Well, besides the weather, that is. Apparently, we’re setting rain records up here in Vancouver, and in Rainy-Capital-of-Everywhere, WA that means something! It has been pouring for a week now, with no end in sight.
Anyway, the beauty I experienced came from the Catholic Women Rejoice conference offered right here at my home parish, St. Joseph’s. There were over 300 women attending, laughing, and crying in faith and fellowship together. I felt so uplifted and loved. If you can make it next year, I highly recommend it.
Our opening prayer, and many prayers after, stressed the belief that there was a word to be put on every woman’s heart that day. And I really feel that’s true. So, for remembrance’s sake (because we all know the holes that Mommy-brain eats in our memory) I’m going to share what each woman spoke directly to me…
First up was Julie Onderko, speaking on “Finding God’s Will” specifically through examining the lives of the saints. She picked some stellar saints (St. Therese, St. Helena, and Mother Mary) but one small part of her talk on St. Ignatius jumped out at me: “How foolish are we willing to look to do God’s will?”. St. Ignatius, after a long and painful conversion process realized he wanted to be a priest, but had no formal education. That meant going back to school and learning Latin at the (in his time) ripe old age of 37.
With the 6 year olds.
I imagine him, crammed into a mini-desk, knees to chin, raising his hand and repeating conjugations, his voice rumbling low amid all the pre-pubescent students. Could I do that? Could I look so ridiculous?
Her talk also made me immensely grateful for the amazing Christian community in my life. Julie talked about how friends can be excellent spiritual directors. It’s often through sharing our struggles, our joys and our discernments with one another that we can see the will of God in our lives.
So, to the Ladies of St. Joe’s that I see on a weekly basis, and those family and friends who comfort me from miles away, thank you. You keep me both grounded and uplifted and somehow centered on the Good in life. I am blessed.
Next up was Simcha Fisher. Oh goodness, how I love this woman. She has been a favorite blogger of mine for pretty much forever. Need to laugh? Read Snappy Answers for Stupid Questions About Your Big Family. Need to be comforted? Read First World Tears. Somehow she takes my thoughts and worries and prayers and articulates them in the most transparent and witty way. She is seriously fabulous.
Her talk was on Mother Mary, and how to grow closer to her. In true blogger fashion, she had us laughing through anecdotes from her life with nine children and crying in her description of a Mary, mother of all, who wants to hold each of us, her broken children, and rock us till our pain subsides.
I was honestly too busy laughing and absorbing her words to write much down, but I do know that as she shared her personal struggle to get close to Mary, my heart was stirred. I have often felt, as she described, how could I possibly approach one who was so perfect? How could I possibly try to emulate her in my daily life? And then she asked, but who have you been trying to get close to? A statue? (You should have seen Simcha’s Mary-statue imitation, it had us all in stitches). Truth is, she was a real, flesh and blood Mama.
Simcha painted this picture for us: imagine a woman, freshly showered, make up applied, hair done, dressed in a beautiful, blue silk gown. A toddler waddles in, dripping with syrup, or paint or something sticky, saying “Up Mama, up!”. If I’m that woman, I take one look at that kid, step back and say “No way Jose! Go find your Daddy”.
Mary, never one to turn a petitioner away, steps towards the child, picks her up, wets the end of that beautiful dress to wash the sticky little face, and holds the fussy child till she’s happy again. She doesn’t avoid our messy lives. She welcomes those sticky parts. She wants to turn those parts over to her Son so that they may be washed clean.
That image stays with me more than any of Simcha’s jokes or anecdotes. Powerful.
Our third fantastic speaker was Sister Miriam Heidland. Oh boy, so many gems in her talk. Instead of trying to summarize, here are two pieces of wisdom that stuck with me.
First, she told this story of having a super bad day (yes, nuns have them too!) struggling with who she was and what she looked like, and after begrudgingly going to Mass, she stopped to talk with a woman and her grand daughter in the foyer. She leaned down to shake the toddler’s hand, and before Sr. Miriam could say anything, the little girl looked up at the habit-clad sister and said “You look like a princess!”. I imagine that made her day a little better. She went on to explain that we are all princesses, because we are all daughters of The King.
This was important for me to hear, especially because my Mo-Bug is in a serious princess phase. We have all the costumes, it’s all she wants to talk about and read. And I have issues with the Disney princesses. That’s a whole different blog post, but suffice it to say, I’m ok now with Mo thinking of herself as a princess, because I’m wearing an imaginary tiara myself. It’s my job, as she gets older, to tell her what being a princess really means: everlasting Joy!
Second thing, it is a heresy to love your soul but hate your body. Woah! I can’t think of a group of people who needed to hear that more than the 300+ women in attendance (myself included). How much do we bemoan our appearance? How often do we hide our “imperfections” with makeup and clothes and distraction? We can’t just wish to be “more spiritual” and lovingly care for our soul. Turns out, we have to love our Princess bodies too. That’s a challenge for sure!
Obviously, by the length of this post, I have a lot to say about the retreat. I find myself mentioning it in conversation, “Oh! That’s like what Simcha said…” or “You know, I cried like a baby during Sr. Miriam’s conversion story too!”
I think the wise words of these three beautiful women are still settling in my heart.
And in my soul.
I got a picture with Simcha! And guess what? She knows my name! And is even helping us advertise for a Creighton class being taught at St. Joe’s. I love meeting internet personalities in person, because, turns out, they’re real people! She and I chatted and laughed and connected over kids and NFP and life. It was wonderful.
You know what made the weekend even better?