Babies and Dreams

When talking about Babies and Dreams, there’s a side that I think is often missed: you can’t have it all, all of the time.

I wasn’t the girl who dreamed about staying home with my babies, though I did always want to be a mom. I didn’t dream of messy days baking in the kitchen with little ones at my feet. I have never been good at cleaning or homemaking. And my decorating skills involve finding something on Pinterest, saying “I like that,” and then having no idea how to make it actually materialize. My husband does that part, as he is talented in having a creative vision and executing it.

Instead, I dreamt of teaching. I dreamt about having both worlds: home in the summers, working in the school year. But for many reasons, that dream is not right for our family right now. So for now, I am home with my girls and teach one homeschool class a week. That hour and a half of teaching is deeply fulfilling; I love sharing my gifts with students and helping them to grow in wisdom and knowledge.

Staying home with my girls brings me more joy than I ever imagined to be possible. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want more.

I want to get my master’s degree and eventually my doctorate. I want to teach at the college level. I want to help form young adults and encourage them as they prepare to enter professional life. I want to write a book. I want to be a part of the intellectual life of our Church. And when I look at charisms that I have—teaching, wisdom, encouragement, knowledge—this dream is a direct expression of those charisms. I know that I can serve God, my family, and the Church through this dream. But now is not the time for it. To this dream, Christ is not saying “no”, but rather, “not yet.”

It is hard sometimes to see college classmates starting their PhDs, graduating from Master’s programs, going on to big things. It is so easy to compare. To think, “look at all they are doing. And what have I done?”

I am raising two daughters of God. I am raising them to look to Christ for their answers. I am supporting my husband in his career, so that eventually, we can make my dream happen when the timing is right. I am supporting him so that we can raise our daughters not for this life, but for eternity.

God does not tell us that we will not have to make sacrifices. He does not say that we will be able to have it all, all of the time. The idea of “having it all, all the time” is a lie. A deceptive, attractive lie that encourages selfishness and greed. It’s the lie of the feminist movement, that encourages women to pursue “having it all” at any cost.

What cost is worth having it all, all the time? Not my peace. Not my faith. Not my mental or physical health. Not peace in my marriage. All were on the table when I was teaching full time. Perhaps some would not struggle as I did, but for me, the cost of having all of my dreams right now was too high.

And so my dream changed. I still want to get my doctorate. I still want to teach at the college level. But I also want to be present to my girls, in a way that I couldn’t when I was working full time. I want to stay home with them in their early years. I want to support my husband by striving to create a peaceful home. I want to focus on raising our girls to love Christ, remembering that the purpose of this life is to love and serve God, and not to store up accolades and awards.

And, when it is time, when it won’t cost me my peace, I will go on to get my doctorate. I’ll pursue this other dream, because I see that it uses my talents. I have so much I want to share with others, and I believe Christ wants me to share my talents with others. I do not believe these dreams are fully my own. But I can see that “for everything, there is a season” and that now is not the season for that dream.

It is ok to have dreams that are bigger than your babies. To have dreams that you know you can’t pursue for a time. The key lies in accepting God’s answer of “not yet, my beloved” and then being able to be present to where one is in life now. It is not always easy, and comparison often sneaks in.

I see the mothers who are working full-time, and I struggle not to envy them. I wonder at how they are “doing it all,” until I remember—most of them aren’t. Some may have hired help. Others will let dishes go undone, laundry unfolded, may be dealing with high levels of stress or anxiety—whatever it may be, there are crosses that come with working full-time when one has little children at home. Of course, there are many crosses that come from being home full-time with little children, and the laundry often goes undone anyway, but for me, the crosses of being home full-time right now are less than what I’d have to ask my family to give up if I were working full-time. It has been a long road to come to peace with that and to own that.

So when we speak of babies and dreams, we should be careful to avoid the attitude of “women can have it all.” Motherhood will demand sacrifice. Those sacrifices are often difficult and will often demand that some of our dreams have to wait. But the joy in motherhood comes in finding a new dream, in finding the joy in simply being present to our children, in the joy of the sacrifice. For love is sacrifice, and so the more we love, the more we freely sacrifice. And in doing so, we become free. Free of false attachments, free of pride, free of vanity, free of selfishness.

Perhaps that is the beauty of motherhood, of being asked to delay our own dreams. For when the time is right to pursue the dream to which God has said, “not yet” we can pursue it more freely. We can pursue it having been made more selfless by the hard work of motherhood. We can pursue it not for our own gratification, but for the glory of God.

And that alone will make the wait for my other dreams worth it.

The Daughters of Job(e)

I will never forget the moment when Nicholas first shared ideas for future baby names with me: it was November of 2014 and I was in his pickup truck as he was driving me to the airport…for a discernment retreat with the Sisters of Life.

At one point, he looked at me and said, “do you know what they say about the daughters of Jobe?” I did not, and so he promptly directed me to open the book of Job, 42:15, “In all the land no women were found as beautiful as Job’s daughters.”

I remember laughing and thinking to myself, “whoever marries this guy will be one lucky girl. I hope she knows it.”

That weekend, I spoke to Sr. Virginia Joy, the vocations director at the time, and she told me, “keep your heart open to marriage. Perhaps God has someone in mind for you that you will meet while you’re in Rome.” I laughed. I was certain of Christ’s plan for me, and marriage wasn’t part of it.

Just two months earlier, I went to Mass with a group of friends and met Nick when he was invited out to lunch with us. He was just starting his graduate program at UD, while I was in my second year there. If you ask Nick what his initial impression of me was at that time, he will simply say, “intense.” If you ask him if his impression was accurate, he will emphatically state, “Yes!”

At the time, Nick had a girlfriend of two plus years and I was determined to be a sister. There was no thought of romance between us.

I knew Nick had been having a difficult time adjusting to UD (I know now that UD was not his first choice for grad school, and the assistantship he was given has now been divided into two positions), so when many of our friends went on retreat one weekend, I invited him to ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s. He was quiet. It was unacceptable. I remedied this by abruptly breaking the silence and unceremoniously saying, “So, tell me your life story.” Amazingly, he didn’t think I was entirely crazy…and he told me about his life, in detail, as we walked together after finishing ice cream.

One thing we both shared was a love for Traditional Latin Mass. And so, Nicholas drove me to mass each Friday and each Friday we would have breakfast together. Looking back, it is easy to see how Mass brought us together. We became closer through our love of tradition as well as our love of coffee and bagels. When my roommates drove me nuts, I knew I could go to Nick’s apartment and write a paper in peace without disruption. I didn’t have to say anything and we didn’t have to even be in the same room, but he became a quiet source of comfort for me without my even realizing it.

But of course, we were only friends. So much so, that Nicholas actually told me his entire plan for how he would propose to his future wife (he didn’t change it, by the way, and his proposal to me is what started his rosary business). I remember meeting his then girlfriend at the time, and Nick later asked me what I thought of her. My response was simple, “I don’t know who you are around her.”

So after that discernment retreat in November, I began preparing for my study abroad in Rome. Nicholas helped me move out of my apartment. We continued texting each other throughout that Christmas break, and at one point, we realized, “wait..we could actually work really well together as a couple!” We made a pact that if neither of us was married or in religious life by 30, that we would marry each other.

And so in January 2015, I went to Rome. I began a 54 day rosary novena asking God to make the path forward clear to me. I will never forget when I was in Chapel at Santa Maria in Trastevere, and I heard Christ asking, “Will you give it all to me?” I knew this was asking me to lay it all down, to let go of my dreams, to let Christ lead. And I thought that it meant that marriage was not my vocation.

I spent the next three days miserable, until I was in Santa Maria Majore. Note the length of time: three days.

I was in prayer, still mourning the dreams I had of marriage and children, but determined to follow Christ. I then felt a strong prompting to meditate on the sacrifice of Isaac. As I reflected on this, I began to realize: God asked Abraham for his only son so as to give Abraham an opportunity to demonstrate his trust in God. God, in return, rewarded Abraham. I recall being promoted to reflect on Christ placing my hand in Nicholas’ hand, as he led us to the altar together, as Christ led us to the Cross. I heard simply, “You have shown me your faithfulness, now see the one I have prepared for you.”

For three days, I had felt utter misery, but I had trusted. Then, on the third day, there was the resurrection: God’s full plan revealed to us.

It is for that reason among many others that one of the central parts of our marriage and family mission statement says, “We will keep station at the Cross in anticipation of the resurrection.” It is why our daughters, Madeleine and Mariana, are named for Mary Magdalene and Our Lady of Sorrows respectively: these are the two women who remained at the Cross with Christ.

We have certainly had our share of crosses: family members passing, infertility, my anxiety, my RA. But there have been so many joys as well, so many resurrections amidst the Cross.

I met Nicholas in September 2014, we began courting in March 2015, were engaged in July 2015, and married January 2016. Our romance is one I never expected and could never have written, and God’s hand in our relationship is so clear to me. I am deeply grateful for him: he is my rock, my quiet place of comfort, my constant, my cross. Christ has chosen Nicholas to help sanctify me, and I am astounded by the gift of our marriage.

And what they say is true, by the way: the daughters of Jobe are the fairest in the land.

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.

Where are you going?

Reposted from my blog Aut Quo Vadis

I have been in Rome, the Eternal City, the City of Seven Hills, for nearly two weeks now, and I have had to do more challenging things in these past two weeks than in much of my life.  I have had to learn to be comfortable eating in a restaurant by myself, working through a language barrier, navigating a new and strange city alone with limited street signs and at times poor mapping directions, locating a supermarket and walking back with my groceries, figuring out where to buy various things such as pillows or blankets in a city with no Target, using a foreign ATM, and surviving crossing the chaotic Roman streets as Vespas whiz past pedestrians on streets never intended for modern vehicles.  I am learning independence.

Yet in the midst of learning independence, I become deeply aware of my total dependence.  As I read shampoo labels in Italian, introduced myself to shop owners, navigated a city with no order, and established new friendships, I knew that I could do none of it.  I become more aware of my glaring vulnerability, my inescapable incapability, my distinct dependence.  I am drawn deeper and deeper into silence amidst chaos.  I stand amidst the grandeur of human accomplishment and as I stare in awe at the vastness of my surroundings, I have a deep sense of my littleness.  I kneel in confession eclipsed by the vastness of St. Peter’s Basilica, as the priest asks, “What is God’s will for your heart?”  And in that moment, amidst the tomb of St. Peter, surrounded by the majesty of the magnificent Basilica, aware of the saints that had walked those halls, I could only answer: “To love.”

When I boarded my plane to Rome nearly two weeks ago, many had asked me, “Where are you going?”  And my answer was simple—”I am going to Rome.”  But I knew in my heart that I wasn’t just going to Rome.  I knew Jesus was calling me into the desert, into silence, into new life, but I knew not how He intended to accomplish that.  And so last night, I found myself going to Santa Maria Basilica to do my usual holy hour—yet something was going on in the Church, and I didn’t feel comfortable praying in the midst of community prayer.  I found myself wondering, “Where will I go?” as I remembered another church not too far that had its doors wide open at night.  I walked into the Church, and Jesus was there, staring at me in adoration as there was exposition at the time.  I had been starting to feel overwhelmed and worn down by all the work independence required, and as I stared at Jesus, I knew where I was going.  I knew that I wanted to love more deeply, to pray more fervently, to give more generously.  I knew within my heart that I could accomplish none of what I desired, that even the act of breathing required grace, that I was nothing before the King of my Heart, and yet He looked at me with Love and Mercy.  I recalled the words of the priest in confession—”What is God’s will for your heart?”—and I recalled my response—”To love”.

To love is to allow Christ to first love us.  How can we give what we do not have?  And so we are totally dependent on Christ— Author of Life, Source of Love, Fountain of Mercy—to love others.  Christ pours out His Love for us at the Cross.  His Love pours forth as Blood and Water from His Heart as a fountain of Mercy for us, but we must come to the Cross to receive His Love.  The Cross is not easy, and we are continually journeying towards the foot of the Cross with Christ.  It is only through a total trust in Christ’s Plan of Mercy and Love for our hearts that we can come to the Cross, which is death to self and renewed life in the Love of Christ.  There will be many points of anxiety, numerous occasions where we turn away, moments when we refuse the heavy burden of self sacrifice.  Yet Jesus continues to pour out His Mercy upon our hearts, to invite us to do the impossible and walk on water, and when we drown, we drown in His Mercy, our hearts being purified, before Jesus pulls us back up again.

I do not know how Jesus will use my time in Rome, but I do know where I am going.  I am continually striving to go to the Cross with Mary at my side.  In a city of great accomplishments and human achievement, I am made aware of my littleness.  In a city of saints and martyrs, I am made aware of my sin.  In St. Peter’s Basilica, I come to know the beauty of the Catholic Church.  I know that I will fall many times as I strive to walk toward the Cross with Jesus and Mary, but I know that each time I fall, Jesus will pull me up.  I do not need to fear walking alone, for I know that I am little, and my littleness assures me that I continually walk with Jesus and Mary, my Mother.

Aut quo vadis—Where are you going?