Just another day

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Sunday. It’s my favorite day of the week. I enjoy all the Sabbath has to offer. Prayer, community, rest. Often Kevin and I choose to do something special to mark the day for the both of us – a walk on the lake, visiting a new place, eating something special, watching a movie, having company over. Sunday.

I could easily spend this Sunday like all the others, celebrating the turn of the month and being just a bit more closer to spring.

But today is different.

Today was the projected day that I would have held a child in my arms for the first time. My child. Many women spend nine wonderful months in hopeful anticipation of their due date. I had that mentality for just a little while before it was taken away.

I had all the possible names written down – boy or girl (still an untouched, yet adored, list in my email drafts – where I keep random notes). I’m not sure if we would have opted to know the sex ahead of time. I like the idea of waiting, but have never been good with surprises.

I remember back when we were expecting thinking what it might be like to deliver a baby in the height of winter in northern Minnesota (although we weren’t set on leaving at that point). I mostly made jokes about how we’d be snowed in and end up doing a home birth.

Just as any type A planner would, I had completed my registry with all the natural & organic goodies  – the bamboo swaddles, the organic sheets, the cloth diapers.

But none of it mattered. We never got that far.

I’ve tried to reflect this month on the emptiness that comes with passing a due date and nothing to show for it. Too many women deal with this time and time again.

And it’s a tragedy. It is sorrowful. It’s tear-inducing and hurtful.

But the most amazing thing of all is that there is healing. Healing that is unexplainable, but very real. Healing that is truly a gift. It is not a coincidence we named our child Giovanna Raphael: “gift of God that heals.”

While I can’t understand it, I know that I am in a good place. While my heart longs for children, I am also content. That contentment has days of sadness, but it’s still there.

So we continue on. We continue to hope and pray for what only God can give. I’m trying to do my part, but I shouldn’t be so naive as to think that it’s all on me. That’s a heavy weight. One I can’t carry.

In the meantime, I thank any of you who have offered prayers for our unborn child, the gift that I hope now rests in the presence of her Creator. And for the prayers for us as we figure things out and let them happen.

God is good and in that I firmly believe. My hope is in Him.

Deo gratias.

A Day of Remembrance

Last night I got an email from Kristen Hawkins, President of Students for Life (not a personal email, I’m not that special) saying that the annual Students for Life Conference would be cancelled this weekend due to weather. While I live nowhere near DC and had no intention of attending, this saddened me. My whole life I had been pro-life, but it was also never something I seriously considered. It just made sense. Don’t kill babies.

My senior year of college, though, I had the privilege to attend the March for Life along with the conference. Sitting in that auditorium with hundreds (thousands?) of students and listening to those incredible speakers: my heart was changed. The whole experience was so profound for me – I left on a retreat-like high. And while my life is quite different now than it was five years ago (ugh – five years?!) – I don’t get into abortion debates with the everyday acquaintance – I’m still changed by that event. Which is why I am so upset with this DC weather for thwarting it this year!

It is a tragedy that so many in our country are either passionately pro-choice/abortion, or (maybe worse?) just lukewarm to the topic. Even with most of the medical community now acknowledging that life does, in fact, begin at conception, the issue is still not resolved. Far from it. While there have been strides in the pro-life movement (I think you’d be surprised to learn that the pendulum is actually swinging in this direction these days, despite the loud efforts of opposing parties), there is still so much to be done.

What is one way we can support this cause? The cause of life. Maybe you’re attending the March in DC (or a local one in your city), maybe you have a conversation with someone who isn’t exactly convinced, or maybe you offer up fasting & prayer.  Whatever it is – kudos to you.

My favorite sign from the March for Life 2011.

 

Surrender

Last year around this time I attempted to come up with a theme for 2015. A virtue or discipline I wanted to work on. Kevin actually came up with it for me: the challenge to be more more present. Did I succeed? In some ways, yes. In some ways, absolutely not. To be honest, I probably forgot about this committed effort halfway through the year when things got more crazy. To be more present – in moments, prayer, relationships – is still something I want to work on. Ardently. But for 2016, the word I choose to give more focus to is surrender.

Last year, more so in the first half, there was so much I tried to control or hold onto. I had put months and months of my time into researching about the female body, nutrition, and naturopathic medicine. I’d spent an embarrassing amount of time on infertility blogs trying to figure out where I went wrong (worst thing to possibly do – don’t do it!). I tried to meticulously plan for every possible move we could have made, leaving me dejected when something didn’t work out. I tried to force certain variables into place when my heart was set on a location, a job, or just an idea. I’ve succumbed to anger, envy, and pride at points when I thought I was entitled to a certain result but left with something else. All because of my inability to trust completely in Jesus.

Thankfully, the Lord (and mama Mary!) has been working on my heart immensely over the past few months. Maybe one of the unexpected graces of moving so far away from what I find comfortable and familiar. I truly feel God calling me to a deeper surrender. Even just the beginnings of letting go, the desire to be detached from what I think I want, has given way to great peace. As we head into this new year, there are still so.many.unknowns for me and Kevin. But I’m content.

Last year I was so often consumed with fear over what might happen to us if we made the wrong decision, or if we tried our best but it didn’t pay off. That is true work of the evil one (stay away!). One of the greatest gifts we can give to Jesus is to trust in Him. To trust in Him and His merciful heart. This is what I long to do more than anything. To please Jesus by giving everything to Him, and allowing Him to do with me what He will. I should know at this point, after all I’ve been through, that this is the only way to true joy.

I have an over-abundance to be grateful for this year, and I’m trying to give proper thanks, though it will take more than a lifetime to properly give. But let’s see if this year can be a time of growing in radical trust. Like Mary, may I have the courage to say “let it be done to me.”

Fiat

Surprised & Delighted

This afternoon, I sort of last minute decided to host the Blessed is She Advent Gathering for some women in Duluth. I had mentioned it to a couple ladies a while back, but only got on the ball a couple days before the event. I decided to reach out to a few more people I knew, even if just acquaintances, and for the most part they all came! I was a bit nervous, since I’m the new girl in town, but it was a beautiful experience and here’s why.

Today was the first time since moving here of having an intentional gathering of women. While the transition from East Coast to Minnesota has treated us well, I was never quite optimistic about making good new friends, specifically with women. I love my brothers and sisters rooted in my college community, and I never felt a desire or need for anything more. And in a way, I always felt like if I were to open myself up to more people, that it would take away from the relationships I cherished so dearly. Those friends I had close to me in Boston as well as those who had moved away to all over the country. But with our arrival in Duluth, I knew I was going to have to at least make an effort.

And in terms of community, God has surprised me with goodness since day one. Contrary to what I had thought (or prejudiced), people have been so welcoming. We’ve had dinners, bonfires, social events, and church events. And today, having these women all respond with enthusiasm, having real, grace-filled conversations with them – it’s brought more consolation than I could have imagined.

I was even surprised to find out that I could relate more to many of the these women today than I could with some of my closest and most dear friends, particularly with our hardships and struggles. Not that I’ve all of the sudden forgotten my most beloved sisters elsewhere in the country (not in the least!), but I’m learning something important. That my heart has room for more. My capacity for love and friendship is so much greater than I thought.

We are made in the image and likeness of God who is love and loves infinitely. While we are not God, we are His created spirits and to love is one of our sole purposes. And the more we strive to be like Christ, naturally our ability to love should be all the greater. By putting limits on myself, I was putting limits on God. Ridiculous, I know. He has given me a great community with those who are far away (continuing to bless it), and He is now opening up a new one right before me. I don’t have to trade in something old for something new, but rather it can be both/and. This is God at work. And for everything, I feel an abundance of gratitude.

So with today’s retreat theme of “Delighting in the Promise,” I will continue to delight in the way God is walking with me in all things. His steadfast love is an unchanging gift that I would do well to remember at all times.

“Blessed are those who love you, O God, and love their friends in you […] They alone will never lose those who are dear to them, for they love them in one who is never lost, in God, our God who made heaven and  earth and fills them with his presence, because by filling them he made them.” – St. Augustine’s Confessions

 

How will we respond?

Today at Mass, a newly-ordained Deacon was preaching and he mentioned a phrase I’ve heard many times but that I don’t seem to dwell on enough: “already and not yet.” What does that mean? Our faith can be a strange, and at times, seemingly contradictory thing. Our Lord came and redeemed us, and yet there is still the final judgment to be made. Redemption has come, but it ain’t over.

And then there is Advent. A time of waiting for our Lord. We remember his Incarnation, but we also await his second coming. And as we prepare our hearts for the celebration of Christmas, we also need to prepare our hearts for the day we will meet God face-to-face. As today’s second reading says, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.” [Thessalonians 3:12]

This life that we are living is our opportunity to choose God. Once we die, time is up. We will no longer be able to change our ways, or repent for our sins. The time for that is now. It may seem dreary to be speaking of death when most of the world begins holiday festivities, but we cannot separate the Incarnation from the cross. Redemption came at a cost.

I was reflecting a great deal today on how I can use these weeks ahead to drastically silence my heart and open it up to our Lord. He has called us out, and we choose how we will respond.

May you have a blessed Advent!

 

 

Giving thanks.

I woke up this morning, looked outside, and it was snowing. Not in a ohnofindashovelweregonnabelate type snow. But the perfect snowfall that gives joy to my heart in seeing that light sprinkling over our yard + woods surrounding our home.

We had breakfast, went to Mass, had our friend take some pictures of us (for our Christmas cards!) in the woods by the Church while the snowfall was still in the pretty stage, and then brought some cookies over to a Priest in a nursing home downtown.

Kevin worked with this Priest a few years back when he was a youth minister up on the iron range (yes, that’s a place). They have a lovely friendship and I’ve had the privilege to spend some quality time with him since being first introduced a couple years ago. On this day of giving thanks, he truly has a gift of opening me and Kevin’s eyes to all that we have to be thankful for.

Fr. Doyle likes to say things like this:

“Think of how good God has been to you both.

“You have jobs that provide for you and are satisfying.”

“You have a house, a place to go home to and enter into your own.”

“Kevin, look at what going to Boston has given you. A wife!”

“Katie, what a gift that you’ve learned you’re able to conceive. So many couples cannot even achieve that.”

“Look at how much more at ease you are today than you were two months ago.”

And he’s right. The Lord has blessed us in abundant ways. Ways we don’t even realize. Too often I take the most obvious things for granted. Of course, after we left the nursing home there was a small inconvenience that threw me off and I let it get the best of me. The next couple hours were me bottling up some frustration. But my goodness, Katie, get over yourself!

I think the root of my funk was from being bit homesick today – wanting to see the comforting roads by my neighborhood in PA, wanting to rest in my parents’ house, wanting to carry on traditions with my siblings. How easily those little pangs can overrun all the good things right in front of me!

But God is still good. I am sitting in my warm home next to my husband as we sip on a hot beverage before going over to his uncle’s house for dinner. There is no reason to not be content. Yet the same cannot be said for most people in the world today. People struck with death, war, sickness, loneliness.

So today, let us offer up our minor sufferings, our small inconveniences, for those who truly need it. And I will try to cultivate a great spirit of gratitude in my own life.

 

7QT: 7 Influential Books

For this week’s seven quick takes (linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t The Lyceum), I’d like to share 7 of the most influential books in my life. Kevin and I often make lists together and it’s kind of a way of taking inventory of where we’re at with things or maybe there’s just more to learn about the other. For this list, he likes to make very clear: it’s not your favorites but rather books that have had a profound impact on you – whatever that may mean. Anyway, I may have forgotten some (and I’m going preface saying the bible is numero uno, but not on the list below), but I think for the most part this list is pretty accurate.

[ 1 ] Harry Potter 1-7 by JK Rowling

Yes. I mean, how could this not be on here? Let’s just say middle school was not exactly my favorite time of life, and I ended up diving into this magical world in a super deep way. Honestly, these stories got me through a lot. Granted, I didn’t really know the Lord at that time, so I’m sure God would have been a better replacement. But as it was, I would turn to these books when relationships were tough or when drama was about. I think to a degree it kept me a little more innocent and distant from some things I didn’t need in my life. Also, they are just so dang good. I still go back every now and again to enjoy the sweetness of these books.

[ 2 ] Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

Jane Austen. Oh how I love her writing. I’m not sure how to explain how this book has been such a great influence. But it may just be that it’s an exceptionally well-written novel that left me feeling content and better off for having read it. I don’t often read fiction books that have characters of such depth, along with simply beautiful language. When I read a page of Jane Austen, I feel like I’ve gained something. That may not make sense, but it is what it is. 🙂

[ 3 ] Mere Christianity by CS Lewis

Really, all of CS Lewis’ writings could be on here (The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, Till We Have Faces, etc.), but this was the first one I read, and it was at a time when I was experiencing a great “reversion” to the faith. I was a sophomore in college and began going back to the Church for nourishment, and this book proved to be a wealth of wisdom in helping me understand certain truths better than I ever had before. I remember taking this book into confession at one point and just saying to the Priest, “with great knowledge comes great responsibility. I have way more sins to confess than I ever realized.” So thank you CS Lewis.

[ 4 ] The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey

I had to read this book for a business leadership course my senior year in college, and it is by far one of the most fruitful reads I’ve ever done for school in my life. I actually read the whole thing, way ahead of schedule (which was not super characteristic of me for class reading), and even took notes! While I doubt I integrate all seven habits into my life in the day-to-day, they certainly left a powerful impression on me. Certain chapters truly made me re-evaluate the way I live my life (at that time as a super type-A personality, always on a mission and on the go, planning like my life depends on it). Simple things like “put first things first” brought to mind Matthew 6 and seeking first the kingdom of God. It’s definitely a book I could benefit from going back to every now and then.

[ 5 ] Confessions by St. Augustine

I remember going home to PA for a two week period after graduating college. I’d soon be going back to Boston, but not to BU. I reflected on the transition I was about to experience and I honestly didn’t have a ton of confidence I was ready for it. The Catholic community I had in school was phenomenal; in just three short years, I felt like I had learned and grown more than I ever thought possible. And to be honest, I was afraid there wouldn’t be more to come after that. During those two weeks, I picked up St. Augustine’s Confessions at a used book shop, which was one of the most providential things to ever happen. The beauty of it was two-fold. First, I felt like I could connect to him on a personal level, having experienced certain intensities in my spiritual life through times of conversion/reversion. Second, I realized how naive I was to think that my learning and growing would ever stop, unless I simply decided to turn away from the faith. He showed me just a glimpse into the immeasurable depths of God, and how I can seek out truth my entire life and I still may never scratch the surface. This revelation is what pushed me forward, and still often does.

[ 6 ] Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales

This was another one I read the year after graduating college, and what a good time as well. As I was figuring out how my prayer life would look now that I was working full-time and trying to be involved in young adult life (not to mention dating), I could not have asked for a better guide. St. Francis de Sales just gets it. He gets it all. His words to the laity are understanding, but not demeaning. He doesn’t give us lay people an easy out because we have to live in the world, but he also wasn’t advocating for 10 hours of adoration a day. He provides detailed instruction as to how to live a devout life even with all the demands of work, relationships, home life, etc. It is an incredibly timeless read; it was written in the late 1500’s/early 1600’s, and yet everything he was saying felt applicable to my own life.

[ 7 ] True Devotion by St. Louis de Montfort

While St. Louis de Montfort can sometimes come off a bit harsh and intense depending where I am in my spiritual life, this is a book I think I will always need to re-visit as a devotional read. It has had a profound effect on my life by helping me deepen my relationship with the Blessed Mother. And in countless ways, this has shaped my spiritual life.

There it is! The books that have left a mark. Please let me know if you’ve read any of the above and feel similarly! And what books have been most influential in your own life? I want to know!

 

Saying “yes” to the unknown

I was speaking with a friend earlier this week about my experience of leaving my full-time job this past August. She is discerning doing the same thing, but for different reasons. I don’t pretend to have everything figured out in my life, and the big catalyst for leaving the secure job that I had was because we were moving across the country. So in a sense, the leaving work was a consequence of a bigger life event. But regardless of how or what lead me to it, it’s still a big deal.

Now, I am incredibly fortunate because in my last week at that job in Boston, my boss offered me work on contract basis. I could do it from home, here in Minnesota. So that was, and is, a great blessing. However, nothing is guaranteed, and I am well aware that this setup could end at any time. And yet I still turned down a full-time job here when I was offered about a month ago. Why in the world would I do that and how do I not freak out about the possibility of being unemployed?

A few things I’ve learned, and once again – I’m no expert, about being able to make the leap from “security” to “unknown”:

  • Know thyself. I come from a background where hard work and practicality is greatly valued. For years all I can remember is identifying the path I was on and sticking to it. There was never a time I thought to hit the pause button, and before I know it I’m 26 wondering how I ended up in this field. With each year and each job I held, things got harder. And while there were many external factors that contributed to that, the reality is I did not love what I was doing. And I was not growing as a person in the ways I wanted to grow. Realizing this was the first step in being okay with making a change.
  • Discover your passions. It’s true that not every passion is going to be lucrative. I’m still working on figuring out what it is that I can realistically do that will allow me to flourish as a person. I’ve also changed dramatically since graduating college. It’s actually been a challenge to figure out what my interests are now without bringing to mind all the things I’ve invested in over the years. Discerning truly where my heart is has been a process, but this brainstorming needs to be done.
  • Have a plan, but be flexible. When we decided to move, I had a semi-plan when the offer to continue my previous work came. Whatever I was feeling at the time, I had to be prudent. I’m not in a place where I could start my own business and thrive, so this opportunity was actually a huge gift. It still gives me flexibility to develop other passions while performing work that I’m comfortable with. Whether you’re offered an opportunity like I was, or you can find part-time work to sustain you while you make the transition, it’s a step that many people need to take in order to get where they want to be.
  • Trust, trust, trust! I definitely have moments of fear; moments of dreading what may happen next month, or even next week. But I remember that in all my time of doubt, I’ve never been let down. Things don’t always go as I had hoped, but I’ve never been left in despair. Right now I am trying to focus on the paid work I’m doing, while also working on other projects that I may want to lean more towards in the future. When I dwell on the future “what if’s”, I am completely robbed of any joy and gratitude I have for the present. “Do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will take care of itself.” – Matthew 6:34

I’m still figuring out this part of my life. I don’t know everything that’s going to happen, and on what timeline. And as much as I might sometimes pine for life back in Boston, I am deeply convinced that I am doing what I ought in this moment. Not to mention, I have a loving God looking after me and a great husband supporting me along the way.

Have you ever made a decision that would mean a time of uncertainty? Have you made the leap into a new career that is life-giving for you? Tell me about it!

God’s will, free will, and Middle earth

I’ve been re-reading Lord of the Rings lately, which I’ve been loving. I read them for the first time in college, more than six years ago now. Fellowship is a great one to go back to in the fall, with Bilbo’s birthday being in September, and with so much of the book taking place in autumn. The descriptive language of the Shire and Rivendell just makes my heart sing.

Now, we all know (or should know) that Tolkien has a way with words and is a phenomenal writer. He also was a Catholic and there is truth, beauty, and goodness infused in his characters, his stories, and his themes. As I arrived at the Council of Elrond, I was struck by some beautiful speech of his. It is right after Frodo announces that he will take the ring to Mordor, and Elrond looks at him and says this:

“I think that this task is appointed for you, Frodo; and that if you do not find a way, no one will […] But it is a heavy burden. So heavy that none could lay it on another. I do not lay it on you. But if you take it freely, I will say that your choice is right.” – JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

This paragraph stirred something in me. I’m no theologian, but I at least know that our God has a divine will; he has a will for my life, for your life, for the whole world. But we are free to choose as we will. Sometimes that can be confusing, right? It is true that we can choose the wrong, a path that God had not desired for us. Does that mean he cannot still work our poor efforts for good? Of course not, he is God! All things are within the realm of His divine providence – nothing is beyond him. Sometimes he intervenes, and other times he lets nature take its course. But the greatest fruits come when our wills are aligned with that of our Maker’s.

I say this because when I read those words Tolkien wrote so beautifully, I saw a teaching that can be so hard for me to comprehend, written down in an accessible dialogue between and elf and a hobbit. Is it perfect and do I now understand fully how we, as created beings, can live freely while our God has a divine will for us? Nope. But it’s a start.

Elrond tells Frodo what he thinks, and he affirms the hobbit in his willingness, but also says that he would “not lay it on” him. Frodo is free to leave, to say no, to go back to the shire, or even to stay in Rivendell. If he does, there may be consequences that affect the free people of Middle Earth, including himself, but it is still his choice.

What if Frodo had been forced to take the ring? What if the Council had all looked upon him and demanded that he make this potentially impossible & deadly journey to Mordor? I imagine that would have made it all the more difficult. I imagine Frodo’s heart would have been colder towards his companions, or his longing for the shire may have been crippling. Or he may have felt angry and kept the ring for his own use along the way. Maybe not. While Frodo knew in his heart he must be the ring-bearer, he was the one to declare it – nobody else.

Furthermore, while Elrond deems Frodo’s decision to take the ring as the right one, he understands it is not easy. He, more than most, knows what an arduous task would lie ahead of Frodo and company. It is a burden that he could not give to Frodo, but one that Frodo must choose to bear on his own. That’s when the next line caught me as well. Immediately following the previous lines, Elrond says, “And though all the mighty elf-friends of old, Hador, and Hurin, and Turin, and Beren himself were assembled together, your seat should be among them.” By choosing the good, the right, and the just, in the face of such great temptation, there is greater hope and greater reward. (And to bring it back to the Catholic faith – is Tolkein hinting at Frodo living among the Angels and Saints for his brave choice?) It is precisely because Frodo takes up this burden, or this cross, with courage and free will, that he is worthy.

I think we can all agree that Frodo’s burden was great as well as his suffering. He could have chosen otherwise, he could have let someone else try to take the ring. But it was ordered that Frodo should take it – and all people were better off because of his yes that was freely given. And was he not ultimately rewarded for his choice?

 

October Feasting

Kevin and I have grand dreams of living the liturgical year in a rich way. We were able to do a bit our first year, but have been out of wack for a bit. You do what you can, though. October is filled with feast days of great Saints, and it’s a shame that we’ve been so preoccupied. St. Therese is my girl! But alas, her feast day was a travel day for me. There were still some celebrations to be had, though!

On the evening of October 3rd (the vigil to his feast day) we celebrate the Transitus of St. Francis of Assisi, commemorating his passing into eternal life. Kevin and I spent that evening at the rectory of a priest friend of ours along with a few other folk. For dessert, I decided to go with an dish native to Assisi, called Rocciata di Assisi. It’s a baked strudel with various dried fruits (apples, figs, prunes) and spices. The initial recipe calls for a specific wine, but I didn’t have any on hand so I substituted maple syrup, which seemed to work just fine. I sadly did not take any pictures – next time!

While not a feast day, October 15th is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day. I spent a good deal of time reflecting on the pregnancy of Giovanna. I posted a photo on instagram of the spot where we buried our child – the most public I’ve been about the loss to friends on facebook. Then we lit a candle that evening at 7pm in solidarity with all those grieving losses.

October 16th is the feast day of St. Gerard Majella. This man has been with us throughout our journey of trying to grow our family. He was also a Saint close to my grandmother’s heart; she had lost many children through miscarriage and attributed the birth of her three sons to St. Gerard (each in some way named after him). We had guests staying with us that night, so my tribute to St. Gerard was just placing his holy card next to a board with Giovanna Raphael’s name on it (and it is still there).

We have been looking forward to celebrating the great North American Martyrs on October 19th! Kevin has a special affinity for these men, and Canada certainly has a special place in our hearts. The Jesuit Missionaries here are pretty hardcore and reading their stories is intense. They pushed onward in their mission of bringing the faith to the Huron despite incredible opposition, and ended up being honored with martyrdom. To celebrate their heroic virtue, we made poutine, a fine Canadian delicacy!

Then, of course, there is October 22nd on which we celebrate Saint John Paul the Great! We were able to go to Mass where a friend of ours was celebrating, and he brought with him his first class relic of JPII – a drop of his blood! He gave a lovely homily and we were able to venerate the relic after Mass.

That’s all for October, folks! We shall see what November brings!