

...Mr. M saw a scary symptom of some GI trouble. He has a consultation today with a GI doctor. It could be nothing, or it could be serious.

...our tub had to be re-glazed, so we were without a tub/shower for the weekend. Thankfully a kind neighbor let us come over and shower at her place.

...the place we're moving into is not ready yet (half the electricity is off for some re-wiring, etc.) but our landlords/upstairs neighbors assure us that it will be ready by the weekend.

...we are moving this weekend, so our apartment is chaotic, dirty, and teeming with stuff I didn't even know we had!! Plus I looked at the weather: from tomorrow through next week, they're calling for thunderstorms every day, including our moving day.

...and in IF news, I'm in the two-week wait and just hope that if this month isn't *the* month, then AF gets here already so I'm not in pain for our move.

Jesus, I trust in you! Offering up all the headaches, anxiety, grief, and just plain annoyance for all of you reading this!

(I could really use another vacation...)


p.s. forgot this one: My alarm went off at 3:15 a.m. this morning because I had it set for last Monday to get up for our 6 a.m. flight and forgot to disable it. =(

Friday, June 21, 2013

Vacation pics & highlights #1: Denver

Post #1 of vacation pictures and highlights! (Drastically condensed; we were a bit snap-happy with the camera.)

Days 1 to 3: Denver

As I said earlier, I lived in Denver for a year. So for me, returning (after 5 years!) was going back to a flood of memories, all basically happy ones. It's such a beautiful city and completely not-humid, which as an East-coaster I love. For Mr. M, this was his first time to Colorado at all. He said he loved visiting a part of my past, and I loved sharing it with him.

Day 1 highlights

We arrived in Denver around lunchtime and made our way downtown.

Highlight: Going to mass at the cathedral

The house I lived at in Denver for a year was just a few blocks away from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, which in turn is just a few blocks from downtown. Archbishop Chaput was bishop then, and I would go to the Sunday night mass that he celebrated. Those masses were such a source of grace for me. The Archbishop always had good homilies, and after mass he would go to the Mary chapel and we would sing the proper Marian antiphon (Salve Regina, Regina Coeli, etc.). That was my first experience with that and to this day Mr. M and I love to sing those beautiful songs!
I also had a lot of heart-to-heart talks with God inside this church, including about my future. At the time, I was just out of college and not sure where I was headed. I was single and really wanted to be married, but thought maybe I was called to religious life? (Vocation was a major topic of conversation for God and me.)

From the side - we completely forgot to take pictures inside! Trust me that it's gorgeous.

I can't really describe what it felt like to be back in that same cathedral after 5 years. You know how when you return to a particular location that meant a lot to you? It felt like a huge amount of time had passed, and yet none at all. All the nooks and crannies were familiar to me, even how the light came through the stained glass windows.
During mass, I was so moved to think of God's faithfulness over the past 5 years, despite my not-infrequent doubts and gripes about his providence currently. I had grown so close to Him in this very church, and He had answered my prayers for a husband, for example. (I met Mr. M pretty much immediately after moving to DC from Denver.) I kept looking over at Mr. M during mass and feeling a wave of gratitude for him, and also gratitude that I could share this part of my life with him (Denver). I felt God whispering to me, "You trusted me before, and I didn't let you down. Trust me now, with the deepest desires of your heart." Okay, duly noted =)

JPII visited Denver in 1993. This plaque in the cathedral courtyard commemorates that.
p.s. Gratitude was a huge theme of this vacation for me. How could I not feel grateful for my husband, for the beauty of creation, for time off? Several times I had the sensation of being so filled up with gratitude that there wasn't any room in my heart for sadness, or bitterness, or anything negative. This does not happen so frequently in my daily life! It was a great gift, and one I want to remember and savor.


Day 2 highlights

We spent the first two nights at the house I lived at in Denver, which was awesome because it was so centrally located. Day 2 we did a walking tour of a lot of my favorite spots in Denver. 

Highlight: The Market

For our afternoon coffee fix, we went to my very favorite restaurant in Denver, The Market. It's an eclectic place. There's a coffee shop, a deli, an ice cream counter, and a breezy, vintage feel inside. You can get iced coffee, or potato salad, or gourmet chocolates. Or buy exotic tea. It's on Larimer Square, one of the original blocks of old Denver and where at least a few shoot-outs took place back in the Wild West!

Highlight: Renting bikes

My time in Denver involved lots of biking. I didn't have a car and so got around on bike, by foot, and by bus. Mainly bike, because it was cheaper than the bus and faster than walking. I biked four miles to and from my job every day! I couldn't convince Mr. M to bike in traffic with we compromised and rented "B-cycles" and biked along this flat, bike-only trail along the Platte river. Pedaling in Denver brought back great memories =)

Highlight: Flagship REI

Mr. M's one main request of our Denver time was to visit the flagship REI store. So we did.

The place was huge! It was 3 floors and even had a fireplace! Crazy.

It sits right on the Platte river, which was the scene of not quite a highlight but certainly a memory from our trip...After biking and browsing REI, it was hot. We decided to take a dip in the Platte to cool off.

Mr. M even body surfed down the stream (realizing afterwards why most people use tubes – those rocks hurt!) As we were walking away, duly refreshed, Mr. M got a look of horror on his face. His ring finger was naked! Oh for goodness sakes...he realized he must have lost his wedding ring while sitting in the river and digging his hands into the sand for traction...or while taking a spin down the river! Either way, the ring was now gone. Mr. M said that he contributed to the next Colorado gold rush! And we both felt quite scandalous travelling with him and his empty ring finger while I was wearing both of my rings! Thank goodness for ring insurance, but we were both sad that he lost the ring I put on his finger on our wedding day.


Day 3 highlights


This is my favorite view of Denver. I took it from City Park, in front of the Museum of Nature and Science. The sky takes up so much of the picture because there was orange fencing directly in front of me that I wanted to avoid. But isn't it great? I love how you can see the skyscrapers and the mountains. And that blue was just so blue! There's also a neat lake in the foreground.

Highlight: Botanic gardens

We went to the Denver Botanic Gardens all morning. I feel supremely lucky to have a husband not only willing but excited to spend hours looking at flowers =) Here are some of our favorite shots (by the way, Mr. M took all of these).


water lily

Bonsai tree - I love these!

Japanese style garden

Blooming cactus

More poppies

Lilac bush - my favorite part of the gardens was the path that went behind the lilac bush. It was peaceful and cool and smelled heavenly.

Iris - there were a bazillion different kinds
European style garden

Can't remember what kind this was - but it was stunning!
Highlight: The Snug
Concluding our Denver stay, we met several of my Denver friends at an Irish pub, the Snug. I went there a lot during my Denver days. On Saturday nights they have live music with audience participation! Even though not an ounce of me is Irish, I do love a good sing-a-long =) Since it was a Tuesday, no music. But delicious beer and food! Mr. M enjoyed an "Irish Breakfast Burger" with beef, sausage, egg, and bacon. A real man's food. (Should have taken a picture...)
Next: Colorado Springs

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Father's day recap

We're back from our vacation and had a wonderful time! I have many, many pictures to share - we took almost 500! - but they are still on my camera. Stay tuned =)

So many great moments on vacation. It was so, soo, soooooo good to get away from work, the stress of moving, email, the computer, etc. for a week. And it was so good to spend every waking and sleeping hour with my husband! That just doesn't happen for us working girls, and I guess not really for lots of people beyond spouses who work together. So it was great!

I wanted to write about Father's day, to process my thoughts. We were still on vacation on Father's day, in a little mountain town in Colorado far, far away from anyone I know. I love my parish, but just like with Mother's day, I was relieved to be among strangers and not among all our wonderful mom-and-dad friends at our parish.

Visiting a parish, I didn't know what to expect. The priest did make a special welcome to fathers at the beginning of mass, and encouraged us after communion to pray for our fathers, be they living or deceased. I thought that was a really nice touch. I have a very good relationship with my dad (thank you God) but Mr. M's is more strained (not his fault) and some close friends of ours have difficult relationships with their dads too. So it was good to spend time in prayer for them, and also deflected the ever-lurking pity party.

At the end of mass, though, they had all the fathers stand for a blessing. My heart sank =( I have to admit (warning: not pretty thoughts coming...remember, this is me processing) that I actually felt quite angry at the Father's day blessing. I was kind of surprised by my feeling. As most of the men in the church stood, and my husband stayed sitting beside me, I squeezed his hand hard and tried to stay calm. I felt a real sense of unfairness, almost like people were getting rewarded for something they couldn't take credit for...meaning, it's like the fathers get a pat on the back for having a perfectly functioning reproductive system and marrying (or sleeping with) a woman with functional ovaries and good hormones, etc. I know - horrible thoughts. But it just made me mad that no one was asking my husband to stand and be honored and blessed for what a good husband he is and how he is open to life, how he's a great god-father, uncle, etc. All because the two of us can't get that darn sperm and egg thing working right! It's not like we haven't been trying...


Then after mass, they were handing out this little magnet to the fathers, saying happy father's day! Mr. M graciously declined, but it was an awkward moment as the guy was holding out the magnet, not sure what to do, so I said (probably not very politely), "We'll take one anyway" and grabbed it out of his hands. (Not particuarly proud of that.) He said, nicely, "Give it to a father." The magnet says: "Blessed the man who walks with the Lord." Well, that would be Mr. M, so I kept it and it's on our fridge.

Mr. M handled Father's day so much better than I did, per usual =) I asked him if he was sad, and he said he was, and that he really wants to be a father, but he was calm even during the fathers blessing, and said it's good that the church recognizes fathers because there sure are a lot that could use extra prayers! (Including Mr. M's dad.)

We went to mass Saturday night so we could spend the morning hiking on Sunday. Mr. M told a lot of fathers hiking with their kids, "Happy father's day! A great day for a hike!" and I can't express how in awe of him I am at how gracious he is and loving to so many people. (Getting choked up thinking about it...)

But I know it's hard for him too. One moment that broke my heart was the day before father's day, we were returning to our cabin after a hike, and he saw a dad and his two boys scampering up a rocky overlook. He paused, looking at them, and said, "Man, I would love to do that someday." (Getting choked up here too....) I said, "I so, so hope you do! You'll be a great dad!" And then he cheered up, my great sanguine husband who handles our infertility so much better than his melancholic wife!

That was rambling - sorry. I was praying for all the husbands out there who so much want to be fathers, and for the wives who want to buy their husbands a happy father's day card, and for all the men and women who are still looking for a spouse, and of course for dads and grandpas and uncles too!

Hopefully I'll share some of our 500 pictures soon =)


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A ripple effect, maybe?

The Family M has been busy!

May 30 to June 3, I was at a conference on the other side of the country (the west coast), where I was lucky enough to have lunch with Kat and JJ (the Crow's Nest) before my conference started. It is always such a treat to meet bloggers in real life! (If anyone lives in/near St. Louis, I'll be there in July...)

Also, we're moving at the end of June, which, as my husband puts it, was a bit of a surprise to both of us. I spoke a while back about a moving opportunity, to a bigger apartment. Well, the couple renting it out (friends of ours - they live on the top floor, with the apartment in the basement) lowered the price, which made it cheaper for us than our current apartment, plus bigger, with laundry and a patio. We prayed and discussed and then said, "Let's do it."

Moving is a hassle, of course, but it is also nice to have something to pour my energies into, and I'm excited about setting up our new place.

We'll have a patio! I'm dreaming about what to plant in pots...(these aren't mine, if that's not obvious.)

And we're going on vacation starting on Sunday! For a whole week. I absolutely can't wait.

Revisiting Denver, where I lived for a year

Rocky Mountain High...Colorado
So blogging will be slim in the next few weeks, although I'll probably still check my blog roll because I love hearing from everyone.

A ripple effect, maybe?

Here's the little vignette that goes with my title:

The conference I attended was mainly college-aged and under 30-folks. The details aren't super important, but at one point during the last day, a conversation came up (at a lecture with the whole group in attendence, so 30ish people) that touched on infertility. In a moment of bravado or foolishness, I raised my hand and commented, including sharing that my husband and I currently struggle with infertility. My heart was racing the whole time...I'm usually not that much of a "sharer," but I thought a) it was pertinent to the conversation to make it personal, and b) I'll never see these people again!

The next morning, I rode to the airport with one of the attendees, a deacon who is going to be ordained a priest at the end of June. He thanked me for sharing what I did the day before, about infertility, and said, "That must have been hard for you."

I agreed, and we talked for a while about it. I said (gently, I hope!) that I think pastoral care for couples struggling with infertility is a bit, shall we say...weak in our Church. (Weak could be taken to mean "nonexistent" in some places...) He nodded, and said, "You know, you have a point. I have to admit, I've put my foot in my mouth before. Sometimes it's too easy to think 'Big family - good, Small family - bad.' I see how that could be really hurtful for someone going through infertility."

(First reaction: eeeeeeeek! no kidding! What a horrible, horrible, thing to think!)

Spoken reaction: "Yes, because you know the Church doesn't ask anyone to 'have children,' but to be open to life, and those aren't exactly the same...and if I could tell you how many women I know who want to be mothers of big families but haven't been blessed that way...."

And we talked some more. (He was a really gentle, holy-seeming guy, someone I'm excited to have as a priest.)

So, the ripple effect. I hope and pray that our little conversation, sparked by my sharing the day before, means that this particular priest never, ever implies to anyone anymore, "Big family - good; small family -bad" or anything like that. That he keeps a memory of me as an example of Catholics going through infertility when he's doing ministry, or when he's in a parish and there's that one family who doesn't have kids. I hope our conversation affects the way he talks and thinks about childbearing, about how it's not as easy as saying, "I reject contraception" to get a houseful of kids. And so on.

I hope somewhere down the road this priest blesses an infertile couple with his kindness and pastoral care. That would make the vulnerability of sharing about such a difficult, personal struggle totally worth it.