How a Retreat from the World Brought Me Back into It

Huddled under the covers, shaking with fear, pleading with God to fill the hole inside me and somehow lighten this dark burden. For so long, that was how I existed. Trapped inside my body, trapped in a world I didn’t understand. Now I still don’t understand it, but I know I’m not supposed to. I’ve surrendered the need to understand to someone far bigger than I am. He’ll take care of it for me.


My loneliness crippled me. Wounds from the past immobilized me. I wanted so badly to go out into the world, and yet found I was incapable of taking even one step beyond what my work day required of me, beyond what was necessary to pay the bills and feed the dog and keep a stocked refrigerator. So much about the world was terrifying. So much about the emptiness inside me terrified.

Then one day I took a trip to a place far in the country, one blinking streetlight, mellow cows, and tree lined paths. It was a departure from my comfortable routine. It was stepping out of the safe boundaries I had laid for myself. Attend a three day silent retreat over a hundred miles from my home with perfect strangers? It sounded crazy. But I decided on almost a whim to give it a chance. That decision changed my life.


For three days, I listened to God, got still and silent enough that I could really hear His voice. Nothing interfering, no distractions, no demands. I listened to the priest talk about Jesus, His birth, His life, His death, and how He is part of our lives every day. I wrote a journal of my thoughts for the first time in years. And I prayed. Prayed and prayed and prayed as I walked through fields, rocked back and forth on the porch as dusk fell, stood beside live oaks stretching their own arms in praise, and peered down at the first blossoms of spring.

I came home changed. I was still single. I was one lone girl, but I wasn’t alone. I had known all along that I had family and friends who loved me, but when you spend night after night eating dinner alone, going to bed in an empty apartment, and struggling through each day without encountering one person who truly loves you—sure, there are well-intentioned, kind people at work, but none who love you profoundly for your true self—you wind up feeling so wretchedly alone that it’s almost indescribable. I grew up with catechism and Mass and a love for God. But I don’t think I really sensed His presence with me until I went on retreat. After that, I knew God was with me even when I felt the most alone.

I started waking up happy. For no reason at all, I was full of joy. I realized that had never happened before. I had always had to have a reason for happiness. Now I felt a deep and abiding wholeness. God was with me every day. Jesus was walking beside me.


I kept praying that God would send me the man with whom I was meant to spend my life, that He would bless me with a loving husband and children. But I also began to feel a peace about who I was. Just me and God, no frills attached. My singleness stopped being a burden, was no longer a condition to list on a medical chart like asthma or high blood pressure. It wasn’t a curse. God knew what He was doing with me. And I would release myself to Him, let His love take shape in my heart and trust that He knew what He was doing.

Here I am, so many years later, a wife and mother.  I don’t take that for granted.  Every morning before I step out of bed I thank Him for that.  And I know that I was able to become a wife and mother because ultimately I was grateful to Him when I was all alone, just me and Him.  We were enough together.



A Season of Waiting

This Advent, as I prepare for the coming of Jesus, I think of others who are spending this season of waiting alone, wondering if it will ever happen for them, wishing their holidays were filled with a husband and children, longing for a family.  And it brings me back to my own journey.


I stood at the altar in a lavender dress, clutching a bouquet and watching my best friends. I had been there to witness them meet, fall in love, and now marry. I joked that if I hadn’t been a bridesmaid I wouldn’t have known which side to sit on, as I considered both the bride and groom two of the dearest friends in the world.

I had stood in weddings before, and I had observed more ceremonies than could be counted. But I had never seen one like this. Not where the love of the bride and groom was so palpable, where their eyes spoke forever and it seemed to be just the two of them up there at the front of the church. In a room full of people—a church so packed that the upstairs gallery was full—their presence was all that mattered, they alone filled the space. I knew their love to be true, the truest I had ever known, and I stood awestruck, tears in my eyes, incapable of looking away.

I knew I didn’t have what they had. Not by a long shot.

I spent the night dancing away with my boyfriend, a man I tolerated but didn’t seem to like all that much. I heard the jokes and the laughter, the “you’re next,” and “soon we’ll be dancing at your wedding.” And it struck me hard then—this was true. If I kept on this path, it would happen. I would stand up there in front of everyone and cheapen what I had just witnessed by vows that could only be half truths.

It was as if he had just appeared in my life, and I hadn’t wanted to experience the inconvenience of getting him out of it. After a history of falling for bad guys, I promised myself I would keep a good guy around, no matter what. No matter if I really loved him. No matter if I cringed when he kissed me. I was tired of being the girl who attended weddings alone. I was weary of the grandparents’ laments of my singleness. When I began dating him, suddenly everyone was happy for me, seemed more comfortable with who I was—my status in life—and my value in others’ eyes appeared heightened. Not because I was any different. Just because I was in a relationship.

I woke up the next morning, feet sore from the high heeled dancing, groggy from the mimosas I’d imbibed, but certain of what I had to do. Two days later I broke up with him. Though I felt bad hurting him, the moment it was done, I felt a flood of relief enveloping me. I was happier than I had been in months.


Watching my best friends wedding ceremony, I took my own vows along with them. I promised myself that it would have to be love. Real love. If it wasn’t love, I wouldn’t be with a man. And if that meant I never found a man, that was the way it was going to have to be. I ached to think that would also mean no children, trembled at the thought of a life all alone, winced at the pity of others—but I stuck to it. God didn’t want me living a lie. He had better plans for me than that.

Years passed. My mother would listen as I critiqued my latest date. And if he was a good man, or even halfway okay, she would inevitably remind me that there might not be many more chances. Why don’t you like him? He’s a perfectly good man. What is the matter with you? A few times I tried to make myself feel something I couldn’t. But forcing myself never worked. I always returned to the promise I had made myself, that I had made to God as well.


I watched as other girls married because it was the required next step in their relationship. Because they were afraid to be alone. Because they wanted children. Because often a life with someone is easier than one alone. (I said easier, not better.) But I held fast to my decision.

And then, one month from my thirtieth birthday, he arrived. He was better than anything I could have imagined or hoped for. I had never hoped for so much. Suddenly the waiting all made sense. What some might have seen as my gamble, others the power of my convictions, paid off. There was somebody for me out there. I found him. And I loved him.

Funny thing is, he was present for that wedding, too. He was also a member of the wedding party. He witnessed that undeniable love just as I did. I like to think being present in that moment—together even though we were unaware of it—we took our first steps toward the great love we now share.

Why Crown of Roses?

I am terrible with titles.  I struggled to come up with a title for this space.  I played around with a bunch of different things in my head, but none of them seemed right.  And then I stumbled upon a lovely (frightening?) pattern in my life that provided the answer.  Apparently I am obsessed with roses.  The obsession has been going on for a while, from what I can tell, only I just actually realized that it existed.


Here are the shoes I wore for my wedding.  Yes, I was wed in shoes adorned with pink roses.


And my wedding bouquet, full of pink cabbage roses and green hydrangeas, which I was massively in love with and wanted to last for all eternity.



I was thrilled to find out I was having a daughter, so I could adorn her room with roses.  I selected this bedding.



The curtains in our living room—yep, you guessed it.  Full of roses.  I didn’t even bother to photograph the throw pillows.  Because I figured y’all are able to use your imaginations.  Yes, they have roses, too.



And if that weren’t overkill enough—because who can have too many roses, right?—the quilt on our bed has them.


As well as the fabric on my bedside table.



Lest you think I merely festoon our house with roses, let me assuage your worries and assure you that I also clothe myself in them.  No, it’s not the most professional attire.  Good thing I don’t have to leave my home to work and my “office” is my kitchen table and often the floor of the nursery.  It’s kind of scary how much I love this top.



And what did I insist needed to be planted in our front garden?  Pink roses, of course!  How I didn’t catch on to the rose phenomenon in my life until recently I will never know.  It appears to be some kind of sickness.




And then I realized that my love for roses and my devotion to the Blessed Mother are linked!  I have had a deep love for Mary since I was just a little girl.


Then I stumbled upon the Chesterton quote.

A crown of roses is also a crown of thorns.

Mary and Jesus.  It covers them both.  The Annunciation and the Crucifixion.  And the rose dies in winter but blooms again in spring.  The Resurrection.

I loved the image of the rose being both beautiful and painful, bringing joy as well as sorrow, so much like life.  And so it was an easy decision.

Linking with Kelly for Seven Quick Takes Friday.

Wrestling in the Pews


Before I became a mother, I had definite opinions about Mass attendance and behavior with regards to children.  When I was pregnant, I listened to a mother of 3 children ages 3 and under lament the fact that they could not attend Mass as a family.  It was impossible, she said.  She and her husband rotated, one going to morning Mass, another in the evening.  She said her 2 year old twin daughters did not attend Mass.  Period.  I remained silent, but in my head I judged.  I judged hard.  Children were supposed to go to Mass.  How would they ever learn to behave at Mass if they weren’t taken?

From the time I was just a little girl, piety and perfect Mass behavior were inextricably linked.  By the age of 3, I knew the order of the Mass, had memorized what to say, and reveled in the singing.  I basked in the approval and praise of my devout grandmother.  As I grew up, I was hyper vigilant about Mass decorum.  I hushed my sister, placed their hands in their laps, shook my head at them when they weren’t concentrating on the right things.  I was basically the Chief of the Mass Police.

When I taught pre-school, I attended Mass with 20 four year olds.  Many times, my assistant was absent or busy, and I was responsible for all of them on my own.  I went home exhausted, battling muscle tension, and in need of a good glass of wine, but let me tell you—those kids paid attention, did what they were supposed to, and behaved appropriately.  If they didn’t, they felt the wrath of their usually warm, sweet teacher.  I’m only slightly exaggerating.  I was not above scaring them a little or guilting them.  Retrospectively this was probably not the right approach.  I even had ideas about who regularly attended Mass and who did not based on behavior and drew conclusions about their parents accordingly.

Right here, you’re sensing a big fall coming for me, right?  A tumble due from my high horse?

I taught elementary school for six years.  I was nurturing and warm and loved my kids.  But they were well aware of my expectations.  They knew I was strict and could be stern if necessary.  Most of the time, they loved me and just wanted to please, so it was easy.  One of my favorite little boys of all time, who came from a  very difficult home, punched a child and cursed at him on the very first day of first grade.  Just a few weeks later, after he and I had bonded, the whole school did not recognize him.  He was a model student in my class.  I could get 4 year olds to walk in a line on the very first day of school.  No matter the grade, my class was always the best behaved of the bunch.  I prided myself on it.

And there it is—pride.


Then I had my own longed for, prayed for, beloved baby girl.  And everything changed.  My sweet, loving, observant, precious angel baby is also extremely high energy, spirited, strong willed, and incapable of sitting still or being quiet for any length of time.  Any length of time, people.  I’ll never forget the ultrasound tech saying, “Wow, you have one very active baby girl!  Get ready, Mom and Dad.  She’s going to keep you on her toes.”  And she was right.  Before she even came out into the world, she was already a force of nature!  As I told many parents countless times—these can be good qualities.  There are some big positives to this.  However, these characteristics make Mass challenging.


I say challenging because that is the kind of language I used with parents when I was a teacher.  But if I’m being honest, I’d say it is a battle of epic endurance.  An excruciating wrestling match in the pew.  A chase down the aisles.  A struggle of only an hour that feels in actuality endless.

I have read all the blog posts, listened to all the podcasts, done all the things you are supposed to do, experimented, prayed, talked with her about it, sat in the front, sat in the back, brought soft toys, brought books, brought no toys or books.  Y’all, I’ve done it all.  It’s just hard.  She’s 16 months old, and she is high energy.  There doesn’t seem to be much that will change that.

We keep trying.  I leave Mass feeling like I need a neck brace and therapy.  After the screaming and crying became too disturbing to others, I took her outside, calmed her down, and then tried to return to Mass.  I watched in horror as she pushed the door closed as I was opening it.  She did not want to go back.  I don’t want her to have negative associations with Mass.  But we have to go as a family.  She will never learn unless we keep at it.

Are you all reveling in the irony?  Are you laughing at my tumble from my high horse?  Do you enjoy how God stripped me of arrogance and rid me of my judgmental nature by sending me this amazing, blessed, crazy little person?


All my life, from the time I was very small, I appeared to be the perfect child at Mass and later, a devout adult.  But I wasn’t a perfect Christian or Catholic.  In my heart I judged others and held myself in high regard.  How wrong I was.

You are supposed to thank God through all things.  So I’ve decided to start thanking Him when I’m losing my mind trying to stop my daughter from guillotining herself with the kneeler, pulling the woman’s hair in the pew in front of us, or kicking and screaming as I carry her in line for Communion.  I may not hear the homily or come out with a sense of tranquility, but I am sure reminded of my fallibility as a human being and of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  And I have suddenly acquired tremendous compassion and empathy for so many people.

My mother spent my entire life trying to ingrain in me a sense of humility.  My daughter is finally achieving what she could not.  Perhaps they are in cahoots.  I wouldn’t put it past them.

Thank you, God, for my newfound humility.  And please help us to get through Mass in one piece.