Posts filed under Spiritual Life

How the Love of Another Man Pushed Me Into My Husband's Arms

Photo courtesy of the beautiful Jeannette Ayoob-Urban

Photo courtesy of the beautiful Jeannette Ayoob-Urban

The man stood alone among over 50 women, speaking to them about their own womanhood...

Imagine a weekend retreat with all those women women attending with only that one man, a priest, to dilute the beautiful conflagration of estrogen. I was there and it was awesome. The positive feminine energy was a wonderful balm for my soul. So many "little mothers" to nurture and support!  And oh yes, the healing tears flowed.

Yet as much as I acknowledge the unique role that women play for each other in life (indispensable, really), I also returned home with a renewed appreciation for the role of men in how we come to see ourselves as women... and how we learn to draw closer to Christ through their steady witness.

It doesn't seem like it should have worked out well at all; a lone man speaking about womanhood and motherhood to a bunch of women (mostly mothers) who have 100% more life experience as females than he! But Father's words were more powerful for me than those of any woman I have ever heard speak. They challenged and pierced and illuminated the treasure of my femininity in a new way. And there's a growing part of me (not the former strident feminist part) that marvels and wonders what it is about a man that has the unique power to do just that. 

This experience of masculine speaking to feminine about the feminine was marvelous and unlike some male Catholic speakers who try to understand the "feminine genius" through their masculine lens and misapplication of JPII's marvelous Theology of the Body

I have taken the whole experience apart in my mind a dozen times since I've been home. Without analyzing too much, here are a few points I've been pondering... 

  • The complementarity of man and woman goes well beyond the sexual and does not even need a sexual context or metaphor to be true and powerful. We have been given to each other in service by God and we have been made for each other. The sexual context is singular to the married vocation. I am only married to one man... and yet that complementarity with all other men still exists in a completely beautiful and non-sexual context. I am a bride. I am also physical and spiritual daughter, sister, and mother to many.
  • The priest is consecrated and celibate but still fully male. His masculine gifts put him in a position to lead woman but also to be upheld by her. It is why we kneel for a blessing before him and why he clings to Mary and is upheld by the Spiritual Motherhood which is so honored by the Church.

  • The authentic words of affirmation and confidence given by a man have a powerful impact on a woman... perhaps even more so than another woman can give. As Pope Saint John Paul II said so perfectly:

    "God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman." 

Father's priestly counsel pierced my feminine heart all weekend. I was impacted not only by his words through his priestly office, but also by who he was as a person.  And my appreciation grew, not as a fangirl but as a spiritual daughter/sister being led to greatness in Christ. When he looked at us women and told us that we were beautiful in who we are and within the context of our vocation, I believed him; but instead of being drawn to his side, my desire for home steadily ignited. 

Fr. Nathan Cromley {Photo courtesy of  Jayme Orn Photography }

Fr. Nathan Cromley {Photo courtesy of Jayme Orn Photography}

That is what every man should do for every woman... Point her to vocation, to her greatness, to her spouse, to her Lord. That is what every woman should do for every man... Show him his capacity for greatness in Christ at home and in the world.

The nearer Father led us to Christ, the stronger that desire grew until it was a flame that became a blazing fire. I was enjoying the retreat and yet I longed to see my husband. To serve him. To be held by him. And a repeated daydream (that also became a dream during sleep) took hold of me there...

I imagined that my husband and I were holding hands and walking up the center aisle of the chapel toward our Eucharistic Lord exposed in the monstrance. And when we arrived in front of Jesus, we knelt together and received His blessing.

It was a physical longing and gripped me so tightly that it surprised me. 

Each time I heard my spiritual Father speak, that desire for my both my husband and my God increased. One man leading me closer to another man, my spouse... through Christ.

Many words have been written about the need in our Church for manly priests; men who not only understand their priestly identity but who understand it in the context of their masculine nature. It is not just an exercise in pastoral speculation... But a true need.

I not only reject the idea of women priests from a theological standpoint but also from a natural one. We need these men, these soul lovers who have taken up the cross of service for our salvation. We need not just what they do but who they are. Their masculinity is a gift that we cannot set aside as some random assignment of biological pieces. 

A woman needs men who will look into her eyes with their strong, confident, gentle love... and communicate to her the matter of her dignity. It is often said that culture will be restored by the heart, the woman. But...

Woman needs man to lead and to teach her through his words and love about her own dignity.
Man needs woman to support him as he carries his cross in the world.
He finds his own dignity and home in the heart of the feminine.
She finds her fortress and fire in the masculine.

It is my fervent prayer that the men of the Church will learn the significance of that role and take it up. Oh, how they could change the world! They are inclined to take it by might and sheer effort but do not know their own potential as soul-lovers.

I left the retreat a little early and went home late Saturday night, missing the two remaining hours on Sunday morning. I wanted to stay and continue to drink deeply from the retreat experience but I also wanted to be able to go to Mass with my family, to be able to sleep a little more deeply (even a quiet retreat stretched my physical limits during this pregnancy), and to hold my littlest girl who was missing her mommy. But mostly...

I wanted to see my husband.

He texted me a response to my invitation saying: "Whatever you want to do is fine. Stay as long as you like. If you want me to come early, I will." I replied:

"Come and get me!"

... and I felt like a school girl while I waited. I also felt a little like a young bride waiting to see my groom before our our nuptial Mass. My eyes filled with tears when he walked through the door. He got bonus points for the roses that he brought me (husbands, take note!) but I would have rejoiced regardless.

After we arrived home, we imprudently but joyfully stayed up with the children until 1:00 am just being together before family prayers. My toddler fell asleep curled up on my lap and I fell asleep on the couch so quickly that I didn't even kiss my spouse goodnight.

It's not a story of glamorous romance. We are messy, we are weak, and we are broken... And we fall asleep when we don't mean to.

But the more attentive I am to my Lord, the more my heart is drawn to my home. And sometimes, it takes another man to remind me that to be fully who I am in Christ means to draw closer, not to the activity of my vocation, but to the souls with whom I have been entrusted.

The last time I went on retreat (over 11 years ago), I came home ready to change my husband... to form him more perfectly to my (stunted) vision of holy. That was partially (or largely) my immaturity and partially the questionable direction from the priest who essentially told me that my apostolic work was more important than the heart of my husband. And... it was kind of a disaster. I disrespected the treasure that my faithful, prayerful, hard-working, generous, amazing man that my husband always has been. I don't know if he was nervous about my return home this time (he was nothing but encouraging) but he would certainly have been justified! This time however, Father said something (among many things of value) that helped me correct that former error:

Jesus doesn't need new ministries, He needs lovers.

Instead of coming home with an agenda, I came home with a gentle fire. Instead of coming home to make changes to my family members, I came home to love them. Instead of coming home with a list and a massive plan, I came home with the courage to just begin again in steady charity. I also came home with a dozen red roses and a renewed appreciation for the irreplaceable role of the masculine presence in the feminine life. 

To any men reading...

Please lead the women in your life to Christ. Love them, give them courage by your own example, forgive them, make sure they have what they need to be well, and help them see their own beauty and dignity. 

To the women...

Let them. And then serve them with faithfulness, confidence, mercy, and joy. For those who suffer in that holy work, I share a few more of Father's words:

“When your heart is pierced, when your tears flow... Blessed be God! There aren’t enough tears in the world.”

To my husband...

I have no words for the gift that you have always been and continue to be in my life. You married a bratty teenager and you've loved and nurtured her into the woman that I am. Full of weakness and holes and sinfulness, yes... but also so happy. You have poured yourself out to give me life, hope, joy, and Jesus. You have tempered my wayward estrogen with the gentle strength. You have served even when there was no obvious return on the investment. Twenty years ago, you were the one who answered my questions about Christ and then set about to show me... and you are still leading. What all that means to me is inexpressible and touches an intimate part of my soul that knows no adequate expression. But I thank you. And I renew my commitment to our Christ-centered eternal love. 

Thanks be to God!

“Allow yourselves to hunger... Fall in love with Jesus.” {Fr. Nathan Cromly}
We are fast approaching our 20th wedding anniversary. May Blessed Mother continue to lead us united to her Son.

We are fast approaching our 20th wedding anniversary. May Blessed Mother continue to lead us united to her Son.

Retreat jewelry craft led by artist  Andrea Singarella . Roses from my husband. Name tag from the  Arise retreat.

Retreat jewelry craft led by artist Andrea Singarella. Roses from my husband. Name tag from the Arise retreat.

Photo of the attendees of the Arise Retreat. Over 50 amazing women... and one Fr. Nathan. { Photo courtesy of  Jayme Orn Photography } My deepest gratitude to  Brooke Taylor  for running with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to make this event happen and to every woman there who said yes to that same Spirit by attending. 

Photo of the attendees of the Arise Retreat. Over 50 amazing women... and one Fr. Nathan. {Photo courtesy of Jayme Orn Photography} My deepest gratitude to Brooke Taylor for running with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to make this event happen and to every woman there who said yes to that same Spirit by attending. 

Photo of our walking Rosary courtesy of  Jayme Orn Photography

Photo of our walking Rosary courtesy of Jayme Orn Photography

Posted on March 16, 2016 and filed under Faith, Marriage, Spiritual Life, Womanhood.

Why it doesn't matter if you fall...

You are going to fall.

It's just a matter of time.

And everything you do now is preparing you for how you respond. Will you be falling into God's grace? Or into your own floundering ego?

You are called to greatness.

And it's just a matter of time before you stumble on the way. 

Every time you fall, remember that you can't be great unless you know you can't get there on your own. You can't be truly strong until you know that you are weak. Or truly confident unless you know that you aren't the source of Truth. 

It isn't the fall that ultimately matters... but how you rise up.

I fell hard recently. I was carrying my toddler in my arms on my way to change her sagging diaper. I was talking to her as I went quickly up the stairs and showering her pretty head with kisses.

And I fell. 

I tried hard to hold her but I couldn't do it. I knew that her head was going to hit and there was not a thing I could do about it as we tumbled. Her bruise is healing and my arm is hurting and life goes on, with me a little more banged up than I was before and she with a new fear of falling.

It was not sinful for me to drop her but it was careless. A fault of mine. A false confidence that I could multi-task with my attention and still navigate the stairs. Apparently, I'm not that good. And that is how it is day in and day out, this constant battling with my own faults and sins. Falling and wounding and getting up again.

The temptation is to draw back... to take fewer risks in expectation of the fall. A fear of losing the love of others by our constant stumbling. A fear of coming face to face with our own sinfulness. But truly great people don't get there by spending all their time avoiding falls. They become great because they allow their character to be formed to God's will. They keep their eyes on Him alone...

.... and they let Him raise them up.

At the beginning of 2016, I wanted to join the momentum of the New Year's energy and choose a new word for the year. But as I prayed and read, I knew that I wasn't yet ready to move on from last year. So my focus for this year continues to be... RISE.

"{The disciples} fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, Rise, and do not be afraid. And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone." {Matthew 17}

I expect to fall.

And it doesn't matter.

My confidence is in Jesus alone. I rely on His grace and mercy. Thanks be to God!

{The bracelet in the top photo is available for purchase HERE}

Posted on February 2, 2016 and filed under Womanhood, Spiritual Life, Faith.

A Promise Kept to Make Her Known...

This is a bit of an atypical post but... I promised I would write it. In a moment of deep suffering and fear, I promised. In gratitude, I fulfill it.

I don't need to get into too many details. Let it suffice to say that pregnancy is generally the most physically miserable time of my life. From start to finish, it is almost a full year of suffering. And I know I am a lightweight when it comes to suffering so take it for what it's worth... what's hard for me is probably a piece of cake for you. Truly. At any rate...

This past week I finally started to feel some relief from the pressing nausea and anemia and other things. I had been focusing on rest and nutrition, amping up my supplements and essential oils, adding chlorophyll, taking extra time for meal prep. My immune system seemed shot but my efforts seemed to be helping.  

In spite of all that, I ended up with bronchitis. No one else in my family even got a cold. For a week I struggled, feeling discouraged and unwell. I had prayed for relief and yet I felt another weight of illness upon me. A gently placed burden, I know. But again, I'm a lightweight. I like my comfort and every feather feels like a stone.

Then came the intestinal virus. It hit the children almost all at once and my husband and I had one of those nights that goes down in the parental history books. "Hey, remember that night that we emptied 52 buckets of vomit, ran 12 loads of laundry, and fell asleep on the bathroom floor?" "Oh yeah! That was insane! hahahaha!" 

Hilarious.

But there we were. My husband was amazing, taking over much of the load that I would normally bear. But there was no way he could do it all and I pushed through. I had none of the adrenaline rush that normally comes during such nights. I started already at the bottom physically and emotionally. And as I lay down with my 2-year old after her 10th round of violent vomiting - her body fluids in my hair and her messy fingers stroking my face seeking comfort - I was afraid.

I couldn't breathe without coughing. My body felt like lead. I was weak and nauseas. The thought of going through what I was helping my children through filled me with a real fear. It sounds so lame to say it now... but I promised I would tell it so I will. I couldn't imagine how I would get through that trial. I knew I could intellectually, but emotionally I was overcome.

When I felt the first stirrings of pain and distress in my stomach, I got desperate. As often as I have bargained with God and the saints in the past, I have always finished with: God's holy will be done. Not this time. This time I just begged. For hours. It was one of the most pitiful displays of cowardice of my life. I prayed for my children. I prayed for my husband. I prayed for my unborn baby. But most of all, I prayed that I would be spared....

Please, Jesus, let me be spared. I am so miserable. I am so weak and afraid...

I asked for Blessed Mother's intercession. And then I thought I should add a saint. Because... why not? And then...

No, no... I need a BLESSED. Maybe there is a blessed who needs some action and who would have particular pity on a poor broken soul.

The first name that popped into my mind was Chiara, and even though I knew very little about her, I was just happy to have found a name so quickly. The fact that she was a female helped. I rested my crying soul on her young  shoulder and begged for her intercession. 

"You suffered so well. I want to learn to suffer like that. But not tonight. Tonight I just want someone to lift it. Please ask Jesus to lift it. Just a little." And I bargained. "If you grant me this favor, I will share you story. As pathetic as my own request is, it will have been a miracle to me... and I promise I will share your life and how Jesus was glorified through it."

And defying the heavy odds - a depressed immune system, direct and repeated contact with an aggressive virus, and pre-existing pregnancy nausea - I got my little miracle. I was sick the next day but I never lost any fluids or suffered in any violent way. Not a canonization level kind of miracle... but to me, it meant so much in the moment.

“Heavenly Mother, you know how much I desire to be healed but if it’s not God’s will I ask you for the strength never to give up. Humbly yours, Chiara”.

So here I am. Humbled by my own ridiculousness and my departure from "Thy will be done." Surprised to find my petition granted. Not surprised that I was not left alone in a weak and small moment. Prayers are not magic spells. I know that God says no. He's said no to me plenty of times. But He's never left me. He has allowed me to suffer countless times when I didn't think I could endure anymore... and has then shown me how He has sustained me through grace. When I say "I can NOT do it" He shows me that I can through His grace....

But this time... He gave me the gift of rest and seemed to say "You don't have to do it this time."

To Sweet Chiara...
I didn't really know you before that night. I still only know a little about you. But after spending hours leaning on the strength of your presence, I do know you. I am so grateful for your companionship, your witness to Love and Joy through your life and death, and your pure devotion to Jesus Christ. Please keep me in your prayers... that I may learn to suffer and love like you, for His sake. 

To everyone else... here she is. In humility (through a path of humiliation), I fulfill a promise. In joy, I introduce a cherished new friend...

Read about Chiara HERE.

 

 

Posted on November 18, 2015 and filed under Faith, Spiritual Life.