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It’s 7:36 a.m. I slept for almost eight hours and for the first time, in a very long time, only woke up once from baby cries. I can’t say I slept well or soundly but I was stationary for those hours. Still. Aside from listening to the rain pouring from the clouds, clouds that have been absent for months. I listened with dread to the answered prayers of park rangers, Glacier National Park lovers, fire fighters, business owners, travelers, ranchers, hikers, and families.
The rain so desperately needed was putting out wildfires while falling through the synthetic sheeting on my unfinished roof, raining on my dining room table and wherever else it could seep in and roll to. I resisted getting up and mopping it all up, knowing my sleep and sanity were more important.
The rain inside has soaked through three towels and two jersey sheets. Wanted water is in the kettle for coffee and I am going outside to gather an armload of kindling and firewood. I hope the baby will sleep in and someone will come to my rescue.
But I don’t know what I need to be rescued from, or if I am just being terribly dramatic and momentarily distraught.
The order for more rest and less stress is straight from the neurologist. On September 3rd I had 17 seizures in 24 hours and was put on medication for epilepsy. My family is worried, yet their worry has come to me in a barrage of lecturing advice that all seems to say, “This is what happens when you have too many kids, too many creative projects, want to homeschool and remodel a house, tend animals and a VRBO all at the same time.” Their concern translates to me, “Who do you think you are?” So I have been racking my misfiring (but healthy) brain for answers.
I shuffle through the library in my brain searching for women whom have had full plates yet didn’t give up because of illness and diagnoses. Saint Elizabeth Seton comes to mind first; although she wasn’t ill, she never quit in spite of her circumstances and was a determined and generous caregiver. I think of Mother Angelica who suffered physical pain yet built a monastery. I list woman upon woman who faced obstacles yet persevered and persisted. I begin to compose a piece in my head, “Grit and Glory” all about women: Harriet Tubman, Flannery O’Conner, Mother Teresa, and my favorite Chiara Corbella Petrillo — women with grit that gave it all over for the glory of God.
But it seems for every woman that fought within her vocation despite her illness or disability I can also think of, or imagine, a woman who said, “enough already” and moved from the prairie to the city, who started saying, “no” more often, who hired a housemaid, called it quits and moved to the country, women who stared chaos in the face and said, “good- bye.” I don’t know where I fit in.
Is it a big deal to now have epilepsy; do I have to slow down; am I being irresponsible? I know women have lived in worse conditions with challenges beyond mine. I am looking for a role model, a comeback queen, a cheerleader, an encourager.
I spent the day waiting, ready and waiting for more rain, more leaks, wanting to come up with a solution to my supposedly “doing too much” and a fix to wrap up unfinished projects. I wrote an exhausting list of all our house projects, from gutting a bathroom to building a wood shed, as a rush of “I am overwhelmed” swept over me.
I feel broken. Am I doing too much? Can I still give when life seems hard? Mother Teresa said, “if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” I see what my husband and I are doing as love; living simply, not desiring material goods, having animals, working hard, all as love for our children. We see our 9 children as God’s gift to us, not as a burden that is now hurting me. I was, am, baffled. I like to forge ahead and navigate obstacles but the exterior voices criticizing me, they cause me to pause. …
What can I do, focus on what I can do? I am asking myself this, not to sound like a workhorse, but there must be some good to my perseverance.
All I can come up with is, “I don’t have the answer.” I don’t know if because of simple, partial seizures I am supposed to persevere or reevaluate. I pray, “God, guide me, which path; is there a path? Am I being dramatic, are others being dramatic? Surely I am not the first mother of nine to be diagnosed with epilepsy. Surely there are other women who want to document and share their lives, thoughts, opinions and ideas, who want to try knew things, meet knew people, cook from scratch and learn to play guitar?” It seemed that the day wore on filled with the jotting of notes, when I finally resolved to just shut myself up and listen to God.
That night I received the first bit of direction. Our priest had just had a pretty serious operation and he called me to see how I was; in his message he said, “I’m recuperating slowly here in the rectory, pretty sore but, ya’ know, offering it up in solidarity with Christ …” I was like, “What did he just say? Shoot! I’m missing the point … offering it up, that’s it!”
I went to bed with promises of sun the next day and my husband’s hopeful safe return from a 4-day elk hunting trip. I woke up with new insight, poured my hot water over my 2 1/2 TBS of coffee grounds and picked up the Magnificat, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.” (Col 1:24 ) Now I was thinking that someone was trying to show me something. Not only did my “suffering” seem small in comparison but simultaneously useful!
I like to drink my coffee in the morning with a pile of books, yes a pile, always. My dearest, coolest, most awesome friend since babyhood sent me The Catholic Hipster Handbook. I flipped through it and landed on “Offering it Up” by Anna Mitchell. Oh boy, now I felt like I was being followed. Here she writes, “That is why every hipster should be Catholic, because the Catholic Church is the one place where suffering is not only an acceptable means of holiness, it’s actually the highest form of holiness — when offered up.” I have said this as well, to my own children, also heard it from my parents as a kid. To me they were words that meant “yay, yay, yay, get over it.” I didn’t see the point or the purpose but still use it on my kids in hopes that they will see past themselves. I love the line where she writes, “It’s a phrase that Catholic children may have heard … from their grandparents, who lived at a time when sacrificial living was more in vogue — or at least less avoidable.” Isn’t that the truth? But she really nails it when she reminds us with this, “We hear a lot of people happily spout the idea of seeing the world through Jesus’ eyes. Well, just remember that you have to be nailed to the cross in order to see anything through Jesus’ eyes.”
But the message wasn’t coming through loud and clear enough I guess because everything I picked up that day lead to the same place. We and Our Children was recently and conveniently delivered to my doorstep; by now you get the picture, on page 23 … “Offering it Up.” Mary Reed Newland writes, “But suffering embraced and offered to the suffering Christ, even with howls and tears, is a mighty weapon.” She is writing to parents but the lesson is valuable to more than the children we are raising, “Every mother in the world kisses the bumps and bruises of her young to ‘make them well.’ We can give them something much more tangible to do with their hurts than merely bring them to be kissed. We can comfort and calm and then direct them in the use of the pain, and it is surprising how willingly they will learn the lesson of pain and its value.” And to top off God’s gentle lesson was from Roses Among Thorns: words from St Francis De Sales, “Why do the angels envy us? Truly it is for no other reason than that we are able to suffer for our Lord, while they have never suffered anything for him.”
I kid you not, I was not seeking these words out, just drinking deep, dark coffee with cream and honey and my morning pile of published works.
I was getting the drift. I know this though. I know offering up pain, I know hard work, I know long hours, sleepless nights, and yes the intensity of 9 natural childbirths. The difference is that when you are working late hours, painting a house, tilling a garden, tending to sick children, or sweating through a challenge you feel the strength of your body and know there is rest in sight. During labor I can do it; I know my baby and my body are demanding my performance and I have to surrender to nature. Yet this, this new challenge, it feels like my body rebelling against me and I am troubled by it. Tempted to say, “why me?” Yet knowing I have to say “thank you,” for it could be worse.
I have found comfort from friends and family in their words of wisdom, “Whenever I have had to decide what to prioritize I try to remember that my first responsibility is to get myself to heaven, next is the soul of my spouse and after that, our children. You cannot do right by them if you are not doing right by yourself. Peace of soul can be so hard to find when you feel that your own good and that of your children are impossible to have together!”
That same friend’s mother wrote, “Try ‘to think not thoughts of affliction’– and be at peace while you discern, waiting for the good God to make His plan for you clear. I will join you in petitioning Anne C. Emmerich — I LOVE her writings — in helping you with these heavy trials!” These words from a mother of 11; surely she has seen trials.
I know that when those we love are faced with a life stumbling block we want to solve their problems or help them but sometimes the best we can do is just be in solidarity with them and hold them up, reminding them to face the cross. I sometimes post on social media, you know, the craziness of a bunch of kids, or the dust and mess of living in a remodel, but it is always with the intention of letting other moms know that they are not the only ones, that we all have messes, struggles, and rough days. Often the comments are not ones that agree we all have struggles, we all suffer in this life etc. and rather comments that tend to sympathy as if I am looking for it. I am so curious what is this philosophical dilemma? Can I dial up Anthony Esolen and can we all just pull up a chair and listen up? We have strayed so far from, “I hear ya sister, life is hard, offer it up, I’ll be over to help with the laundry.”
The long and short of it all, of seizures, an EEG, an MRI, not being able to drive for 3 months, a house that was jacked up, tore up and full of sawdust, in the midst of life with 9 kids, etc. etc. is that I want to do what I have set out to do, I don’t want to give up, throw my hands up and surrender. I want to write, live the life I have imagined, be a warrior for Christ. I want to fall short, stride long, in for the long haul, for life is short and heaven is eternal.
It’s not about how am I going to keep on doing what I am doing, ( which is living my life, living my vocation); it is not about what I do or don’t do, but rather offering up the unknowns that present themselves and with Christ look at them, see them and embrace them. Is there a place to find balance to offer up and also reassess? Yes. I can’t change the glitch in my brain but I can say, “Here, Christ, I offer this up, this total inconvenience, for the souls in purgatory.”
I can take a step back for a few weeks, drive cross country to the red house on Lake Champlain and rest, just soak in the damp earth, the crisp leaves, the dew-drenched fields and be grateful. I can focus on my kids and good books, good writing, good music, art, history and the love of grandparents, be separated from saws, drills, the slaughtering of 4 pigs and the tasks that currently stare at me. I can pray for all the women who do not have that luxury to take a sabbatical. I can look at Jesus and say, “Thank you for loving me enough to train me for bigger things to come, to believe in me, to see the warrior in me, to offer me this cross knowing I would come to the realization that it is all for YOU!”