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How God Makes Beauty from Barrenness

How God Makes Beauty from Barrenness

Nov 20 2012
What I learned from three female saints who never bore children—physical ones, anyway.

The weather was still chilly on the May morning when I found myself pacing in a northern-Wisconsin parking lot, trying to find a sweet spot in the gray sky overhead where my cell phone would work. My mother and I were traveling together, taking a break from visiting my grandmother in her Green Bay nursing home. A meandering drive southward had brought us to the Spanish-style Carmelite Monastery of the Holy Name of Jesus, which was perched amid gentle hills near Lake Michigan's shore. I was eager to peek inside at the chapel, but first I wanted to check the messages I had received while roaming out of range.

I finally found a pocket of reception and heard the frantic voice of a Fox News producer who recently had added me to her Rolodex of go-to pundits for live TV interviews. She was planning a debate segment on a breaking news topic that day, something right up my alley. She could find a TV station for me to use wherever I was if I could carve out an hour or so for a live shot. She needed to hear from me right away. Was I in?

I paused for an instant, wondering how I might squeeze this into my weekend, then quickly thought better of it and called her up to politely decline. "I'll be unavailable all weekend," I told her when she asked if the next day was an option. "I'm tied up with family."

After hanging up, I took a deep breath and drank in the wide expanse of farmland around me. I thought of how much easier such decisions were these days. I still struggled at times to keep my striving in check. But I had come a long way from where I was a few years earlier, when the very thought of making even small career sacrifices made me edgy. I marveled at how stealthily God works in the soul, one day and one trial at a time. He softens your edges so slowly and subtly that you can fail to notice how far you have come until you have moved on to the next problem. I wondered what other changes God might be working in my soul now, even as I saw no outward signs of progress at all.

Shivering as I realized that I had left my jacket in the car, I began strolling briskly toward the arched doors of the church. Surveying the building's beige, brick-and-limestone façade and the dim outlines of its stained-glass windows, I thought it looked a bit stark, even barren, against the austere rural landscape.

I changed my mind when I stepped inside. No sooner had I entered the sanctuary's warm embrace than I saw a trio of stained-glass windows towering before me, featuring three of my favorite saints. In the center was Teresa of Ávila, holding a tiny replica of one of the Carmelite monasteries she founded and a scroll with her signature line: "God alone suffices." To my right was Thérèse of Lisieux, standing amid roses and grasping an image of the suffering Christ beside a scroll bearing her famous words: "In the heart of the Church, we will be love." To my left stood Edith—Teresa Benedicta of the Cross—crowned by a halo of thorns and clutching a star of David and a scroll that said, "Love will be our eternal life."

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