When my son Mitchell was leaving high school he told us that he was going to enter the seminary.
Now, that didn’t surprise me, at least on some levels. Mitch has this unique way about him; I once had a group of older women over for brunch and Mitch spent about an hour with us. Several of them told me later that they sort of wanted to confess their life story to Mitch. He has kind eyes and a safe-place-to-land type of heart.
So I knew he had some personality traits that would lend themselves quite well to the priesthood.
Do you know what DID surprise me? How my heart reacted. He was my third child to go to college yet I pretty much cried the whole way to Conception Seminary that “drop off weekend.”
There were very big emotions within me.
Why all the emotional drama? I have no idea. Afterall, I am a Catholic Mama of Many. Having a priest in the family is like a badge of honor. Yet it was crazy difficult to let go of my son.
I prayed for peace and it finally happened several weeks later. I can tell you exactly where I was: on a bike ride at Sedgwick County Park. I pedaled. Cried. And let Mitchell go into the hands of our sweet mama, Mary.
My prayer: “Form him into a Jesus, Mama.” (I knew she was good at that task.)
And over four years at seminary, I finally got used to the idea of my son becoming a priest.
Some interesting tidbits: Mitch had found a cassock long enough to fit his 6.7” frame. He looked fabulous in the priestly “garb.” He also loved his made-to-order black cowboy boots, which added another two inches to his height. He was by far the tallest seminarian in our Wichita diocese.
Mitchell loved the liturgical elements that are so “Benedictine” in nature: slow chanting and Latin everything. He fit into that culture way better than I had anticipated.
So it was actually shocking when Mitch told my husband and me that he felt called to leave the seminary.
At first I was like, “Wait, what?” I had already been planning his Ordination Party. I mean, seriously.
What gave me peace was how Mitch described the process he took with his decision. It was not rash. What I mean by that is he didn’t keep his thoughts hidden and then make a break for it over some random weekend.
He had spent time on retreats taking this to Jesus. Mitchell had fasted and prayed.
He had shared his intentions with the monks, priests and advisors at Conception Seminary; they supported him.
With all of that intentionality, my boy felt deep peace about his decision, which made it much easier for me to experience the same kind of peace.
Mitch officially left seminary with a degree in philosophy on Mother’s Day in May of 2019.
I wondered what kind of a job Mitchell would get with that interesting (but pretty much useless-in-the-real-world) philosophy degree!
Mitchell began looking for jobs and landed one with Eby Construction. He began working with crews and found that he really enjoyed the work.
That fall he went into a bookstore here in Wichita and met a really cute woman, Lucy Clark. They talked. He asked her out. She sort of hedged, not saying yes but not saying no. Mitch, ever vigilant, knew she had not said NO, so he became a frequent flyer at that bookstore.
This went on for several weeks. They ended up going out for coffee. As friends only.
Okay, this is where the Holy Spirit comes in.
Mitchell joined Blessed Sacrament Parish in Wichita. He volunteered for PSR (Parish School of Religion) as a helper. Guess whose room he was randomly assigned to?
You guessed it. Lucy Clark's.
Is that not amazing and gorgeous? Well, the other amazing, gorgeous thing is that Blessed Sacrament Parish has a unique gift of hospitality. They actually offer their volunteer catechists a MEAL every Wednesday night.
So week after week, Mitch and Lucy not only worked together in the classroom, they sat down and broke bread together.
Over the course of time, Mitch began to tell us more and more about this woman, Lucy. She was from a good, strong Catholic family. She loved to read. She was smart. And witty.
He liked her. A lot.
The Big Day finally arrived when Mitch brought Lucy home to meet us.
I was in the kitchen when Lucy came into the room, radiant and beautiful. And this is what came out of my mouth,
“Oh! You are so little!”
I couldn’t believe those were my first words to my son’s new girlfriend.
I felt chagrined. Distressed. Why, oh why do I say the first thing that pops into my head?
Well, Lucy put me at ease with her smile and charming ways. I truly enjoyed getting to know her that first evening at our home and I hoped there would be many more.
Happily, there were many more experiences of getting to know her as Mitch and Lucy -slowly- began to date seriously.
In November of 2020, after dating for over a year, we knew there would be a lifetime of many more because Mitch asked Lucy to marry him and she said yes.
Fast forward to May 14, 2021, the eve of their wedding. Mitch and Lucy had asked not only their wedding party to the rehearsal dinner, but also family members who had traveled from out of state, which was absolutely delightful.
Because the group at the rehearsal dinner was all their people, Lucy and Mitch also decided to have the “Best Man” and “Maid of Honor” speeches given at the rehearsal (instead of at the actual wedding reception).
My son Eric stepped up and gave his “best man speech,” saying all of the good and funny things about Mitchell, using humor and storytelling, which is exactly his “way”. (I love love love my big ol’ sons.)
Then Annie took the microphone. What she shared was extremely touching and with her permission, I share it with you:
“Hello, my name is Annie and I am one of Lucy‘s older sisters and her Matron of Honor. Ever since Lucy and Mitch started dating, I’ve heard a lot about how big Mitch is. In fact, it’s left such an impression on the young children in our family that they have taken to using Mitch as an adjective.
“Oh that’s Mitch size!” Just the other day my daughter Harriet said, “That’s ginormous! Like Mr. Mitch! Mitch Mitch Mitch Mitch. Mitchie Mitchie Mitchie Mitchie.”
“Well, tonight I’d like to take a moment to focus on something else. I would like to focus on how little Lucy is.
“Lucy was the smallest of my mother’s babies; she’s the youngest in our family and the shortest in stature. All of my siblings (and even our spouses) went to small colleges, but she one upped us (or downed us?) once again by going to a college that was a quarter of the size of any of ours.
“Even her life ambitions have been small. Lucy has never striven for anything that the world would see as grand. She’s never wanted to be a famous actress, musician or neuroscientist. (And it’s not for want of looks, talents or smarts.)
“She has always wanted to be a wife and mother and to stay at home and oversee her domicile. And this desire is not insignificant.
“What do we know about smallness? We know that it’s often the smallest among us that has the greatest impact. In literature we have been presented with the hobbits. In Scripture we hear Christ call us to be childlike and meek. In nature we have termites. . . oh! And er, bees...just as bees and other pollinators are in a very real way responsible for our food and flowers, a well tended home is the basis for our culture.
“A man and his wife are the domestic church and tomorrow you will form yours. We will never fully know in this life how big of an impact your union and your little home will have. But here’s hoping that the Doernemans will be toasting you and your union all the way to the 5th and 6th generations.”
When Annie was done with her toast, I felt gushy and weepy and floaty all at the same time. The words of this special older sister portrayed the fiber of the Clark family and my son was going to be part of them.
Thoughtful. Authentic. Emotionally present. True.
I was thankful that my Mitchell had found not only a wife in Lucy Clark but a beautiful gem of a woman that did not want to seek greatness in the eyes of the world, but was content with littleness.
Right then and there, I felt not only absolved for calling Lucy “little” on our first meeting, but almost prophetic!
Annie also said that Lucy’s dream has been to be a “stay at home mom and oversee her domicile.” I love that word: Domicile. It means a person’s permanent place of residence, their home. Lucy wants a home, filled with children.
Now, whether or not God blesses Mitch and Lucy with children will remain to be seen. I have a feeling their quiver will be full of many arrows. But no one can foresee the future.
But I did want to share with you, my audience of Christian mothers, who have been so faithful in your walk with my family, to be encouraged by Annie’s toast, like it has encouraged me.
As you well know, being a mom is all about being little. Why? Because no one sees the sacrifices made. Being pregnant is gorgeous. Life-changing. Literally life-giving. But when there is a preschooler, toddler, nine-month old AND two lines on the pregnancy test, something happens deep in the heart.
It is a private thing. A quiet thing. A giving thing.
An “I am moving over for the life of another” thing.
A “This is my body, given up for you” type of thing.
Again, it’s private. It’s not what we talk about on social media or even over coffee with the girls.
When the baby cries out in the middle of the night, we get up again, without even thinking about it. When the preschooler has a bad dream and we feel that tap on the shoulder at 5:30 a.m., we get up. We listen. Console. Sometimes, out of desperation for another hour of sleep, we tuck them in besides. When we finally make a date night with the hubs and the toddler begins to vomit, we cancel the sitter and spend the evening holding our child and the puke bucket.
In short, we give. And we give. And we give. No one really sees how much we give.
The life of a mother may seem little. In the eyes of our backwards world it might even seem insignificant. But seen in the eyes of God? Our unique work in each of our special domiciles is magnificent. Massive. And very needed in our world.
Lucy Clark Doerneman, I am grateful that my big Mitchell found you, snuggled in your little bookstore and I am beyond excited to see all of the ways you two will impact our world.
P.S. I had so much fun writing about my son's wedding that I decided to write about Eric's wedding: More Love and Marriage.
P.S.S. I love the real. If you love the real, too, and aren't afraid to jump into the parenting realm with two feet, then you might just love what we have to offer:
Raising Strong Kids: I designed this free series with great love for mothers. I share where I was blinded and I help open your eyes so you can step into your role with grace and strength.
Inside Out: How I Found Freedom from all the crazy with FOOD. (It'll surprise you because it sure surprised me!) Interestingly, when I was "righted" internally, I mothered in a stronger, more consistent way.
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