Embracing Womanhood - A Letter from Megan Swaim
(Click on the letters to enlarge)
For most of my life I didn’t feel very feminine. I wouldn’t consider myself pretty; I’m not graceful or delicate; I’ve never been very interested in makeup or clothes; and I didn’t really date much. In my mind I had this idea of what the feminine genius “looked” like and it didn’t look anything like me.
I assumed for a long time that I’d live the dedicated single life because I didn’t feel drawn to the religious life and I couldn’t see myself ever getting married. I was accepting the lie whispered by the evil one: “Who is going to want you?” I told myself I was content with who I was and how my life would be, but in the deepest parts of me I felt broken.
One afternoon I went to a talk at my church on the feminine genius. You know how some memories are so burned into your brain you can remember every minute detail? Even today I can close my eyes and go right back to that room and hear the presenter say: “Everything you do, you do as woman. You are not a genderless creature.” That phrase - “genderless creature” - hit me so hard because it articulated the thing I felt for so long but couldn’t quite identify. I felt that way.
“'Everything you do, you do as woman. You are not a genderless creature.'”
Not long after that talk, a dear friend of mine challenged me to make a holy hour every day for a year. One hour a day spent in front of Jesus, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. At first, those hours were difficult: they went by so slowly and I was antsy. Honestly, I was being superficial with Jesus, and trying so very hard to hide my wounds from Him. But Jesus is patient. Somewhere around the third month I finally started asking the hard, painful questions: Why did God make me a woman? What do I have to offer? Will anyone want me?
(Page 2) I found myself revisiting John Paul II’s encyclical, Mulieris Dignitatem, and discovered within its pages a salve for this wounded feminine heart of mine: “The Bride is loved: it is she who receives love, in order to return love.” (29)
That year of Eucharistic Adoration confirmed that quote, revealing its truth in my own life, day in and day out. He made me for love. Sitting with Jesus in those holy hours was the most authentically feminine thing I could do. I received His love. I sat and let Him untie all the knots that had been choking my feminine heart.
In those hours with Jesus, I came to love myself. And my eyes were opened to the lies I’d believed before about what it means to be feminine. True femininity isn’t based in exterior beauty or fashion trends, and it’s not measured by how many men are attracted to you. It’s not exclusive to some, but intrinsic to each and every woman, written on her very heart.
"True femininity isn’t based in exterior beauty or fashion trends, and it’s not measured by how many men are attracted to you. It’s not exclusive to some, but intrinsic to each and every woman, written on her very heart."
Jesus restored my heart, and prepared me to receive my vocation to marriage. Not very long after that year, I fell in love. I don’t think it was possible before because I could never open my heart to receive another when I didn’t believe I was a gift to be given in return.
In so many ways I’m still the same girl I always was – jeans and a t-shirt, hair in a ponytail, loud and bossy and as ungraceful as ever. But in all the ways that really matter, I’m a new creation. Not a genderless creature, mind you, but a woman.
Yours in the Heart of Jesus,
Get to know Megan
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
My name is Megan, I’m 32 years old and I live in South Bend, IN. (Go Irish!) I’m a wife and mom by day and a youth minister by night. I met my husband Josh fifteen years ago on the March for Life when we were in high school; we’ve been married for five years and have two daughters, Lucy and Mary. Baby Swaim #3 will make his or her appearance this summer! Josh is a high school theology teacher and so our whole lives revolve around toddlers, teenagers and Jesus. (The best things in life, in my opinion!) I run on iced coffee, chips and salsa, and Parks and Recreation reruns.
How does your Catholic faith affect the way you live your day-to-day life?
My Catholic faith permeates my day – it’s in the rhythm of our daily prayer, in the way we are raising our children, my job in ministry to teens, how I interact with the people I encounter. Even the little things like household chores and budget are impacted by my faith because I try to look at everything through the lens of my vocation.
From one Catholic woman to another, how have you discovered your sense of belonging in the Church?
I was lucky to grow up in a family who had a very active faith life and parents who were very involved in my parish. So the church was always like a second home to me, a place where I was known and loved and that shaped my identity. My sense of belonging in the Church was first tied to a specific place – my parish – and the people there. As I grew in my faith, my sense of belonging in the Church wasn’t just limited to a familiar place and people, but more wrapped up in the Eucharist. Even in times when I wrestled with my faith or vocation, the Mass was where I found comfort and peace.
What’s the most empowering piece of advice you’ve been given as a Catholic woman?
The first time I read Pope John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatem I was completely blown away. I had never heard someone talk about women so authentically and with so much awe and reverence. I especially was encouraged by how many different ways there are to live out the feminine genius – we don’t have to fit in just one mold. The Church needs each of us, in all our unique particularities.
"The Church needs each of us, in all our unique particularities."
Tell us about a woman who inspires you. What lessons have you learned from her? How has she influenced your life?
Before I was married, when I was doing full-time ministry, I had the opportunity to live with another woman from my parish. She was a recent widow and didn’t like living alone, I was a recent college grad looking for community. In the years I lived in her home, I was in constant awe of her radical hospitality and generosity and her deep life of prayer. The more she gave of herself, the more she was filled with the joy of Christ until there was nothing left to do except give everything – she entered the cloister and is now a Poor Sister of Saint Claire! She taught me to choose joy, to look for the needs of others, and to never be afraid of the demands of love. So much of my motherhood is shaped by her physical and spiritual motherhood.
What’s your favorite way to pray?
I love the Liturgy of the Hours, but at this stage of my vocation that is really hard for me to commit to. So instead we “modify” it and just pray the different Canticles through the day as a family. We pray Zechariah’s in the morning, Mary’s at dinner, and Simeon’s at bedtime. It’s a way that I can still mark the day and pray with the Church, but is more toddler-friendly.
What aspect of your life right now do you find the most beautiful? The most challenging?
Right now we’re at this very cool place where both my husband and I work in ministry to teenagers, and we’re able to minister to them together and as a family. I love sharing our family with our teens, and I love all the fruits we can see already in our children from the relationships they’ve formed with these young disciples. But being a working mom definitely has its challenges – the biggest one right now is making sure that I stay on top of chores to keep our house from spiraling into chaos. (Speaking of which, there is a pile of dishes in the kitchen sink calling my name...)
What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday off?
The perfect Saturday is one where I wake up to the sun instead of the alarm (or a kid demanding breakfast) and then cooking a big breakfast with my husband. We try to spend Saturday mornings doing chores and life just feels better when we’re done; then we can find something fun to do as a family – an art project, a walk, a trip to see grandparents. The best Saturday’s end with homemade pizza and a movie night!
Fill in the blank
A typical day in my life looks like…
These days my alarm clock is a hungry 4-year old, so my day starts a little after 6:00am with making breakfast and getting everyone fed, dressed and out the door. We pray as a family in the car as we drive around the city to get everyone where they need to go – Lucy to preschool, Josh to the high school, Mary to daycare and then finally me to my office. After a morning of work, I pick up the girls and we head home for lunch, books and nap. I try to squeeze every possible second of productivity out of the girls’ naptime: emails, youth ministry prep, laundry, dishes, bills, etc. In the afternoon we pick up Josh from school and then we tackle the evening routine together: play, dinner, clean up, bath, night prayers and bedtime. 8:00PM is one of my favorite times of the day because I get a few hours of peace and quiet to do whatever I want! Sometimes that’s a hot bath, an episode of the Office, reading, prayer – but I try to take a little time for rest each day so I can be emotionally ready to take care of everyone’s needs tomorrow.
My favorite quote is...
“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and the communal life, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” –Acts 2:42
I feel most inspired when…
I spend time with other Catholic women. There’s just something so life-giving about listening to other Catholic women and being free to share yourself authentically with them.
The Catholic Church is…
A Mother. It is tender enough for the tiniest seeds of faith and strong enough to defeat principalities. It encourages and challenges, teaches and reprimands. It makes you a part of a family and gives you an identity in love. It is there in birth and death and every moment in between. It gathers us and feeds us and sends us out to do great things.