Laughing, Weeping, Living

Life happens. You laugh about it or cry about it, sometimes both.

What Does It Mean to Be a Leader?

Close family and friends will know that several months ago I applied for a job that would be a Big Deal if I were accepted. It seems that my application was not accepted, which is no surprise to me since I knew it was a long shot, but I can’t help feeling disappointed. The experience leaves me with an odd mix of emotions and ideas about myself and what I see myself doing. On the one hand, I was looking forward to the opportunity to prove that I am important, that I have valuable insights to offer, that I am an effective leader. On the other hand, I feel some relief because that job really would have been a reach for my current skill set. On the one hand, I am glad I have been given time to develop the needed skills so I can apply more successfully should the job come available again in five or six years. On the other hand, I feel doubtful that I will ever be able to improve myself enough to become the desirable candidate the company is looking for.

The whole experience has put the decisions I have made so far in my career in sharp perspective. This is the first time I have thought that the decisions I have made do not serve my career goals. Granted, my career goals now are very different from what they were five years ago, and I would always make the decision to break from my career in favor of raising a family, no matter what my career is.

It leaves me thinking, what does it really mean to be a leader? What does it really mean to be a success?

I believe I am doing my most valuable work by staying home with Stephen, but this Big Deal job got me dreaming. Now that my application appears to be off the table, I wonder am I not leadership material? Do I not have what it takes to be a success? I’m thinking, you know not everyone has what it takes to be the leader. Some people just make great assistants. Should I just embrace being a good assistant? Does this mean I’m mediocre? Not everyone can be great; maybe I should just embrace being mediocre. Maybe I’m just cut out to be a successful small fry. Not destined for greatness.

It’s a good thing I have Jeremy to talk sense into me. He’s a great husband. He reminded me that being an assistant doesn’t mean I’m not a leader. That being a small fry doesn’t mean being mediocre. These are great points. There are different kinds of leaders at every level of notoriety. I don’t have to be in charge of lots of people to be a leader. I am a leader in my parish, in my family, and in my community organizations simply by being an active participant and believing in the mission of each organization. For me, I know I am a leader because I see that people listen when I talk, and I believe they value my insights. My opinion is solicited; people notice when I’m not there. That means something. As for being a success, that’s an idea I struggle with daily. I wanted to be validated by winning a job offer, but really it’s something I need to know about myself. My child is articulate and well-mannered (most of the time!), independent, has unique ideas and can solve problems. Success. My marriage is strong still, going into seven years married. Success. As far as I know, I don’t have any enemies. Success.

I have to keep an eye on what I really value. A career? Yes, but I value my family and friends more.

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Goodness

On Saturday Jeremy and I attended a wonderful event presented by Marriages of Grace, a Northeast Ohio local non-profit organization devoted solely to promoting the sacrament of marriage and supporting the enrichment of marriages in the area. The event theme this year was “Marriage, Mercy, and the Martins” since this is the Year of Mercy as declared by Pope Francis, and Louis and Zelie Martin were recently canonized saints, a married couple canonized together. The Martins were the parents of Saint Therese of Lisieux, who you may have heard of.

We learned about the Martin family, and their story offers much to encourage any married couple in the pursuit of holiness. They each had wanted to join religious orders, but it didn’t work out. Later, they met by chance while walking around their town where they lived, fell in love, and were married. They had nine children all together, though four of them died during infancy. All the remaining children became nuns. The example of this holy family is inspiring to any family that wants to grow in holiness.

At the event, we also heard Philip Keller speak about crossing the line that most people don’t even know exists. The line between thinking like a human being, and thinking like God. The Martins crossed that line. They lived their lives according to what God willed; they made choices and decisions based on what is good and right, and benefiting to others above their own personal desires. We are all called to do the same. We are invited to turn our hearts over to God and accept his will to work through our lives. How do we know when we’ve crossed the line? Keller says you start to see little miracles everywhere–you see the hand of God where you would have missed it before. You start to notice communications that you sense are coming from the Holy Spirit. You become sensitive to when angels or the Holy Spirit are close to you, inviting you do this or that so that something greater can then take place. Keller’s talk was very inspiring for me. I want to be holy and I want to cross the line. I spoke to him at one of our breaks and asked him what I should do first to start crossing the line.

Here is where the story gets interesting. As he was talking to me, I realized that maybe I already have. He asked me if I experience some of the things he spoke about, and I said, sure, all the time. He told me I’m already across the line, but the real trick is to stay there. I didn’t tell you this before, but Philip Keller is legally blind, and has been for almost 20 years. He is closely involved in a miracle healing ministry, and I’m sure he himself has prayed many times for healing, yet he still cannot see. His faith inspires, despite his weakness, maybe because of his weakness. In any case, he was “looking” at me as we spoke and he told me “You radiate goodness.” Gosh. That is honestly the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. It reminds me of an occasion about a year ago when a lady told me she could sense something about me that put me in tune with the spiritual, and when she learned about Agnes, she understood why that was. I just remembered that. Anyway, he told me “You radiate goodness.” So sweet, but also really powerful.

Radiate goodness. First, what does that mean? My first thought is saints are depicted with halos and that imagery must come from somewhere. Second, is this a temporary state that comes and goes, or do I have it all the time? I was feeling pretty holy at that Marriages of Grace event, but I don’t feel that inspired all the time. Do I radiate goodness when Stephen is being kind of irritating and I’m trying not to be snippy with him? Do I radiate goodness when I’m grocery shopping? Third, well great now I have a reputation to uphold. Thanks a lot Mr. Keller. Now I have to be a good person all the stinking time.

But seriously. The other keynote speaker at the marriage event–Jim Hogan, a high-school theology teacher–spoke about “free gifts,” and how even gifts come with a cost. The cost is prorated depending on how awesome the gift is. A pair of hand-knitted socks is pretty good, but you have to make room for their bulk in your drawer, and commit to special laundering so they don’t fall apart. A “free” vacation is really awesome! But you may have to pay your own airfare to get to the vacation, arrange for child care for your kids you leave behind, miss out on the family or social events you would have attended if you stayed at home. We are happy to pay that cost, because the gift is so good. Hogan went on to say eternal salvation is the most awesome gift there could ever be. The cost? Giving your life over to God and living a life of self-sacrifice and mindfulness of God’s will. We are happy to pay that cost, because come on. Eternal. Salvation.

Philip Keller’s remark to me is an awesome gift, but it comes with a cost, too. It would be really easy to feel puffed up and prideful (Sweet! Holy Blind Guy Thinks I Radiate Goodness!) but that cannot happen. I must remain humble. I am happy to pay the cost of humility, the cost of striving every day to stay on the “thinking like God” side of the line, the cost of being openly faithful and joyful in my faith despite my own weakness. It is a pretty hefty cost, fitting for such an awesome gift. I am willing to do it so that I can continue to be radiant with joy. Despite my weakness. Despite the trials. Despite the multitudinous opportunities in my life to practice humility and patience. I must need a lot of practice, because I get a lot of those opportunities.

Saint Baby Agnes, pray for me so that I may continue to live on the side of the line that puts me closer to the hearts of Jesus and Mary, closer to the promise that one day I may join them and you at the heavenly banquet.

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The Time is Ripe

Well.

It looks like my last post on this blog was almost two years ago. That’s an eternity on the internet. The truth is, I started this blog while pregnant with Agnes, and I wrote about life as a young, pregnant mother. Then I wrote about Agnes, and after she passed away, I lost my voice. What was I supposed to write about? I wanted to write about how life continues in a family after a child dies, how we learn to grieve and live with the loss, and find graces and meaning, and yadda yadda yadda. But I couldn’t write about any of that, because it was a struggle to process all the feelings for myself, much less for an audience. I made it about six or eight months after Agnes passed away before I gave up. I didn’t really decide to give up, but. You know.

So, two years passed. And here I am again. Jeremy and I did a huge thing earlier tonight. We stood up in front of a room full of 120 people and told our very personal story about Agnes. I admit, I cried during our talk. It was a scary talk to present. I’m really glad I wrote out my notes in complete, coherent sentences because I needed those things while I was speaking. We stood up and spoke from the heart about Agnes and how she changed our lives. I think this marks a turning point for us, and for me. It has only been two years, but we put in the work. We grieved hard core. We processed hard core. Those scars will always be marks in our souls, but we have a Saint Baby Agnes to pray for us, to help us continue healing, an ongoing event.

If anyone from that talk earlier tonight is here now, welcome. You can scroll down the page to the “tag cloud” and click whatever you want to read about.

I think the time is ripe now. I can start to find things to share again. I would like to find things to share. Thank you for visiting my blog, and I hope to speak with you again shortly.

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