Friday, November 30, 2012

Discerning my calling

Cliché or not, what IS the purpose of my life?  As Christians, we believe that we are created in God’s image for the sake of serving and glorifying Him…. But how exactly do we do that?  Alex and I agree that it’s by being grateful for His many blessings, celebrating life, and helping others to do likewise.  Of course, I’m talking here about true joy, the kind that comes from an inner peace and a genuine appreciation of one’s life, not what the world would have us believe is “happiness”.  

Financial wealth, career accomplishments, fame, physical beauty…. None of these are permanent, so none can bring true joy.  We cannot be happy if we look to things that pass away for our happiness, and only one thing is eternal: God.

That sounds all well and good, but what does it mean in practical terms?  

God gave us certain desires and abilities for a reason; we are to take advantage of them as we follow the yellow-brick road to God’s will for our lives.  It’s not a matter of “just being happy”, as if it’s a matter of flipping the correct switch and nothing more. We need to be living towards something, and to do so, we need to have a plan.

Ok, so here goes.  First, what desires has God placed in my heart?  Well, there’s the obvious, ongoing desire to be a mother. There’s also a desire to contribute to society in some positive way.  Lately, I’ve been thinking about how raising godly children would do just that, but of course there’s other ways to contribute. 

Also, if I’m being perfectly honest, I like being appreciated; it feeds my self-esteem.  Perhaps this stems from being bullied when growing up, where my peers made me question everything my family had tried to instill in me up to that point.  

Lastly, I long for peace and quiet.  I know what some of you may be thinking – good luck getting much of that as a mother!  I didn’t say that the desires we have cannot contradict each other.  There must be a good reason for wanting both things. Right?

As for gifts God has given me… I tend to have trouble with this, because I’m instantly afraid that an acknowledgement of any gift will come across as undue pride or immodesty, and that is not my intent at all.  But the truth is, if I’m made in the image of God, then surely I must have some redeeming qualities that are able to reflect His glory.  

There are two main things that, after much self-reflection, I believe are my main gifts from God: writing and teaching.  I don’t think there’s anything I do better than write, which is not to say that I write perfectly, just that of the gifts that I do have, this one ranks #1. 

In a close second I believe is my ability to teach adults.  My experience has been in teaching ESL (English for Speakers of other Languages), but I have also been told in other contexts that I was able to explain concepts that were previously inaccessible to others (assuming I had a firm grasp of the topic at hand, of course.)

With that said, what remains is the need for a practical application of these realizations into concrete life goals that will satisfy the desires God gave me by utilizing the gifts from Him.

What are your heart’s desires? What are your skills and talents? Based on this information, what do you believe God is calling you to do with your life?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

This is not where I belong

Can I just say that being a grown-up sucks?  I mean, when you’re a teenager and you are counting down the days to “freedom”, you really have no idea what you’re talking about!  In some ways, I wonder if my pursuit of motherhood isn’t at least in part motivated by a desire to live vicariously through my child’s innocent eyes, reliving my own childhood.

My good friend told me today what I’ve suspected for a while – that she is struggling with a pretty difficult, chronic health condition, one whose diagnosis hasn’t been completely pin-pointed, and as such, whose treatment or prognosis is unclear.  To make matters worse, because of where this condition is located, she has not been able to take anything for the chronic pain she lives with, since it would further exacerbate the problem with her liver.

After telling me all of this, how she’s been in pain all this time, how she’s been trying to live with the added burden of dealing with things that are made more difficult by her symptoms, how she feels isolated because she doesn't want to burden others by discussing negative things like this, she asks how I’ve been doing. 

And really, what can I tell her?  On one hand, I don’t want to just say “oh, nothing” and force her to continue reliving her struggles if she wants a break from them.  On the other hand, I don’t want to go into a diatribe about my issues, which by now seem so miniscule by comparison.

When we hang up, I think about how my Rachel, my deceased best friend, would know just what to tell her, just how to be a good friend to her.  Rachel was everyone’s best friend, whether they realized it or not.  And I will never come close to her level of friendship, which really was a level of holiness that to me sounded like a lot of work and a thankless job.  And I’m overcome with self-centered grief.

The other day, it was pointed out to me that I am about to cross into a new realm of reality, at least when it comes to OB/GYN forms: advanced maternal age.  Me?!  Who isn’t yet 100% convinced that she’s completely all grown up?  Me, who still suffers from the common side-effects of childhood such as self-consciousness and a desire to fit in?  Me – the person without a career, or important social status, or children to legitimate her as an adult woman?  Yes, apparently I’m going from “girl” to “old” in a matter of one year. And as I pondered this the other day, I got to thinking about how my mother was my age when she had her third child.

She already had all three of her children by the time she was my age; I don’t have a single one. But how can I envy my mom, who has been tasked with the burden of caring for my father post-brain injury from his midlife crisis motorcycle accident?

Sigh.  Another reminder of the injustice of life.

I am reminded of a Buddhist parable.  A woman named Kisagotami who had just lost her toddler son came to the Buddha to ask him to bring her child back to life.  She was desperate and distraught.  In all his wisdom, the Buddha told her to get some mustard seeds from a home where there had been no death.  This gave Kisagotami great joy, for she felt hope at the prospect of restoring her son’s life.  She went from door to door, house to house, looking for a home where no one had experienced the death of a loved one.  After a day of this seemingly fruitless pursuit, Kisagotami came to understand the Buddha’s intention:  death is a part of life. 

I tell this story because it has broader applications.  It’s not just death that is inevitable in life.  So is disease, and disappointment, and old age, and grief.  Christians call this carrying our cross.  We each have a cross to carry, and while it may be different from the cross of our sister or brother or neighbor, it is not worse or better than theirs.  It is exactly what we need to suffer through in order to bring glory to God.  A life without suffering would be heaven, and we are not there yet.

This song, “Where I belong” by Building 429, captures this sentiment nicely

When you are struggling, when you are desperate, when you hurt, when you feel betrayed, isolated, used, worn-out, ashamed, listen to this song.  Really listen to it, and then listen to it again.  Listen until you can sing along, and then sing along until you believe it; this (mess/drama/struggle/situation) is not where you ultimately belong.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Examination of Conscience for Infertile Catholics

As a follow up to the 10 Commandments post, I thought I'd add a concrete way for an infertile Catholic to examine their conscience in preparation for the sacrament of reconciliation, specifically with infertility as the focus.  It has helped me to regain perspective and stop thinking in a victim mentality.

Examination of Conscience for infertile couples, based on Luke 10:27.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself  (Luke 10:27)

Part One:  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.

Do you find yourself near constantly worried about your infertility?  Do you spend the majority of your time weighing options, lamenting disappointments, planning next steps?  Is your mind so consumed with planning for parenthood that you do not pay sufficient attention to other areas of your life?  Do you feel that if only you had a child, then your life would begin, then you’d be happy?  Do you find yourself angry at God for not granting you the wish for a child?  Or for taking away the child(ren) you had for a time? Do you divert the majority of your funds to fertility treatments? Do you divert the majority of your time to researching your diagnosis, prognosis, treatment options? If you were to weigh the number of times you daily think about your future child versus the number of times you think about glorifying God, would your concern for a child outweigh your desire to glorify God?  Do you feel incomplete, unfulfilled, less-than because you are not a parent?  Are you therefore seeking in parenthood what can only be found in God?

Part Two: and your neighbor as yourself  

Have you found yourself in competition with other hopeful adoptive parents, even to the point of sabotaging their efforts to match with a birthmom in hopes of diverting attention to yourself as a candidate to adopt their baby?  Do you find yourself judging others as unfit parents?  Do you neglect your duties to be generous to others because you are pinching pennies in the hopes of affording more and more fertility treatments that do not have any reasonable guarantees of success?  Have you allowed strife to enter your marriage as you focus all your energy on trying to become a parent, neglecting your duties to your spouse?  If you’re struggling with secondary infertility, have you allowed your desire for more children to interfere with the relationship you have with your current children?  Do you in any way make them feel as though they are not enough for you?  Do you find yourself generally short-tempered or uncharitable towards others because you feel bitter over your unfulfilled desire for a child?

For a thorough and surprisingly (for me, anyway) sensitive overview of Catholicism on infertility, I highly recommend "Embracing the Cross of Infertility" by Dr. Marie Meaney:

Monday, November 19, 2012

10 Commandments for Infertile Catholics

1.       I am the Lord your God.  You shall not have other gods before me.
a.       You shall not idolize the idea or hope of a future child to the point of forgetting other possible callings in your life.
b.      You should not allow the desire for a child to rob you of the ability to recognize the many blessings in your life.
c.       You shouldn’t come to believe that having a child would be the one thing that could give you fulfillment, for you ought to seek that only in the Lord.
2.       Do not use the Lord’s name in vain. 
a.       When you pray, do not focus solely on requests, as this fails to acknowledge the scope of God’s presence in your life.  Remember to be grateful, to repent of your shortcomings, and to remember others in your prayers.  Do not treat God as Santa Clause.
b.      Also, when you do ask God for blessings, always add the caveat Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane: “Thy will, not mine, be done”
3.       Keep the Lord’s day holy.
a.       It is prudent to take regular breaks from all labor, including those related to the pursuit of parenthood.  Periodic “on hold” times are recommended.  If a day of rest is good enough for God, it’s good enough for us.
4.       Respect your mother and father.
a.       It may be a delicate balancing act to continue to honor your parents if they are not supportive of your IF struggles, but Christian charity demands it of you nonetheless.
b.      It is important not to get so fixated on one’s own lack of parenthood that we neglect to still honor our parents like we did before trying to conceive.  (eg. Mother’s day…)
5.       You shall not kill.
a.       An action is killing if it stops life from progressing where otherwise it would’ve progressed. Human embryos created in the lab must be treated with respect and not disposed of as if they were not human beings in the earliest stage of development.  Having said that, everything should be done to maximize the survival of any child conceived, starting with how they are conceived, and avoiding cryopreserving them "for future use".  Children are not to be used like property.
b.      Human embryos cannot be aborted at will because too many were transferred and now they all risk death.  This is a sign of lack of foresight. Human embryos likewise cannot be aborted due to negative in-utero test results.
6.       You shall not commit adultery.
a.       Introducing a gamete donor into a marriage forever changes the relationship between the child and one of the parents, as well as between the spouses. A couple must truly come to an agreement to use a donor, and not just to reluctantly agree. But it should always be well-thought out in light of not just the immediate result, but the burden that this places on the future child as well.  Entering into third party reproduction haphazardously is a disregard for the marital bond.
b.      The pursuit of parenthood outside the security of a marriage is not in the best interest of the child.  Children ought not be sought without first establishing a two-parent household into which the child is to be born. Having said that, adoption of a child who would otherwise not have any parents at all by a single parent is certainly more beneficial to the child than remaining in an orphanage or foster care.

7.       You shall not steal.
a.       Stealing is taking what doesn’t belong to you.  If you are so focused on becoming a parent that you fail to acknowledge or seek God’s will for your life, you are in effect stealing from God what is rightfully His (leadership of your life).
b.      Also, you may be stealing time, attention, energy, even finances from others if you are consumed with pursuing parenthood to the exclusion of other goals.
8.       You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
a.       If you do use a gamete donor and do not disclose this information to your child, this is a lie. The child has a right to know.
b.      If you adopt and do not tell your child this fact, or keep important information about their biological family from them, this is a lie.
c.       If there is a hereditary fertility situation you may have passed down to a biological child but you do not tell them bc you don’t want to disclose your struggle with IF, this is a lie.
9.       & 10. You shall not covet (jealously desire what’s not yours)
a.       You shouldn’t envy other parents for having children.
b.      You shouldn’t focus on how bad some parents are with their children, as this isn’t charitable.
c.       You shouldn’t assume parents don’t have as many struggles as you, as this encourages a woe-is-me mentality, which breeds lack of gratitude.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Much needed girl talk

Yesterday I had a nice, long heart-to-heart talk with my best friend.  In a lot of ways, it was like it’s always been.  I poured my heart out to her, and she listened attentively, embracing me when I couldn’t find the words to fully express what I was feeling.  I told her how much I missed her, and how I know that the only reason I’m sad is because I miss her; I know that she’s no longer in pain, that’s she’s finally completely at peace.

We reminisced a bit about the good ole days.  How she was the one who ushered me into my “adult American” life.  There were almost as many smiles as tears, and quite a few bursts of laughter as well.  I bragged to her about how, in case she didn’t notice, I didn’t crack under pressure at her funeral like I did exactly 7 years earlier, at her wedding.  (Yes, her funeral was held on her wedding anniversary.)  I wanted to remind her of what I said during my wedding toast to her and her husband, but truth be known, even I don’t remember, and no one else understood me through my blubbering muffled by tears of joy!  But this time, I told her, I made up for that embarrassment.  This time, I only had to pause once to catch my tears, and the rest of the time I spoke relatively well.  Her mom even used the word “eloquently”.

It was mostly a conversation between two old friends, but I did have to give a shout-out here and there to the Lord.  I thanked Him for sending Rachel into my life and keeping her there for 17 years – exactly half of my life.  I reminded Rachel of what she told me when we lost our first two babies just under a year ago – “that’s worse than not having them at all”.  But I told her that I disagreed.  I told her that if I could erase the pain I feel over losing her by never having met her, I wouldn’t do it, because she meant so much to me.

We talked about the crazy adventures we had together, and I thanked her for all the times she was there for me with her wisdom, advice, and understanding.  I apologized for not being as good a friend to her as she was to me, but in my defense (and I told her this), I’m not an angel like she was.  I really think she was here as an angel, and many people who experienced her love would agree.

At any rate, we made a promise to each other.  I asked Rachel to be a mother to my four little angels in heaven, to mother them and show them how to be good little guardian angels for other babies in need of celestial guides.  I also asked her to continue to be an available source of wisdom to me, just as she was when on Earth, just like she was last night.  And finally, I asked her to pray for me to the Lord Our God.  I was very aware of her role in the Communion of Saints last night.  It put a huge smile on my face to know I have a friend rooting for me up there!

In return, I promised that I would keep her memory alive, follow her example of following Jesus, and write our book.  This last one has been hard to promise, and I did hesitate before putting it out there.  But in the end, I realized that writing the book is not the same as publishing or marketing it.  It just needs to be written; what happens after that is in God’s hands, and maybe then she can take over.

At any rate, I also couldn’t help but notice that it had been exactly 5 months since our last nice long talk, the day before she died.  I wondered if this time frame had any special meaning, but I could hear her scolding me for trying to read into things too much, so I let it go.  All I know is that I don’t feel as alone as I have been feeling lately.  I really needed this pow-wow.  Good talk, chica!  Good talk :-)