The only fights that Devin and I had during our first few years of marriage were about vision, namely, my global ambitions that majorly stressed Devin out.
We fought when I was convinced that were supposed to move to Washington, DC, where I would earn my PhD in Psychology at the Institute for Psychological Sciences and become a dynamic Catholic psychologist who would heal the culture of death.
We fought when I was convinced that God was calling us to move to India, where Devin could work for his company’s branch in Bangalore and where I could minister to the needs of the India I love.
We fought when Devin reminded me that Jesus does not call us to be successful, only faithful, and when he exhorted me to imitate Saint Therese’s “little way” of doing small things with great love. I did not want small things. The harvest was great but the laborers few and I wanted to go all in for Jesus.
You get the picture. I think big. I have always been this way. Even as a child, I saw my friends’ families imploding through divorce and began to brainstorm ways to save marriage and heal families. I opened wide my arms to the world during my undergrad days at the University of Notre Dame, logging time at an orphanage in Honduras, loving street children in Vietnam, and weeping for women in India.
And, when I graduated with a BA in Theology from Notre Dame, I was convinced that this was just the beginning. I saw a world dying for lack of Christ and bleeding from myriad wounds and wanted to pour out my life in service of the Church. I was convinced that a PhD, public speaking and writing, adopting and loving, consulting with the Vatican, etc., were all part of God’s plan for me. I wanted to embrace the world and make room in my heart for every unwanted person. No doubt, my motives were tinged with arrogance, as if God needed me to help save the world. But, something deeper burned in me, a joy at the prospect of giving everything for the Kingdom and spending my life in holy poverty amidst the communion of believers.
So, as Devin recounted in his post earlier this month, three years into our marriage, we excitedly adopted three beautiful children from the foster system. It was only the beginning, I was sure, of what would become a family that witnessed to life and to love. I could not wait to have enough children to fill a shuttle bus; who needs a 15-passenger van, I thought, when I could have a small bus with a nifty folding door. Devin and I would talk for hours about buying a farm and filling it with children and laughter and song and beauty. Our hearts burned within us as we shared about our vision of “redemptive parenting,” of redeeming these children from their broken pasts and giving them a future full of hope. We knew that it would be difficult but were eager to lay down our lives for Christ.
It worked for a few years. We were a well-oiled machine, with protocols for everything, from buying groceries efficiently to brushing four pediatric pairs of teeth in the morning to Montessori home-schooling. We were sure that this was God’s will for us and were filled with joy at the prospect, even as we sat numbly each evening, staring at the wall in exhaustion. It was incredibly messy. We were constantly managing screaming children who flailed on the floor. We were constantly cleaning up poop, on the walls and floor and hands. We were constantly humiliated in public by children-crawling-under-over-through-jumping-screaming-hitting. But, we ended each day with hope that we would reach our children’s hearts and win them for Love.
I had these dreams for big things, but God told me to go silent for years so I could connect with my children. I deleted my Facebook account; I quit blogging; I quit trying to do anything but learn how I could help my children connect and heal.
And, I confess, I simply don’t understand it. I simply don’t understand how it could have been God’s will for us only for a season, and not for our entire lives. But, it simply is. I remember walking up to receive Holy Communion in July 2011, before my panic attacks started and before everything began to really fall apart, when, out of nowhere, the Holy Spirit said, “Are you willing to give them up?” I couldn’t breathe (because, dang, I loved my children) but said immediately, “Yes, Lord, but please don’t ask that of me.” And, then I forgot about it, until months later. After I had developed acute PTSD. After we realized that each of the children had RAD and that we were simply not able to meet their needs.
All I can say is that, all at once, the grace ended in July 2011. It felt as if Devin and I were living in the fullness of God’s will, with all the exhaustion and messiness that entailed, and, suddenly, it ceased being God’s will for us. The oil in our lamp suddenly ran dry and left us gasping and weak. It still boggles my mind, but I have peace in the deep certainty that, despite the assumptions that Devin and I made about being the “forever family” for our adopted children, we were only to be their temporary parents who would deliver them to their perfect families.
For those well-versed in the book of Job, you know that, after Our Lord had allowed Job to lose everything, even the support of friends, God blessed Job tenfold, with even more wealth and family than he had before. So, I confess that, after Devin and I placed our three children with new families and after we learned that Josephine would be our last baby, due to my condition which necessitated a hysterectomy when she was born, I began to expect an outpouring of blessings. I was convinced that, now, I would be blessed with an abundance of spiritual maternity to replace the physical maternity that I had lost. I felt joy at the thought of countless spiritual children and expected that, now, my hopes for ministry would surely begin.
Psalm 127 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, in vain do the laborers build.” The fact is that the Lord has simply not built in or through me in any sort of quantifiable and big way. A completed book outline lies on the desk in front of me, but I cannot launch it. My graduate degree in Theology remains unfinished; okay, let’s be honest, it’s not even started–I was accepted to the Augustine Institute two years ago and have not yet completed one class. Devin and I had big dreams about moving to our farm and working with the diocese to bring a religious community nearby, so that we could foster an agrarian Catholic culture in our small Texas town, but, so far, nothing from the diocese.
My husband tells me, that I dream too big and wait too impatiently. He is right. I have learned this, but it is still a mystery to me. I boggles my mind that, with the world bleeding and so many people in pain, Our Lord is most pleased by an “I” who is hidden and not especially productive. The fact is that, for whatever is His mysterious purpose, it has pleased Our Lord to render me fruitless, physically and ministerially, though certainly not spiritually.
And, to be honest, there is absolutely nothing that God could ask of me that would be more difficult. I would gladly give my body to be burned and pour out my blood to ease the sufferings of others, but to sit at home and to simply to be ordinary is almost more than I can bear. I have two children, a boy and a girl. Average. I am a stay-at-home mother and a Catholic who is not especially devout these days. Average. (Absolutely no disrespect to full-time mothers here–we know how hard we work, but, you know, I dream many days of serving at the UN) Africa needs clean drinking water and Russia needs post-abortion ministry (among many other needs) and women in India need micro-loans and safety from rapists, and God wants me to be hidden and ordinary? Oh, the pain of that.
Some days, I want to glare at the sky and shout, “Are you kidding me?” I feel myself bursting with gifts to give, with a wealth of knowledge about the “adequate anthropology” of the theology of the body, with eager energy to evangelize apathetic Catholics and apathetic parishes, with agrarian skills and a heart keen to build a Catholic peasant culture. And, all I can do is keep offering up my ordinariness, as I cheerfully change diapers and wash dishes and love my wonderful husband in ten thousand little ways.
Yesterday on Relevant Radio (our local Catholic station), a commentator read aloud from the Gospel parable where Jesus describes the servants who are given coins to manage during the king’s absence. And, I started crying as I drove. I don’t get to be the servant who invests her ten talents and earns ten more. I don’t even get the infamy of being the bad servant who buries her coin and is thrown out into the darkness. I am the little servant who invests her one coin and gets one back.
Now and then, the sorrow at being made to sit still when the world dies is almost too great to bear, and I entrust myself to the mercy of God, who promises in the trial to provide a way out so that we may be able to bear it. But, most days now, I am content that I am pleasing God in simple and slow and gentle. The heroism that is asked of me is to accept that I am not invited to evangelize the masses. Even though Devin’s exhortation to follow the missionary example of Saint Therese, namely, to give my life in the little and hidden, used to anger me, it has turned out to be prophetic and true. Saint Therese is my friend now, and I understand her heart for the missions and the absolute sacrifice she made in being obedient to silence and simplicity.
So, truly, glory to God who knows His good purpose and draws us to be as fruitful as possible in the way that only He understands.