I don’t remember much of 1992.
At the time, I was a young husband and father. My wife Kathi and I had two young boys, the first born in 1990, the second in 1991. The boys were a source of great joy, and great exhaustion – as any parent with young children will attest. Then, not so many months later, Kathi called. We were expecting again.
I was instructed to call my mother-in-law to deliver the news.
Despite the shock, I still recall my immediate reaction. “Thanks be to God,” I prayed silently. At the time, how could I know that our daughter would arrive later that year after months of bed rest, countless visits to the doctor, and constant vigilance to avoid premature labor?
Kathi and I had met at Franciscan University in Steubenville. I was from Toronto, Ontario, and Kathi hailed from Toronto, Ohio. It was meant to be! Although neither of us were Catholic, we had to take a certain number of credits in theology in order to graduate. A tipping point occurred in an ethics course dealing with the great modern conversion manifesto, Humanae Vitae. I had never heard arguments against birth control before, yet exited the course with my eyes opened.
After that, we shopped around to various denominations, but eventually embraced the inevitable. We came into the Catholic Church together at Easter Vigil in 1992.
The process cost us. We had moved away from our extended families to find a job. Through our conversion, we lost all our friends in the evangelical prayer group we attended. One of the husbands in the group openly chastised me for leading my family to hell. Kathi was counseled to divorce me. She was ostracized from her small and precious group of friends, and had no one else in whom to confide.
I was fortunate enough to have found work at an outstanding CPA firm, but was working like a madman trying to support our rapidly growing family. Especially during tax season, my work hours kept increasing.
So there we were at the end of the year: a young married couple, newly Catholic, with three kids under three, emotionally frazzled, under financial pressure, with no family and few friends in the area, and me working extensive hours attempting to support the family on an entry-level salary. We were busy.
That’s when God chose to act.
By early 1993, it was clear that something had to give. Faced with the prospect of either working like a maniac and perhaps losing my wife – and by extension, much of what really mattered to me – and taking myself off the “career fast track” towards professional success and money, I made a prayerful, deliberate choice.
I chose my family.
It’s a decision that has shaped our lives ever since. I was blessed to find a position as the Controller of a health care company, a tremendous experience that required fewer hours at the office. But here’s what is most fascinating: when I decided to return to a CPA firm years later, I was a much better CPA as a result of my private company experience. In addition, Kathi and I were both better equipped to balance the demands of family and work. My career flourished as a result.
Recall Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” This played out for us in very practical terms.
I had been worried about jumping off the “fast track,” and not gaining meaningful experience – or salary increases. Yet God used this experience to give Kathi and me a breather when we really needed it, and provide abundant blessings from a career standpoint. I went from public accounting into a couple of executive roles, and last year began working with a wonderful Catholic apostolate.
Our shared Catholic faith has been the bedrock of our marriage and family life. Our daughter Sarah, now a beautiful young woman, has been an extraordinary blessing to our family, and the hardships leading up to her birth long forgotten. We have made many wonderful new friends along the way. Even my mother-in-law forgave me – for Sarah, and the five similar phone calls that followed!
The challenges we faced in 1992 were blessings waiting to happen.
I’m grateful that not all the decisions in life are so gut-wrenchingly difficult. In a spirit of faithfulness, small and large decisions alike can be blessed. God’s grace can flow through all our circumstances – including the greatest challenges – and use them to draw us closer to Jesus.
Note: I’d like to gratefully acknowledge The Integrated Catholic Life for originally publishing this post in July 2011.