Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

(h/t Leila)

Here is a link to the Stations of the Cross Meditation that Pope Francis will use today in Rome.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Refreshment At Carmel

I've had a rough Lent. Interior trials. Exterior Trials. I felt like I was walking around in muck. I noticed a real change in my approach to the Stations of the Cross. I'm emotionally sensitive. Usually when I pray the Stations of the Cross, I feel a little shaken up. I'm essentially walking through photographs of graphic torture. I feel the same visceral reactions when I pray as I do when I see those awful pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

This Lent, I found praying the Stations of the Cross to feel strangely reassuring. "Yeah, Jesus. I got me a piece of that kind of pain too. Nice to know that I'm on the right path at least. Love you, brother. Good luck! See you down the road on Easter Sunday!" That part of identification with Jesus with the humiliation and the other gross stuff, rather than simply the happy part, is new. This spiritual journey is messy and confusing, but I am still growing.

By Sunday morning, I felt so low I wanted to skip my monthly Carmel meeting. I complained so much. "Seriously? After this hellacious weekend, I've got to go to yet another outside thing? I really want rest. I need rest!"

I came inches from skipping out of my meeting. I live in a rural area, so I need to drive 30 minutes to the next large town to attend my Carmel meetings. I drove past all these inviting places on the exit before my turn that I don't have in my small town. There was a Panera. A Chipotle. A Starbucks. Never had it looked more appealing to skip out of my meeting, sit down, put my feet up and sip a coffee. "Jon won't mind that I asked him to babysit while I went out for time alone, instead of to my Carmel Meeting. He knows how much I need this. I deserve this gift after the long,hard week I've had!" I don't even know how I decided to keep driving because that lure of 30 minutes alone inside a Panera was pretty strong. I think I probably decided that we didn't have enough money 2 days before pay day to support my trip.

Anyway, I pull up to my Carmel meeting a mess. My Palm Sunday Service went long, so despite my best efforts, I'm fifteen minutes late for my class. Our President saw me entire the room and her face lit up in a huge smile. "Abigail you look wonderful!" Everyone in my community is praying for this baby to make it and so they take such a special joy in seeing my round pregnant belly looking bigger than four weeks ago.

She gave me this huge, warm hug. I felt her arms around me and I started to cry. I choke out "The baby is fine, but I just had an awful experience this weekend that I need to talk to you about."  We went out to talk in the hallway. Within ten minutes she had me all straightened out. She told me to skip my class and go sit in on the Mass that was happening at the church next door. I sort of resisted. "I just came from Mass, it doesn't help." She was really bossy in that tender big sister way. She physically walked me to church and parked me in front of an open door.

I slipped into the middle of a Latin Mass. I never know in the least bit what is going on in these services. During that time of emotional upheaval, I felt even less hopefully about following along. Instead of following the brochure, I just knelt down and prayed. I'd taken the Eucharist about one hour earlier and I could feel myself getting calmer. "She was right to be so insistent that I come her," I thought after several moments.

I didn't even stay for the end of Mass. When I felt much better, I slunk back out of church. I went to the end of my formation class. We had our elections for a new officers. That part ran a little long, so we skipped my favorite part--our community discussion on the letters of my bff, St. Teresa of Avila. I left before Evening Prayer and made it back to my house by 4 PM. I still had time to visit with my family at the park and finish the grocery shopping before making pizza for dinner and cutting the grass while it was still light outside.

I figured out a lot of things during my Carmel meeting. A lot of things that were really confusing to me got sorted out. I don't mean in a general way--but in an individual, specific way. "Oh yeah, that's what I'm supposed to do now!"

I love Carmel because it looks so boring. It's a room with folding chairs and folding tables. There are fifteen people or less. It's so unassuming.  Yet, Carmel is my tribe! This is my "family of choice" as we like to say in the secular language of CODA. This is truly who I am and where I belong. It's so wonderful to touch base once a month and think "Oh right! This is who I am! This is what I'm supposed to be doing! This is my mission!" Its this intense feeling of reassurance and encouragement, at the same time a real call to action to be more zealous in following the Lord.

Early in my Carmel journey, I had a person in authority tell me a very wrong statement. "Mothers with young children should never join Carmel because they can't attend meetings every month." I thought about that comment made years ago as I drove home. The Mother that drove away from my children at 12:30 PM, was not the same Mother who came back at 4:00 PM. I came back to my vocation refreshed.

It's crazy to have something better than "Me time at Panera" as the pregnant Mother of six children. I'm so grateful for Carmel. I hope I get many years with my Carmel community to grow into the full person I'm supposed to become.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thursdays With Thoreau

"One afternoon, near the end  of the first summer, when I went to the village to get a shoe from the cobbler's, I was seized and put into jail, because, as I have elsewhere related, I did not pay a tax to or recognize the authority of the state which buys and sells men, women, and children, like cattle, at the door of its senate house." --Henry David Thoreau

I'm a historian who lives in the South. I have ruined many a fine summer day at gorgeous Colonial historical sites by arguing about slavery with hysterical relativists. I will never forget the scrunched up, furious face, of an otherwise sedate Catholic mom, as she screamed at me during a field trip "You can not say negative things about Thomas Jefferson's position on slavery. You have to judge such a great man within the context of his times!"

I remember looking at her and saying calmly "Yes, I can. I'm a Catholic." There is truth. Truth is not something that is culturally specific. Slavery was wrong in Roman Times. Slavery was wrong during Colonial Times. Slavery is wrong now. The human trafficking situation within modern day America is a horrible sin.

It's so refreshing to me to read Thoreau's words from 1845. Some men "got it." Slavery was wrong. The most amazing thing is that Thoreau doesn't say "Negro Slavery" is wrong, using the contemporary language of the times. He says selling "men, women and children" is wrong. He gives Black Americans their full measure of human dignity. Selling men is wrong. Selling women is wrong. Selling children is wrong.

Thoreau's actions of resisting paying the poll tax out of his moral objections to slavery and paying the consequences by spending a night in jail--- that act was seemingly small and insignificant. He didn't leave the woods of Walden Pond and start conducting slaves out of the South aka Harriet Tubman. This was a protest that came out of his normal, daily life. The man got harassed on his way to the cobbler's shop to fix a hole in his shoe. Yet God uses small actions which are aligned with his will. The description of "Thoreau's Night in Jail" is what inspired both Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

I read Thoreau's matter of fact description of why slavery is wrong and I'm so inspired. I'm a woman with strong moral beliefs. I believe abortion is wrong. I believe capital punishment is wrong. I believe domestic violence is wrong. I believe that the physical and emotional abuse of children is wrong. I don't have to feel this compulsion to go join a bunch of committees just to prove my moral beliefs. Thoreau reminds me to stay little. It's enough to go through my ordinary daily life with my deepest held beliefs in tact and to cheerfully pay the penalties for swimming against the tide of popular opinion.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Calm, "Doable" Standard of Mothering

Last Saturday I hung out with some monks. These are old school, still wear that funny haircut called a "tonsure", type of monks. They assume I can remember enough High School Latin to easily follow a 2 hour Mass. In general, their standards for religious life are pretty high.

During their Lenten lecture to Catholic Mothers, I found it a total shock that their description of my vocation as a mother was calm, clear and "doable." It was the perfect antidote to the anxiety that pervades secular parenting myths.

For the monks, I have three main responsibilities as a Mom--prayer, introduction to the sacraments, and education.

The most important thing I do as a Mom is to pray for my children. The monks said that because of my position, my prayers for my kids are more effective (they used the fancy term "efficacious") than prayers for them by others. I know my children's needs the best. I also am in a position of responsibility over them.

As a Mom of a sick kid, that news really calmed me down. It's enough for me to be praying in the crib by the NICU. I don't have to worry that I'm not launching a major social media campaign at the same time to get others to pray for my kid also. (Though it's helpful to have encouragement from Facebook during lonely hours in the NICU, it's not a requirement for effective prayers).

At the same time, that point almost brought me to tears. We're used to thinking about the poor, malnourished, or educationally disadvantaged kid. How many kids have a Mother who actively prays for them every single day? Who has help from the Holy Spirit to look out for their needs, whether it be for a rare medical problem or an hidden athletic ability like in the movie "The Blind Side?" I really felt a strong commitment to pray for more kids around me.

Prayer is important because it also talks about humility. I have these kids for a specific period in their life--but they are going somewhere else. Whether God's ultimate plan is for them to teach school in Uganda or be the best darn horse doctor to ever graduate OSU vet school, those talents, abilities and desires started at conception. Each kid has their own vocation, their own career, their own unique relationship with God. My job isn't to impose my own wishes upon my children's futures. Prayer helps me remember that my children are always God's children first and foremost.

The Sacraments
Plenty of holy people are not Catholic. As a Catholic, however, we have plenty of spiritual riches. We have seven sacraments. We've got a treasure trove of spiritual help and healing. As a woman who is spiritually wealthy, it's up to me to teach my kids how to access Jesus easily. The most important thing is to be a good role model myself. I need to go to Confession once a month. I need to make once a week Daily Mass a goal for me and my kids. I need to make sure that my kids are prepared for First Communion and Confirmation.

The monks talked about having trust that the sacrament of Confession is working on our kids, even if we don't see results. They talked about the twin benefits of Confession. There is a psychological benefit of speaking the painful truths out loud to another human being, especially one in authority. There is also spiritual healing. When we take our kids to Confession we're helping them fix spiritual hurts. Confession is also tied to the Eucharist. We need to remember that we can't take the Eucharist without also partaking in this sacrament.

There are two types of education that we need to be concerned about--- intellectual education and moral education. Neither can be neglected. Kids need intellectual stimulation. Kids need introduction to the beauty of math, science, literature, music, nature, and the Arts. All of these intellectual activities help us become fully human.

At the same time, pride can really screw up otherwise awesome intellectual activities. These monks are all scholars, but they talked about the importance of doing manual labor as the antidote to prideful thinking.

While never ignoring intellectual education--a child's moral education is more important. Kids do not naturally come out of the womb learning how to share or how to spread kind words to others. Mothers need to encourage their child's moral development. It's our responsibility to help form the best parts of their character.

While I listened to this lecture, Motherhood seemed so "doable." My job isn't to throw the best birthday party bash or to make sure my kid never experiences rejection. My job isn't to be a Pinterest Mom or to make sure my family never, ever runs out of clean laundry. My job is to pray for my kids, give them access to the Catholic church and educate both their minds and their hearts. That's the to do list for the day.

The second part of the lecture series gave us examples of heroic Catholic Mothers. The monks talked about detachment from the outcome. Our kids have free will. Saint Hedwig was an awesome Mom but all but one of her kids caused her major heartache as adults. (Two sons actually went to war with each other as adults which I thought makes the perfect saint to pray to during sibling rivalry disputes.) The monks also introduced me to Saint Margaret Clitherow, who was killed for harboring priests during the reign of Elizabeth I. Saint Margaret was pressed to death because she refused to speak at her trial. She didn't want her kids put in the position of having to testify against their Mother. I decided to adopt Saint Margaret as the saint to pray to whenever I feel pressure over all the competing demands of my life.

This Lent, I'm resolved to clean out the stupid stuff in my head regarding "what makes a good mother." I want a standard that is clean, focused, and realistic. I want to do my best everyday. Yet I want "my best" to be something fixed, rather than a constantly moving target based on the fads of my specific social milieu.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Hipsters Love Coffee

Laughing at myself. I've been a writer working in coffee shops for way to long.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Why I Have A Lot of Kids

I was so blessed to go on a Silent Retreat with some monks on Saturday. Silence is such a precious experience--especially for me. I'm an extrovert and a recovering Codependent. It's really nice to have a place to reflect and listen in public without the constant undercurrent of "Hi, my name is Abigail! How can I help you?"
One of the ideas that floated to the surface this Lent was a feeling of gratitude for my family. It's been a hard season. I'm constantly afraid I'm going to start miscarrying my baby. In the stillness of the monastery, I was able to let real gratitude float up to the surface.
As a young kid, I wanted to do something to help kids. I chose the career title "child advocate" to describe what I wanted to do at age 18. After Law School, I pictured doing something in a non-profit. I pictured spending my life helping hundreds of kids connected to the Juvenile Justice System in Boston or Chicago. 
I'm so grateful that God had a different plan for my life. Somehow it seems so much more hopeful, more hidden, more "me", to spend my life hanging out with five (or six) awesome human beings. Love heals!
Totally normal part of my family. Kid #1 age 11 and Kid #2 age 9.
Kid #3 age 6. Hope after my first miscarriage.
The extra beauties in my life. Kid #4 (age 3 1/2)  and Kid #5 (age 2). Notice the messy hot chocolate stain on Kid #4. This is posted because "authenticity" is my recovery word of the week. We spent all of this miserable cold winter getting hot chocolate stains on all of our outfits.
Kid #6.
I've got four more kids than the average American Family. I've got extra kids because God is awesome. He fixes the broken. He blesses the lowly. He loves the poor. He gives me quiet and rest. I love Lent!