Tuesday, July 29, 2014

When Trying to Look Good Doesn't Look Like Jesus - Edel '14 Inspirations

God bless Texas.

No, really.

I'm serious.
 My sweet lil' traveling buddy!
I do love it there, even more so after my venture with little Joey to the Edel Gathering in Austin this past weekend. I could so very easily live in the South.  The hospitality.  The Charm. The food.  The fun. The football! Hello! Does it get any better??! Plus, in Texas I could run year-round without crunching through the ice and snow of Kansas' crazy winters. Bonus!

But, that's not the point of this post. Edel '14 is the point, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since I got back on Sunday evening. All that thinking has fueled my blogging fire, and I've tried, man have I tried to reach the computer keys, but I've got this adorable baby who eats like it's his job and sleeps like it's a hobby, a really lousy hobby. Oh, and then there's five other members of this tribe who sometimes need me, who just so happen to be needing me right now, so hold on a sec.

Okay, let's see, where was I?...

Oh, yes, I was so tired from the weekend that yesterday morning, even a barking toddler (Charlie was literally on his hands and knees barking like a dog outside my bedroom door), couldn't peel me out of bed.  When I asked him to pipe down he asked this very question:
How about if I moo like a cow, would that be better??


I was still feeling the effects of the migraine and mastitis, those "little" unexpected inconveniences that tried to derail my good-time train at Edel, but thanks to some codeine did not succeed. At least I could smell coffee brewing, coffee and the sound of the boys working the toaster over with double helpings of waffles were just enough to get me vertical and shuffling back into the trenches.

24 hours later, here I am, still trying to transfer the impressions that the Edel Gathering has left on my head, heart and soul onto this little blog page.  There's really so much to tell....the joy of meeting those "friends" that I only knew via the web, the inspiring talks from Marion, Haley and Jen, the little life chats over cocktails, the epic rap performance by one of my all time favorite bloggers, and late night chats at Kathryn's with Bonnie, Demetria, and Alisha.
Truth be told, I just can't sum all of it up.  So, what I will share is one specific conversation I had with my sweet friend, Stephanie, and how that conversation, and the Edel experience have together reminded me of where I've been, how far I've come and the great distance I have yet to go between here and the place we all hope to call home some day.....

Saturday evening, at the close of the gathering, all of the ladies were invited to a delicious Tex-Mex supper.  We sat a tables beautifully decorated by my very talented friend, Kathryn, and dined joyfully, taking full advantage of a meal which did not require us to refill sippy cups or wipe up spills.

After savoring the last bite of dinner, I was greeted by a dear sweet friend, Stephanie, whom I had been waiting all weekend to sit a visit with.  She and I are both raising boys, trying to homeschool, trying to find time to run and stay healthy so we can keep up with the wonderful men in our lives.

During our conversation, she shared with me the challenges that she faces when it comes to feeling confident in who she is as a wife and mother in particular situations which require her to work or socialize with other women, specifically within her homeschool network. Those very platforms which are meant to bring us together as women in a supportive and encouraging way can sometimes be the most challenging of all.

Crazy, isn't it? As women we really do long for community, for understanding, for friendship, but often times we're the ones who are the most critical of each other.  Why do we do this?? Why are we so hard on one another??

Stephanie's real and honest confessions hit really close to home for me. I remember when Steve and I were first married and began having children of our own.  Like many moms, I wanted so very much to do everything right, to do what was best for my children, for my husband and for myself. I looked for the ideal in everything, and that's what I was striving to achieve.

You all know that's a one way ticket to crazy town, right?.  Ever been there?? Yeah, not so fun, huh?

While my intentions to be the best wife and mother I could be may have seemed pure at the time, I really think they were rooted more in fear than in love.  Fear and a dose of pride. Fear of failure, fear of looking like I didn't know what the heck I was doing, fear of making less-than-the-best choices for my family, including everything from what we ate to what books we read.  And then there's that pride thing.  The kind of pride that chants, do not mess this motherhood thing up, because everyone is watching. Everyone.

What I didn't realize was that in seeking this good-better-best life, nearly everything I did on a daily basis was sought after for the good in and of itself, and not for the greatest good which was the heart of Christ.  I was too concerned about being good in the eyes of others - my peers, my parents, the ladies at bible study, at church, the homeschool group, etc. etc.  I was more concerned about what a good mother, a good wife, a good Catholic looks like. With fear and pride directing the disposition of my heart, there was simply no room for God to show me what goodness - what holiness really looked like, because the eyes of my soul were completely focused on what others were telling me was good and holy...

A good mom let's her kids play sports. No, wait, she doesn't.  She immunizes her kids.  No, wait, immunizations are bad.  She enrolls them in early language classes. No, wait, that's too much pressure for a two year old.

And, a good Catholic mom's kids have all their prayers memorized and then some, and in Latin. She does not own a TV and if she does only Veggie Tales are allowed. And, she doesn't wear make-up or pants - ever (I know, right? That's another story for another day, but I'm telling you, there really is a "pants are evil" gang out there. Trust me, they've ganged up on me more than once. But, ladies, you know me better than that. This girl still wears pants.).

Looking for the good Catholic mother ideals in life didn't open my eyes to Christ, but instead it closed my heart and my mind to who Christ is in others and who he wants to be in me. As my vision of what it meant to be good and what defined good narrowed, so did my openness to others. I was putting people in a box, Jesus in a box, myself in a box.

They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  But, I say also that the road to heaven isn't paved with being good for that sake of good itself, but only for the sake of seeking good in order that we may experience Christ himself.  And, that may mean that Christ looks different than the ideals we have chosen to embrace in an effort to be good. (Please know that when I talk about ideals, I am not referring to moral issues here, just to clarify.)

I was reminded of this at the Edel Gathering.  In each and every woman who attended last weekend, I saw expressions of Christ, the thoughtful purpose and plan of a good and gracious God, who makes Himself known through the very different lives of every one of us.  To one woman pearls are the best accessory, to another it's a tattoo with a story. Many moms stay home with their kids, and for some, the career path is their calling. There are those of us who homeschool and also those who would never even consider it to be an option.

Edel reminded me that when we seek goodness with the intention of finding Jesus, and not for the sake of being good or looking good for good itself, we will find that He looks like wild hair and tattoos, arms wrapped around the 10th child, a homeschooling mom who can also rap, a cradle Catholic who is just finding her faith and a convert who has known it all along.

I am amazed that God, in his wisdom and goodness, would take something so simple and so small as my desire to blog and cause it to flourish into so many new found friendships, and, thanks to the Edel Gathering, a greater understanding of what it means to see Him in the women around me.

What a mercy it has been to have the scales fall away from my eyes, to have the tethers of my heart released so that I can truly know that goodness and holiness cannot be contained within the shallow box of my neatly wrapped ideals. God is so much bigger, more beautiful than that.

I'm not keeping all of this Edel goodness to myself, though.  Tempting as it may be to mingle in my little online posse of buddies, rekindling memories of fun times, inspiring talks, and sacred moments.  No, Marion, Haley, and Jen have asked us to do so much more than that.  They have asked us to take what we've been given at Edel and to share it with others, one on one, face to face in the every day real life experience of motherhood.

So, that's where I'm at, in the trenches with you, "building Cathedrals" as Jen so eloquently expressed in her talk Saturday night. And, I see beside me Christ, who looks and sounds and lives a goodness that is different than mine, but one that is as much of an expression of Him as mine is. And, I can't think of any place I'd rather be!

“Your real, new self (which is Christ's and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom, Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


  1. Thanks for a beautiful post Susan, and just the kick in the tail that I needed. I soooo feel the pressure sometimes to be "good" and to choose the "good" for my kids - that I definitely miss the boat of seeking and choosing God and his perfect plan! It sounds like a great gathering!

  2. "Our new/real self comes when we are looking for Him." Perfect and so true. Thank you and so glad I got to meet wonderful you, even if briefly.

  3. I wish we'd had more time to talk, Susan! I love your sharings here, and your beautiful perspective. It's hard to accept that there are no bright line rules about how to be THE good Catholic mother & wife. It's about being ourselves, truly, fully, wholly, in God. And from that identity, which is totally unique, we move outward. Oy! Hard to find just us in the mess of our insecurities, fears, and the loud voices of society. So glad to have met you & now know you electronically :) Edel15!

  4. What great reflections Susan...I've loved following all the excitement and fun of the weekend; that CS Lewis quote really sums up your reflection well :)

  5. Oh Susan, I think we are kindred spirits. Your words resonate in my soul. When I started my own journey of motherhood 10 years ago I was full of lofty ideals. Yet when we seek God's will, in his goodness, he lets reality chip away the facade so that true holiness in all its messiness can shine forth. I am excited to reconnect with you through the web. Not to sound like a stalker :)...but I have been praying in thanksgiving for you and your husband over the years. I give the two of you much credit for my conversion and transformation. You introduced me to Theology of the Body, C.S. Lewis, and Sheldon Vanauken. Anyone who can inspire an 18 year old to dive into that trio is just plain awesome. I hope our paths cross in SW Kansas sometime in the future!

  6. I need to reread this (more than once probably!!!) - so much wisdom here!!!
    Sorry that you had a migraine and other issues while you were in TX but glad you had a good time.
    And - Austin - one of my favorite places of all times!!! (you know I'm a TX girl, right?!)

  7. Hi Susan! New reader, love this beautiful space you've made here and your inspired words. I started when Bonnie linked you (now I commented then...can't recall!) and you included that Sara Groves song. Such a moving post. This one truly sums up what my journey over the last 6 years as a mom has been - and a little before, knowing I was striving to become an "ideal Catholic wife and mom" in the near future! All that build-up made for a tough nut to crack! But crack it did, that hard shell of perfectionism, under the pressure I'd put on myself plus real-live-kiddos plus the sometimes severe (but usually extremely tender) mercy of God. So so grateful for the interior healing of the journey He's taken me on. The Lewis quote you conclude with is especially powerful. Looking forward to reading more of your blog. Thank you!!

  8. This is so spot on for me right now. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for sharing your wisdom!!

  9. What a beautiful reflection. it's true, isn't it, how hard we women can be on each other? I've been to the places you write about there -- places filled with fear...and pride. it's amazing what God will do with our hearts if we only let Him.

  10. I am so glad you enjoyed Edel and got so much from it despite the migraine. Thank you for listening to Jen and sharing your thoughts with us.


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