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I blog about my Catholic faith, my prayer life, good books and good movies.

My Unexpected 500th Birthday Present to St. Teresa of Avila

Abigail Benjamin

October 15, 2015 will mark the 500th Anniversary of St. Teresa of Avila's birth. In shy, reticent Carmelite circles this anniversary was a huge deal.  The Carmelite Sisters (nuns) are a contemplative order, meaning they shut themselves off from talking to almost anybody in order to better hear God and pray for everybody.

When I was a young blogger four years ago, I installed a "Countdown Clock" to make off this huge anniversary on "Abigail's Alcove." I had big plans on how to celebrate this milestone both internally and externally. I expected to make my final promise in May 2015. I wanted to reread all of St. Teresa's major works. I wanted to "be" Carmel and "do" Carmel in that ambitious 5 Year Plan Way that sometimes happens to both Graduate Students and Chinese Communist Leaders in the 1950s.

On October 11, 2014, I had an emergency birth of my premature son, John. I spent St. Teresa of Avila's Feast Day on October 15, 2014 in a whirl of doctor visits and lab tests. I told my husband "I'm skipping the big Saint Day of my favorite saint!"  

My husband did this wave of the hand thing he does whenever he is agitated with me and said, "St. Teresa would understand. This is the work that you should focus on for her!" 

I listened to him, sort of, in the moment. Mostly, I told myself "It's just one day and her 500th Celebration will last a whole year." There was that optimistic hope that I could get my life "back on track" in a few weeks. 

I thought I'd spent 2014-2015 as a year celebrating St. Teresa of Avila the way that I wanted to celebrate her. Instead, I found myself dragged along a year that started with a premature sixth baby and ended with an unfinished book. At this time of reflection, when I'm mourning the failure to reach some of my more ambitious spiritual goals, I have to give thanks that for the surprising year I had with St. Teresa of Avila. I'm so grateful to the friend who sent me a link to a museum exhibit of her writing, exactly when I was struggling with my own book. I'm happy that the daughter I named after her, Teresa, finally made peace with her NICU journey at Children's Hospital this summer. I'm happy for the Carmelite who gave me a piece of stone from Avila which I now keep in my jewelry box. There were so many moments on this rough journey where I felt my bff, St. Teresa of Avila, nodding at me. She is my friend. She is my sister of the heart.

In the 500th Year of St. Teresa of Avila's birth, I raised a premature baby to age 1. I battled anemia and post-partum anxiety. I welcomed a Pope to his first visit to America. I started a book, I scrapped it, I started another one. I changed my internal identity from "blogger" to "artist" and "writer". I changed my external website to reflect that shift. I turned 40. I narrowed my friend list in some areas and expanded my friend list in other areas. I stayed married, to a great guy, who I first fell in love with at 25. I taught school. I did the laundry. I washed the dishes and I steam cleaned the floor.

For 365 days in a year, I prayed almost every morning, along side a great writer, a great saint and a great friend, St. Teresa of Avila. I'm so grateful to her good example. She shows me that big thoughts can happen in the middle of my ordinary, daily work. If she never changed the diaper of a premature baby, although she might have, I hope that I made her laugh this year when I fumbled around in the task and asked for her intercession. I think making a saint smile is about the best birthday present a friend could ask me to give her.