Blog Post

Motherhood: A Journey to Sanctification

The Mongan family at daughter Kaitlyn's wedding in June, 2017

I was not a good candidate for motherhood. Had I gone for a “job” interview, I would not have been given the job. If there had been a try out, like for a cheerleader squad, they would not have selected me for the team. I did not have the qualifications, the necessary skills or the “heart” required. I don’t think I even had a desire to apply for the job. However somewhere on my journey God grew within me a “mother’s heart.”

Let me tell you who I was before I was married with children. I was a twenty year old anorexic bride who cared more about her body image than her health. I had never done any babysitting, changed a diaper, or know a thing about nursing a baby. When other women were searching for a “knight in shining armor,” hoping to be swept off their feet and marry the man of their dreams, I had my heart set on being a Carmelite nun.

God led me to Miami, Florida to be a stewardess where I did meet my “knight in shining armor,” who swept me off my feet and became the man of my dreams. My life changed course forever when Patrick Mongan, M.D. and I married on May 1, 1974 on Key Biscayne, Florida. Our life as man and wife had only just begun. Hand in hand we left for a for a month long honeymoon to tour the West. Upon returning home we said our goodbyes, leaving Miami behind and moved to Gainesville, Florida where he would do a three year residency in Family Medicine. What about me? I spent most of my days outside lying on my little blue raft enjoying “ME” time in the pool thinking, “This is the life!” For me life was beautiful, practically perfect in every way.

You can’t imagine my surprise, when I found out I was pregnant. When the doctor called he said, “The rabbit died.” I did not have a clue to what he meant. My husband said with shock in his voice “Honey, your pregnant.” From the day I heard the words, “Your pregnant,” my perfect world changed completely, and so did my heart. God was at work growing a miracle within me. I was entering the unknown adventure of motherhood.

Let me paint a picture of an ordinary day in my life as new mother. I was always a “hundred” days behind and never seem to make it to the finish line. Sometimes I thought there wasn’t even a finish line. I woke up with one eye half opened and a baby in my arm that never left my side all night long, a nursing baby. Each day I courageously position myself on the starting block, ready to run the race to win. I began to sprint into my day. Right off the block I realize that I have a handicap, a wee one permanently attached to my arms. I want to read all the books on motherhood, but who has the time? There is no time for me, no time at all, even for sleeping.

Ellen Mongan

After the first couple of children, I realized that motherhood is a race but the race is only against me. I gave up comparing myself to others and adapted the mentality of just being the best I could be. I was convinced that this was a healthier way to live. In a short time, I exchanged the pressure of perfection, for permission to make mistakes. Pride falls as I began to live the cliché, “to err is human,” everyday. With conviction of soul I applauded God for His grace and had a new appreciation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I discovered life does not have to be predictable, planned, or perfect with every hair in place.

I assure you that motherhood is more fulfilling than life without children ever was, but way more challenging. Being a mom is even more rewarding than looking your best. So what if your permanent press blouse now displays spit up in view of all. You smile graciously, thanking God that the wrinkles are not on your face. As you pass by the bathroom mirror, you are sure you saw a grey hair. A closer look reveals to you, that your suspicions were incorrect. It was not a sign of aging but only a Cheerio or two. You rejoice, secretly thinking that your vision may be failing but at least you are not turning grey.

Unlike other careers with a diploma to prove your ability, a degree as a mom is one career where the words “on the job training” make total sense. Life experience becomes your teacher. The first thing you learn is that every mommy is different, every child is different and every day is different. The motherhood journey can be compared to steering your boat along unknown water ways. There are often rough waves in your path, and you may fear your little boat is going to sink. You put on your life vest and hold on tight praying that you will not be tossed overboard, to drown in the sea of diapers, dishes, and a too long to-do-list. You are grateful for His amazing graces each day.

The blessings and graces bestowed upon by God to mothers are more often evident in hindsight. I tell young moms, “Motherhood is one way God grows you in character.” Then I add, “I must have needed a lot of character growth, because God gave me eight children.”

The journey of motherhood takes you from vanity, pride, and self-centeredness to another place where self-sacrifice and self-control become second nature for you. His grace gives you the ability to force a smile even if you've had had no sleep, to pick up a crying baby, knowing that holding your child always brings joy to your soul.

A mother’s love enables her to let her toddler eat the last cookie, even if she had her eye on it and chocolate chip was her favorite. This mother’s love alerts her to the need to race to keep her toddler out of the street, even if she has a cast on a broken leg. She and her child are both growing, for each step her child takes towards maturity she takes two. This motherhood journey has lots of twists and turns, with a lot of laughter and a few tears too.

As the years go by the road that once seemed so far to travel seems way too short. This becomes evident as you walk you first born child into their first day of school. With a tear in your eye you want to press the rewind button and begin your motherhood journey again. You decided you didn’t want to miss a thing, not a smile, not a new word, nor a question. This time you want to see all through eyes of compassion, have ears that really hear between the lines, and with a heart of love.

You want to change the mistakes you made and replace them with the perfect motherhood skills and responses you have learned. But reality quickly reminds you that life has no rewind button. You can never go back. Maturity encourages you to go forward. The wisdom of the ages quickens to you that it is your mistakes that have formed you into who you are. It is the mistakes that have formed your child into who they are. You quickly lift up a prayer to your Heavenly Father pleading, “God I may not have done the journey perfectly but I did it with all my heart!’'

Motherhood is a lifetime journey that will change you forever. I am blessed that God chose motherhood as my way of sanctification. Miracles happen, the greatest miracles happen within. I encourage you to be open to life. Let God bless you with a quiver full of children. The world may never understand the graces and blessings you will experience. Know that nothing is impossible with God. If He asks you to embrace this call, He promises to give you the grace for the journey. It will be an adventure of a lifetime and the journey never ends until you come face to face with Jesus. What will you say? “Thank you!” of course, knowing that you couldn’t have done it without Him. The call to be open to life by Pope Paul VI in Humana Vitae is God’s Truth for us all!

Looking back now, I reflect on that twenties-something woman laying on her little blue raft and thinking, “This is the life” and realize that I had no idea what an abundant life was all about. Now that I'm in my sixties, I can see how God’s design for our lives really does give us the grace we need even though we may not realize it's there. This grace is experienced as we embrace God’s ways. The call to having a large family is not for everyone, however doing it God’s way is!

Motherhood is indeed a journey to sanctification, but be patient. This transformation of character does not take place overnight. The heart is God’s work and you cannot rush a work of God!

©Ellen Mongan