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Monday, September 21, 2009

Family Obligations

A few years ago I read of a religious sister who was FINALLY able to enter a community with a very strict age limit, one that long excluded her...but accepted her for a few reasons: they agreed she had a Vocation (or seemed to), they agreed it seemed God was directing her to them and they to accept her, and, well..it was her life circumstances that prevented her entrance. Not her will. Not her delay, but God's.

In short...they saw that her priorities were in order for her state in life. She was responsible for caring for her parents, there was no one else, and so just as they gave their lives to her, she knew she must return that until God called them Home. It was not a chain, but a freedom of conscience, knowing she was within God' s will for her.

That story has always struck me; the beauty of her Vocation, of her Call, of her love for her parents. She honored God by honoring them, even though her heart broke as she was not able to answer God's Call in the time frame that applied to so many others.

The fact is, that the cutoff age for many many communities is thirty, or maybe thirty-five.

The fact is...I'm thirty-five now. I began "discerning" in my late 20's, and tried to rush because of all the cutoff ages. It was God who slowed me down, I know it was God who directed me to that story to remind me it was HE, not me, who was in charge. His timeline. Not mine.

Ultimately, a given community's age limit isn't an issue; God makes the limits, and He will impose HIS will in all cases. If that door remains shut, it simply indicates that God has other plans.

The Importance of Family

As I continue to discern, I realize that my family is a part of it, too, whether I like it or not. That doesn't mean that they get to decide anything, but only that God is in the familial relationships and moral demands upon us, and often, through our families, reveals His will in that moment.

I have a dear friend who feels called to marriage, but is still single, well into her 40's, but knows she is doing what God wills; caring for her aging father. All the other siblings are married off. She is the only one left, and embraces her call with a love I only WISH I could imitate. God bless her and all her family. They are very close, very supportive of one another, and...ALL are converts to the Catholic Faith.

Until today, I really didn't identify with the woman in the story I mentioned. My Dad passed away when I was twenty, and although Mom is declining before her time, she still lives on her own, so on the surface it seems that there is no obligation for me to step in as caretaker.

After all, she has my brother, who is a very devoted son, sees her a lot, and has space for her in his house.

Um... BUT!

This afternoon my brother called me at work because we've been unable to connect in other venues. In our conversation, he told me that Mom had some kind of pulmonary disease and mentioned what he called an "early symptom" of said disease. Which seemed nearly plausable to me, but didn't ring a bell and I couldn't actually make any direct connection between what he said and what he claimed to be the problem.

A web search didn't help.

Mom hadn't mentioned this particular diagnosis, but I admit I took my brother at his word, thinking it was because Mom had told him and, well, because before Dad died he predicted his death. Then again..he'd been predicting his death for YEARS with faulty timelines.

I don't know really, why I believed my brother. Charity? Good faith, knowing brother loves Mom and loved Dad?

Well, tonight I called Mom, and asked her directly about the conditions my brother claimed she had. Um...no. He took her actual diagnosis and symptoms out of context and made up his own.

Certainly the disease he named is POSSIBLE and PROBABLE. but isn't what the doctor has diagnosed. Nor do the symptoms exactly match what he took out of context.

My brother doesn't have medical training (I have some, enough to think critically with a foundation of knowledge), and Mom does as well. Further...Mom doesn't hide her conditions. She announces them and talks about them incessantly. Her entire identity is wrapped up in her most recent diagnosis or health problem, and her entire source of entertainment is her menu at various functions if she attends.

Suddenly...

I realize that maybe the reason I'm not where I think I should be, in ANY Vocation, might have more to do with God's plan than anything else. I wonder if it may well be that I be involved in caring for my mother until death.

It is clear to us that, although things aren't so bad as my brother tried to say, it IS clear that she won't be living alone for much longer. My brother has a good heart, but in reality, isn't equipped to provide medical care nor does he have enough knowledge to do so or report it with any accuracy.

I have to discern this carefully, for on one hand, it might be a distraction. On the other hand...it might be reality.

I've known of Novices who have had to leave the convent to care for sick or dying family members, simply because there was no one else, or no one...equipped.

In taking our small family history in to context, though, I see God's wisdom in this. Because of all the trauma we experienced growing up, between Dad's alcoholism, Mom's bipolar, and their divorce, well...there are some very very deep wounds that we share.

The ongoing years help, but I have to wonder if God is perhaps calling me to, at some point, serve our mother as caretaker, legal guardian, or something in her last months or years. That isn't a negation of vocation, but simply part of who I am...a daughter. It is part of honoring one's only surviving parent.

I don't know, but I know God will lead. And I know that where He leads is for our good. Perhaps such a situation would lead to the healing our little family needs. Perhaps it wouldn't, and it would be better for me to enter a religious community before Mom's death, if only so that she can see that her only daughter has a home and is not alone. Or maybe in all this mess I'll meet my husband, somewhere in this jungle and discover that, after all, I AM called to marriage and only fled it for so long because I've been so damaged?

No one knows. God does. He has a plan.

I'm glad my brother called me today and gave me misinformation. I'm glad I called Mom to check it out, and I'm so grateful right now for my family and that I still have them that it hurts.

I don't know who I am or where I belong or what I was called to be. But I DO know that I am my mother's daughter, I am my brother's sister, and that they are all I have. It is they who have formed me and continue to do so. God put us together and through this very very torn family, we have learned to love each other even when all of us preferred to walk away...and in a sense...I did. But I'm back now, and know I would not be the woman I am without them or without the suffering we have endured.

Family is a part of discernment to ANY Vocation, and perhaps as I continue to seek God, maybe I need to spend more time with my family. Maybe it is through them that I will finally obtain clarity.

Please pray for my family; my brother once discerned the priesthood but has fallen so far away I fear he will never come back. And Mom...I don't even remember the last time I saw her smile with true, abandoned happiness. She's been living the Passion for at LEAST 30 years. And yet she continues to give. Pray for her, pray for us all. I am the ungrateful daughter, the adulteress, unfaithful Jerusalem. I look at my Mother and I see the Cross and know that no matter how confused I am, how far I fall...there is my life and my salvation.

I know my readers will all understand the metaphor.
*
As in all things...God's will be done. I am only His unfaithful servant.


9 comments:

Mandrivnyk said...

Adoro, you can be sure of my prayers.

One of the reasons I've been so keen on reading your blog, for quite some time before I first commented is that you remind me of myself, if wiser and a lot less malevolent. As an only child (sort of, now - but that's complicated) I often worry about what will happen when they can no longer live on their own.

There's been so much that's happened over the years that I'm pretty sure it would break me to have to care for them in that sense, which, would, I guess, be an incredible source of grace. But to think that I'll possibly never have my "own" life, a chance to heal... it's a bitter pill.

My own situation is very messy, and there's not much I can say of any real comfort or use, but yeah, you and your family have my prayers.

Hidden One said...

Prayers.

RJW said...

God's way is the only way. I might have mentioned before that I was 44 when I married. I wanted to be married long before that but it never seemed to work out. I finally "resigned" myself to God's will; which I perceived as single life. Then, marriage! Ten years later, divorce. Now its back to single life, which is fine. What did I get? Among many good things - 3 wonderful children that I love more than I thought possible (including the two she had that I adopted). I continually must remind myself to "let go and let God".
A side story: my sister was a Benedictine. When she entered (1966), there was a novice who was in her mid 60's. She had first entered in her late teens and left when she felt called to have a family instead. She had ten children. After a long marriage, her husband died (kids were raised) and she re-entered the convent. Two of her sons became priests and two daughters became nuns. One of her daughters was in the same convent with her. She served the rest of her life (about 12 years), even working in the mission in Colombia. God knew what He wanted vocation-wise.

Melody K said...

Adoro, you are none of those bad things ("... the ungrateful daughter, the adulteress, unfaithful Jerusalem"). It is obvious from your writing that you are a very caring, devoted daughter. It may be that you will be called to share in the care of your mom with your brother; time will tell. It sounds as if he is worried that her health is deteriorating, to the point of believing that things are worse than they are, and feels a bit overwhelmed. I'll pray for you that things will work out according to God's will; I know eldercare issues are difficult.

Adoro said...

Melody ~ Actually I am all that I described and more. But I'm not going to define the reasons for that. I'm not a devoted loving daughter at all. Not one bit. I wish I could say otherwise, but I can't.

The fact that my conscience is pricked and I'm honest about it is a good thing. I just hope that if God calls me to this, I follow His will...and not mine.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

The Lord already knows that which you and your family need and will provide it in its time.

Mrs Doyle said...

I had no idea that there was an age limit Adoro.

Why is this do you think?

It seems a little strange especially when more and more woman are going onto college, and rarely straight from school into the convents.

Surely there would be more vocations if there was no age limit. After all, God's plan for a religious vocation doesn't always manifest itself at a particular age etc...

Adoro said...

OH, yes, there are age limits. 30 and 35 are the most common. AFter that..there aren't many other communities open, except for the ones that are dying out...and some of them for good reason. (ie they've left their original charism, etc.)

But the reasons for the limits differ from place to place. Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist and the Nashville dominicans - their cutoff age is 30, which is fine for them...they are EXPLODING with vocations and can't contain them all!

Some of the reason is, well...some communities simply aren't equipped to run a nursing home. It also may have to do with the fact that formation can be very very difficult in the late 30's or later. We tend to get set in our ways, and suddenly having to be obedient to someone else in all matters...I don't know how successful that is.

It's all a part of discernment. Of the Community, and of the person God might be calling.

The fact that some doors are closed reveals the fact that, well...if God is calling a certain soul to religious life, he will lead that person to the right place.

Christine said...

One point that Mother Angelica often made that struck me is that we need to be faithful to our state in life. That itself is carrying out God's will for us. If he wants us to change that, he'll let us know :)

Prayers for you my friend!