Friday, January 27, 2017

The Pursuit of Normal

Where did January go? That snow dump was such a blessing, my eldest said she was so thankful for it as it is now almost spring weather here in Virginia and we at least had a few days of good snow play.



Your prayers have been working friends as my parish has graciously designated a space for a Level 1 Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Atrium. I have been helping to teach the Sacramental Preparation classes in this almost atrium and I have simply showed the First Holy Communion children how to prepare the altar. It is not how I envisioned starting the CGS work here but I will tell you, just this lone altar work has been very fruitful in showing catechists there is a different way we can speak about our faith with children...and that it is WONDERING with them.



I had my last class for the month last night and as this class was leaving, there was a young boy who had kind of been aloof the whole time who gave me a gift. During our session, he always seemed to stay back from the group but when it was his turn to prepare the altar, just him, he leaned on it with both his elbows, hands clasped in prayer...and I was so surprised...I had never seen a child kneel into the altar like that before. 

And so as he was leaving he turned around and came with open arms to me and gave me a big hug. We had only spent half an hour together, but...I could tell he knew that something special happened in there and that it was for him.

My mama heart was so moved. 

And then it was my mama heart that wanted to get back home to my own littles! My youngest gives me the best homecoming on these atrium nights (which, are only three nights a month....but all the same week). She runs into the foyer and she announces, "Mama home!" and gives me a hug on the leg. Am I rich or what?



I have waited a year and half for CGS to come about at this parish, and much of it had to do with waiting for the new building to be completed. I have had wonderful counsel from my very good friends about being careful to not take too much on and to also let it be a slow work. This start is truly the mustard seed.

But....




Even with it being so perfect...






And even with it finally happening...




It wasn't very easy to be out of my home for these evenings!

That is what I wanted to chat about this post. See, last week when I had a late meeting at the parish and then I had another afternoon/evening of setting up the atrium and going to a parish family meal, we (as in my entire crew) all came home to a very messy house with very exhausted people. I was spent physically and mentally from the amount of energy that had gone into loading and unloading and setting things up. My kiddos had helped themselves to way too many cookies from the buffet line. It took us half the morning the next day to even recoup, and that was even just getting the house back in order before we could even think about schoolwork.

This sent me into a bit of a panic as I thought of how I would be out of the house three nights next week! And even Monday my eldest three will be at their worship dance class!

Hahahahaha! I KNOW. So you are laughing that I can't leave the house? Anyone with teenagers is saying...oh my gosh...that is really nothing compared to what our evenings look like all of highschool.



But for me...all content and happy and holed up in my home on cooler January evenings, being out of it is asking a lot. It is especially asking a lot of my husband who has already put in a full day's work. This might sound too domestic Betty, but I judge much of how the day has gone based on the few hours we are ALL together in the evening. 

It is so simple yet so impossible to execute at times, specifically background work. Is the den picked up? Is there something being made for dinner? Is the table set? Oh how giant it can feel!

I think that as we have extremely busy days or late evenings or travel, it becomes quite natural to DESIRE a NORMAL evening. An evening where there are no out of the home obligations, there is no one else expected for dinner, it is just...us.




But isn't this what it is all about! The it being NORMAL. A good, peaceful, uneventful normal. I mean, aren't Normal meals what literally NOURISH family culture? Who are we when sit down together? What are we talking about? What have we done today? All those answers, as varied between family members as they are, make up YOUR family.



And I keep coming back to this conclusion...that it is MAMA who makes these NORMAL moments happen! Can this happen if I'm gone from the home? Hence my original panic. 

So it boiled down to this past week being about meal preps and clean kitchens before I left and strict orders to have pajamas on before I got home. Asking more of my people in terms of helping and them being on board because of the very beautiful work that CGS is.  We did manage one meal together sitting down and that made me very happy.

I thought it most appropriate to write about this craving for order in the evening, this desire for a normal, a sense of leisure and ease in a home because I believe it is one of the many battles of the modern twenty first century young mommy. We are raised to believe we can be anything, we participate in clubs and sports and we go to college and start careers and then we get married and as we are married we say yes to a vocation that  is almost a mystery a times...motherhood.

Even the daily life of the Holy Family was kept private with a veil of mystery but I believe it was pretty normal. "Joseph, Jesus, please wash up, it is time for supper." The carpenter tools stop and the sawdust is washed away one more evening.

And so with motherhood we are thrown into sacrifices we are not quite used to, this is the hard work I wrote about in my last post. We are in an age of distractions and so saying no to outside of the home and yes to staying with our people in our domestic church isn't always easy.


EVEN in the beautiful, good work of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd I am trying to be as prayerful as possible in thinking where I am NEEDED. I decided against a book club evening this week, which I enjoy so much, because I knew my own limits but also the big impact it would have on the order and normal of a night where I had already been away.

So...I pretty much don't know if any of this makes sense other than this personal challenge I am kind of wondering you might want to do with me? Can we give some thought to our space and our time in a way this coming week that changes our attitude from seeing simple domestic tasks like...a normal evening...not suffocating or laborious or injust to us...but see it as an opportunity for us to be loving, creative and thinking women? To see it as a win if we can decide against an out of the home activity? Can we be for our people?



Can we let them eat us up?

Today is a no car day for me! I am so grateful.

Prayers to everyone who IS out of their home for the March for Life!

God Bless!






Saturday, January 14, 2017

We Can Do Hard Things

There is this underlying theme I am picking up on recently. I have been blessed enough to witness some truly amazing acts of love and courage by dear friends of mine. As I said in a recent post, some call it crazy...I think it's more brave.

I am watching people do some very hard things.


Victor Frankle in his work Man's Search for Meaning writes about his experiences as a prisoner/worker/emaciated form of himself in the hideous World War II concentration camps. The fact that anyone should survive the hell of a concentration camp led to some very deep and profound reflections by Frankle, so much that he poured over the memories and actions of his fellow men.

Why? How is it that people made it out alive?

And not even the strongest able bodied men, in fact those men sometimes were the first to die under the grueling circumstances.

Frankle found that truly, the core of surviving was how one CHOOSES to react to the suffering. The freedom to change his outside environment was gone, but it was the freedom of his mind that saved him. Hope and purpose, finding a reason to live...to find a son who was safe in another country or to finish a work, a book perhaps...finding something, someone, every day to live for...this kept men alive. There is meaning in suffering and that is...we can rise to it, because we are people of hope.


Yes, we can do hard things.

In fact, the way those concentration camps ended were because of other men choosing to do something hard. We can thank people like the father of the British electrician who came to our home two days ago. Colin said his father was a veteran of Normandy.

Normandy.

I almost felt like saying..."Wow...you mean, he did that hard thing on the beach that day in France?"

Yes.

And if you read about Normandy, the toe hold that got the Allied ground forces into France, it was the efforts of small groups, INDIVIDUAL men, acting on there own. Fighting. Determined to keep TRYING. Acting and CHOOSING to act without knowing the big picture of the battle and if others were acting too. They just kept going.

Yes, we can do hard things.



But, thankfully, most of our troubles, our challenges and crosses do not come in the form of an Auschwitz or Normandy...and we have much to be grateful for!

And yet, it all still feels hard, what we are given....

I will give examples! Yes that's what I'll do!

The first summer, really first year, at the Coast Guard Academy was pretty miserable. I remember the days feeling so very very long, literally living hour to hour, exhausted, your body hurting, and just scared to death of getting yelled at by an upperclassman. Long days and yet it went by fast, you blink and are suddenly married to another cadet three weeks after graduating.

You and your spouse sometimes run into classmates as the Coast Guard sends you all around the country, and there is this unspoken bond, when you see your shipmates again, that goes something like, "Hey! It's my buddy Dave! We did that hard thing together in the Summer of 2000."

And it is clicking for me...OH! You mean not only can you do hard things...but WE can do hard things TOGETHER.



And it is by doing hard things together, where relationships are strengthened!

Bingo!

That is marriage!

Marriage. Yes I did marry a young officer with spanking new shoulder boards on his white formal dress uniform. Fast forward and that brings me to my last day in the Coast Guard nine years after that swearing in as a swab and I started my life as a stay-at-home mom to three little girls under the age of four. And all of a sudden...I felt the same exhaustion and hour to hour living I had felt as a young college student...only it was a different kind of hard!

I had spent so much time as a young working mom waiting to finally be with my littles only to be thrown into a life I had no idea how to do with them!

I remember loving (and this is still so true) when Justin came home to our dear sweet chaotic family. Sometimes I just needed Justin home. He was always just as tired as I was and I still needed to get dinner on the table and bathe people or clean ______, or you name it! But there is something about being with that man who made a vow before God that he was going to do the hard things with me!


And here we are...those same girls helping out as big sisters.



Growth happens when God throws these moments and experiences into our lives and we LIVE them. We can surprise others, even ourselves, when we come out of it all still standing. Standing..with eyes looking hopefully up to the stars..the stance of a man with hope...just as Dante walked out of hell.

When I think of my own hard works I have done, I am a bit humbled by the hard that is sent to others. I worry though that feeling humbled by how my hard rates next to another's is very self centered of me. We are missing the point of relationship if we think it is just about sizing ourselves up against each other (thank you social media for a new way to do this).
So...see here...what I am coming to understand is that God allows others to sometimes feel safe enough to share their cross so that we ourselves can witness the incredible and mind blowing resilience of man. So that we can see with faith eyes that mystery called GRACE.

Witness to what she is doing...and be in awe.



I think of St Veronica wiping the bloody, sweat stained, face of Our Lord during His hard work. It was His to do.

Noone could do that work for Him.


I wonder in that second of the moment that His Holy face touched that cloth. Was there relief for You Lord? Ever? I don't think there was physical relief...

Or was it more that someone saw and was creative enough and in the moment enough Lord to do something for you, when the Spirit said...move! Go! And just by trying to give relief You know really couldn't  be given...did you feel love? In Veronica's try did you feel loved? You might have thought noone saw Your unrecognizable Face, but someone did.

And maybe the wiping of the face was more of just saying...I see the hard work you are doing. I cannot bear any of this for you...but I can show, by this smallest of small gestures, that I see your hard work.

I see the hard thing you are doing friend.

But more importantly...He sees.










Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Training Our Eye to Interior Growth

For Williamsburg to get snow is rare, but to get more snow than other parts of the state is very rare, but here we are, day four, my husband's base closed and the neighborhood roads barely drive able. We had snow for Epiphany! Ten inches! What a gift!



Oh yes...this could possibly be the ONE snow we get this winter, and oh was I ON TOP of this ONE snow in my mommy preparedness way...and I was procuring things more essential than milk and eggs as I watched the weather reports. I was making sure each child had proper snow gear. Ha! You laugh but one can be quite miserable if toes are so pinched in snow boots they are going numb or if coat sleeves don't fit "just so" under mittens...who wants snow on their wrists???

So Thursday morning was a mass effort of dragging out all of our gear and seeing what could be passed to who, who had hats, gloves, snow pants, boots. We have very GOOD snow gear as we needed it in Alaska, a lot of L.L.Bean as it holds up well as it is being passed down. I just can't get over how kids feet grow! Beautiful snow boots that have to wait for the next kiddo because they are just too small on the one they are meant for! So all I needed was a better coat for the boy (found it consigned for $10), three new snow boots (one of which was found consigned for $8) and a pair of snow pants. But we did it! This is the "night before" picture of how things were ready, my second eldest is so the type to even have socks and gloves easily accessible:




And they have been having a blast...


.




And I was thinking about my children as they grow, as the seasons pass, visible signs. Teeth fall out and new ones grow in. Appetites get bigger. Clothes become more snug. They grow and God blesses me.

I was thinking about this growing and as I was gearing up for homeschooling this month after the holidays (school efforts have been somewhat thwarted with the 27/7 snow play), I have been enjoying Sofia Cavalletti's book The Religious Potential of the Child (6 to 12 Years old). I had purchased this gem last spring anticipating that I might have the opportunity to take a Level II Catechesis of the Good Shepherd course in Washington D.C.  Oh, but it seems that, unless it was maybe a half hour away, instead of three hours, it was too much to ask in this time of my vocation, even once a month, though I know I would have benefited from the course.

So, as there is really no course in my near future, I have picked up the book, and I am seeing now what a wise decision it was. I once again feel so spiritually fed by Sofia's brilliant observations of the child. I am surrounded by my children, this is my work.



Sofia always seems to challenge me. Sofia always seems to help me see, and she is always so gentle yet writes with such authority.

I read last night her reflections on what Maria Montessori termed the "polarization of attention." She is really referring to when a child seems completely absorbed in her work.

Cavelletti writes "These phenomena are manifested when the external stimuli


correspond to the interior needs of the child.



When this match occurs, the recollected attitude one observes in the child 'springs from the needs of life itself,' and knowledge 'becomes the instrument of interior growth.'

Such moments are extremely important in the development of the person, for in them the spirit 'becomes strong and blossoms.'"

So, my eldest there, lying in the snow. Looking up into the sky. I took the picture from my kitchen window.



And I made myself coffee and breakfast and I was surprised when I went back to the window, at least ten minutes gone by, and she is lying there still...unmoved...from her spot.


I never asked her about this but I could sense that perhaps this was one of those moments where the external stimuli matched her internal needs. Do we ask people in Mass as they kneel what they are praying about?

I was thankful we had nowhere to go, nothing to do, but really be snowed in. There were no distractions. There was just play and wonder and joy.

She is growing on the outside and yet I want to give her the room and time she needs to grow on the inside. I want this for all my children, and I feel a lot of it has to do with my own awareness and observation of them.

Can I allow my children to get lost in things? Be it a book or craft or imaginary play? Instead of moving on with my agenda can I do some critical thinking of my own and see if the external stimuli is possibly meeting an internal need?


We really don't KNOW how children learn. What makes them really absorb something? I believe this "polarization of attention," and being thoughtful about our children's environment has much to do with it.

I will tell you in a decade or so if it worked on mine.

God Bless you and thank you for stopping by!




Thursday, January 5, 2017

Epiphany

My tree is still up. There is such a massive effort to get decor up here during Advent that to take anything down before Epiphany is just...mentally straining for me.



Happy New Year! I think the timing is right this year for a few things to be happening. I need your prayers. When I took all my NFP posts down it was because I was going through my own panic/crisis in my own marriage/family journey.

Mainly, who is supposed to be here?



 How do I know when its time to say yes?



 Am I using NFP correctly?


I am trying to consolidate my posts that I wrote over the course of two years into a small book. This small book is about my own journey off of the pill to a more open to life marriage. This all seems very premature to even be telling you this, but I think it needs to happen and I need prayers! I am reading Viktor Frankle's Man's Search for Meaning and from the hell of a concentration camp he was finding scraps of paper to write down his own manuscript they had taken from him, and he also wrote the book I am reading in NINE days! So much of my conversion happened through reading the personal stories of others, so sharing my story with others just seems like something that should be happening. It would be a lie to say I don't feel very VULNERABLE with all this, but its time.


When I had my sweet second daughter, my world was rocked. I had been convicted after my marriage, and then once having conceived and birthed my eldest daughter, that Justin and I were going to try to use natural forms of contraception.

Just as the Church asked us too.



So much of this commitment to living out the teachings I had read in Humanae Vitae and books like the Hahn's Life Giving Love was about being a "good" Catholic. I was so new with using the Natural Family Planning method that I was totally surprised and rather in shock when I conceived my second only ten months after having my first.

In my mind it wasn't...she wasn't...supposed to have happened.


So...what I thought would be a neat and tidy planned out beginning to marriage, turned into really, a game changer. I was a working mom at the time, needing to finish out my obligation to the Coast Guard, and my husband was the second in command of a patrol boat. And life...life was messy and very much about surviving.

It was in the three months of maternity leave...where I had a moment of my own awakening...my own epiphany to the GIFT given at Mass.

The wise men had a long, what I believe to be, even a two year journey to lay eyes on the Christ Child. They followed the signs, they persevered, and they beheld.


They knelt and made themselves small before the GREAT and they offered their gifts. I remember as I walked up the aisle to the altar nine years ago, to the Eucharist, to Jesus in Bread, that I felt the same awe...I felt the same wonder...it was a moment of great peace even as I held my infant baby in one arm and gently guided my curly haired toddler with the other.

 I wasn't alone.

God had given me a GIFT. And I think my gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh took the shape of a promise.

I was going to give Him my trust.

Jesus I trust in You.



I made a quiet promise in my heart to trust Him with my fertility. I had tears in my eyes as I received my Eucharistic GIFT that day and I never went back to using artificial contraception again.

That does not mean there aren't times when I struggle with trusting Him to bring another child into the world...but I'm thinking about trust again as this season's Epiphany approaches.

My husband and I are in our mid thirties and we have a beautiful fullness in our home. It is a lot of work and at times is exhausting and at times, we wonder...are we crazy?



Yes.

 Crazy or is it more...brave? I'm not sure. I keep reminding him...to also say aloud to myself...I trust this. I trust Him. He has always provided and in surprising ways.

I know secular culture, outside, is ready to move on.

We can be slow and deliberate and say no thank you.


Let's stay right here and journey with the Magi and linger in the GIFT a bit longer friends.

God Bless!