Last fall (I think it was last fall) when Jen Fulwiler and Hallie Lord announced that they were planning an Austin, Texas gathering geared toward Catholic mothers, I told my husband, “I really, really, really, really, really want to go.”
And I’ll have you know that those were some determined-sounding “really’s.”
I knew almost nothing about it, yet I wanted to go to The Edel Gathering more than I’d wanted anything in a long time. I can’t fully tell you why. Yes, a break sounded lovely. Yes, it was exciting to think of traveling to a new city and beyond exciting to think of getting to meet so many women whose writing I had come to love.
But there was something more. When I thought of Edel, more than anything else, I thought of opportunity. I felt like there was some special opportunity tied up with this event that I would be foolish to miss.
So I darned well made sure not to miss it.
As Edel (which was held the last weekend of July) drew near and as I began to see excited Facebook posts from my fellow attendees-to-be, I mostly lost sight of that first, powerful feeling regarding the gathering. Rather, I began to daydream about those things that Edel purported to aim for: relaxation, friendship, encouragement in my vocation as a mother.
I was going away for the weekend. I would be staying in a fancy hotel. I would be responsible for only one child. I would be surrounded by grown-ups. I would be eating delicious food and drinking wine (and maybe margaritas) and not doing the dishes. Any stay-at-home mother would be blinded by the prospect of such brilliance.
So imagine my surprise, as the weekend progressed, to realize that for me, Edel didn’t end up being about those things after all.
(This is where I pause to tell you why. This is where I tell you about how very tired I was and how it was cumbersome to have a baby with me – even a very good one. About how the baby had a major blowout in the middle of a popular restaurant. About how I kept running over people’s feet with my stroller. About how I didn’t spend as much time with my fellow Edel attendees as I would have liked, because of my exhaustion and my baby and my not fitting through crowds with my stroller. They’re all very exceptional challenges, you know.)
In short, the weekend was not, on its face, quite as enjoyable as I had hoped it would be. And yet, it turned out that The Edel Gathering meant more to me than I could have ever anticipated.
In her opening remarks on Saturday, Hallie spoke about how she and Jen saw, again and again, the influence of the Holy Spirit in bringing The Edel Gathering to be.
Maybe you’re not the type who looks for traces of the Holy Spirit in everyday life. Maybe such talk seems a little superstitious to you. But I figure that if I believe in God, I’ve got to believe in more than an abstract concept. I’ve got to believe that God can have a tangible influence on my life, and that sometimes His influence can be sensed powerfully.
So it was for me last weekend. And so it seems to have been for many other women who attended The Edel Gathering. In countless Facebook and blog posts this past week, Edel attendees recounted the words that touched them, the support they found, and the messages they felt they were meant to receive.
Many seem to have taken to heart the words, “You are not alone.” And, “Your work is hard.” And, “There is no one way to be a good Catholic.” They are excellent messages to be sure, but they’re not the one that resonated most with me. If my own message could be put into a few words, it would be, “You are to work toward something more.”
I felt like I received a cascade of that message last weekend (and in the days that followed) – again and again, layer upon layer. The message seemed to be just about falling over itself to be known to me.
I felt like I was – I feel like I am – being instructed to consider my future beyond my role as a mother. Which seems sort of ironic, doesn’t it, to have come from an event that was meant to lift up the vocation of motherhood?
When I left my job as a lobbyist (which I loved) to stay home with my firstborn son, I was asked, again and again, “So when are you coming back?” It was difficult for me to convince people that I wasn’t just leaving for one year or for the few years it would take for my son to be old enough to go to school. “Well, I don’t know how many children we’ll have!” I would say. But it was more than that. I was ready to begin the child-rearing phase of my life and I wanted to do it whole-hog. I was in it for the long haul.
So other than a few cursory thoughts about some things I maybe, who knows, we’ll see might like to do when my boys go off to college, I hadn’t given much consideration to my own future. But at Edel it finally became clear to me: I still have most of my life ahead of me. (God willing.) I won’t forever be a mother to small children.
I assure you that I’m crazy about my boys and I love staying home with them, but can I tell you what a liberating thought that was for me? That I have my own personal future – not just that which is wrapped up in my family’s? And do you know what was almost as exciting to think of? That I may be called to do something in particular with my future – something that makes use of my natural talents and interests.
I work better when I have a plan, and I now realize that for years, I’ve been functioning without one. I’ve been so busy trying to get through the day in front of me that I haven’t been giving thought to the years. So this past week while I worked in my home – doing the same cooking and feeding and diapering I always do – I was pondering my life’s direction. And I did so with a sense of purpose and peace.
I am so thankful for that weekend. I’m thankful to Jen and Hallie for all their hard work in putting together The Edel Gathering. I’m thankful to all the wonderful women there who showed each other kindness and solidarity and Christ’s love. I’m thankful to the Holy Spirit for using the event to touch so many people and for pounding me over and over with a message that (I think) was meant just for me.
I’m thankful for the peace and the hope and the sense of opportunity I now feel.