A few thoughts on my birthday

January 12, 2013 | 124 comments

Today is my birthday. I turn 36.

Not only have I now passed the halfway point of my thirties, but it’s a brand new year, I just had a brush with a medical condition that is often fatal, and my whole life has been turned upside down by my recovery. So, as you can see, I have no choice but to write a long and reflective blog post that opines about the meaning of life today.

It’s a lot of pressure, really. I was lying in bed yesterday, mentally writing my post about all the Important Things I’ve taken away from this situation, and was mildly disgusted with myself that the first thing that came to mind was a list of tips about how to sneak contraband into the hospital that you’re technically not supposed to have. (And the next thing I thought of was a recipe for this amazing-sounding martini I discovered while surfing the web in the ER that I cannot wait to try as soon as the baby’s born.)

But I do think that I have learned a lot from this situation, even if the real insights were buried under ah-hah moments about sneaking Bendaryl into the hospital so that you can actually sleep.

Interestingly, facing my mortality was not what jarred me out of my usual routine — we Catholics are always thinking and talking about death, and since my conversion I’ve lived with a fairly constant awareness that, truly, not one of us knows the hour or the day that our time on earth will end. Having the ER tech whisper to me that the last guy who came in with a pulmonary embolism was dead 15 minutes later wasn’t what shocked me into a new way of seeing life. Instead, what has been the real bucket of icewater over the head for me has been the shattering of all my plans. I’ve only now realized that I tend to live in this weird mental space where I am pretty aware that death could come at any time…yet not all that aware that something mildly less catastrophic could happen. If I found out that I was going to die tomorrow it would shock me less than, say, if I found out I was going to lose the use of my right arm. I guess you could sum up my outlook as, Today could be the day the Lord calls me home…but if he doesn’t, good thing I have all these carefully laid out plans and that nothing could possibly go wrong with them!

But now all my plans are toast, and as I face a third trimester of pregnancy with a compromised ability to breathe, wonders about whether there will be lasting lung damage, and tricky long-term health management questions, I have been smacked upside the head with the reality that all my delusions of control through planning were just that — delusions.

I’ve been sitting here thinking of all the things I thought I would be doing in 2013 that I will not actually be doing. The crazy-intense curricula that would forever ensconce me as Queen of All the Homeschoolers, the cool speaking gigs in interesting places, the challenging but exciting writing opportunities, and those elaborate home organization projects that would surely make our entire house look like something off of Pinterest, have all either had to be hugely modified or scrapped altogether. Heck, I’ll be excited if I can walk up the stairs without flopping on the bed to gasp for breath at any point before summer. And here’s the most surprising part of all of that:

I don’t really care that much.

Starting with the moment my OB came to my hospital room to explain my diagnosis, I kept waiting to feel a great wave of mourning for all my plans. I waited and waited. But it never came. And when I look back on what God was teaching me in 2012, I see why.

In 2012 there was a very clear, specific message that was presented to me over and over again, reinforced to me countless times in countless ways. It seemed kind of random, and I wasn’t sure exactly how it would apply to daily life, but it was undeniable that it was something God wanted me to understand. The message was this:

It’s all about the human person.

Though I had felt the silent whispers of this concept in various forms as the months went on, it was Cardinal DiNardo whom I first heard articulate it, in a speech he gave at a benefit dinner in which he recounted something that John Paul II told him on his first ad limina visit to Rome. The great pontiff could have talked then-Bishop DiNardo’s ear off with hours and hours of advice about what it takes to be a good shepherd, but instead he left him with that one truth to ponder. On the bishop’s last day in Rome, John Paul II leaned in close to him and said, “Remember, Your Excellency, it’s all about the human person.” No matter how important or sweeping our plans may be, no matter how big or small the scope of our authority, everything we do must be ordered toward connection with individual human beings.

The message simmered within me all throughout the year, but it’s only now that it’s all gelled.

I’ve come to see the radically freeing truth that our plans only matter to the extent that they’re ordered toward deeper intimacy with individual people. What makes this truth so freeing is that, if your ultimate goal is to make the world a little brighter of a place by touching one person at a time, you can do that under any circumstances. You can live a life ordered toward human intimacy as a jet-setting movie star or as an invalid confined to a hospital bed; whether you find yourself surrounded by Hollywood directors or the nurses on night shift, you will always find yourself surrounded by people in need of love.

And so, to the extent that my plans for 2013 were rightly ordered in the first place, they actually haven’t changed all that much. I may have thought that on that one weekend in March I would be connecting with the people seated at my table after I gave my speech; instead, it looks like I’ll be connecting with my family, my neighbors, the people in my parish, or whoever else I can encounter without getting on a plane. The details may be different, but the goal is the same.

This is especially freeing in light of my birthday.

I’m not immune to the occasional pang of “I’m getting old!” thoughts that probably plague most citizens of our youth-obsessed society. MTV culture tries to paint aging — or illness, or disability, or any condition other than being young and healthy — as a great limiting of options. Alas, you can no longer [insert description of supposedly glamorous activity]. That’s for people who are [younger / healthier / prettier / wealthier] than you are. But the truth, which I understand with such great clarity after all I’ve been through in the past week, is that if your plans were not love-driven in the first place, then they were the kind of stupid, time-wasting plans that people shake their fists and rue through tears on their deathbeds; and if they were love-driven, then there are no worldly circumstances that could prevent you from executing them, even if the details change a bit.

And so I find it profoundly liberating here on my birthday, as I enter into the daunting territory of a year full of questions and unknowns, to know that as long as my life is ordered toward love, it is a life with limitless possibilities.


  1. Andy Meadows

    Happy Birthday, Jennifer. Wishing you continued peace, serenity, and calm throughout the next year. Thanks for sharing these insights. I have often heard that a “stop doing” list is more important than a “start doing” list. May your year of “less” be the richest one yet.

  2. Jessica @ Shower of Roses

    Happy Birthday!! Absolutely beautiful and inspiring post, Jen! Thank you for taking the time and energy to share your thoughts… You and your family remain in my prayers! Oh, and I’ll be turning 35 on Wednesday! 🙂

  3. michele

    Beautiful! Happy birthday! We are all so blessed by your life 🙂

  4. Barbara B.

    Happy Birthday, Jennifer. I can’t help wondering how different your response is to this illness than to what it might have been pre-conversion. This post says more to me about who you are than anything else you’ve written. You have been richly blessed.

  5. Ania

    Happy birthday and well said. I’ve caught this awful flu in my last week of pregnancy and I thought I’d be mourning the loss of plans more. To be honest it’s been kind of a relief and you articulated why. Thank you and continued prayers for your healing!

  6. Mary

    Happy birthday, Jennifer! Prayers are coming your way. Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this post full of truth, beauty and goodness. You are a blessing! May you be richly blessed. Entrusting you to our Lady, and asking her to be with you in a special way in the coming months–a little second Visitation. Love and prayers, Mary

  7. Misty

    Happy mid-30s birthday Jennifer. Isn’t it frustrating that it usually takes a crisis for such insights to settle within with certainty? So glad you have this space to visit and share your story with those of us still ordering our own plans without deeper thought! We are all praying for you and your family to continue to see the grace behind the gravity of your illness.

  8. Mary

    But back to the martini…you left us hanging without giving us the recipe…

    I kid 🙂 Beautiful words. I need to be so very much better at placing people above plans. Thank you for the reminder. I remember hearing once that JPII stated that the root cause of the culture of death was not any of the things we would immediately think. It is efficiency. Bam. Right between the eyes.

    Continued prayers coming. And maybe a martini.

  9. Jessica

    Happy birthday , Jennifer. You are truly a blessed woman. I went through a life threatening crisis back in August right after the birth of my fourth child. I still haven’t found the courage the write about it, but hearing you so openly talk about your condition is nudging me towards finally writing about it. Thank you. 🙂

  10. Amelia

    Happy Birthday!!!Beautiful words and just what I needed to read this morning!!

  11. Elisa | blissfulE

    I believe it was you who said something that has stuck with me as a writer… that often the things you write under the worst of circumstances turn out the best. This post is a gleaming example of that grace in action.

    Many blessings to you on your birthday.

  12. Paula

    Happy Birthday Jennifer, I love reading your blog, continued prayers for you and your family, love from Paula in Limerick, Ireland

  13. Sally Thomas

    Happy birthday, Jen! You’re my husband’s birthday twin, only he’s celebrating having passed the half-century mark instead of the half-thirties.

    Wishing you joy, grace, wisdom, and, of course, healing in your new year.

  14. Anne McD

    Happy Birthday, Jen!

  15. Kristen @ St Monica's Bridge

    Happy Birthday. This radiates in me today after a beautiful book club meeting of Christian women last night. God Bless you today and always

  16. Becky

    I’m really glad that you’re here to celebrate your birthday Jen. 🙂

    I’m a little annoyed that you’re two years younger than me though. I thought you were older. Only because you’re so mature! (I’m not.)

    I know the sentiments that you talk about; it’s usually only when we face death that we really get an idea of how short life is. I will share with you very quickly, my own experience. (Your own experience is really bringing back memories lately!)

    Nine days after having my 4th baby, I had a coronary dissection, which led to a massive heart attack. A coronary dissection is where a rip develops in the artery wall, and blood starts to pool under this rip. This rip then traveled along my LAD; it took seven stents to fix it. The heart attack was instantaneous and I had only 6 minutes to try to convince my husband and 911 dispatcher that I was having a heart attack and not a panic attack; when I saw the cop car round the corner, everything went black and had no heart beat for 40 minutes.

    When I woke up a week and a half later in the hospital, everyone told me that I had a heart attack, which I did not believe them (the lack of oxegyn gave me short term memory loss for a while) and I would cry because I thought “these crazies are making me stay away from my kids!” I stayed in the hospital for 2 weeks trying to get back on my feet and when I was finally well enough to go home, I had to go back in the hospital multiple times because my heart was unable to handle the stress and fun of having 3 young children and a newborn.

    I would often wonder why God sent me back; why so many people usually die instantly from this but He allowed me to live–what amazing purpose He had. Three years later, and still unsaintly, I finally understand: I’m here to finish what God started, but this time to finish it right. I’m here to love God and serve my neighbor, but this time not half-heartedly, but with all my heart, to do it not with reluctance but to learn to do this with great love and fervor. To finish my “job” as wife and mother and to do the very best I can.

    And now, since my kids are starving for breakfast as I ignore them because I’m typing all this, I better do just that.

    Take it easy, I sympathize the overstimulation issues you are having right now. You joke about them but it’s a heavy cross to carry.

  17. Laura Pearl

    This is such a beautiful and inspiring post. You’re in my prayers.

  18. regina

    Happy Birthday fellow Capricorn!

  19. Sara

    Happy Birthday! I’ve been a reader for a really long time. This is your best post ever. Praying for you daily.

  20. Melanie B

    Happy birthday, Jen.

    This is so beautiful. I just went through my own medical ordeal in which all my plans went topsy-turvy and I was forced to realize yet again that God’s plans are better than the ones I make. But while I was able to acknowledge that I needed to learn to let go of my need to be in control, I didn’t dig nearly as deep as you have. Your realization that its all about the human person makes me realize how much I’m still focusing on me and my experiences instead of how I can love others. You are an inspiration to me.

  21. Kathleen Basi

    This is a beautiful post, Jennifer. Although I admit the EMT’s whispered comment makes my jaw drop. What the…. was he thinking????

  22. Valerie

    Thank you for your post. It’s so simply and beautifully put. By the way, since I discovered your blog a few days ago, I can’t stop reading! 🙂 I do one Hail Mary for you each day so that our Lady can carry you and take care of you like an infant in your difficult moments. Happy Birthday!!!!

  23. Francine

    Happy birthday Jen! Thank you for sharing this post with us- this was very inspiring.

  24. Calah

    This is so beautiful. And something I really need to take to heart. Thanks for writing this, even with all you have going on. Know that prayers for you are ongoing!

  25. Lauri

    This is one of your most awesome posts Jen! I’ve been reading your blog for a few years now and put this entry at the top. I find it amazing that you are writing something so profound while running at less than half your normal speed. I will continue praying for your health and that of your baby. Happy Birthday from a much older reader!

  26. Trish

    Happy Birthday, Jennifer! And amen, amen, amen to what you wrote! What a lovely gift you have given to us readers on your birthday. Thank you!

  27. S.Mary Roberta Viano

    So well expressed, Jennifer! Even we religious, who are supposedly all about responding to God’s love for us by helping/serving one another, tend too often to take the other for granted. We criticize and complain about one another instead of enjoying, uplifting, and unconditionally loving one another – often because we’re too focused on our own PLANS!

    Happy Birthday and Happy Minute-by-Minute Loving, Jen!

  28. Kari

    Happy Birthday!! Thank you for taking the time to write this post. I can only imagine the amount of time and energy it took, given your condition.

    I just can’t stand when my well-laid plans are ruined. I can’t even stand it when I don’t get everything done on my To Do list. I am always working on this and trying to give it to the Lord. So this post definitely resonated with me. Thanks especially for one of the final sentences “… if your plans were not love-driven in the first place, then they were the kind of stupid, time-wasting plans that people shake their fists and rue through tears on their deathbeds; and if they were love-driven, then there are no worldly circumstances that could prevent you from executing them, even if the details change a bit.”

    Praying for your recovery.

  29. LR @ Magnificent or Egregious

    Happy Birthday Jennifer. Your posts and insight have always inspired me, and this one is right up there. Take care of yourself.

  30. Jewels

    Thank you for this. You are an inspiration.

    I thank God for you.

    Happy Birthday!

    Much love,

    • Happy

      Happy Birthday, Jen!

  31. Ginny

    Happy Birthday Jen! I just turned 35 and my mom declared me “middle aged” so I guess you’re on the other side of that now 🙂 Your conclusion that yes, it’s all about the human person is dead on. I’ve been reading your blog off and on since 2007 I believe. Yours was called “Et Tu” at the time, and mine the rather lengthy “musings of an ex punk catholic homeschooling mom.” I am struck by the way that as human beings we find ways to connect in even the most unlikely ways, such as reading blogs–people who would be strangers become people we genuinely care about. My children and I have been praying for you daily. We will continue to pray for your recovery. Love, Ginny

  32. Kris

    Yes. <3 Thank you Jen, and happy birthday!

  33. Laura

    Happy Birthday, Jen! That was such a beautiful reflection and something that I definitely needed to hear right now. Thank you so much and God bless you today and always.

  34. Laura

    Happy Birthday!! This is such a beautiful post–a wonderful gift to us all! You will continue in our family prayers.

  35. Joy

    Happy Birthday, Jennifer! Praying for a full and fast recovery, so you can continue sharing such insights. Beautiful post.

  36. Catholic Mutt

    Happy birthday! I love this reflection. I haven’t had anything quite so drastic happen, but I have been having some mild health issues that really impact my planned activities. And it is odd, but it doesn’t matter. God can work through and in us if we’re sick or if we’re healthy. Doesn’t much matter which it is.

  37. Literacy-chic

    Happy birthday, Jen! I turn 36 later this week. It is humbling to see carefully-laid plans fall apart, though I admit that I’m not a planner. My plans are not specific, and tend to be amorphous and long-term–something like, “get education” > “get job that I was educated for” > “improve life for family.” But even that can derail, go on different paths, or inch along quite differently. I have a smaller sphere of what constitutes my care about the human person these days, and yet that’s still a good way to articulate it. I hope that you continue to find peace in your meditations!!

  38. Terri

    Happy Birthday…and BRAVO!!!!!

  39. Peg

    Happy and Blessed Birthday, Jennifer (wanted to call you Jen, but don’t know what you prefer:):)!! Your heartfelt post helped me to reflect in a similar way. Thanks and you are in my thoughts prayers, that’s for sure.

  40. Christopher


    I am glad you are recovering. God bless you and your baby. My father-in-law said something that always stuck with me:
    “Life happens after and despite your plans”

    Happy New Year!

  41. Gibbons

    Best wishes for a joy-filled birthday under less-than-ideal circumstances. Thank you for this gift to your readers. It is an insight worth holding on to and pondering. We must seize the intimacy of the day.

  42. Joan

    Happy Birthday, Jennifer. I was such a blessing yesterday be able to meet you and your girls. I love you posts and you are an inspration to all of us.

  43. Elizabeth Scalia

    Happy Birthday, Jennifer. Great column. I too keep getting hit upside the head with that message of JPII’s too!

  44. mnjsmom

    Beautiful post! Happy birthday!

  45. Abigail Benjamin

    “It’s all about the human person.”

    You know what is so beautiful–You are the human person. You are learning how to feel loved for yourself alone–not for your home schooling ideas, or pinterest inspired home, or brilliant speaking gigs.

    And you are loving that little son inside of you–that no one has met yet.

    It’s so easy for the world to think “why go for number six”, especially with the risk for permanent lung injury is on the line. God’s ways are not our ways.

    Rebecca from “Shoved to Them” wrote about her daughter having a crippling injury and a great healer saying “I could remove this pain but that would be stopping the good that God is doing with it.” And a little girl said “don’t do that.”

    You are horribly injured. Your plans are in disarray. Your kids and your husband are suffering from your disability–but your soul is being healed. You can see a difference.

    This is a hard place–enforced stillness–but it is a holy place, a grace-filled place. Keep going on in Faith. “One tired footstep in front of the other.” Even better things are around the corner for you!

  46. Abigail Benjamin

    Oh have to tease you. When I goggled your condition that first night–info on Heavy D came up. I just laughed. “Figured JEN would have the same obscure condition as the rapper Heavy D,” I thought. Saving the entire rap industry one prayerful breathe at a time, Miss Jen.

  47. Jenna

    Today is my birthday as well!
    Happy Birthday birthday twin!
    Hope you have a wonderful day!

  48. Monica

    Happy Birthday Jennifer! Reading your insightful blog today especially the JPII comment ” it’s all abou the human person” gave me the ah-hah moment. It started me to think about reviewing my family relationships with my adult children and their families, my co-workers and especially those I take care and how I come across with those I meet. Thank you I needed that. God Bless you and continue to keep you, Joe, the kids and both of your parents in His hands.Your blog is like no other. Thank you.

    Happy Birthday!and many more.

  49. Ellen Gable Hrkach

    Happy Birthday, Jen! Beautiful reflection. Continued prayers for you and for your baby boy…

  50. Kelly

    What a beautiful gift you have give us, your readers, on your birthday! Thank you so much for sharing it!
    Blessings and Peace +JMJ+

  51. Scott Alt

    It *is* all about the human person and being ordered toward love. And perfect love casteth out fear. You write beautifully about that. I wouldn’t be too disgusted, though, with the fact that the “first thoughts” that came to your mind were contraband and martinis. Ten years or so ago my father was in the hospital for heart surgery, and just before he was about to be taken in, he spent about five or ten minutes explaining to my mother all the TV shows he wanted her to tape for him and what tapes to put them on and where to find them. She looked at me and my sister and said, “He’s going to be fine.” If he was thinking about such trivia, he’d be fine.

  52. Beth

    Happy birthday! Thanks for sharing the beautiful sentiments. Definitely helps to put my own goals/progress into a new perspective.

  53. Susan

    Happy Birthday!

    I literally just read this after I forced myself to throw out my old journals, telling myself that I should not hang on to all those unfulfilled (human) plans I’ve made over the years. Your post was like an answer from God (not that I’m trying to tempt you into sins of pride!).

  54. Do Not Be Anxious

    My Capricorn day is next week, but my celebration date will be about double yours. Each day exists for a reason; search for it.

    Within the past 72 hours the phrase “memento mori” was brought my way from people who don’t even know me. Since then much has happened which I ponder. And then I stumbled across your site from the few I follow.

    To all things there is a season and a reason. I’ll pray for you and yours at the adoration chapel tonight.

  55. Elena

    Happy Birthday Jennifer! I think your gift has been great wisdom! Some people live to great old age and never get that. So good for you! Prayers and healing thoughts coming your way.

  56. Jenna@CaIllHerHappy

    Happiest of Birthdays, Jen! You’ve struck me again with this one. It something so very simple, but it is easy to forget. For me, this lesson applies to writing and discussing apologetics. Sometimes it is easy to get fired up and forget that there is a human on the other end of the argument/discussion that is in need of love and answers. I need patience in order to fulfill that. I think I’ll pray for more!

    My gift to you on your birthday is more prayers for you and yours, of course, but I will also try to find a way to put this idea into action this week. Thank you!

  57. Erika Ahern

    I’m so glad you’re here for another birthday! This was my favorite line, because it’s so me and my T:

    “Today could be the day the Lord calls me home…but if he doesn’t, good thing I have all these carefully laid out plans and that nothing could possibly go wrong with them!”

    Beautiful reflections…

  58. anna lisa

    Please don’t give into any of the “I’m so old now” thoughts, EVER. I never stop shaking my head at my 20 something kids who are trying hard to learn what it is to be happy. They are still stuck on the martini part of the equation. (Goodness knows a good mixed drink–or two, can make things temporarily awesome…) By the way, I’m nine years, eleven months and about twenty days older than you. I feel so much freer today than a decade ago. I wouldn’t trade for my thirty six year old self or life. I can relate to much of what you said. I was actually relieved when my husband lost his job. We had finally landed in a gorgeous house, and it appeared from the outside that we had it all, or were well on our way. I slammed the door on that house, our stupid plans, and all our worldly possessions, and have never looked back.
    “It’s all about the human person.”
    “Be present to the person in front of you.”–I love this quote from our new pastor, who says he learned in from the holiest man he knew.
    Happy Birthday :)!
    Get well.

  59. Christy

    Happy Birthday Jen!
    I’m sure it feels a little surreal after the last couple weeks, but you’re thoughts are beautiful. I totally get the mourning over lost plans thing. I think I’ve felt that way somewhat over every pregnancy for some strange reason, even though God’s plans always turn out much better than mine I stupidly don’t learn somehow. But I think its really at the crux of a lot of our spiritual issues and a huge step in growth, I’m really happy you’ve gotten there, hopefully one day I will too!

  60. anna lisa

    Oh, and if you want, (looks like you’ve got a little time on your hands)…google the house I slammed the door on: 50 Washington Park ave. Mill Valley. It was the final proof for me that money can’t buy a shred of happiness. It was a cool house but I don’t miss it a bit. I was about to say “I’d rather die” but thought better of it. Oh, and that ER tech. who told you that needs a little slap upside down the head.

  61. Rowena

    Happy birthday! I will think of you along with a few other friends who celebrate their birthdays today as well.
    Our family continues to keep you, your baby, and the rest of your family in our nightly prayers. My husband and I also went to Adoration last Thursday night and offered you up in our prayers before the Lord.
    Thank you for sharing a beautiful post.

  62. eliese

    Happy birthday! It’s mine too (30). I just came back from confession, and this was a nice thing to read as a follow-up. The biggest thing that came up was trust. I will say a prayer for you.

  63. LPatter

    Definitely one of your best. Nailed it – and your insight comes in the midst of a huge trial. Somehow, though, the Holy Spirit does that for me too sometimes – the hardest things actually are easier because what’s really important “floats to the top” so to speak.

    Still praying for you – rest up Jen!

  64. Marianne

    Happy Birthday.

    I have read your blog for years … discovered you when you had only 3 kids.

    I will keep praying for your healing and for strength for your family through this.

    How true, the illusion of control that many of us hold dear.

    Fantastic post. Be well and blessed.

  65. António

    From a follower across the Atlantic. Happy Birthday! Absolutely beautiful and inspiring post. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts… God bless.

  66. Lani

    Happy Birthday! A wonderful reflection, especially for someone who is also 36…

    We are keeping you and our family in our prayers. May your recovery be easier and sooner than expected.

  67. Barbara MacLellan

    Wow what an inspiration you are! Happy Birthday and I keep you in my prayers especially at Adoration several times a week.May God bless you and all your family. Barb

  68. Anne

    A heartfelt happy birthday wish to you!! Such an inspiring piece today. Thank you for sharing it. Praying for you.

  69. richard

    Be assured of my continual prayers for you and your family.

  70. Melissa

    Nice! A Happy, love-filled Birthday to you!

  71. Vivi

    Happy birthday, Jennifer! You’ll be in my prayers. I’ve never left a comment, but I want you to know that I really enjoy your blog. I’m turning 30 later this year. I hope by the time I’m 36 I’ll have your level of faith and devotion to The Lord. This year I’ll settle for figuring out this “mom” business, lol. Our first baby is five months old and is teething-eek!

  72. Jiza @ The Real JZ

    Thank you for the beautiful insight, Jen! Thank you for your witness. I was really encouraged and enlightened by your post today. And happy birthday!

  73. Michelle

    Happy Birthday, Jennifer! Thanks for sharing this reflection.

  74. Kim

    Happy birthday, Jennifer! Thanks for writing just what I needed to read.

  75. Meika

    Jen, happy –

    oh, the IRONY. I was just typing this comment about how glad I was that you mentioned this, about how hyper-focused I am, always, on tasktasktasktasktask, on how I’m going to post this in my office and on my fridge, because YES! it is indeed all about the human person!

    – when my husband dared to ask for my help carrying a heavy piece of furniture in from the garage while I was in the middle of this oh-so-important-commenting-on-a-blog-post TASK. My reflexive response (annoyance, of course) didn’t make it past my lips, but I think I need to work on a GENUINE focus on the human person. Based on the response I got from my husband when I told him that I would be DELIGHTED to help him, because it is all about the human person, this wasn’t quite what he had been conditioned to expect.

    God has SUCH a ridiculous sense of humor. And I am SUCH a dork.

    So, Jen – happy, happy birthday. May this year be filled with wonderful things beyond what you can currently imagine. I’m praying that your health will stabilize and your baby be protected. Blessings to you and your family throughout this year.

  76. MemeGRL

    Happy birthday to you! Wishing you a wonderful year.

  77. Catherine

    Best birthday blessings to you Jen! What a blessing you are! Continuing to pray for you, your baby, and your whole family.

  78. Kay

    Happy Birthday! I’m happy for you. Plus I’m close to 2x your age and FWIW, this is a good age also. Prayers for your full recovery.

  79. Caroline Moreschi

    Wow today is my birthday too! I’ve never commented before, but I must say that I’ve been reading your blog since fall of 2009, and it’s been wonderful to watch your faith grow and develop. I’m not Catholic, but I’ve learned so much about that part of the church and had many misconceptions corrected. This was a great post, and I hope you get to feeling better.

  80. Tammy

    Happy Birthday ! You are welcome to join me on this journey of the unexpected…as you know in Sept I went to sleep a wife and woke up a widow. The plan was streamlined and clear for my husband but left me with a lot of adapting to do. In my work with people in crisis, I have learned that adapting is a higher level of functioning than control.

    As for me, I had all sorts of plans for household improvement today and Im in a stupor having had the deep and profound experience of giving away the beautiful USMC Dress Uniforms that my husband looked so handsome in…ive been at this computer for hours and need to peel myself off of it.

  81. Marie

    Happy, Happy, Happy birthday! As a fellow 1977er – thank you for starting my 36th year off on a great note! This was beautiful, beautiful, beautiful…

    Thank you.

  82. Veronica

    Happiest of Birthday’s Jen, and many more! I believe God has given you the great gift of wisdom at a very young age and has great things in store for you. Thank you for the wonderful gift you have given us on your special day. God Bless you and your whole family! You are in my daily prayers.

    With love,


  83. Kathy

    Happy Birthday, Jennifer. Beautiful post. Our parish prayed for you tonight at Mass.

  84. Jane Hartman

    Happy birthday, darling Jennifer. What an insightful and inspiring piece! Prayers to you and your family continually.

  85. Susan

    Wow, Jennifer, you crystallized a profound message for all of us schedule-worshipers in need of a wake-up call! Thank you for your honesty and bravery and for expending the energy to share your insights. I can only imagine the mental and physical fatigue you are bearing now. A year ago I discovered I had a large thoracic aortic aneurysm and underwent a stent procedure to prevent it from rupturing. While it was very scary , I can truly say I no longer “sweat the small stuff” after my brush with mortality. Strange how these trials can be seen as gifts in the long run… Our family is praying for you every day. Blessings to all of you!!

  86. Concepción

    Happy Birthday, Jennifer. Great post!

  87. Bonnie Doherty

    Happy birthday, Jennifer!
    I keep you and your little one in prayer. I do so look forward to your blogs to hear how you are progressing? I pray for a safe delivery and a full recovery! Blessings in Carmel!

  88. Inge (Ars Vivendi)

    Happy Birthday, Jennifer.

    And thank you for smacking me on the head. I’m exactly like that with my planning!

  89. Tara Sz.

    I had a feeling God was about to pull something freaking awesome out of you after all this. Love it. Thank you.

  90. Theresa

    Thank you so much for sharing your heart! We’ve been praying for you!!

  91. Sharon

    Happy Birthday, Jen, and blessings to you and your family. Thank you for this reflection. It was just what I needed to hear as I put my body and life back together after cancer treatment. I’ve been focused on relationships and serving people, but the pace has NOT been what the world expects, wherein lies the struggle for me. I appreciate how your words have encouraged me and guided me right back toward a way of being in this world where my truest God-given talents can shine while still respecting my current capabilities. Thank you for the insight.

  92. mandamum

    Thanks for this lovely article, Jen! And thanks for always being such a … LOVELY writer. You challenge me to be a better person, give me tools to try to be a better person, but never make me feel you’re pointing out my deficiencies. A gift in the blog world 🙂

    Happy Birthday! I’ve been praying for you, even though I didn’t respond to the earlier posts to let you know. But please know – I pray in gratitude for your presence here touching so many people, and I pray for your health and your family 🙂 You and Joe are quite a light to the world 🙂 and your kids are full of life!

  93. Nolan

    Happy Belated Birthday! I turn 16 today. While not a Catholic, I am a Christian who has been going threw a great period of doubt recently. I found your blog, and love what I have read on it so far. You sound like a person of great faith. Could you please pray for me that I may make it through my doubts?

  94. Carolyn A

    Happy Birthday, Jen! I’m not much of a planner – which probably isn’t so great – but I foolishly expect things to go along swimmingly. And sometimes they don’t. Most of our household has been sick multiple times since just before Christmas, and I have to say, I’m worn out. Mostly just tired out at having been sick myself at 33 weeks pregnant with our fourth and now having some complications – not near as serious as yours. I’ve been offering up all the related discomfort for you and your family, and it’s given me some peace. We’re not alone. One way or another, this too shall pass. And then there will be something else, but as you so wisely point out, it will be the same things that matter beneath it all. God bless!

  95. Amy

    Happy Birthday Jen!

    You and your unborn son have been in my prayers. I especially found your comments about the priest visiting you in the hospital touching. Our 2 sons are priests, one ordained in 2010 and the other this past June. Walking with them on their journey has given me new insights into priest’s lives and made me such a prayer warrior for priests.

    I am glad you have peace right now–it will help you heal. The older I get, the more I pray for His Peace above all things.

    Thank you for all your postings. It is so fun reading them and some of them really make me think. God Bless You and your lovely family.


  96. Kristin

    Happy Birthday, Jennifer! This is such a touching post, especially for introverts like me who have difficulty grasping “people”. This reflection is so appropriate on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord – born to new life, allowing Christ within us to reach out and touch another person through us. Your writing does nothing but that, each and every time. Keeping you in my prayers.

  97. Hayden

    Happy Belated Birthday! And thanks for your reflection!

  98. Andrea

    One day late, but Happy Birthday, Jen! This post is such an awesome reflection, and an inspiring reality check! Thanks!

  99. Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle

    My oldest son is turning 36 tomorrow and referred to his new age as “Twice 18” or “Eighteen twice.” Happy birthday, Jen! Thank God you can write this post and share your reflections. May God continue to heal your body and restore your health as you grow in holiness and your baby thrives within you.
    God bless!

  100. Ismael

    Happy Birthday Jennifer! I am glad you are feeling better 🙂

  101. Laura

    I hope this won’t get me categorized as a troll.
    First, Happy Birthday.
    I’m turning 35 soon, too, and I haven’t lived half the life you have.

    But, um, you make me nervous about “all about the human person.”
    I get what you mean.
    It’s all about love.
    But it’s all about God. Who wants us to love, as perfectly as we can, human persons, His creation. I think that’s what you mean.
    We’re headed toward the Beatific Vision. We learn to love through loving people, and being loved by people, but we should be really careful to remember that creation is pointing to the Creator. Which I know you do. I think we’re at a time where we’re getting more careful about language, because some of the ambiguity of the past allowed too much confusion. I keep sagely telling my husband, “at the end of the day, it’s all about love,” and I guess that’s what you’re saying, too.

    I just felt that as you’re being all contemplative you’d appreciate my thoughts. Or write me off as a meany. I’ll still read your blog, either way.

  102. Monica Benninghoff

    Happy birthday, Jennifer! May God continue to bless you with the fullness of life, and may your children and husband be blessed too, as they pray and cheer you on to the goal of having you home again, to love and to be loved in return.

  103. Kerry Wolf

    Bless you, Jen, and happy birthday! Those are some deep thoughts, girl! But the one that sticks out most in MY mind is the part about the ER tech telling you about the guy who died from a P.E. 15 mins after coming into the ER. What a HORRIBLE thing to say to someone!! That person really should be canned for making such a hideous statement to someone in a medically vulnerable situation like that. For shame on them!

  104. Lee

    Howdy, Jennifer! I know you’re worn out with all you’re going through right now, and you’ve got a ton of comments on here. But I had to add one more to the pile and say, Happy 36th (and Belated) Birthday! Wow, now I really feel old, but we don’t need to go there, no, we don’t! 😉 May the Lord continue to bless you during your time of illness. And may you continue to write your wonderful posts that sometimes make us laugh, sometimes make us cry, and always make us think. Thanks be to God for you, Jennifer Fulwiler. You are a treasure!

    Oh, and my favorite martini is pomegranate. And can I just say that I’m kicking myself for never thinking of sneaking Benadryl into the hospital so you can sleep? Dang, that is sheer genius! 😉

  105. Anthony S. Layne

    Happy birthday, kid! You’re in my prayers.

    Fantastic post! That’s exactly what St. Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 13; it’s been read at so many weddings that we forget he was talking about love of all others — call it agape, call it caritas — love of every person whose life we touch. No need to go to far-off countries to save the world: we begin with loving the people closest to us and work outward from there. Thank you for the reminder … and for allowing us to share what we can of your cross.

  106. jen

    happy birthday!

    your reflection was beautiful.

  107. Laura

    So I re-read and I see you’re now 36, not 35. But after 30 it’s all the same, no?

    You should know I lost some sleep and was distracted at Mass over this. I am desperately trying to find an “It’s” that can make this work, but to no avail (other than, “I’m presenting a paper on ‘the human person.” It’s all about the human person.”
    Life is not about the human person.
    Love is not about the human person.
    Existence, being, purpose, babies, guacamole…. it’s ultimately all about the Divine Persons.
    Human persons are the lowest on the persons totem pole.
    I’m not sure the full context of JPII’s statement. Perhaps it worked there. But I think “it’s all about the human person,” is the error that we’re trying to slog out from these past bunch of decades.


    • Lee

      Hi, Laura. You don’t sound like a troll or a meany at all. But I think it would help maybe if I mention that the truth of the human person is Christ and that what He came to teach us is the Truth, which He also came to give us, which Truth is Himself. So the Pope was talking about this Truth and not about the human person in a narrower, smaller way.

      This is what Pope John Paul II was always talking about, but it’s not the same as when you hear the so-called humanists talk about the human person. And since they talk so much and so loudly about their distorted notion of the human person, it really is necessary to counter their distortions with Christ’s Truth of the human person, which is that we are made in the image of God and though we live in a fallen world, we can receive His Divine Grace in His Church and be made new as children in the family of God and live with Him forever in heaven. When you think of it that way, the truth of the human person isn’t so shabby after all, eh? (Of course, maybe if he had phrased it that way at that moment… Well, perhaps it was verbal shorthand and since he always talked about it, he expected his listener to realize it. Could be.)

      Peace be with you, Laura. God bless.

      Lee 🙂

    • Kristin

      I’m not Catholic (considering Catholicism), and I’d love some more church insight into the teaching, but I interpret her post to mean that the fulness of a human being is *only* realized in Christ. We are broken until we are reconciled with Him. By decreasing ourselves so that He may increase within us, and connecting with another human person, we are allowing ourselves to be His agents, and reach out to another person, so that they too may come to know and love Christ and begin the path of becoming reunited with God. In the end, it really is all about God, and helping humanity become reunited with Him through Christ.

  108. Katie

    Thanks for a beautiful and inspiring post. I’m not Catholic, or very much Christian at all, and I have to say that it is very refreshing to read something so inspiring from this corner. You mentioned that you live in a “parish” and I can only assume that you live in Louisiana. There are so many folks in this state who seem (to me) to use their religion as an excuse for bigotry and judgment. I’m sorry to say that when I first heard of your blog, I applied my own judgmental thoughts on you, “atheist to Catholic – she must’ve taken the blue pill.” But, your perspective and the point that it’s “about the human person,” is something that I will take with me throughout my day, week, and year. In a way, I find this thought, really a mantra, to be a huge comfort in times of distress, anxiety, fear. . .etc. So, thank you for all that you do. Thank you for this message.

  109. James

    Happy Birthday Jennifer!

  110. Gina

    “. . . was mildly disgusted with myself that the first thing that came to mind was a list of tips about how to sneak contraband into the hospital that you’re technically not supposed to have. ”

    But Jen, that’s why we love you! 🙂

    Happy birthday! And thanks for your always-amazing, always-inspiring insights.

  111. Tricia

    Happy Birthday! And praying for your recovery!

  112. Christina

    Happy Birthday! Just read this after a link from one of my college friends blog. I loved your last line, very inspiring. I will be praying for you, I am pregnant with baby #6, am taking Lovenox prophylactically and had a scare in the ER last week after a fainting episode in the shower, hitting my head. etc. Please keep us in your prayers. We live outside Fort Worth, and knew you had to be from somewhere in TX too when I read your profile about scorpions, we have them too!

  113. Kimberly

    A happy and belated birthday, dear Jennifer! You remain in our thoughts and prayers…I’m awed by your prayerful witness and the peace and joy that radiates from your words. May God bless you…keep you well…and bring you safely through this journey towards welcoming your little one!

  114. Natalie Trust

    “I’ve come to see the radically freeing truth that our plans only matter to the extent that they’re ordered toward deeper intimacy with individual people.” What a beautiful piece of truth this is. Thank you.

  115. Christine Dalessio

    So glad you’re getting what you need, and hopefully getting better very quickly.
    And.. I NEED that BUBBLE!!! Love it, love it, love it 🙂

    • Christine Dalessio

      I meant to comment of 7 QT – not sure what happened.
      So – HAPPY Birthday!

  116. Kate

    Happy Birthday Jennifer, I have been by your blog before and find myself here again … only to discover we were born on the same day! I was 36 too on the 12th! Happy Birthday, and may God bless your year! Kate.

  117. alicia

    Jen, your birthday is January 12? So is mine! I turned 58, though…Being pregnant on a birthday is something I have only done once, in 1976. Otherwise, I did get pregnant twice on my birthday. I’ve been praying about your thrombophilia and the subsequent clots. I recently learned that I have Factor 5 Leyden as does my mom (who got her first clots when 21 and pregnant) but I was spared the clots during my pregnancies. I’m hoping that you will make a full recovery and that your baby will be healthy, happy, and full term. alicia (I used to blog at fructus ventris)

  118. Christie

    Happy birthday, Jen, and rest assured that you are connecting with people from this blog, every day. It makes my life richer.

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