My husband and I went to college together. But we didn’t go to college together, you see. In retrospect we figured out that we met during freshman orientation. A failed, forced scavenger hunt mixer between our respective dorms, in which all I remember is lounging on the lawn with one of my budding best friends, laughing snarkily about how those guys over there were so weird but at least they didn’t care about the stupid scavenger hunt either.
But we didn’t start dating until senior year. And only halfway through that.
So whenever we wax nostalgic about college days, we each have our own memories, our own stories, our own epic escapades with our own groups of friends.
Last week we stood outside in the settling dark of a warm summer night. We’d let the dog out before turning to head to bed, all three boys already lost in slumber upstairs.
And as we stood there, barefoot on the edge of another lawn, August grass already curling into early autumn’s brown, I turned to him and asked -
Do you remember when every night was full of possibility?
When every weekend beckoned with the prospect of an unforgettable night out and unbelievable stories to share with our roommates the next morning. When promise hummed in the late-night air as our group headed for the bar or the party or the dance. When there was always the prospect that tonight might be a night we never forgot – that we’d meet someone, that we’d run into fun just around the next corner, that we’d end up with one of those classic college stories only hilarious to those who were there, who never forgot the mayhem or the nickname that ensued from the night’s events.
When the air was electric with anything possible.
When I think about what changes once college recedes in the rear-view mirror, it is this sense of wide-open prospect that seems farthest gone.
Not only that any evening could turn epic, that even a late-night run to the grocery store could prove entertaining, but that the next class or professor could be the one that changed an interest into a major. That the semester abroad could lead to a career. That the retreat or the alternative spring break or the service project could open up a whole new calling.
Our eyes were open wider than they had ever been before.
And we almost knew it while it was happening. We had a hunch that the alumni who reappeared faithfully for fall football weekends weren’t simply missing friends or classes or campus clubs. They were missing a way of life. The promise of possibility that opens briefly for those of us lucky enough to call a college education our own. The widening of four years in which the world becomes our proverbial oyster and we get giddy off the aphrodisiac.
But of course it cannot last forever.
The choices we all began to make – graduate school and cross-country moves and first jobs and engagements and marriages and babies and houses – they were good and necessary choices. The rest of our life was waiting to happen, beckoning to begin when we stood outside the convocation center, clutching our graduation caps while wild May wind whipped through our hair.
Is every night full of promise and possibility now? At first my instinct says no. These are our tired thirties, after all.
Now nights are full of dirty dishes and diaper changes and wrangling wiggling children into bath and bed, then turning to the disheveled house and the day’s to-dos left unfinished at work, and then how is it 11:30 again? We’re going to be wiped out when the baby wakes us at 5. Let’s get to bed – wait, did you take the dog out and is the dishwasher running and did anyone switch the laundry into the dryer and where did that stack of bills go?
The air around us starts to feel old and tired. The furthest thing from electric.
But sometimes when I try to look with wider eyes, eyes that used to spark at any possibility, eyes that still sense the shadows of what’s most important, even on a dark night under a cloudy sky, I see that maybe the promise of our nights is still there.
Muted tones, softened edges. But still so present.
Every night I get to slip into bed next to that boy I fell in love with when we were 21. Every night one of our children wakes needing something from us – milk or water or simply a snuggle back to sleep. Every night our house stands strong and safe around us. Every night we rest to ready ourselves for another day’s good work.
There’s so much promise brimming there.
Sure, the prospect of possibility looks different at 33 than it did at 22. I’m sure it will shift to change again at 44 and 55 and on and on. Our lives become limited by the choices we make, but these aren’t all harsh constraints. Simply sharper definitions. We become ourselves. Partly the selves we have chosen, partly the selves we have shaped in response to what life has given us.
So perhaps the better question is not where does promise lie but how sharply can our eyes see it?
Back then, footloose and fancy free, we never could have imagined what lay before us. Life’s never this way. Even those easy, eager conversations of oh, I definitely want kids, too that we must have had while first dating – we never dreamed that those breezy hopes would stumble over infertility or miscarriage.
But neither could we have grasped the depths of how all that was tough and hardened would bind us together, closer than we could have glimpsed when we were laughing on that loud dance floor, the night it all began.
. . .
Lately I’ve been mulling over that line from the end of John’s Gospel. Jesus sitting on the shore in the gray light of dawn, staring at the water and telling Peter that when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished.
But - and there is always a but, isn’t there? and you feel Peter cringe because he knows it, too – when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.
And even though our end will never be as dramatic as Peter’s tale will twist, we still sense this truth about adulthood. The truth you cannot grasp when you are on its giddy brink.
You will be taken where you do not wish to go. Your heart will want things it cannot have, and your soul will struggle with truths it does not want. You will be pulled towards people and places you never imagined.
But there can still be promise there, enough possibility to keep you looking skyward even on the dragging days and the darker nights.
As long as your eyes can keep blinking open. Wide enough to see it.
The Case of What Happened To My Birthday?
It hit me for the first time, on the eve of my 33rd trip around the sun, that it’s a pretty darn perfect metaphor for what I’ve learned in adulthood.
March 8th used to be All About Me. What’s a birthday other than your unique footprint upon the calendar? Everyone sends you cards, calls you on your special day, wishes you a wonderful celebration. You get to bask in the glow of 24 hours with you at the center: cake, cards, presents. Even the daily horoscope selects a personalized (yet simultaneously vague and laughable?) prediction for your next year.
I loved my birthday every year, gripped it tight with a happy grin. Mine.
Then, as fate would have it, I fell in love with another Pisces.
Another March 8th Pisces, to be precise.
And somewhere between my initial eye roll of disbelief, the driver’s license he produced as proof over dinner, and the eleven years since? The day ceased to be mine forever.
March 8th became our birthday, still a strange stumble of pronoun off my tongue. Like another anniversary or Valentine’s Day (except we always find a restaurant that offers free meals or desserts, much to the waiter’s double chagrin). A shared celebration.
No longer mine but ours.
Of course that’s what marriage is about, cue the clichés. But I truly never thought I would have to bake my own birthday cake every other year. I never thought I’d field birthday calls for us both. Or open birthday cards addressed to two.
Google can’t tell me the odds of sharing an exact birthday and birth year with your spouse, but I’d bet it’s slim. So the one day that was rightly my own on the calendar? (Aside from some fleeting thought that statistically, of course, I surely shared the natal date with millions of others.)
Now it belongs to us.
Then another funny twist happened.
Ever since our first baby was born, and the story and details and life-changing milestone of his birth day were forever seared on my brain, I started seeing birthdays differently.
Suddenly they were about the mothers, too.
The ones who stand smiling in the background while the child bends over the cake to blow out candles. The ones who were always missing from the photos because they were behind the camera every year. The ones whom nature made the necessary half of the equation that produced a birthday.
The ones who birthed.
Strange as it sounds, ever since I became a parent I always think of people’s mothers when I wish them a “Happy Birthday.” I think of the women who couldn’t forget this date, either, even if they are no longer in their child’s life. Because they labored and sweated and suffered on that day to bring a baby into the world.
And the body and soul don’t soon forget that sacrifice of love.
So today I’ll roll over and wish my husband a Happy Birthday. He’ll smile and do the same.
Later on we’ll talk to our mothers, I’m sure. They’ve taken to calling each other, too, exchanging congratulations for a job well done years ago. And we’ll share birthday cake with our sons (who still don’t understand how their parents aren’t twins).
All in all it’s a darn-near perfect picture for what I’m learning about this life. That’s it’s not about me or even us. It’s about them.
The ones whose love brought us here. And the ones brought here by our love.
It’s their day, too.
What does it mean to share seven years?
Jokesters jest about the itch, of course. But that seems cynical. After seven years together, we don’t instantly spring for calamine lotion or start to sneak away.
Scholastics said seven was the age of reason. That sounds wiser. After seven years we’ve learned how to reason with each other, how to fight and forgive, when to hold on and when to let go.
Traditionalists tout this anniversary’s gifts as wool for warmth, copper for durability. That sounds fitting. After seven years we’ve settled into comfort and we hope it lasts.
Scripture scholars coming off sabbatical might justify celebrating a Sabbath year. That sounds lovely. After seven years we’d take time to give thanks for what has been and rest to rejuvenate for what’s to come.
But I picture seven years as a springy second-grader, scraped knees from jumping off the jungle gym, gap-toothed grins for school pictures. That feels right. We’re a bit banged up, having taken a few knocks, but we’re still smiling, still full of energy.
It’s reassuring to think that after seven years our marriage might have passed the needy newborn stage, the trying toddler times, the pushing buttons of the preschool phase. But even though our marriage is no longer novice or newlywed, it still feels young. So much lies ahead that we can’t yet imagine.
And I love seven for that. She’s not worried about brushing her hair or hitting puberty or surviving junior high. She’s busy being seven – running around the backyard, jumping off the swing set, laughing at knock-knock jokes, asking questions about how the world works. Staying seven is plenty enough.
The un-self-conscious joy of seven. There’s inspiration for a whole year’s celebration in those knobby knees.
In a week when marriage made headlines, the quiet moments will be the ones I remember.
Glimpsing small cousins plodding down the aisle in tiny tuxedos, child-sized versions of the grooms they may one day become.
Chasing an exasperating (yet still adorable) toddler around the back of church while the priest asks if the couple will accept children and bring them up with love.
Catching only one line from the homily in its entirety, words quoted from Bonhoeffer that it is not the love that sustains your marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.
Hearing a father with a golden voice singing for his daughter as she lit a candle with her new husband.
Saying yes to the bright-eyed boy who asked to take his off his too-tight dress shoes and run free through the lush grass of the golf course green.
Spinning my baby on my hip as he tipped back his head and belly-laughed with glee, wondering whether he’ll ever spin me around another mother-son dance some day.
Late-night mugging for the camera in the photo booth, catching my husband on the cheek with a kiss as so many couples have done before us.
Watching one last burst of fireworks as we pulled out of the parking lot with two tired boys fading fast in the back and a squeeze on the hand from the spouse who knows I love summer night surprises like a six year-old child.
Beyond the headlines, the everyday work of marriage goes on as before. Work and joy, children and responsibility, forgiveness and laughter.
It is a seemingly impossible promise, to choose a covenant with another flawed human being for the rest of your days. But quietly behind the scenes, millions make it happen without fanfare.
Every wedding we attend, ever since our own, I watch the high hopes of the couple at the altar, standing together in contrasting white and black, and I wonder how fitting it is to pledge love in a place of sacrifice, of lives laid down and broken in gift for each other. We are pointed towards the mystery and crucible of the sacrament long before we can glimpse the long view of what we have promised.
It’s tempting, once you’re no longer newlyweds and have reached the point of settledness—having set up house and established careers and had a few babies—to start sounding more like the seasoned old-timers, whispering while we watch them take their vows: “They’re just kids! They have no idea what’s ahead of them.”
It’s partly true: they don’t. We didn’t. No couple who commits themselves on a wedding day can fully grasp what that covenant will mean or what life will throw their way. We all hear “for better, for richer, in good times, in health” and breeze over the second half of each couplet: the wise and cautious reminders of the sufferings this calling will inevitably encounter.
Yet whenever I’m tempted to run the risk of clucking condescension for the fresh-faced kids standing on the altar, I remember this: we, too, had no idea what was ahead of us. But we, too, knew just enough for that day.
(Click here to read the rest of my latest post at CatholicMom.com)
This weekend’s was one of those weddings when everyone agrees – over glasses of Chardonnay and cocktail hour Sinatra and children shedding suit coats underfoot – that They’re A Perfect Match, that We Couldn’t Be Happier For Them.
We nod and affirm, without ever saying it, that they do know enough for today.
And that the rest of us – jostling babies on the edge of the dance floor, leaning over linen tablecloths to hear grandparents tell stories, clinking forks against glasses to embarrass the newlyweds into a kiss – we are still slowly learning our way into our vows, too.
We’re about to tip the balance of our marriage, my husband and I.
This weekend we celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary. We enjoyed an elegant dinner on china and crystal once the babies were asleep upstairs. Watched a whole movie from start to finish without interruption. Indulged in sweet rolls for breakfast and ice cream in the afternoon. Took a long walk downtown and watched our boys play in the sunshine.
Darn near perfect.
And in a few weeks, we’ll celebrate our son’s third birthday. He’s already a-twitter about a cake and a party, so plans are on the horizon. As is preschool, further confirming that our firstborn is no longer a baby, no longer a toddler, but on his way to becoming a Boy.
All of which led me to realize that our marriage now stands evenly balanced, for a blink of an instant, between our years with children and our years without. From this point on, the days when we were partners but not yet parents will start to slip farther away, becoming a distant memory – like sleeping in past nine and spontaneous date nights.
I loved the years of our early marriage. For some they are the hardest, but for us they were full of joy and laughter. We loved getting married, loved being married. No, we weren’t perfect. Far from it. We had to work through plenty of annoyances and adjustments to living with each other, like every couple does. We had to learn how to be in relationship in a whole new way. But for whatever reason – the clicking of our personalities or the constellation of life experiences that led us to each other – we have been blessed with a deep delight as the foundation of our life together. I have thanked God for that gift every day since.
So when parenthood proved to be harder to come by than we expected, in the midst of those lovely early years, it was tough. No, overdone steak is tough; algebraic equations are tough. Infertility simply sucks. It is a profoundly depressing and upheaving and table-turning and gut-wrenching experience. You slam up against your own limits and find yourself powerless. You can do nothing but try and hope and pray and wait and see.
For us, infertility ended. For many, it doesn’t. And that daily reminder, our sheer sense of blessedness at having the chance to have a child, has wrapped our experience of parenting in a sense of wonder and gratitude that has forever deepened our relationship. Watching each other become parents has been touching and tender and terrifying and transformative. Our children have changed us, changed our marriage, in ways we’re only beginning to understand.
Last week we finally started hanging pictures in our new home. One of the first to grace the walls was our wedding portrait. We stood in front of the frame, late afternoon sun reflecting our silhouettes onto our former selves, and laughed that someone must have let sixteen year-olds get married, because how could those fresh-faced kids possibly be us, just a few years back?
I drifted back to that Saturday in July, the same sweet burst of stargazer lillies floating in from the vase in the kitchen, faithfully filled by that same groom. I thought about the two halves of our marriage and the turning point of a baby’s arrival that changes everything.
And I realized that the further we get from our wedding day, the more our marriage becomes more than us, those two grinning goofs in the photo. It’s about our two boys, too.
So while I sometimes long for those early years of our marriage, the spontaneity and simplicity of pre-kid days, I know that where we are now and where we’re going is exactly where I want to be.
And who I want to be with.
We’ve been tackling lots of house projects lately – windows, floors, closets. So I find myself thinking a lot about this home we’ve created, this place we became a family.
There is a deep joy in making a house a home, a fulfillment I never imagined when I was an energetic twenty-year-old, hauling tattered boxes in and out of different apartments every year. Today I find myself having lived on this street for longer than I’ve lived anywhere except my childhood home. My address hasn’t changed in years, but my perspective has.
Through the seasons I’ve spent gazing out the same windows at the same trees, I’ve learned that settling in isn’t the same as settling. The joy of owning a home is putting down deep roots so beauty can grow. It’s the wisdom grown from tending to one small piece of God’s green earth. It’s the wonder of taking someone else’s place and filling it with your own dreams.
We’ve planted gardens and fruit trees, rose bushes and lilacs. We picked out new appliances when old broke. We hauled furniture upstairs and down when inspiration struck. I’ve watched crews of construction workers tromp in and out of our yard, putting on new roofs or tearing up old floors. My handy husband even built a bedroom and a basement of bookshelves.
In short, we’ve made this place our own.
But when I think back on this house, my strongest memories will be the transformations that took place within us, within its walls.
This house was full of infertility’s charts, tests and meds before it was full of babies’ clothes, books and toys. It was full of couple love before it was full of children. This “starter home” is where we became partners and parents. Where we started writing the story of our life together.
A few days ago I took a break from wrangling the bottomless heap of kids’ clothes in the closet. Sweaty and tired, I laid on the floor and stared up at the spinning fan. The fan that my husband installed, in the room that my mother and mother-in-law painted for our first baby. I thought about the home we have made while I listened to my son pretend to read from one of his favorite books:
We’d dreamed a baby, we’d wanted a baby, we’d planned for a baby, we’d waited and waited and waited for a baby.
Until finally there was you.
As he flipped the final pages, I turned my head on the carpet to watch him sing: And oh, how we love you!
Watching my baby-turned-boy, I realized that perhaps this chapter is the most important one we’ve written in the story of this house. Not the herb garden we planted out front or the strawberry patch we dug out back. But the family we became along the way.
When we were giddy newlyweds rushing in the door from our honeymoon, we had no idea how the early years of our marriage would be shaped by the wanting and hoping and praying for children. This was the place we dreamed our babies, wondering how they would look and when they would arrive. This was the place we planned for our babies, worrying as the months stretched into years. This became the place we waited and waited and waited for our babies. Until finally, they were here.
And oh, how we love them.
Over the past few weeks, three of my friends from graduate school have announced plans to enter religious life.
None of these announcements were entirely shocking, given what I knew of each person and their journey thus far. But each decision brought its own elements of surprise. And to have three such announcements in such a short span of time was remarkable, to say the least. Few choices are more counter-cultural in our day and age.
One night over dinner, F and I talked about one friend’s decision to enter a religious community. As we marveled at parts of her choice and scratched our heads at others, I set down my fork (ever the signal of a grand proclamation to come) and declared as only a devil’s advocate could, “It’s just so PERMANENT! I mean, how does she know this is the right decision, the place she’s meant to be? How can she make this kind of commitment, for the REST OF HER LIFE?”
F smirked and lowered his gaze to my belly. “So you’re asking how she can make a lifelong commitment, without completely understanding what she’s getting into? Don’t you think it’s a little late for you to be asking that?”
I love when he calls me out.
Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about the commitments we are called to as part of our vocations. Some are permanent; others are for a season. We hope that the Big Ones – marriage, parenting, religious life – last for a lifetime. But we all know the messy reality of human beings proves that not to be true. So knowing that we could fly or fall, how do we take the leap at all?
Hope. Faith. Trust. Guts. Sheer stubbornness and determination.
Ultimately we all have to decide which voices we will listen to. Our own? God’s? The multitude around us? Every decision to make a lifelong commitment – to marry, to raise a child, to enter religious life – is inevitably faced by nay-sayers.
“Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce,” the cynic reminds the young couple eager to walk down the aisle.
“Celibacy is impossible and outdated,” the doubters challenge the seminarian.
“You’ll be responsible for that little brat for 18 years, you know,” the bitter joke to the pregnant. “And you’ll never sleep again.”
And yet no lifelong commitment can be lived out perfectly, since it is lived by imperfect people. The best we can hope to do is live faithfully as the person God created us to be.
Sad, then, that we sometimes tear each other down rather than build each other up. My vocation is strengthened – not diminished – by you living out yours as well. No one’s is holier or worthier; each is simply particular to the gifts we have been given, to the community to which we have been called.
Certainly we all have doubts – about our own vocations as well as others. Few things worse than sitting (or standing up) at a wedding where you’re not convinced the couple will make it. But once all the wise counsel has been given and the decision has been made, we owe it to each other to support each other as best we can, in the ways and the places we have chosen to answer the call.
Every great pastor was once a naive seminarian. Every wise grandmother was once a clueless new mother. Every CEO was once an awkward new hire.
And perhaps there’s something necessary about our naivete at the outset of answering our vocational calls. I may have no clue what I’m getting myself into with baby #2. And my dear friend who’s becoming a sister may have no idea what awaits her in community life.
But we need our hopes (and perhaps our ignorance) in order to take a leap of faith, trusting that a God who is bigger than our doubts and fears will have greater things in store for us than we can imagine on our own. If we knew everything that awaits us down these paths, we’d probably never say yes. But we’d miss the growth and joy and wisdom that far outweigh the struggles we’ll face.
So we say “I do.” We take the job. We take the new baby in our arms. We don the veil. And we hope each morning, even the dark and gloomy ones, that our response to the call can be as faithful as the One who called us.
Crazy? Sure. But hasn’t every decision that turned out to be good – to have another child, to enter religious life, to move halfway across the world to serve those in need – required at least a little bit of crazy?
“I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think interior decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” – Anna Quindlen
F built this bookshelf. By hand. By himself. Over a matter of mere weeks. In case you can’t tell, I am completely in awe.
The first time the nesting whirlwind hit this house, when S was due to arrive, F built a guest bedroom in our basement. My hormonal self needed to know that there would be space for my mom to stay when she came to help us with baby (and space for future guests to always feel welcome in our home).
So he dreamed it, designed it, and made it a reality. As I joked to friends, you could have put me downstairs with all the necessary lumber and tools, and after seven years I still wouldn’t have anything to show you that vaguely resembled what he constructed. Completely in awe.
This second time around, we needed space for stuff (in order to have more space for people). So F dreamed, designed, and built an entire wall of bookshelves to store the ever-growing stacks of theological tomes and children’s books that creep into our home. There is nothing that warms a book-lover’s heart more than a wall of well-loved books. So every time I walk downstairs and see my grad school favorites mixed with F’s engineering textbooks and S’s board books, I smile to myself: this is the lovely blend that makes this family.
But F’s hours of manual labor inside have come at a cost.
Because not only did he want to finish the bookshelves before baby arrived, but I also wanted him to help me purge and rearrange every.other.room in this house. Project after project filled our weekends as we prepared our home to hold one more.
And outside in the garden, the weeds grew wild.
F is one of those passionate gardeners who dreams of planting in January. While I glower at the howling winter winds, he’s buried in seed catalogs. He plans the garden’s rows before the snow has melted, and for months we have tiny seedlings growing in our basement, stretching towards fluorescent lights in the hopes of someday-sun.
I love our vegetable garden, too; don’t get me wrong. But if it weren’t for F’s passion, dedication, and hard work, we would never have one.
Yet this year, he sacrificed plenty of prime planting days for my projects. And as I slowly noticed that sections of the garden went unseeded or unweeded, a nagging sense of guilt began to grow.
How could I steal this time away from his passion? He waits all year to get out in the garden, and instead I have him crawling around the basement, digging out plastic tubs of baby clothes so I can nest?
I began to voice the guilt. I offered to do S’s bath and bed routine so he could get an extra hour of sunlight outside in the evenings. I came up with creative detours around needing his help for the nesting projects I wanted to get done. I even claimed I could help weed – an offer he quickly shot down.
Instead, he smiled and told me it was fine. While the weeds grew taller and taller.
Now that the corner has turned on garden time and we’re beginning to harvest, I can finally help out more. Blanching beans, freezing zucchini, cooking and baking with the fruits of the garden are easy for me to do as I sit in the kitchen. And even though we still have an ample stream of veggies coming in from the garden, we both know it’s not the wild abundance of harvests past. So the guilt lingered in my growing belly.
Until this morning. I was lying in bed before dawn, thinking of how I should start the day with a pick of beans and cucumbers. And as I clumsily heaved my giant belly out of bed, I suddenly realized that while F didn’t get the broccoli or the cauliflower planted this year, there was plenty I had sacrificed this summer as well.
My favorite parts of my favorite season? Working alongside him in the garden. Bike rides around town. Fishing trips and camping excursions. Sipping white wine on an outdoor veranda. Laying on my back in the sun.
Not one of those delights could happen this summer. And while I was busy lamenting the time he didn’t get out in the garden, he was noticing everything that I was giving up, too.
If there is one small truth I know about parenting, it is that the sacrifices never stop. Next year will bring something new: a passion we don’t get to pursue, a trip we don’t get to take, a comfort we don’t get to continue. But my prayer is that each time I open the freezer this winter and pull out another bag of home-grown peppers, I will remember how much F sacrificed for me this summer. Next year will bring my turn to let him dig in the dirt while I chase around two toddlers in the hot sun.
And I hope I can do that with half the grace with which he let the weeds grow this year. Completely in awe.
Stumbled across a few lovely things online in the past few days and thought I’d share.
First is a beautiful reflection on marriage. In the quiet calm between a bachelorette weekend and a best friend’s wedding in June, there’s been lots of talk of weddings lately. And I loved what this deacon had to say about weddings and marriage and how to make a real, earthy, persistent partnership last:
You can never tell, on the day when the vows are said and the petals are strewn and the rice is thrown, whether a marriage, any marriage, will last. Just ask Arnold and Maria—or, for that matter, almost anyone in your own family. I think we all discover, sooner or later, that this marriage thing is a lot harder than it looks. I’ll never forget the story of an older woman who once told a priest, “Father, when you’re walking down that aisle on your wedding day, you don’t see the Stations of the Cross.” …
Beyond the sacramental grace involved—and grace and prayer do play a big part, I think—it’s a lot of talking, and a lot of listening, and a lot of patience, and a lot of persistence. It’s wanting this little partnership to hold together, in spite of all the temptations and opportunities to make it rupture. It’s realizing, day after day and year after year, that the strange and beautiful “something” that drew you to this other person still matters. It’s making the choice to stay married, every day, because you know in your gut and in your head that your life is infinitely better because this other person is a part of it.
That last line is my favorite. Talk about vocation.
Moving on to other callings I like to muse about here, I came across a great reflection from Wendy Wright quoted on the Why Stay Catholic? blog. She writes about the physical acts of carrying and birthing children: how mothers’ bodies are forever changed by this sacrifice and how God’s heart must be equally shaped by the space we each take up within it:
One is never the same. After each birth, the body readjusts. But things are never as they were before. Silver-webbed stretchmarks are only an outward sign. More hidden are the now elastic vessels of the vascular system, the pliancy of the muscle walls, the flat pouch of the once inhabited womb. Each child impresses upon waxen flesh the unique imprints of its life. Inscribes one’s own life with an image all of its own.
Often I have thought how true that is of the heart as well. Each child occupies its own space and in growing presses and pushes out the bounded contours of one’s heart. Each fashions a singular, ample habitation like no other. A habitation crowded with an unrepeatable lifetime of sorrow and joy. A habitation inscribed with a name. How could it be otherwise in the heart of God?
The author of the blog weaves Wright’s reflection into his experience of watching his own child prepare for the birth of twins this summer, a thoughtful ponder on the vocation of grandparenting. Faced with the awesome mystery of bringing new life into this world, he concludes in wonder that we are all “in the heart of God – a God who has stretchmarks, too.”
And finally, echoing the post I wrote on name stories, America magazine is running a piece this week by the same name (pun intended!) – a great read on the power of naming. The author moves from a delightful description of his children bestowing names on trees and animals on the family farm to a powerful statement of the place of names in the Christian life:
Names make belonging possible because they cut through the abstraction that leads to alienation. Names always embody particular knowledge that comes from being in relationship and from paying serious attention to the named…
Particular names and real relationships do not come without conflict, chaos and heartbreak. And naming can certainly serve darker human impulses toward scorn (“calling someone names”), ego inflation (“making a name” for oneself) and control. But what other way is there than through names to help bring about healing, to move beyond sound bites and shouting matches into authentic belonging?
Affection, tenderness, compassion and care rarely happen in the nameless, faceless abstract; this is the truth of the Incarnation. Christian tradition speaks not of a prime-mover deity far removed from our daily existence but of a living, loving, communal God—a mysterious God beyond all names, who nonetheless chose to take a name, Jesus, and so enter into an intimate relationship with the created order and all of its creatures and places. And this God, whose name we have been given to know, also knows ours: “I have called you by name: you are mine.”
F and I just got back from three blissful days in the sun, sans S. Thanks to the grace of God or the flip side of all the bad karma I’ve been enduring over the past five nauseous months, it was the single most perfect vacation I’ve ever had.
No, it didn’t surpass the honeymoon in terms of joy or the international adventure we took together in terms of excitement. But in terms of sheer Perfection – of everything falling into place, of delightful surprises happening at every step, of ease and beauty and comfort and relaxation – I have never had three days in a row like that in my life.
I knew we needed a vacation, but I didn’t know how much we needed that vacation. We both came back refreshed, renewed, rejuvenated. I feel like I can live off the treasure of that rare time together, just the two of us, for months and months to come.
I wholeheartedly admit that I had very few deep and theological thoughts during those three days. Frankly, once the sun and surf set in, I had very few thoughts, period. But flying home on the plane, my mind started to wander and alighted on the idea of sabbath.
Lately I’ve been trying to live sabbath in a more deliberate way. I decided to go computer-free on Sundays and not even crack the laptop lid to check my home email. I try to leave the “weekend’s end” housework for Monday morning in order to have all day Sunday to relax into another rhythm.
While it’s been a challenging practice in some ways (for instance, the fact that it’s rare a day goes by that I don’t feel the need to Go.ogle something), it has also been freeing and refreshing. Sundays feel suddenly spacious, full of time for family fun and playing outside and cooking something delicious to enjoy. I didn’t realize how much I needed a real sabbath until I started taking baby steps towards it.
So on our long flight home, I mused about whether this vacation had been a sabbath. True, it was a time of rest and renewal, of setting aside work for the pleasure of simply being. But it was more than a weekend’s relaxation; it was a joyful plunge into a time entirely outside our norm, a long luxury of time that flowed to another rhythm.
That’s when it hit me: this vacation was like a jubilee.
Allow the theologian side of the mothering spirit to rear its ugly head for a moment. For the ancient Israelites, the jubilee year came around once every fifty years. It was a sacred time when liberty was proclaimed throughout the land, when lands were restored to their rightful owners, when debts were forgiven, when farms lay fallow to allow creation to rejuvenate.
The jubilee was a whole year that felt entirely Other: it had its own rhythm which pulled people out of The Way Things Are Always Done and into God’s time of The Way Things Should Be. Debts were forgiven, slaves were set free, all who were hungry were fed.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I am not equating our trip to the sunshine state with a biblical mandate for social justice. (It’s ludicrous to even write that sentence.) Instead, the relevance of the jubilee here is that it was intended to be an Ultimate sabbath: not just a day, but a whole year set aside for people to live according to a different rhythm, to rediscover their roots and their relationship with God. We need little sabbaths and we need long jubilees. The God of Israel wisely ordained both.
Likewise, as parents we need regular sabbath time. Maybe it’s a weekly date night. Maybe it’s a quiet cup of morning tea before the rest of the house awakes. However we can carve out the space and time, we need moments that take us away, even briefly, from the work and the worry. We need to reconnect with our center, ourselves, our spouse, our God.
But the gift of this vacation with F made me realize that as parents and as spouses, we need big jubilee moments, too. Not just a nice date night, but a real chunk of time and space – big enough to settle into and breathe deeply – that feels Other enough to remind us of what’s most important: the relationship that started it all, the love that sustains it. A jubilee rhythm that reorients us completely to the way we’re supposed to live, to the plans that God has for us.
I like this idea of jubilee. Granted, F and I haven’t been parents or spouses for anywhere near the fifty years that one traditionally waits to celebrate a jubilee. But I think the concept calls us to consider how we’re living sabbath moments in big and small ways, here and now. We need time for rest and enjoyment every week, every month, every year, in order to stay healthy and happy in our vocations.
I would love take this website‘s advice and make such a solo getaway an annual occurrence, but I know it’s hardly feasible at this stage in our parenting young children. A girl can dare to dream, but I know it’ll be a while till I get to run off with my husband like that again. Yet having dipped my toes into the joy that a jubilee brings, I know I want to make it part of the regular rhythm of our family life.
For now, I’ll settle for living little weekly sabbaths even better than I have been. There’s a lot to be gained by turning off and turning in to the things that matter most.