To all of the Cathedral Builders

A friend sent this to me earlier today. I’ve not seen it before, though I’m sure some of you have since I got it through e-mail as it made its rounds. If you’ve not read it, take the time to do so now. There were a couple of things that I highlighted that really hit home with me. I think this little essay explains a lot. I also think that though I’m really glad I have read it now, it would have been good for me to read it long ago. . .when two were in diapers and couldn’t tie their shoes. It’s still good for me to read–to remember–especially since I’m on the cusp of becoming much more invisible than I already am as my kids approach adolescence. Pass it on to moms you know could use some encouragement.

Invisible Moms

I’m invisible.

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I’m thinking, “Can’t you see I’m on the phone?”
Obviously not. No one can see if I am on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all.

I’m invisible.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock to ask, “What time is it?” I’m a satellite guide to answer, “What number is the Disney Channel?” I’m a car to order, “Right around 5:30, please.” I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude–but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again.

She’s going–she’s going–she’s gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in.

I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could find that was clean. My unwashed hair was pulled up in a banana clip and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut butter in it. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, “I brought you this.”

It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn’t exactly sure why she’d given it to me until I read her inscription: “To Charlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.”

In the days ahead I would read–no, devour–the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work:
* No one can say who built the great cathedrals–we have no record of their names.
*These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished.
*They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.
*The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, “Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam thatwill be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it.” And the workman replied, “Because God sees.”

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, “I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake you’ve baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can’t see right now what it will become.”

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride. I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, “My mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.” That would mean I’d built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend to add, “You’re going to love it there.”

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

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6 thoughts on “To all of the Cathedral Builders

  1. Great job in Bible Class. You are my hero. You are the only person I know who can get kindergarteners to sit in a spinny chair without spinning.

  2. Thanks so much for this post. I choose to believe that these thoughts apply to a whole lot of human endeavor.
    Like being a church leader. Those of us who are entrusted with a flock are forced to swallow a lot from those who don’t understand our responsibilities, but we are doing our very best to lead and develop them. Unfortunately, some of our decisions can only be judged with the perspective of years later. In the meantime, we are called everything but nice.
    I’ve somehow lost your email address. Please send it so I can update you on dad.

  3. They didn’t spin???
    [chants] We’re not worthy!
    You are officially my hero if you actually got all the way through that class without spinning. Talk about cathedrals. Dude.

  4. No, they did not spin. I told them that if all they did during class was swish ever so slightly and only when they HAD to, that at the end of class I would give them all “rides.” They were marvelous (there were only 7), so the last five minutes, I pulled a chair out and then spun them silly both ways. It was a pure case of unadulterated bribery, but they loved it.

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