Right about now, in the very early morning of this particular January 14th, I’m in the process of turning 34. It’s kind of hard to believe that there will be cake and singing in my honor much later today because this year, my birthday feels so insignificant. And it kind of is, in the grand scheme of things. But then again… it is the first time I’ve celebrated my birthday as a mom myself. And perhaps that makes it a pretty big deal after all.
I didn’t become a mom in the same way my mom did 34 years ago today, when she received the greatest gift of all (meeeee!), but I recently became a mom nonetheless. And I enter this, my 34th year, surprisingly grateful for the rocky road that led me here. (Note to self: add rocky road to grocery list.)
I don’t really believe in silver linings anymore, but I do believe that there is meaning in suffering and, in the end, I feel proud of the way my heart has grown over the last six years of infertility and loss. I’d be lying if I said I’d choose to do it all over again, if it were a choice at all, but I do find myself grateful now for how it prepared Seth and me to say the biggest yes of our lives.
Perhaps someday I’ll be in the position to share the whole fascinating story with you, but for now, the legally acceptable, but obnoxiously vague version is as follows:
Shortly before Labor Day, Seth and I received an out-of-the-blue phone call about becoming foster parents. Not a vague do-you-wanna-think-about-this kind of call, but rather a here’s-the-sitch-are-you-in-or-out type deal. I cried (naturally) and Seth logic-ed (of course) and we talked and thought and asked questions and ultimately had to listen to the nearly deafening “YES”-es our hearts were screaming. So with a definitive answer and a few other minor things (completing a metric ton of paperwork, opening our pasts and present up to a rather thorough investigation, begging non-relatives to write nice things about us, bumming Sunday morning fingerprints from the Marshfield Police Department, rearranging every cupboard and closet in the house, completing several hours of online training, etc.), we obtained our foster care license and became first time parents to a walking, talking ray of sunshine.
I’ve wondered so many times over the past six years if everything we went through to try to get pregnant had been worth it – worth the time, expense, pain, stress. And I always had to convince myself of yes, thinking that the only way to know was to have tried. But I don’t have to convince myself of anything anymore. It was definitely worth it, if only because without having gone through all of that, I may never have found myself in a position to say yes to this. And this – being a mom to the most amazing little soul – is worth anything and everything.
One of our favorite books at the moment is My New Mom & Me by Renata Galindo. I particularly love the end – “Mom is learning how to be my mom and I am learning how to be mom’s kid.” It’s an exciting time for our family as we figure it out together. So this year, whether we’re turning 34, 37, or 6, it’s going to be a good one! I sincerely hope you enjoy it too!
There’s a big book I want to read, but as with that grocery store, I’m a little scared to read it. (I’m such a chicken!) I can’t really put my finger on what makes me nervous about it, exactly, but I think it’s important that before reading the book, I at least make an attempt at finding my own answer.
And today I’d like to talk about why I am Catholic. Or at least my very best, super non-eloquent, attempt at explaining why. Because Joan suggests that it might be time.
“Keep traveling, Sister! Keep traveling! The road is far from finished!” –Nelle Morton
Unrelated side note: sisters are the best, best, best!
“Indeed we are not finished. The struggle for women is only just begun actually. But I have come to the conclusion that social change does not happen in a straight line. It’s run and coast, run and coast all the way. This is another deceleration period, perhaps. Everything has quieted, slowed for a while, no big demonstrations, no great amount of organizing. But it is precisely now that we must not stop or we will stand to lose our hearts along the way.” –Joan Chittister
Whether you agree or disagree with me, in my own personal world where the opinions are 100% and entirely my own, my struggle with my faith has often been reflected in, as Joan calls it, “the struggle for women.” Where the word “women” can be replaced with any truly marginalized segment of the population.
I am what many would call a “cradle Catholic” — I was born into the faith. My parents met as catechism teachers, for pete’s sake! (And their first date was to see the Star Trek movie and they’re so cute/gross (they are my parents, it has to be a little gross to me) and so happy even after like a million years and three wack job kids and a bad, bad dog– I love their story!)
Anyway, I was born to Catholic parents. Baptized in the Catholic church. Attended CCD once a week during elementary school, went to mass on Sundays, made my basic sacraments, and wore the pretty dresses when required (Easter, Christmas, but none more beautiful than my first communion dress– handmade by my mom, eyelet lace, and I loooooved it).
I even went to youth group off and on as an awkward teen. And oh snap was I ever awkward. It’s hard not to cringe when I even think about youth group… (I had such a crush on this handsome young man (that’s the old lady way of saying “total hottie!”) named Andrew who had gone to my school before leaving for a private Catholic school. I screwed up the courage to ask him to Homecoming my senior year. He initially said yes and I freaking flipped until he reversed his decision on account of “Saturday night hockey practice” (riiiight… i.e. I can’t go to Homecoming with a nerd at my old school! I’ll never hear the end of it) and I was very understanding (to him) and mortified (in private) and all that. Oh, so soso cringe-worthy! Although, date or no, in retrospect, I looked HOT at that Homecoming dance, so whatevs. Also, good on me for having the courage to ask!!)
[[[Dang it! I was sure I had a picture somewhere around here from that dance– lots of other dances, Homecoming, Coming Home, Prom, etc… but not that particular one. I looked good though, I promise. And even if I didn’t, I was awesome! His loss!]]]
I even went to church on my own in college. I walked up the hill from Wadsworth Hall to St. Al’s in Houghton and sang my little heart out whenever I could get out of bed in time to make it (because think what you like, I love traditional Catholic hymns– I just do). A lot of my friends were Catholic too, so it was always a social experience, and when I started dating Seth my sophomore year we had that in common. It’s always just been a thing. Albeit, a rote thing, because this-is-the-way-it’s-always-been thing. Not much in the way of thought at any point. Although, I should point out that I was not confirmed in the church along with my peers… because I didn’t really see the need, and neither did my parents who were going through their own thoughtful faith period. While it has caused me some problems along the way (marriage prep– oy), I do not regret it. It would have just been another meaningless hoop to jump through on what was already a very rote path. I have since toyed with the idea of going through the RCIA process to become confirmed as an adult and I am grateful for that because over and over again it has made me examine the central teachings of my Catholic faith with a more discerning, thoughtful, and critical eye than I would have possessed at any point earlier in my life and that has made all of the difference.
The next natural place to go as I’m writing this is, I’m sure, toward a theological discussion of what I agree with, what I disagree with, and so on. But instead, let’s just say that my concerns center largely around the way certain groups of people are treated– women, LGBTQ individuals, divorced/remarried couples, the homeless, etc. (Sigh for Catholics in San Francisco at the moment, yes? Seems as though they’ve been in the media recently for every last one of these things.) It bothers me because I feel confident that Jesus loved everyone and that as followers of Jesus (i.e. Christians) we are also called to love everyone, always, no matter what, and with no questions asked. Even when it’s hard. Lepers and prostitutes, tax collectors and pharisees. Everyone is welcome. And we even sing that, in church, some Sundays– allll are welcome, allll are welcome, alllll are welcome in this place. I really, really believe that.
So the question then becomes: why stay? Why do I still consider myself a Catholic?
Reasonable question, and one I have honestly and whole-heartedly asked myself. For a few months a year or so ago I found myself bouncing around from church to church to church. I tried them all locally, and even not so locally (driving long distances on Sunday morning was not something I particularly enjoyed, but I tried it, to be thorough). I liked the service at the Episcopalian church in town (the minister even referenced Joan Chittister in her homily! sermon, maybe?), but ultimately, even that just didn’t fit quite right. It wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t home.
In the end, I still attend Catholic mass on Sunday with my husband. I get quite a bit out of it, but sometimes it definitely makes me a bit rage-y. Mostly only when the homily gets political– even subtle politicization is enough to boil my blood. But I can listen respectfully and dissent in the car on the way home. I can do it. And I can work to change those things from elsewhere. To make my church more just. To make my spiritual home a place that I am proud of. Hence, my involvement in Call To Action.
In the end, I relate it back to politics after all. I may not always like my political leaders and the policies put forth in the US, but I’m not going to move to Canada over it. I’m sure there’d be something there I would disagree with too. And ultimately, Canada, lovely as it may be, is not my home… not the place I feel like I belong. (Granted, I have not tried living in Canada, so that’s not a super fair statement, but I’m sure you get my drift.)
When I think about this concept of your church or faith or lack thereof as a home or place of comfort, I think that my husband’s family really demonstrates how true that is. My father-in-law is Catholic and my mother-in-law is Lutheran. Neither converted or changed anything when they got married. My MIL continues to attend her Lutheran church and my two sisters-in-law have always gone with her. My FIL continues to attend his Catholic church and my husband has always gone with him. All three kids are amazing people– morally upstanding, grounded in their faith, kind, beautiful and compassionate and spiritual people. Two were raised Lutheran, one was raised Catholic, all three came from a household that values family and love and respect and hard work. The two raised Lutheran have chosen to remain Lutheran, likewise for the Catholic, and while I haven’t actually asked them why exactly, I imagine that the concept of familiarity and home would come to mind eventually if I did. Probably the same would be true for their parents– they still got married and spent the rest of their lives (to date… can’t predict the future, of course, but their also pretty cute/gross) loving, respecting, and raising a family with one another. And I think that’s what we’ll all do as we grow up– what our parents did. Seth and I will (fingers crossed!!!) have children someday and raise our kids in the Catholic church, but we’ll also raise our kids according to our own moral values and our kids will be shown that all people are welcome, no matter what, no questions asked, because that’s what we think Jesus would do. And more to the point, what we think is right. Should someday they decide to move on to a faith or religion or spiritual practice (or, again, lack thereof) in which they feel more comfortable, more at home, that’s totally cool. For me, it just so happens that that place of spiritual comfort is Catholicism.
Progressive Catholicism, anyway. Catholicism with a twist.
And that is my best answer to that question posed by Gary Wills. A long time in the making, but most brilliant works take a minute, eh? 😉
I think I am ready to read that book now. To see what Gary has to say. (True story: I almost wrote Mr. Wills right there, but then stopped myself– I never write Ms. Chittister, or even Sister Chittister… I always call her Joan, like she’s my own personal friend and never with the respect of the title she’s probably owed. Yet, interestingly, I have actually seen Gary Wills speak in person, closer to a friend therefore than Joan is, and still I initially went for the mister. Glad I can catch myself in these super anti-equality moments. Wonder how many more I don’t catch?).
As you can see, I certainly can’t defend my Faith with any kind of theological argument, but my faith, with the little f, which is the one that I practice rather than the one I necessarily subscribe to or attend, isn’t based on theology really at all. It’s based on a feeling and an ideal of goodness and rightness that really isn’t something that can be argued one way another because it’s 100% personal.So I consider myself Catholic, whether or not I’m a good one according to the hierarchical Church. (And I doubt very much that I am.) But I don’t do it for them, I do it for me and for God. And no one can come between God and my conscience. (That’s a direct quote from a Catholic priest, btw. Must be true!)
I’d be really very curious to hear about the experiences of others– not the doctrinal/theological reason for belonging to one group or another or not at all, but rather, the personal history- and feelings-based reasons. I can’t be the only one, can I? Tell me about you!
PS: Talking about that youth group-based Homecoming rejection, and even more so, joking about it– HUGE deal for me! Turns out, it legitimately no longer hurts. And I’m grateful for the story. I wonder when that happened? (But was he ever dreamy to my 16 year old self…) FREEDOM!!
When my husband and I first started dating (many, many moons ago) meeting his family was definitely the scariest thing ever. EVER. He was my first serious college boyfriend and it was the first time I ever had to actually meet the parents, because they weren’t people I had grown up knowing. That made it scary enough, but add to it the fact that we had to drive 4 hours to get there and then stay overnight (no escape if things get awkward!) and I was terrified!
My fears? Totally founded! It was every bit as terrifying and awkward as I had it hyped up to be.
(Please, Marilyn, I beg you– keep reading! It gets better!!!)
But it had nothing to do with them, and everything to do with me.
My in-laws are different from my immediate family in a lot of ways. Have you seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding? You know the scene when Ian’s parents roll up outside Toula’s parents’ house wearing sweater sets and see the big Greek lawn party, complete with a lamb roasting on a spit in the front yard? Sort of like that. (And in the movie that is my life, I’m playing the role of Toula.)
My parents are omg-we’re-so-happy-to-meet-you-tell-me-your-life-story-and-I’ll-share-mine-let-me-take-your-coat-and-get-you-something-to-drink-please-do-sit-down-and-don’t-mind-the-dog kind of people. That’s what I was used to. My husband’s parents are also incredible people—they are kind and thoughtful and brilliant and generous and hard-working and truly 100% amazing, but they are reserved. And that freaked me out.
Because when other people are reserved, it leaves way too much room for me to be awkward.
Let me just illustrate with an example.
Seth met my parents for the first time the night before my cousin’s wedding in Marquette. We were at my aunt and uncle’s house for a yooper-style dinner,* complete with potato sausage, pastie pies (that’s past-ee, NOT paste-ee, fyi), and venison chili. As I was snubbing the chili (I do not like venison) my mom leaned over to Seth, my brand-new boyfriend, and said, “Rachel doesn’t eat any vegetables… we don’t know how she poops.”
In contrast, Seth’s parents didn’t make a single poop joke the first time I met them. (And in fact, they may not have made one yet in the eleven years I’ve known them. Interesting…)
As horrified as I was at the time, my mom’s use of bathroom humor upon first meeting certainly broke the ice right away. And what could Seth have possibly done that was more awkward than that? Whew. That was my comfort zone. The quiet at Seth’s parents’ just begs a person like me to make an awkward joke. Or an awkward comment. Or awkward gestures (omg, what do I do with my haaaands?!). Or all of the above.
This weekend, I had a lot of time in the car without any other humans (once there was a plant and once there was a dog). Lots of thinking time. I spent a lot of that time thinking about the family I’ve since become a part of, despite the initial awkwardness.
On Saturday, I was on my way home from a baby shower for Seth’s cousin. Seth’s grandma and mom were there along with lots of his aunts and cousins… and it didn’t feel awkward to me at all. I just felt like I was with family. And while I recognize that since Seth and I got that fancy piece of paper that says we’re married, they legally are my family, a lot of people don’t ever get to feel that way. (At least I assume that’s the case… because if they did, there would be very little material for sit-coms.)
On Sunday, I had to bring our pup to the emergency vet just past Mosinee and it was a rather trying ordeal. I stopped at my in-law’s house on the way back to Marshfield to get her some water so she’d stop panting, and again, no awkwardness. I stopped in the garage and said hi to my father-in-law (and my sister-in-law, who was wrapped in cardboard painted like an otoscope on the garage floor, but that’s another story for another day…), ran into the house, grabbed an ice cream bucket, filled it with water, and went on my way.
As I headed back toward Marshfield, out of Mosinee and through Halder (love small-town Wisconsin!), I wondered about when I had achieved this level of comfort… I still remember worrying all those years ago that I would never be accepted, that I would never fit in. When did things change? When did they start to like me? (Or at least get really good at pretending?)
Despite all that time I had to ponder, I still can’t really put my finger on on when exactly it happened. But what I did realize was that it wasn’t the situation that had changed and it wasn’t Seth’s relatives that changed either. It was me. I grew up. I grew into myself—into my awkwardness, my big hair and big feet, my sense of humor, and I got over a lot of my worries and decided to just be myself.
As myself, I got to know Seth’s family and I adore them, all of them—I love them even, because they are my family too. I have a second set of parents (complete with love and support– not to mention their rockin’ garden and incredibly handy skills at everything). A new set of grandparents that come with a farm— and an insane level of unfounded faith in me as they let me drive a tractor around it!! I have three little sisters, two of which I didn’t have before, and because they both have curly blond hair too, no one knows it’s not by blood! (Seriously, no one, a lot of confusion when Sister Doctor and I started working a the same place.) I’ve been blessed with more new aunts, uncles, and cousins, than I can count… and all of their spouses and kids and animals on top of that.
The night before my wedding, one of those brand new cousins sent me a message telling me how excited she was for our wedding, but that as far as she was concerned, I was already part of the family. It made me cry– I was so happy! (And Meg, you will always be my favorite for it! Always!) That may not have been the moment, but it was a pretty solid reminder of how this family had, over time, become my family too.
So, in-laws can be scary, but in-laws really can be family, too. For me, a little bit of time and a lot of attitude adjustment made all the difference. That, and awkward jokes.**