Recognizing the Workings of the Holy Spirit in your life is one of the surest ways to discerning God’s will. It’s a lot easier to do when you’re looking back on your life. (For an example of what that might look like, read Part 1 in this series.)
Figuring out what you’re called to do is only part of it. Actually doing it can be a little scary, especially if things go awry. (For more on this, read Part 2.)
Following God’s will in your life isn’t a once-and-done thing either. It’s an ongoing conversation with God. The promptings of the Holy Spirit are constant, sometimes bearing unexpected messages, but always filled with the goodness of God. (For more on this, read Part 3.)
And now for Part 4
When My Plans Cooperate with the Holy Spirit
After my year of international travel, where my ministry as a teacher took me to see concentration camps in Poland, and visit the Holy Land of Israel (did I mention I did all this traveling for free?!), things changed.
Alexander Raymond Dienno Demarest
Peter holding Alex for the first time
Obviously, the Holy Spirit had a little something to do with the creation of new life, but with Alex, Peter and I participated in the planning process
Part of the plan was – as a teacher – to have the baby in the summer and return to teaching when he was 3 months old. Alex was born on the Fourth of July. I was able to stay home until October, and then resume teaching Morality to my three classes of juniors and directing the Service Learning Program.
Everything was going according to plan.
It was a busy school year, especially with an infant at home. As a working mother, I felt like I was teetering on the edge of chaos at all times. The one piece of advice I try to give new working mothers is: You’re not doing it wrong. It’s just hard. Worth it, but hard. I definitely recognized the Workings of the Holy Spirit in all the joy that came out of just loving him.
I loved teaching, even though I felt like I was always behind and could never catch up. I loved my students – such bright kids with great questions who enjoyed my passion for the material. I definitely recognized the Workings of the Holy Spirit in my classroom.
I also followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit and submitted proposals to present my insights on Establishing a Service Learning Program in Catholic High Schools. Among others, I presented at the National Catholic Educator Association (NCEA) Convention Several of the attendees asked “What resources would you suggest?” At that point, there weren’t really any resources that could speak to both the theological and practical (pastoral) dimensions of doing Service Learning in Catholic high schools. “Well, you kind of have to do what I did: read the Church documents and put it together.” When I recounted this story to Peter, he said I should write a book.
After the NCEA Convention, another attendee invited me to present at the Center for Concern’s Educating for Justice summer seminar on Service Learning. In my little world, these were pretty big deals. I definitely recognized the Workings of the Holy Spirit in all of this.
Time flew by that school year, and each day was jam packed.
It was May 2. The day after Service Hours were due. I was exhausted. I had discovered that five students had cheated on their service hours. It was just a bad day. I’m at home, sitting in the rocking chair watching Oprah, holding a satisfied 10 month old who just finished nursing. Peter hands me a gin and tonic. As I happily sip, I think to myself: Wow, I’m really nauseous.
And as those words float past in a thought bubble above my head, I immediately shout to Peter (with panic): “YOU DON’T THINK I’M PREGNANT, DO YOU?!?!”
When God Has Other Plans
Turns out, breastfeeding is not a form of birth control.
It was not my plan to have my boys 17 months apart. It was not my plan to stop teaching, but there was no way we could justify the expense of two babies under two in daycare on a Catholic school teacher’s salary. Nor the insanity of it all.
It was not my plan, but it was what was happening.
As I freaked out and cried, Peter reminded me: the timing wasn’t the plan, but we did plan to have another baby. And he was right. But I was still reeling from what I saw as an abrupt and unexpected end to my teaching career. (I can be a little melodramatic.)
It took me a long time to see that this was God’s Plan. But it was. And here’s how it unraveled:
I presented at that Summer Service Learning Symposium with the Center for Concern. Once again, an attendee asked for resources. Once again, I replied there wasn’t any that I knew of.
But this time, I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Instead of thinking someone should write one, I decided to be that someone. So during Alex’s naps, and after his bedtime, I worked on turning my Master’s Thesis (and all of my practical insights from five years in the field) into a book.
Still overwhelmed by the idea of having two babies under two, it helped me channel my energy into something creative, positive, and life-giving.
Then this happened:
Maximilian Dienno Demarest
The stress of two babies under two was intense. But so was the love. Those first six months were a blur. But we did it.
I was about 80% finished writing the book when Max was born. I was still looking for someone to publish it. I had no idea how I would manage to write while mothering. And then Peter realized that he had extra funds in his pre-tax child care account through his job; we had already covered the costs of a sitter. Things just have a way of working out with the Holy Spirit.
There’s a lot of things I forgot during this blur, but I do remember having a phone conversation with my friend Theresa, a friend from my time at Boston College. After she finished her PhD, Theresa became an assistant professor for BC through her own Workings of the Holy Spirit.
In one of our conversations, I happen to mention to Theresa that I was surprised to discover how much I loved the process of research and writing. It was exciting and exhilarating.
Playing cards with Theresa
Some time later, Theresa called to say that while she was at a conference representing the program at Boston College, she had a conversation with a mutual friend (and former professor of mine), Mike Carotta. He was working with a textbook publisher who was looking for people with a background in theology, experience in education, that could write.
“So I said to myself, hey – I know someone like that. So I called you.”
My heart did cartwheels. Thank you Holy Spirit!
Theresa promised to pass my info on to Mike.
During this same time, Peter finally explained how his job environment had begun to crush his spirit. As he looked for a new job, the Holy Spirit helped me say, “Wherever you need us to move, wherever you need us to go, we will go.” And by the grace of God, I meant it.
On our way to Austin for my sister’s wedding, Peter got two phone calls for two interviews in Houston. Since we were already going to be in the state of Texas, and since Peter really had no other wedding-related jobs but dutiful husband and father, he spent a day interviewing in Houston. Things just have a way of working out with the Holy Spirit.
Laurie and Sam’s Wedding
Two weeks later they called to say he got the job.
So add selling the house and preparing for a corporate move on top of the stress of two babies under two. (Side note: after a week of insane preparation, our house was on the market for 10 days and sold for full asking price.)
All this to say, I don’t remember when it happened, but at some point in my search for a publisher for my book on Service Learning, I received a YES. Again, my heart did cartwheels. Thank you Holy Spirit!
This publisher was located in Washington DC, so I found a sitter and rode the METRO downtown for an in-person chat. In our meeting, however, I found out that since the audience for the book was such a niche market, there wasn’t funding approval for a book. They could publish it as a series of journal articles or publish it as an e-book. My disappointment was palpable.
I spent some time checking in with God on this one, though, before I said no thanks. At this point (in 2007), neither of the options that this publisher was suggesting was going to solve the problem teachers in the trenches were facing – a lack of accessible resources. Those journal articles tended to stay on the desks of principals. And in 2007, e-books weren’t really a thing. I may get published, but it’s not going to actually help the people I wrote the book for.
So I cried a bit on the METRO ride home, paid the sitter, and fed the babies. And then I did something so outside of my comfort zone it kind of makes me cringe as I retell it: I went into my office, pulled Mike’s book off my shelf, Googled his publisher, cold called their 800-number, and left him a message.
When I don’t know what to do with a bunch of (negative) emotional energy, I channel it in to something I feel God is calling me towards, but I’m really scared to do.
And what do you know, it worked out.
You Can’t Imagine The Plans God Has
Mike called me, I recalled Theresa’s summation: “looking for people with a background in theology, experience in education, that could write” and explained myself. He said, “Email this conversation to me and I’ll forward it to the powers-at-be.”
So I did. And he did. That was on Friday. On Monday, there was an email from an Editorial Director asking for a writing sample, followed by a phone interview and a non-disclosure agreement.
After a few months, my part in the project – to write some features for the textbook series – was about to start. We were now living in Houston. Hurricane Ike blew through and knocked one of the 60-foot pines away from the house (Praise Jesus).
Hurricane Ike hit 6 wks after we moved in to our new house.
The Editorial Director called and asked me if I would like to write the Teacher’s Editions for the series. And I said no. In nine years of teaching I had never used a Teacher’s Edition. And I couldn’t see working on something I would never use. To be honest, there was just too much stress in my life with the two kids, new city, and new house to do that. So before I had a chance to filter my answer, it just all came out (in respectful honesty).
So she said, “Well what if you could create something that you would use?” So I talked about what that might look like. And then she said, “Ok, we’ll pay you for this conversation. Can you create a prototype in two weeks?”
My jaw dropped. [Silence] “Um, yeah. Sure.”
So while working on the TE prototype (I now know that’s publishing lingo for Teacher’s Edition), I was running into difficulties with how some things were explained in the Student text. So she suggested that I also be part of the review process as a contributing editor to the Student Editions as well.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Well played, Holy Spirit. Well played.
I sent off the TE prototype and needed to wait a couple months before the next step in the process would begin. So somehow, the Holy Spirit managed to nudge me to edit, finish, and self-publish my book: Living the Vision: A Pastoral Guide to Service Learning in Catholic High Schools. And yes, I have an e-book available, too.
And then I started really working on the textbook series. I was the primary author for five of the six Teacher’s Editions, and a contributing editor for the first four Student Editions. I loved the team of people I worked with, I loved the process, and I am really proud of the finished product.
So that, my friends, is how I ended up with a job that has been beyond my wildest dreams.
Here’s what I’ve come to know about the Workings of the Holy Spirit:
- It’s really awesome when your plans and God’s plans align. You feel like partners with the Holy Spirit.
- It’s really scary when God’s plans go in a totally different direction than your plans. But go with it. Use anger or disappointment to motivate you to surpass fear.
- If you think it’s awesome when your plans and God’s plans align, it’s going to blow your mind when you see what happens when God’s plans come to fruition. It’s beyond your wildest dreams AMAZING.
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