IMG_0991The only fights that Devin and I had during our first few years of marriage were about vision, namely, my global ambitions that majorly stressed Devin out.

We fought when I was convinced that were supposed to move to Washington, DC, where I would earn my PhD in Psychology at the Institute for Psychological Sciences and become a dynamic Catholic psychologist who would heal the culture of death.

We fought when I was convinced that God was calling us to move to India, where Devin could work for his company’s branch in Bangalore and where I could minister to the needs of the India I love.

We fought when Devin reminded me that Jesus does not call us to be successful, only faithful, and when he exhorted me to imitate Saint Therese’s “little way” of doing small things with great love. I did not want small things.  The harvest was great but the laborers few and I wanted to go all in for Jesus.

You get the picture.  I think big. I have always been this way.  Even as a child, I saw my friends’ families imploding through divorce and began to brainstorm ways to save marriage and heal families.  I opened wide my arms to the world during my undergrad days at the University of Notre Dame, logging time at an orphanage in Honduras, loving street children in Vietnam, and weeping for women in India.

And, when I graduated with a BA in Theology from Notre Dame, I was convinced that this was just the beginning.  I saw a world dying for lack of Christ and bleeding from myriad wounds and wanted to pour out my life in service of the Church. I was convinced that a PhD, public speaking and writing, adopting and loving, consulting with the Vatican, etc., were all part of God’s plan for me.  I wanted to embrace the world and make room in my heart for every unwanted person. No doubt, my motives were tinged with arrogance, as if God needed me to help save the world.  But, something deeper burned in me, a joy at the prospect of giving everything for the Kingdom and spending my life in holy poverty amidst the communion of believers.

failureSo, as Devin recounted in his post earlier this month, three years into our marriage, we excitedly adopted three beautiful children from the foster system.  It was only the beginning, I was sure, of what would become a family that witnessed to life and to love.  I could not wait to have enough children to fill a shuttle bus; who needs a 15-passenger van, I thought, when I could have a small bus with a nifty folding door.  Devin and I would talk for hours about buying a farm and filling it with children and laughter and song and beauty.  Our hearts burned within us as we shared about our vision of “redemptive parenting,” of redeeming these children from their broken pasts and giving them a future full of hope.  We knew that it would be difficult but were eager to lay down our lives for Christ.

It worked for a few years.  We were a well-oiled machine, with protocols for everything, from buying groceries efficiently to brushing four pediatric pairs of teeth in the morning to Montessori home-schooling.  We were sure that this was God’s will for us and were filled with joy at the prospect, even as we sat numbly each evening, staring at the wall in exhaustion. It was incredibly messy.  We were constantly managing screaming children who flailed on the floor.  We were constantly cleaning up poop, on the walls and floor and hands.  We were constantly humiliated in public by children-crawling-under-over-through-jumping-screaming-hitting. But, we ended each day with hope that we would reach our children’s hearts and win them for Love.

I had these dreams for big things, but God told me to go silent for years so I could connect with my children. I deleted my Facebook account; I quit blogging; I quit trying to do anything but learn how I could help my children connect and heal.

And, I confess, I simply don’t understand it. I simply don’t understand how it could have been God’s will for us only for a season, and not for our entire lives.  But, it simply is.  I remember walking up to receive Holy Communion in July 2011, before my panic attacks started and before everything began to really fall apart, when, out of nowhere, the Holy Spirit said, “Are you willing to give them up?”  I couldn’t breathe (because, dang, I loved my children) but said immediately, “Yes, Lord, but please don’t ask that of me.”  And, then I forgot about it, until months later. After I had developed acute PTSD.  After we realized that each of the children had RAD and that we were simply not able to meet their needs.

All I can say is that, all at once, the grace ended in July 2011.  It felt as if Devin and I were living in the fullness of God’s will, with all the exhaustion and messiness that entailed, and, suddenly, it ceased being God’s will for us.  The oil in our lamp suddenly ran dry and left us gasping and weak. It still boggles my mind, but I have peace in the deep certainty that, despite the assumptions that Devin and I made about being the “forever family” for our adopted children, we were only to be their temporary parents who would deliver them to their perfect families.

For those well-versed in the book of Job, you know that, after Our Lord had allowed Job to lose everything, even the support of friends, God blessed Job tenfold, with even more wealth and family than he had before. So, I confess that, after Devin and I placed our three children with new families and after we learned that Josephine would be our last baby, due to my condition which necessitated a hysterectomy when she was born, I began to expect an outpouring of blessings. I was convinced that, now, I would be blessed with an abundance of spiritual maternity to replace the physical maternity that I had lost.  I felt joy at the thought of countless spiritual children and expected that, now, my hopes for ministry would surely begin.


Psalm 127 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, in vain do the laborers build.” The fact is that the Lord has simply not built in or through me in any sort of quantifiable and big way. A completed book outline lies on the desk in front of me, but I cannot launch it. My graduate degree in Theology remains unfinished; okay, let’s be honest, it’s not even started–I was accepted to the Augustine Institute two years ago and have not yet completed one class. Devin and I had big dreams about moving to our farm and working with the diocese to bring a religious community nearby, so that we could foster an agrarian Catholic culture in our small Texas town, but, so far, nothing from the diocese.

My husband tells me, that I dream too big and wait too impatiently.  He is right. I have learned this, but it is still a mystery to me.  I boggles my mind that, with the world bleeding and so many people in pain, Our Lord is most pleased by an “I” who is hidden and not especially productive.  The fact is that, for whatever is His mysterious purpose, it has pleased Our Lord to render me fruitless, physically and ministerially, though certainly not spiritually.

And, to be honest, there is absolutely nothing that God could ask of me that would be more difficult. I would gladly give my body to be burned and pour out my blood to ease the sufferings of others, but to sit at home and to simply to be ordinary is almost more than I can bear. I have two children, a boy and a girl. Average. I am a stay-at-home mother and a Catholic who is not especially devout these days. Average. (Absolutely no disrespect to full-time mothers here–we know how hard we work, but, you know, I dream many days of serving at the UN) Africa needs clean drinking water and Russia needs post-abortion ministry (among many other needs) and women in India need micro-loans and safety from rapists, and God wants me to be hidden and ordinary?  Oh, the pain of that.

Some days, I want to glare at the sky and shout, “Are you kidding me?” I feel myself bursting with gifts to give, with a wealth of knowledge about the “adequate anthropology” of the theology of the body, with eager energy to evangelize apathetic Catholics and apathetic parishes, with agrarian skills and a heart keen to build a Catholic peasant culture. And, all I can do is keep offering up my ordinariness, as I cheerfully change diapers and wash dishes and love my wonderful husband in ten thousand little ways.

Yesterday on Relevant Radio (our local Catholic station), a commentator read aloud from the Gospel parable where Jesus describes the servants who are given coins to manage during the king’s absence.  And, I started crying as I drove. I don’t get to be the servant who invests her ten talents and earns ten more. I don’t even get the infamy of being the bad servant who buries her coin and is thrown out into the darkness.  I am the little servant who invests her one coin and gets one back.

Now and then, the sorrow at being made to sit still when the world dies is almost too great to bear, and I entrust myself to the mercy of God, who promises in the trial to provide a way out so that we may be able to bear it.  But, most days now, I am content that I am pleasing God in simple and slow and gentle.  The heroism that is asked of me is to accept that I am not invited to evangelize the masses. Even though Devin’s exhortation to follow the missionary example of Saint Therese, namely, to give my life in the little and hidden, used to anger me, it has turned out to be prophetic and true.  Saint Therese is my friend now, and I understand her heart for the missions and the absolute sacrifice she made in being obedient to silence and simplicity.

Brittany4So, truly, glory to God who knows His good purpose and draws us to be as fruitful as possible in the way that only He understands.

26 thoughts on “Failure”

  1. Katie I am so sorry for all the loss you have experienced. It will take time for these wounds to heal.
    I wanted to comment on what you said because it reminded me of when I had two small children, and my days were consumed with their care. At this same time , I was getting letters from my college roommate (who had children the same age, but worked full time) about how great her career was going. She was even presenting a paper at an international conference. I was changing diapers all day. ( seriously, the kids had just gotten over ear infections, and the antibiotic had given them diarrhea.)
    I think the problem is that our society, and even the super-catholic world, still values women for what they “do” and not for who they are and how they love. For example. if you pick up a Catholic magazine, ( no matter how right wing), and it has an article about a woman they think is really great, it will be about what she “does”- her pro-life work, her ministry, her Christian music etc. never mind about who is taking care of her children ( her real vocation) while she is doing all this. The one exception would be if the woman has more than ten children. Then their might be an article about how much she does in a day. As if a woman who has two children does not love as much or have the same worth. And actually, the holiest woman who ever lived had only one child. We do not have statues in our church of her doing ministry, giving talks, etc, we have statues of her holding her baby. And she is the woman we are called to imitate in her hidden life.
    Katie I know it is very hard when the world around you , even the Catholic world, tells you that what you do all day has no value. I am praying for you. It is so obvious that you are trying so hard .
    A Bible verse that has helped me is when the three kings come to visit baby Jesus, “They found the child with his mother”

    1. That is just beautiful, “a mom.” I have never before pondered that particular verse, but one of my favorites related to the same Scripture reference is, “and Mary pondered these things in her heart.” You are absolutely right about the pressure, even from devout Catholics, to “do” rather than “to be”, and I am so glad that Pope Francis has addressed that with his words about the vocation of woman in the Church. God bless!

    2. This is a fantastic response, thank you, “a mom”. I love what you said about all the statues of Mary holding the baby Jesus.

  2. Hi, reading your post I reminded this writing of Saint Josemaria Escriva. It helps me went my big dreams are crushing with my boring daily routine and I hope it will help you too. Hugs.
    ” Thinking of those of you who, despite years of experience, still go about dreaming — with vain and childish dreams, like those of Tartarin of Tarascon — imagining they are hunting lions in the corridors of their homes, where the most they will find are mice, if that; with, I insist, such people in mind, I can only remind you how great a thing it is to be accompanying God through the faithful fulfilment of your ordinary daily duties, coming through struggles which fill Our Lord with joy, and which are known only to him and to each one of us.

    Rest assured that you will usually find few opportunities for dazzling deeds, one reason being that they seldom occur. On the other hand, you will not lack opportunities, in the small and ordinary things around you, of showing your love for Christ. As St Jerome writes, ‘Even in small things, the same (greatness of) spirit is revealed. We admire the Creator, not only as the framer of heaven and earth, of sun and ocean, of elephants, camels, horses, oxen, leopards, bears and lions, but also as the maker of tiny creatures, ants, gnats, flies, worms and the like, things whose shapes we know better than their names: and in all of them (big or small) we reverence the same skill. So too, the person who is dedicated to Christ is equally earnest in small things as in great.’ “

  3. Friends, there was an earlier version of this post that went up today before Katie had finished editing it. For those of you who commented on that post, unfortunately your comments were lost, but know that we read them and appreciated your words. If you want to comment again feel free–we didn’t intend for the comments to get deleted but it happened, silly wordpress!

  4. I did comment earlier, but I came back. Thank you for sharing your struggle with us. You speak eloquently. You put words to some of what I feel myself, that I can’t find ways to express. This paragraph struck me most:

    Some days, I want to glare at the sky and shout, “Are you kidding me?” I feel myself bursting with gifts to give, with a wealth of knowledge about the “adequate anthropology” of the theology of the body, with eager energy to evangelize apathetic Catholics and apathetic parishes, with agrarian skills and a heart keen to build a Catholic peasant culture. And, all I can do is keep offering up my ordinariness, as I cheerfully change diapers and wash dishes and love my wonderful husband in ten thousand little ways.

    Particularly the last bit in bold. I’ve been on that page for about 5 years I think. I have to admit that as I am get much closer to 50 than 40, by enthusiasm and confidence you express in the first sentence has faded. Sometimes I get down about my lack-luster spiritual life, and my weakness against sin. Then I feel (only semi-seriously) the best I can do is be determined that if I should fail the ultimate test and go to hell, I’ll be the only one there who loves Jesus and if I manage to avoid that I’ll probably set the record for purgatory. Of course I recognize that such thoughts are crazy, doesn’t stop me from thinking that way. Anyway, I don’t have any easy answers, except ones I’m sure you already know. Persevere and trust. I mentioned before Fr. Emmerich Vogt O.P.. One thing I hope to learn from him is gentleness towards myself and others.

    Peace and Merry Christmas!

    1. You are so cute about setting the record for Purgatory. 🙂 It helps to know that there are other women who share out struggles, doesn’t it? God bless!

  5. Once again your post blows me away and strikes at the heart of something so basic and true. God has a divine plan and purpose for each one of us. I’ve learned it’s much better when I get out of God’s way (I really wanted to be in His way in a BIG way – as you talk about) but I never dreamed he would call me off the bench – to suffer…Jesus I trust in you. God Bless your beautiful family and Merry Christmas!

  6. Beautiful post Katie. You are most certainly not a failure. And I suspect that you minister to a lot more people than you realize.

  7. Hi Katie –

    I’m not sure if you remember me, but we met in Assisi almost 7 years ago. Perhaps that first photo of you and Devin is from Assisi?

    Anyway, I want to thank both of you for so beautifully and courageously sharing the crosses God has handed you and acknowledging their difficulty. You are both bearing great fruit!

    Also, you mention St. Therese. Heather King’s book “Shirt of Flame,” in which she spends a year reading and contemplating “Story of a Soul,” has a section in which she discusses “holding the tension.” That is, when we struggle with a particular cross our sufferings can be offered up to “hold the tension” for someone with a related but different cross. For example, she is single and wants to be married. But she offers that up to “hold the tension” for a spouse who is tempted to be unfaithful. I was very moved by that idea – of a very specific way of offering things up – and thought it might apply well to your situation. Perhaps you can offer up your “ordinary” things for those who are called right now to the “great” things.

    God bless you all!

    1. Mary, no doubt Katie will reply later, but I just wanted to briefly say that we remember you very well, and all your friends. And yes! that picture was taken by y’all in Assisi. Such a special time there and an indelible memory meeting you.

    2. Of course I remember you, Mary! And, not only was the photo taken in Assisi, but it was taken by your pilgrimage group, the same group that payed for our dinner that night! That was such a blessed trip.

      Thanks for your beautiful exhortation to “offer it up.” I do–all the time–and it really helps. I think that I would be crushed by sorrow and bitter if not for the trust that Our Lord makes our tears beautiful and fruitful, if we but offer them to Him, so that He can make them part of His resurrection. I love Heather King’s image of “holding the tension”, and I will sit with that image in prayer. god bless your beautiful family!

  8. I have lived your pain although for very different reasons.

    My MA thesis was on how great Christians, men and women, discerned their personal vocations. One of my great surprises was to discover that often the really fruitful vocations emerge later in life. In middle age, not in your early 20’s. Erik Erikson and Carl Jung both talked about it. The term for it is “the moratorium” – a period of time in young adulthood that is preparation for a larger call.

    You are becoming the person capable of recognizing and answering the call when it comes. A large vocation takes more than energy and passion, it takes a enlarged, wise, grounded soul, heart, and mind. None of what you are learning through this struggle, and seeming anonymity and fruitlessness, will be wasted in the Kingdom.

    Many of us had idealistic, romantic dreams about our future but the details of those dreams may not, in fact, be what God created us for. Accepting that is *NOT* the same as being thwarted. I was only a year out of college, had just lost my first big job, unemployed, and 25 cents away from homelessness when I first stumbled across Bl. John Henry Newman’s personal statement of faith in midst of his own vocational crisis.

    “God has determined that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually. He calls me by my name. He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness and he means to give it me.

    Wherever I am, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away.”

    I did feel utterly thrown away but Newman’s words were a light in my darkness. I didn’t know who Newman was and I couldn’t locate his words again for years afterwards but I have since spent 20 years telling every person in every Called & Gifted workshop that I teach that they can never be thrown away.

    This could be an excellent time to begin discerning your charisms because that could easily be at the heart of *some* of your frustration (which could be resolved *now* with some creativity) and are important sign posts for later. God did not give them to you to lie fallow. Because charisms only have one purpose: to be instruments of God’s redeeming grace for someone else.

    None of this will be wasted. I’ve helped tens of thousands of Catholics discern their charisms and I can tell you just from reading your post that you aren’t a “one talent” woman. One talent people don’t have that kind of angry passion. Most high impact vocations start small – like a snowball just beginning to roll downhill. And your charisms are tools to carry out your vocation(s) and clues as to what they are – and most of us have more than one. So being a wife and mom doesn’t mean your discernment is over. In some ways, it has just begun.

    1. Bless you, dear Sherry. Bless you ever so much. I know, from what Devin tells me, that you are blessedly swamped with ministry, so I consider it an honor that your took the time to read my overly long blog post and then to write a lengthy response.

      Your words are incredibly consoling, speaking to the core of my grief. Thank you for sharing Cardinal Newman’s words; I will write them and put them on my bathroom mirror. The notion that I am not wasted, that my life is not a failure, is a balm for my heart that weeps at my impotence.

      I know what my charisms are, and they burn in my heart daily. Knowledge, writing, teaching, administration, hospitality. I have tried and failed at many attempts to minister in my charisms. More than one plan for a dynamic new parish ministry lies in the dust, and I have simply had to accept that God’s answer for now is “no.”

      So, these days, I repeatedly tell myself to “lean in”. I no longer dream up ways of evangelizing. I no longer look for ways “outside” to minister. Rather, I lean in again and again, having the humility to minister from within my charisms where I am. I cringe at the cliche “Bloom where you’re planted” but that is just what I am beginning to do, and, while it’s not especially satisfying, it does help a little. So, I employ Knowledge through learning about keeping sheep and I employ Writing through blog posts and I employ Teaching through Facebook and working with my beloved 4-year old, Edmund.

      Please pray for me, as I know you will and know that I pray for the fruitfulness of the extraordinary ministry to which you are called. Guadete and merry Christmas, dear lady.

      1. Katie:

        At the moment when you are working out of your charism of writing, for instance, or administration, what is that moment like for you?


        1. It feels like joy and fire in my chest that makes me want to fly. When I am tired and sad, those are the things that I am most drawn to–reading or writing. And, you should ask Devin how often I practice administration on him. 🙂 He often tells me that I need servants, so that I can get all that administration out. I had never considered those charisms until I took the Catherine of Siena Institute inventory, but, once those results came back, they made so much sense to me.

          1. Great Katie – classic signs. As much as possible, “lean into” your charisms and reshape how you go about your work around your charisms. They will be a continual source of energy, refreshment in the Lord, joy, and fruitfulness. I flourished during times of incredible stress because I had lots of opportunities to use my charisms. And using them in “small” ways opens the doors to bigger ways in the future.

            Merry Christmas and a most blessed and happier New Year!

  9. I understand how you feel, Katie. I have felt similarly myself–but I too am now coming to recognize that true humility means recognizing that what might seem to the eyes of the world to be not too terribly important might be the most important thing of all. Saint Juan Diego’s claim to fame, for example, is delivering a message from one person to another, when the first could have delivered it Herself or chosen another messenger. Besides, if we focus on small good deeds, we can do a lot more of those–and it’s easier to focus on the individual recipients that way, as people. I keep trying to remind myself not to lose sight of the trees for the forest.

    Case in point: after prayerful consideration, I now firmly believe God is calling me to the Order of Friars Preachers, and if so I will have to take a vow of poverty. I don’t necessarily have a problem with giving up my worldly possessions if I have to, but joining a mendicant order means I have to live off charity myself, rather than contributing financially to the poor directly from among my riches (after I sell my possessions, of course). And this order also isn’t self-reliant in terms of farming, from what I’ve read, again relying primarily on the charity of others. I might find all this to be difficult but I’m willing to pay that price if need be, in order to do God’s will for me.

    God bless you and be with you in your journey!

  10. Dear Katie, I decided to look up this blog as the year ends and have not read it for a long time, perhaps when the twins photos were being removed for their protection, I am in the UK, I sympathised when you miscarried your first pregnancy and privately marvelled at the huge challenge of adopting children, however, I feel strongly that each child counts as a part-time job at least (allowing if they go out to school) so with 4 kids I had two full time jobs, you have a full time job, as well as being a child of God and a wife. We are also human beings and not human doings. The story of the coin, can be interpreted in so many ways, each moment spent with your children is reaping for their futures and their families, not a coin back but a harvest. Restlessness? He says Rest in me, Wanting to be busy, elsewhere? He says Stay with Me. I used to think that I needed to be doing so many things, but why travel to India, if God wanted you in India, perhaps you would have been born there, pray for them, live in the day, maybe stop planning. A day is a long time, relax. Does God expect us to solve the worlds problems? From my perspective, you are both very clever people, you have very high expectations. I hope and pray that 2014 is a blessed year for you and your family, that you can enjoy just being and see where it leads you.

  11. Can I just say, that the courage you have to honor your current role and do it with tremendous passion, combined with your courage to share (quite eloquently) your struggles with the WWW is beyond encouraging!

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