“Philosophy” of Motherhood

Lisa Irlbeck // Tell Your Story


May 4  

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I was born two days after my dad suffered a paralyzing injury while flying a helicopter combat mission in Vietnam.  He and my mom had been married about two years at the time, and I was their first child.  The injury and the life changing impact it had on him, and the first year of his recovery transformed my parents’ marriage in ways that they could only begin to understand at the time, and in ways that shaped the raising and educating of their children.  They went from intending to have a successful military career, with their priorities ordered to the service of their country, then to their family, and finally to God, to the reverse:  God, family, country.  He was wheelchair bound, but that did not mean that he was incapacitated in his ability to work for the well-being of others, or to do God’s will in the world.

Dad’s injury was God’s way of getting his attention to direct him to the work he had in mind for our family:  the pro-life apostolate.  My parents began working to save babies from abortion and their moms from the terrible suffering they would inflict upon themselves first through political means:  acting as a justice of the peace, being a campaign manager for pro-life politicians, and finally through a crisis pregnancy center, sidewalk counseling and pro-life educational outreach.  This was the air I breathed growing up:  knowing that we were made to serve our fellow man here on this earth for the greater glory of God, and that the talents and gifts we were given were to be well cultivated and formed to that end.  My education was not for me alone, but for others as well.

Additionally, my parents taught my 4 siblings and I to see that all things work for the good for those who love God, because they could see in so many little things in the days surrounding my dad’s injury that if our suffering was united to Christ’s it would bear fruit beyond our imagining.  Without a doubt, my dad the soldier had been formed through his military service to put his determination, courage, and perseverance at the service of his King in the defense of the most defenseless.  These lessons of redemptive suffering, of seeing God’s merciful hand in suffering have shaped my entire life.

My parents moved from the cold and snowy climes of Michigan to Texas in order to provide dad the most independence possible, and I grew up in Ft. Worth.  When I was young, they heard the call from God to work to save babies under direct threat of abortion, thus they opened a crisis pregnancy center and began side walk counseling, to offer women who saw abortion as their only solution to problems in their lives.  I began sidewalk counseling as a teen, and spent many hours helping with simple tasks at the crisis pregnancy center.  I also spoke as a teen educator with my dad at youth groups and high schools. I learned so much about what God’s plan is for each of us, and how much we need his grace and help in this fallen world of ours, and how very much suffering there is in everyone’s lives.  I myself suffered a great deal with asthma as a child.   It impacted my life greatly, making me less an outdoors and active kid into a reader.  I also spent a great deal of my time in the hospital with my dad who both taught me how to fight against the disease to live my life, and how to offer up my suffering for others who were suffering and to let it transform me the way God wanted it to.  I loved the academic side of school, and thrived in the classroom when it came to any intellectual pursuits.  When it came time for college, I knew I wanted to find a great philosophy program which led me to University of Dallas.  I loved my time there, and wanted very much to live the plan that God had for my life, but I was quite terrified that that plan just might involve living the religious life!   For a few years, I assiduously avoided thinking and praying about it, and dated several great guys.  However, none of them were “the guy”, so I decided I’d better actually generously pray about a religious vocation, which led me to look into faithful and intellectually oriented orders.  I visited one, and it was clear that in order to really discern whether this were the calling of my life, I would need to get some more perspective on life and the world.  Just a couple of months after this, I was offered a job in Italy and within weeks of arriving there, I unknowingly met my future husband!  I had finally been willing to give my life totally to God on His terms, not mine, and He very quickly showed me exactly how he intended for me to answer that call!

We married two years after that, settled in for life in Rome, and in VERY quick succession, welcomed our first two daughters.  We had prayed hard in our engagement period that we would know what God was calling our new family to do to build up his church on earth – to direct the talents and abilities we had to serving others.  It was my own very clear intention to continue to do pro-life work, perhaps in the area of educating high school girls and boys, working in our parish, being involved OUTSIDE of my home to a great degree, but my Irish twins were the first of many moments that God turned my attention to the family we were building with Him.  We loved our little girls, and we loved our beautiful and charming life in Rome, but we also knew that we wanted to have many children and that the European life was not as conducive to that as America.  We also wanted our children to be close to family and to grow up around other Catholics who understood that there is sacrifice in marriage, and that children are a great blessing.  This brought us back to DFW, and quickly after our move back we added more children to our family – each pregnancy coming at a time when I would begin to think I had time to give to pro-life work, each one of my babies calling my attention back into my home.  Clearly, it took me awhile to realize that the building up of my family and the daily work of caring for them WAS actually my pro-life work!  It was such a revelation to me that this was in fact the most pro-life thing we could be doing as a family at this stage in our lives!

Three of my children manifested very severe allergies as very young children: one to fire ant bites, two to peanuts.  These allergies are life threatening, and are terrifying to face as a mother.  After my son suffered his first anaphylactic reaction to peanuts, as is my nature, I read everything I could get my hands on about this horrible and frightening condition.  But what I came to realize as I read parent testimonies about the discovery of their own children’s allergies and their reactions, was that we had a great gift in our faith and in my own specific life:  we understood the cross, we understood suffering.  So many parents of allergic kids were understandably very resentful of the fact that this allergy meant their children could not have every food they ever wanted to eat, nor could they safely engage in the whole wide world of every activity they might ever want to pursue.  They are in their very makeup limited.  They will have to forego foods and experiences in order to stay alive.  I saw this in my own kids as we had to purge our pantry of all nuts.  I saw it in our social lives as we had to accompany our kids to their friends’ houses, and as we had to just not attend many social events because they were dangerous.  I saw it in our friendships as we had to discern which friends were comfortable with caring for kids who could die in their care!  I saw, after some time, that my kids had crosses that were a part of their bodies, and I knew that I wanted them to understand what my parents had been able to teach me:  that the cross of suffering, of denial, of limitations (like a wheelchair!), was something to be grateful for.  Yes.  Something to thank God for.  How hard that is, but how very, very important.  Without the cross, we do not gain Heaven, so thank you, God for giving us this cross.  We can be resentful and teach our kids to be the same, or we can be grateful.  That’s what we’ve learned to pray in our home.  Of course, we are pursuing all available means to eradicate these awful allergies for our children.  I want to do all I can to allow them the independence to travel, engage in social activities, be outdoors (my poor fire-ant allergic daughter!  Texas is a tough place to have this allergy!).

Now I have a daughter getting married, one travelling Europe (with no fire ants), two sons in a local high school which we love (one of them with peanut allergies), one homeschooling, and three little girls in a local Montessori program.  My life is heavily focused on the pro-life apostolate of raising a family of people who know where they came from (God), to whom they are returning (God), and how they will get there (God and the cross and the sacraments).  They can talk to their friends about courage in the face of adversity and suffering because they knew their grandfather well, and they have their own burdensome crosses to bear.  They know the value of life and the dignity of their friends and they are working to be the leaven in the world while I keep my heart and mind on the home they go out from and return to, and my philosophy degree is utilized in the most unexpected way: being a wife and mom.

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