Friday, August 20, 2010

Making Peace with Having Enemies

During my senior year at Smith College, I served as a Protestant Deacon.

Obviously, the Protestant understanding of "a deacon" differs significantly from the Catholic understanding of that holy role. My job duties consisted mostly of wearing a gigantic gold cross over a black choir robe and passing out bulletins prior to Sunday Services at Helen Hills Chapel. I also read "Protestant Readings" between the Baha'i and Muslim representatives at Inter-denominational Prayer Services, held a student chair on the Alumnae Religious Life Committee, and preached a sermon during my graduation week.

My women's college was intensely secular. At Smith, it was perfectly acceptable to argue that the Gospel of John was actually written by a woman in an Intro to World Religions term paper. The Christian religion was viewed as an oppressive, male-dominated "institution" by most of the campus. My freshman year, the Head of Residential Life made a campus wide policy which forbid students from posting any Christmas "symbols" on our room doors or erecting any Christmas trees in common areas of our dorms.

Even within this anti-Christian environment, I never made any enemies as a Protestant Deacon. I could walk around with a teeny gold cross on a chain for weekdays, and a gigantic gold cross on Sundays, without any cold looks or verbal harassment.

In college, I was careful to toe the line as a "tolerant", "politically correct", inoffensive Christian girl. Christ was "my thing", my way of coping with the onslaught of Senior Year Stress. However, I freely endorsed peoples right to "other things" to relieve stress such as yoga, all liquid diets, fake Buddhist chants, and Margarita parties every Friday night.

Christ was someone I talked about, and Christianity was something I enjoyed "experiencing" on a Sunday morning. Yet Our Savior didn't find fertile soil in my soul to grow a garden of virtues.

Even with a gigantic gold cross on my chest, my life looked similar to every other Senior's life. I approved of fornication and birth control. I worried obsessively about my grades and my L-SAT scores. I gossiped about my classmates and carelessly broke boys' hearts. I could dissect pre-Revolutionary Russian History with ease. But, I was terribly, terribly afraid of intimacy, commitment and motherhood.

At age 25, I entered the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris as a broken hearted and confused soul. I recited my first ever Hail Mary, reading the words from an English guidebook that I picked up at the entrance. Mary answered that single prayer in a dramatic fashion. Now I'm here--a married Carmelite who expects her fourth baby in less than 10 days.

I strive to live a life "hidden in Christ." My current world is almost the complete opposite of my college days as the loud-mouth Christian with the flashy gold cross. I stay at home. I don't hold a job. I'm not on any committees. I don't volunteer for any noble Community Service projects. I'm not invited to give "guest" lectures at Women of Prayer lunches or write Op-Ed pieces for my Catholic paper.

I sit at home. I pray. I serve five people in the whole world. Since one of these sweet people actually resides inside my womb at the current moment, I take many naps. I eat vitamins. I cook fish on Fridays. I tell little people to "brush your teeth," "finish your homework," "stop poking your Sister" and "pray before you eat!" many times during the day.

My new "hidden" life has arose the anger of many enemies. There are bus drivers who are instantly offended whenever I enter a bus with my armload of babies. There are nurses who start screaming about my decision to avoid pre-natal testing for Down Syndrome despite the statistics surrounding my advanced maternal age. There are people at Daily Mass who accuse me of praying "too much" and for dragging a "clearly Autistic-looking" five year-old son into Adoration. There are friends who worry about my family being too poor and in-laws who accuse me of being a "free-loader" for not using my law degree. So many people accuse me of "irresponsible parenthood" for having so many babies so close together.

For the first time, I can't rely on my charm and a sweet smile to get me out of sticky situations. My brown scapular is around my neck, my stomach is clearly swelled from pregnancy, and there is no new mini-van parked outside my front door.

Right now, it seems like I offend certain people by simply breathing.

All of this "enemy" stuff profits my soul. My vanity scar is finally shrinking to a manageable size. I know longer instantly second-guess myself whenever I find myself on the end of a cold look or long anti-population growth soliloquy.

Christ promised us that if we follow him, we will have enemies. It's the price of having Our Dear Savior as a friend. The fact that I once called myself a "Christian" without experiencing the world's rejection and ridicule merely means that at one point time, I had no idea of how to be a real friend to God.


Kaitlin @ More Like Mary said...

This is beautiful! Perfectly stated!

Natalie H. said...

You had me crying in my oatmeal this morning. Good stuff.

Danya @ He Adopted Me First said...

Gorgeous and so true. I think it's "disgust" that they feel...I've tried to put my finger on it, and that's my conclusion. I think it's funny how non-threatening we actually are and yet we offend mightily. Praise God!

Kristyn said...

Don't forget, Abby, that you also write a very nice blog and spend time comforting people you don't even know by sharing what you have suffered and learned... you don't know what your thoughtfulness has meant to me over these past weeks. People don't understand you because they don't understand Jesus. That is what He has shown me over and over, and He has required me to smile and forgive... it is SO-O-O hard!!! I was once sent a free sample of birth control pills by a relative who is a nurse in an ob-gyn office. I said right out loud, "God, I forgive her!" and threw it away. I am still shocked that she did this but I can honestly say Jesus has helped me not to have hard feelings toward her, and it has been over 5 years. I really feel sad for her that she thought something like that was a nice thing to do. :P

Joe F. said...

Awesome. Don't forget that you are also encouraging many people by boldly holding the door open for new human life. Many people every day see, or think of, you and your family and are encouraged. You just don't always hear from them. :)

Rachel Gray said...

"I no longer instantly second-guess myself whenever I find myself on the end of a cold look..."

This really resonates with me. I need to be less apologetic sometimes. Never less kind, or less polite. But less apologetic.

Dymphna said...

I ride Metro buses everyday and I've never seen a driver give a woman with children a hard time. If a driver is being difficult you should contact Metro.

Anonymous said...

Amen, Amen, Amen.

Mary @ A Simple Twist of Faith said...

Thank you for sharing your story. May God bless you and your beautiful new baby.

FrankCaiati said...

Abby, as new reader to your blog, I just wanted to tell you how emotional this is. As a 25 year old guy, who is NO WHERE near ready to have a family of my own, you certainly stirred something within me with line "irresponsible parenthood." Now I've been called irresponsible before and it hits me to the core, so I can only imagine what being called an "irresponsible parent" is like. That is striking and cruel on so many levels. While it seems like you keep insults like that in their proper context, understanding the source of the name calling, and bearing the insults in true Christian fashion- I just want to commend you on being, what appears to me, a fantastic, loving, Christian mother.

Maggie said...

Abigail, I discovered you from Jen at Conversion Diary--- and my, I'm glad I did! This is a beautiful post.

I look forward to reading many more! And congrats on the birth of your new little one!


Brianna Heldt said...

Hi Abigail,

I found your blog through Jennifer's "Conversion Diary." I am SO glad I came on over because this post is so beautiful and has truly spoken to my heart today.

My husband and I have five children, all ages 6 and under. Two of them are adopted (from Ethiopia), and we are in the process to adopt two more--both with Down Syndrome. We do not contracept, and obviously our family looks quite different from the norm.

I too have experienced the looks, and the comments (even from fellow Christians), and I am so encouraged and inspired by your words today. I can't wait to read more! Thank you!

L. said...

Sorry, I just asked, "What year were you at Smith?" under the new baby post, when all I should have said on that one was, "Congratulations!"

I was there in the '80's. I don't keep in touch with the place much, and am discouraging my teenage daughter from applying there in a few years.

There was no rule against Christmas decorations on doors during my time there, but I am an ardent First-Ammendment fanatic. Though I was (and remain) a secular, dissenting Catholic, who has closed off the option of full communion with my Church, if there had been such a rule, I would have installed a blinking nativity set on my door, and dared them to make me take it down (and a Star of David, and a Buddhist mandela, while I was at it).

Anonymous said...

Well said.