“The Edel Gathering? So, what exactly is that?”… A common question the last several months, and I tried hard to explain. Coherently. Because why else would a PNW native head to Austin… in July? February. That makes sense. But July? I sounded a little crazy.
As Hallie Lord explained in her opening remarks, the purpose of Edel was several-fold. We were to connect with people. People we knew, people we just met, people we were totally in awe of. I quickly got over my initial habit of eavesdropping on conversations other people were having with Jen, and Haley, and Hallie and so many other wonderful Catholic bloggers.
And you know what happened when I walked around the corner, stuck out my hand and introduced myself? They smiled and introduced themselves back (as if they really had to…) I think I might have even said something super smooth like, “Hi [famous person's first name]! I’m Caitlin, and I just love your blog and blah blah blah, will you please be my friend?”.
They’re real people! Real moms. Just like me. Well, decidedly cooler, but almost just like me (check out Kelly’s karaoke rap if you need proof as to the coolness… mic drop included).
Ok, next purpose: to relax. Which I was medium successful at. I mean, I did look like this for most of the weekend.
Once again, racking up the cool points.
Also, I stayed at a hotel a couple blocks away, so I walked back and forth to change clothes and shower approximately a million times (babywearing in humidity makes for two very stinky and sweaty people). Actually, I had most everything I needed with me all the time (see above cool photo) and Dom is a sleeping champ. So, that part wasn’t so bad. Also, making friends was so ridiculously easy that I felt relaxed just sitting and chatting. Or nursing and chatting. Or eating and chatting. I thrive on making these connections. It energizes and relaxes me, extrovert much?
Also making friends had its benefits. Like keys to the rooftop pool at our hotel venue, the OMNI. Nothing says relax like discussing NFP, Mass with Littles and our saintly husbands in a luke-warm pool packed with frat boys and lithe little young thangs. All jesting aside, it only took saying “Yay, Mass!” a couple times before our side of the pool was inexplicably empty. And you should have seen the looks Dom got sleeping in the shade. “Is that a baby?” was whispered in hushed, awe-filled tones as people walked to the pool’s bar. Like adventurers on a jungle safari, people in their 20s and 30s watched Dom in his natural state: sleeping.
Careful, Ladies and Gentlemen, he might just open his eyes, coo, or spit up! You never know with those wily babies!
I like to think that just by being there, specifically where our worlds collided, we were witnessing. Witnessing to the joys of motherhood.
Ah, the joys of motherhood (I literally just took a break in typing to argue with my four year old…who argues with a four year old? Come on Caitlin! Get your act together!).
And that segues me to the third reason for Edel, to listen to some awesome, eloquent Mothers give us weary, isolated Mamas words of encouragement to take home with us.
It started with Hallie’s opening remarks. It is good that you are here. Inspired words, given to Hallie by the Big Guy upstairs to pass on to all of us. So, stop. Take a deep breath. Give up all your anxieties and worries (we’re moms who may have just left kids thousands of miles behind, of course we have worries) and just be here. And did I mention we were all women too? Women obsess about everything already, and put them in a group of other women and those obsessions can quickly turn to self-depreciation. My internal monologue went something like this: I’m not cool enough, pretty enough, eloquent enough. I don’t have the right clothes or lipstick. I’m going to say the wrong thing and I’m sure everyone will hate me.
Seriously people, living in my brain is sometimes like a trip to Crazy Town.
So Hallie’s opening words were salve on my soul. God wanted me to be there. To meet these people. To smile and laugh and Just. Be. Here.
She also spoke a little about the patron of the conference, Venerable Edel Mary Quinn. She not only miraculously appeared to a depressed, desperate mom who almost threw herself off a bridge, saving her life and encouraging her in her vocation, she also really liked to party. Just our kind of gal.
Next in line to inspire us was Marion (I-wish-she-had-a-blog)Fernández-Cueto (stole that bit from you Nell). Her talk was so inspired, and so cogent, I found myself madly scribbling notes one-handed while breastfeeding. It was like a weird flash back to a college lecture, but with a lot more breast milk. Due to the nursing haze and complications of writing on my knee, my notes look a little like this:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” –>look up later, Isaiah? Maybe… –> READ YOUR BIBLE CAITLIN
Church should be greatest possible experience of freedom…
Some awesome quote by St. Agustine, something to do with unconditional love –> look up later.
Community! Yay! Have to surrender to…. something, Love?
Story about a French…painter? artist? Something awesome –>look up later
I’ve heard we’ll get audio of the talks, and I’m sure I will listen and re-listen to her words. I joke about the content I wrote down, but the standing ovation she received speaks to the resonance we all felt with her words. Several parts I remember vividly (trying to quote as best I can):
“Remember the pathetic little boy who offered his pathetic little lunch to Jesus to feed the crowd? When we offer our pathetic little life to Christ, he takes it and he multiplies it.”
“Authentic Christianity always brings us into community.”
“If we fail to live our own personal vocation, which is to live in Christ’s love, somewhere in the Church a light will be missing.”
Truncated as those quotes my sound, in the context of her talk and with the audience she was speaking to, it was magic. We were a group of struggling, isolated Catholic Moms, looking for validation and encouragement. Marion, you absolutely delivered.
Then we got a two hour break to swim, or shop, or get a massage, or chat or whatever the heck we wanted to do since no one needed to break up a fight or cook a meal or vacuum the floor. I was going to say change a diaper, but seriously a good 10-15% of women had a baby with them. Probably another 10-15% were pregnant. It was the most absurdly awesome demographic of women.
Haley was up next. I’ve been a mostly lurker (sometimes comment-er) on her blog and IG feed for a while now. Ok, truthfully, I kind of want to be her. She’s got awesome crazy hair, wears red lipstick like it ain’t no thang, and has a giant tattoo of Mary! More importantly, she does a great job living the liturgical year with her kids, celebrating feast days with special meals and activities (check out her cookbook!). She writes powerful, true and sometimes inflammatory words. And is just all around a brave and faithful woman.
Guess what? She’s a real person. A real mom. Just like me. I actually spent time talking with her about normal mom/family things. She has a front yard garden (like me!) and chickens (like me!) and the cutest babies ever (like me!). She even remembered my name later, what?!
Her talk was entitled “My Kids are Killing Me, ” and was about the mortification of motherhood. Sounds…strange? A little dark perhaps? That couldn’t be further from the truth. It was full of humor and tears and love and insight. She ultimately shared her personal transformation from a (her words) selfish 20-something into a faith-filled Catholic mom. And do you know how? Her first baby. An unplanned pregnancy. She and her husband were happy to live in a secular, consumer-driven world, until a little positive pregnancy test changed everything (I’m paraphrasing again):
“Until then, I had been imprisoned by a tyranny of…me. And for the first time, I was free to love something else, unconditionally. This baby taught me to love someone just because it was there. It had intrinsic value just by existing. And I realized, maybe I didn’t really even know how to love Daniel…I saw our marriage change from two individuals who were competing to have their needs met, into two people sacrificially loving each other...”
So, so powerful. And such a reality check.
She told the story about how a professor stated a dog could take care of her 18 month old, and therefor didn’t need quit grad school to stay home. Man, want to rile up a room of Moms… She told stories of her kids blowing raspberries in Mass. She ultimately made herself so relate-able and wove such a good narrative, that when she choked up speaking about that positive pregnancy test, we were all teary-eyed with her.
And she made the good point that every small suffering, every embarrassment, every sacrifice of time and energy, it’s a purification. A mortification. And our path to Heaven is full of them.
Jen’s talk was the rallying cry of the weekend. Appropriately placed after an awesome Tex Mex buffet and before the karaoke dance party started.
She was the most inclusive of the speakers. Hammering home that it is difficult to be a faithful Catholic woman today, and that we are all suffering from a great isolation. She related motherhood to a story about a Cathedral Builder:
A rich man came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, ‘Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it. And the workman replied, ‘Because God sees.’ (This version from here).
We are Cathedral builders, says Jen. Every moment of every day. Every little formation of our children turns them into a more beautiful cathedral. And God sees it all. She expanded on the metaphor to say that motherhood itself is a cathedral, and sometimes, though we see the value of building, it can be awfully lonely inside.
As I turned to the tearful women around me, I was struck by how ridiculously blessed I am. Right now, my community is so full and so vibrant and so life-giving, I feel like I’m just brimming. Ladies of St. Joseph, sisters, and friends you fill my cathedral. Help me build it, even. I’ve had my time of sitting alone, so desperately alone in my cathedral… sure that I would wither up and die for lack of connection. But not now. Especially not now, so full from Edel.
To those of you I met, thank you for your kind words, laughter and love.
To those who weren’t there, we all loved you and thought about you. Wishing and guiding and praying you into our Edel Cathedral, whether you felt it or not. Tricia, Cate and I even sang a karaoke song in your honor… while baby wearing (pictures to come…maybe, depending on how brave I am).
During Mass on Sunday, as I entered a physical cathedral, I was struck by the realization that all you Mamas were there. We all gathered around the same Eucharistic table that day, all across the country. All across the world.
So, Mamas, if you need it, throw wide the doors! We must storm each other’s cathedrals. Worship together. Laugh together. Struggle together. Let no woman feel that she is raising her children all by herself. We are never alone.
You are never alone.
And please come to Edel next year.
I’m pushing for Portland.
A lot more baby wearing, with a lot less sweat.