Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Edel...the Really, Really Late Version Part 2: What It Was Like

You can read Part 1 here.
Driving into downtown Austin on a Friday afternoon was, of course, a bit challenging. I found the Omni, circled the block a few times, avoiding pedestrians at every corner, and found a parking spot in the underground garage right near the elevators. Score. Deep breath. I worry if I will be able to have an intelligent conversation that does not focus on my children. I wonder if I will be out of place amidst the "cool" moms to have come to this event.
As I arrive in the lobby, I spot my long-lost friend (amidst all the other baby-wearing and preggo mamas), whom I last saw in 2008. I love this woman! She is way smart (-er than me) and charmingly funny and totally real. We do not have a ton in common if you look at the nitty-gritty of our lives, but I think we are kindred spirits in most of the big picture, moral, ethical, religious stuff, and in the priorities we claim for our lives as women. She and her husband credit my husband with breaking the ice that began their courtship. Yes, he was a matchmaker of sorts: "He likes you. Would you go out with him?" kinda stuff! And, their happily ever after plays out every day in their domestic church, much of it documented at her blog, Whole Parenting Family. So, we hugged, chatted, went up to our room, and got ready for our big entrance into the Edel cocktail party.

Awkward photo taken at my husband's request, since he hadn't seen me in the dress yet
At this point, I am feeling self-conscious. I know there are many famous bloggers in attendance. I know I will see friends from my college days with whom I have not truly connected in many years. I can not hide behind the baby I intended to bring along. It is just me, and I need a glass of wine. Thankfully, one is swiftly provided, and I quickly realize how friendly and real all of these faces, whose smiles I only know from their blog profile pictures, are. This event, for me, is like one long exhale. It is peaceful and enjoyable, chatting with old friends and meeting a few new ones. I mostly stick with the women I already know, but that is comforting and refreshing, exactly what I need.
The crazy shoe contest is a fun way to get conversations started, although I do not make much effort to meet new women, content to be surrounded with those I once knew and have always admired. I adore the contest winner who glued boy toys to her pumps, though, cars and balls! I chose to wear my Snoozies slippers with my glamorous dress. It feels funky to walk around in slippers. I wore what everyone wanted to wear anyway, and I honestly feel like the casual-ness of them helped me relax, as if I was chatting with these exceptional women in my living room!
Better than stepping on them!
As the event winds down, roomie and I head back to the room to put her little man to bed. I glance at the room service menu and think about ordering a burger, but I can see that my six-weeks-postpartum friend needs to sleep. I muse aloud about going to the hotel bar to order something, giving her some quiet, but I feel bad leaving her there after our long-anticipated reunion. In an instant, she speaks a word that I know now was a gift to me: "Go!"
I do not hesitate, knowing I will crawl under the covers and avoid this stepping out of my comfort zone. Arriving in the lobby, I can see the hotel bar is filled with young men with very few women. On a Friday night in Austin? What was I thinking? I decide to wander up to the cocktail party room to see who is left. Maybe a dozen women remain chatting, and someone is telling us we have to clear the room. Several of my college friends take that as their call to head out either back to their homes or hotel rooms. I find the one woman in the room I know and tell her I am hungry, am thinking of going to the hotel bar, but it is full of men. Does she want to join me? She has no idea the courage it took me to ask her that benign question. Yes, she says instantly, and I will ask others if they want to join us.
About eight of us end up at the bar, ordering burgers and quesadillas, and beverages, of course. The bartender is kind to us, seems to understand some of us feel out of place after midnight in downtown Austin without husbands or children, and treats us kindly. I only remember a few faces from that night, not because I had too much to drink, but because it takes me a long time to remember new names and faces. What I do remember is feeling included with the cool kids. And not just feeling included, but being one of them. All of us were wives and mothers, and many of our conversations were about being pro-life and attending Mass. We closed down the bar, surprising the bachelorette party nearby, as they asked what kind of group we were.
Edel Lesson Number 1: "Go. Seek Others Without Fear."

Quiet, empty St. Mary's Cathedral, Austin, TX
We have a long break Saturday morning. Most women wander downtown, but I have two goals: Sleep late and go to Confession at the Cathedral. When we finally arise, roomie and I decide to stay in the marvelous hotel and enjoy their breakfast buffet. SO yummy! It is perfect for two nursing mamas who need some serious nutrients and want to enjoy a variety of goodies. A college friend wanders in after her morning workout and joins us. (I am envious for about two seconds that she has the self-discipline to exercise on a weekend away.) Stopping in the lobby for a nursing session, we run into a slew of other Edel women and invite them to Confession. One taker.
Regretfully, I do not remember our walking buddy's name, but I do remember she might be moving to San Antonio from Arizona, a military family. If you are reading this, please comment, so we can be in touch! It is hot, really hot, but the two block walk is enjoyable with such pleasant company. St. Mary's Cathedral is quiet and mostly empty. The line for Confession is short. I kneel to pray. There are two priests and one woman wants to go to the other priest so allows others to go in front of her. I end up in the confessional without a baby and pour out my pathetic list of sinfulness. The priest, he speaks gently about my work being challenging and important. He urges me to focus on doing it all out of love, not duty, insisting that is the only way to sanctify the work.
Edel Lesson Number 2: "Do it all out of love for God rather than duty to your family."

Listening intently to Hallie, all of us hungry for something
The afternoon at Edel is amazing. It is the bulk of the conference part of the event, and you can listen to the talks for yourself here. I took away many nuggets from the wise women who counseled us. Jenny, who briefly opens the afternoon, acknowledges that Edel is about the "culture of encounter" that Pope Francis hopes to foster. Hallie, of course, shares her now-famous message from God: "It is good that you are here."
Marion's talk is the one that brings me to my knees. She humbly speaks of the potential for isolation, despair, exhaustion, and boredom in this vocation of motherhood. She reminds me that our children need mothers, not martyrs and that there is no "perfect Catholic mother," so I should stop trying to be her. I am refreshed by the reminder that the Church is the place of our greatest possible experience of freedom, and there is no blueprint or formula to holiness. Fear imposes rules, and our rigidity can cause us to miss God's own plan for us. The Church needs us to be different.
I am encouraged when she reminds us that in motherhood, dying to self is only the first step. The ultimate goal is life in Christ, and this does not require a total annihilation of self. God created us in His image, each unique individuals in need of relationships with others. Therefore, we must tolerate imperfection, in ourselves and in others. As women we need each other, and we need to share our sorrows, struggles, and fears as much as our delights. As Jennifer will later testify, Marion reminds us Christianity is always communal, and I must embrace God's love for me in the middle of the mess that is my life. Amen!
Edel Lesson #3: Stop trying to be what you imagine to be the perfect you and let God love you as you are.
My first professional headshot
We have an afternoon break before Haley's talk, a break that includes snacks, massages for some, chocolate samples for many, shopping, and a makeup makeover and free professional headshot for me. There is coffee served, but I am not a coffee drinker. In retrospect, I should have found some caffeine, but I did not want to walk away from the joy-filled crowds of women for even a moment. So, I am a bit drowsy when Haley speaks, and my mind wanders. A lot. Fortunately, we can listen to her talk again and again here and be inspired!
I do hear her insistence, however, to open myself to who God made me to be, to get out of the way and let Him work. She urges us to let God help us find our true selves, as motherhood is designed by God to change us. Haley's story, like Marion's is moving, and when she says that a man loves a mom differently than a wife, I resolve to allow my husband to love me in his way.
Edel Lesson #4: Motherhood matters. It is our path to sanctity. Trust that.
Amazing, delicious buffet dinner plate!
We enjoy another break before our dinner and karaoke night. Several of the moms dub the evening "mom prom," because when is the last time we all got dressed up for dinner and dancing anyway? A few of my college friends are staying at one of their homes in Austin, so they come up to our hotel room to change for the evening. I open a bottle of wine, and we talk before getting dressed up. I take a quick survey about how they make date nights with their husbands happen. We talk being a mother and raising babies. One mom is expecting her fifth boy. One mom has a preemie, number 5, in the NICU. Several of us struggle with fertility. And then there is my roomie from MN! In one word, our conversation embodies community. Beautiful stuff! I throw on my Friday-morning thrift-store-find polka dot dress, and we giggle like girls spilling the body glitter I brought to share all over the bathroom floor!
Off to the ball... I could not chow down fast enough on that lovely Tex-Mex fare. YUMMY! It was especially wonderful to enjoy a meal where I did not have to stop to cut someone else's meat or clean up a spill. The food was hot, and the margarita was cold (but the ice hadn't melted yet). Jennifer speaks. She starts by admitting that motherhood is hard and closes with a challenge to join with one another in building cathedrals. You can see my entire recap of her talk here.
Edel Lesson #5: Motherhood is hard, but we are all in it together.

My sweet friends, singing Mama Mia
Then, there is dancing and karaoke and dancing and closing down the hotel bar again with a larger group of Edel women. I do not even know how to communicate the joy I felt throughout that night. I was empowered as a woman in a way I did not even know was possible. I realized the strength that I have can be channeled to conquer my fears and doubts and trust in God's plan for my vocation. One college friend supposed I had too much to drink the way I was dancing, so free and abandoned. I didn't leave the dance floor except for another drink or water. Nope. I have always loved to dance and am usually too self-conscious to let loose, even around my husband. I did not get up for karaoke that night but probably would have if the list did not fill up so fast and I had someone to join me. Maybe in Charleston...

Edel Lesson #6: Be you. Have fun. Laugh. Sing. Dance. Enjoy who God created you to be.

Edel women dancing, looking gorgeous and carefree!

I left early Sunday morning to get home in time to go to Mass with my family. I said a quick goodbye to a still-in-bed friend and drove south, glancing at the sunrise out my car window, and ready to face the day with God and my new Edel sisterhood for strength.

Part 3 Coming Soon (hopefully you understand "soon" here is relative)!

Bless Your Heart!

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