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Denise Renner
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Wife. Mother. Catholic. Convert. Writing about what is true and beautiful.
Wife. Mother. Catholic. Convert. Writing about what is true and beautiful.

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As a Protestant, I thought it was funny and slightly idiotic that unmarried men were supposed to have anything worthwhile to say about motherhood, marriage, and family life. What could a priest possibly say to a struggling married couple? To an exhausted mother? How could he ever relate?

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At the African orphanage where I worked, children received photo albums from their new families early in the process. They got a snapshot of what their life would be like when the adoption was finalized, a first glimpse of adoptive parents, siblings, homes, and bedrooms. And while it might seem that an orphan growing up in Ethiopia would be thrilled by your average American home with central heating, consistent electricity, and clean, running water, the children often had a different opinion.

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I was 38 weeks pregnant and our entire department was being forced to watch a comedy sketch involving Twinkies. Suddenly actual Twinkies were being thrown at us, bouncing off cubicle walls, and I longed for the home, the baby, and the domestic realm—enough of team-building exercises and staff pep talks. That freedom G.K. Chesterton wrote about sounded like a promised land to me:
I would give a woman not more rights, but more privileges. Instead of sending her to seek such freedom as notoriously prevails in banks and factories, I would design specially a house in which she can be free.

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Our culture tends to take one of two opposing views on marriage. One is that “happily ever after” is yours so long as you find the right person. The other is that once you say the words “I do” your freedom is gone forever and your life is over (at least until a judge determines otherwise).

But the sacrament of marriage, rightly understood, is a ministry, a service, the lifelong advancement of two souls striving to sanctify themselves, one another, and the children that may come of their union. With the ceremony comes a vocation in mission, as well as a cross.

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I didn’t expect the same level of excitement after announcing this pregnancy. After all, we had an ample dose of the cultural and medical perspective with the birth of our second child: You have a healthy girl and boy, you can be done now. Your family is “complete.”

But we have always been open to new life, have prayed for more children, and are thrilled that God has blessed us with another pregnancy.

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My daughter asked why lions don’t eat giraffes. I explained that giraffes have long, powerful legs and hooves the size of dinner plates to protect them from hungry lions. When she asked the inevitable “Why?” I told her that God gives each animal some way to protect itself.

And then I realized the same is true of us, only more so: “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (Matt. 6:26)

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My desire for conversion happened days before my first child was born, so my Catholic journey and motherhood are inextricably linked. Both have taught me a thing or two about delayed gratification, self-control, and discipline—all of which appear to be lacking in the culture at large.

But in the domestic church we’re learning (and teaching) all those hard lessons—that “our way” isn’t always God’s way, and that what is hard is often good, and for our good.

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When I was working at an evangelical university, there were countless devotions and sermons about the Proverbs 31 woman. She was the source of inspiration for wives and mothers, while Mary was presented (if at all) simply as a woman that let God work through her, just as He does through us all.

Before coming to the faith, that made sense. My husband once suggested that Mary was more worthy of imitation, to which I responded, “But there’s almost nothing about her in the Bible.”

How can you venerate someone about whom you know so little?

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Catholic pregnancy tip: well water from the Abbey of Santo Domingo in Spain where Blessed Jane of Aza prayed for another child—a prayer heard and answered in the person of Saint Dominic. I was told that someone in the parish usually had some, but warned to drink only a small amount. Had I noticed the number of twins running around after Mass?

Just a few short years ago, this advice would have struck me as insane.

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I thought life was too short not to do it all, so I was willing to try anything once. I was always up to something new: apartments, jobs, travel plans, degrees, beliefs. I had long lists of things I wanted to try and places I wanted to visit. But then I converted to the Catholic Faith, had my first baby, and became a stay-at-home mom. I don’t really do a whole lot anymore.

No one calls my parents to say, “You'll never guess what she did now!” about the soup I made for dinner. No one cheers from the sidelines: “Do it now, while you still can!” when I seize some free time to read. And I don’t send postcards from my adventures in the Land of Croup.
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