Link in a chain.

When I was about ten, I was visiting my cousins in Costa Rica, and we decided we would dress up and sing. We taped strands of colored paper in our hair. I was still in my dorky glasses-wearing phase, and I donned a pink belly shirt. While my cousins took the more conservative route and chose to sing already famous songs, I decided now was the time to debut my song-writing talent. I don’t exactly remember the words I wrote, but they were pop-y and spoke of betrayal and desire, adapted to a ten-year-old’s mind. The refrain ran something like, “Oh baby, why’d you have to go and love her?” At the time, I thought it was great that my aunt was recording us, as we each took turns singing in her bathroom. I went first of course. I felt like a star.

The summer we were engaged, Tim and I traveled to Costa Rica for him to meet my extended family. We stayed at my aunt and uncle’s finca with everyone. One of the nights we were eating and dancing, and then we all sat down to watch some old home videos on the projector. I had forgotten about the video of my little ten-year-old self. Suddenly, there I am, belly shirted, glasses-wearing, pop song writing ten-year-old Maria, singing my awkward, heartfelt song to the man I was going to marry.

I was so instantly embarrassed. I remember plunging my head into his lap, as everyone exploded into laughter, Tim included. I turned bright red; my stomach sank. Full, brilliant humiliation.

This scene came to me again suddenly today, and I thought it a fitting point of entry into something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: community. I find myself wondering often how different my life as a woman and a mother might be if we still lived communal lives, as people used to do, as many still do. Community leads me to thinking of my humanity, of what it means to be a human woman in this world, of what it means to desire community with my fellow humans.

I want a radical kind of humility. I long for the person such humility would make me. The kind of humility that made St. Francis hope he would be turned away from the monastery with little Brother Leo, saying “That would be perfect joy!” What beauty! To rely so fully on God, to know with such abandon that nothing, most especially anything we accomplish, belongs to us, but rather belongs fully to our Father, and in turn to our brothers and sisters.

But this humility comes at a price. The price of the loss of pride, of “dignity,” of “self-respect,” of all the names we give it, which makes it a hard virtue to accomplish. Humility is not a prized trait, or state of being, in this world because we hate being embarrassed, we hate being humbled, being laughed at, being wrong. That stomach dropping moment of vulnerability that puts us at the mercy of others. We find any reason to defend ourselves against being disrespected, turned aside, ignored, or worse, made fun of.

Yet, we are told to turn the other cheek. Not only to allow ourselves to be humbled, but to willingly submit to this humiliation. How radical! What a striking, beautiful call.

Community, real community, comes at the price of vulnerability. The ability to be vulnerable with our brothers and sisters necessitates humility, a turning outward from ourselves toward them, a willingness to listen and to assume that what they have to say is of greater, much greater importance than what we have to say. Can we learn to listen? Can we learn to desire to listen? Not just listen because we know we have to or in order to be listened to in turn. To listen because we desire so ardently to love the other, to make the other feel loved.

“To be happy is to love together,” Fr. Jean CJ d’Elbee tells us.

How different the world would be if we could be vulnerable with one another, if we could really communicate and really listen, if we could love instead of react, if we could be a refuge for one another.

What if we welcomed every moment of humiliation as an opportunity to squash all our selfishness, as an opportunity to flatten all the pride that keeps us from effectively loving the other? What if we loved, and we forgave, and we gave every ounce of ourselves until it hurt? Even if it means we’re disrespected, even if it means we come last.

Peace be with you, brothers and sisters.

“God created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me, which He has not committed to another. I have a mission. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; if I am perplexed, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in joy, my joy may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about.” Cardinal John Henry Newman

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Siobhan Teresa

For several days, I had been feeling Siobhan extremely low. I was getting more and more tired. It was harder and harder to sleep with my enormous belly. I could barely walk anymore. Actually, I wasn’t really walking – it was definitely more of a waddle. At my 37-week appointment, I was 3 cm dilated and mostly effaced.

I called Tim after the appointment to tell him, and he took a half-day, so we could finish getting some things done with the house. That evening I suggested we leave Chiara with my mom and go to the movies (our first in over a year) because I had a feeling it might be our last chance in a while. We saw Deepwater Horizon – probably should have picked a less stressful movie. I had a couple contractions during the movie, but I’d been having contractions for a couple weeks, so I didn’t think anything of it.

At about 3 in the morning, I sat up to switch positions in bed and felt a gush of water. I gently woke Tim up and said,

“I think my water broke…”

He sprung up out of bed and turned on the light. “Are you sure?” He asked.

“I’m pretty sure…I don’t know…”

He got dressed, got the hospital stuff together, grabbed my slippers, and I just stood there dumbfounded, staring at the amniotic fluid on our bed. I felt like I was moving in slow motion. Strong contractions started coming every 3 or 4 minutes. Tim reminded me we needed to get moving.

We decided not to wake up my mom, so I wrote out a note explaining where we’d be, taped it to the door, and then changed my mind because I knew she’d be mad if she wasn’t able to pray, so I gently woke her up and told her my water had broken, and we were leaving for the hospital.

We got into the cold car and put the hospital into the gps. The contractions got stronger and stronger, and I got more and more nervous that we weren’t going to make it, but we finally did.

Tim dropped me off at the entrance and went to park the car. Once we got inside and the nurse verified it was amniotic fluid, she immediately called for a room for me because she could tell I was in quite a bit of pain.

We got to our room, and I decided I wanted to try the tub. As we were figuring that out, I got extremely nauseous and started vomiting and yelled out to the nurse, “Nevermind, I don’t think we’re going to have time for the tub.”

I couldn’t labor out of bed anymore; the contractions were too strong, and I was having trouble focusing. I was flying through centimeters, and I started to panic that I was going to pass out, so I asked for laughing gas and tried to maintain control while they were getting it ready. I just kept asking Joan* to pray for me, focusing on the picture of her we had brought with us.

Once I put the mask on, I was able to focus again on breathing through the pain and zoned out a bit. I distantly heard Tim ask, “Is she okay? I know it’s really important to her to be able to push.” The nurse assured him I was fine since I was a little too zoned out to answer.

After a few minutes, the urge to push became too overwhelming, and I looked in pain at the nurse. It was amazing how she just understood! She said, “You just tell me when you’re ready,” so I nodded several times. She checked my dilation and left the room to look for a doctor.

I tried hard not to push, as I heard her yelling and yelling for a doctor. Finally Dr. Martin showed up, sat down in front of me, and I immediately started pushing with the next contraction. As Siobhan crowned, I yelled right in his face, “That hurts so much!!!” and he chuckled and calmly said, “I bet it does.”

I hadn’t had time to switch into any other position, so I was just sitting in the bed and was able to see Siobhan slide out onto the bed at 7:22 A.M., tiny and beautiful and screaming, with a head full of dark hair.

They placed her right on my chest where she fell peacefully asleep after a bit of crying, as the placenta was delivered, and Dr. Martin stitched me up.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude yet again at the gift of motherhood, at the privilege of carrying life within me, another beautiful light that can go on to fill the world with joy!

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*Siobhan is the Irish Gaelic of Joan – Joan of Arc is my patron and a faithful friend!

You Are Not Alone

October is pregnancy/infant loss awareness month. In hopes of honoring The Lord and our little, “angel baby,” I have written about my little family’s story. I hope you never forget that you are not alone in the joys and trials you face in life.

On January 23rd, 2016 I married my best friend, Clay. I spoke the following vow before The Lord, “I, Sallie, take you, Clay, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy word, and this is my solemn vow.” Clay did the same for me, as his wife.

I am so thankful for this amazing union. Just 9 short months later, Clay and I have experienced so many beautiful blessings through the joyous times. We have also experienced blessings through challenges and hard times that we never dreamt we’d face as newlyweds, or even years down the road. I want to share a little bit of our story so that others know that they are not alone.

Immediately following our honeymoon, Clay and I took a leap and moved to Texas. Oh, we missed family, but we had so many new and exciting experiences that we got to enjoy for the first time ever as husband and wife. It feels so good to finally live life together-boy, am I a happy camper! We found a church in town and started making new friends. In April, we were settled into our apartment and new lives in Texas when we decided to take another leap! We decided to start trying for a baby.

For those of you who are close to me you probably know that it has always been my dream to be a wife and a mother. We were so excited on May 21st to find out that I was pregnant with a beautiful itty bitty baby.

You probably also know that I am a dreamer. Immediately, I had so many beautiful visions dance through my head. Clay and I learning if our baby was a boy or girl or even twins; shopping for all the baby necessities; being pregnant alongside my best friend, Maria; getting to come up with a creative Halloween costume with my big belly (believe me, I’ve always wanted to do that!); coming home for our first married Christmas being as big and Jolly as Santa Clause enjoying one of the best Christmases ever! Finally, I would envision the birth of our beautiful baby on a cold January day or night around the time of our first wedding anniversary.

Our beautiful tiny baby remained a secret to most at this point. We were planning on announcing to everyone at the 12 week mark. On what will remain one of the happiest days of my life, my dear brother’s wedding day, I started experiencing spotting. It was so terrifying, but I also learned that it happens to a lot of women who have perfectly healthy babies. Our families prayed with us. Although I fell short and had moments of worry, deep down, I knew that God had a plan.

When we arrived back in Texas, my doctor saw us immediately. Clay and I prayed and prayed, and had the most incredible blessing of seeing our little baby’s heartbeat through a sonogram. A very short time after that, the bleeding increased, and around the 8 week mark, we knew we were having a miscarriage.

This is something that neither of us had ever dreamt would happen. Sure, we thought of the chances of having trouble getting pregnant, but never that we would lose our baby once we were pregnant. We were heartbroken.

Up until this point we had been praying so much to God for a miracle. When I learned that it was a miscarriage, I just knew in my heart that, even though I didn’t know why we lost our sweet little one so soon, God had his protective and loving hands on the situation. It gave me great peace to know that even though our baby didn’t have any more time on this Earth with us, he or she would be in even better hands than my own, away from the brokenness of the World. I also knew that God knew what He was doing in our lives; that He would take care of us during such a fragile time.

My beautiful mother came and cared for us for a few days and the few family and friends who knew about the situation, including our new Sunday school class, showered us with love and prayers. In fact, my sweet Sunday school teacher, Carla, shared her heart with me, as well as a verse that will forever change m y life.

Isaiah 55:8-9

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

God has provided me with such a peace during such a challenging time that can only be explained through His love. Oh, we cry and mourn, but our hope still remains. I still get sad thinking of the plans I had for myself, especially thinking about how far along I would be and holiday family time. I am quickly reminded though that God is in control. He gets to see the big picture that we cannot see. His plans for my future and the future of my family are far greater than I can imagine. He knows the ways in which this time will shape us. I pray that He is strengthening us and opening doors to love on others in ways that we could not or would not have done without having lost a child of our own.

I want others who may experience a loss like ours to know that even with the hope in my heart, the times following the miscarriage were not smooth sailing emotionally. We still felt pain and mourning. Still to this day I get hit with waves of sadness, missing our baby. One of the changes that took place in me during the time of mourning was a great shyness. I LOVE people, but I was finding myself feeling shy around my new friends here in Texas. I hadn’t felt that way before around them. It was a new awkwardness that I felt internally. I had this strange fear that I would forever be awkward around both adults and the sweet babies that I once constantly itched to hold and love on. Thankfully, as God is teaching me and strengthening me, I am drawing away from these feelings. I am so thrilled to finally get back to feeling like myself around my new friends and getting to know them. To our Rockwall Sunday School and Bible Study group- you are all such a blessing!

Clay and I continue to long for a baby, and we pray that it is in the Lord’s plans for us. What a joy it was to get to experience being parents of such a beautiful blessing. If you feel led, please join us in praying for a sweet, healthy child in God’s timing, and for patience in the meantime.

My dear friends and family, you are not alone, no matter the struggle. I want you to know that you can always come to me, but far more importantly, if you truly seek God with all of your heart, I believe you will find a dear friend who is the King of comfort and peace. Thank you for reading my story. Love and blessings to you all.

– Sallie

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This is me and Clay with our friend Maria’s baby, Chiara. We love the pure joy of this photo and love her so much. We can’t wait to hold our own one day if it’s in the Lord’s plan.

Chiara Magdalena

Light, irregular contractions started on the way home from my 39-week visit. I was not feeling at all like she was coming any time soon, and I was nervous they might have to induce, so I had my doctor strip my membranes. It definitely worked, albeit slowly.

I couldn’t sleep that night. Pretty much textbook. They tell you – try to sleep because otherwise you’re going to be exhausted. I didn’t sleep anyway. Between contractions, nervousness, and excitement, I just couldn’t. All I wanted to do was hold my sweet Chiara.

Around 9 A.M. contractions became regular, about 6 minutes apart. It was finally here! I was anxious to get to the hospital because my mother and sister-in-law both had quick labors, and I figured I would be similar. Not the case. At all.

I tidied up the apartment and ate as much as I could since I knew they wouldn’t let me eat once I got to the hospital. I called Tim and told him this was it for sure. He took the rest of the day off work, came home, and started helping me labor.

In the early afternoon contractions were down to 5 minutes apart. Pain level still definitely manageable. I called my ob’s office, told them I was sure I was in labor. They of course didn’t believe me since I was still able to talk. They told me to lie on my side and drink a whole glass of water and see if the contractions didn’t go away.

Tim made dinner while I tried this out. It slowed the contractions minorly, but they were still regular. I called the office back and told them, and they said they’d have the doctor call me.

I was stressing out by this point that I wasn’t going to make it to the hospital in time (silly me, I had no idea). I called my family and told them we were heading over. We still hadn’t set up Chiara’s car seat (that, folks, is true procrastination), so Tim quickly did that while I got ready to go.

We grabbed the hospital bag and my birthing ball and headed over. I was only 4 in. dilated when we got there, so they had me walk around for an hour. Tim and I prayed and walked together, eager and tired already.

When I came back, I was at 5 in., so they gave me a room. My water broke as I walked in…everywhere. And my dignity began to dwindle. My family came in and said hi, and my mother and sister stayed to help through the process.

Several hours of squatting and lying against Tim and breathing and breathing and breathing later, I was still only 8 in. and 90% effaced. The desire to push was overwhelming. The most physically and emotionally overwhelming thing I have ever felt. It hardly seemed optional, but they told me I couldn’t push yet.

The next several hours were agonizing. I started to shake, and my face became numb. I was totally unfocused. Timothy, the ever giving, gentle soul I married. I could hear them telling him I needed to breath or I was going to pass out. His face appeared before mine. Hee-hee-hoo-hee-hee-hoo. “Just focus on your breath, Maria. Copy me. Hee-hee-hoo-hee-hee-hoo.” It was just like we had practiced, and I was able to focus again. As the pain would begin to build and overwhelm me, I just focused on the breathing. And the little picture of Blessed Chiara Luce Badano we had brought with us.

I prayed: “Sweet Chiara, pray for me that I may suffer gracefully, as you suffered gracefully. My Lord and my God, may this sacrifice not be in vain. Give me the strength.”

I could no longer labor out of bed. My legs were giving in, and I was nervous I would just collapse with the next contraction. Before it hit, they helped me onto the bed and attached the bar, so I could lean against it.

The pain was so intense I just didn’t even know what to do with my body. All I wanted to do was escape. I felt like my entire body was breaking with each contraction, every two minutes. I cried out that I couldn’t do it anymore as I used all my strength to focus on not pushing with the next contraction. It was too much. And as my hilarious life would have it, I peed. Trying to focus on not doing that was just one thing too many.

“I have to push. I have to push, I can’t stop myself,” I yelled out with the next contraction. My mother yelled for the nurse. They checked me again, and still only 90% effaced. The nurse called the doctor in to ask if I could try to push with the next contraction. I was given the go ahead and pushed while the nurse tried to get my cervix the rest of the way. After several light pushes, she was finally able to.

I pushed three times, focusing all of my energy into it. My face felt like it would literally explode, but it felt so good to be finally listening to this overwhelming urge. Ten minutes later, Chiara was out. Silence. I couldn’t see her, but Tim and my mom say she was blue. The umbilical cord was around her neck, but Dr. Emmanuel expertly unraveled it, and a cry rang out.

They placed her beautiful, tiny, fragile body on my chest, and I just gazed at her. Words wouldn’t do what I was feeling justice. 9 months and 20 long hours of sacrifice, and what an unworthy vessel I was. There is nothing more beautiful, I assure you, than to feel life move within you, to give up your body and your comfort, and then to hold that life in your arms. What grace, what balm for a selfish soul. Thanks be to God!

My lovely Chiara, I hope your life is filled with as much beautiful brokenness, sacrifice, and profound joy as mine is.

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Sin and Love.

On this Good Friday I would like to talk about sin and to talk about love. I see trite, comfortable little packaged quotes thrown out left and right from everyone about everything, as if simply saying something makes it true. We don’t think critically about anything anymore, especially not about the way we even think about things. I have found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with humans. This is not good on my part for two reasons. Firstly, because as John Paul said, we must “not abandon ourselves to despair. We are the Easter people, and Hallelujah is our song.”  Secondly, because I should focus on my faults first, and, being human, I have a tendency not to do this.

I see everyone reacting. I see myself reacting against people reacting. We don’t have objective conversations anymore – we’re too busy simply reacting to what the other person’s opinion is. We’re too busy validating our own opinions and our own high mindsets of ourselves. Oh, if we could just love. And love. And love.

I went to confession a couple of weeks ago. I felt I had sincerely considered my sins. I was truly penitent for the ways I had been proud and self-centered. Sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I was humbled to put words to the ways I had been using others, to the ways I had been impatient and ungracious. I went into the confessional and shared with the priest, standing in for my Love and my Life, our Lord and our God, my failings and faults, my floundering prayer life, my desire to improve. I expected, and would have been pleased with, some advice as to the dangers of thinking ourselves above others, a penance which had me think in some way about Lent and how it is a season of penitence. What I received instead humbled me further. He said to me that God wants me to know that I am loved, that He accepts me as I am, that He died just for me and had there been no one else on the earth but me, He would do it again. My penance was to spend some time in front of the Blessed Sacrament being thankful for the fact that I am loved and meditating on that fact. What genuine mercy. What holy grace.

Insignificant man, escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts. Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labors. Make a little time for God and rest a while in him. Enter into your mind’s inner chamber. Shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him; and when you have shut the door, look for him. Speak now to God and say with your whole heart: I seek your face; your face, Lord, I desire. – St. Anselm

I remember someone telling me that we all have the same vocation – to love. Each vocation must be centered around love, loving each person we encounter – the specific tone of that love is our vocation. I have such a desire to live with a radical love that would transcend words, that would simply emanate from me, bringing people closer to God just out of its attractiveness. The other morning I prayed to God saying, “My God, you love me with a burning love which consumes all my other desires.” It may seem like I was simply praising God’s love of me, but it was a vocal and active reminder to myself that His love is all I need and that all my other desires must fall away – the desire to be praised, the desire to be right, the desire to be loved, the desire to be understood.

Look at yourself today. Stand back and let yourself notice all the ways you use people today, all the ways you are ungraciously impatient, all the ways you assume the worst of others, all the ways you take for granted that you are better than the person you cross in the street. Think of your motives, notice your selfishness, be concerned with how your pride keeps you from even realizing how wrong you may be. Really look at yourself. Feel remorse for how unmerciful you are towards others, for how this dysfunction in yourself makes you hate yourself and therefore hate others. Let it well up in your throat how terrible you can often, far too often, be.

And then realize that you are loved, that you can humble yourself and ask for forgiveness, that your terrible actions do not detract from your value or integrity as a human being.

A man died many, many years ago for all these things inside of you, for all of your ungracious attitudes and actions toward your brother and sister humans, toward the animals of the earth, toward the earth itself. He humbled himself to the point of feeling abandonment, to the point of asking that you be forgiven because you don’t even recognize how wretched you are, because you know not what you do. Christians celebrate that death today. Many Christians will die today for celebrating that death.

We are the Easter people, and Hallelujah is our song! Thanks be to Christ! You are immensely loved, and if others have made you feel today that you are not, let me be the one to remind you. You are loved so much that it is impossible for you to comprehend in this life and state of being.

May today be a day of great sorrow and of tremendous joy for you. God became man and died for your sake, so that one day you could be united to Him in everlasting, evergiving joy. It is, indeed, a good Friday.

 JPII

Maria

Single and overjoyed!

There’s this running joke in my family about my love life. Not a joke necessarily, but it seems that almost every time I talk with my parents or to cousins that I haven’t talked to in a while or other relatives, at some point in the conversation I get hit with: “so who’s the boyfriend?” Sometimes I stare blankly at them and then burst into laughter. Sometimes I say some smart comment like: “Jesus.” Sometimes I roll my eyes playfully and say there is no one. Sometimes I also get annoyed because there’s so much more to my life than my love interest, but at the end of the day, I know that they ask because they want to see me happy and building my little life with the one God has set aside for me.

That being said, I absolutely love this period of singleness with which God has graced me. Let me repeat that. I LOVE being single. I am 22 and have never been in a serious relationship, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am and never have been ashamed of this. These are not the thoughts of some desperate girl comforting herself with nice sentiments. This is a fact. I absolutely love being single. Nor are these the thoughts of a bitter woman scorned one too many times by men who still have some growing up to do. I’ve had my share of heart aches and tears, but I still believe in love and happily ever after.

What I mean to say is, there is grace here in this time of my life, more than I recognize and more than I can understand with this little human brain of mine. Although grace is defined in a various ways, I mean to say that right now as a young single woman, I have a unique opportunity to love and serve my neighbors and to be in communion with God in a way that just isn’t possible otherwise.

I love my singleness for many different reasons. Practically speaking, my time isn’t tied up to another. Although I have responsibilities to my family and to my community, I am free to spend my time how I wish for the most part. For example, my work schedule keeps me fairly busy, but this Lent I made a commitment to attend daily mass every day, and I plan on continuing that, even after Easter. To attend daily mass is something my mother did in her 20s, and I’ve always dreamed of doing the same since I was little girl. Now I get to do that. I have the freedom to spend my time with my friends and family and build those relationships, without worry that I’m neglecting my significant other. Also, I can bum it out for days on end without worrying that my physical appearance is unattractive to my crush. Eventually, I get my act together because societal standards and whatnot.

But more importantly, being single allows me the gift of getting to know who I am, defining who I want to be, and falling in love with both of those women, flaws and all. This is not to say that can’t be done when you’re taken. Plenty of women do it. I just mean that you have so much more time and energy to devote to that singular and pivotal task as a single woman. Furthermore, this is THE perfect time to do so because (at least for me) when I meet my future husband (if that is in fact my vocation) I want to be at a spiritual and emotional state that allows me to love him completely and selflessly with all of my being, holding nothing back. I can’t do that if I still struggle with loving myself. So, in this period of singleness, I love the time I spend getting to know all of my little quirks and my strengths and my weaknesses. I love getting to spend time with family and friends and getting to know all of their little quirks and their strengths and weaknesses (and obsessing about how amazing they all are).

Above all, I love being single because I’ve realized that I am fulfilled, WITHOUT a romantic interest in my life. I have a good job that keeps me busy. I participate in activities that cultivate my God-given skills and talents. I have family that love me and support me. I have friends that can send me into laughing fits for hours and that I can call on day or night when I’m struggle busing. I belong to a community that I can joyfully serve. My cup is overflowing with blessings. My heart is full of joy. My soul is at peace and content. See the thing is, our society does a great job of lying to everyone and saying that romantic relationships are necessary in order to be happy and fulfilled. Movies, TV shows, and ads paint the tale that romantic relationships are the pinnacle of all relationships. But it is a LIE. Fulfillment comes when we recognize our purpose and love and serve those around us. Happiness comes when we choose to be positive and hold on to hope even in the face of the storms of our lives. Joy comes when we maintain balance in our lives and choose to be grateful. Peace comes when we remember that all of our sorrows are temporary and that one day we all have a shot at tasting the sweet miracles of heaven. All of this we are able to do with or without a romantic interest in our lives. Having that special someone isn’t a necessity that will ruin our lives if we don’t have it, it’s the cherry on top of an already fulfilled and happy life.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a romantic at heart, so of course every now and again I wish there was someone special with whom I could share all of my joys and sorrows. Of course I have those days when I think about why it didn’t work out with so and so and get sad about it. Of course, I send texts to my friends, half joking, half serious saying things like #foreveralone and #singleforlife. But in the words of one of my favorite artists, Tori Kelly, “I’d love to have a soulmate, and God will give him to me someday. But I know it’ll be worth the wait.” I may be ready for that long-term serious relationship and want it, but I just have to be patient. I just have to let God write the epic love story He’s been drafting before I was even conceived. Because my God wants nothing but the best for His children. He gives them the cherry, the whip cream, the chocolate syrup, AND the sprinkles on top.

It is in this time that my heart is the most open for God to shape and mold me into the Proverbs 31 woman He longs for me to be, into the saintly woman He has called me to be. And what a gift it is! I praise God that I get to have it. I don’t know how long this period will last, but I am honestly in no rush to see it end. I love my singleness. I love the freedom of growing into a woman of whom I can be proud, into the woman who exemplifies the virtues that my parents have spent my entire life instilling in me, into the woman whom my future husband will someday vow to love and cherish for the rest of his days (again, if that is my vocation).

So, to all of my single ladies, embrace this time. Cherish it. Enjoy it. For when the time comes, God will send that beautiful man that will like it and boldly put a ring on it.

Garcia

To write about love

It’s impossible to write about love. To represent it in words would be not only a task unachievable, but seems simply almost a wrong to the love itself, a diminishing of it. It appears feasible and the strange, intense urge to make the love known, both to have everybody around me know that such a love exists and to have Tim know how loved he is, creates the illusion for me that it’s something I can make known. But when I try to fathom its existence into words, to breathe (breathe seems an exaggerative word, but love is living and must be) the true essence of it into a sentence, it just isn’t possible. Not only in some abstract way, for myself, but also, in any way which can really show him what this state of being is, what it gives to me, what it does for me, how it transforms me. How in any way which would do it justice, can you write about love? I don’t mean love in the solely romantic, jittery feelings sort of way (although this is an important part of it). I mean love in the I give up my life for you, to serve your needs, to bear our children, to live every day desiring to make your value in my eyes and the eyes of God known to you sort of way.

I feel this deep desire to tell him every day that I love him, that he is appreciated, that the beginning of this union of our souls which I know will be eternal is everything for me. Every moment it’s what my soul longs to express as it experiences it. We take love for granted, I think. We live the beginning parts of our lives (and for some, our whole lives) imagining that this kind of deep communion is possible, but once it comes for those of us for whom it does come, we greet it and are amazed for some time and then it simply is. We go on living, now with the love, but do we stand in amazement? What a mystery! A mystery as profound as God, if God truly is love as I believe and have been told. And if something is so profound, how can I for any space of time take it for granted? How can I just accept Tim as a part of my life and of myself and not be with him, not be amazed by him? I mean being in the same sense we use it to mean living in the present with God. Being in its deepest sense. Truly being human. If we live in this state of true being, of real humanity, then we have to live in a state of amazement, recognizing the being of the person we love, their humanity, the profoundness of experiencing their soul in an intimate inexplicable way.

I imagine heaven as a state of being in which we are in eternal and profound ecstasy at the amazement of experiencing God. I think we lose that amazement as we grow older. When we’re young, everything is new and everything we experience is a new thing to learn and comprehend and assimilate into our lives and our understanding of the world. From words and language to relationships to flowers to animals to planets and poetry and history. When we first experience the world, we are amazed by it. And then, it’s just the world. We stop standing in amazement of God. I think the same thing happens for our experience of love, but even more importantly for our experience of the person being loved, my experience of Tim.  We start to simply accept its existence, rather than being amazed. And of course, I fear it more after having been with him for 50 years, than I do now, yet still it happens now too. But I think, at least for me, my deep and mostly constant desire to make my experience of his being known and understood, especially by him, but also by myself and by others, is my soul’s reaction against this trend toward mere assimilation. In other words, I think my soul wants so badly for this incredible experience, (the experience not only of another person, but of him experiencing me and of sharing each other’s experience with one another), my soul (because God loves me) wants so badly for this experience to be what it really should be, that it attempts to refuse simply accepting my love of Tim and by Tim, rather than wondering at it as a state of being, and it attempts this by a desire to tell Tim just how much I love him…because the fact that I love him and that he loves me is an incredible phenomenon. It’s a glimpse into God and trying to make this known, or at least the desire of doing this, is my soul’s way of reminding me that love is an amazing thing. It’s a physical experience, as much as a spiritual. A surging and tightening of my heart, feeling like I’m too big for my body. When I think about him, there is as much a reaction from my body as from my soul (“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.” 1 Cor. 6:19-20)

I think it’s something so profound that its very existence in the present moment must suffice. It can’t be experienced in the future because before we have it, we can’t imagine it the way it truly turns out to be. It can’t be experienced truly in the past because once we lose the love, just like any memory, it would fade and be distorted. It must be lived in the present. Love should be a constant attempt to bring ourselves to that state of true humanity where we dwell in the present amazed at existence. That’s why writing about it, or trying to put it into words seems in a way wrong or at least deceiving to me. Because love is something that in its ideal and perfection should be an experience of the present, a state of being with the person, as it is with God. And still, I want so badly to express in words for Tim how amazing he is to me, how much he gives me meaning, how profound my experience of him is.

Fr. Carsten said to me in confession that even if this love doesn’t continue, although he hopes it does, it is a beautiful, wonderful gift that must be appreciated now and how wonderful is it for me to be able to experience it. He’s right. How awesome is it to be in love? It’s awesome! As in awe-inspiring. We say those words all the time. But do we keep that in the forefront of our experience? Do we really recognize the gift the other person is to us? A gift. From God. Something given voluntarily to us without its being earned, deserved, or merited. The gift of an experience, a transformation, a unity.

Do I recognize its profundity?

In Solidarity.

abortion

As we approach the 42nd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion across the nation, I recall an article I read a year ago or so titled “My Abortion.” You can find the article at: http://nymag.com/news/features/abortion-stories-2013-11/. It involves stories from 26 women about their abortions and their experiences with them. I read through all 26. I was horrified and astonished and so sad. Many seemed to imply that they felt regret, or at least a deep sadness, about their decision. Many felt nothing of the sort, simply relief. Many felt disdain for those who had tried to dissuade them.

The story that struck me the most was one of a wealthy woman. She and her husband already had two kids, and they didn’t want more, so she set up an appointment for an abortion for the third baby growing in her womb. She mentions that her insurance covered the procedure and that her husband went with her. In the waiting room of the abortion clinic, her husband says to her, “Where do you want to go on vacation?” She simply says they booked a trip to Spain. And that’s the end of her “abortion story.”

There, but for the grace of God, go I. That’s all I can remind myself to think. I don’t know her or her life or her past experiences. I don’t know her motivations or the ways she’s been hurt. I don’t know whether she thinks about how old her baby would be now and what he or she would be doing or whether she never thought another second about her abortion after it was over. All I can do is pray for her and her husband, that whatever needs to be healed in their lives will be healed, and for her doctor, that God can change their hearts and bring them to a life of unending joy.

The only reason that abortion is still a legal choice is because the discussion has been framed in terms of “women’s rights” and “reproductive freedom.” President Obama’s statement on last year’s anniversary of the decision proves this:

He writes, “Today, as we reflect on the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, we recommit ourselves to the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health.  We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care and her constitutional right to privacy, including the right to reproductive freedom.  And we resolve to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, support maternal and child health, and continue to build safe and healthy communities for all our children.  Because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.” (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/01/22/statement-president-roe-v-wade-anniversary)

The irony of the last sentence almost chills me, but our country’s delusion makes sense. When we think about the decision as a decision which involves the body of a woman and determine that that woman alone is the person who should have autonomy over the decisions involving her body, then we draw the issue away from what it really is – making it a much easier decision than it should be. The decision is not one of whether a woman should have the right to make decisions about her healthcare; it is a decision of whether the fetus within that woman’s womb is a human person and if so, whether that human person should have the right to a life. When doctors lie to women coming in for an abortion and tell them that their baby “doesn’t even look like a baby yet” at 23 weeks and that life begins “when the mother thinks it begins…For some women, it’s never. Even after they deliver it’s still a problem, not a baby.” (http://liveactionnews.org/this-viral-video-is-changing-minds-about-abortion/) When doctors that you’re supposed to trust lie to you, it’s easy to separate the decision from its reality.  “Because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.” That is, everyone except a human when we can’t see him or her, they can’t speak for themselves, and they are dependent upon another human being to survive.

It’s a question of despair. Only a society which sees no or little value in life, which can no longer hope about its future can have its President promoting murder. In discussing retirement, I told a friend that my parents expect us (their children) to take care of them when they are too old to take care of themselves. My friend said to me that, rather than have children, when the time came, and he was no longer able to take care of himself, he would simply walk off into the woods, refuse to eat, and starve himself to the point of death. When did we stop thinking of life as a great good? When did we stop hoping even through disappointments? When did we decide life is not worth fighting for? If we don’t see the value in our own lives, if we don’t care to fight for our own preservation, then we fall into despair. And a society which has fallen into despair of life cannot see the value in the weakest of its members, in the voiceless, even if that member has human DNA and a heartbeat and vertebrae and small little fingers and a developing brain.

“Why, some wise philosopher once asked, does man find tragedy more beautiful than comedy? Why is beauty always mingled with sorrow? Why do we cry, with a terrible longing in our hearts, when our souls are raised to the highest apex of earthly joy? Why weep at weddings? Why give birth in pain? What is this mystery? Redemption. At the heart of humanity, the contradiction of sin and salvation. This is why Christians, particularly those who have a genuine, life-giving faith, have large families. It is why Muslims who really believe that Allah is all powerful and will bless those who follow him with everlasting joy, have a trail of children following after them. It is the reason, also, why people in the Third World are more inclined to give birth: they know about suffering. They know about redemption, and resurrection. They know that at the end of the winter, when everything seems to be in darkness and the shadow of death is lurking over the starving children, there is spring. Oh there is death, yes, there is that, but it doesn’t rob life of its meaning. There is sin, certainly, but it does not make humanity worthless. There is the same cycle, over and over, but it is a cycle rich in mythic significance, in purpose, in dignity. It is the cycle of life. The means by which we all were begotten, and by which, in an act of faith, we beget the continuation of the same old thing. Because it is a wondrous old thing: cracked, broken, sullied, torn, but beautiful. So beautiful.” — Melissa Selmys, Sexual Authenticity pp. 130-1.

The Truth is not afraid. Life will be victorious! Peace to all of you in this new year!

Maria

For you, I will give my life.

“You are love on display for all to see.” – Forever Reign, Hillsong Worship

crucifix

A few weeks ago at work, a coworker of mine noticed the crucifix I wear around my neck from time to time. The evening was winding down, and the flow of patients had decreased, so we had a few moments to chat. She began to ask me questions about it. Where did I get it, who gave it to me, and why is Jesus still on the cross? The first two I’ve heard and answered before, but that last one surprised me. I paused for a moment and looked down at my crucifix. She went on to say He’s not supposed to be on the cross because He’s already risen. She was not being mean or condescending, simply stating what she knew. And she was right. Jesus is risen. He is alive. So, I said to her, “Yes, He is, but I wear the crucifix because I need to remind myself of that sacrifice and what it meant.” We often reflect on the symbol of the cross, the wood of the cross, as we should. But what of the body? Do we think about the man nailed to the wood? The innocent beaten and slayed like a lamb? We should. Mark Hart says it best: it is easy to forget what all went into that cross, that crucifix. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBr82YfbcE0)

When Mel Gibson came out with the Passion of the Christ movie in 2004, I went to see it with my family, and like most people, cried from beginning to end. To this day, I cannot watch the movie without crying or looking away at points. Not because of its graphic nature, but because my heart tightens in my chest at the visual reminder of what my salvation cost. Tightens to the point that I have to look away, as if to protect myself from that pain. Sometimes when I gaze at a crucifix, I have to force myself to look at that visual reminder, even when my heart hurts for my friend.

But looking at the crucifix is so much more than a graphic visual of death! A majority of the time when I look at a crucifix, two things fill my heart: love and joy.

Joy fills my heart not because He is dead, but because I know He resurrected and freed me and all of humanity from eternal damnation. I know the ransom has been paid. I know that the war is already won. I know that death has lost its sting. Therein lies my Christian joy.

Love fills my heart because how can it not? Hillsong United put it beautifully in their song Like an Avalanche: “King for a slave, trade in Your righteousness for shame, despite all my pride and foolish ways, caught in your infinite embrace. And I find myself here on my knees again caught up in grace like an avalanche. Nothing compares to this love burning in my heart.” Regardless of my faults, weaknesses, and many rejections, God looked at me and said, “For you, I will give my life. Garcia, I love you so much that I’d rather die than spend eternity without you.” And who am I? Who am I that the God of the universe should love me so perfectly? So, when I reflect on this, I can only fall to my knees, let Him embrace me in love, and adore His beautiful body on that cross. I worship and glorify Him because it is all I can do when I look at the crucifix.

So I wear my crucifix to remind me of this love. To remind me that in His eyes, I am worth that sacrifice. To remind me what true love and selfless love look like. To remind me that I am called to love my brothers and sisters in the same way. I know the world says take care of you first, then worry about everyone else. And to an extent that is true; for if we are not well, we cannot care for others. But God calls each and every one of us to a love so radical, it hurts. He calls us to lay down our lives in service, just as He did. It may seem peculiar to reflect on the passion so soon after Christmas and on the dawn of a new year, but isn’t it the perfect time to do so? When we look to the coming year, we think, how can I improve? How can I do better? What can I change? Well, as Christians our call is to love. That’s it. To love. Love in service. Love in humility. Love until it hurts. So while coming up with our lists of resolutions and as we reflect, let’s ask ourselves “how can I love more, how can I love better, and how can I love more humbly?”

To be sure, it will not be easy. We’ll want to complain that it’s unfair of us to give so much of ourselves. Whenever I have that thought, I look down at the crucifix or the cross hanging around my neck, and I am reminded that it is unfair, but He did it. He gave it all. No part of him was left. He did it. For me. For you. For everyone. I am not God, so I will falter, and I will fall, and I will want to quit, and I will quit more times than I care to think about, but at the end of the day, I will get up. I will pick up my cross, and once more I will to live to love and serve my brothers and sisters. And when I am weak, I will call on Him who strengthens me. This is my resolution for 2015. To love. To love myself. To love my neighbors. To love my enemies. What’s yours?

– Garcia

“The soul is healed by being with children.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I have been thinking very much about children lately since the Ferguson case became a big deal. I want to preface this by saying that I am not writing this blog because I disagree with the people protesting the decisions made in these grand jury cases. Whenever human beings are killed, it is cause for sadness and concern and even at times righteous outrage. The reason I am writing this blog is because it is frustrating and deeply angering to me that we can talk about, riot, and protest this injustice for days on end when we are not rioting every day for the greatest injustice happening on the face of the planet, an injustice which will continue to happen unless we fight because the victims of this injustice have no way to fight for themselves.

“Abortion and racism are both symptoms of a fundamental human error. The error is thinking that when someone stands in the way of our wants, we can justify getting that person out of our lives. Abortion and racism stem from the same poisonous root, selfishness. Of course, to get someone out of our way, we have to come up with rationales for doing so. We create the deceptions that the other person is less important, less worthy, less human. These pretenses help us feel a bit better about discriminating against someone because of his skin color or gestational age, but they’re still lies, and our actions are still wrong. The truth is that we are all humans belonging to only one race. Racial reconciliation can only mean that we reconcile to the truth that we are all one race of human beings created equal. Even though we have ethnic distinctions, those distinctions do not separate us from the human race any more than do our stage of development or state of physical dependency. We are all fully human. When we face this truth, there is no justification for treating those who look different than us as lesser beings. If we simply treat other people the way we’d like to be treated, racism, abortion, and other forms of inhumanity will be things of the past. The fight against abortion is a new frontier in the civil rights movement.” – Dr. Alveda King

I’m convinced the best way we can start to change the world is by changing our attitude about Life. I don’t mean how we view our individual life, but rather how we view the phenomenon of Life Itself. How can we expect a free and just society when we think the killing of one type of human being (an unarmed minority) is wrong, but myriad other types of killing are not wrong? Why do expect someone to have respect for the life of a person of color or for a homosexual person or for a woman, when we as a society have no respect for the life of the child inside of a woman’s womb or for the person who has Down’s syndrome or for the prisoner now on death row because he raped and murdered young girls? We have no problem with other people being killed when it’s in the name of Vengeance or Progress or Convenience or Not Perpetuating the Cycle of Poverty, so tell me how we aren’t then hypocrites when we decry the murder of an unarmed young man in the name of All Lives Mattering?

Christ was such a radical person not because He came to tell us to love the vulnerable, those oppressed and misused by society, but because he came to tell us to love all people – that doesn’t mean just the oppressed or the murdered or the wrongly despised; it means the ones doing the oppressing and the murdering and the wrongful despising. Jesus came to show us the flaw in our thinking that we can love the prostitute without loving the pimp, love the unborn without loving the abortionist, love the dead unarmed young black man without loving the scared, power hungry white cop. It is no more right to kill a person because of the color of his or her skin, sexual orientation, or religious denomination than it is to kill a person because of the point at which he or she is in his or her development or because his or her added economic burden might bring strife to a mother. We can’t expect a society ever to be just which proclaims a certain kind of person has a right to live and another does not.

And I believe strongly that this change in attitude about life can come about by necessity only first and foremost with a change in how we view not only the unborn child, but all children – because who in our society and in any society is more vulnerable than the child?

Why do you think Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven belonged to such as these when talking about children?

“Les grandes personnes ne comprennent jamais rien toutes seules, et c’est fatigant, pour les enfants, de toujours et toujours leur donner des explications.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “Le petit prince” (“Grown-ups never understand anything on their own, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

There’s a Catholic mission in San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala that builds brick oven stoves for impoverished families in need of them (the vast majority of families fall into this category). I’ve been to visit and help out at the mission a couple of times. One time I followed along Julio and a couple of the other men (who are natives employed by the mission to build these stoves) to a more distant village. It was rumored that this village was full of children, so I was eager to tag along. We unloaded when we got to the family’s house, and not even minutes after, all the children in the village flooded the yard, wanting to play with us.

When we sat down in a circle for lunch, the young mother of the family sent the youngest daughter off with a couple of coins to get herself a mini bag of chips. She came back, smiling from ear to ear, sat down next to me and my friend, Sarah, and turned to our friend, Derek, to ask him if he could open the bag for her. As soon as he had opened it and handed the bag back to her, she held out a chip to Derek and then to Sarah and then to me and then finally took her first bite. She and her two siblings sleep in one room on one bed with her parents. They play in the pile of concrete dust next to their house. They go to the bathroom in a hole in the ground in the middle of the yard enclosed solely by a garbage bag wrapped around three sticks in teepee formation. They wash their clothes in a sink outside the bedroom. Her mini bag of chips was half the size of our single chip bags, and she gave three of those precious chips away to three people she had met that morning before she even took one for herself.

Yesterday morning I headed over to Cedartown, GA with my family and some other volunteers to organize and dispense Christmas gifts which had been donated for more than 200 families unable to provide gifts for their children this year. One woman came over to the gifts my father and I were in charge of with her daughter and husband. The husband picked up the box, as the mother and daughter each grabbed one side of the little pink bike donated for her. My father leaned over and said in Spanish to the mother that he hoped she would have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful new beginning of the year. Tears immediately began streaming from her face as she said, “I didn’t have money to buy her anything this year. Thank you so much.” Her daughter clutched onto her leg, smiling up at her beautiful mother. She led her daughter over to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and knelt down with her in gratitude. Tears continued to flow down her cheeks, while her daughter hugged her ’round the neck, just gazing into her face, smiling with pure love and admiration. She didn’t care that the gifts that would be coming to her from her parents weren’t paid for by their money; all she saw was the humility, gratitude, and love in the gesture, as she smiled up at the woman who loved her enough to share that gratitude in public.

It’s no wonder at all to me why when the disciples rebuked him for reaching out to the most vulnerable in his society, Christ called out, “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Luke 18:16-17

Thanks be to God for the children who change our hearts!