“I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.” – Mother Teresa
I’ve never been much of a crier. It usually takes a lot for me to cry actual tears and, historically, I cry more out of frustration and anger rather than sadness or something really touching my heart. But the last 6 months or so I’ve found myself crying more and more. I first noticed it in my counseling sessions. Guys, I’ve been in and out of therapy for about 6 years and, until recently, cried MAYBE three times during a session. When I went back after losing baby Kolbe, I was 6/6 straight crying in each session. Like actually crying hard. It was unnerving and just weird. I don’t cry! *Of course* we talked about why I don’t cry and I was given homework to really examine that part of myself. Sigh. Counseling. But then I realized I had been crying a lot on a regular basis. Like, every time it gets to the scene in the movie Trolls where Branch and Poppy sing True Colors. Tears. Or the end of Coco when Miguel sings Remember Me to Mama Coco. Or reading a touching story on Instagram. Or singing the Gloria at Mass with the brass instruments playing. Or sitting down to a meal with family and seeing their joy and love. Or talking to anyone about anything remotely deep. Waterworks. And for someone who isn’t used to crying a lot, this is weird.
Around the same time, I noticed my disposition toward priests changing. I chalked it up to having a brother entering the priesthood soon and seeing him in the other priests I interacted with – you know, more like real people. But when two young priests who we were fairly close with took a leave of absence for various hardships, it hurt me so deeply. My momma heart absolutely broke for them and I wept. It caused me to question if my attachment was healthy and I was confused by my strong reaction. It honestly scared me and for weeks I felt very uneasy. Then my counselor said (yes, while I was crying), “when your mother’s heart is hurting for these priests, think about how united you are with our Blessed Mother, because you know she is hurting for them, too.”
A couple weeks ago on a course at the TOB Institute, I connected some dots regarding all of this. (1) Last year I heard a talk by Jen Settle on the interior life of a missionary and was given an inspiring peak into her own interior life. That talk sparked in me a desire to deepen my own prayer life and to (2) complete the 33 Days to Morning Glory, Marian consecration. Preparing for that consecration to Jesus through Mary, I found the prayer of Mother Teresa “lend me your heart” (you can read more on that here). (3) So for a year, countless times per day, I’ve been asking to borrow Mary’s immaculate heart so that I might love more perfectly like her. I intended (and expected) that prayer to lead me to more patient and self-giving love for my family. What I can see now is that it has actually led to a softening of my hardened heart and developed in me a mother’s heart for priests. This realization came when I heard Jen’s talk again a couple weeks ago. I thought, “hey! I’m more like Jen! All the sensitivity and deep love for our priests, it’s like Jen!” And then a moment later… “no. I’m more like Mary. Holy crap.” Prayer changes us. In unintended, powerful, and sometimes uncomfortably hard ways, prayer changes us.
Lord knows I have a lot more change that needs to happen, but what a gift to see some progress. It’s like one of those confidence boosting workouts where you finally catch a glimmer of your fitness and potential. Still more work to do, but all the work you’ve been doing is paying off and you’re inching closer and closer. It’s worth it, y’all. Let’s put in the work. Put in the prayer. It changes us. Then we change the world.
When reflecting on my life and faith “before TOB”, it
honestly feels like such a foreign time, even though it has only been about
five years since I really started learning and embracing the teaching of Saint
John Paul II. Faith was always important to me growing up and a huge part of my
personal identity, but in practice, it was legalistic rather than relational. God’s
love was something I needed to earn, rather than simply receive. My sins and
flaws needed to be hidden from God, rather than opened to Him for His perfect
love and healing.
My parents must have mentioned Theology of the Body at some
point, because I was aware of it and I somehow knew about the TOB Institute,
but it wasn’t until 2014 that I actually took it upon myself to learn more. I
had started counseling in 2013 for childhood wounds and a generally unhealthy view
of sexuality and myself. At that time, my husband and I had been married for a
little over three years and had two daughters. Through counseling and what I
can only conclude was the Holy Spirit, I found some free talks by Christopher
West online and started listening to them while I was making dinner and cleaning
around the house. Immediately, I realized that I had discovered a goldmine and
was completely overcome by the desire to learn more. In a matter of weeks, I
was registered for my first week-long course at the TOB Institute.
For a little background, the Theology of the Body Institute is a mission founded in 2004 by Christopher West and David Savage. Taken straight from their website: “The Theology of the Body Institute spreads the life-giving message of Theology of the Body through graduate level courses, on-site speaker programs and clergy enrichment training. Theology of the Body Institute seeks to penetrate and permeate the culture with a vision of true sexuality that appeals to the deepest yearnings of the human heart for love and union.” The courses are each one week long, on-site (located just outside Philadelphia), and include 30 hours of graduate level instruction from the best of the best theologians, ethicists, and professors. The certification program requires eight courses, exams from each course, reading JPII’s catechesis in its entirety with written reflections, and a board-approved teaching practicum. Ain’t no joke.
Anyway, there I was, signed up for this graduate level
course, pooping my pants a little because I’m REALLY not a scholar and the
thought of such academic material being presented for a whole week was slightly
terrifying. But I went anyway, trusting that this is where God wanted me, and
it completely changed my life. Here are three ways in which that very first
course, Theology of the Body I: Head and Heart Immersion Course, transformed
the way I saw myself and the world.
1) “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love
affair” – G.K. Chesterton.
TOB I did this for my faith. For the first time in my life,
I realized that God loves me. Ok ok ok, I grew up knowing that ‘Jesus loves me
this I know’, but I didn’t actuallyknow with my heart. I had had genuine
encounters during high school, I prayed regularly, attended mass and adoration,
all of that…but this was different. That week, I felt God wooing me and chasing
me and LONGING for me to just LET HIM love me. I didn’t have to do anything to
earn his love because he created me FOR LOVE. Hashtag mind blown.
When you feel that kind of love for the first time – not a forceful
or invasive love, a deeply passionate but still gentle love – it’s basically
impossible to ignore or forget. I learned that, as a woman, I am uniquely designed
to receive love. It is literally written in my body that I am designed to take
in, receive, and generate love. At first, that was an uncomfortable thought. It
felt passive and weak. Like I just had to ‘let’ someone love me. In reality, receptivity
is active and requires humility and strength. I must actively die to myself, renouncing
my pride, and acknowledge that I am not capable of getting to heaven on my own.
I can’t live a virtuous life by my own will. And by deferring to God’s will and
accepting Christ’s love, I am accepting a life that will not be easy, although
fulfilling. That requires strength. Just think of the strength it took for Mary
to fully receive the Holy Spirit and say “yes” to God’s will for her! Through
all this receptivity of God’s love, we are empowered and capable of then GIVING
love, because we can’t give what we don’t have. In order to give, we must first
receive. And I am made for that uniquely. Because I’m a woman. Is this totally
insane to anyone else? Just me? Crickets…ok. Moving on.
I came home from this experience with a deep, passionate desire to have a close relationship with Jesus and Mary. Like never before, I was committed to growing in relationship, not just getting better at following the rules. I wanted to receive everything that Christ had for me, stretch my heart, and then receive more. Here is an entry from my prayer journal, written the week after my first course.
“Thank you, Jesus, for loving me and filling me with your love and mercy. Thank you for forgiving me and accepting me, broken and all. Thank you for always calling me back, for always drawing me back in. Thank you for taking my sin and bearing my cross for me. Thank you, Momma Mary, for being the ultimate example of the receiver. For being strong and beautiful. For saying ‘yes’ and allowing God’s love to fill you completely. Help me to be more like you. Help me to be ready and open to receive. Help me to be gentle like you. I want to overflow with your love, Lord. I want your love to flow through me to my husband and children and everyone around me. With you I can conquer all things and for the first time I really feel like that’s true. Help me to be a light to the world. I want to be on fire, Lord. I want to set the world ablaze. Show me how to do that and help me. Walk with me.”
2) “From the beginning it was not so…” Matthew 19:8
In his catechesis, JPII explains that to understand who we are as human beings, we must look to the beginning, to what God intended at the time of creation. By looking back to Genesis, we learn that we were not created for the fallen world that we live in, but rather, we were created for a life of eternal communion with Christ and his creation. So, all the junk, all the wounds, all the evil that we endure here on earth…it was never meant to be! And because we live in this fallen world, we will never be satisfied by anything in this life. Every job, every amount of money, every degree, every child, every person will fail to satisfy our desires. ONLY Christ can satisfy. Again, I kinda knew this, but I didn’t actually know it. On one hand, this is super depressing. On the other, it’s super freeing! Knowing that my husband will inevitably fail and hurt me, and I him, takes the pressure off. I no longer need to look to him for happiness because I know he can’t fully deliver what I desire. So why do I even have these desires and longings if I can’t satisfy them? Well, God gave them to us to show us that we were made for more, but looking for fulfillment in anything other than Christ will leave us miserable and empty. C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “if you find in your heart a desire for something that can’t be fulfilled in this world, that means you were made for another world.” I learned that each and every longing of the human heart was placed there to point us to the eternal. My desire for recognition, for friendship, for delicious food. It all points me to the divine. Christ knows me better than I know myself and recognizes the accomplishments that no one else could even see, so I turn to him for affirmation instead of my peers. Jesus is the only one who will always be there for me to lean on and to have a conversation with, and the desire for communion shows me that I’m created for eternal communion with Christ in Heaven. And my desire for delicious food points me to the only food that will truly satisfy, the Bread of Life. Jesus, given to me as food in the Eucharist.
3) TOB lenses
After returning home, everyone asked how the week went and I
would often describe it saying, “it’s like I put a pair of glasses on for the first
time. I could kinda see things before, but it was all fuzzy and foggy. Now I can
see the world clearly.” By looking into my own heart and exploring my wounds,
allowing God into those icky places that I hid for so long and accepting his
healing love, I’m now able to recognize others’ woundedness and be more
merciful and patient than I was before. Now, when I see a sunset over Lake Michigan,
I can’t help but thank God for that gift of beauty. I learned that the invisible
is made visible through the physical. What does that mean? The
sound of the breeze through the trees, the delicate petals of a wildflower, the
mighty rush of a river, the tender hug of my daughter, the savory, salty taste
of mashed potatoes and gravy, the ache of my legs and lungs after a hard run,
the smell of a bonfire or a newborn baby’s head. All these gifts are tangible
realities that tell us something about our creator. Although, I have yet to
figure out what mosquitos or some of those super creepy sea creatures tell us
about God, but I’m much more mindful of these constant touches of the divine
and I’ve basically turned into my mother, finding myself saying things like “thank
you, Jesus, for the dandelions!” As a kid, I always thought she was a little crazy
saying things like that. Sorry, mom, you were totally on to something.
If you’ve ever worn glasses, you know that you can’t just stop
wearing them. Having seen the world with clarity, you can’t go back to blurry
vision. The same is true for me and Theology of the Body. I can’t unlearn or
forget what I’ve encountered. And I can’t keep it in, either. I can’t NOT tell
everyone about how great it is to be loved so deeply and completely.
So, this post is about 1800 words now and I could write,
ohhhh, probably about six billion or so more. Give or take. But I’ll save more
for later. Suffice it to say, this is just the beginning. It would be a shorter
list to share what TOB has NOT changed. It would be a list of zero things. And
all that up there, that was just one course and I’ve been to four more since. Stay
tuned and thanks for sticking with me this long!
Some of you reading this may already know, but a few weeks ago, we lost our baby at the end of the first trimester. This was our fifth pregnancy and first miscarriage. Something we never expected, despite knowing it was so incredibly common.
We really are doing well, all things considered. Better than I expected, actually, and I largely attribute that to being able to share our hurt with so many people. We had already announced the pregnancy before we lost Kolbe, and our whole community of family and friends has been so supportive and generous. We’ve been showered with meals, prayers, messages, gifts, flowers, cards and letters, even a private mass offered for us by our priest friend up north.
This isn’t the first time we have been the recipients of this kind of support, and each new trial that we are carried though, my heart grows tenfold. I’m also inspired to be more generous myself, when others are struggling, because I know how much it means to me on this end. Our communities can really make such a difference when we allow them to enter into our suffering. This is something we’ve witnessed time and again and I think people often overlook the power of community and are afraid to be vulnerable and transparent in their times of need. I know that I was only a few years ago. But after opening up and asking for help, we’ve learned that people genuinely want to help and it strengthens those relationships when we accept the help. And, again, I’m always motivated to pass it on when I’m in a place to offer support again. Highly recommend that whole “sharing the load” thing.
Our pastor and associate pastor have also made this experience much more manageable by their incredible care and support. Initially, I thought we should have some sort of memorial/prayer service for the sake of the older girls. They were so looking forward to having another baby and were devastated by the loss. So, this would give them some closure, we thought. I emailed our pastor and associate and within a half hour got a call from Fr. Mark. He arranged with Fr. Mike, our young and fantastic associate, to do the service the following Sunday.
It was my husband, Chris’, idea to have it in our home, which ended up being so special and intimate. Fr. Mike came over and said a set of four prayers for loss. We lit a candle for each prayer – one for tears, hope, peace, and strength (pro-tip: anything with candles is captivating to kids and they pay much closer attention when fire is involved). It just so happens that on our prayer table, we already keep four candles that we light frequently for family prayer. Now, every time we use them we will think of our Kolbe David in a special way. Fr. Mike also had a blessing for me and the family and said a few words of reflection for the girls. The entire experience was beautiful and so healing for all of us. I was surprised how moved I was by the prayers and blessings. Not sure why, but for some reason I thought I was doing it for the kids. Rookie mistake, I know. I’ll never learn.
In addition, we purchased a wooden box to keep some special items meant for the baby. The girls had already made cards and pictures that they were saving for when the new baby was born, so this was a place for all their gifts. Lucia (5) picked out some baby boy monster shoes that she loved, Brenna (7) had a few different pictures and papers to contribute. But what I love most, is that it’s a tangible place for them to continue to give their gifts for their brother in heaven. Brenna has already drawn more pictures and they talk about gifts they’ll put in later. My hope is that whenever they feel sad, they can write a note or draw a picture and place it in the box, or they can include him in their Valentine or Christmas card making.
We ask for Kolbe’s intercession daily and the girls speak very matter-of-factly about our family’s little prayer warrior in heaven.
It is painful on so many levels to lose a baby. I had no idea the physical toll a miscarriage takes on a woman’s body. I’m sure many of you can relate. But it has been very beautiful to watch our girls navigate through this pain and bring such light to a hard situation. As always, I am so very grateful for our girl gang. They are tough as nails but sweet as pie. And intuitive and sensitive to boot.
I wish no one ever had to go through the loss of a child. My doctor said it so well, that this is one proof that we live in a fallen world. Deep down, we know losing a child just isn’t right. But we also know that, in the end, all things will be made new and we will hopefully meet our children in heaven. (Yes, he said all that. Yes, he’s a great doctor)
So, all of this to say, reach out when you’re going through a difficult time. Allow your community to serve you as the hands and feet of Christ, then turn around and do the same for others when you are well. It’s amazing the fruit and graces that come from sharing our pain. Also, we’re makin’ it.
Hi! Welcome to With A Borrowed Heart! I’m so glad you clicked around and ended up here. I’m Ruth, the person behind the screen. Besides a daughter of The King (hashtag princess), I am wife to my super awesome and adorable and manly husband, Chris, and Momma to four of the coolest girls around – Brenna (7), Lucia (5), Monica (3), and Emilia (2).
I’m a wannabe scholar but totally not smart enough to be one. By that I mean, I try to read smart books or take classes and think I’ve figured some things out, but then someone else speaks and I realize I know basically nothing. I’m a former college distance runner turned miserably-out-of-shape-mom turned slightly-less-out-of-shape-mom. Jesus speaks to me through running analogies. It’s my love language. Also, quality time.
So, what’s up with this title? Did I have a heart transplant or something? No. I don’t have a pig heart or any other physical heart besides the one I was born with…but in a spiritual sense, I’m a walking, talking, transplant patient. I’ll explain.
A while ago, I completed the 33 Days to Morning Glory Marian Consecration by Fr. Michael Gaitley, while coincidentally (or by divine providence?) reading another book about Mother Teresa, who is a main focus in the Gaitley book. Learning about her life and faith and suffering – it spoke straight to my heart. A particular passage talking about Mother Teresa’s devotion to Our Lady, in 33 Days, really struck me. It said that she didn’t simply ask Mary to help her love more purely, but she would actually pray/request “Mary, lend me your heart.” In other words, “lend me your Immaculate Heart so that I can love perfectly like you.” This short little prayer, “lend me your heart”, quickly became almost a mantra for my days at home with the girls. When I was running short on patience, “lend me your heart.” When I reeeaallly didn’t want to get up from my spot in the sun with a book to get the littlest up from her nap, “lend me your heart.” When someone woke up at night needing Lord knows what, and it wasn’t technically my night to get up but clearly hubby was still asleep, “lend me your heart.” When I kept coming back to a cold cup of coffee after endless requests, “lend me your heart.” When my husband walked in the door from a long day at work (while I was in the middle of dinner prep) wanting a moment and some love from his wife but I was totally empty from giving all day long, “lend me your heart.” Out at a moms’ night out, wanting to share something important, but not being able to get a word in because my friends were having a hard day and needed someone to listen, “lend me your heart.” During the seemingly endless ear infections and fevers and throw up, “lend me your heart.”
And do you know what? It worked! It actually worked. That short, four word prayer transformed my days and helped me to find so much more joy in the daily grind. I even wear a leather bracelet stamped with those words as a reminder that I can’t do any of this alone, but all I have to do is ask to borrow my Momma Mary’s heart and she’s got it covered. And boy is it a load off! Sometimes I feel like a little bit of a fraud because none of the good stuff comes from me. The inspired parenting moments or the patient listening ear or the good advice or the energy to serve my community. It’s all grace. But then I think, hey, anyone else can ask for this, too! So, give it a try! Four words, prayed with sincerity, to help us love each other and (more importantly) Jesus with the pure and Immaculate Heart of Mary.