Saturday, January 11, 2014

Changing the World One Diaper at a Time: Parenthood and the New Evangelization

When my oldest kids were babies, our diocese hosted a young adult retreat that offered childcare. 

For perspective, imagine if Starbucks offered car washes in their drive-thru. Childcare during parish activities is an unexpected and welcome indulgence. (Perhaps it shouldn't be.) 

If my transition experience from young adult ministry to marriage and family life were a NASCAR race, I pulled into pit row for a tire change years ago and still haven't made it back on the track. 

It's frustrating to feel like I'm missing out.

There is a New Evangelization taking place, and I AM STUCK ON THE SIDELINES!

I deeply desire to join the transformation of parishes from within and a passionate next generation of Catholics.

I want to participate in the think tanks at the heart of program and event planning and to build up the small groups of life sharing within a parish. But I can't even make it to our parish's weekly moms' group more than, well, so far my record is three times a year.

[I can't even make it to our parish's weekly moms' group more than, well, so far my record is three times a year.]

So on a cold, rainy Friday evening, I dropped off my kids -- already in PJs -- at the parish nursery, printed "Charlene" neatly on a nametag, and headed down the hall to the conference. I anticipated a full spiritual immersion: Adoration in the chapel, journaling in the prayer garden, new revelations, new friends, chats with speakers... 

I made it 30 minutes before my cell phone buzzed: your child needs you.

I spent the rest of the weekend pacing the parish hallway, holding my clingy two-year-old who would sooner succumb to repeat asthma panic attacks than play with his brother, new toys, and nice volunteers in the nursery.

I kept overhearing inspirational proclamations from the conference room and wanted to be in there, learning and networking. 

Instead, I paced with Joshua in the church hallway, wondering about the big picture of God's work in the world: how can I be a part of all this, when my family seems to need me on-call and mostly in-person 24-7?

Ennie Hickman was one of the last speakers of the retreat. I sat cross-legged against the back wall as he spoke, with ears to Ennie and eyes on my little Joshua who had just discovered the A/V cables plugged into the floor. (Moments earlier, I was standing with Josh in my arms as he reached over my shoulder to a row of switches on the wall and flicked the conference room lights.)

Ennie declared: "Outreach to our world starts in our city. What is your city?"

He scaled down from evangelizing the world to evangelizing our country, our state, our city, our neighborhood, our homes, our marriages, ourselves -- and then he stopped. 

The entirety of the New Evangelization is not rooted in how loudly I can shout my truths out to the world, but in letting God in to change me, letting God past the prettiness I pull together for Mass each week to see the broken, sharp, disillusioned pieces within.

For the past many years, I've been a little distracted. If I'm home, there's a toddler clinched to my leg (or in my arms, if the leg pull was successful). And if I'm at work, files are sorting to their alphanumeric homes while I wonder what my kids are doing at home -- and in all of it, feeling a constant insecurity that I'm missing out on the greater things God is doing in the world. Did I take a wrong turn somewhere?

I thought joining the movement of New Evangelization in my Church would mean a commitment to being more places, talking with more people, a line up of more babysitters, and a whiteboard of more projects. 

But after a weekend of pacing halls with my little one, I realized that all of my distractions from the holier things in life -- hyper toddler, menial office job, and clingy babies -- are actually a personally prescribed path to holiness. Of course it looks different from what everyone else is doing. That's how God works

Rescuing worms from the sidewalk after it rains: #784 in things to do instead of drinking delicious coffee and talking with people about deep spiritual things

Fifteen years ago, on World Mission Sunday, the Church named the Patron Saint of Missionaries as a new Doctor of the Church. Surprising to many (including me), this wasn't a parish priest, an evangelist, the missionary who had traveled the farthest in the history of the Church, or even someone who had traveled at all. 

The Co-Patron of Missionaries is Saint Therese, a sickly obscure French girl who spent her few years cloistered in a convent, entrusted only with the most menial tasks of community (dishes, cleaning, and cooking -- sound familiar?).

My little insane asylum of life is actually compiled and gifted by a God who's more concerned with making me holy than me making the world holy. And just maybe, if I can get over all the comparing and complaining and questioning, one will actually lead to the other.


  1. I love you, Charlene! This is wonderful and spot on. As new members of our parish I keep getting the message that we need to sign up to volunteer for everything....but wait, I have a super-wiggly 4 yr old and a baby under 1 yr. I feel mad and guilty every time I go to mass. Not because of my kids but because of the pressure. I need to take it all with a bit of humor and let the Lord calm me down. So what. The pastor and parish leaders may not be happy with us now...but we (my 5 rambunctious kids, husband and I) are the Church and we're not leaving. Just give us a few years and little more sleep and we'll be really helpful.

  2. Oh Rosemary, you can add "and two huge across country moves" to your family's list! I was always impressed by how involved you were at MIC and MIS. If Maryland turns out to be just awful, please come back to Texas ;-)

  3. Charlene, I LOVE this piece, and it was definitely something I needed to read! I constantly find myself in a tug of war between what I have dubbed "the glamorous holy-looking things that I want to do" and "what God has actually given me" aka diapers, a perpetual pile of laundry, and a little family who needs my constant attention. It was so wonderfully affirming to read your perspective on this, and I think it's something a lot of parents need to hear.