I was fine until my older daughter’s teacher saw me without the baby, realized I had dropped her off at nursery school, and then asked if I was okay. I really was fine. But as soon as I tried to tell her how fine I was, my eyes moistened. I kept my response short for fear that my eyes would overflow. The truth is that I was not really fine. I was sad: sad to lose those moments of just gazing into my infant’s eyes; sad to lose that new experience of trying to get smiles out of her – especially since now her smiles are also accompanied by her whole face scrunching up in joy; sad to lose those moments of quiet rest, her warm body totally relaxed against mine, with no one else around to distract her. Though there have been many periods of utter exhaustion, most of these weeks of maternity leave have been filled with the joy of the miracle of new life. I have been thrilled to have the experience of having a newborn one more time, and I have been trying to soak up every moment. And so, yes, I am sad for that time to be over.
And, I am also thrilled to be returning to work. I use the word, “and,” and not, “but,” because I feel these emotions simultaneously. I am sad to be ending maternity leave and my time with my newborn. And I am happy to be returning to my work. My work gives me such joy, meaning, and satisfaction. It challenges me, makes me stronger, teaches me, and blesses me. It is a tremendous privilege to serve as a priest – one that I am even more aware of having taken time away from it. Though there are days that drive me crazy in my work, I cannot imagine living out any other vocation than my vocation as an ordained minister of the Church. My love of being a mother to two wonderful girls does not negate my love of being a pastor to a community seeking, serving, and sharing Christ.
And so I am intentional these days about avoiding the word, “but,” when talking about my feelings about my two callings. Instead, I am using the words, “both/and.” I both grieve the loss of time with my children and I rejoice in being able to return to the other work God has given me to do. Obviously some days the balance of “both/and” happens more smoothly than others. But that balance is also the fullness of all the work God has given me to do – the work of being a priest, a mother, a wife, a friend, a sister, a member of the community. My prayer for the coming weeks is that I can resist those moments when the “but” tries to sneak its way into my language, and hold dear to the “both/and” that is the blessing of my life right now.