Friday, December 23, 2011

Seven Quick Takes Friday

1. I love this season. I love the decorations, the food, the gift-giving, the songs, the traditions and most of all, the joy of celebrating our Lord's birth! I am grateful every day for the fact that I'm healthy this year, and can enjoy the season to the fullest. I have been baking, decorating the house, shopping and wrapping, and we are 100% ready for Christmas day. I even have everything I need to make our Christmas dinner, woo hoo!

2. We made a gingerbread house the other day, and gingerbread men with the leftover dough, and I am having to stop myself from ducking into the kitchen every three minutes to eat another one, they are that good. I used coconut oil instead of the prescribed Crisco, because ew! Crisco! and they are soft with just the right amount of chewiness. I am definitely going to add this to our Christmas holiday traditions.

3. One of my favorite things to do to celebrate the holiday is watch White Christmas. I just love that movie; it's so campy and sappy and perfect. I love the whole 50's look, with the skirts and heels and red lipstick, hair perfect in every shot, the girls wearing makeup to bed and everything. It's a sweet little fantasy, a romance with a "misunderstanding" to make things interesting, a musical with kickin' dancing, and it's all for the troops, to boot. We also watch every version of "A Christmas Carol" that we can get our hands on, including the Muppets and the 1936 version, which is my son's and father-in-law's favorite.

4. I am keeping those less fortunate in mind this season, as well. For a few years now we've been setting aside $50 a month for use at Christmastime, and it makes it possible for me to get presents for a family through our Church giving tree. I can't even express the joy I get from being able to do that. I think I may have gone a bit overboard this year, but I have decided I'm just going to be generous and trust that God will find a way to cover it.

5. Christmas is a bit of a difficult time for my husband's side of the family. My FIL's dad died around Christmas, and his mom lost a baby at 41 weeks around this time, too. There was always a kind of sadness and sense of loss attached to the holiday. I know that for many people, this season does bring back hard memories, and it's hard to find joy sometimes. So I try to keep that in mind, and pray for those going through difficulties.

6. Having my kids at home all day is a mixed bag. On the one hand, I love watching them interact with each other and getting to share their enthusiasm for the holiday. We've done a few fun projects (like the gingerbread house) which we just don't have time for usually. On the other hand, it's hard to be without the relief of school so at least I can get a handle on the cleaning and cooking, plus when things go bad, there are more people to escalate the situation.

7. We received a HUGE snowfall yesterday (between 10 and 27 inches in various areas) and it reminded me of that old Chinese story about good fortune and bad fortune. We got lovely snow at Christmas! YAY! Except that my car got stuck in it. Boo! Then the neighbors came and pushed me out! YAY! And then it got stuck again. Boo! But we were close enough to walk home. YAY! But then I couldn't get a meal to a friend with a new baby like I had promised. Boo. But that meant I didn't have to cook dinner for us. YAY! Except we were trapped at home all day. Boo! So the kids built a snow tunnel and played outside. YAY! Which meant they tracked mud and snow all inside. Boo. So I used the opportunity to clean my kitchen floor. YAY! I could go on in this vein for some time but you get the idea. I just thought to myself: God makes all things good for those who love Him. Gotta roll with it, right?

Merry Christmas to one and all!

See Jen's blog for more Quick Takes.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Taking a Leap

It's pretty clear to me what I am being called to do. This post, and this one, and this one, and the first comment on this one all point to the same conclusion: Stop trying to do it all yourself and just give it to God.

And these are all posts within the last week or so.

When I began this blog, I wanted to highlight the ways we, as blessed inhabitants of a wealthy and prosperous nation, can live our lives in solidarity with the poor. My path was waylaid immediately by what I thought at the time was an obstacle: my husband's opposition to giving to charity. So I changed my focus and dedicated myself to budgeting and saving, non-monetary giving, and prayer.

It's not at all that I think I made the wrong choice or anything, but I think I had the wrong attitude about it. I thought at the time, "I'll just do all these things in obedience to what God is calling me to do, and He will change my husband's heart so we'll be able to give to charity." I also thought, "God will help me save money so we will be in a good financial position and have extra to give to the poor."

Um. So. That totally hasn't happened. At all. The irony is, we are in excellent financial position. We have paid off all our debt and saved three to four months worth of salary for emergency spending. My husband has gotten a raise. We've made improvements on our house that actually saved us money in the long run (winterizing, etc.)

But we don't seem to have any money for the poor. My husband had suggested that any money left over in the monthly budget could be split 50/50 between savings and charity. Not only have we not had any money left over for the last year, but we have been overspending our monthly budget by hundreds and hundreds of dollars. In fact, just from overspending, we've gone back into debt.

My husband is dumbfounded. "How is this happening?" he asked me the other night. "We used to be able to get by with less! We have more money than we ever have and we're spending more!"

I didn't have an answer for him, but in praying about it (and reading blogs that coincidentally all say the same things) it seems pretty obvious to me what the problem is. We're not giving God His money. The whole idea of budgeting and scrimping so we can save some "extra" for the poor has the entire thing backwards. We should be giving freely to the poor, and trusting in God to provide for us, as He did when we gave $100 to the IRC instead of buying groceries.

I am petrified. And completely at a loss. This whole trusting God thing is exceedingly difficult for me, and I am very, very worried about how it might affect my marriage. Can I be completely honest? It's not even that I worry about our financial situation, or making my husband mad. My real fear, the deepest, most central fear that's stopping me from taking a leap of faith, is that it won't work, and it will be just one more reason for my husband not to believe in God.

What if we do this, if we give to God and then He doesn't provide? I've seen friends who attempted great things for God fail utterly and completely (in the eyes of the world.) It didn't rock their faith, they were never in a situation where they had no food or no home, and I think it led them to a better place, but as far as my husband is concerned, they listened to a voice that wasn't there and completely ruined their finances. I don't want to fall into a prosperity gospel trap here and move forward recklessly, expecting that strangers are going to drop checks on our porch to pay my kids' tuition. But if my husband and I are not on the same page when it comes to tithing, we might not hear the same message, and what to me is a sacrifice for the greater good might to my husband be a failure or an untenable compromise.

And of course, I care more about what God wants me to do than what my husband may or may not think, but it doesn't seem right to me that I am forced to choose. It doesn't seem to me that God would ask something of me that would harm my marriage.

Which leads me to think that He is in control of this, and that good will come of it.

But I'm still petrified. And I don't know how to start.

Picture credit: Movie still from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, brain child of the illustrious Mr. George Lucas (George Lucas & Jeffrey Boam, Paramount Pictures, Lucasfilm, May 24, 1989.)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday (Procrastinator's Edition)

1. I left the house yesterday morning at 8:25 and didn't return until 4, then had to accompany my daughter to a Halloween party which began at 6, so I feel I have some excuse for not getting this quick takes out yesterday. (Of course, one might have written it on Thursday were one truly committed to getting it out on time...)

2. I don't know why I can never find the camera when the cutest moments are happening. Last night my daughter wanted to go to the party as Ursula the Sea Witch, so I stuffed two pairs of silver dotted black tights with pantyhose and pinned them to her black skirt/leggings so they looked like tentacles, spread purple eyeshadow all over her face, and put on some red lipstick. The baby, in her borrowed frog costume, couldn't have been cuter. And I went to the effort of doing up my eyes for an Egyptian Queen costume I've had since college...and we could not find the camera for our lives. And then this morning I located it in my purse, where I'm sure I checked last night. Darnit.

3. My son wants to be Lion-O from the Thundercats. I loved the Thundercats as a kid and have been sharing his excitement about the reboot on Cartoon Network. Unfortunately, they don't make Lion-O costumes that you can buy. So since I am a pie-in-the-sky dreamer with an inflated sense of my abilities, a perfectionist, and a procrastinator, I am only about 25% done with the handsewn Lion-O costume I promised to make him for Halloween...which is on Monday.

4. I, um, won't be doing much for the next two days except trying to figure out how to sew a Lion-O costume.

5. I am getting raw milk for the first time on Monday! I am so excited about this. For those who may not know, raw milk is unpasteurized so it contains all the beneficial enzymes that conventional milk does not. I've found a great local source, thanks to Dyno-Mom, with milk from grass fed cows delivered to my area weekly. My daughter is lactose intolerant with constipation and stomachaches, and we have denied her milk for the past 8 months with varying degrees of success. I am so excited that she may do well on raw milk and we can add this important food back into her diet.

6. Every year at Halloween, I go out and buy two big bags of candy (I go for our favorites: Milky Way/3 Musketeers/Snickers combo bag and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups) and every year we get around 10 Trick-or-Treaters, leaving us with 2 lbs of temptation. My kids go out and get tons more, enough to fill up the big black cauldron I have for the purpose, and then spend the next two months begging for candy and throwing tantrums when I remind them it's one piece a day after dinner. So this year, I only bought 16 pieces of candy (2 8-packs at the dollar store.) When my kids bring candy into the house (they've already gotten about 15 pieces from trick or treating at the Halloween party last night, getting "booed" by friendly neighbors, and earning treats at school for good behavior) I'm going to bundle it all together and pass it out to whomever comes to our door. I'm kind of hoping that by not buying very much candy this year, we'll not be left with an insane amount at the end of the holiday. Ideally, I could let the kids gorge for a couple nights and it'll be gone and out of my life. Isn't that the way it's meant to be? I sure as heck don't remember Halloween candy lingering through Thanksgiving!

7. I'm trying not to grocery shop until Tuesday and we're running pretty low on stuff. Anyone have good recipes involving carrots, rice, cannellini beans and frozen fish filets to share?

More Quick Takes at Conversion Diary!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Checking In

I'm still here, just not posting much. I've been such a bad blogger of late. Mostly it's because I'm trying to get a handle on my real life. I found the camera, so I can show you!

This was the parlor with bins from the storeroom in the midst of being organized.

And here are the 5 big garbage bags of clothes donated to Catholic Charities, woo!

I still need to get the study taken care of as it's a huge disaster. I can't even vacuum in here. Baby is adorable and fun, older kids are wonderful though challenging in unique ways. Everything is busy and blessed.

I was thinking yesterday about my efforts to Take the Poor With Me and how limited my success has been because I'm so focused on my family and my home. In some ways, that's not a bad thing. I know my primary vocation is as a wife and mother and God calls me to focus my energies there for a reason. Also, I need to get a handle on our family spending; it blew way out of proportion while I was sick and we still haven't gotten ourselves back on track. Part of that is the vacation we took into the mountains last month, but a large part is also that I'm not taking the time to sit down in front of my spreadsheet. I need to find that time and break it all down or our money gets away from us like a herd of fleeing wildebeests.

However, it is a problem for this blog because instead of reading books and articles about the plight of the poor, I am reading books about food allergies and de-cluttering. Instead of giving money, I am volunteering my time, which gives me even less opportunity for research. Instead of blogging, I am cleaning and cooking.

I have been successful in my prayer life. Anna posted a while back about the power of her daily Rosary, and I've been inspired to dedicate a decade each time I pray. The immediate benefit is that it has brought me a huge amount of peace. Mostly I am praying for the future (my children's chastity, their vocations, our adoption, my husband's conversion) and knowing that I am able to do something NOW about these hugely important issues is very comforting.

I've also been praying for those who suffer. It's so hard for me to calm my spirit when I am troubled by the state of the world. Even something like watching a few minutes of Fiddler on the Roof while the baby is nursing will torment my heart for days. If I can do nothing else for the poor of this world, I can pray for them. I say a Trinity Prayer (Our Father Hail Mary Glory Be) while I wash dishes or fold laundry, offer up my aches and pains, and ask God to bless others when I thank Him for my blessings (like a clean glass of water or my bed.)

I don't know if I will have future insights on this topic. It hasn't stopped being near and dear to my heart, even if I have shifted my focus to my immediate family for the time-being. I am trying, as much as I can, to think of the poor while I am taking care of my family and being active in my community. I am trying to remember that caring for my children is caring for Christ. For now, that's all I am able to do. I hope soon God will show me a way to do more.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Seven Quick Takes Friday

1. I'm back home after my annual trip to northern Michigan. Every year, I compare coming home to re-entry from a space flight: it's fast, rough, and shakes me right down to my cells. Every year I think, "How do I do this all by myself?" and I have a few days of panic. Then I get used to the mess, clutter and craziness and it becomes routine.

2. Dan got me 4 hours with a professional organizer to help me get a handle on the kids toys, storeroom and study. Those who are not married to a practical person might think he was making some kind of statement about my pathetic inability to handle my own house. Actually, he is throwing me a lifeline. When he told me over the phone that he was going to do this, and was this something I would like? I responded YES!! before he even finished the sentence. Solving problems is his love language, so this is the equivalent of diamond earrings from my man.

3. The organizer did not faint, laugh or run screaming when she saw my house. That proved to me she was a true professional! She gave me so many helpful ideas. Nothing earth-shattering, but stuff I wasn't thinking of, like that if I put up some shelves in the playroom, I could keep my 5 year olds toys in separate bins that could be taken down one at a time and played with, instead of having everything in one big bin that then gets dumped on the ground and never picked up. Or that I could move some of the junk cluttering up my bookshelves in the study into the basement closet, which was mostly empty.

4. Of course, sometimes to make things better they have to first get worse, and now my front room is full of bins, clothes piles and bags of stuff to be donated. Here's a picture:

5. I went to take a picture and the camera battery is dead and I can't find the charger in the mess. I'm just going to have to let it go for now and trust that true organization is waiting for me on the other end of this project!

6. Did I mention that she came two weeks ago? I have been trying to do a little every day, but I also have to do my regular job like cook dinner and do laundry, plus I want to do things with the kids, like take trips to the pool while the days are still warm, and of course I'm stopping every hour or so to nurse, change or rock a precious baby, so my progress has been minimal. Maybe I should have had her come after the kids started school...

7. We're heading into the mountains this weekend for our first every family camping trip! Because I am not completely crazy, I rented us a cabin at the Y campgrounds. They have guided outings, a craft lodge, two restaurants and tons of activities for all ages. We're all super excited about it (well, not the baby, but she'll look back on pictures and be happy that she was there from a very young age.) Oh, I guess if I want to take pictures I need to find that battery charger and get it going. Okay, that's all the time we have for today, folks!

Check out Jen's site for more Quick Takes!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Archbishop on the Move

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has announced today that Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Archbishop Chaput to their diocese as a replacement for Cardinal Rigali.

My primal reaction is, "HEY!!! That's MY shepherd!"

Which is, of course, completely uncharitable and unproductive. Still, I can't help but feel sadness at the departure of this wise and inspiring man, who has done so much to guide my faith. I truly admire the spirit he has infused into the Church in Denver.

John Allen has a great interview with him up on the NCR site. I particularly like his description of himself as not conservative, but rather faithful to the traditions of the Church while creative in applying them to modern life. Here's what he has to say about personal prayer:

What about your role as a spiritual leader for the archdiocese? Is there any particular devotion or practice of prayer, for example, that you want to promote?
I'm firmly convinced by a lifetime of being in the church that the traditional practices of the church are the ones we need to follow, and if we follow them, we really will be able to engage in all these issues in an appropriate way. The first thing is regular prayer, and for priests that means the divine office and the daily celebration of the Mass. Beyond that, we should embrace the sacramental life, which means personal confession as well as encouraging others to enter the sacrament of confession. There's also fasting … Jesus tells us that 'some devils can't be driven out without fasting.' We need to find time for spiritual reading, especially the reading of the scriptures. I don't think adding new devotions to the traditional practices of the church is necessary, and sometimes it's confusing and end up sapping away time.
Many people find praying the rosary daily to be a very important thing. Certainly devotion to the Blessed Mother is an intrinsically necessary part of Catholic life, because Mary is the mother of the church and our mother personally. Christ gave us Mary as our mother, and we should take that seriously. If we believe these things and faithfully apply them to our lives, we'll work our way through this.
I think devotion to the saints is also an important part of this. As a bishop, I have a huge devotion to St. Augustine and to St. Charles Borromeo. I've been blessed to have Charles Borromeo as my personal patron. His feast day is my name day. I really do depend on them a lot in the Communion of Saints. Also, St. Francis is in some sense the foundation of my spirituality.

Sigh. Denver's going to miss him so much! No word on his replacement, as far as I know. I hope Philadelphia realizes how lucky they are!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Brain Drain

A really interesting article on brain function appeared in the Atlantic recently. The author intends mainly to show that criminals may not be as culpable as we consider them to be, but his arguments can easily be applied to the poor as well.

Among other things, he writes:

Genes are part of the story, but they’re not the whole story. We are likewise influenced by the environments in which we grow up. Substance abuse by a mother during pregnancy, maternal stress, and low birth weight all can influence how a baby will turn out as an adult. As a child grows, neglect, physical abuse, and head injury can impede mental development, as can the physical environment. (For example, the major public-health movement to eliminate lead-based paint grew out of an understanding that ingesting lead can cause brain damage, making children less intelligent and, in some cases, more impulsive and aggressive.) And every experience throughout our lives can modify genetic expression—activating certain genes or switching others off—which in turn can inaugurate new behaviors. In this way, genes and environments intertwine.

How many of us are guilty of uncharitable thoughts about our charitable giving? Do we give freely of our time and treasure, with love for those we serve, or do we feel in our heart of hearts that they aren't truly deserving because of their attitudes or choices? If someone is struggling with an addiction, are we less inclined to help them? What about someone who is fired from job after job for being late or insubordinate? What about the attitudes that are shaped by a lifetime of poverty: the hopelessness, the resentment, the depression and apathy?

Having struggled briefly with depression myself, I have a whole new understanding and compassion for others in that situation. It took every bit of strength I had to cart the kids from activity to activity. Sometimes I would sob while driving (very dangerous.) I functioned like an automaton, cooking dinner, putting it on the table, and eating it in silence. My relationships suffered, I lost all my creativity, and everything felt as if it took so much more effort than it was worth.

The scariest part was the feeling that I had completely lost control of who I was. I didn't WANT to scream at my children over every little thing. Yet I watched myself do things I didn't want to do, and had no power to stop.

If you can, imagine growing up in an environment that alters your very brain chemistry. Physical or sexual abuse, maternal drug use, mineral deficiencies, and lack of access to health care can shape behavior by altering the normal pathways in the brain. This can make people more aggressive or impulsive, impair their reasoning, or increase the likelihood that they will commit a crime or use drugs.

It would be nice if we were all dealt a fair hand, but that simply isn't the case. The fact is that those in impoverished areas have to work twice twice as hard (if not more) to achieve success as those of us born to privilege, and there is less margin for error. In many cases the problems we encounter (abuse, illness, mental disorders, job loss, natural disasters,) or the bad choices that we make, cause only temporary setbacks in our lives. We have a network that assists us in recovering. The poor not only encounter more problems (due to both environmental and physical factors) but have less ability to recover and less assistance, too.

This doesn't mean that we should write off bad choices or give blindly without considering how the money is being used. Whether someone steals because of dysfunctional brain chemistry or lack of education or desperation, stealing is still wrong. As a society, we can't tolerate behavior that harms our framework of individual rights. However, I feel strongly that our approach should reflect an understanding of the root causes and address them appropriately.

Tying food or housing assistance to behavior compliance doesn't help someone when their problem is physical. The more I work with at-risk populations, the more I have come to believe that access to heath care is the primary need, and that housing and food assistance will be less necessary if populations are healed from addictions and mental disorders. One of the many reasons I like Catholic Charities is that they have a comprehensive program to help people spiritually, physically and emotionally.

I have always wondered how those in prison ministry are able to love those who are unlovable. Perhaps they understand intuitively what science is just beginning to grasp: that people are more than their choices, more than their circumstances or desires. God, who sees into the heart of each person, loves each of us with an abiding and consuming love -- enough to die for us. That sort of love is a hallmark of Christian faith, and something that I hope to cultivate in my own life much more deeply through compassion and forgiveness, especially of those who I don't believe deserve it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Busy and Blessed

I really thought I would post more once the baby came, but now I'm so busy getting back into my routine that I hardly sit down at the computer anymore. My evenings are mostly dedicated to nursing de bebe and trying to keep the house somewhat habitable, while my mornings are much shortened now that I can go to Daily Mass again (YAY), plus the kids have morning activities two days a week. So I'm always on the go and blogging is pretty much one of the last things I have time for. Still, it's nice to be back in my life again!

Also, I have nothing very inspiring to say. I really don't know what God is trying to tell me with this anxiety. It doesn't matter how much I tell myself that there's nothing I can do by worrying about it, and that no matter what, I know God will be with me. I still am just constantly terrified that something bad is going to happen. Mostly I'm concerned about the baby; she's only 2 months old and still at risk for all sorts of random things like SIDS, meningitis, pneumococcal fever, etc.

The irony is that she is the healthiest, easiest baby ever. She sleeps well, eats well, poops well and is growing by leaps and bounds. She's smiley and content when awake and enjoys being on her own on her activity mat or in her stroller. She has sometimes put herself to sleep just by cooing, without any rocking or feeding or singing on my part. She charms everyone wherever I take her and I've had more than one person marvel that she's so perfect, she almost looks more like a doll than a live baby.

And yet I am constantly concerned about every hiccup and sniffle. Much more than is normal or necessary. I've talked with my husband about whether I need to get on medication for this, but as long as I'm able to function I don't think it's worth it. Most anti-anxiety meds enter the breastmilk, and though the studies show that the large majority of babies aren't affected by it, it seems sort of ironic that in order to alleviate my deep concerns about the baby's health, I have to do something that might compromise...the baby's health. Also, given my history, the chances are that I'll get every single last side effect possible. I'm functioning well and not having any violent thoughts of any kind. I'm just really scared all the time.

And I feel like such an idiot about it. I have been blessed to an extent most people in this world never experience. What am I concerned about? That some strife might enter my perfect, charmed little life? At the doctor's office the other day I read an article in National Geographic about Child Brides in India that broke my heart. The worst thing that could possibly happen in my life wouldn't even begin to approach being married off against my will at age 11. Even if my daughter were kidnapped like Elizabeth Smart, at least in this country I would have the police looking for her, and there would always be the hope of her return. In many countries around the world, girls and women are abused their whole lives and it's a complete non-issue.

I don't even want to ask for prayers because it's SO stupid. I personally know people who have suffered real tragedies, or who have actual mental illnesses that need medication. Better to pray for them than for me. I've been offering it up for friends who are going through infertility, and for those without medical care. In poor countries, child mortality is twenty times higher than in wealthy countries.

The unexpected positive of being so anxious is that I am truly treasuring each moment with my baby. I don't mind anything I need to do to take care of her, even diapers or waking up in the middle of the night or holding her for hours and hours because she doesn't want to be put down. If the worst does happen, I will know that I loved and rejoiced in her every minute of her life. That in itself is a beautiful gift God has given me to sustain me through this time.

Luckily, I am much too busy to dwell on it. But I thought I'd post simply because it is one of the foremost things on my mind. I'm looking for any good book recommendations on trust or managing anxiety, if anyone has them!

In the meantime, I am trusting that whatever comes, God will be with me. And I am thanking Him for all my wonderful blessings. Praise God with heart and soul and voice!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

God is good

One of the things I've always loved about nursing an infant is how much time it gives me to read. I think holding a fuzzy-headed baby in my arms while immersed in a good book might just be one of the most pleasurable experiences this world has to offer!

My Lenten sacrifice this year was fiction (TV and books,) and it's bearing some wonderful fruit. I am reading "Calm My Anxious Heart" by Linda Dillow, on the advice of a friend, and finding it extremely insightful. She speaks on the idea of contentment as accepting and working with God's plan for one's life. In this context, she brings up the fact that God is good, and so His plan for us, by definition, is also good.

Which got me thinking about "good" and how we define it. I think we most often use "good" to describe anything that fits with what we personally want for ourselves and our lives. Children are "good" when they do as we ask them to do. Someone has "the good life" if they have money, leisure time, and material things. We even describe food as good when it contains high amounts of fat or sugar, which we enjoy far more than food that is actually good (usually we refer to that kind as "healthy.")

But good, as the Bible defines it, has a very different meaning. It is beautiful and simple, yet profound: God is good. Good is God. Those things which draw us to God are good. Those things God has done or made are good. Goodness and God are one and the same.

I know for many people, the existence of suffering in the world is a barrier to faith. If God is all-powerful, why does He allow bad things to happen? Although I feel very deeply the plight of those who are poor, either in material goods, in spirit, in health or in freedom, I have never blamed God or felt disappointed in His lack of intervention for two main reasons: 1. It's mostly people who cause suffering, either to themselves or to others. and 2. Everything God does is good, thus suffering must also be good.

Part of the reason I love being a Catholic is the Church's position on suffering. It is not meaningless. It it not punishment. It is an opportunity to manifest the love of Christ to the world. When something like the tsunami in Japan occurs, it is an opportunity for the world to show love to Japan. God does not desire pain and suffering, but this world that He created contains those things. It contains disease, death, tectonic plates that shift around, wild animals, destructive weather patterns...all these things are GOOD because they are part of the world God created. Plate tectonics are a result of the transfer of energy from within the Earth. We are the only planet yet discovered that supports life -- surely the abundance of life here depends upon all components of physics, geology, astronomy, and other sciences existing in the balance that God created for them.

Here's where my problem comes in. I can intellectually understand the purpose of "bad things" in this world. I can theologically support the notion of redemptive suffering and spiritual growth that comes from accepting God's will, no matter what it might be.

But I'm afraid of suffering and pain. I don't want it. My response to God's call is something like, "Lord, I love you and I will do whatever you ask of long as it doesn't involve profound suffering. I'll take a little suffering, but not anything big, OK?"

I'm ashamed to admit this. I see it as one of the biggest obstacles to my spiritual growth. I've been trying to resolve my anxieties and lack of trust for years now, but I don't seem to be much closer to the goal of abandonment I've set myself. I shouldn't fear the future. After all,
"We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

I think part of the problem is that my life is so easy, suffering seems preventable and unnecessary. It's somewhat counter intuitive, but the closer you are to suffering, the easier it is to accept. When I first discovered I was pregnant last July, I spent three weeks in a constant state of dread and anxiety, wondering if my nausea would be as bad as it had been with my second. Once it became clear that I would be throwing up several times a day, I sort of just accepted it and prepared for the long haul. It wasn't easy, by any means. But the only way out is through. In the same way, it can be more stressful to dread an experience (such as surgery or the adoption process) than to actually go through it.

I am confident that, should the worst befall me or my family, I would not lose faith in God. Rather, I would rely on Him and rest in Him to cope with the pain, emotional or otherwise. In the meantime, I can use those sleepless nights and anxious moments to pray for people who are actually suffering, and I can offer up my anxiety for those with mental illness. Whatever may come, there's no way it could ever be as bad as some of the things people must deal with around the world.

In the spirit of taking the poor with me, I can use my fears to draw closer to those who are in need, and to remind me that I am, truly, very blessed.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

She's Here!

I apologize for the missing post! I tried to use the iPad and was only able to post the title.

Our precious baby girl arrived on Monday morning at last! I am so happy and relieved to finally meet her face to face, and to be done with the nausea of this pregnancy. I don't have the brain power for much of a post, except to say that God is abundantly generous and we are all so very grateful for the blessing of our new family member.

Labor was very fast and the birth went as perfectly as it could. My mom and husband helped me every step of the way and I'm so thankful for their presence and their love.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


It's a bit ironic that this pregnancy, which has been the hardest for me, is also lasting the longest! I am past my due date now, still suffering nausea most of the day, and limited in my movements due to the Symphisis Pubic Disfunction I've had since month 5. Everyone says walking helps to bring on labor, but unfortunately I just can't do very much of that. I did get all the way down to the end of the block and back yesterday, woo hoo! I am very grateful for the chiropractic care I've received, as I am confident that without it I would be in much greater pain.

Perfect strangers have started giving me advice on how to get labor started. Most of them seem to involve making me even MORE uncomfortable, such as by taking castor oil or eating re-fried beans and the aforementioned walking and walking and walking. A few have alluded to a secret spot on my feet that, when pressed or massaged, will start labor. I'm leery of all these types of things, mostly because I believe that if the baby hasn't come yet, there's a reason. Something isn't fully developed, or it isn't the right moment for her birth. Still, it's awfully tempting to think there's something I could do when in reality, I have NO control whatsoever over the onset of labor!

I've never been pregnant quite this long and am very anxious for labor to start. Being an anxious person, I am highly susceptible to the fears that go along with pregnancy. Yet I know there are no guarantees. The fact is, sometimes things go wrong. When you are so close to new life as you are when pregnant, you are also so much more aware of death. Personally knowing people who have lost babies, either from stillbirth or through cord/placenta accidents, does not help alleviate my fears.

I don't really think that anything will go horribly wrong. One of the books I've read, Birthing From Within, says that "worry is the work of pregnancy." As new mothers, it's part of our responsibility to think about these things, and perhaps that's the reason why so many pregnant women find themselves worrying so often. The right response, of course, is to work through the scary thought, name my feelings, and make decisions on what I would say or do to cope.

Beyond that, however, I need to move forward in an attitude of trust. Whatever God ordains for my birth and my family, it will be for our spiritual good. What always frightens me is the thought that God's will is not mine, yet that's something that brings me comfort, too. After all, wouldn't I rather align my will with God's than force my own way? I know that God loves me, so whatever may come, I can rest in that assurance and know that I will not be alone.

Of course, it would be really nice if I could just have the baby and know that it's all turned out okay! The longer I wait, the more anxious I become, and the more I know I need to work on my trust and abandonment. The baby will come in her own time: in God's own time. Until then, my job is to prepare, pray and wait. Not too different than Mary's job the night before Jesus' passion and death, and thus highly appropriate for Lent. What a blessing that while I'm not physically able to fast, I can share spiritually in Mary's sufferings and anxieties.

I hope to post soon with pictures of the new baby. She has to come at some point soon...right???

Monday, February 14, 2011

"You keep on using that word...I do not think it means what you think it means."

Inigo was referring to Vizzini's affection for "inconceivable" but his sentiment can easily apply to the word of the day: Love.

It's Valentine's Day! My fantastic mother in law came over yesterday and watched the kids while my husband and I went out to lunch, just the two of us. (She also cleaned all the bathrooms because she's FANTASTIC.) The kids are really excited about handing out their valentines to their classmates. Geneva hand-decorated 21 pink hearts with princess stickers, glitter, puffy hamster stickers and her name. My son opted for a box of Star Wars Clone Wars hologram valentines with a Reeses' peanut butter heart taped to the front. My mom sent us all our own cards; a lively montage of bears, hearts and flowers and heart-felt sentiments written inside.

Love is in the air!

But as beautiful as this day is, and as important the little gestures and acts of service and time spent together are, it's not really what love looks like. Love CAN look like Valentine's Day, and certainly those in love do all those things, but love, "twoo wuv" often doesn't look the way we expect it to.

I think this is part of the reason why the divorce rate is so high. We all have such unrealistic expectations for what marriage is going to be, and we tend to think of love as a feeling when, in reality, love is a lifestyle -- a way of relating to someone else. There are times (thankfully not too many) when my marriage demands that I love when I don't want to love, when my entire being is screaming for freedom. There aren't many Hallmark cards for those situations.

True love is the hardest thing in the world because people are human...flawed. It's easy to love a sweet, innocent little baby, and incredibly difficult to love someone who has hurt you. But love doesn't just mean the warm feeling you get when you watch your kids sleeping. Love also means inviting your estranged uncle over for Thanksgiving and dealing with the tension and awkwardness that will result.

So many people missed Love when it was in their midst, walking among them, talking and healing and preaching, because they didn't understand what love really meant. I want love to be the happy-go-lucky warmth society promises me. I want my happily ever after. But that's not true love.

I know this day is actually very difficult for many people, especially those who have lost their loved ones or who have been through painful relationships. I am blessed to be surrounded by love, but others are lonely or brokenhearted. On this beautiful day dedicated to love, I think the most amazing thing to consider is that each of us has access to True Love in its most perfect form. All we have to do is open our hearts and receive Him.

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

Friday, February 4, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday, Thankfulness Edition

I'm not going to go into my current state of body or mind except to say I am very pregnant, very hormonal, very exhausted, and still nauseous most of the day. In an attempt to cultivate a spirit of gratitude rather than one of complaints, I want to focus on the 7 top things I'm thankful for right now.

7. Grocery Stores and Restaurants
It is just so nice to be able to walk into a store stuffed with choices and say, "Yep, this looks good to me," buy it, and eat it. Were I a true pioneer wife, I'd have to be grinding the corn for my cornbread, and that's WAY too much effort. I am so thankful for quick, easy, available food, and money to buy it.

6. My Honda Odyssey
In addition to driving well on snowy roads, my new minivan has its driver's seat at a height that doesn't require me either to climb or to bend in order to get in and out. Every little thing that helps keep my pelvic cradle at an even level is a source of great relief to me!

5. My Chiropractor and my Meds
I love modern medicine and I love alternative medicine, too. When they work in tandem, it's a beautiful thing.

4. My kids
I've read about women falling deeper in love with their children while expecting, but I can't remember whether I did last time around. All I know is that my kids are so awesome. I love watching them play together, love listening to what they've learned, love looking at them and marveling that these independent people are part me and part my husband. It's such a miracle, and I'm struck by it anew every day.

3. My husband
Never once this whole pregnancy has he said anything like, "I cannot WAIT for this to be over." or "Geez, are you still feeling too sick to clean the bathrooms?" or "This better be the last time we do this." He has, instead, totally stepped up to the plate and taken full child care duties after 6 pm as well as cleaned the kitchen every single night and gone to the grocery store whenever I've asked, despite knowing that he will come home with something and I will complain that it wasn't the brand/type/flavor I wanted. No man would put up with what he's put up with if it weren't for a heart full of love.

2. My baby
Every kick and roll and jab reminds me that there's a person inside, waiting for her time to come out into the world. I am so excited to meet her, and so grateful for the blessing of this life within me. And despite its difficulties, I am thankful for this time with her, just the two of us, hearts and systems joined in perfect harmony.

1. My Jesus
He loves me, helpless and hopeless as I am. He loves me when I'm too irritated and exhausted to pray. He loves me when I sin and He forgives me for it. He's with me, always beside me, even if I can't feel His presence. He is God, He is perfect, He is Love.

More Quick Takes at Jen's Blog

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Trust, Confidence and Peace

I have been a bad blogger, a bad volunteer and a bad mom lately. All I can manage at this moment is to gestate this baby and try to keep my family in some semblance of order. It's not pretty around here. The house is a complete disaster, I am eating pre-made, processed stuff that I would normally go hungry rather than consume, and my kids haven't done a Saint of the Day or a Devotions in weeks. I'm no longer doing my St. Vincent de Paul work, and I've cut down on the number of times I drive into Denver to see my Catholic Charities families as well. I'm not even attending Mass every single Sunday, let alone during the week, and have totally abandoned the children's Rosary group I started in 2009. Others have been picking up my slack for me, bless them.

I'm honestly okay with this. It's not a choice for me to cut back on the things I like to do. I am physically, emotionally and mentally incapable of living my normal life right now. Things will work out and hopefully I can get back on track by summertime.

For the past seven months I've been trying (mostly without success) to get a handle on my parenting method. This is my version of nesting for a third child! We have all the equipment and I'm well practiced at attachment parenting, so the real question I'm struggling with is: What comes after toddlerhood?

There are SO MANY models, methods, books, and theories that it makes my head swim. Since I don't live on a desert island with my kids, I also have to factor in wildly divergent grandparents and, of course, my spouse. At its core, though, parenting is about what's comfortable for me and my kids, and this is where the biggest problem lies. I simply do not have any confidence at all in my parenting.

My word for the year is ABANDONMENT, and it's come to me precisely because I am struggling so desperately with parenting issues. It's not enough for me to love my children and do my best. I have to know that the method I'm using is approved by this that or the other expert, that it has been proven not to have any long-term psychological downsides, and that it creates harmony in my home. Needless to say, I'm still searching!

There's no perfect method because there are no perfect people -- parents or kids. No matter how many books I read, I'm never going to hit upon the ideal method that works every time and results in adult children who are self-sufficient, holy, and an asset to their communities. The best I can hope for is a method that allows flexibility, focuses on character rather than behavior, and preserves the inherent dignity of each family member.

I have to be okay with the idea that I'm not really in control, that I'm going to make mistakes, and that, despite all my efforts, the chances are that my kids are going to have to struggle to find their place amid the chaos that is this world. They're going to make mistakes, too, and I can't blame myself for how they turn out (even if they blame me!) just as I can't take all the credit if they end up actually being holy, productive members of society.

I think the link between trust and confidence is much closer than the link between experience and confidence. I could let myself by stymied by the magnitude of my responsibility (this person's ENTIRE FUTURE is in my hands!) or I can trust that God is in charge and that my contribution, while important, is by no means absolute.

That thought is bringing peace to this harried, hormonal mom right now. Just thought I'd share it!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

On the Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

It was a year ago today that I started bleeding with Elizabeth, and a day later that I went to the ER for a panic attack. It's nice to be pregnant again at this time, to know that we've been blessed with new life and to be looking forward to a baby in a few months.

I wanted to share today's Regnum Christi meditation with you, as it's particularly powerful and timely. The emphases added are mine.

The Power of My Nothingness

January 4, 2011

Memorial of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, religious

Mark 6:34-44
When Jesus saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. By now it was already late and his disciples approached him and said, "This is a deserted place and it is already very late. Dismiss them so that they can go to the surrounding farms and villages and buy themselves something to eat." He said to them in reply, "Give them some food yourselves." But they said to him, "Are we to buy two hundred days' wages worth of food and give it to them to eat?" He asked them, "How many loaves do you have? Go and see." And when they had found out they said, "Five loaves and two fish." So he gave orders to have them sit down in groups on the green grass. The people took their places in rows by hundreds and by fifties. Then, taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; he also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied. And they picked up 12 wicker baskets full of fragments and what was left of the fish. Those who ate of the loaves were 5,000 men.

Introductory Prayer: Lord I am nothing without you in my mission. I believe that there is no difficulty in deepening my union with you that cannot be overcome. I want to know and see with greater clarity that your hand moves mine. You make possible what would otherwise be impossible.

Petition: Lord increase my confidence and dependence on you.

1. “His Heart Was Moved with Pity for Them, for They Were like Sheep Without a Shepherd.” A heart that loves expands to meet the needs of those it loves. None could love as perfectly as Christ. Will I let Christ move me in this prayer to see what he sees, suffer what he suffers, and love what he loves? Who will teach the vast numbers of those who are lost, especially the young? Who will console the sorrowing who fight the pervasive darkness of despair, and guide with fidelity the hungry souls ready for the fullness of God’s truth? Who can make present the power of the Shepherd to heal and stay the force of evil in so many dark corners of the world? If I open my heart to see what Christ sees, I will follow everyday what he asks of me to remedy a broken world that needs salvation.

2. Give Them Some Food Yourselves Our Lord insists that we be active protagonists in tackling the most difficult problems in the world. Many only sigh at the world’s miseries as if to say, “Lord, you have a problem. I will pray for them.” Christ looks back and says to us, “This is your mission now. I put it in your hands.” Will we panic? Will we wonder where we will get the time, the resources, the wisdom? Will we imagine ourselves making it all happen? Our Lord asks us to take responsibility, but he does not want us taking control. There is a difference: One is the steward in the mission—us; the other the owner—God. Taking responsibility means making the needs of souls and the Church our own. Not taking control means we never lose sight of the one who controls the plan. I want to do it his way, and not mine.

3. How Many Loaves Do You Have? When Christ chooses us for a mission, he does not select us because he thinks we have what it takes, but rather because he knows he will give us all that we need. Sometimes we are faced with goals that are real, yet beyond our power to accomplish. Anxiety––thinking we need to be superhuman before a superhuman endeavor––inserts all sorts of complexes into the human spirit: shutting down, feeling overwhelmed, uncontrolled anger, unjustly limiting our field of action. What does Christ ask when we face the impossible? Just give what we have––give it all and don’t hold back. Put all our loaves and fishes on the table, and then Christ will work. Believe in the power of our poor nothingness united to Christ.

Conversation with Christ: Lord, I believe in the power of my nothingness united to your power and grace. Today I accept the challenge of the mission before me, but only if I take each step depending on you. With you every burden is sweet, and every impossible task is a new encounter with the power of your hand.

Resolution: I will stop sometime in the middle of the day to spiritually place what I am doing into Christ’s hands.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

While I don't go in for New Year's Resolutions, I did think this Saint Finder by Jen is a fabulous thing. I got St. Ignatius of Antioch and since I've been wanting to read more of the early Church Fathers, I think he's a great place to start. I really love the idea of dedicating the year to the intercession of a Saint, and will absolutely be doing that today. Thanks Jen!

I do like developing a Word for the Year. Last year my word was "discipline" but honestly, I don't feel like I did much to work on it. Part of the problem is that I didn't have a plan, I just wanted to keep the word in mind and try to make better choices based on it. A couple weeks/months in, though, I lost sight of the word and bam, it was gone.

I did something new this year: I ordered new pages for my desk planner. They came with goals, values, and mission worksheets as well as weekly goal reminder pages that focus on the multiple "roles" we serve and ways in which we can improve each of them. I LOVE THIS. During the Christmas break, I've been reading through the instructions and thinking about each of my "roles", as well as pondering what our family mission statement might be.

What has me most excited is that this planner allows me a central repository to keep track of notes and progress, write down a monthly or weekly or even daily plan, and provide checks and measures for my goals. I need stuff like this. I have the tendency to overthink and get easily frustrated, which probably means I give up on things much earlier than I should. Planning out ahead of time and building in occasional progress checks should help keep me on track.

I know what my word ought to be this year (and maybe every year): ABANDONMENT. Abandon the self, abandon my illusion of control, abandon my plans and my needs. Allow those around me the freedom to be themselves, and put all my trust and hopes in the Lord.

I will soon have a newborn, which gives me ample opportunity for abandonment! My body is not my own, and likely won't be for another year. My time won't be my own, either. It may seem that my word for this year is the opposite of last year's (discipline), although I personally think it takes discipline to practice abandonment. When I want to rant on and on about my feelings and troubles to my husband, it takes discipline to abandon that want and instead ask, "Did you find a way to get those documents you needed for your case?" or even to allow my husband some silence. It takes discipline to fight the irritation I feel when I discover the kids have not put their toys away, and to abandon my schedule for vacuuming in order to wait for them to come home from school so they can participate in the housecleaning. It takes discipline to decide I must behave differently instead of following the same old patterns of the years before.

The hope of a New Year is such a beautiful thing, isn't it? So much promise and possibility. I love looking back at the Old Year, as well, and remembering where I was, where my children were, and the amazing changes everyone has undergone in that time. God is good, and all things good come from the Lord. May your New Year bring you closer to Him who is, and was, and ever shall be, AMEN!

Photo credit.