It has been a long journey for this 48-year-old elementary school teacher who suffers from the pain of infertility. Ten years ago, she left a job she loved – teaching first grade – because her inability to have children made it too difficult for her. She moved into teaching third grade, then second grade for eight years, but she always loved teaching first grade.
“I really enjoyed it and recently started wondering, why did I leave it? At the time, I was having some infertility issues and I couldn’t get pregnant. It was just too difficult for me.” After much prayer and the realization that God is calling her to surrender and acceptance, she made the decision that it was time to go back. “When I look back on it now, I realize that when I left first grade I was trying to protect myself, but I wasn’t protecting myself at all. I was running away. And as a result, I missed out on a lot of blessings.”
It was no accident that during the seminar Father Nathan Cromly stressed the importance of surrender and acceptance of our crosses, reminding the women that it is only through the cross that we achieve true happiness. “I just need to embrace the cross and suffer through,” she said. “I’m learning from Women of Grace about Mary, how I can become a little Mary to others, and about being a spiritual mother. Our charism is to be mothers.”
It’s just not the way she imagined it would be. “I always thought I would have a large family. So not being a mother in that way has been really difficult. I’m learning to surrender because I feel if it’s meant to be, I’ll have children. If not, then I’m okay with it.”
As if in confirmation of this process of surrender, she received a phone call during the seminar from the principal at her school. Because her husband had lost his job only a few days prior to the event, her first instinct was to panic. There had been some cuts in the district recently and so she thought, "Why is the principal calling me?"
Instead of procrastinating, she called the principal back right away. Holding her cross, and medals on her necklace for added strength, she spoke to the principal and hoped for the best. She was surprised to find herself being asked to be the inclusive first-grade classroom which would have the special education children in her class. It would be an added challenge, but she had just learned on the retreat that going through the cross, the blessings would come, so of course, she agreed!
Later, during the lunch break at the seminar, Joanne shared with a woman what had happened on the phone call. The woman then replied, "Someone in that class obviously needs you to be their spiritual mother." She knew it was a confirmation and began to see how God was pulling it all together for her – from the surrender and acceptance of her cross of infertility to her return to the first-grade class that she loved as a spiritual rather than a physical mother.
“I’m at peace now,” she said. “Father Nathan was talking about the fruits and joys of the spirit. Just the other day, I was writing in my journal that by going to church and offering all this up, I have finally received peace. Then with the peace, came joy for realizing all the blessings I already have been given from God. Then, it is easier for me to spread the love of God to others. It's so refreshing to learn that when I surrender to God's plan, peace, joy and increased love for others came."
Each room at the Malvern Retreat House has a quote on the wall. "I'm always interested in the quote that I get on my wall," she said. "This year it was, 'Because I have been given much, I TOO MUST GIVE.' My friend from Florida was my roommate this year. She is filled with joy and the love of God. I picked her up from the Philadelphia Airport to help her out but she has blessed me with the gift of laughter and the gift of spreading the love of God to others with joy. She is truly a spiritual mother for me! This retreat has been so wonderful for me. I have learned so many things! When I see all the connections, the confirmation I’m receiving here, it’s all coming together.”
It’s been a long process, she said, “but I’m finally at the point where I’m going back to first grade, which I really enjoyed, and even though I don’t have children of my own, I'm so excited to be a spiritual mother. I know there will be difficult days but I'm not running from the cross this time. I know the blessings will come. I'm ready now to completely embrace it!"
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