This picture holds all sorts of warm fuzzies for me.
It was taken back in 2018 at the tail end of a birthday party for my friends' daughter. At the time, no one present had any idea I'd just been through the wringer. Meg, the birthday girl's mom, had sensed something was amiss, but it wasn't until more than a month later that I divulged details that put the pieces into place.
Anyway, I was feeling all sorts of ways the morning of this party. I had to physically drag myself out of bed and get dressed. I wanted so much to celebrate this birthday, because her little life is such a blessing and I love her to bits, but I was struggling so hard against a tsunami of emotions that I wasn't sure how I could manage it all. I didn't want to be a Debbie Downer at the party, but I also didn't know that I had the capacity to plaster a smile on my face and pretend I wasn't eviscerated.
I mustered up the strength to get in the car and head to their house. I sat in my parked car for a while, building myself up to walk inside. In that time, I got an e-mail from Chris. We were in the middle of a knock-out war (not with each other, but with ourselves) and basically just trying to find our way through the dark. Several e-mails had been passed back and forth, and I felt as though our relationship was about to tank directly into hell. So when I saw an e-mail from him come through, I felt my heart drop.
Luckily, when I read it, it was the opposite of what I was expecting (I swear... that man never ceases to surprise me). While I was still a kaleidoscope of confusion, I finally found him in the dark, and even if we were still in the dark, at least we were together. Together, we'd figure a way out.
So after reading that, I was able to head into the party with a sense of comfort I hadn't had. That made everything so much easier. However, I was still emotionally precarious, and all I really wanted was to hug and be hugged. As Chris once noted, hugs really are my "soothing protocol." LoL.
Anyway, my friends all know I'm a hugger. But at a kid's bday party, it'd be weird, even for me, to just go hugging everyone. So I sat on a chair in the living room. Almost immediately, God sent Frank's mom, Deb, to squeeze next to me on the couch. Nick (Frank's nephew) had climbed up to check out my phone, and she wanted to get in on the love. I happily acquiesced (because I love Deb to pieces), and basically felt like I was getting hugged by her and Tyler. Then one of the other children noticed that there was a phone being played with, and she, also, wanted to see. I was beginning to feel like the Pied Piper. Ha ha ha!
Meg, Frank's wife, noted later that I was so stinkin' happy because I was basically in my natural habitat. I was surrounded by kids who were the cuddliest of cuddlers. It was AWESOME and exactly what I needed. And it was so nice to see her and her family. I've known them all since I was in HS (Meg came later, but she's stuck with me now - lol) and there is just no explaining how much I love them all.
So that's how God ensured I got hugs when I needed them without outing me for seeming like a giant creeper. Ha ha. This is what I mean by trusting God to take care of things. When He knows you need something, He's got a plan in place to ensure you get it. I needed hugs, so he sent the cavalry in the form of Frank's mom and some kids.
After this photo was taken, I sent it to Chris. I was so proud because for the first time in what seemed like forever, I was genuinely smiling. As usual, I've got the best friends in the world and the Best Dad Ever to thank for that.
God is good, guys. In all things, God is good.
I have a friend who is also the mother of a special needs son. Her son, Danny, has a more severe form of Autism than Vince, but we've bonded over the years over the many similarities we've faced: the frustration of IEPs, fighting for services, trying (in vain) to get folks to understand the myriad challenges our sons face, etc.
She's a single mom, too, who recently put herself back into the dating pool. She asked me to "share my secret" with her, and I laughed, because my entire MO is "Trust that God'll sort it out."
But we went back and forth a bit, and I said that one of the most important things I learned about myself post-divorce is the incredible importance I place on intelligence in a partner. The longer I'm with Chris, the more this importance manifests for me.
Even as a teen, I was a very picky dater. I had two boyfriends through high school and most of college, and both were very intelligent (both hold post graduate degrees, and one has a cache of scrabble tiles after his name, ha ha). When I got to college, plenty of guys tried to win my affection, but if they couldn't hold genuine conversations with me, they'd remain friend-zoned. I wasn't interested in dating around... I was interested in genuine connection.
This next part is going to sound SUPER arrogant, but stick with me...
My ex-husband, for his part, isn't stupid. He's thoughtless, but he's not stupid. The problem is that I'm smarter. I've always known that, but I didn't think it'd be a huge problem. After all, growing up, I saw how marriage worked between my parents. My mom is smarter than my father. That's not to say my father is stupid; he is not. My mom is just smarter. When I say "smarter," I'm not just talking book smart. I'm talking about her mental processing speed, her breadth of knowledge, and her ability to juggle and organize complex problems effectively. Her ability to critically analyze a wide variety of situations, people and problems is something that my father, while skilled in other areas, could not do.
I take after my mother in this regard.
Being married to John was incredibly frustrating for reasons that eluded me until I found myself in a relationship with Chris. I had always brushed off my frustration with John as frustration with his thoughtlessness, but as I've come to learn, I was (and continue to be) frustrated that he's not smarter than me. I needed a husband who was smarter than me.
Why? Because I'm a traditionalist when it comes to marriage.
I want a strong, capable man who is able to recognize, plan for, and handle problems. That takes a certain level of intelligence. John didn't really plan for problems, nor did he handle them when they arose. He normally couldn't recognize them as they slapped him in the face, either. I'd have to spell everything out for him, or coax him into having difficult conversations, or simply handle organization and planning on my own. Rather than viewing him as competent and capable, I began to view him as a frustrating liability. I lost respect for him; I could not trust him nor rely on him for even basic things.
Chris' brain, on the other hand, outpaces mine by lightyears. His breadth and depth of knowledge never cease to amaze me, and his constant quest for more drives me to keep up! He has shown time and again a willingness to dive into difficult subjects and critically analyze them so as to effectively fix them or better plan to circumnavigate them in the future. There is no need to coax him into planning, communicating or organizing. Quite the contrary, in fact, he tends to be the one suggesting it's time to go over the budget, discuss a problem, or get ahead of something. I TRUST him because his intelligence outpaces my own and I happily recognize that. I don't feel as though the burden of leading is on me because I am finally with a man who is capable and confident enough to do the leading.
A strong, intelligent woman needs a stronger, more intelligent man. That's really the long and short of it, and I have no qualms about recognizing that my husband is stronger and smarter than I.
This isn't to say I don't challenge Chris or blindly follow where he goes. We've gotten into our fair share of heated debates over a plethora of things - some of which I've even swayed his perspective on. He respects my intelligence and input just as much as I respect and appreciate his. But when it comes to executive decisions that must be made for our family, I've learned that I can trust him to make the best choice. And even if I don't agree or understand that choice 100%, I trust him enough to sort out the details so that, in the end, everything works out for the best.
There is peace in that. We've discussed our relationship dynamic in detail, and we always seem to come back to the Captain/First Mate analogy. Our family is the ship, and his job is to navigate us safely to where we need to be. My job is to offer feedback and help keep the rest of the shipmates (kids) doing their part. We support one another (I might spot a storm on the horizon he missed and he may need to reprimand a kid or two), but at the end of the day, we know our roles and recognize how they support one another. Together, we keep the ship sailing and there is peace.
That peace is only possible because I am able to rely on and trust Chris' intelligence and capabilities. As a very strong, capable and intelligent woman, my husband *must,* at the very least, match me in these areas to garner my respect. John was no match, and I naively believed this wouldn't be a problem since my mother seemed to manage well enough with my father.
Alas, for all the intelligence and strength I inherited from my mother, I did not inherit her patience. Instead, I inherited my grandmother's fiery impatience and pointed, no-BS communication style.
So, ya know... there's that. Ha ha.
Luckily, Chris inherited his father's insane ability to remain Zen in the midst of utter chaos. I swear, it's unsettling how patient he is, but clearly God knew what He was doing when He sent the Holy Spirit our way.
As I always say, God is good. In all things, God is incredibly good.
I was talking to a good friend of mine the other day (from HS... that's us dressed up the murderous broads from Arsenic and Old Lace before we graduated to faux-gangsta smokin' outside a candy shop in Kansas). We were talking about faith in God's timing and how much of a gift it can be.
I said to her:
Patience? Fortitude? Gentleness? Grace? PFFFFFT. I was given NONE of that. But faith and a genuine trust that eventually He'll get around to sorting my special brand of stupid out? Oh man... He fully recognized where I'd need the most help, so He just straight DUMPED that into the mix when forming me.
This theme of trusting in God's ability to sort things out has been a mainstay for me all my life. I've never really worried about how something would turn out. I always just expect that since God's handling it, it'll work out for the best.
Before Chris moved back home, my "other mother" would ask me often about plans to get him home or when he'd find a job, or how we'd plan a wedding without knowing if or when he'd ever be able to leave Kansas. I'd always sorta laugh it off because none of the worry made sense to me. We were engaged, we had a date, and God would simply have to work out the details. He was the one who set us up, after all. I couldn't image Him forgetting the crucial piece of getting him home. *Grin*
And here we are, almost a full year later living out our happily ever after, just as we intended. Why? Because God is good and challenges that seem impossible for us are small potatoes for the Guy Who Created the Universe.
Even in my own career, things have worked out when I simply left things in His Hands.
Because of my ex-husband's thoughtlessness, I was left jobless after Nate's birth. I knew I'd have to find work ASAP so I could provide for my kids, get health benefits, and secure a financial future for myself and my boys. I mentioned before how so many women in my position were scared out of their wits, but that was never me. I knew God would ensure we were taken care of, and honestly, my career took off.
I was offered an incredible job that enabled me to be with my kids, nurse Nate, pump in private, and do what I loved doing - all for $10k more than I had been making at my previous job. When it was time to move on from that position, I was handed an incredible opportunity that has seen my professional experience EXPLODE. Six figures are within reach for me at this point (should I choose to pursue the for-profit world), and that's something that I never would have considered possible while anchored to John. His negativity stifled so many professional aspirations, and being rid of that was genuinely a blessing.
I basically strapped rockets onto myself and shot through the ranks, networking with high-level people on high-level projects that opened so many doors to me. As a result, I now have a dual-Directorship in a field I adore. Every day I'm learning something new, meeting new people, and enacting lasting changes that make REAL differences. So while my work can certainly be challenging and frustrating like everyone else, at the end of the day, I feel good that the work I'm doing is having a positive impact on the community.
I recognize how blessed I am to be able to say that.
And the best part? Because I'm in such a highly visible field doing highly visible work, I've made a solid name for myself. Just this week, I was approached by two different employers looking to poach me! Both would-be employers got my name from past colleagues who threw my name into the hat before giving me the heads up. Ha ha!
I'm not saying this to be boastful... I'm saying this because I promise that if you just "let go and let God," He will never disappoint you. In fact, He'll go so far out of the way to blow your socks off that you will never doubt His ability to sort things out ever again!
God is good... He really is. In so many ways that we'll never understand. I'm legitimately proof of that. Chris is proof of that. My kids are proof of that. YOU are proof of that.
So trust Him, guys. Trust Him.
Before Chris finally moved home, I'd always tell Vince he was man of the house. As man of the house, one of his responsibilities was leading the family in prayer. He RELISHED that role and was quite good at it! It wasn't restricted to just dinner prayer, either. He was also responsible for stopping us any time a police car or ambulance went by so we could pray for whoever was in need.
On the day of our wedding, our little family gathered together one last time in front of the altar for family prayer BEFORE the reins were officially handed over to Chris as man of the house. Vince led us all in prayer before the ceremony, and our photographer, Wendy, captured the moment for us!
It was so sweet. Our celebrant, Fr. John, noted how touching it was in his homily. I was proud of Vince, because he's always taken that job seriously and he's always done such a good job with it.
Eventually, Chris took charge of things and led our family prayer. However, once Nate memorized his first prayer (the Hail Mary, of course), he was anxious to have a go of leading. Chris graciously allowed Nate to lead one night, and ever since, Vince and Nate will ask for the honor of leading prayer.
I'm laughing a bit as I type this, because I had made such a point about family prayer being the responsibility of the man of the house, but it's honestly so sweet that they want so much to contribute to prayer that I can't really be upset.
I snapped the next photo on the day before Chris and I got married. I wanted to go to Confession, and the only place offering it was the Cathedral in Center City. I had to take the boys along for the ride. Vince went to Confession first, and then I popped in. Before I did, I snapped this photo of Vince saying his penance. Nate, unsure of what he should do, just followed his brother's lead. Ha ha.
It's a wonder I didn't melt right there on the spot.
I should probably explain this to Vince a little better. Whether he realizes it or not, he's been leading the family in prayer for many, many years. God knows he's redirected me on more than one occasion. And Nate adores him, seeking to emulate him in basically everything.
If nothing else, he's got that part of being "man of the house," down pat. Ha ha!
She poured her heart and soul into EVERYTHING, and while stitching everything together, she would pray for whoever would end up using whatever she was making:
When I finally realized she was serious, I cried. I felt so overwhelmed with gratitude, unworthiness, and awe that I couldn't respond to her e-mail for more than a week. Every time I would try, words would fail me and I'd just begin crying again. To think that she would not only WANT to do this, but consider it a personal honor... guys... I'm tearing up again just thinking of how wonderful she is.
Karen lives out in Ohio, so she asked that I send her my measurements. She asked if I had anything in mind, and I didn't. My only request was that she use lightweight lace because I'd be married in May. She sent me a photo of a style she thought would be perfect for me and I immediately approved. Of course she'd pick out something perfect. SHE is perfect.
I didn't hear much from her in the months that followed. To be fair, I was inundated with changing plans around due to the impending pandemic, moving Chris home, and trying to sort out virtual learning for the boys. She was very clearly busy, too, because the day we finally got Chris home, a package was waiting for us when we arrived. It was the dress!
Upon opening it, I could hardly contain myself. It was more stunning than I had anticipated. The lace was SUPREMELY soft and for as large as the dress was, it was super lightweight. I'm not entirely sure how she managed that.
She included a cathedral length veil that was trimmed in the same lace she used to make the dress. I didn't end up using it due to COVID, but I still have it tucked away with the dress. She sent me the sweetest letter ever with the dress, assuring me that every stitch was offered as a prayer for our marriage. And now I own an original piece of artwork from one of my most beloved artistic friends. I cannot overstate how much I appreciate this grace.
So to Karen, I love you ridiculous amounts. I cannot ever thank you enough for giving so freely of yourself to ensure that I had something so beautiful to wear. I cherish it, just as I cherish our friendship. You are a saint, my friend, and I hope to be much, MUCH more like you when I "grow up."
And yes, Chris absolutely wiped a tear from his eye when he saw me in it. Even he was blown away by your ability to clean me up. *Grin*
Love you, friend. Thank you.
This utterly GORGEOUS piece of work by the impossibly talented William Bouguereau is titled "Le Charite."
A couple weeks ago, I saw someone on Facebook erroneously draw the conclusion that this was Our Lady cradling aborted children.
I'm as pro-life as they come, but this piece has exactly zero to do with abortion. This is NOT the Blessed Mother, and Bouguereau (who had painted plenty of BVMs over his career) never once chose to depict her breastfeeding (which is another entry for another time).
I get super agitated whenever someone usurps unrelated content to fit a narrative... even if that narrative is one I happen to agree with (abortion is a terribly grave and unjust sin against innocent life).
I responded to the public FB post with a relatively brief explanation as to what this painting was and what it was ACTUALLY representing. Because so many Catholics were sharing the erroneously captioned message, it felt like I was chasing my tail dropping my "Guys, guys, guys... this isn't the Blessed Mother and those aren't aborted children!" everywhere.
I posted to Twitter as well, and then realized that I missed explaining art. So here I am, back in the saddle...
The woman is the personification of Charity. These are not aborted children, but personifications of all who seek charity. She is bare-breasted and wearing red (the color of martyrdom), indicating her willingness to nourish others with the fullness of herself.
There is an overturned jug of gold at her left foot. This indicates that no cost is too great for the fulfillment of charity in the service of others.
She also has books at her right foot; she is both wise and generous with that knowledge.
She has purple columns on either side indicating both sacrifice and royalty ("and the greatest of these is Charity"). She's seated on white marble, an architectural & art medium known for being lustrous, strong, & pure. The children are not hers biologically, but clearly belong to her. Charity accepts all.
The children exemplify various things Charity can provide. Clockwise from 11 o'clock:
Interestingly, these children are placed at roughly the same places we would see the Wounds of Christ: two in her hands, two at her feet, and one at her side.
Charity is seated upon an altar of sorts, flanked by sacrifice, draped in martyrdom, and enshrined in divinity (the gold behind her, creating an almost halo-like effect). She mirrors the Sacred Wounds and configures herself wholly to Christ, welcoming and sacrificing for all.
Important to note is the fact that she is veiled with downcast eyes, indicating humility. Charity is never boastful; she is only concerned with those she is in service of.
TL; DR - this is not Mary, these are not aborted children, and while art is certainly open to interpretation, that interpretation should be honest with its motives and at least somewhat knowledgeable with the artist/history & circumstances in which it was made.
Please don't ever be like the guy below who got my eye all twitchy. Inevitably, there will be folks who know the truth, and no matter HOW well intentioned your message, it becomes tainted. Don't taint the pro-life message, please... especially not with a Bouguereau.
While I recognize 2020 was a challenging and frustrating year for so many people, I am grateful that it turned out to be a year of incredible blessings for my family and I.
Chris and I kicked off the New Year together. He was still living in Kansas, and hadn't had any job offers in the area. We were able to celebrate Christmas with the boys and welcome 2020 with hopeful expectation.
He was to begin as soon as possible!
The biggest hurdle of all had finally been overcome. He had been searching for so long to find something suitable back home, and finally, God had opened the door, just as I knew He would.
When he flew back home, we had a plan in place that would get him home in time to start his new job in April.
Vince and Nate were doing so well, too! Vince was excelling in 4th grade and Nate was growing by leaps and bounds. While they can certainly bicker, they're usually pretty good together. Nate still worships Vince and Vince enjoys lording around his baby brother. We had all settled nicely into our new house and everyone was excited for Chris to finally move home for good, especially because Chris was such a fun playmate for them!
When March arrived, the first inklings of COVID-19 were starting to make their way to us. My wonderful friend (and then-boss) started warning me against traveling out of state. My brother was SUPER adamant about me not flying down to Kansas to then drive through multiple states to get him home. It seemed like the entire world had suddenly gone crazy.
There was *no way* I was going to leave Chris stranded in Kansas when we FINALLY had the ability to get him home. I was on pins and needles the week leading up to my flight because some airlines were closing, some states were shutting down, etc.
Finally, I was able to board and get to Kansas. We spent a few days packing, and then began our 1,200 mile road trip home. Knowing we'd need to have things to look forward to, I planned a few socially safe excursions between Kansas and New Jersey:
We split the drive over three days. We left after having breakfast on Saturday morning, stopping for fuel every 2.5 hours or so. While I had been worried an 18 hour drive might be daunting, all the excursions helped give us quirky fun to break it all up. The drive blew by, and before we knew it, we were HOME.
That meant we FINALLY got to build out the guitar wall I had devised the moment I stepped foot into the new house... we put it together that weekend and I am STILL over the moon for it, much like everyone else who has come through our door since!
April saw the lockdown was in full swing. It appears we got him home just in time! However, both of us are considered essential workers, so we were both going into the office regularly. Vince had swapped to remote learning. Nate was home for about 2 months before the state began re-allowing daycares to reopen. In that time, he really started to struggle. My little extrovert was beside himself not having his little peers to play with daily. While Vince LOVED not having to go into school every day, Nate was genuinely getting depressed. The day he was finally allowed back into daycare, he cried. He actually cried tears of joy because he missed everyone so much.
In the meantime, though, we did what we could to give them things to look forward to. We joined a few car parades, went up to do a drive-by of Mom-Mom's house, Uncle Ray's house and Auntie Mary's house, learned how to polish gemstones, make Jell-o and build AMAZING forts. We even set up a pinata in the backyard for them to take their frustrations out on!
All this time, Chris and I were supposed to be planning our wedding. We had sent out invitations, chose menus, and my gorgeous dress (which will get its own post) had arrived. Things were in the air due to COVID, and we were told multiple times (by many, many people) to just postpone until things returned to normal. There's no way, after all, we'd be able to make it happen with so many restrictions.
Telling me I can’t do something is pretty much a guaranteed way of ensuring it gets done because I’m a spiteful sonofagun who is creative, capable, and hella good at talking people into following my lead. I convinced the pastor to allow us to have the service by agreeing to cut our numbers to match the allotted funeral capacities (10 people). I then sorted things out with the county in order to get us virtually approved for licensing (which was tricky since Chris' license was still listed as out-of-state due to DMVs being closed).
Finally, we let everyone know that we were downgrading the ceremony and reception to match capacity. I organized a videographer to be present to stream the ceremony live so that those who could not be present could still feel as though they were. I also made sure to livestream throughout the day via social media to give people a glimpse into the fun!
All in all, it was PERFECT. Everything- every single thing- was utter perfection. The weather, the people, the love... God is so good, people. Just trust Him; He always provides a way.
From there, we found ourselves in the middle of summer. Restrictions were beginning to ease, and the boys were back to enjoying their peers in camp (for Vince) and daycare (for Nate). Chris was keeping them entertained and learning with his many hands-on science projects. Rockets, experiments with arduinos, and Nerf wars were becoming commonplace. It was and is so gratifying for me to see them so enamored by Chris. Likewise, he relishes their affection and enjoys the opportunity to help them learn and grow.
When the school year arrived, I was proud of the diocesan schools for making the decision to reopen with safety protocols in place. Nate had graduated from daycare and started as a kindergartener which was great for Vince. He was excited to show Nate around and dutifully took him to his classroom every day. He even began enjoying aftercare now that he had his brother to play with.
As for me, I work in nonprofit Development. My biggest source of fundraising revenue tends to be from in-person events. With COVID throwing a wrench into that, I was forced to get super creative in terms of meeting financial goals with my hands and both feet tied behind my back. That said, God is good and once again provided the way. Chris taught me how to cut videos together, I took several virtual seminars, and applied for every grant under the sun. Not only did I end up meeting all the financial goals of my nonprofit, I ended up exceeding expectations. Chris was doing stellar in his job and I was blossoming as well!
Again, God is good!
Unfortunately, we were not immune to tragedy.
Chris' wonderful father, Peter, passed away after a brief fight with cancer. He had begun complaining of pain, and by the time doctors were able to sort it out, it had spread too far.
Before he passed away, however, God granted Chris the very special grace of being able to share news with him. In early August, we discovered that we were going to be welcoming a grandchild for them. Being able to share that he was to be a grandfather... I am so grateful that Chris had that opportunity.
Peter is deeply missed, most especially by his wife of almost 50 years, Diana. It was terribly hard for her and for Chris to face the holidays without him this year, so we did what we could to lighten the burden.
So yes, dear readers, I am once more expecting a little miracle. Vincent and Nate were VERY excited to learn that they'd have a new addition to the pack. Vince had his heart set on a sister, and Nate didn't care what the baby turned out to be because he's just thrilled he's not the youngest anymore. However, we found out that we were expecting a little boy who we decided to name "Dominic." We're already calling him "Nico" for short, and we are over the moon with anticipation for this little munchkin to arrive. And because God's awesome like that, He's finally giving me my May baby!
Christmas rolled around and while it was subdued, it was still blessed. We trimmed the tree, had fun decorating special presents for family, and built gingerbread houses and ate cookies. So many cookies. We were able to attend Mass on Christmas Day, and while I've been exhausted on account of pregnancy, I've had Chris to help with... everything.
My husband... a true and unparalleled partner in all the ways. I am so beyond blessed I'm honestly at a loss as to how any of this fell into my lap.
So that's my 20/20 on 2020. Were there challenges? Sure. But overall, we had so very much to be thankful for. The new life growing within me is proof enough to be optimistic for what tomorrow brings. In all things, God is good.
Originally posted on June 21, 2018 via P&P.
I've just been doing a lot of thinking about male-female interactions and how I'm able to avoid negative ones and bolster positive ones, especially since I've gotta lay a firm foundation of expectations for Vince and Nate.
This piece is going to go against the grain for my more "feminist" friends out there, but hear me out. A lot of the things women love about their men is (*gasp* horror of horrors) their masculinity.
These are actual quotes pulled from the thread responding to the post above:
And the list goes on. Unsurprisingly, no one said "I love when my man gossips with me like my girlfriends do" or "I find it so sexy when he gets mani-pedis with me" or "My knees get weak when he slams back an appletini."
Very clearly, the 6,000+ women who responded appreciate their men for traditionally gender-specific traits. It made me thoroughly happy to read this list, because it gave me hope that women haven't entirely lost their marbles yet. We are still yearning for strong, masculine men and haven't wholly discarded our appreciation for that which they have to offer.
Hopefully that means we're raising young women to appreciate those traits, too. I intend to raise my boys into strong, masculine men and I pray they'll be blessed to find feminine women who recognize their own special talents and how they complement those brought to the table by Vince and Nate.
Originally posted on November 17, 2017 via P&P.
I went to a Catholic grade school. There were about 40-50 of us split between two classes.
Through the years, my class gained the reputation of being particularly troublesome. Detentions, demerits, revoking class trips, barring us from dances and even threatening explusion did nothing to fix the problem we collectively had with authority.
It's no surprise, then, that during finals in 7th grade, a history test (complete with answers) was stolen from the teacher's desk. He had stepped outside to speak with his sister (who happened to be the principal) and while he was in the hall, someone walked up to the podium, grabbed the final, and hurried back to his/her desk. I did not see this happen as I was reading a book on Greek mythology, but from the giggles and high fives being shared by the class, I had an idea someone had done something stupid.
When Mr. Walsh stepped back in, he checked over the papers on the podium, confused. It was clear he knew something was missing. He said aloud that whoever grabbed the "papers" had one shot to return them before he went to the principal.
No one stepped forward.
At this point, my interest was piqued because it was clear something of importance had been taken. I shot a look over to the likely culprits who were shuffling in their seats. I sighed and went back to reading my mythology book, knowing full well they wouldn't step forward and we'd likely have yet another class punishment as a result.
The next day, Sr. Walsh (the principal, and our teacher's sister) entered the room after morning announcements. Having grown sick of punishing us en masse, she decided to get creative and punish us individually in addition to as a class. One at a time, she called us out into the hall to see if anyone would confess or give up the name of the thief. She didn't make it more than ten students in and she discovered the culprits (there were three). Unfortunately for the class, it turns out they were only too willing to divulge the plan and admitted to making copies of the test (and answers) which were then passed around to everyone in the room.
However, one of the culprits did something that still baffles me to this day. She defended me. After confessing to stealing the test and making copies for everyone, she specifically told the principal that even though everyone else in the class was aware that a cheat sheet was made, I hadn't had anything to do with it.
I had absolutely no idea this conversation had taken place. I was likely still trying to steal time between lessons to make it through my mythology book and saw the 1:1 grilling as a means to that end. When Sister called me out into the hallway, I assumed it was just my turn to be grilled. I wasn't concerned. Everyone in the school knew me to be a good student and a relatively honest kid, so I figured this was all for show.
But then Sister told me what happened, neglecting the part about me being singled out. She said, "Because this is a class-wide problem, the whole class is going to be punished, and since the transgression is so severe, the punishment will be equally severe."
She didn't say it because she didn't have to; 7th grade would not be attending the school-wide field trip to Clementon Amusement Park, nor would we be allowed to attend our class field trip to the aquarium. We likely wouldn't be allowed to the end of year dance, either. Those were the only things she had on the table to take, and she was taking all of them. It also meant letters would be going home to the parents informing them of precisely what had happened, and let's be real... THAT punishment was the worst because it meant my mother would think I was cheating! Sister might be able to take a good many activities from me, but my mother could and would end my life. So I had a pretty good idea that I was about to be screwed over a barrel.
But then she said, "Claudia said that you didn't know they were planning to steal the test."
I was incredulous. I'd figured out what had been stolen and by whom at that point, but to think Claudia would defend me with absolutely nothing to gain stupified me. She was a popular kid and I was decidedly not. She lived across the street from me, and we played together on the weekends, but in school? In school she didn't know who I was because she was much too cool for me. But here she was, going out of her way to protect me. I honestly didn't know what to say.
Sister then asked, "Did you know? Did you know they'd stolen the test?"
I had to be honest. I said, "I knew that something was taken, but it wasn't until Mr. Walsh got angry that I realized it was probably the test."
She then asked, "Did you know who took the test?"
I said, "I had a pretty good idea who it was, but since I didn't see them take it, I couldn't be sure."
She then asked, "So if you knew the test was taken, and you had a good idea who had taken it, why didn't you tell Mr. Walsh?"
I said, "Because I wasn't sure. After school, everyone was talking about it, so it wasn't hard to put the pieces together."
So she asked again, "Why didn't you tell him this morning? Why didn't you come to me?"
And I replied, "It doesn't have to do with me. I didn't take the test and I wouldn't have used the cheat sheet. So yeah, I knew they took it, but I wasn't going to do anything with it."
This contradicted Claudia's attempt to get me out of being punished. Obviously I was just as culpable as the rest of the class, and I owned my part in it. Remaining silent is just as bad as participating, and I learned that lesson in that moment.
But I also learned something about myself, and I learned it because Sister Walsh saw it in me and explained it. She said, "Gina, do you know what integrity is?"
I shook my head. I'd heard the word a few times, but it was a hazy concept for me. Something about respect and George Washington cutting cherry trees...
She got closer and looked me in the eye. I was uncomfortable with this level of intimacy and leaned against the wall as I shifted uncomfortably under her gaze. She said:
You had the chance to walk away without punishment. Claudia said you didn't know anything, and I believed her. Instead of just going along with that, you decided to tell me the truth. You told me the truth knowing that you'd be punished just as harshly as the rest of the class for enabling this to happen. THAT is integrity. You are taking responsibility for a choice you made and I am proud of you. You must always remember to hold on to your integrity, because one day, it won't just be a cheat sheet. The decision to keep your integrity will get harder and harder, and I want you to remember this moment. You are brave and you are honest and you are strong. Never let anyone take that integrity away from you.
I was in 7th grade, so that was back in 1994. Wow. This conversation took place more than 25 years ago and I remember it as if it was yesterday. It clearly made a strong impression on me, and I've tried to heed that advice ever since. I think she'd be just as proud of me today as she was then. No matter the circumstance, I refuse to allow anyone to siphon off my integrity. Not no way, not no how.
I've been dabbling in Twitter since coming back to blogging and I've frankly been horrified by what I've seen.
It's such an angry, snarky, petulant place! There are some golden nuggets now and again (@Br0therBrother, I'm looking at you!), but Catholic Twitter seems to be so divisive anymore.
Pope Francis, liturgical music, politics, even the liturgy itself. Whew. It's never-ending. I don't know how anyone keeps up with it (or WHY anyone would keep up with it).
What I can say is that we must look like an incredibly confusing, chaotic mess to those on the outside looking in. We're supposed to be united in our love of Christ, but instead, it seems we're trying to outdo one another in spiritual wokeness.
But I'll keep poking along because there are definitely some gems to be found. Be a gem. Better yet, be a saint!
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