7 Quick Takes 2014 vol 13: What I’m Reading and an Easter Picture Dump

Jumping right in…

1. I already posted about how Lent is over, Hooray. So I won’t extend that whininess here. I am happy that we are in the Easter season! So many flowers! So much to be happy about! Jesus is risen!

Oh, and we get to wear new clothes to celebrate too, so that is extra awesome. I don’t have pictures of my outfit for Easter, but I have to say that I may make my whole outfit entirely out of coral colored items from here on out. I was all in coral for the Easter vigil, or mostly so. Bright coral drapey cardigan, white cami, the same bright coral for a pencil skirt, and even coral shoes. And I tell you what, I never have gotten so many compliments in one night. Even my two year old said, “Momma you’re so pretty!” (I even went all out and wore jewelry. Whoa.)

I’d tell you about the kids’ clothes, but I don’t want to spoil the next Take.

2. I had all kind of fun taking and editing photos on Easter. I am trying to teach myself Lightroom and Photoshop, so forgive any egregious errors. Some of these turned out great.

This one is maybe my favorite picture I have ever taken, it really didn’t need any more editing than the exposure and cropping.

A Little Easter Photo Bomb

The 5 Youngest

The 5 Youngest

I had some other great ones, but the upload from my computer is being a little weird, so those are the ones I posted on Facebook. For some reason the ones directly from my computer came out looking really green – same uploads that I used for Facebook. I dunno. I guess you just aren’t supposed to see them. I’d work harder on getting them on here except…

3. Time is limited. An amazing thing has been happening in my household lately. The 4 and 2 year olds have been napping at the same time at least a few times a week. I have a whole hour to myself some days! (They still aren’t very long nappers, but at least they are doing it at all!) Annnnndd…. there they are. Only 45 minutes today. Time for the electronic babysitter to do her work.

4. Where has this book been all my Catholic life? Our wonderful priest has a recommended book each month, posted in the bulletin. When the same book stayed on his list for three months running, I figured it was time to check it out. (I’m not one for subtle hints.) I love this book!

Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry A. Weddell is an excellent book about all the things I have been missing as a Catholic. When I was protestant, it was so easy to stumble into any church and plug into a group of people who were on fire for Christ and were eager to support you in your own spiritual journey. It is so hard to find that kind of community in a Catholic parish – at least in my city. The people are there, they just aren’t very expressive or easy to find. The group of friends I found who are helpful in my own spiritual walk are a wonderful support, but we are a tiny group and generally not advertised. Because of the changes in my own schedule, I haven’t been able to be as much a part of that group anymore this year. (Oh, how I miss it!) But this book isn’t just about what is wrong, its focus is on how to fix it, and how to become an intentional disciple yourself. I look forward to seeing how this book effects our parish, I know a lot of people have read it so far.

5. Speaking of “My Catholic Life,” this year is my 20th Easter as a Catholic! I came into the Church at Easter 1994. How can that possibly be 20 years ago?

6. Intentional. I keep running into that word. When I picked my word for the year, that one wasn’t even on my radar. The word I picked was “Presence” meaning, for me, to be present to my family and to dwell more consciously in Christ’s presence. So “Intentional” isn’t too much of a departure, but I feel a little guilty just switching words in the middle of the year. I mean, that isn’t supposed to be how it works. But then that’s me getting locked into my own expectations and plans for what *I* decide God will be teaching me next. Maybe I will just have two words this year.

7. It seems we are not moving. Yet. We had a truly nasty surprise in our taxes this year. Our first year as business owners has had a lot of lessons to learn but this one was by far the most painful. We ended up needing to fork out more than 4 times what we had planned on, which wiped us out and then some. It was a little financial spanking, let me tell you! We will recover, and Thank God that we had nearly enough to cover it, when that particular amount would have crippled us in the past. So instead of moving this summer, we will be struggling to catch up on our taxes, and planning ahead for when we can move, sometime… soon? I hope. It was a depressing reality to face up to in the days leading up to Easter. But I’m calmer now, trusting that God has another plan for us. I’d truly like a peek at what it is, though. <Hint, hint.>

Brought to you today by Conversion Diary. Go see Jen for more Quick Takes.

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Feet: A Holy Week Post

Originally posted 5/24/11

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Little feet have brought me closer to God in many ways, chasing them around gives me patience and reminds me of the joy to be found even on the most stressful of days.  There are a couple ways though, that snuck up on me, and I thought I would share those with you.

Holy Week always finds me stressed and overwhelmed.  While I would like to participate in the many wonders and liturgies, having several very small children (and a husband in the choir) makes it nearly impossible to do without teaching my children by accident that Holy Week is more about getting yelled at than about appreciating the sacrifice of Jesus.  So we choose carefully which liturgies to attend.

~~~~~

Good Friday of 2010 found me at my wits end, as usual.  We had attended the live Stations of the Cross with the kids, and had intended to take them to the Good Friday liturgy as well.  But I felt like the small children needed a break and so did I.  It would have been a disaster in the making to try another long event in the same day.  So we stayed home.  At least our parish had their liturgy on television, so I was able to watch, holding my peacefully sleeping baby on the couch, while the other little ones played legos in the other room.

As the parishioners filed up, one by one, to venerate the cross and kiss the feet of Jesus, I looked down at the chubby little feet, so relaxed in my lap.  And I realized…  Mary must have kissed the feet of Jesus countless times.  She nibbled on his cute little toes as she cared for him.  And then she saw those feet lifted up before her on the cross.  She knew, she saw the physical effects of His sacrifice.  The body she had held so close was hurting.  I am sure that no one understands the veneration of the Cross like she does.

~~~~~

This year we were able to make it to Holy Thursday Mass.  I even came prepared with battery operated candles for the little ones to carry during the procession afterward.  (Although I also discovered just how far those battery operated candles can roll when dropped/thrown.  Next year I need to find square battery operated candles.)  I have to confess that I am a horrible listener in Mass, and only partly because of my kids.  I am just a distracted kind of person, so I always catch snippets here and there.  The part of the gospel that echoed out to me sitting in this particular wiggly, whiny pew was:

If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. (Jn 13:14-15)

And I tell you, I sat bolt upright and realized… I do this!

On a week when I had been feeling like there was no time for prayer and my going to mass was overwhelming, I was so relieved to realize that every day I do something that Jesus specifically asked us to do.  There is not a day that goes by when I don’t find myself down on my knees washing little feet at some point in the day.  (And I had to stop writing this post twice to wipe a little behind as well, that has to count for something.)

Jesus asked us to serve one another, and to meet each other at our grossest and help to clean each other up.  That sums up my job pretty well, I think.  Maybe I am learning something out of these trips around Jericho.

The Reversal Part 4: The Ever After

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

I wish I could say that my severe, health threatening morning sickness was a thing of the past, but the hard truth was that my first post-reversal pregnancy was my worst yet. By the time I was 11 weeks along, I couldn’t take any food by mouth at all and would blow out an IV line about every three hours. The decision was made to give me a PICC line just to get me through the pregnancy. I kept the PICC line in for an additional 10 weeks. At 21 weeks I was down to just average, bad morning sickness without the need for IV fluids.

PICC Line

PICC Line

We definitely had our moments during that time of wondering what on earth we had done to ourselves. It can get really difficult to keep your eyes on God when you keep tripping over real life.

But we squeaked our way through, leaning heavily on Jesus, on our friends, and our family. And in a quick and healthy birth Therese Marie joined our family in March of 2002.

Since that time we have had four more babies and two miscarriages and life has dealt us many other blessings and some really hard times as well. I can’t say that it never crosses my mind that if we hadn’t had the reversal, my youngest child would be 16 years old right now and my house would be a whole lot cleaner. But when my four year old tells me that she loves me a thousand and twenty-nine, or my two year old kicks me in the head – again – in the middle of the night and then laughs in his sleep, I am reminded that this is a beautiful life. This life has changed me and formed me. It has been hard – very much so. But it has been joyful.

When our older kids come home, or really when anyone comes in the door, there is a stampede to see who it is and to greet the person. Gus, age 2, will often throw his arms wide for a hug and yell, “You’re back!”

Not everyone is called to the family size we have. Our family isn’t better than others or more holy in any way. I’m not trying to sell anyone on the idea of having nine kids (or more). The size of your family, licitly planned, is between you, your spouse, and God.

We still falter and doubt often, we wrestle with the choice to have another child or not. Having a vasectomy reversal didn’t make that any easier.  Our lives require constant dying to self, but then every life needs that in its own capacity.

In spite of its difficulties, in spite of its chaos, our family is our ministry and it is filled to the brim with love.

Family Trip to Disney 2013

Family Trip to Disney 2013

 

The Reversal, Part 3: The Trip

Part 1, Part 2

I want to take a moment to say that a vasectomy reversal is not for everyone. The Church doesn’t require it as part of your penance or to prove that you have really confessed. Some families are called to this path, some are not. I know others who confessed their vasectomy but decided to live out their new found openness to life in other ways: being more involved in church ministry, pro-life work, foster care, being more available to help other families around you – there are many ways to be in service to life. I do not judge people who have had this procedure or those who don’t get it reversed. My goal here is only to tell our story. We strongly felt that our call was to pursue a vasectomy reversal. Our families were against our decision and friends thought we were crazy.

The actual vasectomy reversal was so much more than a procedure to have done. Getting to that point had been a walk of faith every step of the way. We found a doctor in New Braunfels, Texas who did reversals for very little over his own cost. He viewed it as a ministry to help people who had rediscovered the blessing that fertility is. We carefully set aside the money and planned to travel to Texas.

A few days before we traveled, I mentioned our trip and asked for prayers on a Catholic Homeschooling email list I was on at the time. Two women responded, from Michigan, that they and their husbands would be there the same time we were. We we all even staying at the same hotel!

I have tried to write about our trip many times in the last 13 years. But the time is so holy in my mind and heart that putting it into words seems almost profane.  Our trip was surreal, from start to finish. Listing it as just events that happened to us doesn’t do it justice. With that said, I will try one more time to write this out.

We arrived in San Antonio very late at night, picked up our rental car and had to drive quite a while to get to New Braunfels and our hotel. We didn’t get to our room until after 2am, and we would have to leave for the doctor’s office at 5:30am.

The next day dawned bright and hot and found us in the waiting room of a small surgical office. The staff was friendly and there were pictures of Jesus on the walls. We were nervous and sleep deprived. The doctor met with us briefly. He prayed with us, for Jay’s safety and for future blessings, and then explained how the procedure would go – he would take Jay back and get him ready, then they would come and get me and I could sit near Jay’s head during the procedure.

When I walked into the tiny operating room, I was amazed at just how different this experience was from the cold, slick office where Jay had the vasectomy. The first thing I saw was this picture, hung above the operating table:

JesusAnd there was quiet praise music playing in the background.

The procedure was uncomfortable for Jay, much worse than the vasectomy had been. I was able to rub his face and shoulders to comfort him. Part of the way through the surgery, the doctor called me over to the other side of the little curtain blocking Jay’s view. He had me look through the microscope and see just how tiny the thread and stitches were. He explained that showing the wives this detail made sure the men got the rest they needed to fully heal after the surgery.

When it was all done, the doctor told us about good places to get dinner around town and cautioned Jay to take it very easy. We paid and went back to our hotel to catch up on our sleep.

The rest of the trip is now a blended memory of floating from one thing to another – we wandered a book store, we attempted to go to mass but our rental car broke down, we met with the other two couples and had a lovely dinner together.

The next day, Jay had a check up with the doctor to make sure he was healing well. Then we drove an hour to an Orthodox Monastery nearby where there was an icon of Mary that was weeping myrrh. We were both blessed with the myrrh, and spent some time in prayer there.

(I have since found out unfortunate news about this monastery, and that this icon was a fraud. In spite of that, this was a very moving part of our experience. Were we blessed by a fake priest with fraudulent scented oil? I guess we were. Maybe that is not when or where our miracle occurred. It doesn’t really matter what or when the miracle was. But I still believe that the children that came after our reversal are miraculous.)

Soon we were home and swept back up into the mix of everyday life. Our trip and Jay’s surgery had been a sort of retreat for us. We both felt strongly that we were putting our whole lives firmly back into God’s hands. Would we conceive again? Would I be as sick as I had in the past?

In a complete change from where we began, we fervently hoped that we would be blessed with another baby. We had moved from fear and denial to begging God to give us another baby, along with deep sorrow for the choices we had made in the past.

The months began to tick by, one after another. Our youngest child turned 3 and I started to think that our baby days were at an end, that we had done our part, but God’s answer to us was a firm but gentle “No.”

Then – ten months after the reversal, we saw what we had hoped for – two pink lines.

Part 4

The Reversal, Part 2: A Change of Heart

Part 1

Part 2:
The winter of early 2000 found us living in a city far from our families, with Jay out of work and both of us depressed.  We had four young children from 2 to 9 years old, were living in a tiny house and trying to homeschool.  We felt alone and overwhelmed.

The tiny house, 900 square feet, two bedrooms and a wet basement.

The tiny house, 900 square feet, two bedrooms and a wet basement.

Our four amazing children, whose smiles and laughter pulled us through a very hard winter. Side note: Our house was so tiny, we put up half of our Christmas tree, so it could be flat against the wall.

Our four amazing children, whose smiles and laughter pulled us through a very hard winter.
Side note: Our house was so tiny, we put up half of our Christmas tree, so it could be flat against the wall.

I began to attend a local protestant mega-church on Wednesdays, just as a way to get out of the house.  Doing that reminded me that what my heart needed most of all was the comfort Jesus could give me.  I began to question why I was Catholic and think about returning to my protestant roots.  During this time, my good friend mentioned that she had received some interesting tapes about different Catholic topics, and felt convicted to pray the rosary more often.  She asked if I would commit to do it with her. I responded that I wasn’t even sure if I believed in praying the rosary any more. She told me the tapes she got were free and maybe those would help me sort out my confusion.

So I ordered the tapes.  They were free, so why not?  The first one I listened to was Scott Hahn’s conversion story.  Suddenly I realized that there were answers out there to all of my unasked questions and nagging nebulous doubts. When I went through the RCIA to convert to Catholicism years earlier, our class was all about being together and supporting each other and was very light on what the Church actually taught.  I had a few specific questions that stood out from my protestant upbringing, but hadn’t bothered to dig far beyond those and find out what being Catholic really meant.  Now I knew that I was faltering because of those unanswered questions.  So I began to ask them, and I began to read.  As I read, Jay began to listen to some of the tapes too, and began to ask some questions.  So we both began to read, to pray, and to talk and to read and pray some more. The two months he was out of work became almost a retreat for us as we puzzled together what our faith really was all about, about who we were and who God is and what a gift He has given us in His church.

Jay asked me one day if I had listened to a specific tape, “The Secret to Happy Families” and I told him I hadn’t gotten to that one yet. He said, “It’s not what you think it’s about. You should listen to it.” With that as a teaser, I popped it in as soon as I had the chance.

It turns out the whole tape – the whole secret – was about contraception and it’s affect on families. I couldn’t believe it! As they talked about it though, I began to understand, how we need to accept each other fully and how contraception works against that, how our children understand that when we close ourselves so decisively to other children we are commenting on them as well.

I looked at my own family, how my attitude had changed toward them over the past year and a half.  I still loved my children with all my heart but there was a slight shifting in how I viewed them.  Raising them was a hard time to be pushed through and no longer a daily celebration.

There came a day when I sat on our tiny living room floor surrounded by paperwork as I readied our taxes.  The kids would run back and forth, stepping on piles or knocking them all over. As I worked I listened to that tape one more time and suddenly I got it.  The concept sunk in, and in spite of the irritation of trying to work in chaos I saw that this was all a gift.  These children were blessings.  BLESSING.  Blessing that I had been treating as if it was my cross to bear, my hardship to live through.  I had caved in to the idea that my life was all about me and what I could get out of it and not about what I could give and now I saw this tremendous opportunity opening up before me.  My life was not on hold until they were old enough for me to “get something done”.  This was my life right there.

I shared all of this with Jay and he had been feeling the same way. He turned to me and said, “Jenni, I want to have more children with you.”  Words that lifted me up in a way I can’t really describe.  I think only someone who has felt like she had to apologize to her husband for being pregnant could really understand the depths of those words and the complete love and acceptance I felt in them. We both went to confession and resolved that we would find some way to have a vasectomy reversal.

Being suddenly on fire for the faith didn’t change our situation, though.  We were still alone and out of work. We made the decision to return to Arizona.  It was a little humiliating to crawl back, just 5 months after moving away, but we knew it was the right thing to do. With help from our families, we were able to move back and get settled again in Arizona.  Over the next few months, we saved pennies, bought a tiny house, kept reading and praying, and made plans to have Jay’s vasectomy reversed.

The Reversal, Part 3: The Trip

The Reversal, Part 1: The Vasectomy

This series has been much requested and a long time coming. It has been hard for me to put this all down in black and white, since this journey was such a personal one. I’ve split the story up into parts to keep it from being too long. They will be published over the next 3-4 days.

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Our vasectomy reversal was so much more than just a change of mind.  It was a chance for us to grow up in and embrace our faith, and it was a major turning point in our lives.  But I can’t share the story of the reversal without telling you how we ended up with a vasectomy in the first place, because those were the first steps on our journey.

I have hesitated to put this story in print for a very long time because one of our children was a complete surprise and it was that pregnancy that led us to get the vasectomy.  I never wanted him to have to read this story and feel in any way like he brought our faith crisis and vasectomy about, because it wasn’t him, it was our reaction to the difficulties that come with pregnancy.  Interestingly enough, down the road, it was the vivaciousness and joy of this child that helped to change our hearts.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  I just have to start by saying that Ben, you were the best surprise that I ever received.  You changed my life for the better in so many ways and I thank God for you all the time.

And now, The Vasectomy.

Pregnancy is never really an easy thing to go through.  It is exhausting and hard on the body.  But my body’s response to pregnancy was to experience morning sickness to an extreme degree.  What I experienced was called Hyperemesis Gravidarum and involved complete disability on my part.  I lost a ton of weight and could barely move without it causing more extreme nausea and vomiting.  My first pregnancy involved multiple hospital stays.  In subsequent pregnancies I was able to use home health care for my I.V. fluids when I couldn’t hold down foods for weeks on end.

During my third pregnancy in five years, the stress really got to us and we decided that we could not go through this again.  Since I was breastfeeding and had just become Catholic, we resolved to follow the Church’s teachings on birth control and use NFP to prevent getting pregnant ever again.  We went through the classes and began to chart in earnest.  (We had charted and used NFP to conceive our third child, but this was our first experience really using NFP to prevent pregnancy.)

Seventeen months later, during an ambiguous cycle involving a fever on my part, we learned that we had a fourth baby on the way.

I was angry, Jay was angry.  I felt both betrayed and at fault at the same time.  How could I make such a mistake?  How could NFP fail us like this?

In retrospect, once our emotions calmed down, we were able to look at our chart and see exactly how it happened.  The rules are there for a reason and they define the fertile and infertile times.  We very clearly broke the rules in hopes of shortening our time of abstinence.  The end result was that we were now pregnant.

But it took us a long time to realize that.  At that moment, we just felt like we could no longer trust NFP to keep us from getting pregnant.  Our need to not get pregnant again became frantic as I endured the worst pregnancy yet as far as the Hyperemesis.  For weeks, I could barely move.  I was under the supervision of a negligent doctor at the time who allowed my condition to become very serious.  At one point, when I had nothing by mouth for nearly three weeks, the home health nurse came to deliver supplies and start a new I.V. line and was disturbed to find me in such a state.  My heart had begun to beat erratically and I was barely conscious.  He told us that he wasn’t leaving our home until he had spoken to the doctor directly and seen that I had been admitted to the hospital.

Thankfully, the negligent doctor was not on call that night and the nurse made contact with another doctor in the practice who took my condition seriously.  I was admitted and received some better treatment during that hospital stay.

That was a scary time for Jay, and really sealed in his mind that we just could not go through this again.

I recovered slowly and had a healthy baby boy, our Benjamin, in May of 1997.

Ten months later found us in a clean, fancy doctor office for Jay’s vasectomy.  The doctor brought us both back, talked for a moment, and then I was led back to the waiting room.  I waited and read a Cosmo in that shiny, white place.  20 minutes or so later,  Jay walked out, seemingly no different.  I was surprised that he wasn’t in pain, but he was still numb from the anesthetic.  I brought him home and tucked him in bed so he could rest for the day.  He told me a little bit about what happened back there, but I don’t remember that we ever really discussed it much again.  It was over, we were done.  No more fear of living through an awful pregnancy like that again.

We knew that what we had done was a sin in the eyes of the Catholic Church.  But we really felt that if the Church had to really look at our situation, they would have made some kind of loophole.  I mean, my health was at stake!  That last pregnancy had been the worst of all, who knew what could happen if we were to slip up again!  One friend of mine was understanding but did all she could to talk me out of it.  She was never pushy, she just offered information, she never judged us.  I was very grateful for that, and it kept our communication open for later on when our hearts started to change.

The Reversal, Part 2: A Change of Heart

On Getting Older

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I’ve been feeling kind of used up lately, like I am past my expiration date. Wilted, not fresh. I look at all the new young mommies whose children go to school with mine and I feel… I hate to say it: old.

I’m not old. I hesitate to even use “middle aged” because 1. I hate that term and 2. That just seems to make me officially an unfashionable age.

I’m 42. My body doesn’t do some of the things it once did like lose weight or have a coordinated pattern to hormones or stay awake past 10pm.  But, like I said, I’m still not old. There are a lot of people older than me who I still think are young and thin and vital.

Still, when I go to a playgroup or a library story time with other mothers of small children I am not a part of their social circle anymore. I am the older, wiser momma. Which I guess is okay, but I still long for the days of being the young, thin, hip momma.

It hasn’t been something I have given a lot of thought to, these feelings have just been an undercurrent in my mind lately. It took me surprise when I found the words to flesh out some of these feelings in an unlikely place.

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I have recently been rereading “The Once and Future King” by T.H. White. I had read it years and years ago, and was feeling nostalgic for a King Arthur story so I picked it up again. Within it’s rambling tale are woven a few threads of wisdom about getting older as a woman.

In this first passage, Guenever (as spelled in the book) is 22 and it discusses for the moment how she is a bit older and wiser than she was as a young bride. Then there is this paragraph, which seems to discuss how she will mature in the future:

There is a thing called knowledge of the world, which people do not have until the are middle aged. It is something which cannot be taught to younger people, because it is not logical and does not obey laws which are constant. It has no rules. Only, in the long years which bring women to the middle of life, a sense of balance develops. You can’t teach a baby to walk by explaining it to her logically – she has to learn the strange poise of walking by experience. In some ways like that, you cannot teach a young woman to have knowledge of the world. She has to be left to the experience of the years. And then, when she is beginning to hate her used body, she suddenly finds hat she can do it. She can go on living – not by principle, not by deduction, not by knowledge of good and evil, but simply by a peculiar shifting of balance which defies each of those things often. She no longer hopes to live by seeking the truth – if women ever hope to do this – but continues henceforth under the guidance of a seventh sense. Balance was the sixth sense, which she won when she first learned to walk, and now she has the seventh one – knowledge of the world.  – T.H. White, The Once and Future King: The Ill Made Knight, Chapter 13

It does get a little depressing after that, but after reading this paragraph, I realized that I choose where I am. I do not want to be something I am no longer fit to be. My life has changed me, in some ways good and in some ways not so good, but if I had a choice between then and now, I choose now. That is am important distinction to me, to realize that the grass is indeed greener right where I am standing. It takes the sting out of things like a used up body.

The Once and Future King is a funny book. Funny, strange, I mean. It has lengthy passages about history, chivalry, and even fashion or other things that could easily be left out and tend to weigh down the amazing story of King Arthur, Guenever, and Lancelot. But there are also passages like the above when he just talks about how people are in their deepest hearts. He has a beautiful insight into people and it has been a part of the book that I missed entirely when I read it as a teen.

The next passage I wanted to share about getting older is much more personal and poignant. Guenever is older, 42, and is clearly struggling with the contradiction between what she looks like and how she feels. The scene is Lancelot’s return after a long quest.

Guenever had overdressed for the occasion. She had put on a make-up which she did not need, and put it on badly. She was forty-two.
When Lancelot saw her waiting for him at the table, with Arthur beside her, the heart-sack broke in his wame, and the love inside it ran about his veins. It was his old love for a girl of twenty, standing proudly by her throne with the present of captive about her – but now the same girl was standing in other surroundings, the surroundings of bad make-up and loud silks, by which she was trying to defy the invincible doom of human destiny. He saw her as the passionate spirit of innocent youth, now beleaguered by the trick which is played on youth – the trick of treachery in the body, which turns flesh into green bones. Her stupid finery was not vulgar to him, but touching. The girl was still there, still appealing from behind the breaking barricade of rouge. She had made the brave protest: I will not be vanquished. Under the clumsy coquetry, the undignified clothes, there was a human cry for help. The young eyes were puzzled, saying: It is I, inside here – what have they done to me? I will not submit. Some part of her spirit knew that powder was making a guy of her, and hated it, and tried to hold her lover with her eyes alone. They said: Don’t look at all this. Look at me. I am still here, in the eyes. Look at me, here in this prison, and help me out. Another part said: I am not old, it is an illusion. I am beautifully made-up. See, I will perform the movements of youth. I will defy the enormous army of age.  – T.H. White, The Once and Future King: The Ill Made Knight, Chapter 32

I have felt that; what Guenever felt there, what T.H. White so heartbreakingly described, that desire to be seen and loved for what I am, but of not knowing exactly what I am anymore because I don’t recognize myself. I miss the simplicity and beauty of being very young, but I cherish the dignity that years have brought to me. I want it all – to be the same as I was and to be different too. I am still me, still a frightened little girl much of the time, but my appearance and vocation belie that. There is a balance between trying too hard to care how I look and not trying hard enough and fully surrendering (prematurely, I might add) to being – not old, but older. To lean too far either way is to become older than I am and to make myself a bit of a joke.

How all of these feelings and inner conflicts found their way into a King Arthur story is a mystery, but I am thankful for these little glimpses from Mr. White, because they show me that I am not alone. No one really talks about how it feels to watch your body, brain, relationships, and outlook change. Or I suspect that maybe they do, but you can’t hear the conversation until you can properly understand it, like whispers in a different language.

As I age and change it is not just my own perception of myself that must adjust, but I have to put my faith in others to know me on a deeper level than just the number of my age or how I look on a particular day. There is a disdain in our culture for women who have passed their 30’s. People say things like “woman of a certain age” which I may or may not qualify for, but it is dismissive of the person it is being said about. It seems to define that person into a stereotype, a joke. I read one book of stories from an emergency room and it talked about defining people as “3F” which meant female, fat, and forty. I thought, that could just as easily be me. But I don’t want to be taken lightly just because I am older or might have an attitude or sickness that is “typical” for one my age.

Dustin Hoffman discusses this eloquently when he talks about his role in the movie “Tootsie.” He explains that he expected to be beautiful when they dressed him up as a woman, but that wasn’t how things worked out. He realized that even as a woman that wasn’t traditionally attractive, he would still have been a valuable and interesting person. He was sad to think about the people he had missed out on having a relationship with because he had judged them on their looks.

I see my young daughters, who are in their simple and beautiful stage of life, and I miss that time. I hope that I can look beyond age and my own expectation of people and see them – truly see them, as I hope to be seen. In spite of my fears and insecurities, I will go out boldly, trusting that I am unique and not reduced to a stereotype or example of others; I am only myself, and I choose to be who I am.

 

No More Secrets

Last month I did something I regret. I put myself in a position of hiding a big part of myself from my friends and family. I didn’t mean to do that, it was just how the events unfolded.

On December 12, I found out I was pregnant.  Since it was so close to Christmas, we decided that Christmas morning would be the perfect day to tell the kids. All we had to do to make it the perfect surprise was to keep our mouths shut until then. We had a great plan to get an address plaque with the number 10 on it and have the kids open it as they were opening presents.

But our hopes were quelled just six days later when I miscarried.

This was our first loss. We were very sad, but grateful that we haven’t experienced this before and that if it had to happen, it was early on.  The physical part wasn’t terrible, aside from the knowledge of what it was, but I was left emotionally drained and depressed. And I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about it after the fact. I felt like I would be trying to make excuses for myself for being in a bad mood or for needing to take it easy, so I just tried to carry on as if nothing was happening.

I felt lonely and isolated from my friends – but it was my own doing. I found it hard to write or even journal because I was trying so hard not to put any of this into words at all. I was one of the walking wounded, trying to act like I wasn’t.

I remembered clearly what one friend, who has had several miscarriages, told me once, “Tell the kids right away, so they can pray for their new little brother or sister.” I was sorry that I had deprived them of that knowledge of their sibling.

I know, my plan wasn’t excessive secrecy, I was only trying to wait a couple weeks. So maybe I should have said something right away when I realized that the baby was gone. I didn’t though. I can’t really kick myself too hard since I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time.

I’m feeling better now, emotionally and physically, especially with getting this secret of ours out in the open, which is good because I don’t want to keep that secret again.

Because, in His amazing grace, God has seen fit to bless us again, just a month later. I don’t know if we will get to meet this little one in this life or if he or she will join the other baby we have in heaven. I am an older mom now, and I know that makes it all riskier. Nevertheless, I want others to have the opportunity to pray for our baby, to hope along with us, and to hold our hands if this ends in sadness.

We have hope; hope that we might meet this one at the right time, healthy and living and ready for all kinds of adventures and fun in this crazy family.

We take this next step, like we always do, excited for our future and terrified of the possibilities while trying to lean on Jesus to sustain us. I hope you will pray for us and with us for this little one.

Anything

anything

I have spent the last 8 weeks on a book study/bible study based on the book “Anything” By Jennie Allen. In general, I tend to have a pretty decent awareness of living in a state of surrender to God. I mean, I have 9 children, I have to live on the edge a little bit, right? But there are always those few things…

She begins by sharing a vision she and her husband shared, and a prayer they prayed. Their vision was to live in radical surrender to God. They wrestled with it for some time and then one evening finally said:

“God we will do anything. Anything.” It didn’t feel fancy. It wasn’t even a big deal. But the prayer held in it a thousand little deaths. In saying anything, it meant we were handing him everything.

One of the things that struck me is that in my life I have not so much uttered a prayer of “anything” as much as “whatever”. And I think there is a subtle difference. “Anything” seems more like a positive movement, an action of giving my life back to God as a gift, where “whatever” feels more like a surrender borne of defeat. Of course, my life was His gift to me to begin with and “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” – Oswald Chambers.

I was trying to be a limp rag doll in His hands and calling that my version of Mary’s fiat, but what He was asking of my was to be a useful tool for Him. That was my difference between “anything” and “whatever”.

The biggest revelation that I found during this study was how much fear I was harboring towards surrender. Jennie writes, ” I had prayed the prayer of anything as though I were about to launch on the Superman ride at Six Flags, my eyes closed tight and fingernails digging in. I was so afraid.”

What are you most afraid of? What would be the very worst thing that God may allow you to suffer? We all would say his character is loving and good, but do we really trust that he won’t get crazy and dish out the same life he gave Job?

 

One thing that kept coming back to me as I went through this study was one of the first verses I memorized: Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for woe, plans to give you a future and a hope.

And I really, at the core of my being, believe that anything I go through, whether brought into my life by Him or by our broken world, can be used by Him for my good. There have been plenty of rough times: being at the brink of divorce, financial troubles, a house fire, a fatal car accident, a deadly illness, not to mention the daily struggles of dying to self and living for others.  But no matter how painful, how gut wrenching those times were to live through, I can’t bring myself to wish any of them away or regret going through any of them. I came through them changed for the better every single time. Without those, I would not be who I am now.

“Anything” is not just about me being a better person. This study has hit me on other levels.  It has been about drawing closer to God, in a real communicative relationship. I learned to do a better job talking to Him.  I guess the idea of surrendering my self to Him drove me to finally have some more open honest conversations with Him. I’ve prayed all my life, but this last 8 weeks was different. (A mini silent retreat during that time helped a great deal too. Who knew I could pray for two hours straight and love every second of it?)

In “Anything”, Jennie asks a professor how someone can know God. His response was:

He began by listing all the ways we grow or know God: prayer, studying Scripture, church, worship, experiences, suffering, confession, community, and on and on. Then he said, “But obviously each of these is unpredictable . . . many people who study the Bible never find God. Many people who go to church never really know him. The only exercise that works 100 percent of the time to draw one close to the real God is risk… To risk is to willingly place your life in the hand of an unseen God and an unknown future, then to watch him come through. He starts to get real when you live like that.”

But it isn’t just the big things in which we live in a state of risk.  God isn’t calling me (at least right now) to sell all my possessions and run off to Africa. There is risk to be found even in the day to day. Sometimes the risk that is thrust upon us is in small things – a spilled bowl of cereal for example. Control is taken from me in that moment, I risk losing the momentum that I had built towards whatever else I was trying to get done. I risk my vision for that few moments. I know it sounds a little strange, but when you are really tired, momentum is a very important thing. In that moment, it is hard for me to let go and roll with it. I tend to throw a little mini-tantrum first. There are hard lessons in surrender to be learned in small moments.

Like a small child holding a puppy too tightly, God had to pry my fingers off my dreams and goals, tell me to relax a little bit and then He handed them back to let me try holding them more carefully.  At least twice in this study it looked like something I had dared to trust God with was going to be taken completely away. Once when I thought I was pregnant (I’m not.) and would have to give up my (feeble) attempts at running and losing weight. Another time when it looked like our dreams for the future were dashed. Each time I fell apart, and each time I came to a point of surrender, a point where I could trust God for either outcome. There was a rare peace there.

I have so much more to say on this but I hate to promise a series because I’m still not great on the follow through. I’ll try though!

Daily Music

I have posted before about how much I love the song “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”. I think the tune is beautiful and the words just speak to me. Since I posted so recently about adding music to my life outside of mass, I thought I would share my new favorite version of the song. It’s a little twangy, but beautiful, and the photography in the video is stunning. The kids loved seeing all the animals.

No, I don’t think this particular version belongs in mass. But it is perfect for driving or folding laundry, and I love that my kids now know all the words. I’d love to hear about any songs or artists that you love to listen to!

Here you go:

 
Edited to add: after reading my post on Antiphons and music in mass, some may see this post and think that my taste in music is simply flawed and so I can’t understand the changes. If that crossed your mind, you need to read the Antiphons post again, because you missed the point.