How We Found God’s Blessings and Grace in the Most Unexpected Places
This June, Justin and I celebrate eight years of marriage. Each year, on our anniversary, we look through our wedding album and I see two youngsters so much in love but yet so clueless about what life will bring us in the next few years. I remember being so in love – and anxiously awaiting spending the rest of our lives together.
Our priest also gave us a copy of our wedding homily. At the same time each year, we read through it as well. Each year, these words particularly resonate with me:
"Sara, I know you are nervous about things not going as you hoped; you're right, they won't be. Get used to it because that feeling will probably come up many times. You must also remember that that's NOT where your joy fails, joy doesn't depend on things going well. Joy depends on keeping God in your home, on remembering you are His servants.”
Over the past eight years, I have continually learned how true that is. We’ve had so much joy. The biggest blessing of our marriage is our three beautiful children. And we’ve been blessed with some amazing friends. If I could go back, even knowing our sufferings of the past eight years, I would marry Justin all over again despite the hardships we have experienced. Difficult pregnancies, chronic pain, financial challenges, an unexpected Neonatal Intensive Care Unit stay, family living far away and changing careers (for me) have been just some of the challenges. Additionally, we have grown both as individuals and as a couple in our personal lives and in our spiritual lives.
The biggest lesson that I have learned is that God works his blessings in the most ordinary of circumstances and that grace comes from living in the presence of God within your home. Getting through the hard times is possible because both Justin and I attempt to keep God in our home and remember we are his servants just as Father encouraged us to do all those years ago.
Perhaps this is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life…” (CCC 1996). In such a way, grace conveys a special power to deal with the routine trials of life. We grow and are able to persevere because we meet trials not so much with our own power, but rather are participating in the source of eternal life.
This statement also has a great deal to teach us about God’s blessing as well. God’s blessing is not so much about a subjective experience of good circumstances. Rather, it is an experience of intimacy. When family life is approached with a sense of service to God, one finds that intimacy can be had in both the “good times and in bad, in sickness and in health…” as stated in the Catholic wedding vows.
In my life as a mother, being God’s servant means cooking supper, doing dishes, sleepless nights and changing diapers. So many diapers over the past seven years!
That perhaps, is the hardest part of motherhood – not the actual CHANGING of diapers. It’s the monotony of every day seeming to be EXACTLY the same. It’s like living the movie Groundhog Day over and over again, but with a lot more of bodily fluids and crying. Yet, when seen as an opportunity to grow in intimacy even the monotony becomes a source of blessing.
One mother I know calls these the “tunnel years” – where one simply does the task in front of them in order to take care of their children and family because if you look too far down the tunnel you will get anxious about the many more years of diapers. However, this is not where the story ends. One day you will look up and your oldest will be able to help. And with my oldest turning seven this summer, I am realizing that he is growing up too, becoming his own person and taking more responsibility within the family.
For example, after our third child was born, I sprained my ankle and was on crutches. It hurt worse than labor. Justin was not at a point where he could take off work the whole time, so I had to figure out life with three kids. I had to get creative, so I would put number three on a blanket and have his older brother (then five years old) pull his 2 month-old brother wherever I needed him to go. Looking back I can see God’s grace working in my family at that very moment as he enabled me to persevere and grow.
As hard as individual days can be, as more of a “veteran mom,” I am realizing just how holy motherhood is. Before kids, I thought I was a patient person. However, it turned out that I just didn’t have anyone to press my buttons. Three kids five and under will quickly give one the virtue of patience even if they drag you there kicking and screaming.
However, just like the movie Groundhog Day, the redemption and joy of God’s blessing comes in engaging others deeply and allowing my family to experience that “Trinitarian intimacy” that the catechism recalls. The most sanctifying part of motherhood is loving my children through the hardships. You know, those moments when I would give a hundred dollars simply to have two minutes in the bathroom by myself.
It’s being God’s faithful servant in the little things – asking my husband specifically what I can do to make his day better and actually following through. It’s being calm while making cookies with the children despite the mess and the excitement. It’s making sure my kids’ physical and emotion needs are being met.
It’s challenging because it usually doesn’t feel like I am making progress on a daily basis. Surviving a toddler temper tantrum does not feel like a moment of intimacy. However, being faithful in the little things helps prepare us for the big things that come along.
I’ve learned the “secret” to survival is asking God for his help and his grace each and every day and remembering I am God’s servant. On the days with little sleep and not enough caffeine, God can mysteriously soothe my patience and make my day manageable through his grace. When I think of myself as God’s servant, I am willing to sacrifice more for my family and children. And with each passing day, just like the movie Groundhog Day, I have the option to choose to be a better person and ask for God’s help to get through each day and the grace to recognize His blessings.
This post was inspired by Jeannie Ewing’s new book, A Time to Laugh and A Time to Weep, which offers reflections on Servant of God Cora Evans’ selected writings, Refugee from Heaven. To pre-order your copy click here.