One of the greatest gifts to come from these friendships is a deep gratitude for the complementarity of vocations in the Church. You can hear lots of complaints from the grayer folks about "the lack of vocations" or "the priest shortage" flying right on the heels of how "back when I was a kid, priests were seen as gods and sisters as saints... well, we know better now!" Now as I become gray, I can see a shift from complaining to (a) rejoicing in the fact that there is no vocation shortage and (b) a willingness to revere the consecrated/celibate life as actually lifting up the married life instead of competing with it.
The sisters in my life aren't an accusation that my choice to marry was somehow less-than-holy. Rather, in the words of Jerry Maguire (yes, I saw that movie), they say: "You complete me."
Sr. Anna, of the Nashville Dominicans, and I have been exchanging letters for eight years now. In each letter, one of us is bound to ask eagerly how God is working in us through our vows (either to Christ or to Todd) and through our children (hers spiritual, mine physical). She just sent me a doozy:
"Does motherhood grow deeper as you have more children? What do you learn with a third child that you did not know with two? Does wifehood grow deeper with a third child? I am always encouraged by the thought of your striving for holiness in the domestic church, and I often wonder ... how spiritual motherhood mirrors that of holy women in the world."
What a challenge and encouragement in that small paragraph!
What has changed with the coming of Ana? Is my motherhood "deeper"? I can hardly say. It's only been a few months, although the upheaval began one year ago this week when hyperemesis struck.
If motherhood is a forgetting of self, then, yes. I forget about myself much more often now. Literally. I forget to brush my hair before going out of the house. I forget to change my shirt covered in spit-up. But then, it's hardly a virtue, since I also forget to brush my children's hair and change their shirts.
Simply: I think the more children there are in my life, the more I encounter opportunities to love. And the more opportunities I have to love, the more I see my own unwillingness to love. With just Miriam, I was that great mom--answering every call and need with cheer. Then came Bella, and I noticed how much more mothering there was to be done. And how little I wanted to give more. But more I gave. Now with three little black-holes of need, the demand is almost constant. And in answering those demands, sometimes it is all I can do to keep from screaming (and sometimes I just scream).
The joy has also deepened. There is more to wonder at. I laugh more. I watch them love each other in their little baby-ways, and I think, "May it always be so!"
In these precious moments of consolation, juxtaposed right next to a temper-tantrum in my heart, I see how motherhood deepens. There is a perfect Mother--in Mary and the Church--and every child given from God challenges me to a more perfect imitation of her. With each child, I also see more ways in which I could be better. And how deep, even deeper than I imagined a year ago, my need is for Help.
It is the same with being a wife. Each child transforms--in fire and water--our marriage. Fire, in the physical (and financial!) suffering. Water, in the irreplaceable-ness of each new little person.
So, I thank my dear Sister in Christ (who will never read this post). Her questions, from a spiritual mother who is no longer "in the world," give me pause and a chance at humility. May her tribe increase.