Daring Greatly

I resigned my teaching position this past Tuesday.

It was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made, and yet, simultaneously, it has been one of the easiest.

It is hard to leave what we know. We like the familiar. We enjoy routine. And…we also like regular paychecks and the stability of having a current position. Additionally, I truly love teaching! It is a passion of mine, and there is nothing quite so rewarding as watching students studiously engage with Shakespeare after discovering that there is a treasure trove of bawdy jokes hidden underneath his foreign language and seeing a struggling student truly get a difficult concept for the first time. It is invigorating to see students engage in our current events through the lens of the classics, and I will truly miss that.

I gave a lesson to my students earlier this year about identity, in which I had them make identity charts to practice characterization. When making my own identity chart, I wrote the following, “daughter of God, wife, mother, teacher.” I told the students, “These are the four things that most define me, and they go in that order. I have to be a daughter of God before I can be a wife, a wife before I can be a mother, a mother before I can be a teacher.”

Our lovely Mariana Caeli was born in October, and I went on maternity leave. Mariana’s life has brought so much love and laughter into our home. She is so different from her older sister, Madeleine. Mariana is a quietly happy, sensitive soul. She reminds me to find the quiet and choose joy, while her sister Madeleine shows me the joy in exuberant laughter and persistence. Mariana’s life has in and of itself been a new beginning for our family.

It has not been without darkness, however.

At Mariana’s first well-appointment after we brought her, her pediatrician’s office had concerns about her weight. This prompted that pediatrician’s office to schedule office visits for the next four days in a row. They had me start a routine of triple feeding in which I nursed Mariana, gave her a bottle, and pumped, every 2-3 hours. They had no plan for me to stop this, though this is supposed to be a short term intervention lasting a maximum of 72 hours. They knew I had a history of anxiety, and yet, the urgency with which they were talking about Mariana’s weight made me feel that they were concerned that she might just waste away.

We switched pediatrician practices, and were told that all this was wholly unnecessary, but by that point, the damage had been done. My anxiety was on high alert, and now I needed to work with an IBCLC to stop this routine without absolutely destroying my milk supply.

Once the isolation of Covid was added in along with my chronic pain, it was a tried and true recipe for postpartum anxiety and depression.

Each week I was grateful to be home with my girls. And each week I dreaded going back to work. I began to have panic attacks about work. Would I be able to keep up with pumping? How would I fare with the commute? What about sleep? How could I take care of myself and be a good wife and be a good mom and be a good teacher?

I kept trying to turn off the thoughts and just enjoy the time. I kept telling myself, “I can do hard things. I can make it through this.” I felt so much guilt for dreading the return to work, because I truly do love teaching. I felt like I was drowning.

As I reflected and prayed on the matter, I recalled that I start each year with a lesson on Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech. For those unfamiliar, I’ve put it below:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

After reading the speech, I then prompt students to reflect on what it means to fail while daring greatly. We discuss the value of failure and the lessons that can be gleaned from it. We also discuss the final line, “so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” I ask them to consider what this may mean in light of their faith, and I lead them in discussing what it is to live their faith on fire for the Lord. We discuss the stories of the martyrs and look at how they have failed in the eyes of the world, but in the eyes of the Lord they know the “triumph of high achievement.” I want to instill in my students the value of failure and by doing so help them to embrace a radical vulnerability. I want them to welcome failure as a friend. To see failure as an opportunity for growth.

As I recalled this speech and the lessons I wish my students to clean from it, I had to ask myself: Am I daring greatly? Am I embracing the possibility of failure? Am I meeting life with a radical vulnerability?

And so last week, I reached out to my school to prepare for my return. And last week, they offered me a lifeline: the opportunity to resign if I felt I could not handle it. And as I reflected on the desire to be willing to fail while daring greatly and to be radically vulnerable, my decision became clear. I will be forever grateful to my administrators for their understanding.

Leaving was hard, not only because I felt an obligation to fulfill my contract, but also because I struggled with wondering if I was just giving up. I thought about my students, and I was sad that I wouldn’t see them again. But then I remembered what I had told them: “I have to be a daughter of God before I can be a wife, a wife before I can be a mother, a mother before I can be a teacher.” And then the decision became easy.

Throughout this entire postpartum period, I realize I have been consumed by fear. Fear of failure. Fear of giving up. Fear of being an imposter. Fear of being not enough.

I realized it was my fear holding me back. Would I be able to get a new position if I chose to return? If I took this time for myself and my family and explored these different things, would I fail? Would I be a terrible stay at home mom? Would I be able to break out of survival mode without my work?

And then I remembered the lesson I give each year on daring greatly and realized none of that matters.

It doesn’t matter if I fail. It doesn’t matter if no one likes my work. It doesn’t matter if I’m not always the best stay at home mom. What matters is that I try and do it anyway in spite of my failures, so that I will not be one of the poor and timid souls that know neither victory nor defeat.

And so when I focus on daring greatly, I am so excited about the possibilities ahead of me. I am going to be writing here about life, faith, fitness, and motherhood. I’m going to chronicle my journey with postpartum anxiety and my fitness journey. I have the Great Books series planned out! I am going to explore freelance options and tutoring. I’m going to work on my novel. I have some exciting projects planned that I will eventually be able to share with you all. And most importantly, I am going to focus on getting myself well again so that I can be a daughter of God, a wife, and a mother to two beautiful girls. Once I am well again, I will consider returning to teaching.

Anxiety has been my dragon, but I know that it is a dragon I can slay with God, my husband, and my family all rallying to my support. And rather than living in fear, today I choose a new beginning. I choose to see an opportunity for growth during this period.  I will embrace opportunities for failure. I will embrace vulnerability. Most importantly, I choose to dare greatly, for it is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or how the doer of deeds could have done them better. Rather, the credit belongs to the man in the arena, for if he fails, he fails while daring greatly.

Untying our Hearts

 

In November 2014, Mother Agnes Mary of the Sisters of Life sits in a Victorian armchair in the parlor of Villa Maria Guadalupe, speaking to the young women on the most recent discernment retreat.  She explains that she is delighted to have met us all, and that she is confident that Christ will be with us no matter where we may go.  But then she speaks words of caution.

A former psychologist and professor of psychology, Mother Agnes warns us of seeking our vocation for the wrong reasons.  She explains that as we go through life, we pick up and carry various things.  Sometimes those things help us, and other times the things we carry drag us into the ground.  And when we enter into a vocation, be it religious life or marriage, those around us are left having to carry our baggage with us. She makes it clear that prior to pursuing our vocation, that we must carefully examine our baggage-our scars, our traumas, our prejudices, our fears, our anxieties. And even when we try to let go of our baggage, there is always some that is invisible to us and yet starkly visible to others.

That is when we must begin untying our hearts.  We must lay our fears and desires at the hands of the Blessed Mother.  We must give up our dreams and plans and allow ourselves to blindly follow Christ.  We must pursue a deep vulnerability with Christ and our spouses, entrusting our hands and hearts to our King and the one for whom He created our heart.  We cannot untie our hearts by ourselves, however, and so we must entrust the Blessed Mother with the knotted ribbon of our lives.

I have fears and dreams, worries and joys, sufferings and triumphs.  I long to be a good wife, yet I fear of failing.  I long to be a mother, yet am scared of the possibility of infertility.  I long to let go of my anxiety, but my baggage holds me down. I long to love Christ with a perfect love, and yet I find myself struggling each day in my imperfection.

In letting Mary untie my heart, I give her all of these dreams and worries.  I give Jesus, through His Mother, my whole self, my whole identity. And I trust, that through her intercession, that the knots that so deeply bind my heart, the knots that cause me my deepest worries and anxieties, the knots that prevent my heart from loving, will be undone.

When I have struggled with forgiveness, when I have been bound up by my own stubbornness, when I have been paralyzed by anxiety, Our Lady Untier of Knots has help to remove the knots that bind my heart.  It is one of my favorite images of Our Lady because it helps me to entrust Mary with my life with simplicity and humility.  I do not have to name my problems, I do not have to understand my heart, I merely have to go before the Blessed Mother saying, “Mother Mary, look upon this heart that so wants to love your Son and yet loves so little. Remove the knots that prevent me from loving.”

In writing this blog, I hope to explore some of the knots that bind my heart.  I hope to explore the struggles of the saints and how they entrusted Mary with their heart. And I hope that you may also come to know your heart more deeply while discovering the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.