When your siblings choose “the better part”

I think I was in college when I began to discover that my younger siblings were amazing, admirable, supremely “cool” people. I realized my little sisters were my best resources for advice on everything from fashion, exercise, diet, and makeup to career, relationship and dating. I learned Latin phrases and obscure theological references from one brother and tips for parallel parking, general vehicle maintenance, and what to say to that guy I’m not super into who keeps asking me out from the other.

As an uptight, bossy, fussy, obsessive-compulsive, perfectionist oldest sister, I have always commiserated with St. Martha, whose feast day we celebrated yesterday. She’s just trying to get everything done and make sure everyone’s happy, and she’s justly annoyed that her little sister is sitting around, enjoying the company and not helping. If you’re an older sister, you know exactly what this feels like, and you’re probably mad as all get-out about it. Through most of my teen years and into adulthood I bristled at Jesus’ rebuke when Martha points out in no uncertain terms that her sister Mary should really be helping out and not just sitting there. 

“Mary has chosen the better part,” Jesus says.Christ in the House of Mary and Martha

I mean really, is that fair? Because what if Martha had chosen the better part first, or set down her dishes and sat down next to Mary in response to her Divine scolding? Who would there be to cook and serve supper then, hmm? In short, we can’t all choose the better part, and it doesn’t seem fair that Martha gets put in her place when she’s serving everyone a meal and making sure they have a bed for the night. 

Okay, yeah, yeah, I get it, praying and contemplating are the most important things in life. Wouldn’t we all love to be able to sit around and contemplate all the time? But mouths must be fed, tables must be set, dishes must be washed … especially when you’re entertaining company, stuff has to happen before you can sit around and gaze starry-eyed into the heavens, or listen with rapt attention at the Master’s feet. If Martha can’t do that, why should Mary get to?

There’s probably some oldest child envy going on here, admittedly. As an oldest, it too often feels like you get positive attention only when you’re “doing things” — washing dishes, cleaning the living room, changing diapers, running errands, and in general helping the family out by shouldering what often feels like more than your share of the burden of chores, etc. Meanwhile the younger siblings can strut and flirt and ingratiate themselves with the grown-ups simply by being adorable. And in my case, I didn’t have just one younger sister to vie with for attention and approval: I had four, and two brothers to boot. It was all well and good as long as I could hold onto the subconscious and comfortable conviction that my seniority made me better by default. I was the oldest, which made me practically perfect and always right.

I can’t point to one epic smackdown moment when my whole carefully constructed paradigm came crashing down. It happened in slow stages over several years, as the siblings grew up and became more beautifully themselves and I couldn’t pretend to be the best anymore, because it was so obviously untrue. I marvel at my siblings’ confidence, intelligence, and talent. They’re all lightyears ahead of me in the “cool” department. And I often stumble upon the discovery that, in some way or another, they’ve discovered the “better part” of life while I’m still running around trying to make sure everything is perfect and everyone is happy, and being a huge grouch and a royal pain in the process.

Maybe Jesus’ scolding of St. Martha had nothing to do with her choice of activity, which was all well and good in itself. Maybe he just wanted her to lay off the whining and stop assuming her actions were the standard of perfection.

“You’re doing good,” might be the takeaway here — “but your little sister is doing better, so stop trying to make her be like you.”

–Mabel

 

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Talking: Do it. It’s good for you.

**Firstly, I apologize profusely for not having contributed much lately to this blog. I am still trying to get my life in order after my move and such. It’s quite a task, you know! Not that it’s any excuse, but I’m afraid it’s all I’ve got. Now on to my real topic…**

“Why can’t things just stay as they are?”

In the 1994 film “Little Women,” Jo March poses this question to her mother while lamenting the upcoming nuptials of her older sister, Meg.  When I first saw this movie after its release, I didn’t understand this question like I do now. In the past few years, as my brothers and sisters (myself included!) and even my friends have grown older and moved on and formed their own lives, I find myself asking this very question.

When we’re young, life is carefree and we have few (if any) cares or worries. The burdens of our lives fall greatly on our parents. But as we get older, it becomes apparent that change is inevitable and that no matter how hard you try to delay it, people will grow up and move on. College, marriage, new jobs, a sense of adventure calling you across the country, or even the world…. All these things serve to disrupt what was once a peaceful coexistence with those closest to you.

During our “family reunion” last weekend, I thought a great deal about the importance of maintaining open communication bonds with friends and family from around the country. Now that you have so many loved ones spread so far, communication and keeping those bonds alive and strong becomes so much harder. And sometimes you find that there is one main person doing most of the communicating – you.

Keep doing it. While it may be a bit frustrating to feel like you’re the only one making the phone calls and initiating emails and Facebook chats and such, in the end it’s totally worth it. I’m speaking purely from experience here…  No relationship is easy, and any relationship worth keeping will require effort. But years down the road, you don’t want to be that person thinking about failed relationships and lamenting that you didn’t take the time to maintain that bond. My grandmother had a quote that she wrote in beautiful calligraphy and had hanging in her kitchen: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” (I have no idea who said that originally, since it has been falsely attributed to Winston Churchill, but my Google search turned up nothing.)

Going through life with only the relationships that are easy and convenient will not stop time from continuing in its march. But going through life with strong relationships that have withstood the test of time, distance, and difficulty and have prospered through it all, THAT is a life worth living. That is the life you want to look back on in your old age, and that is a life you can be proud of.

So now that you’ve read this, Get thee to the telephone!!

And as always, have a happy and blessed Thursday!

— “Virginia”

And because Mabel and I decided we need more pictures, I thought I’d post a couple of our family — the ultimate work-worthy relationship. You’re welcome. 🙂 Also, getting a family photo with 10 people is extremely difficult, so we basically just gave up trying to get everyone to do the same thing, which made for some awesome “candids.”

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Guest Post: Just Be Yourself

This guest post originally appeared at Footprints on My Heart, but the author is generously letting us borrow it. A great reflection on being yourself, loving your family, and letting God lead. 

 

Unique and Beautiful You

By Sarah Therese

“You are beautiful.  You are loved. 

You are unrepeatable, unique, valuable.

You are sacred in God’s eyes. 

You are sacred.

You.”* 

For practically my entire life, I have struggled with self-esteem. I thought in order to be myself I had to be somebody else. I thought that by adapting their styles, their beliefs, their level of maturity, their personality, their behavior, etc. into my lifestyle, I would figure out who I am and what I am supposed to be. I spent much of my time comparing myself to people, especially my siblings, and wasting away the hours of the day daydreaming and longing to be somebody else. 

I longed to be somebody else because I thought they were beautiful.

I longed to be beautiful. Happy. Cherished.

Beloved.

It wasn’t until I was about 16 years old that I began to realize that I am my own person. I don’t have to, or really need to, be somebody else. I began to look at my family differently and notice the unique personalities, similarities and differences of each member. They all had one thing in common, but what struck me was how uniquely they each went about being it:  beautiful.

I was a 17-year-old senior in high school. It was a strange year for me: homeschooled my entire life and now I was being more immediately prepared to venture out on my own path.  I had to discern the difference between what I thought I was supposed to do (namely, follow directly in the footsteps of any one of my older siblings) and what God’s will truly was for me. I wanted to take a year off from academics and serve on NET Ministries as my brother had done several years before. I applied and went to an interview weekend at Franciscan University. While there, I prayed and prayed, but was confused by the thoughts in my heart.  I thought that this is what God was calling me to do. I thought that this would be the perfect way to grow up, to witness to my brother (who had since fallen away from the Faith). I thought that this was God’s plan for me because one of my siblings had done it before. And I would have pushed myself through it had NET not sent me a letter asking me to wait. I was not called to travel with them, at least not that year.

I knew this meant I would be attending the Community College in our area that Fall. If ever there was something I dreaded, this was it. I did not want to go to college. I did not feel I was ready for college. I did not think I was responsible enough for college. But going to college and being in a classroom for the first time in my life sounded like a more productive and richer experience to this 17-year-old than getting a full-time job flipping burgers. So I went.

And praised be Jesus Christ! He knew. God always has a plan.

That first semester of college, I learned about the Montessori Method for the first time. It immediately resonated with me as something I would be comfortable with and enjoy coming from a homeschool background. I was eager to learn more about the method.

This is when I began to realize and accept that God has his own unique and beautiful plan for me and he probably wasn’t calling me to follow precisely in my older sisters’ footsteps. None of my siblings had ever done anything with the Montessori Method, much less knew what it was. Exploring this was a unique adventure that none of my siblings had previously traveled. It was all me… and God.

A year later I had a job at a real Montessori school.

I. Loved. It.

Still do, in fact.

I’ve now been working there a year and have enjoyed every moment (even the less pleasant times). God knew. All along, from the time before I was created, God was writing my story and making me a unique and beautiful individual, unrepeatable, and precious in His eyes.

Beautiful. Cherished. Beloved.

It wasn’t until just recently that I began to accept God’s love for me as me. God isn’t calling me to be my sister, my Mom, or my best friend. God isn’t calling me to be that blogger or the other blogger. God isn’t calling me to be that person in the pew in front of me who looks so beautiful and holy. He is calling me to learn from them and love them, but he isn’t calling me to be them. He is calling me to be me: ultimately, a saint.

When in high school, I asked a friend (who is now a priest) for some advice regarding prayer, spiritual growth, and vocational discernment. His response:

“Pray, pray, and more pray. Also be a good woman. Don’t grow up too fast, but enjoy life as God brings it to you. If you work on being the holiest and most virtuous woman of God you can be, your vocation will become pretty clear.”

Now in college, under the guidance of a spiritual director, I understand his words in a new and brighter light. God is not calling me to be anxious, concerned, and worried about yesterday, today, or tomorrow. If I am so sure that only in God will my soul be at rest, that only on his path will I be happiest — what reason do I have to worry? What further proof do I need that his will is my delight? God is calling me. He is. I know it. I have a vocation; I need not worry about the details. If I focus on being the holiest and most virtuous woman of God I can be, all will be well. There is peace and joy in doing the Father’s will.

God has a story written for me. Frequently, I wish I could be the editor. Despite all the spelling and grammatical errors I contribute, I trust that the manuscript will be revised and polished (through the Sacraments, especially Confession) and ready to print. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever; His love won’t be any different from one day to the next.

*Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood, by Pat Gohn, Ave Maria Press.

Sarah Thérèse is a 20-something homeschool grad-turned-Montessori Teacher Assistant currently working towards a degree in Early Childhood Education. First and foremost, though, she is Catholic, a daughter of the King, and lover of life. She blogs about her journey toward a deeper relationship with Christ at Footprints On My Heart (http://totus2usmaria.blogspot.com/). 

 

The Divine Tussle

A few years ago I lived for a time with a young woman who was 27 and done with singlehood. She’d just watched her best friends get married in a matter of months, she wasn’t dating anyone, she had only some rather new friends and a very young and very idealistic and very stand-offish new roommate (yours truly) to turn to for comfort, and she really, really, really wanted to meet someone, fall in love, get married, and start a family. 

At the ripe old age of 23, I regarded her struggles with mingled feelings of compassion, anger at her situation, and exasperation with her for being in such a funk about it. Life has other things to offer, hasn’t it, for those of us who are still single. The ever elusive “future spouse” will come along in God’s good time, and it’s no good hounding him for it. Those were my thoughts, and tended to be my murmured condolences when she came to me to talk things out.

I remember thinking at that time that my roommate was like Jacob, wrestling with God. 

Now I am 27 and single. I’ve been through about seven roommates since that lovely lady and I parted ways, and I’ve been on a number of dates and made multiple new friends. I’ve moved on in my career. I’ve learned a whole lot about myself, including a lot of things I wish I didn’t know. And for the first time in my adult life, I’ve caught myself in a bit of a funk this year — not because I want a husband and kids necessarily (I’m growing increasingly unsure that I do), but because I want to be committed to something that matters and I’m not. And I don’t feel old, not at all, but 30 is coming, people. That feels somehow momentous.

So today’s first reading splashed over me like a bucket of ice cold water. That old roommate, you’ll be glad to learn, has gotten married and is now expecting a first child. Now it seems to be my turn to wrestle with God. 

And it’s funny, the way he bestows his blessings. He may have to knock your hip out of its socket, but if you ask him hard enough he’ll give you what you ask for — and more than you’d ever dare to ask, even though you dare to wrestle him.

And I find myself also musing on Sarah and Abraham, barren and old, who finally received God’s blessing. But that blessing would have come with all sorts of unpleasantness, especially for Sarah. Being pregnant isn’t easy for any woman, but for a woman who’s 90? It could have killed her.

In the end, God doesn’t promise not to hurt us or to leave us screaming and beating our fists for a time against the ground. He just promises to help us through it. 

It’s when I’m faced with this laughing, vibrant, unpredictable, masculine God that I’m most afraid for myself, but confident that all will at last be well. I may break a bone here and there, but I’ll be okay. 

Sooner or later, we all have to wrestle with God, because that’s how we discover how real he is to us, and how twisted our own wills can be. Sometimes it takes violence to bring us into line with him.

But isn’t it a beautiful beginning? 

 

–Mabel

July’s theme

Happy July, friends.

This month’s theme is going to be family, as we’re celebrating the return of our family from Hawaii, the Pacific region, Texas and Michigan after up to a year away. And it’s summertime, when so many people return home to eat watermelon and visit the beach and spend time in the sun with the people they love.

As always, we welcome guest posts on any topic, but hopefully our chosen theme will give you some inspiration, if you’ve been wanting to write and just haven’t had any ideas.

As always, thanks for reading!

Mabel and Virginia

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