A whole salted caramel mocha later, and my neck and shoulders were still stiff, having become increasingly rigid as the day at home with the little ones unfolded ever so slowly. The crease, too, between my eyebrows was still very deep, I knew, because it had actually managed to pull my mouth into a small, puckered frown. I looked very much like how I felt—slowly curling up on myself, a grumpy troll in the corner of Starbucks.
I hardly felt qualified to begin a several-week reflection on the life of Blessed Zelie Martin, mother of St. Therese, and yet, here I was. With some much-needed humility, I opened The Mother of the Little Flower by Celine Martin, TAN Books, and re-read the first section on Zelie’s youth in which Celine helpfully details her mother’s origins and highlights some of her mother’s many attributes.
Zelie Martin was born on December 23, 1831 near Alencon, France and was baptised the following day as Marie Azelia. According to Celine, Zelie’s mother was “a woman of strong faith, but rather too austere”, noting that Zelie’s mother never let her have even the smallest of dolls, though Zelie would’ve given anything for one. This sometimes harsh treatment from her mother, as well as having suffered from frequent headaches, made for a “painful” childhood, which the sensitive Zelie described as having been “as sad as a winding-sheet”.
Wait, what’s a winding sheet, I thought. I checked with Dictionary.com “A sheet in which a corpse is wrapped for burial; a shroud”. Oh, sad. I thought about the day and how stern I had been with the little guys, growing increasingly so as I tried to get them to be more obedient and loving. How crazy. Are my kids going to think that about me? I felt my eyebrow crease—still there. I decided it was a definite possibility, and yet, I was heartened by how well Zelie turned out and was encouraged to keep reading.
Zelie and her sister, who later became a Visitation nun, were day students at a boarding school taught by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Picpus. Here, Zelie developed a “tender and solid piety”, and like her sister, desired to dedicate herself to God. Dissuaded from joining the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul in Alencon, perhaps due to poor health, Zelie made the following request of God: “My God, since I am not worthy to be Your Spouse like my sister, I shall enter the married state to accomplish Your holy will. I beg You then, let me have many children, and may they all be consecrated to You, my God.”
Zelie later “begged” Our Lady to show her how she could provide for her future family’s material needs, and she felt a voice distinctly say, “Undertake the making of Point d’Alencon lace.” After attending a lace-making course, Zelie started her own lace-making business just two years later. Her sharp intellect and “extraordinary” energy lent itself to quick success in the field, even prompting an influential lady of the town to offer to bring her to Paris, perhaps to help her find a wealthy husband, but Zelie declined. Celine writes, “She used to tell of the incident smilingly; the world had absolutely no attraction for her.” The good Lord, though, would soon show her His plan for her.
One day as she was crossing a bridge in Alencon, Zelie heard a voice similar to the one that had prompted her to begin her lace work. As she passed a young man on the bridge, she heard, “This is he whom I have prepared for you.”
On July 13, 1858, Louis Martin, 36, son of a retired army captain and new owner of a jewelry and watchmaking store, married Zelie, almost 27 at the time. Zelie moved into Louis’s house at rue Pont Neuf in Alencon, and there they began their happy life together.
I put down the book and tilted my Starbucks cup, most disappointed to find it still empty. I sighed, settled back into the leather chair, my neck and shoulders finally loosening up, and held the small book in my lap. My new friend looked out at me from the cover in her wise and lovely way. I smiled back and knew that this was the start of a beautiful friendship. I knew with her help and God’s grace I could become a better mom and less troll-like. I prayed for her and Therese’s help to do so much better tomorrow, for Christ to heal what I had harmed and give me the grace to truly go after sanctity as Zelie had. And I looked forward to the day when, God-willing, Zelie and I could meet in person for coffee and talk about our kids.
I stood up, threw my cup away, and left with a purposeful stride. I was ready for holiness and had my eye on the prize: heaven for my kids and a salted caramel mocha with Zelie.