Peace in Heartbreak
Letter from Heather Burgess
(Click on the letters to enlarge)
I have desired to be a wife and mother for as long as I can remember. Can you relate?
I have a distinct memory of my baby sister falling asleep in my lap when I was five. We were watching Sesame Street, and I recall feeling completely content. When more siblings came along, I was more than willing to help with everything – from feeding to diaper changes. I felt most comfortable with a baby on my hip, even as a child
My parents met and married in their early twenties; I felt confident that my story would unfold in a similar manner. Undergrad and graduate school came and went. I accepted my first job, then 3 years later moved to my hometown for another. My twenties flew by with much accomplished but still longing for a family.
I entered my thirties sure that marriage was right around the corner. I would meet the love of my life, and our home would be filled with kiddos. Our house would be the one in which neighborhood kids would gather. I would be involved in the PTA. Plus, my job easily lent itself to part time work, so I could contribute financially if need be. I had everything worked out.
Years passed, and before I knew it, my thirties were coming to an end.
The big 4-0 was nearing, and I was delightfully surprised to meet a man who I felt sure was an answer to prayer. We met online, hitting it off immediately. Talking on the phone was not horribly painful. That was a huge change for me, as I prefer a face-to-face conversation any day of the week. He lived in the same city as my brother and his family, so we planned to meet during one of my visits. Throughout the course of our conversations, we discovered that his house was in the exact town as my brother’s. I’d actually passed it multiple times while taking my nieces to or from preschool. We could not believe the coincidence.
Before I continue, I should let you know that I detest first dates and typically have a visceral response. I know that first dates are necessary; they just aren’t my favorite thing. I planned my visit around my cousin’s track meet, which was the weekend of the Feasts of Saint Patrick and Saint Joseph. While driving, I asked for their intercession and felt complete peace. I didn’t have the typical waves of nausea. Perhaps, just perhaps, there was something different about this first date. I didn’t want to get my hopes up but was thankful to have peace.
As I was getting ready, I uncharacteristically put on loads of make-up. My make-up routine usually consists of mascara and maybe lip gloss (aka: flavored lip balm of some sort, because I’m fancy like that). I looked in the mirror, proceeded to wash my entire face, reapplied just mascara and lip gloss, and headed out.
Our first date went off without a hitch.
Conversation flowed easily, laughter came naturally, and there was an immediate comfort level. On date two, I did what I do best and spilled red wine on my white jacket. I remember thinking to myself, “Well, it was a fun two dates. Moving on.” He handled it like a champ, cleaned the wine off of the floor, and told me how cute my reaction was. Well done, sir.
Before I left town, we met for coffee and agreed that things went well. We were both interested in pursuing a relationship, and he asked me to go steady. Seriously. I can’t make this stuff up. I said yes, and we laughed about him one day giving me his letterman’s jacket. That was the Feast of Saint Joseph, and I was completely grateful for his intercession.
We continued to date with countless little blessings along the way. We met each others’ families and friends. It was a joy to see him interact with my nieces and nephew and then with his. We both come from similar size families, and our parents are all practicing Catholics. We popped into a church to pray with his parents one day, and I could not believe how blessed I was. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine this scenario. We had much in common, and I could be completely myself around him. He also reminded me a bit of my grandfather in their trade (engineering), car preference (Acura), and, much to my surprise, a shared birthday. Again, there were little details from God that I would not have thought to ask for.
On the eve of my 40th birthday, we watched the sun set over the Blue Ridge Mountains. I stood there, my hand in his. I thought to myself how every moment of waiting was worth it. He ended up moving 8 hours from his home in order to be closer to me, and we were speaking of marriage. It was such a natural and easy progression. I was on cloud nine.
Winter came and, as is so often the case, life became darker, both literally and figuratively. Although he now lived much closer (3 hours away instead of 8), we were still in a long distance relationship. As such, our conversations were mostly on the phone. He became distant, and I grew more and more hysterical.
He confessed that he was not sure how he felt or what he wanted. I was too hurt and in too much shock to suggest actually meeting in person. I had been completely confident that we would one day be married. I will spare you all of the details, but I will say that I never saw a break-up coming. I was crushed when it did.
Over the course of the past six months (which, by the way, has seemed like an eternity), I have wailed like the psalmist more times than I’d like to admit. I have clung to the Rosary. Going through the mysteries was the only way I could pray some days. I questioned what I believed and why I believed it. Did I truly believe in God’s goodness? Did I truly believe in the crucifixion and the resurrection? Did I truly believe that Jesus was walking with me through my pain? I cried out to Christ and pictured myself next to him in the Garden of Gethsemane. “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” I felt the weight of my cross mixed with waves of guilt. I knew that countless others carried crosses much heavier than mine, yet there I was barely standing.
I sat in that garden for months. Friends and family held my hands up in prayer when I had no words. I had to ask for help, which is probably my least favorite thing to do. I had to make an active decision to say yes to God’s will and to trust in his love for me. Yes, I truly believed in God’s goodness, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. Yes, I truly believed that Jesus was walking with me through my pain.
I slowly emerged from the garden to attend a wedding feast. No, it was not my wedding feast for which I’d desperately hoped. It was a wedding feast in Cana. As I prayed through the Luminous Mysteries, I pictured myself sitting there. A newly married couple had no wine left to give their guests. What an absolute disaster. Mary interceded, and Jesus performed his first miracle. Not only did he turn water into wine, but it was better wine than they had to start and an abundance of it.
This wedding feast reminded me of three things.
One, Mary is a loving mother who, like our earthly mothers, pays attention to the details of our lives.
Two, Mary always points us to her Son.
Three, the Lord moves through disasters and seemingly hopeless situations.
While this is not the wedding I anticipated, here I sit. I feel peaceful and hopeful, which is only through God’s grace. I can, by nature, fall prey to worry, despair, and pessimism. It is in knowing my weaknesses that I realize God’s strength. That, ladies, is where freedom is found! While I still have moments of breakdown, they are less frequent. I allow myself to be sad, but an underlying peace remains. I am learning our Father’s love more intimately through the reading of Scripture, prayer, and the example of my family and friends.
My desires to be a wife and mother remain, but God’s peace is abundant.
While those desires are good, they are secondary to my primary desire of knowing and loving God. It is when those secondary desires become disordered that the worry, despair, and pessimism creep in. My need to control takes over. However, when my primary desire is to know and love God, his peace washes over me.
I have thought a lot about my parents’ love for me over the past few months. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they would do anything for my good. How much more then, as Saint Matthew asks, does our Father in Heaven will our good? It is truly unfathomable. I am learning to trust that our Creator knows our deepest longings and will mold them into something far more beautiful than we could imagine. He has turned my pain into an opportunity to know him more, to see his strength in my weakness, and to find His peace that transcends understanding. Just as at Cana, Christ has transformed a hopeless situation and provided richly.
Heartache and waiting are painful, my friends, but there is hope! I look forward to watching God continue to move through this season of my life. It has already borne fruit, and I have no doubt that it will bear more.
C.S. Lewis said that “God allows us to feel the frailty of human love, so we’ll appreciate the strength of His.” May we know the strength of God’s love more intimately each day.
If you are in a period of heartache or waiting, have hope and know that my prayers are with you. We are all on this journey together!
Love and Peace,
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Get to know Heather
Full name: Heather Burgess
Occupation: Pediatric Physical Therapist
Location: Greenville, South Carolina
Educational background: Undergraduate school at Clemson University and graduate school at The Medical University of South Carolina
How does your Catholic faith affect the way you live your day-to-day life?
My Catholic faith affects the way I live my day-to-day life in that it provides me with a way of living that, though counter-cultural, brings true joy. While this is extremely difficult at times, and I most certainly fail, I fully believe that the Church’s teachings are for our ultimate good.
Has there been a particular teaching of the Church that has intimately transformed the way you see yourself and others? If so, please describe.
I am a revert, and the teaching on the Eucharist is what brought me back. I realized more and more how much I was missing and my need for the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord. When I hear of people leaving the Church, and in turn the Eucharist, my heart aches for their loss.
What’s your favorite way to pray?
Praying the Rosary while walking on the beach.
How is Jesus challenging you to greater love in your current place in life?
I feel like Jesus has really challenged me to love him greater over the past few months and to truly trust in his unfailing love for me.
Fill in the blank.
My morning routine consists of: I usually grab a cup of coffee with creamer, shower, and change for work. My first patient of the day is at least a 15 minute drive, so that gives me the opportunity to enjoy one more cup of coffee and recite a Rosary. It’s the perfect start to the day!
I’m currently obsessed with: creating! I have gotten into calligraphy over the past few years and have recently learned how to digitize my work. I can’t wait to get home from work each day to work on my craft.
I feel most inspired when: I see someone pursuing a God-given desire with their whole being.
My favorite part about my life right now is: having my nieces and nephew now living only 4 hours away rather than 8. It’s been wonderful!
The advice I would give to the millennial Catholic woman is: Learn what the Church teaches but more importantly why. All of the Church’s teachings are out of love but not love as our culture defines it. We must be able to charitably explain and defend our faith.