Our children must wear collared shirts and dress shoes to Mass on Sundays. I sometimes wonder if the desire to look perfect at church—to present my family like a magazine cover of having it all together—contributes to why some find our faith inaccessible. Am I communicating that God is for everyone from every walk of life in every season of life?
Allow me to share a more genuine story about our family and the unexpected arrival of our first child:
We were supposed to wait until one of us had a full-time job with health insurance before getting pregnant. But job prospects weren't promising for a fine arts teacher in the post-2008 recession and an entry-level Radio-Television-Film major in a top-five media market.
Somewhere along the way, we picked up the wrong assumption that where God calls, financial blessings abound. We knew God called us to each other, to our work, and to our marriage. So why didn't God make us wildly successful, or at the very least, middle-class comfortable?
The job roller coaster of second-interview highs and rejection-email lows was hard to stomach, especially when combined with first-trimester nausea. Into our depressed, financially-unstable world, we were surprised by pregnancy.
We actually had the audacity to feel a little excited. It wasn't how we'd planned to have kids. We had followed all of the NFP (Natural Family Planning) protocols to avoid pregnancy. But in our disenchantment with a seemingly unattainable lifestyle of full-time jobs and health insurance—a lifestyle we'd wrongly assumed to be a hallmark of Catholic success—we found both terror and fascination in the surprise new life of our unborn child.
We didn't tell anyone about the pregnancy. We feared the doubtful stares and awkward silences of friends and family as they searched for something-anything positive to say. What good could come of this?
The grace I needed in this lonely space came through the honest testimony of a Catholic mother from our parish. I knew her teenage children from volunteering with the youth group. They were creative, joyful, and brilliant, but their mom's story didn't match the picture I saw of them at Mass each week. She shared about her family's joblessness and depression through several unexpected pregnancies over many years.
Hearing the vulnerable struggles of their beautiful family brought me reassuring hope in our early, secret months of pregnancy.
My strong suspicion is we're not the only ones in the pews on Sunday with more complicated family stories than our picture-perfect presentation implies.
The Savior we worship also had a conception and birth marked by poverty and inconvenience, yet even more, by joy and wonder.
At one of our family's lowest points, God gave us a child. His calm acceptance of our clueless parenting gave us faith in ourselves and one another. And our smiles for him brought smiles for each other.
Our family is in a stable place today because of—yes, hard work and perseverance, but also—our government's low-income healthcare program, Medicaid and CHIP, WIC food benefits, and the extreme generosity of friends and family.
We found hope and acceptance in our parish community because a courageous Catholic parent shared their real family story.