Even before she was married, Emily Stimpson Chapman asked for baby prayers.
“I’d be in an antique store buying little trinkets for the wedding decorations, and I would be asking strangers: Pray that we have a baby!’” she said.
“If I’ve talked to you over the past two years, I’ve asked you to pray for us to have a baby,” she added. “Every conference I go to, every talk I give!”
The Pittsburgh-based Catholic writer — a petite redhead with short hair and a huge smile — had long yearned to enter into motherhood, so when the love of her life got down on bended knee, she began dispensing prayer requests. She was 40, and math was not on her side.
Emily and Chris tried to make up for lost time, dating 13 months and engaged for merely five. Although her hormone levels appear excellent and she’s taking progesterone and working closely with a NaPro doctor, after 16 months of trying to conceive, Emily is still not pregnant.
“I am not handling this well,” she recently admitted on her blog.
Each passing month feels like a year. Just when she’s stitched together a pocket of hope, her period returns. “On that day,” she wrote, “barren isn’t just the state of my womb. It’s the state of my soul.”
Now comes the national holiday that echoes the Catholic Church’s daily exhortation: give thanks. Emily has contemplated the spiritual underpinnings of this invitation deeply and turned her insights into a beautiful book released one year ago, “The Catholic Table: Finding Joy Where Food and Faith Meet.”
The book lays out a Catholic view of food, which sees it as a symbol of the Eucharist, a gift that helps us grasp the great mystery of the sacrament. “Everything food does on a natural level,” she said, “the Eucharist does on a supernatural level — it nourishes, comforts and strengthens.”
Emily challenges Catholics to eat liturgically, virtuously and joyfully. “Bacon is proof that God is good,” she writes. “It’s better to be a happy, healthy, energetic size 6 (or 8 or 10 or 12), than it is to be a crabby, crochety, underfed size 2.”
The book examines our disordered relationship with food and a culture that has made a mockery of mealtime: breakfast in the car, lunch at the desk and dinner in front of the TV. “Our busy-ness and technology interfere with the natural rhythm that God established for life,” Emily said.
Food is meant for fellowship, which means we must open our hearts and homes, Emily writes. Making a distinction between entertainment and hospitality can help us more readily swing open the front door. “Entertainment is about impressing people. Hospitality is about loving people.”
Entertainment is for Instagram. Hospitality is for every real-world, road-weary Christian. “Letting people into your home when you know it’s not perfect is a call to die to yourself and to love the other,” Emily said. “I have never regretted answering that call.”
These days, she’s reminding herself that she can care for her body but not control it. She is trusting in God’s plan even though it does not make sense right now.
She will gather with loved ones this Thanksgiving and count her blessings, and even if she’s feeling empty, she will look for the abundance in her midst. “A Catholic table is groaning under this feast of delicious food and wine, surrounded by friends and lively, joyful conversation, people receiving the gift of food and making a gift of themselves through conversation,” she said. “It’s where you want to be.”
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