As I reflect: hosting two NET Team Members

It’s been 11 years since I finished my year of service with NET Ministries.

What reflections stand out the most to me?

– NET is the closest life experience to marriage possible. It’s true. You live together, have a common mission, are called to communication, have an idea set before you, get little sleep, have to be constantly flexible and accountable. It’s the wildest adventure you can imagine going on, and you take each step trusting the Lord, struggling to find balance enough to pray, thankful for the times in the bathroom when you can be by yourself. You discovered things about yourself you otherwise would have never known. People know you better than you’ve ever been known. I learned I’m an extrovert. I never knew that living out in the country, reading, having so much alone time and being at peace with my imagination. I put my two cents in where it wasn’t needed, over the course of the year I learned to keep my mouth shut. I need to relearn this lesson when it comes to my marriage.

– It’s okay to just be okay. I remember sitting with a teammate who was a good man. He was the first model I experienced, other than my father, of how a man should treat me, with care and respect, without needing romantic feelings to find me worth his time. “How are you doing?” I asked him. “Okay,” he said slowly, “how are you?” “Okay.” I said. Our simple words packed in the meaning as we awaited the end of our year of service, soon upon us. “Want to be okay together?” So we sat together, not talking, not exuberant as many were, just being…okay.

– I’m very different, and that’s good, too. In a way I did not fit in with my NET Team. I don’t think I wouldn’t have developed natural friendships with most of them. But we were brothers and sisters in Christ and I felt included and encouraged in a way that was totally new to me. It wasn’t until we were in the Portland, Oregon diocese that I realized I wasn’t alone in my different-ness. I was artistic, and began to relate to our host families in ways never before experienced by myself. Shortly after NET, I would meet a man who was also quite different. We are artists, after all! And I learned to be grateful and embrace that as being part of a group I had never seen before.

– God built a strong foundation in me. NET was a time of being totally carefree. My only responsibility was to love the Lord, love my teammates and do my job on the retreat. In keeping with keeping my change to myself, I had to learn to sit back and just do my job, allowing others to do theirs. This was valuable for me. To let go if I’m not in charge of it. NET put me in my place and that was a good thing for this bold little creature. During that time I would pray. I experienced wonderful times of prayer and of offering up sacrifices amidst the tiredness and the struggle to keep going. I had to practice humility when disagreements arose. I learned some terrible mannerisms I have, a particular tone of voice. Learning about that tone and how to pay attention to it keeps things charitable with my husband. Once again, a lesson that needs to be relearned.


The NET Team came to visit our parish last night and two young women stayed in our home. The visit caused much reflection. I am so tired lately, so terribly terribly tired that it feels impossible to keep in mind the lessons I have learned, whether in watching that tone, holding back and not reacting emotionally so quickly to perceived slights, or not feeling guilty about every negative thing, attacking or hating myself. We’re at the point in our marriage where it takes an act of the will, and these days, I feel so incapable of thinking or acting.

But I do will it. So I think that now, as on NET, I’m called to rely on God. I’ve gone to two Saturday holy hours by myself and prayed. I attended mass by myself last night and did not feel so foreign there in the silence. I did not know what to do with my hands without a baby of child’s hand to hold, but my heart knew the Lord and I was able to speak to him, not just stare, saying, I don’t remember how to focus on you.

It’s time to depend on God. Work as though everything depends on you and pray as though everything depends on God. We’ve reached a place financial security. Now we are maxed out physically and emotionally by tiredness. So we are forced to need God again. When we were single we dedicated our lives to him and desired to be saints. Now we are living out the path, finding we must, again and again, place our trust in him.

A Girl and Her King: Learning to trust

The story of A Girl and Her King, joins the young protagonist as she grows in her commitment towards her good king. She is young and he is old. He teaches, her watches over her, protects her. He has taken her to the battlefield, the arena, and now asks her to find her place inside the calm environment of her old home, where challenges abound to test her dedication to him in even in the smallest matters. She does not yet know what form their love will take, if he will one day bring her to live with him in the palace, or request she stay in that quiet home forever. But willing to wait, she receives the lessons he has in store for her.

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The next day they walked again.

The King interrupted the silence. “You cannot rush things to grow or patience or me. You cannot rush me. Why do you want to? I know you are so confused.” He was referring to the marriage Philothea waited for. The king did not accuse her. He wondered why she would not understand the things she already knew.

“I am protecting you. It is not a sword or any kind of weapon. I have scars. I love you. You can look at them.” He held out his hand. “Go on, touch it.” Philothea began to cry. The king’s tears fell, one on her forehead as he stood over her. She could feel the drop on her forehead. It cooled her head. Philothea felt so hot.

She put a finger to his wrist. Not smiling, something was happening inside her heart.

“I’m so happy you aren’t blaming yourself,” the kind said softly to her. “I’m so happy you aren’t believing what you used to believe about me, that I’d be angry or that you did this.” He gestured to his hand.

Thinking of it, the king began to cry and he hugged her tightly. “No, little girl. No, my darling, my beloved. No, no, I love you. No, you didn’t, you did not. I was saving you. I was protecting you. You used to cry. You wanted to be grateful to me but did not know how or why. Oh my little princess!” He continued to hold her. Had he said these things now or in those moments when she used to say she crucified him? She was surprised, so surprised by his tears. He was so strong and so majestic, but so in love and so real. He was no stoic.

“You almost don’t remember, do you?” he said. “You used to come to me to beg me to come to you. You could not get too close to these rooms for a while. I came to you and you would cry. Oh, you would cry about some little thing and say you hurt me, that you had wounded me somehow. Darling, you used to show me your scars, your cuts that you’d give to yourself on your heart.”

“When I think about it, I remember,” Philothea whispered, staring at the ground.

“Don’t be such a stoic! Let yourself go,” he told her.

The tears surfaced Philothea could feel her heart bubble in her mouth. “It’s just that I’ve been sick,” she told him as her voice wavered, beginning to cry. “And I sat back and didn’t want to laugh and the monsters are still there. They have not touched me, but they keep whispering things. My king, I was so happy when you came with me last night and told them to leave. I don’t want to live with them here. It doesn’t make me happy. They want me away from you. I don’t want to be away from you. But I love you. I love you radiantly…And I know I’m complaining but I don’t get mad at myself like I would before. I’m just a little surprised by that. I mean, where are we going?”

He looked at her sad face and shook his head. “You know. Just remind yourself. You make me smile and laugh and you do things for me because you love me. They think you’re something amazing, special, different, set apart. You know why they think that? Because I tell them about you. No one knows you like I do. Every now and then I like to tell people. They like to hear it. Mostly you do not know. You used to be prideful about it, now you are too shy about our love. But you’ve never been so vulnerable than with me and you’ve never breathed so well. Your heart has never beat like it does now. Trembling, yes, you trembled because of fear, anxiousness, a pressure. Those creatures became frightened as well. Isn’t it fun when we frighten them away?

The king continued, “I want you to continue living and being and being like a child and being in love. I know you became sick but no one even really knew where your heart was. You are inside the walls and this is different than the field. In the field, all is open, all exposed. Head to head battle, one army versus another and no man fights alone. Here inside the walls where I have asked you to stay, they hide and you must defend what you have against those thieves. You must go day-to-day life and live hidden, unnoticed, like you’ve seen me do. And look at what you are doing. It isn’t just for them either. It’s for you. Remember to listen to them. I want you to…Remember what I told you. I want to show you something.”

The king took her over a green hill. On it, the hill seemed very small, but over the round top of it were three flowers, purple ones. Philothea did not recognize them. And the sun was out, very large and very bright, but not at all hot. The king stood there with her.

“I want you to know that I am enough. You don’t need anything but me.” The king stopped, putting his right knee on the ground and, leaning to the right, he picked one flower. He handed it to Philothea and held another in his hand. The king said nothing. Philothea looked at the flower. It was the kind that grows on a stalk, not normal petals, and it was small, three inches maybe. And it had some pollen inside it, still where the petals were on different sides of the stalk.

Philothea started to smile. She breathed deeply. “I love seeing you.” She put the flower in his hand and held his hand. She felt so in love that she could barely move. One hand holding one hand, two flowers in the middle, and still one on the ground.

“I asked you to marry me,” the king said. Philothea held her breath. She had been remembering that day. She thought of it three days ago. She thought of it three times.

The kind said, “I stand by that, one day.” Philothea wanted to hear him add some condition, “if it’s right,” but she could not quite remember if he did. She told herself she could not recall him ever placing a condition on this desire.

“I hold you to the things you have said,” the king said.

“Okay,” she said, “I hold you.”

The moment stayed that way. They could have been there for days. She would not have known either way. The king gave her many gifts, so many things she asked for in her complaints. But he was enough.

They stood in this moment. Time stopped, if it even existed there. The sun disappeared and a moon rose with stars. It was not cold.

They stood together, one hand in one hand, two flowers in the middle. She remembered grasping a fistful of bluish purple flowers one day as she past quickly by a wall of flowers on a bicycle. Ah, freedom.

Breathe. See love. What a life she had before her. What a love.

They stood their all night until dawn came and as if still in a trance, he walked her back.

They stood there all night.


And as time passed, if she mentioned without thinking, “I love you so much, I want to marry you.”

They both would pause and think about what she had just said so casually.

Philothea was so removed at times from the promise, but it remained always there. They both knew it. He of course, knew the plan and all that would come to pass. She knew only that he knew. Philothea trusted that was enough.

Still they would pause and Philothea would ask herself if she really meant what she said. Those playful words drew upon a world of deep love between them, touching the surface. So they would pause and think for a second, not saying anything and go on with the day and the conversation. Still, they would pause.

Reflections on Strange Gods, Chapter 7, The Idol of Plans

What follows are my reflections on Elizabeth Scalia’s book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Every Day Life, Chapters 7: The Idols of Plans. Click here to read my other reflections on Scalia’s book. There’s more to read than my reflection contains. I highly recommend you check out the book for yourself.

Jacob wrestling with the angel, Eugène Delacroix, fresco (758 × 491 cm) — 1857-61

For so long I have been such an anxious worry-wart, such an intense planner that I approached this seventh chapter of Strange Gods, by Elizabeth Scalia, “the Idol of Plans,” fully prepared to accuse myself. Then I found something strange.

“There is a paradoxical kind of power in being willing to sweep away the idols we make of our plans. When Saint Paul writes that “for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10), he is telling us when he surrenders the notion that he could accomplish anything on his own, he discovers that God, working through him, does wonders beyond his own meager imaginings. It is precisely the same with our plans. When we stop insisting upon them and permit God to throw us a curve, and answer it with trust, wonders come our way.”

I planned. How did I learn this? Linda Vanzzini, who is now and has been for a long time, Linda Gillum. Making plans were always framed as seeking a call or answering a call from God. The chapter opens with the Yiddish proverb, “man plans, God laughs.” I have been hearing this message since junior high when I first encountered Linda. What happened to Linda? She discerned for a long time. She entered. She was unhappy. She left. She entered a new order. She was happy. Her mother became ill. She returned to care for her. She met a man. She never returned to that convent. She is married now with four incredible children.

And what happened to me? I had her lessons and our late night retreat night chats in my mind as I grew older. I felt called to religious life. I planned in a way, but ever knew that I could be wrong. I was heartbroken when I discovered God was not calling me to marry him. But thanks to Linda and St. Therese, trust was ever the narrative of moving through life.

I graduated high school. I served on NET. I had no plans after that because I was waiting to hear if/when I would marry my Lord. I wanted to enter the Sisters of the Cross; I knew I had some home there. I attended two years of college locally and longed for community. A few steps later, we find me in Minnesota attending a new and different school. An interview with a graduate school I felt I should look into, but did not want to attend, caused me to fall in love with the school. It was logical to attend right away. God had other plans. My husband is grateful for that. I moved back.

Engaged, married, then off to graduate school. I would plan on attending the doctoral program. This was the second plan I think I ever really had, the first being to attend at all. These logical career steps, the ones I had put out there so boldly in order to defend my choice to attend such an expensive school so far away at such a time in my life. But my daughter came. We wanted to get pregnant. We wanted a child.

It was not God’s will for me to get a doctoral degree. Fully ready to accuse myself, I find, looking inward, that I have been flexible, confused at times, bewildered at changing plans, but flexible.

Scalia writes “it makes me wish the first scripture verse any of us are taught could be the line from Jeremiah 29:11: ‘For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, and not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope’.”

My ways are wild, compared to the way I was taught I ought to plan in my family of origin. I know better than to attribute those wild ways to anything other than the lessons I learned in that youth group and from those many readings of little Therese, and the grace of God. Where my mother might have questioned, she saw our joy and supported it, and that spurred us on. Having fulfilled so little of the “plan” I often say we don’t deserve to be so happy. I’m glad we’ve been so reckless.