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Creating sacred space to rest in hope
I would’ve thought something would be open at 4 AM in Rome. But as we lurched like zombies across the cobblestones toward St. Peter’s Square, the hope of strong espresso grew dim. Every storefront was dark.
But it was worth it.
Ten days into our honeymoon and twelve into married life, Jacob and I headed to a weekly general audience at the Vatican where, we were told, Pope Francis offers a special blessing to newlyweds. We were among the first pilgrims in line (less than 150) when we reached St. Peter’s. It was just after 4:30, and the audience didn't start until 10. With hours to kill, we took our spot at the end of the growing line and I broke out a plastic bag with a few provisions we’d grabbed from our hotel: a banana, crackers, and a few packets of some type of European Nutella. We ate the Nutella with pieces of banana and crackers while we caught bits of conversations in different languages and watched the line behind us grow.
It was still dark, and at some point, I noticed that I’d somehow smeared Nutella all over the plastic bag, my lap, and the front of my white dress. What the hell? I grumbled as I shuffled my napkins and food around to find the source of the leak. Then I heard it: the ruffle of feathers, the flapping of wings. Pigeons. Big, fat ones, roosting on the roof of the collonade we leaned against. It took my un-caffeinated brain about a hair too long to realize: that wasn’t Nutella on my dress. I screamed and flapped my arms while a few hundred people from all over the world stared. I think someone said, “Hey, that's good luck!” but I can't remember the specifics.
I twisted my hair into a side braid to hide the offensive stain on my dress and told myself, yet again: This will be worth it. Even when more pigeons unceremoniously baptized us, even when cold rain started to fall, this will be worth it was the mantra, the balm, the promise. We knew that only the first 40 married couples were ushered into a side door to receive the Pope’s esposi blessing, and we were the only newlyweds we could see thus far.
But then, through icy sheets of rain, came The Brides. Brides from all over the world descended on the colonnade, immune to protocol and common courtesy, taking their places at the front of a line that 1,000 others had stood in for hours.
My blood boiled. I was not about to let The Brides steal my chance to meet The People’s Pope, a moment I’d looked forward to since I learned it was a remote possibility. This was likely my only chance. I started hissing at Jacob. “They’re going to the front! Let’s go!” But Jacob was having none of it. Though I can’t recall verbatim, his response was something like, “No. We’re not doing that.”
“But what if we miss our chance?”
"If the only way to see the Pope is to cut in front of a bunch of people, then it wasn't meant to be,” he said.
Tears started to burn my eyes. I glared at a few of The Brides who chattered with each other in British accents just ten feet ahead of us. They stared straight back at me as if to say, so, what are you going to do about it? The irony of this animus among strangers wasn't lost on me - each of us was ready to claw someone’s eyes out to get to the Pope, damn it. Yet I felt wretchedly hopeless as I watched the crowd of newlyweds in front of us swell to what could only be described as…more than 40.
But then came the nuns.
They streamed out of a bus in single-file in their habits, without umbrellas or other protection from the rain. There they went, one after the other, to the very back of the line, behind the brides and grooms, behind the tourists. Their act of obedience did not drip with resentment like mine. Their energy was peaceful, a screaming contrast to the rest of us who pulsed with anxiety. For them, to be there, to be present, was enough.
The Swiss Guard opened the gates at 10 AM, and people started to run. Brides hiked their gowns to their knees, tourists hollered at their straggling kids. Someone beside me slipped on the wet bricks. When I started jogging, Jacob put a hand on my elbow, encouraging us once again to stay composed. In the mele, we spotted another member of the Swiss Guard, standing just off the path. “Esposi,” Jacob called out to him, flashing our wedding certificate. The guard nodded and pushed us through a side door into the front row of an auditorium that felt like it was the size of a football stadium. I couldn’t believe it: not only had we been admitted, but the guards were filling the rows from back to front. That meant the couples who'd pushed ahead of us were seated rows behind us, and we were in the very front of the esposi section (no more than 30 feet from the stage).
I didn’t cry then, or when I realized Pope Francis wasn't simply going to bless us en masse, but greet each person individually. And I didn't cry when he made his way to our row, a guard on each side, quietly blessing rosaries and wedding bands, shaking hands. But when he stopped in front of me and grabbed my hands, I burst into tears and didn’t stop until the Swiss Guard guided us out the doors into St. Peter’s Square, where the growing crowd swallowed us.
We could’ve cut to the front of the line. No one would have stopped us. And frankly, but for Jacob’s obedience, we would have. By refusing to push our way to the front, we ran the risk of missing out on the papal blessing that meant so much to us. But because of grace, mercy, or sheer luck, it worked out for us anyway.
I’m not very good at waiting. I don’t think I’m alone. Like The Brides, we’re all primed to cut in line, to reach out and grab what we want. Sometimes our patient waiting gets us what we want and sometimes it doesn’t. But what if, like the nuns, we could walk through cold rain to the back of the line and simply wait, in hope, for something Good? What if we could quiet our souls just enough to hear a holy whisper of: don”t worry. This will work out? even - and most especially - when we lack assurance?
Advent offers us that sacred space where we learn to wait for something Good that we know is coming, even if our only assurance is our own trust.
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Are you currently in a “waiting” season? What does waiting feel like for you?
What does hopeful expectation mean to you?
Is it hard for you to accept you may not get what you’ve waited for? Can you find peace anyway? What does peace look like to you in your current season?
An invitation to you:
Reflect on these Advent prayers and blessings in the coming weeks:
“God, be with me today. Help my heart be open to the ways Jesus is at work in my life. Amen.”
“Give me peace today, O Lord. Help me to live this day in eternal hope knowing Jesus will come again.”
“Heavenly Father, give me the strength to have the same trust in You that Mary had, as she awaited the birth of Jesus.”
“I pray for humility today, Father. Our Savior entered this world in a manger with animals. When I feel too proud, let me remember the Holy Family and Jesus’s humble birth.”
The Fun List
Food to Try
These paleo pumpkin pie bars from Ambitious Kitchen
This freezable chicken burrito casserole from Stephanie Kay Nutrition
The easiest “fudge” ever: Melt and blend equal parts dark chocolate chips and coconut milk. Let it set in the refrigerator and enjoy!
Food for Thought
Samantha Stephenson’s new book Reclaiming Motherhood offers a provocative take on what our culture gets wrong about motherhood. Here are some of my favorite excerpts:
“Love is the center of our lives, because we are born from an act of love, and we die to know the true love of God...Love consumes you, but it is beautiful to die consumed, exactly like a candle that goes out only when it has reached its goal.”
“A society that is less hospitable to children ultimately becomes less hospitable to any and all vulnerability. As we grow less tolerant of dependence and weakness, we lose our pathways to empathy and connection.”
“We know from Christ's witness on the cross that suffering does not have the last word; love does.”
“We need to spend less time making prescriptions for other families and more time reveling in the joy of caring for our own. When that joy bubbles over to other work (paid or not), and when that other work allows us to return to our families more ourselves, with more to give, we know that we have found a beautiful balance.”
I loved this collection of essays calling women to embrace the intellectual life, no matter their season or vocation. Some of my favorites:
“Our Lady's heart is a place of solace and safety...Her will was so united to the will of God that her reflection, her ability to utilize her intellect and her mind to understand what was before her, continued to predispose her heart, her affectivity, her emotion toward the will of the Father. Our Lady invites us to purify our affective life through active intellectual engagement.”
“An expression of truth, whether overtly religious or not, is an expression of God’s love and desire to reveal himself to us.”
“To create...is to be human at our very core; our nature is that of a creator because we’re creatures made in the likeness of God, the ultimate maker. When we create, we tap into the divine likeness God poured into us when he saw it fit to make us in his own image.”
“Women should write because writing makes us more human, and women should write because it makes the world better.”
This essay on Coffee + Crumbs captures the strangeness of stepping into a life that’s no longer demarcated by semesters or quarters.
“A push-yourself-through-a-final mentality is effective for work and school. As I quickly observed, this ferocious formula does not work in motherhood.”
“My only control is the level of comfort I feel as I wade through this constant current, my own ability to take deep breaths and accept what I know and what I don’t.”
“But maybe, the process isn’t pushing for a result. Maybe, I can accept the discomfort of uncertainty. If I’m aware of its constant presence, instead of pushing, can I let it carry me, alongside my life’s real and loving forces?”
“I don’t want motherhood to be a push for moments of relief. There’s power in the current, if I let it move me forward.”
This article in Public Discourse makes some intriguing connections between entrepreneurship and family life:
“The family is both a strong and delicate thing. It has outlasted every empire, but individual families can also break apart under the weight of ill-formed policies. If we truly believe the family is as important as we say, then it is crucial to proceed as if we are treading on holy ground—because we are.”
Putting our kids in their Christmas jammies, hitting the Starbucks drive-thru, and winding around local neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights
The sweet friend who dropped Haagen-Daas and flowers on my porch the week my grandma died
Frank and Bing crooning Christmas classics from our Alexa
Friday Night Lights binges
James (age 3) telling me how they “lighted TWO candles!” at school for Advent - one for hope, and one for peace
The Christmas Morning candle from 700 Rivers
What I’m Writing
This piece for Catholic Women in Business offers some crowd-sourced wisdom on aligning our desires with God’s will.
I wrote this blog post while trying to process grief over my grandma’s passing.
Thanks for reading. I sincerely hope these words - mine and those of others - left you feeling encouraged. May God bless you as you wait in hope this Advent season.