When I met Strahlen through the blogging world this past summer, it was sort of a fluke. Well, maybe you could call it a faith fluke.
My time for blog reading and finding new blogs to read seems so slim these days, but when a challenge came over Twitter asking Catholics to explain why they remain Catholic, and to use a hashtag to share their thoughts, I bumped into “Single Mom Smiling” through Strahlen’s #WhyIRemainCatholic tweet. And upon reading her post, I was hooked.
Strahlen and I had some things in common that initially drew me to her writing. For one, we’re both mothers of five. That designation nearly always earns a second glance from me. Being in the “Club of Five” is kind of special. You are in a somewhat elite category of mothering “A Literal Handful” of children. Based on that alone, we’re undoubtedly going to, on some level, speak the same language. The Catholic connection added another instant bonding factor.
Strahlen’s post about why she remains Catholic was especially compelling, though, because she had been doing most of this child-rearing alone, since the pregnancy of her fifth child, when her husband abandoned his family. It took my breath away to see the photo of her in the hospital with her five darlings. Just imagining how that must have felt was like a punch to my own gut, because, well, it could have been me.
During the time in our lives when I was pregnant with our fifth, our marriage seemed at times to be hanging on by a thread. So all I could think was, “How close I’ve been to being right there.” I remember the loneliness and worry like it was yesterday. It is easy to recall how fragile things felt, and how impossible. Without God’s grace, and both of us eventually acting on that, we would not have made it. So even though things turned out differently for us, I was right there with her.
I reached out to her as a result, and a mom-to-mom, online bond began forming. After all, we are still trudging through this parenting thing together, and we still both need God in a big way!
Fast forward to a couple months ago, when Strahlen, from New York, realized I would be in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. “I would love to meet you,” she said, proposing a possible get-together if she could work it out on her end. It would mean she would have to travel over three hours, so I was extremely touched that she would even think it at all possible. As we tried to get a grasp on our crazy schedules and whether such a meeting could happen, however, it began seeming uncertain. And yet, as Strahlen and I have both come to know, “Nothing is impossible through God,” and just days before our departure to Philly, an opportunity came into view.
We’d have a break in our very heavily scheduled tour itinerary Friday night. And that night worked best for her, too. So it was arranged. We would meet at our hotel, have dinner together, and have a slumber party in our hotel room that night. The following morning, she’d leave to visit her oldest son at Parent’s Day at his college, where he’s a freshman; a college located between Philly and their New York home.
I have to be honest. Even though meeting the pope was the unforgettable, climactic event of our trip, meeting my new friend was pretty fabulous, too. In fact, in some ways I was even more excited to meet her, because I knew that I’d actually get to talk with her face to face and discover new connections in real life. She is real to me in a way the pope cannot possibly be.
I also delighted in the fact that Strahlen would have a chance to meet my dear friend Ann from Fargo. A double blessing. Ann was gracious enough to open our shared hotel room to a stranger I’d just recently told her about, and so it became a trio of mothers.
Ann and I had discovered a wonderful, authentic Mexican eatery near our hotel, thanks to my cousin from New Jersey who knew about and recommended it, so we decide to return for a second round. It was later in the evening by the time we were all settled and ready to dine together. To get to the restaurant, we trudged together through bumpy, hilly grass and busy roads in the dark, with Strahlen still in her heels from an interview she’d done earlier that day, but it was a special meal I’ll never forget.
And the slumber party? Let’s just say we’re not 16 anymore so there was no throwing of pillows. But we did share some laughs, most having to do with our being from different regions. We teased one another about our “accents,” and just before we turned off the lights for the night, had another big giggle when Strahlen told us a story about the last slumber party she had back in fifth grade, and how the girls had threatened to put cheese doodles up the nostrils of the girl who was snoring.
Now, that image was funny enough, but what was even more hilarious is that Ann and I had no idea what cheese doodles were! We don’t have those in North Dakota. “Are they like Cheetos?” I asked. “No, those are something different,” Strahlen said, trying to describe them. “They’re not the cheese balls, are they?” I posed. More giggles. No, not cheese balls. “Oh, I think they must be like what we call cheese curls,” I said. We finally had to google “cheese doodles” and discovered, yes, they are cheese curls. We just don’t have the brands that apparently famously (or not so famously) named them “cheese doodles,” or “cheez doodles” as this brand has it.
Let me assure you, the bulk of our conversations took on a much more serious tone than this. It was truly a beautiful time of three soul sisters meeting in person, an extraordinary gift from God. Just a few months earlier, I couldn’t have imagined such a slumber party would be even remotely possible. But God will go to great lengths to see that we find one another, and that we did.
The pope in Philly was unforgettable, but so was the chance to meet this beautiful soul.
Please pray for her, and the mountains she will continue to climb in her life as a devoted mother of five, trying to make it all work without a helpmate. Thankfully, she’s not alone. Thankfully, she has Jesus, Mary and all the saints with her, and hopefully, some earthly friends as well.
Q4U: When did an encounter in your life turn into something bigger than you could have expected?