A Cross Not Without Purpose

I found myself particularly emotional during a Sunday mass in Lent of this past year.  I went up to receive Jesus in the Eucharist and then came back to my pew and sobbed.  Nicholas held me tight, as I cried out to God in prayer, “Lord, the cross is too heavy. I cannot carry it.”  Saying this over and over was the only way I knew how to pray in that particular mass.  I felt my brokenness and need for Christ deeply. I was humbled and as I looked at the image of Christ on the Cross, and slowly my prayer became “But not my will but thine be done in me, O Lord. Not my will, but thine.”

There are moments in my prayer and life when this cross feels senseless. These are the moments when Christ allows me to feel more fully the weight of the pain I am carrying, though I know He still carries most of it for me.  Christ allows this cross to be felt more heavily so that I can be broken. I have noticed that all of my struggles have allowed me to feel broken and helpless so that God can enter into my brokenness, break down my pride, and flood my heart with needed grace.

I don’t want to be broken.

I want to be in control. I want to be able to fix my own problems. I don’t want to have to rely on anyone. I don’t want to need anyone. I want to be fiercely independent, channeling my passion into healing all those around me.

But I am not in control. I don’t have the ability to fix my own problems. I desperately need others in my life to help me on the path to holiness. And I can’t focus on healing those around me while neglecting myself.

To break down my independence and pride, God allowed me to carry the cross of anxiety. I felt so little and small during the worst moments of my anxiety. I saw my brokenness, and I wanted to run from it. I wanted to deny it. One of the most difficult steps in healing from my anxiety was admitting that I couldn’t do it on my own. And so the Lord broke down my wall of fierce independence so that I could rely on others, especially my husband, and let other people into my heart.

Now Christ is breaking down my illusions of control.

I have tried herbal teas, different diets, researched different supplements, all in the hopes of optimizing my fertility. Nicholas calls it trying to make “super baby”. I have stressed myself out about not doing everything I can to help increase our chances. And yet, none of this can guarantee that we will have a baby.

When and how we have children is in God’s hands. I can’t control it. It is the letting go of control, letting go of my plans, and the patient trust in Christ’s will that has been the most challenging for me.

I have struggled with feeling that because Nicholas and I do not have children yet, that our love is not fruitful. I have struggled with feeling handicapped in living out my vocation. And yet, our love is fruitful. And since my primary vocation is to be a sign of Christ’s love to Nicholas, I am certainly living out my vocation. Infertility has become a part of the way that Christ calls both of us to fruitfulness and to living out our call to be Christ to one another.

Fruitfulness in marriage should not be limited  to procreation. Yet, this is a common view, held by many faithful Catholics.  I have heard Catholic radio announcers greet a caller with a large family (usually five or more children) with the following statement: “Thank you for your ‘yes'”. This is deeply hurtful, as we said ‘yes’ too. We said yes to being open to children, and yes to trusting in the Lord while carrying this cross. My husband and I give life to each other through daily love and support. Nicholas pours his heart into his work at the seminary, and I know that he couldn’t do that without my support. He serves all the seminarians and students there joyfully, and I am so proud that my husband is working at an institution that forms priests and leaders for the Church. I work with preschool through high school age students. When I work with the preschool children, I teach them, pray with them, show Christ’s love to them, and tend to their hurts. I try to let them know that they are deeply loved. And I know that part of the grace and patience to do this stems from my marriage and the love that Nicholas shows me daily.

We recognize the fatherhood of priests. We recognize the motherhood of sisters, or nuns. We even honor those single individuals in our community that have participated in the formation of young children and youth on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. In other words, the Church openly celebrates paternal love that is beyond the bounds of biological procreation. Why then, is it a different story with couples who have not yet conceived or have suffered miscarriages and have no visible children?

Infertility is not merely a cross. It is an opportunity to witness to the deeper reality that we as married couples do not get to decide how our marriage is lived out. It is a witness to a motherhood and fatherhood that is lived spiritually rather than physically. It is a witness to the fact that fruitfulness is not limited to procreation. Infertility, understood in this way, is a charism. It is a call to live out fruitfulness even in the midst of barrenness.

“The infertile give their suffering unto God. They lift it up to the Father in Eucharistic love, asking that it may be transformed. For some, they give their suffering over to become adopting or foster parents. For some, they bestow their diminishment upon the Eucharistic altar, discovering there a new mission in the world to love those on the margins. The infertile couple fulfill the mission of marital love whether they have children or not.” -Timothy O’Malley, The Charism of Infertility

Children are a supreme gift. They are not guaranteed in marriage. They are a blessing, and yes, they are the primary sign of a couple’s fruitful love. They act as a visible sign. Infertile couples have the opportunity to witness to the invisible reality of spiritual paternity. In placing their Eucharistic love for one another at the foot of the altar, they offer up their sufferings and unite themselves more deeply with one another and with Christ. Infertility has caused me to take my role as my youngest brother’s godmother more seriously. It has allowed me to see myself as a spiritual mother to the children with whom I work, for I strive to love them with a Eucharistic love and pray for their well-being. I rejoice with them and thank God for the joy that they bring me daily. If we are open about our struggle with infertility and break the silence around this cross, we can witness to a deeply spiritual love. We can serve as a sign to other married couples of the deeper spiritual realities of marriage and the call to participate in the suffering of Christ. Infertile couples can serve in a particular way to remind those with children that “the goal of marriage is not the production of a happy family alone. Procreation itself can become an idol if it is treated as a measure of our own success as a sexual being, as a couple in love, as a form of ‘Catholic identity'” (O’Malley). We often measure a family’s “catholicity” by the number of children they have, and when we do so, we make procreation an idol. We pass judgement on those families that could not have more children. We claim that one family is more blessed than another.

When we invite others to journey with us in carrying the Cross of infertility or early loss, we serve as a reminder of the supreme blessing of children, a reminder that children are an undeserved gift. We serve as a reminder that parenthood must not only be a physical parenthood, but also a spiritual parenthood. We become witnesses of the fruitfulness of Christ’s love in the Church.We witness to the communion of saints and the reality that it is God who “[determines] their relationship with him, their relationship to one another in him, and their relationship as parents to the spiritual and bodily children they receive from the Creator Spirit, the Sanctifier” (Cardinal Ouellet, qtd. in O’Malley). We call other families to more deeply unite themselves to the Cross. Rightly lived, this witness to families with children can become a sort of spiritual paternity in which each family, both fertile and infertile, more deeply recognizes the unique blessings and fruitfulness Christ has given to them.

At times, the cross is too heavy. But then I realize that I have been trying to carry it on my own. And so in those times, I turn more deeply to Christ. I open up my heart to my husband. I reach out to friends and family. When the cross is too heavy, I begin to realize how I can more fully live out Eucharistic love in my marriage. I allow Christ to show me how I am living out fruitfulness and saying ‘yes’ to his call to be a wife and spiritual mother. I start seeing how in carrying my cross with Christ and Nicholas, that we can witness to others, showing them that the primary goal of marriage is transformation through the Eucharistic love of Christ. It is perfection through suffering. And though I may not understand why Christ has chosen the suffering of infertility to lead my husband and me toward a deeper love and perfect holiness, I can take comfort in the knowledge that this cross is not without purpose.

Properly lived, this cross is a gift to the Church that allows us to live more fully with the communion of saints and the Church Militant. And for that, I will praise the Lord even in the midst of my sorrow. I will surrender my will to Him, knowing that the Lord is good and His Mercy endures forever.

Becoming an Image of the Visitation

And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;  for nothing will be impossible for God.” -Luke 1:36-37

I have often found that when others learn of our struggle with infertility, they don’t know how to respond.  Often they want to journey with us and support us, but sometimes their words can be unintentionally hurtful.  Rather than rushing out to the hill country like Mary to rejoice with Elizabeth in her joy and her sorrows, they find themselves crippled in reaching out to us.  Especially when a friend finds themselves expecting a child, they often do not know the best way to tell us that is considerate of our struggles and at the same time allows us the opportunity to share in their joy.

Infertility is a very silent cross.  It is not something that you can see, like poverty, hunger, cancer, disabilities, and other visible crosses.  There is a silence that surrounds infertility because it involves a very personal matter.  And sometimes, when those with this struggle do speak up, they are dismissed.

I attended the Greater Cincinnati Women’s Conference on March 1 of this year with a beautiful woman who has become a great friend.  While there, I was sharing some of my struggles with some other women. I was also talking about my desire to build a ministry that would meet the needs of couples struggling with infertility.  An older woman, one of the speakers, overheard me talking and decided to involve herself in the conversation.  Her heart was coming from a place of true love and concern, and yet her words were hurtful.

At the time of the conference I had been married for thirteen months.  Upon hearing that I had only been trying for thirteen months she said to me, “Oh, don’t worry about it then! It’s only been just over a year and Dr. Hilgers gets 88% of his patients pregnant! You’re on the right track, and look, God has even given you a vocation out of this struggle! You’ll be just fine, don’t get too worked up about it.”

I felt crushed. I felt foolish for sharing my struggle with these other women.  I felt like my suffering didn’t matter, and that I was making a big deal out of nothing. I felt that because I’d only been struggling with fertility issues for a little over a year, that my infertility wasn’t a “valid” cross that I was carrying.  I started to wonder if it was all in my head.  I started worrying that perhaps my own stress and anxiety were the cause of our inability to conceive. I felt lost and embarrassed that I had even bothered to open up to these women. I thought that perhaps I was just being a drama queen and was complaining of my struggles unnecessarily to these women.

When people open up about their crosses, we have the beautiful opportunity to become an image of the visitation.  We have the option to set out and travel to the hill country in haste to rejoice with our brothers and sisters in Christ, to share in their sorrows, and to carry their burdens with them.  We have an opportunity to become an image of Christ to them and to recognize Christ within their hearts.  And when we dismiss the sufferings of others, either by saying that they haven’t gone through their suffering long enough, or not to worry, or that it isn’t a big deal, we miss that opportunity.

When Mary visited Elizabeth, Elizabeth rejoiced with Mary, saying “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:42-44)  She recognized Christ incarnate in the womb of Mary, as did her infant, John. Mary then responds by rejoicing with Elizabeth in the Magnificat,

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
47     my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
48 For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
    behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
49 The Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is from age to age
    to those who fear him.
51 He has shown might with his arm,
    dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
52 He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
    but lifted up the lowly.
53 The hungry he has filled with good things;
    the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped Israel his servant,
    remembering his mercy,
55 according to his promise to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Mary then remained with Elizabeth for three months.  She rejoiced for “she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.”  And though we do not know specifically  what happened in those three months, we do know that Mary loved Elizabeth with a perfect love.  Mary served Elizabeth in her need.  And we can guess that Mary helped Elizabeth when she was in pain, comforted her when she was weak, and tended to her with gentleness and attentiveness.

We need to imitate the Visitation, especially with those who are suffering.  Rather than dismissing someone’s struggles, especially with infertility, we need to acknowledge how difficult they must be.  We need to try to enter into their journey and understand that this has been a daily cross.  There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about our struggles in one way or another, because I have to track my cycle and chart every day.  Rather than telling them “Don’t worry about it!” or “Just relax!”, we need to acknowledge the struggles and pains of their heart.  We need to journey with them towards Calvary.  We need to look at them and see Christ suffering in them.  Even just listening can be an effective way to enter into another’s sufferings.  Speaking of things that have helped us in our struggles can be particularly effective.  For example, rather than saying, “Have you tried praying the Divine Mercy Novena?” look at them and say, “That pain sounds so difficult to carry.  I know when I’ve been struggling that I’ve found comfort in the Divine Mercy chaplet.” Acknowledge their pain, and give advice from a perspective of active listening rather than simply trying to fix their problem for them.

Infertility is an intimate and heavy cross.  Because it is so personal, it is difficult to speak candidly to others about it.  Many are simply unaware of how their comments can be hurtful, even when they are trying to help.  I am part of a few online support groups for women struggling with infertility, and so I asked them what was helpful and hurtful when trying to walk with them in their journeys.  I found a singular theme in what they said was helpful: don’t be dismissive to our suffering and have an awareness of the impact of your words.

Just the other day my husband and I attended a marriage enrichment opportunity.  The man greeting us asked us if we had kids yet, to which we said, “No, we’re still newlyweds.” It was the easiest response. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that statement.  It’s a common conversation starter. But be aware that even that question can be a reminder to those with this struggle about their cross. What truly hurt was what followed, when the man said, “Oh that’s smart, waiting a bit.”  Nicholas then interrupted him and told him, “No, we’ve been trying. We want children.”

Journeying with others means not making judgements on some of their most private decisions.  Family planning should not be fodder for casual conversation.  Even those who don’t have infertility but have the opposite struggle can be hurt by remarks on family planning.  Saying to “fertile myrtle”, the woman with three kids under three who is pregnant yet again, “Was this one planned or a surprise?” can be invasive and potentially a reminder to her of how deeply overwhelmed she is and how much fear she carries about being able to be a good wife and mother with four children so young. Saying to the family with two children undergoing private financial hardships, “So when is the next one coming?” could be a reminder of their deep desire for more children and their harsh reality that they can’t handle another one yet.  Journeying with others means accepting their situation as it is and looking at them with concern and love and simply saying, “How are you doing?”

When I was discerning with the Sisters of Life I learned about their Visitation Mission which met with women in crisis pregnancies.  One sister said something particularly impactful: “When we sit down to talk to these women, the first thing we ask them is ‘How are you doing?’ Often we are the first person to ever ask them that question. They pour their hearts out to us, and we just listen, letting them know they are loved.”

Just listen to us.  Let us know that we are loved. Let us know that you see us struggling. Remember us on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, for we pray for our children every day and love them, though they are not yet in our arms. For those of us called to adoption, we pray that our children may be safe and loved wherever they are, for we do not know how or when our children will come to us and it is possible that they are already on this earth.  Pray for us, dear friends. Pray for us, ask us “How are you doing?” Give us the opportunity to open up about our struggles, and if we are ready, we will.  And then when we’ve finished talking, if you are lost as to what you should do, just ask “Is there any way I can help you? How can I journey with you in this cross?”

Most importantly, just be aware. Be aware that there are those struggling to have a child. Be aware that not every married couple without children is contracepting. Be aware that dismissive comments such as “You’re so young!”, “Just relax!”, or “Don’t worry!” are hurtful. Know that giving advice such as “Have you tried x?” or “have you thought about adoption?” can feel invasive and doesn’t acknowledge our sufferings. Be aware that the way you announce your pregnancy to your friend could be hurtful.   Some women prefer an email and text so they can mourn privately and then still respond to your announcement with joy. Some families would prefer that if you are a close friend, that you call them or tell them in person, depending on the distance.  You know your loved ones, so consider their needs and their situation when you decide how to share your good news.  But tell them directly.  And then invite them to journey with you through the joys and struggles of your pregnancy.  Challenge them to imitate the Visitation with you.

I would like to take the time to thank those that have been a true image of the Visitation to us.  These are people that have entered into our journey with us, encouraged us, and helped us to know that we are loved and supported.  The man who asked us if we had children later apologized to us after the event, recognizing how we had been hurt, and so I would like to thank him.  I am going to avoid last names here since I don’t have permission to use them, but I would like to thank my dear friend Grace for her constant friendship and support.  I would like to thank my parents and Nick’s parents for their love and prayers. I would like to thank Rebekah, for being a true friend to me, opening up to me about her fears, and for listening to me.  I would like to thank one of Nicholas’ dear high school friends, who knew about our struggles and announced her pregnancy to Nicholas with true consideration for our struggles.  I want to thank all those that have prayed for us. And I would like to thank all of the people that have opened up to us about their struggles after reading these articles. You have made us feel deeply supported and loved.

Finally, I would like to thank a couple with whom Nicholas and I hope to become dear friends.  Devynn and Clifford, thank you for opening up your lives to us. Devynn, thank you for inviting me to the Women’s Conference.  Thank you for listening to me as I poured out my heart.  Thank you for sharing your own fears with me. And thank you to both of you for so considerately telling us about your joyful pregnancy and then inviting us to journey with you through it as your little baby’s soon-to-be godparents.  The two of you were a true inspiration for this post, as it was your invitation that began to show me how imitating the Visitation is a true model for ministering to those in their sufferings and their joys.

To all those that have sought to be with us in our joys and sufferings in this journey, thank you. Keep imitating the Visitation with all those whom you meet.

For it is our sincere hope, that at the end of this journey, we will be able to rejoice with one another saying, “This is the sixth month for her who was called barren;  for nothing will be impossible for God.”

This is the fourth post in a series for National Infertility Awareness Week. The other posts are below.

Infertility as Disease: Accepting and Navigating the Medical Side of Infertility

Gratitude: The Gift Amidst the Cross

Put Out Into the Deep

A Cross Not Without Purpose

Gratitude: The Gift Amidst the Cross

“You have granted me life and living kindness; and Your care has preserved my spirit.” Job 10:12

A few months before our wedding, Nicholas and I sat down and wrote a mission statement for our marriage. We sat down at Ritter’s Ice Cream and created a vision for our family and marriage.  It remains a beautiful description of our hopes, dreams, joys, and most importantly, our faith.  I have turned to our mission statement throughout our marriage for encouragement and hope.  It is a reminder to me that while where we are right now may be difficult, that this vision is what we are striving for in our marriage.  It gives me a deeper sense of purpose and helps me to better articulate my vocation.

Nicholas and I had a beautiful and challenging first year of marriage.  He was hired as the registrar for a seminary in Cincinnati a little over a month after we had been married. About three months after our marriage, we found ourselves moving to Cincinnati for his job—this was a joyful and welcomed change, and we felt the Lord working in our lives.  But it also carried its challenges with it.  I had to commute to university for about the last two months of my time there.  Then I graduated from college, and I had to find a job.  I found a wonderful job at a local Montessori school, but I then had to adjust to working.  In September, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  I then picked up a second job at a local high school as a writing coach.  Nicholas then experienced the loss of his beloved grandmother in October— may perpetual light shine upon her—and I had never dealt with a loss before. And through it all we were trying to establish new relationships, lay the foundations for our marriage, and struggling with infertility.

And so when I returned to our mission statement, sometimes amidst tears, there was always one line that stood out.

“We commit ourselves to keep station at the Cross in anticipation of the resurrection, trusting in Christ’s Mercy and desiring to lead each other and our children towards heaven.”

We committed to remain with each other and with Christ in the midst of suffering.  But we also promised to anticipate the resurrection.  We promised to remember our joys and our hopes. And we have been given joy and hope abundantly.

My heart expands daily by the grace of Christ so that I can not only better receive Christ’s love, but also the love of my husband, which I see expand and deepen daily.  One of the true gifts of marriage is that I receive Christ’s love primarily through Nicholas, my spouse.  I find that through God’s grace, my capacity to love Nicholas grows daily.  And despite the many sufferings and trials we have experienced thus far, despite the weight of the cross of infertility, my cup is truly over flowing with joy and love.  The Lord has truly saved the choice wine for last, and He has bestowed it upon us.

I have been blessed with the mysterious and beautiful grace of healing over the past year of our marriage.  Dealing with my anxiety while also trying to figure out our infertility was very difficult for me.  My anxiety often left Nick feeling unimportant and unnoticed. My worry about our infertility often left him feeling that I was trying to carry that cross all by myself. My anxiety crippled my ability to live and love fully.  It prevented me from seeing the beauty in Nicholas’ love and our marriage. My anxiety shut me in and kept Nicholas out. And it is gratitude that became the light streaming in through a tiny window in my soul.

The Lord truly uses our marriages to heal us.  And so it was not only counseling, which taught me to slow down and notice the good, but also Nicholas’ patient love and care that brought me to a place of gratitude.  It was easy to focus on what was wrong in our marriage.  We were both hurting, we both felt the weight of the cross of infertility, and we were still trying to figure out how we function best within our marriage. There was so much that on the surface appeared broken in our marriage.  In my anxiety, I focused on that.  But Nicholas was so patient and loving with me.  He saw me in my brokenness, and knew what my heart needed.  The Lord used him to begin healing my heart.  And it started with Nicholas asking me to notice him.

At first, I was confused. Of course I noticed my husband. Of course I knew that he loved me.  Of course I knew that I was loved by him and by Christ. But then I started intentionally adding in moments when I focused on all the good in my life.  I ended my day not only by examining where I had fallen, but also examining the moments that brought me joy.  And I thanked God for them.

The abundant grace that has poured out as a result of gratitude has transformed my heart and my marriage in just a few months. I see the graces and blessings that the Lord has given us.  I see the love we share and our desire for children as a tremendous good and blessing.  I have seen Nicholas become more affectionate with me and I with him.  And I am able to thank God for this beautiful Cross, for I have seen how in breaking our hearts the Lord has given us new hearts.  Through this Cross the Lord has drawn us closer to each other and closer to Him.  Christ has used our brokenness to create in us a deeper vulnerability in our faith and in our marriage.I am now able to treasure the time I have with Nicholas before children come.  I am able to see the tremendous blessings and graces within our marriage and daily life.  At times I feel broken, and I hurt deeply, but instead of shutting up within myself, I turn to Christ and my husband with my brokenness. It is gratitude that has given me joy within the Cross. I am able to praise the Lord, knowing that He is good and His Mercy endures forever.  I have been drawn into a deeper trust through this Cross.  I have seen my heart, my husband’s heart, and our marriage transformed through this struggle.

Through it all, Nicholas has been my rock.  He is the head of our domestic church, and so I know that as Christ said to Peter, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church”, so too, he says to my husband, “Upon you I will build up the domestic Church.”  I have been blessed beyond measure in my marriage.  I am grateful for my husband’s daily efforts to make me laugh, smile, and rejoice with him.  I cannot express how these daily little joys expand my heart’s capacity to give and receive love, aided by Christ’s grace.  Nicholas is truly the one for whom my soul has longed.  He reminds me to turn more deeply to Christ in my times of need.  I cannot begin to count and measure out all the joys of our marriage. But to him, I know I can truly say, “Your care has preserved my spirit.”  In Nicholas’ love for me, I can truly see that God has “plans for our welfare and not for woe. Plans to give us a future full of hope.” Jeremiah 29

Nicholas and I are in the midst of a great Cross in our marriage.  But we are keeping station at the cross together.  This is not a cross we have to carry alone.  This suffering has brought us closer together, and for that I am grateful.  The suffering has taught me to look for gratitude so that I can know joy and peace.  And we are not at the Cross alone.  Christ helps us to carry it, and when we are at the foot of the Cross, Our Lady of Sorrows, Mary Magdalene, and John remain with us.  We have all the saints in heaven helping us to work through this pain.  And we know that there will be a resurrection.

Perhaps the greatest blessing from the cross of infertility has been the living out of our mission statement.  Our children are not yet with us, but we offer this suffering and this struggle for them.  We have been challenged to hope, to have joy, to have gratitude in the midst of. Great sorrow.  We have renewed ourselves in Christ’s mercy outpouring from the Cross, and then dared to hope.  We dare to remain with Christ, even when all hope seems lost, and to hope for the resurrection.  We have been challenged by this struggle, but we have been renewed in faith.  We hope, month after month, for new life.  And it is our gratitude for each other, our faith, and the joys of our marriage that makes carrying this cross with joy possible.

And so, I would like to take a moment to praise God for the gift of infertility.  I want to thank the Lord for forming my heart and Nicholas’ heart in the image of Christ’s Mercy through our sufferings.  I want to thank Jesus for the grace of gratitude.  I want to thank the Lord for the grace of humility.  I want to thank the Lord for using this struggle to break down the imperfections of myself, my husband, and our marriage, drawing us to His Sacred Heart.  And I want to thank Nicholas.  Thank you, for all your care and patience.  Thank you for holding me, month after month, as I cry.  Thank you for reminding me to hope and to love.  For encouraging me to live fully.  And thank you most especially for encouraging me to be grateful.  It is through gratitude that my heart has been opened up more fully to Christ and to you, and the grace that has poured into my soul and our marriage from that openness to gratitude has astonished me. Through encouraging me to remain open to gratitude, Nicholas, you have helped to restore our joy.

“The Lord remembered us in our low estate, for his mercy endures forever; Freed us from our foes,  for his mercy endures forever;  And gives bread to all flesh,  for his mercy endures forever. Praise the God of heaven, for his mercy endures forever.” -Psalm 136

This is the second post in a series for National Infertility Awareness Week.  You can read the first post here: Put Out Into the Deep

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.

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?