Saturday, January 11, 2014

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

This past fall, my diocese hosted a young adult retreat that offered childcare. To put that in perspective, imagine if Starbucks began offering car washes as you pulled through the drive thru lane. Babysitting at young adult events is an unexpected and welcome indulgence. I've thought about starting a childcare program at church, but to be honest, the thought of being around more kids than my own is kind of exhausting.

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 four years ago and still haven't made it back to the track.

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

I so badly want to be a part of the transformation of parishes from within, a passionate next generation of Catholics who won't be conservative or liberal or Catholic lite or Catholic Taliban, and the conversion of entire parishes.

I want to join the think groups at the heart of program and event planning, to build up the small groups of life sharing within a parish, to be on the wave of this next awakening. But I can't even make it to the weekly moms' group at church more than, well, so far my record is three times a year.

So I excitedly signed up for this cutting edge, parent-friendly conference, anticipating the same experiences of college retreats from years earlier: journaling in nature, full spiritual immersion, new revelation, new friends, chats with speakers.

On a cold, rainy Friday night, my kids already in pj's, I dropped them off in a well-staffed nursery, printed my name neatly on a nametag, and headed down the hall to the conference. I made it 30 minutes before my cell phone buzzed: your child needs you.

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

I kept overhearing inspirational proclamations from the conference and wanted to be in there, learning and networking. All the while, pacing with Josh and wondering about the big picture of what God's doing in the world: how can I be 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 was sitting cross-legged against the back wall of the gym, with ears on the speaker and eyes on Josh, who had just discovered the A/V cables. (I had been standing with him, until he reached over my shoulder and found the light switches.)

Ennie said, "Outreach to our world starts in our city." And then he asked, "What is your city?"

He scaled down from world to country to state to Metroplex to town to neighborhood to home to family to marriage, and then stopped. The whole New Evangelization is rooted not in shouting out to the world, but in letting God in to change me. Just me. Letting God past the pretty parts I bring to Mass each week to see the broken, sharp, disillusioned pieces within, and then to find out, He's been there all along.

I've been a little distracted the last four years. 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 hopefully sorting themselves to alphanumeric homes while I wonder what my kids are doing, and all of it, always, with a constant sense that I'm missing out on 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. It's the stuff that makes tired moms of young children panic.

But after a weekend of pacing halls with my little one, I realized it was only my own voice shouting, "Suck it up, figure it out, and be all things to all people!"

Through the immersion training experience at the young adult retreat, I came away realizing that all of my distractions from the holier things in life -- kids without babysitters, menial work, 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 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.