New Orleans and the Liturgical Year

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I’ve lived all my life in the New Orleans metropolitan area.  From the time I was just a little girl, I knew that I lived in a special place and felt blessed to be part of the unique cultural heritage that distinguished the city of New Orleans and southeast Louisiana.  My ancestors arrived in 1718, the year the city was founded, and I have a strong French Catholic heritage that my family always celebrated and viewed as a source of pride.

As an adult, I began to learn more about my faith.  I loved the exploring the rich, ancient history of the Church, journeying deeper into the sacraments, and discovering the rituals and traditions of the liturgical year.  Suddenly my eyes were opened.  Instantly I saw a connection between my hometown’s culture and traditions and the Church’s liturgical year.  In fact, so much of the day to day life and rhythm of my beloved city was determined by the Church.  There is a good reason for that.  Louisiana was a French colony, and for the first part of its history, Catholicism was the only religion allowed to be practiced.  Catholicism was the established faith of New Orleans, leading to the common practices of its citizens being firmly rooted in Catholic theology.

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I truly believe we are one of the only places in the United States where an entire region adheres—consciously or unconsciously—to the Church’s liturgical year.  Transplants observe it as they naturally adhere to the rhythm of a city they have come to love.  A large number of people in New Orleans, Catholic and Protestant, attend Catholic schools and have embraced the Catholic culture despite what their personal religious practices might be.  All of this leads to a thriving Catholic city.

Our Catholic tradition is most evident this time of year.  Yesterday was the Epiphany, the celebration of the three wise men bringing gifts to baby Jesus.  The Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, is a very significant day in the New Orleans calendar; it begins the Carnival season!  Carnival is a season lasts from Epiphany through Mardi Gras day, ending on Ash Wednesday.  It is a time to eat, drink, and be merry, to party, dress in costumes, and attend parades.  Our parades are not like in the rest of the country.  We have massive, elaborate floats with riders throwing beads, doubloons, stuffed animals, and many, many other fun things.

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Our food is sacred here in southeast Louisiana.  Food is the center of our gatherings, family life, and culture.  We love a good feast.  The beginning of Carnival season would not be complete without a signature food.  So we have the king cake.  The king cake is full of Catholic meaning.  The name of the cake comes from the three kings who visited Jesus.  The circular or oval shaped, cinnamon flavored cake is decorated with the three colors of Carnival: purple, green, and gold.  These three colors represent the three wise men or Magi.  Purple represents justice, green faith, and gold power.  Inside the cake, a plastic baby is hidden, symbolizing Jesus.  Just as the wise men found Jesus, we hope to find Jesus in the cake (at least kids do).  Adults are a bit reluctant to get the baby, as it means you have to throw the next party!

Carnival is all about family for me.  The tourism industry markets a whole different kind of carnival experience, one that is very different than what most natives embrace.  I grew up attending parades with my entire family—parents, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—and loved the parades that my relatives rode in.  We watched the parades Uptown, and I never once witnessed anything vulgar or inappropriate.  Most of what you see are family and friends out having a good time.  We intend to raise our children with this same important tradition.

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The partying, feasting, and craziness that come with Carnival are a perfect preparation for Lent.  By the time Ash Wednesday arrives, you are actually eager to fast, rest, and have some quiet down time.  The slowing down, the contemplation, and the temperance that characterize Lent are actually welcomed, not dreaded, after experiencing the high energy revelry of Mardi Gras.  I knew this intuitively as a young child, because it was common practice in my culture.  Thinking about it intellectually as an adult, I am all the more appreciative of the liturgical year of the Catholic church and the traditions of my hometown.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

 

 

A Season of Waiting

This Advent, as I prepare for the coming of Jesus, I think of others who are spending this season of waiting alone, wondering if it will ever happen for them, wishing their holidays were filled with a husband and children, longing for a family.  And it brings me back to my own journey.

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I stood at the altar in a lavender dress, clutching a bouquet and watching my best friends. I had been there to witness them meet, fall in love, and now marry. I joked that if I hadn’t been a bridesmaid I wouldn’t have known which side to sit on, as I considered both the bride and groom two of the dearest friends in the world.

I had stood in weddings before, and I had observed more ceremonies than could be counted. But I had never seen one like this. Not where the love of the bride and groom was so palpable, where their eyes spoke forever and it seemed to be just the two of them up there at the front of the church. In a room full of people—a church so packed that the upstairs gallery was full—their presence was all that mattered, they alone filled the space. I knew their love to be true, the truest I had ever known, and I stood awestruck, tears in my eyes, incapable of looking away.

I knew I didn’t have what they had. Not by a long shot.

I spent the night dancing away with my boyfriend, a man I tolerated but didn’t seem to like all that much. I heard the jokes and the laughter, the “you’re next,” and “soon we’ll be dancing at your wedding.” And it struck me hard then—this was true. If I kept on this path, it would happen. I would stand up there in front of everyone and cheapen what I had just witnessed by vows that could only be half truths.

It was as if he had just appeared in my life, and I hadn’t wanted to experience the inconvenience of getting him out of it. After a history of falling for bad guys, I promised myself I would keep a good guy around, no matter what. No matter if I really loved him. No matter if I cringed when he kissed me. I was tired of being the girl who attended weddings alone. I was weary of the grandparents’ laments of my singleness. When I began dating him, suddenly everyone was happy for me, seemed more comfortable with who I was—my status in life—and my value in others’ eyes appeared heightened. Not because I was any different. Just because I was in a relationship.

I woke up the next morning, feet sore from the high heeled dancing, groggy from the mimosas I’d imbibed, but certain of what I had to do. Two days later I broke up with him. Though I felt bad hurting him, the moment it was done, I felt a flood of relief enveloping me. I was happier than I had been in months.

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Watching my best friends wedding ceremony, I took my own vows along with them. I promised myself that it would have to be love. Real love. If it wasn’t love, I wouldn’t be with a man. And if that meant I never found a man, that was the way it was going to have to be. I ached to think that would also mean no children, trembled at the thought of a life all alone, winced at the pity of others—but I stuck to it. God didn’t want me living a lie. He had better plans for me than that.

Years passed. My mother would listen as I critiqued my latest date. And if he was a good man, or even halfway okay, she would inevitably remind me that there might not be many more chances. Why don’t you like him? He’s a perfectly good man. What is the matter with you? A few times I tried to make myself feel something I couldn’t. But forcing myself never worked. I always returned to the promise I had made myself, that I had made to God as well.

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I watched as other girls married because it was the required next step in their relationship. Because they were afraid to be alone. Because they wanted children. Because often a life with someone is easier than one alone. (I said easier, not better.) But I held fast to my decision.

And then, one month from my thirtieth birthday, he arrived. He was better than anything I could have imagined or hoped for. I had never hoped for so much. Suddenly the waiting all made sense. What some might have seen as my gamble, others the power of my convictions, paid off. There was somebody for me out there. I found him. And I loved him.

Funny thing is, he was present for that wedding, too. He was also a member of the wedding party. He witnessed that undeniable love just as I did. I like to think being present in that moment—together even though we were unaware of it—we took our first steps toward the great love we now share.

Why Crown of Roses?

I am terrible with titles.  I struggled to come up with a title for this space.  I played around with a bunch of different things in my head, but none of them seemed right.  And then I stumbled upon a lovely (frightening?) pattern in my life that provided the answer.  Apparently I am obsessed with roses.  The obsession has been going on for a while, from what I can tell, only I just actually realized that it existed.

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Here are the shoes I wore for my wedding.  Yes, I was wed in shoes adorned with pink roses.

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And my wedding bouquet, full of pink cabbage roses and green hydrangeas, which I was massively in love with and wanted to last for all eternity.

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I was thrilled to find out I was having a daughter, so I could adorn her room with roses.  I selected this bedding.

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The curtains in our living room—yep, you guessed it.  Full of roses.  I didn’t even bother to photograph the throw pillows.  Because I figured y’all are able to use your imaginations.  Yes, they have roses, too.

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And if that weren’t overkill enough—because who can have too many roses, right?—the quilt on our bed has them.

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As well as the fabric on my bedside table.

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Lest you think I merely festoon our house with roses, let me assuage your worries and assure you that I also clothe myself in them.  No, it’s not the most professional attire.  Good thing I don’t have to leave my home to work and my “office” is my kitchen table and often the floor of the nursery.  It’s kind of scary how much I love this top.

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And what did I insist needed to be planted in our front garden?  Pink roses, of course!  How I didn’t catch on to the rose phenomenon in my life until recently I will never know.  It appears to be some kind of sickness.

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And then I realized that my love for roses and my devotion to the Blessed Mother are linked!  I have had a deep love for Mary since I was just a little girl.

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Then I stumbled upon the Chesterton quote.

A crown of roses is also a crown of thorns.

Mary and Jesus.  It covers them both.  The Annunciation and the Crucifixion.  And the rose dies in winter but blooms again in spring.  The Resurrection.

I loved the image of the rose being both beautiful and painful, bringing joy as well as sorrow, so much like life.  And so it was an easy decision.

Linking with Kelly for Seven Quick Takes Friday.

Wrestling in the Pews

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Before I became a mother, I had definite opinions about Mass attendance and behavior with regards to children.  When I was pregnant, I listened to a mother of 3 children ages 3 and under lament the fact that they could not attend Mass as a family.  It was impossible, she said.  She and her husband rotated, one going to morning Mass, another in the evening.  She said her 2 year old twin daughters did not attend Mass.  Period.  I remained silent, but in my head I judged.  I judged hard.  Children were supposed to go to Mass.  How would they ever learn to behave at Mass if they weren’t taken?

From the time I was just a little girl, piety and perfect Mass behavior were inextricably linked.  By the age of 3, I knew the order of the Mass, had memorized what to say, and reveled in the singing.  I basked in the approval and praise of my devout grandmother.  As I grew up, I was hyper vigilant about Mass decorum.  I hushed my sister, placed their hands in their laps, shook my head at them when they weren’t concentrating on the right things.  I was basically the Chief of the Mass Police.

When I taught pre-school, I attended Mass with 20 four year olds.  Many times, my assistant was absent or busy, and I was responsible for all of them on my own.  I went home exhausted, battling muscle tension, and in need of a good glass of wine, but let me tell you—those kids paid attention, did what they were supposed to, and behaved appropriately.  If they didn’t, they felt the wrath of their usually warm, sweet teacher.  I’m only slightly exaggerating.  I was not above scaring them a little or guilting them.  Retrospectively this was probably not the right approach.  I even had ideas about who regularly attended Mass and who did not based on behavior and drew conclusions about their parents accordingly.

Right here, you’re sensing a big fall coming for me, right?  A tumble due from my high horse?

I taught elementary school for six years.  I was nurturing and warm and loved my kids.  But they were well aware of my expectations.  They knew I was strict and could be stern if necessary.  Most of the time, they loved me and just wanted to please, so it was easy.  One of my favorite little boys of all time, who came from a  very difficult home, punched a child and cursed at him on the very first day of first grade.  Just a few weeks later, after he and I had bonded, the whole school did not recognize him.  He was a model student in my class.  I could get 4 year olds to walk in a line on the very first day of school.  No matter the grade, my class was always the best behaved of the bunch.  I prided myself on it.

And there it is—pride.

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Then I had my own longed for, prayed for, beloved baby girl.  And everything changed.  My sweet, loving, observant, precious angel baby is also extremely high energy, spirited, strong willed, and incapable of sitting still or being quiet for any length of time.  Any length of time, people.  I’ll never forget the ultrasound tech saying, “Wow, you have one very active baby girl!  Get ready, Mom and Dad.  She’s going to keep you on her toes.”  And she was right.  Before she even came out into the world, she was already a force of nature!  As I told many parents countless times—these can be good qualities.  There are some big positives to this.  However, these characteristics make Mass challenging.

 

I say challenging because that is the kind of language I used with parents when I was a teacher.  But if I’m being honest, I’d say it is a battle of epic endurance.  An excruciating wrestling match in the pew.  A chase down the aisles.  A struggle of only an hour that feels in actuality endless.

I have read all the blog posts, listened to all the podcasts, done all the things you are supposed to do, experimented, prayed, talked with her about it, sat in the front, sat in the back, brought soft toys, brought books, brought no toys or books.  Y’all, I’ve done it all.  It’s just hard.  She’s 16 months old, and she is high energy.  There doesn’t seem to be much that will change that.

We keep trying.  I leave Mass feeling like I need a neck brace and therapy.  After the screaming and crying became too disturbing to others, I took her outside, calmed her down, and then tried to return to Mass.  I watched in horror as she pushed the door closed as I was opening it.  She did not want to go back.  I don’t want her to have negative associations with Mass.  But we have to go as a family.  She will never learn unless we keep at it.

Are you all reveling in the irony?  Are you laughing at my tumble from my high horse?  Do you enjoy how God stripped me of arrogance and rid me of my judgmental nature by sending me this amazing, blessed, crazy little person?

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All my life, from the time I was very small, I appeared to be the perfect child at Mass and later, a devout adult.  But I wasn’t a perfect Christian or Catholic.  In my heart I judged others and held myself in high regard.  How wrong I was.

You are supposed to thank God through all things.  So I’ve decided to start thanking Him when I’m losing my mind trying to stop my daughter from guillotining herself with the kneeler, pulling the woman’s hair in the pew in front of us, or kicking and screaming as I carry her in line for Communion.  I may not hear the homily or come out with a sense of tranquility, but I am sure reminded of my fallibility as a human being and of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  And I have suddenly acquired tremendous compassion and empathy for so many people.

My mother spent my entire life trying to ingrain in me a sense of humility.  My daughter is finally achieving what she could not.  Perhaps they are in cahoots.  I wouldn’t put it past them.

Thank you, God, for my newfound humility.  And please help us to get through Mass in one piece.

 

 

Real Abundance

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Abundance is usually considered a good thing.  In fact, we often pray for it, long for it, and give thanks when we receive it.  Abundance is a blessing in our minds.

So in my foggy headed 5:45 am reading of today’s scripture for my Advent study, when I came across the line “I shall say to myself, ‘Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry,” my first response was a sigh of relief and a wholehearted YES.  Then the next line came.

But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?

And I felt like a bigger fool than even the rich fool in the gospel.

Oh how I long for stability, certainty, security.  I wouldn’t mind being a recipient of all the seemingly good things this world has to offer.  But Jesus is not of this world.  Jesus came to turn the world and all it holds dear upside down.  More often than not, if we are moving towards Jesus, we are turning away from the things the world says we should value.

So then I asked myself—abundance of what?  Abundance of possessions?  of money?  of things?  Or an abundance of the immaterial and eternal—love, joy, faith?

I find myself apologizing for our home.  The old carpet, the curling linoleum, the countertops with the finished rubbed off and covered in stains that won’t come out.  We scrub and clean and despite our best efforts, years of carelessness from former tenants leaves things shabby.  But why am I asking forgiveness for my home as if it were a character flaw?  Lack of granite countertops and wood floors doesn’t define who I am as a person.  Our old car shouldn’t elicit shame from me or contempt from others.

Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.  My life right now has an abundance of wet baby kisses.  An abundance of giggles as my husband plays with our daughter.  An abundance of family reaching out to help.  And abundantly long days spent at home with my daughter, a sacrifice we make because our definition of abundance is bigger than the amount printed on a pay check, more important than the clothes we wear.

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The rich fool builds bigger barns to save more, hoard and hide away, desperately seeking peace and security.  But all of those efforts are fear driven.  There is no security in the things of this world, only in Jesus.  Real abundance comes from His grace.

We all know what it means to be rich by the world’s standards.  But what does it mean to be rich by God’s standards?

I realized that I spend a good part of every day dwelling in fear and worry.  Shadowy nameless worries about money and supporting our family and how we will ever be able to grow our family in the future.  How will we have all the children God sends, that we truly want?  How will we provide for them?  How will we manage not to be a burden in our old age?  These are some of my biggest fears.  They are very real to me.  They darken my thoughts each day.

I resolved that today I would not allow worries about money or the future to enter my thoughts.  Instead I will focus on being rich in what matters to God and on the many blessings He has bestowed upon us.  He always provides, always saves us.  And once I make it through today, I’ll try my best to do it again tomorrow.  One day at a time, filled with God’s abundant love.

 

If you are interested in participating in Waiting in His Word, an Advent lectio divina scriptural study designed by Nell, Nancy, and Laura, see the Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/1695487650680941/

 

A Walk with Gratitude

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There is something different about the light this time of year.  As the day nears its close—so much earlier, as if it is weary after the long year—the sun settles in a muddled gold behind the woods, the black silhouettes of the pines stark and certain.

The sunset is mellow and poignant, full of all that the year as seen, aging and wise.  None of the sweet pinks and pastels of a spring evening or the sweeping, impressive vistas of a summer day turning to night.  This time is quieter, contemplative.

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I walk with my daughter, push the stroller endlessly up and down the block, through the neighborhood, counting the minutes before Daddy comes home and my body can start to sigh with relief.  But something stops me.  I start to concentrate on the small things my daughter notices, the small, simple things that this tiny child, close to the ground and fascinated with the miniature, readily and easily considers.  Walking with my daughter I start to see through her eyes, the little things that delight her, that begin to delight me.

Ferns nestled in the dark recesses of a ditch.

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Minuscule golden flowers—weeds, really—that she longs to pick.

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The startling blue of a  jay’s feather discovered in the grass.

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Simple things that would not even register for most people.  She approaches them with so much gratitude, ecstatic with each new amazing microcosm of God’s natural world.  She sees so much beauty in the ordinary.

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We stop and talk with our neighbor, a widow and grandmother who can remember the early days, when I was struggling to heal and pushing my baby, new and fragile, down the street, careful of each bump, laboring to walk.  She tells us that the storm of a few days ago brought down a giant pine in her backyard.  Because of the direction of the wind and the angle of its lean, the pine miraculously fell on its side across the width of the yard.  Had it crashed forward, it would have taken out the whole house.  Her son offered to call a tree service to have it removed, but she said she wanted it to stay for a while. She liked to sit out on the porch and stare at it.  In it she saw God’s mercy and care, sparing her and saving her, and she was certain her husband in heaven had had a hand in it all.  That fallen pine told her that her husband was watching over her still.

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On this Thanksgiving eve, I am thankful for the small, simple things in my life.  The blessings from God that are quiet and small but perhaps more important than I can ever know.  I strive to have eyes of gratitude that delight in God’s creation as my daughter does.  And like my neighbor, I try my best to see God’s mercy and love in things that might usually bring fear and misgivings.  Each day I get to choose.  Do I see Him present all around me?

 

The Grandmothers

I step over piles of blocks, scattered books, and sundry puzzle pieces, and peer out the window, searching for signs of life on our street, a reminder that the world is not just me and the spirited, beautiful, relentless baby girl at my feet.  The day is now in slow motion, and the afternoon stretches before me like an endless ocean, the waves pounding back and forth and wearing down the sand.

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Across the street, our elderly neighbor is out, a rare sighting.  She drags a stool across her yard, sits down on it, and crouches over, painstakingly reaching for and picking up pine cones.  There must be dozens.  Each outreach of her arm, every labored motion, makes me ache for her.  I am overcome with a feeling that I must do something; someone should do something for her, and I was the only witness to her determined undertaking of this gargantuan task.

As if I’ve forgotten who I am and what I am, I start for the door. I am going to answer the call for help.  I feel a tugging on my hand, the frustrated sounds of my baby girl wanting to be picked up.  So I answer another call for help, a different one than of the moment before.  I know what my first priority must be.  At the time, E was only just over a year old and not able to walk.  She was intolerant of pack ‘n’ plays and even a few moments of my attention placed on something other than her ignited her fury.  There was no way I could manage anything in this moment other than E.

Suddenly I find myself brimming with outrage.  This poor old white haired woman, mother of 5, struggling to bend, laboring, her arthritic body putting forth effort it barely had to give.  Where were her children?  Where were her grandchildren?  How could they let her do such a thing?  And for that matter, why was she all alone?

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I stopped myself.  Almost slapped my palm against my forehead.  Somewhere across a 24 mile lake, then across our country’s greatest river, someone could be saying the very same thing about my own grandmother!  My beloved, cherished, 78 year old grandmother who lives alone—by choice—and insists on doing things clearly beyond the limitations necessarily imposed upon her by age and ill health.  For a moment, I longed to make a trade.  Why couldn’t my grandmother be the old lady across the street?  Why couldn’t they swap places?  Then I could care for her the way I should, make certain she wasn’t over exerting herself, treat her with the dignity and devotion that years of her love and sacrifice demanded.

Our society doesn’t function like this anymore.  We live spread out, pulled apart by forces seemingly beyond our control, all in our own little homes on our own little lots, small households with great demands, dictated by the almighty Busy.  As a historian, I can tell you this is a recent phenomenon.  Prior to World War II, most people lived in homes that contained extended family members.  There was no such thing as a nuclear family.  There were just families.  You lived with your grandparents.  Mothers had the help and guidance of their mothers in the same household; children were raised by parents, grandparents, sometimes even aunts and uncles.  No one had to worry how Grandma was.  Grandma was right there. This goes back to ancient times.  Mary would have been raised in a compound surrounded by parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and, if disease and hardship had not already taken them, grandparents.  Just as Mary is the mother of us all, the women in the households of Nazareth would have mothered all the children present, whether or not they birthed them themselves.  Jesus, who calls us all his brothers and sisters, would have come from a family in which extended members were regarded with the same closeness as siblings.

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I suppose I am an anomaly.  I would love to live with my parents.  I practically do.  My mother and father’s home, the home in which I grew up, is a mere 10 minutes away from ours.  My daughter spends 4 hours a day, 3 days a week, with my mother.  I consider my mother, along with my husband, of course, to be my partner in raising my child.  We see my parents almost every day and go over on the weekends for dinner and family occasions.  I feel so blessed to be able to do this.  I cannot imagine how hard it would be, both physically and emotionally, not to have them actively involved in our lives.  I only wish my grandmother could be here with us, too.

I hope and pray that one day when my mother is stooped and frail I will be there to lean in and take over the task at which she is struggling.  And if not me, then E’s sweet hand, no longer the tiny, soft baby hand I know so well, reaching out, serving just as she was served.