I might have signed myself up for something really stupid or totally life changing. I won't know for sure until it is over.
I, Laura Phelps, a gifted rambler, lover of my own personal space, and unwavering in my belief that without my presence, my family will fall apart, will be attending a three-day silent retreat. I will have no cell phone. I will share a room and bathroom with a stranger. A complete and total stranger with whom I cannot speak.
What on earth was I thinking?
Here is what I was thinking:
I am a spiritual mess and I never stop talking. I am co-coordinating a WWP parish program, traveling the country to speak about God and what He has done and continues to do in my life, and writing on the side. Simultaneously, I am striving to be a good wife and mother by setting a holy example of Catholic marriage and parenting-while feeding the dogs, cleaning the guinea pig cages, and buying large crickets because a bearded dragon was exactly what my life needed.
And I am failing, sisters. I am stretched thin, utterly exhausted, and drowning in the chaos. What is making me even crazier is the fact that I have no idea if I am following God's will in all these aspects of my ridiculous life. Am I doing what God has called me to do? I think I am because everything on my to-do list is gift wrapped in ministry paper and tied with an evangelizing bow. But just because I have said yes to a million and one things that point to Jesus, does not mean Jesus was pointing to me while handing out the million and one things.
Feeling totally confused, and knowing confusion comes from the enemy, I recognized the spiritual danger I was in and did something stupid. I asked a priest for spiritual direction. What I thought was going to amount to a one-hour meeting with him every Tuesday morning, where I'd bring lattes, we'd pray on soft couches, and he'd find me both holy and hysterical, turned into me agreeing to and registering for a three-day silent retreat.
I cried about this to my friend last night. “I am already dreading it. What have I done? This is so not the time for me to leave my family! I want to throw up.”
She responded in her typical, gentle way by asking, “Have you asked the Lord if it is His will for you to go?”
Now, I love my friend. But seriously? Have I asked the Lord? What kind of stupid question is that? Of course I asked the Lord!
Okay. So I didn't ask the Lord. But here's the deal. Do we really think if I asked the Lord, “Hey, Lord...I have this opportunity to let go of everything, sit at your feet, and give you my undivided attention for three whole days where for the first time in...oh, I don't know...maybe in forever...I shut my mouth and listen to You. Is this something you would like for me to do, Lord? What was that, Lord? You'd prefer I stay home and continue to believe that I am in control of everything and that I should never stop talking at You because that's been working out so well? Okay, great-thanks. Phew...that was close! Almost made a mistake and went on retreat!”
Not by coincidence, in my struggle with the Lord's invitation to leave my family and go on a three-day silent retreat, I found myself praying with the story of Jonah-a story titled Disobedience and Flight. I read how Jonah fled far from the Lord when He asked him to set out for Nineveh. Jonah hopped on a boat ignoring God's will and tried to get as far from Him as he possibly could. I closed my eyes as I pictured the violent winds that hurled upon the sea. I imagined Jonah waking up in the hold of the boat and, upon hearing the mariners ask, “What are you doing asleep? Rise up, call upon your God!”, recognizing what he had done. The storm was the consequence of his disobedience. Jonah asks the others to throw him into the sea, and as they do, the seas calm. You would think that Jonah was going to drown but he doesn't. Instead, the merciful Father rescues him. “For the Lord sent a large fish that swallowed Jonah; and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 2:1)
Invitations from the Lord can be so hard to receive. But you want to know what's even harder? Fleeing from them. What is the Lord asking of you that you are running from? Where is He inviting you to go that has you jumping on a boat, sailing far away, and going to sleep? Perhaps it is time for you to accept the Lord's invitation. To rise up, call upon your God, and silence the storm.
Now if you will excuse me, it is time I jump off of this boat and quiet my own chaos. Once afraid that my family would drown without me, I am realizing that perhaps this retreat is the very thing that God intends to use to save us. And isn't that just like the Lord? Just when I think I am in over my head, He sends a large fish.
Silently praying for you from the belly of the fish,
“I used to believe that prayer changes things. But now I know that prayer changes us, and we change things.” - St. Teresa of Calcutta
Raised in a faith-filled home that affirmed the power of prayer, I also grew up in a family of eight whole-heartedly believing that the Lord had empowered me to be self-reliant. After all, hadn't He knitted me into the bossy, older sister and consummate planner whose family nickname was “Mrs. Take Charge”? I was confident the path was mine to direct, and any roadblocks on the journey were my responsibility. I felt that the Lord was leaving it to me to figure it out, shake it off and get on with it. And so I did through college, career and marriage; keeping God at arm's length as I plotted our path.
Our journey veered off-course dramatically when our second child, Will, was born. He came into the world with an extreme leg length discrepancy and offset right foot. We questioned what this would mean for his life. Would he ride a bike? Run the bases in Little League? Even walk on his own? So I mapped it all out to God very simply-heal his leg. And I prayed. And prayed. Multiple experts told us that other than casting and bracing, there was nothing we could do for 5 years; we'll watch and see, they said, to monitor his growth and analyze what could be done surgically. So I soldiered on, waiting for Him to answer me and bring the miracle.
For seven years, Will wore a heavy brace 24/7, and underwent physical therapy 3 times per week. At every hospital scan, I prayed while waiting to see how much the leg length difference had grown, and through decisions to be made as to when to subject him to the arduous surgery and the painful recovery required. And I made my plans; I prayed that the Lord would take this decision from us by growing Will's leg.
When Will turned seven, a sequence of surgeries and ongoing physical therapy were offered. This radical treatment included the insertion of metal rods and screws that we needed to adjust daily to pull the bones apart. My GPS wasn't syncing with my plans, but my prayers had changed.
Along Will's recovery, my prayers for miraculous healing for his bone evolved into prayers for the Lord's strength. I asked for His strength to comfort Will, to encourage a loving father who couldn't bear the painful exercises, to soften the heart of an older brother often overlooked during those difficult years, and to reach out those who stayed away because they found it so hard to witness. I realized that I had turned over my map to the One who had written the plan long ago.
After two more surgeries, the miracles of God's design came into focus. As we read in Isaiah, His ways are so much greater than anything I could have imagined or asked for.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
God's miracle was found in our family's providential move before Will's birth to a sleepy little town a 45 minute drive from one of only three hospitals in the U.S. that offer the radical orthopedic procedure needed. God's miracle was the gift of a pediatric physical therapist who lovingly and diligently worked with William multiple times a week for over 8 years; a seemingly guardian angel on earth. God's miracle was the community who fed us, made Will laugh, and just showed up. God's miracle was the science research that created a way to grow bone 3 inches so a child born with a mangled leg could grow up to play tennis on his high school varsity team.
The greatest answer to the prayers I did not ask is our son's unwavering trust in the Lord and his unwavering faith. Not once did Will ask why he had been born with this condition or refuse to do what was needed-not one day. I asked Will if he'd ever felt abandoned by God for all he'd been through. He pondered a minute, then responded, “Mom, you took care of me, Dad took care of you, and God took care of all of us.” He carries this faith to this day as a college student, through campus ministry and ongoing volunteer commitments that allow him to share his incredible gift to call out and walk alongside those who suffer. While I would love to take credit for this incredible faith, I cannot. I confess that it is a gift I never considered asking for; I was too busy trying to navigate the journey on my own.
I am most certainly a work in progress; I constantly wrestle with my desire to map the route for God when the path winds off-road or becomes overgrown with brambles. But when I am at my weakest, I reflect back on all the ways the Lord has responded to my petitions. I am strengthened through prayers of surrender and buoyed by the sisters in Christ I have since found at WWP.
Through my WWP parish program, I found direction in the Lord's Word, insights in our lessons, encouragement from daily prayer, and welcome from a group who didn't judge me for trying to “take charge” of God. And now, working for WWP, I am honored to work alongside a dedicated team who demonstrate daily their beautiful faith and commitment to help Catholic women and girls across the U.S. to open their hearts to Christ.
For those of you still struggling with your own road map, please know that I am praying for you. And for those of you who now rest in the joy of having crossed the finish line, I pray that you will share the miracles now illuminated.
With love in Christ,
Laurie Baschwitz is the Director of Participant Experience at WWP; leading our expansion, customer support and regional area coordinators to support our parish programs and independent studies for adult women, young adult women and middle school girls. She resides in Westchester County, New York with her husband and two sons.