Letting Go in the New Year - Letter from Johanna Seagren
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Dear sisters in Christ,
Today I sit in our kitchen, snuggled up in my fleece robe, coffee in hand while savoring a pumpkin muffin. But the real feast is the one my eyes take in as I gaze out our window - the shades of sienna tinged with rust, amber mingling with crimson, bursts of butterscotch glimmering in the sunlight.
And I’m reminded of a quote I once read:
The trees are about to show us how beautiful it is to let things go.
In a reverie, I’m transported back to my college days – to the autumns spent in Ohio. I remember driving up the winding road between campus and the teetering old house I called home for two years. Massive trees bearing lemon-yellow leaves created a sun-kissed tunnel with a beckoning glow. The fallen leaves formed a plush, gilded carpet that flew up to greet me as I drove by. I would roll down my window, stick out my hand in the brisk air and for a few moments, I was as free as the troupe of leaves pirouetting around me. Looking back, that’s when I fell in love with fall – because it drew my heart towards our heavenly home. So much so that I even wrote a song about it:
The streets of heaven are paved in gold,
Well, I’ve never been but that’s what I’m told.
As for me, I choose to believe
That they’re paved in the golden hues of autumn’s leaves.
Fast forward to over a decade later - to now. I’m 33 years old. I got married at 31 and we were overjoyed to be expecting our first daughter 9 months later. Yet the absolute elation we experienced at the moment of her birth was quickly eclipsed by alarm as our darling girl struggled to breathe without assistance. Shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with VACTERL association, which is a set of congenital abnormalities. We literally lived in the NICU for those first 35 days, unable to imagine going home without our baby. Then her first year of life was peppered with constant illness, two major surgeries and various other procedures. I was drowning in the unpredictability of our daily life filled with medical cares, therapies, and things always going wrong. I knew becoming a mother would be hard, but this was beyond what I could fathom. I had this expectation of what ‘functioning like a normal mom’ looked like, but I was absolutely failing in my attempts to live it out.
While I loved my darling baby with every ounce of my being, my expectations told me that wasn’t enough. I felt myself spiraling into despair, anger and bitterness. I believed whole-heartedly that living out my vocation of marriage and motherhood was my path to heaven. But if I was becoming the worst version of myself, how could I ever hope to get there?
My resounding thought: I am not the mother I thought I’d be.
Are you not the woman you thought you’d be, either? Do you somehow feel like you are a disappointment to yourself? To others? To God? Are you not who you expected you’d be by now? Is your life not what you expected it would be by now? I think we all feel this, regardless of our state in life: an expectation that we ought to have arrived at a certain point in our lives by a certain time - or else we have somehow failed or ‘missed out’ on our chance for true sanctity. So let’s take a lesson from autumn together.
My daughter is now 20 months old. Despite all that she has faced, she is a vibrant, thriving child with joy that makes her eyes crinkle. Life is still challenging, but I’m emerging from the darkness. I am slowly rebuilding a relationship with God that is radically different from anything I’ve ever known. And do you know how?
By letting things go. By letting expectations go.
You see, an expectation by its very definition is “a belief that someone will or should achieve something.” Expectations are tied to doing. To achieving. And given my life circumstances, there was no way I could do or achieve all the things that I thought encompassed motherhood. I felt like if I couldn’t do all the things well, then I wasn’t being holy enough.
But do you know what? I’ve realized that these expectations don’t come from God. He’s not imposing upon me a standard for holiness based on what other women do, shaming me when I can’t live up to that. No, He’s calling me to be holy in my own distinctive way, just as He calls you to be holy in your unrepeatable way. I clung to those expectations because I confused them with a dream. But here’s the thing: expectations are nothing more than a counterfeit version of a dream. And my dream was never about doing. It was about being. It was simply about being a mother. It was about being love. And sisters, wherever you are in life - that’s what the very essence of our feminine hearts was created for: love. Love is the way we live out holiness – regardless of our vocational status.
These last several months, I’ve slowly come to see how expectations were blinding me from encountering God. Simply put: expectations aren’t based in truth and God can have nothing to do with lies. So if we dwell in them, it’s no surprise that we can’t find God. He’s not in the expectations of everything we are “supposed to be doing.” He’s in moments like these:
One night, I was rocking my daughter to sleep in our cozy, oversized blue chair. I was simply overwhelmed with love for her and the Holy Spirit whispered this scripture verse to my heart: “God is love” (1 John 4:8). As I rocked back and forth in the dark, I proceeded to ponder this verse more deeply: God IS love. Not just ‘God is loving’, but God is love itself, love incarnate, His name is Love.
Suddenly, I had such clarity: In times when I can’t find God, I need only search for love. I’ve realized that when I’m too exhausted and defeated to even pray, that it doesn’t mean I can’t be holy. On the contrary, love is the way to pray constantly, without ceasing - even when a prayer is the furthest thing from my lips. Anytime I feel love -or- don’t feel love at all, but choose love with my will (like in the sacrifice of doing a chore, staying up all night with my daughter, etc.) - God is there in that moment!
Sisters, I bet our lives are comprised of so many love-snippets that we couldn’t count them even if we tried. And consequently, God is constantly closer than we perceive. Let us cling to those moments and proclaim: “God is love, so God is here!”
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19)
Letting go of all the former expectations of what I thought my life would be like is the kindest thing I can do for myself. More and more, I’ve come to see how God desires me to be kind not only to others, but to myself. Merciful not only to others, but to myself. Loving not only to others, but to myself. “For behold, the kingdom of God is within you!” (Luke 17:21, emphasis added). The kingdom is within us, sisters! And within that kingdom are so many amazing new things that God desires to show us, if only we have the courage to leave our expectations at the gates.
What it comes down to is this: I’ve realized that when I’m wrapped up in what I expect my life to look like, I can’t accept it for what it is. You can’t truly love something you don’t accept. And I want to love my life. I really, truly do. So I’m grasping tight the glowing embers of love, remnants from the fire of a dream that was almost snuffed out by expectations. And the more that I cherish even the tiniest spark of love, the more easily the expectations start to drift away - like the confetti of leaves swept up in a crisp, autumn breeze as the trees let them go.
And letting go? It feels like freedom – like driving with the windows rolled down, hand outstretched under a canopy of fall foliage. It feels like arriving at where I’m supposed to be: the kingdom of God within my very heart, where there’s an epic dance party in the streets of heaven, paved in the golden hues of autumn leaves. Letting go makes my insides match the view outside my kitchen window. And it is absolutely, breathtakingly more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.
So here’s to letting go,
And letting Love in -
Your sister in Christ,
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Full name: Johanna Seagren
Occupation: Stay at Home Mom and Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Founder and Owner of Two Hearts Counseling, a Catholic counseling practice
Location: Denver, CO
Educational background: BA in Psychology and Theology, MA in Counseling from Franciscan University of Steubenville
How does your Catholic faith affect the way you live your day-to-day life?
Being Catholic has given life a rhythm that I’d be lost without. I love journeying through the liturgical calendar each year - celebrating Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection while pondering these mysteries alongside my own life story. We have a Crucifix in all the main areas of our home. Every time I look upon one throughout the day, I am reminded of Christ’s sacrifice for us, and subsequently strengthened to make sacrifices of love for my family. Ultimately, my Catholic faith has given me a framework for understanding the dignity of the person and that affects how I relate to my spouse, my daughter and all those I encounter each day.
Has there been a particular teaching of the Church that has intimately transformed the way you see yourself and others? If so, please describe.
The Catholic Church is the only church that teaches that Christ is really, truly present in the Eucharist. I didn’t fully understand what that meant until I was in college, and once I did, it was life-changing. I remember kneeling in adoration with the words of St. Francis of Assisi on my heart: “What a man is in the sight of God, so much he is and no more.” I was enough. Just as I was. Just because I was in His presence. Encountering Jesus in the Eucharist gave me a sense of belonging and identity that I’d never known before. Knowing that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist has also been the key for helping me love others better. For if I have received Jesus, there is no need for envy of others and my perceived lack - because in receiving Jesus, I have received the King of Kings - I have received everything. I love to look around at Mass and contemplate how each person is a tabernacle for Our Lord - each so vastly different, and yet all so beautifully and wonderfully made.
What aspect of your life right now do you find the most beautiful? The most challenging?
Watching our daughter discover language and self-expression is the most beautiful, incredible, joy-filled experience - every day she says or does something amazing that completely rocks my world. Back when we were in the NICU, we didn’t even know if our daughter would be able to walk, so to see her running around is miraculous. The most challenging aspect is trying not to be overcome by anxiety and stress about our daughter’s well-being given her various medical complexities. As we have many limitations in our daily schedule due to medical cares, finding community as a new mom has also been a struggle.
Ideal outfit. Go!
As a postpartum mom with a new type of body that I’m learning to love, I’m realizing that *comfort* is of the essence. So my ideal outfit is something that I can feel both cozy and confident in - I’m talking stretchy leggings or high-waisted jeans, soft, loose-fitting t-shirts (bonus if they are tunic length) paired with boyfriend cardigans. I’m digging simple statement jewelry lately… and scarves are a fun way to add some personalized flair. In the fall/winter, I love me some cognac boots - riding boots or ankle boots...doesn’t matter! They go with everything and just have a way of making an outfit come together! :)
Fill in the blank.
My morning routine consists of: Good morning smiles and snuggles with my daughter, and then I have coffee while we do one of her medical cares for 1.5 hours. My husband works from home a few days a week, so that allows me a bit of quiet prayer time on some mornings or occasionally I do an early morning session with a client (via a secure webcam platform so I don’t need to go into the office). My daughter usually has a few different therapies or appointments in the morning on any given week, but we try to hit up story hour at the library when we can or get outside if the weather’s nice. Plus a few more rounds of medical cares...then before we know it, it’s time for lunch and nap! (And yes, I often take naps when my daughter naps. I am a huge advocate of naps!)
I’m currently obsessed with: Pumpkin. Alllll things pumpkin - baked goods, PSLs, decorations (I found a pumpkin fleece throw last week!), candles, you name it. But truthfully, pumpkin has been a lifelong, all-seasons obsession. So if we are going for a true current obsession: I’m starting to have a thing for mini coffee mugs. I happen to have two random ones in my cupboard and I’m finding they are the perfect size for a shot of espresso with a little cream. And they are just.so.cute. So far, I’ve resisted the urge to buy more of them. ;)
I feel most inspired when: I gain a new perspective on life - whether it be about my vocation, my faith, relationships, etc. - often through reading, podcasts or conversations.
My favorite part about my life right now is: Being a mom...relishing in the wonder of the world seen through my daughter’s eyes.
The advice I would give to the millennial Catholic woman is: Learn to love yourself as God created you (no easy task). Discover your gifts and use them to build up His kingdom - whether that be in your home or across the globe. Believe that He has a call for your life, a purpose in this world that only you can fulfill. When you feel discouraged, remember that there is a celestial war being waged this very moment. The devil wants you to settle for the distractions of this world, to abandon hope and give up on God because then you won’t fulfill that purpose. Fight the good fight, sisters. Our Church - our world - needs you.
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