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A brief pause to lift my eyes up to Heaven

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Christopher Pearse Cranch

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 03/03/24

Three sweet moments from the weekend taught me something that I’ll take with me in the weeks ahead, back on the ground of my daily vocation.

“How’s your girls’ weekend?” my sister texted me on the last day of my all-too-short vacation. “It’s been heaven,” I wrote back.

Last month I traveled from my home in the Chicago suburbs to Washington DC, flying on my own for the first time in over ten years, since before my oldest child was born. The reason? A quick two-night girls’ weekend with a dear friend, a weekend of rejuvenation and nonstop conversation.

My friend, like me, is the mother of four small children, which is like having five bodies instead of just one. I am responsible for everything for my little tagalongs: what and when they eat and drink, how often they get their hair and nails cut, brushing their teeth, bathing them, taking them to the bathroom … The list is endless. They are like other parts of my body — dear beyond words, and it’s the greatest gift to be their mom — but they are a lot to take care of!

3 days of respite

So on this long-anticipated girls’ trip, as we talked and enjoyed ourselves for three days straight, we kept laughing about how amazing it felt to be responsible only for ourselves. We could finish sentences! And linger slowly over coffee! We could go out without a big diaper bag full of snacks, water, and every useful item imaginable! There was no one to put to bed before getting to relax! It really was a little taste of heaven. 

And when it was over, I was ready to come home, to get back into the swing of things, to embrace my vocation with renewed vigor. The pause from my daily work to rest, rejuvenate, and delight in life was just what I needed.

Three sweet moments from the weekend seemed to capture the spirit of it. They taught me something that I’ll take with me in the weeks and months ahead, back on the ground of my daily vocation. They came around in an art gallery, a church, and a thrift store.

The National Gallery

My friend and I are both art lovers (she was a Fine Arts major and is a talented professional photographer) so of course we had to visit the National Gallery while in Washington DC. A beautiful painting I saw there felt like a symbol for the weekend, revealing a stop to see God’s constant presence along the daily road.

The painting was called Castle Gondolfo, Lake Albano, Italy, 1852 by artist Christopher Pearse Cranch. You can see it below. At first glance, it just looks like a typical vista, not particularly notable.

But look closer at the lower left corner. Here is a close-up photo I took of it.

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A woman kneels before a roadside shrine, laying down her basket to pause for a moment of prayer in the midst of her duties.

Looking at this image, it felt like what I was doing at that moment, taking just a little time away from my busy day-to-day to refresh my soul. These brief pauses to lift our eyes heavenward make such a difference, really keeping us going through the trials of our vocations. 

As I looked at this painting, I made a little resolution to carry its message with me. Like the woman in the painting, I’ll look for ways to pause and lift my eyes to heaven along my daily road.

Mass at St. Augustine

We went to Mass at St. Augustine’s Church. After an inspiring homily and beautiful service, when Mass had ended, the priest looked out at the congregation and asked any first-time visitors to the church to stand up and be welcomed.

I looked over at my friend, both of us hesitant to stand. But then the priest looked right at us and said, “Don’t be shy!” So with a smile and a shrug, we stood up for a moment as the congregation clapped. As much as we were slightly embarrassed, it was a very sweet and welcoming moment too.

That moment at St. Augustine reminded me that the universal Church is always there to offer community and encouragement. We are not alone in this vocation, whatever God calls us to; we are not alone on our road to heaven. 

Virginia thrift stores

My friend is a champion thrift store shopper, probably a skill familiar to many mothers of large families! She can scan through an entire store in just a few minutes, finding all kinds of gems. 

We made our way to several thrift stores in Virginia over the course of the weekend, and I followed her example of digging for treasures. I was delighted to find a beautiful sweater from a favorite brand that was brand-new with the tags still on, and wore it home on the plane since my carry-on was full. 

Those thrifting skills are just one example of my friend’s rare ability to “find the gold,” to notice the hidden goodness, in any situation. She has such a gift for noticing and pulling out the good things that others might pass right by. 

Looking for the good

In three straight days of nearly constant conversation, the kind of good talks that fill up your soul and strengthen your resolve, I realized I wanted to learn from my friend. Whether literally, like her thrift shop prowess or show-stopping flower garden; or figuratively, in the way I talk and think; I want to be one of those people who looks hard for the good in all situations.

Together, these three moments of the trip capture what I hope to take home with me from it: regular moments to pause and look upward to heaven; the support and encouragement of the Church around me; and always looking for the hidden treasures in little moments of daily life. Carrying these lessons, I know this trip will strengthen my vocation for a long time to come.

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