Liebster Award Nomination

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I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award! This is a little recognition/link up that is passed on to bloggers getting started who don’t already have a large following.

Thank you to Melissa at Fresh Faith Bites for nominating me!

My interview with Melissa:

Why and how long ago did you start blogging? I started blogging before I even knew blogging was a thing. Way back when, in about 1998 or so I had a geocities site where I wrote and just added new pages to, or new information at the top of pages. Just me and my HTML, using Netscape Composer to put it all together. I think I discovered that I could use a standard set up and put up my first WordPress blog in 2003 or 2004. I started out to keep family up to date on things going on in my family, but soon found that I really liked writing.

What one word sums up the heart of your blog and why? Companionship. I have struggled for so many years thinking that I was alone – that I was the only one who felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. Once I built up a little bravery, or really – got sick of feeling alone in this – I started to speak out about how I felt and found that many other women felt the same way. Being able to read a post that lets you know you are not alone, that someone else is there with you in the trenches, even if you can’t see them, is so heartening. It strengthens us and normalizes what we are doing. I hope that by my honesty in my struggles, someone else may find a little bit of hope. I hear it from time to time. People will contact me, usually privately, and thank me for putting their own feelings into words. That is what keeps me going.

Is there something you learned late in your blog journey that you wished you knew before? I am starting to learn a little more about promotion and using social media to get my blog to a wider audience. I wish I had been taking advantage of these things already.

What is your favorite past time other than blogging? Reading. I love to read, I love to collect books. My living room is a constant mess because my kids are following in my footsteps and dragging out books all the time. I love non-fiction, biographies, and fantasy fiction.

How many hours per week do you dedicate to your blog? This varies widely. Some weeks I might spend 10 hours on it, then not touch it for the next week. I’d say on a normal week I spend about 3-4 hours on it.

What category of blog posts do you enjoy the most? Oh, I have no idea! Categorizing is something I usually do in hindsight after writing the post.

Where does your blog inspiration come from? Life, but then really who’s doesn’t? I love finding the grace and sanctity in the nonsense and repetition of normal life. My blog is named for the Israelites who were told to march around Jericho over and over. It seemed like something that could not win a battle with a large city like Jericho.  But they followed God’s plan. They marched, they were ridiculed, and by this simple repetition they won the victory. God gives each one of us little cities to walk around. Sometimes what He asks doesn’t make sense from our current vantage point.

What post have you written are you most proud of? Antiphons and Music in Mass. This one came somewhat from my own feelings, but very much because of things people confided in me regarding changes in the mass and the music in our diocese. I postponed this one for a long time, but finally dug in and really did some soul searching and research. This post changed in tone as I wrote it. The end product was as much a surprise to me as to those who read it.

Is there any post that you have been planning to do, but kept postponing for a while now? I have had a post brewing in my head about using Philippians 4:8 as a family media policy. But I can’t get my head all the way around it. In the mean time it is making for some interesting discussions with my kids.

What is your favorite aspect of blogging? The blog comments and the people who contact me to talk to me about what I wrote or to thank me for a piece. They keep me going!

Which recipe, project or idea on my blog would you be most likely to try yourself? Your Homemade Berry Sorbet looks yummy!

I would hereby like to nominate the following bloggers for their excellent work:

1. Annette @ Nettie’s World

2. Alisha @

3. Laura @ Roses for Mommy

4 Cristina @ Unshopping and Unraveling

 

The Liebster Rules

I know, it feels a little like a chain letter, but it is a fun little, easy blog post. Link up, add to your blog roll, and just have fun with it.

Ok, in order to accept your award, there are a few things you need to do and guidelines to follow:

Link back to the person/blog that nominated you and give a little thank you shout out.
Answer 10 questions given to you by the person that nominated you.

My Questions:

1. How long have you been blogging?

2. What made you start blogging?

3. What advice would you give someone just starting their own blog?

4. Salty or Sweet?

5. What are you reading now?

6. What is your favorite quote from your current read?

7. Tell a little about your family.

8. Do you have a favorite TV or Netflix series? What and why?

9. Are you an evening or morning person?

10. What is for dinner tonight?

After completing these questions you must nominate a few bloggers with under 200 followers, and give them 10 questions of your choice.

Let your nominees know that they have been nominated and provide a link to your post for them so that they can learn about the nomination.

Look at Me, I’m 43!

Look at Me, I'm

 

1. Happy Birthday to me, I am 43! That rhymes so well, I might actually sing in out loud. So obviously I am 43 today, which seems kind of old. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with being in my forties, but it is way more love than I ever expected. Here you go, in list form.

2. I don’t feel nearly as bound by silly, unimportant rules, which is why I made the intro to this post number 1. 43 things is a lot, so I needed to use up a number when I could.

3. When I was in high school I was sure that life would be officially boring and “over” by the time I was 24. How wrong I was.

4. While I still feel like a shy child, I care a lot less about what other people think, so I am more willing to just go ahead and do something crazy like ask for directions or converse with the cashier at the grocery store.

5. I thought I would feel more accomplished by this time in my life. But at least now I am pretty sure that most people feel at least similarly to how I do in this. I look ahead at what is yet to be done, not behind me at what I have and have not done.

6. I thought my 40s would feel older.

7. I’m very glad they don’t.

8. It bothers me that society as a whole seems to frown on and laugh at women who are past their 30s. Unless of course they look like they are still 20, then anything goes. It’s demeaning to say “woman of a certain age” because what people mean by that is a cranky, hormonal, aging woman. Okay maybe the first two don’t fit some of the official descriptions, but it is still kind of a snidely used label. Maybe I fit the description, but it is still rude.

9. When my first child started school I was the youngest mommy in the bunch. Now I am among the oldest. This kind of stinks socially. All the young mommies do their thing and hang out. But then I guess you have time to do that when your oldest child is in kindergarten.

10. The social issue doesn’t really bother me, since I wouldn’t have time to hang out anyway. I have great friends and though we seldom talk and even more rarely see each other, it never feels like any times has passed when we do get together.

11. Being the older mom means that all the school volunteer sign ups are usually filled before I have a chance to read them. This is good news for me, not so good news for my little one who so desperately wants me to go on a field trip with her.

12. Now I just say, “We’ll go to the zoo on our own and have more fun anyway.”

13. I am no longer willing to attend optional events that I don’t find interesting or fun. I could be home reading a book or other nicer things.

14. I have friends who have had heart attacks or other health problems that are at least marginally age related.

15. This has been a wake up call to me. I am trying to take better care of myself, not to be skinnier or wear cuter clothes (although I won’t complain if that happens) but to keep up my health, make my life one of quality, and feel more energetic.

16. This includes eating better, getting some exercise, and trying desperately to reduce stress.

17. I enjoy exercise way more than I did as a child. I was the kid who was always last picked on the team because I ran slowly and couldn’t catch a ball.

18. Now I run as much for my mental health as for my physical health. It is just a half hour a few times a week where I don’t think about anything but the rhythm of my steps and breathing in and out.

19. I have children who are my friends. They call and talk to me on purpose, they listen to what I have to say, and they tell me about their lives. When I had 4 small children and couldn’t even get the dishes done every day, I never saw this wonderful reward coming.

20. I still have small children who make getting the dishes done difficult. But now it really doesn’t worry me as much.

21. As far as housecleaning goes, I sometimes let things slide, but less often than I used to, because I have learned the price of lowered standards. Now I have help not only in making the mess, but also cleaning it up. Sometimes.

22. But you will still find dirty dishes in my sink and dust bunnies on my floor and I won’t care that you saw them. Usually.

23. I have rediscovered the joys of good fiction. I spent most of my thirties immersed in nonfiction books about being more organized or more healthy or whatever. I want my children’s minds to be steeped in stories, so I am doing the same for my own.

24. Stories help life make more sense.

25. I still reread The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia about every other year.

26. Laundry isn’t torture. There are other things I would rather do, but it is kind of a meditative chore, and the kids usually leave me alone while I do it (lest they be sent to put some of it away).

27. My car is usually cleaner than it was when I was younger. I just don’t like having to move things to put my purse or water bottle down.

28. Does that make me grumpy?

29. Maybe I should take a nap. I like naps now, or even just putting my feet up.

30. Dining out is a different experience than when I was younger. Most chain restaurants are sort of boring, except for a choice few, and while I might still grab something at fast food from time to time, Denny’s is no longer appealing at all. See how discerning my tastes have become?

31. I only go to the mall if I have to buy something. But when I go, I still love to walk around and look at stuff.

32. Buying clothes for my children is much funner than buying clothes for myself. I can always count on the clothing looking good on them.

33. This means most of my clothing is bought on the fly at Target. And my wardrobe stays pretty limited.

34. But I don’t care as much as I once did. As long as I have something to wear that looks like it is in good shape, I am usually pretty happy. Oh, and it has to fit.

35. I currently own clothing in 3 different sizes.

36. I’m always a little embarrassed when I walk into Target and realize that I am dressed head to toe in Target clothing.

37. My body is not what I thought it would be at this age. It is both better and worse.

38. It is better because it can do and has done amazing things. Like growing and birthing 9 children.

39. My body impresses me with what it can do with regards to exercise. I may have a long way to go, but my body is strong and ready for the journey!

40. I am frustrated with all the soft jiggly parts of my body. I wish I had the body I had years ago when I thought I was fat.

41. Still, even though my shape is not one I am very proud of, you will find me out and about, going to the store or dropping my children off in ridiculous looking workout clothes. I am more interested in making it easy to work out than in looking great.

42. A pony tail is still my favorite hairstyle to wear.

43. Here I am at number 43 and there is still so much to tell! I love my husband more than I ever thought possible and we are still constantly learning about each other and ways to be together.

I am a writer. I used to be afraid to say those words out loud because I didn’t have an officially published thing to show for it. But I write. A lot. And I think about writing a lot and am always trying to be a better writer.

I have nine children, and they take up a good portion of my heart, but I no longer let them define who I am as a person. I lost a lot of years to that. Those were good years, but they could have been better if I had given myself more room to breathe.

Jesus is my best friend. When people ask me “How do you do it?” I might not say it out loud but I am definitely thinking, Jesus carries me through every moment of every day. I am not always such a good friend to Him. I am distractible and self centered. He is still with me every moment.

I am interested in politics and things going on around the world. But you will seldom hear me discuss it. I know my mind and my ideas. I read what I can and find out more – even reading some opposing ideas.

Each day I realize more that I love being in my 40s. I have some complex stresses in my life, but they are more than balanced out by the fact that the world is an amazing place. I do not have time to be afraid to do the things I want to do. My family is by my side and there is always something to laugh about or someone to hug. This is my life, and I am so thankful God put me in it. Thank you, too, Jay, for being by my side and making it even better.

One more thing, here I am –

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Listless

 

Listless

I am always on the look out for a good way to organize all the things. All the time, all the events, all the jobs, all the relationships… I just grasp at ways to organize the things in my life so I don’t feel so messy inside. When I am feeling stressed, my first reaction is to sit down and list all the things I need to do, in the order I need to do them, in a schedule showing me exactly when they will get done and how long they will take.

While making this kind of crazy list usually calms me down a little bit, I think it may be more because I go and hide to do it, and therefore get a little time alone. The list itself stresses me out and is just one more thing that I need to take into account as I juggle my way through the day.

There was one time when I had everything together – I was about 7 months pregnant with our third child. I was following the Sidetracked Home Executives plan, index cards and all. For a short space of time I got all my housework done before 9am, my house was clean, my laundry caught up, and I had time for playdates and crafts. I only had one child in school a the time, in Kindergarten, and one home with me all day, but old enough to play by himself for a while. Bliss. I was a Good Mom then; everything was under control.

And then our third child was born. She was a nice quiet newborn, but she started crying when she was two weeks old and I don’t think she stopped for six straight months. I have never been on top of things again. That was 19 years ago.

I grasp at these plans and books like some kind of lifeline. Surely someone can help me make sense of my own chaos! There was Sidetracked Home Executives, Sink Reflections (FlyLady), MotivatedMoms, Getting Things Done, Maximize Your Mornings, and many more I have blocked from my memory. Sometimes I would combine parts of different plans to try to get the right fit. Each time I would take time from my family to work out the whole system on paper or on the computer. Then I would sit my long-suffering husband down and tell him, “This is how we are going to do things now. We were disorganized and doing things wrong before but now I know better. All we have to do is follow these specific steps and we will have peace and cleanliness.” I don’t think I ever said it exactly like that, but whatever I said sounded just as insane. He would nod and do everything in his power to learn the new system.

Some systems last for a year or more, some fizzle out in less than a week.

I have most recently been following Mystie Winckler’s Declutter Your Head & Organize Your Home, which sounds like it is the perfect fit for a cluttered mind like mine. Except that it was making me crazy just like every other plan out there.

After spending more than three hours last week, again making my own amalgamation of plans and lists, I said enough is enough. As I looked at my new plan, I realized that all it did was to make me feel stress and feelings of failure. I can never do all the things I need to do in a day. Putting them on a list is just a way to beat myself with it at the end of the day.

So, at least temporarily, I am fasting from to-do lists, household systems, and books on self help of organizing. Just to be totally honest, I have a to-do list for out of the ordinary things I need to do, like make signs for an event at school. But I went through that list and wiped out all the due dates. If there is something that needs to happen at a certain time. I will set a reminder on my calendar.

I am going to trust myself to not forget to take care of my family and house.

Whoa. This is just so revolutionary for me. I am not trying to quantify the work I get done in a day. The vacuuming will get done, the bathroom cleaned, even if it is not at perfectly spaced intervals. I know for a fact that I work my bum off every day, even on the days I sit down and take a break for a few minutes. I might not be able to remember what I did at the end of the day, but I now for a rock solid fact that if I hadn’t done it, people would notice. I am, for the most part, taking a break from goals. I have some things I am working on, but all the deadlines are gone for now.

This free-from-list living only began a few days ago, but I already feel less stressed. I also feel that familiar itch to just pick up a book and find a solution to just fix things.

Those books and systems I listed are all good resources, they might be help that someone else needs. This isn’t a diatribe against them. I have learned many things from them, and I know that some of that is still incorporated in what I do on a daily basis. I had become addicted to measuring myself by what I could do.

Part of my wake up call was recognizing the tight, stressed feeling this planning system left me with. Part of it was finding myself thinking about mercy. The verse I am learning is “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) Just like I could never get to Heaven without God’s mercy, the job I have here on earth is beyond me. If I give myself some mercy, maybe I can lean in to God’s mercy with more trust. Showing myself mercy may actually be good practice in giving mercy to others.

9 Hours a Week

"Wooden hourglass 3" by User:S Sepp - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wooden_hourglass_3.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Wooden_hourglass_3.jpg

I am now the proud owner of 9 hours of all-to-myself time every week. 3 hours, 3 days a week, minus about half an hour for driving each day, so that is an hour and a half lost. Still, that means I have 7.5 hours a week.

  • I thought I might join a gym.
  • I thought I might start running again.
  • I thought I might keep the house clean and the shopping up to date.
  • I thought I might organize our belongings and declutter the house.
  • I thought I would take all of our files paperless.
  • I thought I might go window shopping.
  • I thought I might write more.
  • I thought I might start selling my rosaries again and open an Etsy store.
  • I thought I might take up piano again.
  • I thought I might go back to school (which proved too expensive.)
  • If I couldn’t go back to school I thought I might just read through a bunch of classics.
  • I thought I might check facebook just one more time…

All in 7.5 hours per week. I think I need a reality check.

What I realized on a retreat a few weeks ago is that I have been running on empty – or less than empty, actually going into energy-debt, for years now. I need to learn how to stop and breathe. I need to refill my inner tank so that I can better fill the tanks of my husband and children. I will dabble in many of the above things I listed, but when people ask me what I am going to do with myself now that I have all this time the answer will probably be “Not much.”

Garlic Shaming

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I use minced garlic in a jar. I think you should know that about me. I once owned a garlic peeler and a garlic press and aspired to use fresh garlic, but what actually happened is that I stopped using garlic altogether.

A few years ago a friend introduced me to minced garlic in a jar and I was smitten. I had no idea such a thing existed. My cooking was once again infused with wonderful garlic. And we were happy.

Recently however, there have been little articles popping up like this one which says how inferior it is and a whole host of other things, like how it probably has added chemicals (Ew! Chemicals!) and how it is soaked in water, and how I can’t make things with sliced garlic because I guess maybe garlic in a jar and fresh garlic can’t exist in the same refrigerator. Or something.

I’m sure it is inferior to fresh garlic. I completely believe that. I also don’t care in the slightest. My family isn’t complaining (much) about my cooking, and I am really not aiming for gourmet here. Simple, nutritious, and reasonably yummy are my goals.

I completely take exception to the claim that “It only takes 45 seconds to mince a real, fresh garlic,” or “It only takes 2.5 seconds to push a garlic clove through a garlic press.” Those claims are complete hooey. On a TV kitchen set that might apply, or for someone who has a specific drawer for each specific tool and knows it will get put back there when the dishes are put away. But I don’t live in that universe. Here is how it goes for me:

I get out a cutting board, which is not where it usually goes, oh, it’s only on the other side of this cupboard.

I get out a knife. Who put these knives away? Were they trying to make me cut off my finger? Dig, dig, find the appropriate knife.

Now I have to find the garlic. It’s not on the door where the nice big jar of minced garlic sits, coaxing me sulkily. I dig through the drawers of the fridge, I dig to the back of the shelves. (This is the downside of having little people help you put groceries away.) I look in the freezer because you just never know… I finally call my husband into the room for the task because he can find anything. He found it. Oh there it is! Behind the coffee in the pantry! Of course, how silly of me.

So I guess this is when my “45 seconds” starts? I peel and mince the garlic, and put it into a bowl until I am ready for that part of the food preparation.

Then I have to wash all that stuff!

Or I could open a jar, spoon some garlic out at the exact moment I need garlic and then only be adding one spoon to the washing up. I will gladly sacrifice a little garlic flavor for that kind of ease.

But what about the allegations that this jar of garlic is full of terrible things? I was at a Pampered Chef show last week where the salesgirl told us that using fresh garlic would save us all sorts of money, because how much do those little jars cost? Probably a lot! And she was pretty sure they had terrible things in them like preservatives and formaldehyde.

Whatever.

First of all, my beloved jar from Costco (equivalent to 272 garlic cloves) set me back $4.19. I can guarantee you I couldn’t buy that much fresh garlic for that amount.

Secondly, the ingredients are garlic, water, and citric acid. See?

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I am completely comfortable with every one of those ingredients. It’s even practically local!

But that is not my only confession. I also purchase non-natural peanut butter. The kind that doesn’t go in the refrigerator or need to be stirred. Again, it is about time and simplicity. Ain’t nobody got time for stirring peanut butter these days. Truth be told, I tried to switch to natural peanut butter. My family responded by completely boycotting peanut butter. Okay fine! I’ll buy the other stuff! And when another mom points out that she “would never feed that processed stuff to her family!” (That really happened!) I will shrug and take another bite of my sandwich, and make a mental note not to let her see my Honey Maid graham crackers and their high fructose corn syrup.

My point here is that I have picked my battles. These are some of the battles I did not pick. I’m okay with that now, but it took me a long time to realize that every time someone talked about a health threat, real or imagined, I wasn’t abusing my family if I didn’t jump right on their bandwagon. I am not a complete nutritional heathen to decide that some issues in the news are not worth the extra time or stress to deal with. If I find out later that they are more important, I will make the changes necessary.

In the mean time we will dip our Honey Maid graham crackers in organic whole milk.

What are some battles you didn’t pick?

 

A Finger in the Dam

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I’ve been told a few times that I am honest. That I say the things that others are afraid to say, the things that isolate us come dribbling out of my mouth because I just can’t stand it – that feeling like I am the only one. When I see someone who thinks I have it together, I have to take myself down a notch in their eyes and show them what I am wrestling with. So often I find that they are wrestling with the same things. Only no one talks about these things. Shiny, happy posts on facebook never tell the inner hurts, we feel like we should have our act together about these things by now. But we don’t so we just stay silent in shame. I try to inevitably blab about those things.

But lately the shape of my life has left me feeling like it was time to keep my mouth shut. The issues that weigh the most on my heart have to do with my older kids, and I fear sharing details about their lives in my writings. And so it eats away at me. I feel like such a failure as a parent to these young adults that I dare not offer anyone another parental opinion on anything at all.

Brick by brick, I build this dam. holding all the ugly truths of my life back from here, from everyone. Until I can’t even write anymore because there is so much left unsaid that I don’t know where to begin.

Certain signs have told me that this is not working. There are cracks and fissures in my dam. I have kept my finger there, plugging the leak for too long. I am tired. I am lonely. Worse yet, I know that if I feel like this there have to be others who feel the same way. They need, I need, to know we are not alone. We may have failures as a parent, but if we let those paralyze us, we will be useless to our other children and to each other. We will be isolated and neutralized in the good we can do. That sounds like it is exactly where Satan wants us.

So I am taking my finger out of the dam. There is a lot being held back, and I don’t know how it will all come out, but I need to share and reach out.

To begin with, I have to say that my two older children are not practicing their faith. at least one doesn’t attend church at all. Another goes to church at times and even carries a rosary, but also wears a sack of crystal rocks around his neck, thinks hallucinogens are the way to clarity and talks about how Arabic is how we should be communicating.

What is a momma to do with these things? Confrontation has yielded accusations that I am just stuck in the mud, a slave to the old beliefs of a corrupt patriarchal system. I say my piece and try to love them anyway, wondering all the time if I am enabling their behavior more than I realize.

This letting go thing is so much harder than the months of colicky crying. This pain reaches deep into the pit of my stomach and won’t let go. It’s like seeing your child about to grab a cactus or touch a stove, times a thousand. There is that tense slow motion here too – trying to pick the words and realizing that they have been left unsaid while the child has marched off to do what he will.

I remember vividly some decisions I made that probably put my parents through the same feelings. I try to love my children the way they loved me. Condemnation closes doors, respectful honesty (and then shutting up) keeps them at least open a crack or so it seems. But is that enough?

My son leaves in less than three weeks for a new adventure. He says for right now that he doesn’t plan to come back. I look at the outdated pictures on my wall and wonder when there will be time to take more pictures together. Less than a year ago, my whole family lived under one roof, now we are scattered (and will be even more so soon) thousands of miles apart. And I don’t know how to do this part.

I feel like so much of my family is missing now – the two babies lost this past winter, the adult children going all over and doing whatever suits their fancy, the adolescents who openly disdain me at times, some without regard for the right and wrong we tried to teach them.

I am not a perfect parent. I do not have perfect children. I’m often not even sure what on earth I am doing wrong or if doing everything right would have given any different results. Should we have home schooled longer, been more strict, been less strict, ate more organic foods?

The hope that I hold is that their story is not finished yet. Things can change for them next week or ten or even fifty years from now, it is not for me to know. It is for me to pray. It is for me to learn to live with this hole in my heart and not let the anxiety overcome me and steal away my joy in life.

I see other older moms who have carried this cross. They never talk about it – no one wants to complain and bring down their own children. And maybe they are feeling just as lost as I am in this; this deep reservoir of hurt and shame and dashed hopes.

I’m taking my finger out of the dam. There may be a trickle or there may be a flood, but there is room for us to talk about these unspoken things, to pray for each other and our children, to try to find our way.

My Lazy Conversion

It is my delight each year to not only assist during the RCIA classes and get to know the people making the journey into the Church, but to be at the Easter Vigil and witness that final, powerful step into the sacraments and the heart of the Church.

This year when the converts from other ecclesial communities made their profession of faith, “Do you believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God?” I realized that I had said  “I do.” to those words, so long ago, without even knowing what I was saying.

My own initial conversion to the faith was unenlightened and distracted.

It was the early 90’s and I was a young Baptist girl married to a young Catholic boy. When we first got married, we tried to attend each other’s church at least some of the time. My husband sang in the choir at his church, so he could make it to mine less often. One time when he came we were having a communion service that involved goldfish crackers (because the fish is a Christian symbol!) and grape juice. I don’t think he ever was very willing to come to my church after that.

Neither of us were very good at really living in our faith at the time. We were fresh out of the party scene, newly married and new parents. Going to church just felt like the right thing to do.

Our families were each religious in their way, so attending church came naturally. We each had a yearning for a relationship with God in our own way, but letting it reflect into the rest of our lives did not come naturally yet.

I remember asking my husband at one time if we could just make some kind of compromise on a church – like Lutheran or Episcopalian. He said no, so we just kept doing what we were doing.

All I knew about the Catholic Church had been learned from my church and my parents, who told me all about the worshipping of Mary and the Saints, and the few times I went to mass I was just sure that someone had to be laughing at me because I didn’t now what I was doing — when to stand or sit, or the songs they sang that weren’t even projected on the walls or announced by page number.

There came a day when my mother-in-law asked me if I was interested in learning more about the Catholic Church; I casually said yes. If she had asked me a month before, a week before, a week after that day I probably would have said, “No, I’m fine, thanks.” But she (or the Holy Spirit) caught me at the right time. She had the director of the RCIA call me, which is good because I never would have called.

I had one thing going for me as a pre-Catholic: I was already using Natural Family Planning. I had discovered it when I was attending La Leche League in one of the natural-mama type of books that emphasized not using chemicals. I knew that this was somehow a Catholic thing, so going into the classes I thought I had one hurdle already jumped.

But they never talked about that at all. There were probably 50 of us in the class, and we sat in the parish hall, in a giant circle of folding chairs. I don’t remember much of what we talked about. I remember one couple who came and talked about how they decided on the vocation of marriage instead of the wife becoming a nun. But I didn’t understand what they meant by “vocation.” That was never explained.

I remember our priest coming and talking to us a few times and fielding questions. Those were my favorite sessions, and that priest will always hold a special place in my heart for those answers he gave. They didn’t clear everything up for me, but it was enough for me to think, This really isn’t all that different, I could go to church here.

I remember our retreat, when we made a timeline of our life, and then made a sculpture of what prayer meant for us – and I remember thinking that it was a colossal waste of my time.

I didn’t hear anything about big-T Tradition, NFP, or even transubstantiation or the Real Pressence. I missed our opportunity for confession the morning before the Easter Vigil because I had been sick the day before. It wasn’t until we lined up for communion that I realized I didn’t even know what to do or how to receive properly. I had to ask the girl in front of me. Yet at some point in that mass I had answered the words, “Do you believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God?” with “I do.”

My life was pretty much unchanged by the experience, we settled into a nice pattern of attending the same church. We had friends there. We found a slightly more wholesome party scene. Our kids started school at the parish school. Everything was coming together nicely. As members of our social circle hit 3 or 4 children, they would go and get a vasectomy, and after my fourth excruciatingly sick pregnancy, we did the same.

Looking back, I can see the soft outline of grace on our lives until that point, I know that God was present in every part of our lives – the good and the bad. But within a year or so of that decision, He seemed to have decided that He was really intent on getting our attention.

About a year and a half later, we found ourselves living far from family, jobless, depressed, and grasping for the One who we knew could help us. I began to teeter on the edge of returning to my evangelical roots and to wonder if I really believed much of that Catholic stuff at all.

Through a friend I stumbled upon Scott Hahn’s conversion story. I had never heard anything like it in my life. The most important thing about it for me was that it crystalized the idea that I had lingering questions about the Church that I had never asked, and that I should ask them and not stop asking until I had answers. For the first time I saw that there might just be answers.

I began to ask those questions, to read, and most importantly to pray and go to confession. Then, finally, the floodgates of Grace opened and splashed all over us, drenching our souls in what we had been missing all that time.

Finally we we Catholic on purpose, not just because that was where we found ourselves. My husband went through it all with me, side by side. It is not lost on me what an incredible gift that was and is.

Six full years after being received into the Catholic Church, I received the Church as the gift from God that it is.

I sometimes share my story or a part of it as part of the RCIA classes, and I am always a little embarrassed that it took me so long to figure out what I was doing as a Catholic. I’m a bit of a bad example in that way. It is a humbling reminder to me that even our imperfect contrition, our faith-for-the-wrong-reasons are enough to open our hearts to let God’s grace come streaming in.

Our RCIA program is no longer a circle of folding chairs, and we certainly don’t make sculptures to express what we think “prayer” means. Those days are long past, and I am confident that the catechumens and candidates going through our classes know what they are saying when they make their Profession of Faith. When our group made their profession this year, I said it with them, and I meant every word of it.

First posted @ CatholicStand.com 5.1.14

Award for the Messiest Desk

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I got this adorable little scanner last week. It was one of the cheapest ones and it had great reviews and PINK HEARTS!

As always, I am trying to get my act together and get things organized around here. The entropy has been especially powerful lately and I am ready to fight back. One of the ways I am waging war is to move as much of our paper into digital files as I can. I haven’t bothered digging back into our file cabinet, and I may never mess with that, but the new paper that comes in the house… Pink Heart Scanner, baby.

I sat in front of the computer desk, papers piled so high they partially blocked the monitor, and a memory came floating back to me. For at least two years in grade school, 4th grade and 5th grade to be specific, as the teachers passed out the end of the year awards and certificates, I was handed the dubious honor of “Messiest Desk Award.”

Hmph, I thought. I was gifted (or cursed?) from the start. It’s a battle I am fighting even to this day.

But when I told my husband about it, he was shocked that they would do something like that to a little kid. Then I felt a little like Charlie (is that his name?) in “Flowers for Algernon.” Oh. They are laughing at my expense, not with me.

Dwelling on those events doesn’t help me at all. The real points are: What does it tell me about myself then and now? And what can I do about that?

I have very clear memories of things I thought about as a child. As an introvert, I did a lot of thinking. I can remember specific thoughts from when I was very, very young (4 or so). This has been invaluable to me as a parent. When I am willing to try, it helps me to understand a situation from my child’s view. What I remember about the whole messy desk era, which eventually turned into a messy locker in high school, is that I always felt rushed. There never seemed to be enough time for me to remember exactly where something went, put it there, and get out the next thing. I was easily overwhelmed by a string of tasks like that, especially when there was time pressure involved.

Hmm, nothing has changed about that. My brain is moving on to the next thing before I can finish the one I am working on. I am always worried about not having the time to finish the task I am working on, so I rush through it.

Two behaviors are helping me with this:
1. Let go of the time. So what if I am a little late? Because I am always so worried about being late, I end up chronically early anyway. So there is a little time to spare.
2. Get a better idea of how long tasks actually take. Sure, they can take longer than planned, like when I go to clean a toilet (2 minutes, start to finish) and find that there is a whole roll of toilet paper in the toilet and the trash can has gone missing so I can’t get it out without going on a hunt for a receptacle of some sort. It might take longer, yes. But it might not.

I am also trying to help my children with this problem by actively showing them how to put things away, how to organize their stuff in a way that makes sense to both myself and them. Being in charge of a desk and all the stuff in it can be a tough job. You have to prioritize what is important and what is not. You have to know what you will need and when. These are complex thought processes to expect kids to just figure out on their own. My children’s school seems to work with the kids, showing them how to manage their papers and possessions, but they still need help managing it when they get home. I was always the kid who wondered how everyone learned all this stuff. I could learn all kinds of things from an interesting book, but organizing a fourth grade desk wasn’t in any of my books.

One of the principles I am teaching my kids is to make things easier to put away than they are to get out. Shoes, for example, can be kept in a big bin in their room. They are (slightly) more likely to be put away that way. It is worth the price of taking a few more moments to be able to get them out. Their shoe bin looks a little like my old messy desk, but with shoes instead of paper.

I will always deal with clutter to some degree, because I live with my head in the clouds and can fail to see it happening. But I know that about myself now, and can work on the self discipline to counteract that at least a little bit.

Goals for April 2014

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I really liked having book goals for March! It pushed me to try a little harder to get non-internet reading done. Here’s how I did on my March books:

Say Goodbye to Survival Mode – Done!
Meditation on the Psalms – Didn’t read this one at all. I decided to set aside my study of the psalms for right now, I need a little more structure in my morning Bible study and this was too taxing on my brain at 5am. I’m sure I will come back to this one in bits and pieces.
Forming Intentional Disciples – In progress, I plan to finish this in April
The Two Towers – In progress, this is my sleepytime reread, so it barely counts. I practically have it memorized.
Pride and Prejudice – Finished and I loved this! Such interesting characters and a beautiful story!
I also finally finished The Once and Future King, which was partly one of the best books I have ever read and partly one of the most boring, but it was more good than bad, and I will probably read it again someday.
I read a few kindle shorties this month too. I will try to keep track of those better next month. The hard thing about those is I tend not to finish them.

By Lin Kristensen from New Jersey, USA (Timeless Books) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Books for April:
Pope Awesome – A memoir/conversion story type book
Beyond Snapshots – a How To book
Sense and Sensibility – My fiction book. I loved P&P so much, I thought I would go for a little more Jane Austen.

Finish:
Forming Intentional Disciples

Personal Goals:
1. Work a little bit a few times a week on learning Photoshop and Lightroom.
2. Post twice a week here. My initial goal for this year was to publish once a week, just the 7 Quick Takes, through March. I missed a couple, but it was for a good reason every time. Now I am stepping it up a bit. I hope to publish one content post and my 7 Quick Takes each week.

Now for my not-so-fun goals.

We’re moving in a couple of months here, so my goal is all about decluttering this month. (And probably next month too!) I have to look at every item in my house and ask myself if I want to move it. Twice. Why twice? Because we will be renting for a while until we sell this house and find really the right house to buy. So moving twice it is.

Moving-Boxes343232

Because of the size of this task, and our unpredictable schedule, I don’t really have set quantity goals yet. I’m formulating my attack strategy. I do plan to document what I get done, so that should help me to see when I’ve been and where I should go next.

I want these moves to be a lifestyle change for us – to really learn to live with more simplicity and less stuff. So I will be working with that in mind as I pack and get rid of stuff.

I’d love to hear any ideas you have on decluttering and moving with a stuff-addicted family!

Who Do I Think I Am?

When we were still pretty newly married, we let a salesman in our door. I’m sure you know the kind; he had offered us some free carpet cleaning. We were living in a townhouse that had carpet which was probably older than we were. It was a shag carpet – dark brown with red flecks sprinkled all over. We dubbed the color “Meatloaf.” That carpet was gross, and our baby was crawling around on it, so we were all over the idea of some real carpet cleaning.  Jay and I had no idea of what we were getting into that day.

After six long hours of heavy sales pressure (we were too shy and polite to just kick him out) we gave in and bought a Kirby vacuum, for a lot of money, with monthly payments.

kirby

I know Kirby makes a good vacuum cleaner, but this was not a wise choice for us when we were struggling with bills and expecting a second baby. We deeply regretted the purchase almost right away and it taught us some valuable lessons. But to this day when one of us does something stupid, either alone or together, it is known as “buying a Kirby.”

I told you that story so you will understand me when I say that I have bought a lot of Kirbies in my lifetime. I am an intelligent person, but a bit of a fool nonetheless. I tend to lead with my heart rather than my head, even though my head is the stronger part of me.

Writing is one of my favorite things to do, but I struggle with feeling inadequate to the task, to the illusion it could make that I am any kind of authority on anything. After a few of the posts that I have written, I have fully expected someone to demand of me, “Just who do you think you are, saying these things?” So I figured I would go ahead and answer that question and get it over with.

I am an artistic person. Music came easily to me as a child, both singing and piano. I have a very strong ear and my teacher soon learned to not play pieces for me when she assigned them since I would just learn them by ear instead of reading the music. I used to write poetry in my spare time and kept a rhyming dictionary in my purse for a long time.

I love to read. When I have a well written book the words are like candy in my mouth and almost need to be read aloud to savor them fully. This makes me a slow reader, this playing with the words. I don’t read as much as I used to, I’m afraid the internet really has affected my attention span and eats too much of my reading time. I’m trying to change that.

I thrive when I can make beautiful things. I used to sew a lot of my children’s clothing, and other things as well. I made beautiful scrapbooks for a while. I make wire-wrapped rosaries and sell them when I can, which is ironic because I am more likely to pray a rosary on my fingers or a twine rosary than anything. Still, they are fun to design and make. I love to take and edit pictures and compose them so that they are stunning and attention grabbing.

I am passionate about being a mother and wife. This is my job and I try really hard to do it well. I used to have very strong opinions on how that should be done, but as I’ve matured I’ve realized that different people use different tools to make them good parents. I mess up a lot here. I still yell at my kids and snap at them in irritation. I misuse my time and neglect their emotional needs at times. I just keep trying to do better, a little at a time.

I love God. Some of my very earliest memories are of Bible stories and the wonder of the love story that God has woven with His people all through the ages. I strive to be in constant communication through prayer and the Sacraments, and to keep learning about Him through Bible study and other books. He knows what a screw up I am. He loves me anyway.

I am an introvert. I crave silence and time alone. I think one of the reasons God decided to give me all of these children is that He knew I would hole up and never associate with anyone if I didn’t have to. I also suffer from shyness, and that makes it hard to make friends. People sometimes think I am cold or unfriendly just because I am too afraid to talk much in big groups. I do love to be around people, though! I love talking with friends and spending time with them, I just need some recharge time when I am done.

But back to those Kirbies.

I feel inadequate to write here, to be mistaken for an authority, because I am not one of those people who walks through life with a plan. I write here, not because I know more than anyone, but because I enjoy doing it and it helps me to untangle my ideas. One thing I am a little ashamed of is that I never went to college. I expect people to dismiss my ideas when they find out I am not educated in the traditional sense of the word. I was educated by reading every book I could and by making stupid choices all my life and then cleaning them up.

For instance:

As a high school student, I had our first child. So the reason I didn’t go to college was mostly because I was busy being a wife and a mom. But also because I wasn’t really interested at the time, and I was terrified of trying something new.

Years later, my husband and I moved our (then) four kids halfway across the country with no plan, and then came back again just five months later because it really didn’t work out.

But each of those things are some of the most valuable parts of my life. Though they make me cringe a little in embarrassment to share them, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Having a baby at 18 helped me become who I am today. It gave me strength and it gave me my amazing and beautiful daughter. Had we not moved across the country, I don’t know that we would ever have had my husband’s vasectomy reversed, and we wouldn’t have our five youngest children.

So who am I to say the things I say on the blog? I am just a nobody on the internet. I’m somebody. I am an intelligent fool who needs confession an awful lot. I’m propped up and functioning every day by pure power of grace. I am a person who is wrong a lot. I try to admit when I am but sometimes it takes me a day or two to get over my defensiveness. I am not an authority on any subject, I just try to learn from life and books and ponder the things that I learn. I invite you to ponder them with me, here on this blog.

I am Jenni. That is who I think I am.