My Sunday Best Fourth Edition

Today I wore my new skirt from E-Shakti.  They described its color as “hydrangea.”  Isn’t that dreamy?  [Sidenote: We still have hydrangea blooming on the side of the house.  This is the latest they have ever gone.]  My shirt was from Amazon.com, brand Polo Association.  This was the first time I wore this outfit.  I spent the whole time imagining I was in a period piece, possibly Grantchester or Call the Midwife.  If I had unlimited funds, my entire wardrobe would look like something out the 1950s or early 1960s.  I’m particularly fond of the first season of The Dick Van Dyke Show; how lucky was Mary Tyler Moore?!

E was gleefully pointing at the moon, which was still faintly present in the sky.  The moon is one of her top 20 favorite things.  She’s mildly obsessed.

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Today everything clicked.  E behaved just as she always does.  In fact, I forgot to bring her sippy cup to church, so my husband headed home to get it as E compulsively mumbled “Wawa Wawa Wawa.”  Good thing we only live 5 minutes away and are always early.  Something like that used to feel like a setback, but now I roll with it.  It’s amazing how a change of attitude alters your perception and sets up your whole day for success (for the most part).  Despite juggling and wrestling with and chasing E and spending a good portion of the time in the narthex, I felt at peace.  I keep coming back to the word ENOUGH.  I felt full of God, satiated.  He was enough, I was enough, the simple pleasures, challenges, and work of this day that He gave to me were enough.

Today’s gospel was a beautiful one, and the deacon gave a remarkable homily.  I actually got to listen to it because it was my husband’s turn in our rotation/dance with the toddler, and he was in the narthex at the time.

The deacon said that to delay God’s call was the same as denying it.  We are all called to say YES to God, just as Mary did.  FIAT.  She gave him all of herself.  There is nothing on earth that matters more than God.  We are called to follow Him first and foremost, even if it means turning our back on the conventions of this world.  He comes before job, finances, personal preference, comfort, even family.  If we embrace this kind of existence, it will completely transform our lives, and force us to reprioritize all aspects of ourselves.  We have free will.  God gives us a choice.  In choosing Him, we always gain freedom, though it might not be the world’s idea of freedom.

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I listened and felt even more peace.  Why put off what God is calling us to do?  Why delay what we know is best and deny our love?  My husband and I have longed for another child, and we have decided that despite what the world might deem practical, in direct opposition to a culture that values granite countertops and luxury SUVs more than sticky little fingers and carseats, we will be open to life.  Had we waited for the “right” time—when our careers were perfect, when our bank account was perfect, when our home was perfect—we would not have had our sweet baby girl E.  She is the joy of our lives, and produced a perfect love that cast out all fear.  There is no perfect time.  But God’s love for us is perfect.  So we unite our will with His and wait to see all the joy that He will bring us.

Linking up with Rosie at A Blog for My Mom!  Go check out everyone’s Sunday best.

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Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real in Early Summer

[Pretty]

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Our summer roses are in bloom.  We are enjoying this rose bush that was planted decades ago, was here when we moved in, and has required nothing from us but a good pruning twice a year.  It smells divine, as a rose should, not like roses you buy at a store, and reminds me of the old man who lived across the street when I was a little girl.  He would give me beautiful roses that smelled like heaven.  I’m sure St. Therese would agree!

[Happy]

Enjoying mojitos made from fresh mint in our garden while watching baby girl splash in her pool on a quiet summer afternoon.  Having the woods back up to our yard makes life grand.  Bird songs, frogs, and crickets.  Yes, please!

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We are also enjoying fresh produce from my father’s garden that makes the tastebuds sing.  How wonderful to have delicious tasting tomatoes and cucumbers as opposed to the sterile offerings of the grocery store.  I made this summer corn salad from Taste of Home, a favorite!

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[Funny]

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Baby Girl’s laughter as Daddy squirted her with the hose!  E has discovered the water, and she loves it!  Wawa, wawa, wawa.  I hear it all day long!  I ask her if she is a baby; she answers with an emphatic “NO!”  “Well, are you a little girl?”  “No, no, no.”  So then I take another route, “Are you a big girl?”  She looks at me like I am crazy: “No.”  “Well, what are you then?”  MONKEY SOUNDS.  Yes, Baby Girl is a monkey.

[Real]

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The seeds I believed would never come up have sprouted.  In fact, they were coming up a day and a half after they were planted!  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I’m taking this as a sign from God and a metaphor for life.  My husband and I have planted seeds, are trusting in God, and something will come from it all.  God has a plan for us if we trust in Him and have hope.  He will provide.

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What We are Reading 6/14/16

Books are a big deal in this house!  I’m pretty sure I was born with a book in my hand.  I was the kid who stayed up late into the night reading with a flashlight under my blanket.  When we would go shopping or run errands, I had to take at least two books with me.  Books have always been my constant companions, comfort, and joy.  I cannot fall asleep without reading at least a few pages of a book; most nights these days I count chapters and not pages.

My baby girl has brought many surprises into my life.  She is not a carbon copy of me, nor would I want her to be (believe me—I have my issues, and I would not want to pass them on!)  She is a very shy child; I was outgoing.  She is into things like swimming and cats and eating stuff off the floor, none of which I’m took keen about.  But I am so thankful, thrilled, yes, ecstatic even, that we share a love of books.  We probably read about 30 stories a day.  Not kidding.  I am very grateful for this shared experience, our time together, interacting with her over a story, and, best of all, the fact that she is actually still and sitting during this time (doesn’t happen frequently!).

As a former elementary school librarian and teacher, I have MANY, MANY books.  Shelves full.  So E has benefited from a vast selection.  The two I am highlighting this week have been in the rotation since she first came home from the hospital and will probably be read for many years to come.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault

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This was the first book in which E showed an interest.  At 10 months old, she crawled over to me with it in her hand and wanted me to read it.  At that point, I knew that all the wrestling and reading while carrying her and pacing had been worth it.  She was hooked.  I credit her knowing her letters and their sounds at the age of 19 months with her obsession for this book.  [She doesn’t talk much, but the girl knows her ABCs.]  She loves the rhythmic nature, the bright colors, and associating the letters and their sounds with the names of people in her family.  I am convinced that when I am 93 years old and battling dementia in a nursing home, I will be giving recitations of this book to my caregivers.  Because it is now embedded in my psyche.

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Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown

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At one point, my husband actually groaned, “Not Big Read Barn again!”  There is something about this book that entrances her.  She loves pointing out the animals and making their sounds.  She has the Fisher Price barn with animals and enjoys playing with it after reading the story, acting it out in her own way.  She will “read” this book on her own now, flipping through the pages, pointing to different things, and making obscure noises that mean very specific and important things (to her).

And what about Mama?  What’s on my nightstand?

God Will Provide by Patricia Treece

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I just finished this.  It was a good read and highlighted modern saints with whom I am not that familiar.  It inspired me to go further and look into their lives more.  Treece also reminded me that I need to trust more and surrender to His will.  Looking to the saints as a model is always the answer.  There are so many of them, with so many different personalities, that you are bound to find someone whose spiritual journey and struggle resonates with your own.

 

Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

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Umm. . .so, wow!  Heavy bedtime reading, but so worth it!  Obviously Chesterton’s message is hugely significant, but his use of language while making his argument is amazing.  Why can’t I be British and speak with wit and eloquence?  So many quotes I want to underline, but alas, this is a library book.  Some of the highlights so far:

There is a notion adrift everywhere that imagination, especially mystical imagination, is dangerous to man’s mental balance. . .Imagination does not breed insanity.  Exactly what does breed insanity is reason.  Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do.  Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. . .Poetry [is] not the disease, but the medicine. . .Everywhere we see that men do not go mad by dreaming. . .Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite.  To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. . .The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head.  And it is his head that splits.

And a wonderful quote conveying why the mystery of our faith is so important, sacred, and crucial to our lives, why I am thankful I am a cradle Catholic and why I am raising my daughter in the Church:

Mysticism keeps man sane.  As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity.  The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic.  He has permitted the twilight.  He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. . .If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. . .Thus he has always believed that there is such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. . .He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not.  It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. . .The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious.  The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.

More of this, please!  Looking forward to savoring this work.

 

 

My Sunday Best:Love and Mess and Angels

So this picture is rather apropos considering our current state of affairs—which is a mess!

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Blurry, me stooped, E not looking, photobombed by a broom, my bow untied after wrestling with a toddler through a bunch of even worse photo outtakes.  Yeah, that’s about right.  My dress is from Forever 21; I wore it to my bridal shower a million years ago (alright, almost 4 years ago, but it feels like a million!)  E’s dress is from Stelly Belly.  It was her birthday dress from a year ago but is only now fitting properly.  [Did I mention the theme for today is MESS?]  Ha!

I spent the week consumed in prayer, in a good way.  I felt His loving arms around me every single day.  I even made it to morning Mass on Wednesday and Friday, which provided me with so much comfort.  Still praying for change, still operating with worry just under the surface, but ultimately hopeful and abiding in Him.  I was trusting and positive, and it felt so good!

But then yesterday came.  Sunday, a day of rest, a day of worship, and the one blissful, blessed day that my husband shares with us.  And I hit a wall.  Instead of prayer consuming me, I was consumed by worry.

I suppose the day could have gone either way, or possibly just ended up with me being a little grumpy, had things transpired differently at Mass.  I have become accustomed to our routine of rotating back and forth in the narthex, chasing and juggling and whispering and hushing our baby girl.  But this time she didn’t even make it through the entrance hymn without crying and fussing and actually demanding to leave.  (Ordinarily we can get her to the homily or at least to the Gospel reading.)  She was an absolute mess the entire time.  As a result, I was a sweating, begging, heart racing ball of chaos myself.

I am used to my almost 2 year old behaving like an almost 2 year old.  But yesterday was enough to leave me in tears.  At Communion, E actually tried to grab the hand of the Eucharistic minister and pull out the host.  She wanted to have one just like mama and yelled her own name.  Sigh.  E spent the entire time she wasn’t confined to the narthex trying to run up the aisle to the side altar.  She is in love with the two beautiful, enormous angels up there and the candles surrounding them.  She wanted to see them and be with them all Mass.  At the end of Mass, after comforting her following a trip and face plant on the marble floor, we brought her up to see the angels.  We approached the altar very respectfully, and she said hello to the angels, never touching them, just happily beaming in their beauty.

 

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These angel photos aren’t the ones our our altar, but they are reminiscent of them.  The ones on our altar are so beautiful and old.

My husband and I noticed two women staring at us in horror.  As if we were doing something terribly wrong.  One approached me and said sternly, “Those aren’t secured.”  I assured her we would never let E touch them or run around the altar.  I even introduced my husband, E, and I, but she maintained her stern, disapproving demeanor.

I know she is probably a very good person.  I see her at morning Mass.  Normally I always give people the benefit of the doubt.  After all, I’ve said and done things I regret.  But after this hard morning, and this week of strained optimism, all I wanted was some peace and welcoming in God’s house.  I could have burst into tears.  Then I remembered that E is a child of God, a member of our church parish just like everybody else there, and Jesus said let the little children come to me.  E is little and learning.  In my own way, I am still little and learning.  But we were as deserving of a place at God’s table as anyone else and perhaps more than anyone else there that morning needed to see those angels and be reminded of how they are working in our lives RIGHT NOW.

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Our dwindling bank account, my husband’s long, grueling hours, our desperation to have another child despite financial circumstances that make it impossible, our struggle just to make it through each day choosing love and hope over fear and worry.  That woman couldn’t know those things or how much we just sought sanctuary in God that morning.  I tell myself she had good intentions.  I try to maintain perspective.

Then I realize that’s the real issue—trying to maintain perspective.  In the midst of all of this chaos—our personal worries and a world in which a person can pick up a gun and end the lives of so many in so little time—it’s hard to remember that God’s mercy and love conquer fear and worry and evil.  We pay a price for free will.  Yet just as there are people who use that will for terrible, evil things or perhaps just for seemingly small, inconsequential acts that lack kindness, there are people out there whose wills are united with Christ’s and who are choosing to show love in all that they say and do every single day.  I encounter far more of the latter than the former.  I need to remember that.  And I need to remember when I start to make choices or behave in a way that turns little children away from angels.  We are ALL children of God.  I can never know what is in the hearts of those before me.  But I can always trust in kneeling on the altar and opening my heart to God’s angels.

Linking up with Rosie at A Blog for My Mom For My Sunday Best.

 

Casting Out Fear

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I picked up the pregnancy test from the store almost as an afterthought.  It was impossible.  I had had a miscarriage less than a month before.  Yet I felt so different, so strange, and oddly enough, so like I had felt when I had first discovered we were expecting the baby we had now lost.  I assumed the strange compulsion to purchase the test came from some misguided notion born of my raw, wounded soul.  Perhaps my hormones were still fluctuating, causing me to misinterpret things, prompting symptoms that were just traces of what had once been, ultimately signifying nothing. Just a reminder of the loss.  As I had learned weeks before, my body had betrayed me; it was probably up to some underhanded trick, inflicting still more pain.

I unloaded the groceries on that ordinary, tiresome Monday in late October, then went to the bathroom to perfunctorily perform what I knew to be a useless task.  And then, incredibly, impossibly, unbelievably—there were two lines.  The test said I was pregnant.

It was just old hormones still in my system.  Vestiges of the child longed for and lost, mocking me.  I wondered how much more pain I would have to endure.

But then I asked myself—what if this was real?  There had only been one time.  The doctor had told us not to try again until I had had a full cycle.  We had risked one time, certain it would produce nothing.  And yet. . .what if?  Could it be true?

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I recalled what I had done the last time, which was the first time.  I remembered sinking to my knees on the faded linoleum floor of the bathroom, and using the side of the bathtub almost as a kind of altar, putting my hands together in prayer.  I had looked out the large window at the green woods beyond, the sun peeking through the trees, and I had thanked God with my whole heart.  But that miracle was not meant to be.  We had lost that precious soul after a mere 7 weeks.  Quickly I did the math.  If the test I held in my hand were true, it meant that a mere 2 weeks after our miscarriage another life had been created.  2 weeks.  2 babies.  One gone, another possibly just beginning to be formed.  I couldn’t begin to wrap my mind around it.  And if it were true, wouldn’t it mean that something would go wrong again?  They were too close together.  The doctor wouldn’t be happy.  What if I lost this one, too?  What if I got my hopes up for nothing?  It was more than I could bear to think about.

I lay down in bed and reached out for my New Testament on my bedside table and turned to my marked place.  I was reading through the New Testament, working my way through, and thought I would just continue in this moment of complete shock and terror.  It would be easy to just read the next few verses, resume where I had stopped.  I was sure they would be something mundane.  Nothing of significance.  And the first line I read, the line I was meant to read, was from 1 John 4:18:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear

The love my husband and I share, the love given to us by God, the love that came together to make this soul and to create the last one—I felt overcome by it all.  All my feelings of abandonment and loss and betrayal came before God’s boundless love for me.  I could not even begin to comprehend all that was contained within that small verse.  As the months passed, as our baby grew inside of me, I would repeat that verse to myself over and over again.  It became the anthem of my pregnancy, the basis for my whole life and the life of my husband and child.  When the terror of another miscarriage would creep in, I would repeat the verse to myself.  I leaned hard on perfect love casting out all my fear and put all my energy into loving God, my husband, and my unborn daughter with a love that refused to know fear.

 

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These days I need that verse again.  My daughter is almost 2 years old.  She is strong and healthy and kind and smart and the joy of our lives.  We were ready to give her a sister or brother.  We had opened our hearts to bringing another life into the world if God willed it.  But then my husband lost his job.  He found something new, a sales job based on commission.  He is trying so hard, working grueling hours, gone more than he is here, and doing his best.  I admire his courage.  My heart aches as I watch him give all that he has to this new endeavor.  But we are struggling.  Money isn’t coming in.  These are tough times.  We have had to set aside our dream of another baby.

Marianne Williamson says that moving from fear to love creates a miracle.  It reminds me of perfect love driving out fear.  God knows we need a miracle right now.  Every day I try so hard to trust in Him, to choose faith over fear, to let love grow in my heart instead of panic.  Some days are easier than others.  When I want to get up, I remind myself of that moment of complete unknown and utter fear, putting down the pregnancy test in the bathroom, opening up my Bible, and reading about love and fear, hearing the exact words I needed at that time.  I think of what God did for me then.  I know He is doing it again.  I hand my life over to Him and wait to see the miracles.

 

Corpus Christi

Happy Feast of Corpus Christi!

E and I were very happy to have our husband/dada at home with us all day.  He has been working very long hours, and we have been missing him.  Something as mundane and previously laborious as a trip to Walmart after Mass is now a fun family bonding experience.  We cherish the precious moments we have him to ourselves.

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I wore dress I bought from Forever 21 back when I was much closer to 21 than I am now!  E wore a precious orange seersucker dress I picked up at a rummage sale at the church where I used to work.  I love a good deal, especially on seersucker or smocking. My husband commented afterwards that he had never seen me in this dress.  For some reason, I used to think it was too short and didn’t care for it.  Now I have discovered that I enjoy wearing it and will probably break it out more this summer.(Especially when my husband actually takes the time to comment on what I’m wearing—a rarity—it means he really likes it!  Ha!)

Our priest’s homily was very good, and though I spent all of it in the narthex chasing around my 22 month old daughter, the speaker system allowed me to hear all of it and enjoy it.  I’m learning to be able to concentrate both on the homily and my child’s simultaneous hugging of holy water fonts.  I hope they would sing “One Bread, One Body,” as it was played at Communion during our wedding, but alas, it was not to be.

 

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This afternoon our dear friend and her two children walked up the street to our house and visited with us.  They are our neighbors, our friends, and our Mass buddies.  Usually we occupy the last two pews on the right side of the church, corralling our littles and making our way through Mass one stuffed animal and Cheerio container at a time.  It feels amazing to truly be part of a community, with neighbors who are also good friends and who worship with us.  It really drove home the message in our priest’s homily that we are all one body in Christ.  When we receive the Eucharist, we not only take in Jesus, we become part of Jesus, as does our neighbors and friends.  They’re fun to share a glass of wine with, too!

We ended the day with a walk through the neighborhood, listening to Baby Girl call out for kitty cats, and admiring our newly cut lawn.  The roses are blooming like crazy!  Now it’s time for some homemade peach cobbler and ice cream.  Summer is upon us!

Linking up with Rosie at A Blog for My Mom!  Check out what the rest of the Catholic mom community wore.

 

Prayer Life in Real Life

And suddenly it’s March!  Nearly mid-March!  And Lent!

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My birthday has come and gone, and I’m another year older.

Christmas day marked the arrival of respiratory illnesses and allergies that would remain with our family for 2 months.  I began the serious work of designing an exhibit for a small museum, a dream of mine fulfilled.  Simultaneously my 19 month old daughter’s back molars—yes, her final set of teeth, the ones most children don’t get until 2 or 3—began erupting.  What was once a (somewhat) balanced and ordered life became intensely out of sorts.

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It’s tough to complain.  In fact, I’m not supposed to complain.  I gave it up for Lent.  I’m in the middle of my life’s work, the greatest work of my life, my dream jobs—historian and mama—and am loving every moment.  Really.  I promise.  I actually have moments in the midst of intense work—whether that be crafting a series of captions to accompany artifacts and period photographs OR making the letter sounds and offering a bit of guidance here and there as my daughter completes her alphabet puzzle—when I literally say out loud, “This is so much fun!  I love this.  I’ve waited so long to do this.”  Life is truly amazing, and God is good.

Yet even in the midst of this great joy I have moments of great anxiety.  Life is very full right now.  So full that much of it is often in disarray.  This is natural.  I work, I mother, and I struggle, as do we all.  The house looks like a 19 month old baby and a dog and two non-Type A people reside here.  Who isn’t tired these days?  Who doesn’t have a never-ending to do list?  I think of the projects I want to do and don’t get to.  I aim too high.  I get ambitious and then disappointed.

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I have to remind myself that I am living my life right here.  Now.  I must pause—I have to pause—for prayer.  If not, I am no good for anyone and certainly not myself.  Prayer must be part of every day for me, scattered throughout the hours, as natural as brushing teeth or cooking dinner.

Have you ever been so exhausted you can’t seem to muster up the strength to cook dinner?

Sigh.  So I need a routine.  And nothing ambitious.  Something simple, readily available, and easy to implement.  I see all kinds of wonderful Lenten studies and groups out there.  But I know in my heart in this season what is best for me.

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The Magnificat Lenten app on my phone.  My phone is always with me.  I can sneak a glance at it while playing blocks or pushing the stroller on our walk.  For a few moments when we pull into a parking space and she is restrained and content, I can scroll through the readings.

Morning prayers.  Mass Reflection.  Evening Prayers.  Night prayers.  My soul craves these things, longs for this order, the regular reminder of God’s presence in my life.

The liturgy of the hours makes order out of chaos and shines light in the darkness of fatigue and angst.  These prayers slow down the rush and bring me back to what really matters.  This universe was created by God, and as mad and paradoxical as the universe may seem, His wisdom and order binds it all together.  Why not bring some of that to my own small, humble, personal universe?

Psalm 25

Lord, make me know your ways.

Lord, teach me your paths.

Make me walk in your truth, and teach me:

For you are God my savior.

 

In you I hope all day long

Because of your goodness, O Lord.

 

The Lord is good and upright.

He shows the path to those who stray

he guides the humble in the right path;

he teaches his way to the poor.

 

 

Praise and Love Through Cloud and Sunshine

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Yesterday I spent two hours trying to get E to take a nap, finally putting her in the car and driving her around until she fell asleep.  When I was taking her out of the car, the elderly man next door walked out of his house with his unleashed dog, who proceeded to run towards me barking loudly, causing my neighbor to yell and scream and my dog (from his perch at the window inside the house) to howl in fury.  Not only did this cause E to awaken, but now she was actually crying hysterically.

This incident clouded my entire day.  It became a no nap day.  My frustration levels skyrocketed, and E and I both suffered for it.  My stress fed her grumpiness until we were both deliriously crabby.

Lying down to go to bed (finally, oh the wonderful sigh that comes with the feel of my pillow), I discovered in my reading that it was the feast day of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.  And just like that, before my eyes, I realized exactly where the day had gone wrong—and it wasn’t about the nap or my less than considerate neighbor.

The little daily lesson: to keep soberly and quietly in His presence, trying to turn every little action on His will, and to praise and love through cloud and sunshine—this is all my care and study.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

I had allowed my frustration and anger, my wants and desires, to get in the way of finding true joy in my day, and as a result had negatively impacted my daughter’s experience as well.  Praise and love through cloud and sunshine.  Before all else, let that be my goal.  I should exert energy in that direction only; everything else will fall into place.

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As if that message weren’t clear enough, I opened up my copy of Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly.  She discusses foreboding joy, one of the ways we prevent vulnerability.  We are always waiting for the other shoe to drop.  When things are going well, we hold our breath, fearful that doom lies around the corner.  Fearful of being truly vulnerable, we allow thoughts of disease, loss, struggle, pain, and suffering to cloud our moments of true joy, preventing us from ever really experiencing this profound emotion.  We do it even when we don’t realize.  Any mother who has ever held her sleeping baby in her arms, peacefully cradling her beloved little one, and thought, “One day she will leave me and go far away, and she won’t be my baby any more,” has done this.  It is an easy habit to get into, trying to prepare ourselves, trying to worry our problems away, attempting to cushion the blows that lie ahead.  Only its no way to live.

According to Brown’s ample research, “Scarcity and fear drive foreboding joy.  We’re afraid that the feeling of joy won’t last, or that there won’t be enough, or that the transition to disappointment (or whatever is in store for us next) will be too difficult.  We’ve learned that giving in to joy is, at best, setting ourselves up for disappointment and, at worst, inviting disaster.  And we struggle with the worthiness issue.  Do we deserve our joy, given our inadequacies and imperfections?  What about the starving children and the war-ravaged world?  Who are we to be joyful?”

I cannot tell you how many times I have fallen into that trap.  Who am I that I should have a health baby, a roof over my head, food to eat, and a husband who love me when all over the world there are people going without, parents grieving the loss of children, couples trapped in loveless marriages, people who long just to have clean water and full bellies?  Of course we should feel compassion and do whatever we can to aid those suffering, but at the same time, denying our joy, not trusting the blessings  God has sent to us, betrays our trust in Him and alienates us from him, ensnaring us in a web of fear.

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What is the antidote to foreboding joy?  Gratitude.  Brene Brown interviewed countless people and conducted years of research, so she has the science to back it up.  But before there were researchers trying to help us cope with our shame, there were the saints, guiding us, modeling for us, helping us find our way to Him.  They all embraced gratitude.  St. Elizabeth knew of what she spoke.  Praise and love through cloud and sunshine.  In embracing an attitude of gratitude, we praise God for all the blessings, big and small, that each day holds for us.

I open my long untouched journal and decide that today, this year, 2016, I will once again record a few things for which I am thankful, every day, the simple, little, beautiful things that make even a No Nap day one to be cherished.

 

Good Reads

The first half of 2015 is rather hazy, as I was still dealing with an infant and seemed to be in constant survival mode.  My reading life was somewhat on hold, a true challenge to someone who previously never went to sleep without cracking open a book.  I remember lying in bed longing to read but also hearing the ticking timer in my head, knowing that in a few hours baby girl would be crying out for me.  Once E started sleeping through the night (August! at 13 months old!), I was back in business.  Nothing felt so utterly luxurious as really delving into a novel, spending two juicy hours before bed time savoring the written word.  I became reacquainted with old friends and met so many new ones, was transported to far away places and explored familiar ones.  There is nothing I love so much as a good book.

Ordinarily I read some pretty heavy literature in my free time.  That no longer fits this season of my life.  My life goal to read the collected works of Charles Dickens has been put on hold for a while.  Though I have to say, despite setting aside the weighty texts, 2015 provided good reads.  I read many good books, but here are the ones I felt were truly exceptional and that I would return to again.

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All the Light We Cannot See  (Anthony Doerr)

This was an amazing read.  This falls under one of my favorite books of all time.  The symbolism was sharp and poignant, the narrative points of view fresh and well crafted, and the setting almost a fairy tale.  This book resonated with me for months.  I am still thinking about it, pondering its themes, finding new questions.  This is a MUST READ.

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Bourbon Street: A History (Richard Campanella)

I was ambivalent at first.  Bourbon Street is the worst representation of my hometown, and I hate for tourists to get the wrong idea.  But Campanella is a superb researcher and weaves a captivating tale of the evolution of a street from a series of small wooden structures in a struggling colonial outpost to a center of commerce and entertainment in a thriving port city to the seedy consumer hub of a tourist driven economy.  Every subject is touched upon—geography, social history, culture, language, religion, race, entertainment, wars, advertising, marketing, and architecture.  This book had me longing to return to a time long ago and walk the street taking in the unique characters and architecture that made it so special.

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The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God  (Fulton Sheen)

I loved this book and intend to read it again in the future.  I learned so many amazing things about the Blessed Mother, all of which pointed me toward her Son (that’s case with Our Lady, isn’t it?)  Bishop Sheen’s explanation and discussion of the rosary was the best I’ve ever read.  My copy of this book is filled with brackets, stars, underlining, and exclamation marks.  I wanted to quote every page.

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I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)

(You can read my thoughts here.)

I’m interested to see how many books I actually read from my 2016 list, and how many new finds are added as the year progresses.

2016 Reading Goals:

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Daring Greatly (Brown)

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids (Payne)

Bienville’s Dilemma: A Historical Geography of New Orleans (Campanella)

Big Magic (Gilbert)

Building the Land of Dreams: New Orleans and the Transformation of Early America (Faber)

The Nightingale (Hannah)

How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way (Seldin)

Montessori from the Start (Lillard)

Bread and Wine (Niequist)

Nathan Coulter (Berry)

Jayber Crow (Berry)

The Writing Life (Annie Dillard)

Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Therese (King)

Orthodoxy (Chesterton)

Band of Brothers (Ambrose)

 

 

How a Retreat from the World Brought Me Back into It

Huddled under the covers, shaking with fear, pleading with God to fill the hole inside me and somehow lighten this dark burden. For so long, that was how I existed. Trapped inside my body, trapped in a world I didn’t understand. Now I still don’t understand it, but I know I’m not supposed to. I’ve surrendered the need to understand to someone far bigger than I am. He’ll take care of it for me.

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My loneliness crippled me. Wounds from the past immobilized me. I wanted so badly to go out into the world, and yet found I was incapable of taking even one step beyond what my work day required of me, beyond what was necessary to pay the bills and feed the dog and keep a stocked refrigerator. So much about the world was terrifying. So much about the emptiness inside me terrified.

Then one day I took a trip to a place far in the country, one blinking streetlight, mellow cows, and tree lined paths. It was a departure from my comfortable routine. It was stepping out of the safe boundaries I had laid for myself. Attend a three day silent retreat over a hundred miles from my home with perfect strangers? It sounded crazy. But I decided on almost a whim to give it a chance. That decision changed my life.

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For three days, I listened to God, got still and silent enough that I could really hear His voice. Nothing interfering, no distractions, no demands. I listened to the priest talk about Jesus, His birth, His life, His death, and how He is part of our lives every day. I wrote a journal of my thoughts for the first time in years. And I prayed. Prayed and prayed and prayed as I walked through fields, rocked back and forth on the porch as dusk fell, stood beside live oaks stretching their own arms in praise, and peered down at the first blossoms of spring.

I came home changed. I was still single. I was one lone girl, but I wasn’t alone. I had known all along that I had family and friends who loved me, but when you spend night after night eating dinner alone, going to bed in an empty apartment, and struggling through each day without encountering one person who truly loves you—sure, there are well-intentioned, kind people at work, but none who love you profoundly for your true self—you wind up feeling so wretchedly alone that it’s almost indescribable. I grew up with catechism and Mass and a love for God. But I don’t think I really sensed His presence with me until I went on retreat. After that, I knew God was with me even when I felt the most alone.

I started waking up happy. For no reason at all, I was full of joy. I realized that had never happened before. I had always had to have a reason for happiness. Now I felt a deep and abiding wholeness. God was with me every day. Jesus was walking beside me.

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I kept praying that God would send me the man with whom I was meant to spend my life, that He would bless me with a loving husband and children. But I also began to feel a peace about who I was. Just me and God, no frills attached. My singleness stopped being a burden, was no longer a condition to list on a medical chart like asthma or high blood pressure. It wasn’t a curse. God knew what He was doing with me. And I would release myself to Him, let His love take shape in my heart and trust that He knew what He was doing.

Here I am, so many years later, a wife and mother.  I don’t take that for granted.  Every morning before I step out of bed I thank Him for that.  And I know that I was able to become a wife and mother because ultimately I was grateful to Him when I was all alone, just me and Him.  We were enough together.