Thursday, April 9, 2015

My Unexpected Easter Gift

If mortal sin was actual bullets, I grew up inside Detroit. I'm so grateful for every adoption blog I've ever read because it helped me make sense of what was happening to me on a spiritual level. I'm a late in life adopted Child of God. I've got a lot of hang-overs from my old life, the most serious are massive trust issues.

I complained to God during my wait in the communion line this Lent "Why am I so bad to you?"

The answer I heard inside the quiet of my heart was "Spiritually, you were a Foster Care kid!" I had this image of a teenage girl in foster care who has all of her belongings pack up inside black trash bags as she moved from placement to placement.

In a second, I started to understand how important it is that instruction in Faith is rooted inside a steady relationship. It's not something I could easily brush up against during an occasional Sunday School lesson or a chat with my Protestant minister over ice-cream at a Youth Group Lock-In. (To me, as a mystical Carmelite, a brief conversation about the spiritual life with a stranger was like finding a safe landing place for a few heartbeats before I got kicked out onto the harsh, secular streets again).

The same time I got this image I got this reassurance and also this intense call to action "Let yourself off the hook. Lets be grateful you are in a better place now" along with "Dig in! Use what you've got now!"

This Lent and this Easter has been this amazing experience of "digging in", of getting so much deeper into my relationship with God. All my same surface struggles are still there. But my scrupulosity with God is gone. The old fear that I wasn't good enough to be a Catholic and that I'd quickly get tossed out again, is gone. I have such a beauty and grace and calmness inside my daily life. I still feel stressed, but now I can ask for help and receive help. My first response isn't to hide anymore.

This Lent I learned that there is a difference between "Knowing About God" and "Knowing God." There is a difference between Knowledge and Wisdom.  I've spent my life trying to attain Wisdom.

I've grown up with circles upon circles of college professors. I've seen Knowledge up close and personal. Let me tell you, Knowledge, without Wisdom, is useless, stupid, brain numbing stuff. I'm so over being impressed by knowledge.

I'm enrolled in the Oxford of the Heart.

It's thrilling! Every single hour I'm learning new things with God. My home life is golden!

Thirteen years ago, I joined the Roman Catholic church at Easter Vigil. This is the year I felt inside my heart "Oh my gosh, they are really letting me stay! This could be my last home placement all the way to heaven!"

St. Teresa of Avila, daughter of the church, pray for us to share in your peace.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Happy Easter!

We had such a beautiful Easter Vigil! Happy Easter! He has risen!

Good Friday

(Drawing by St. John of the Cross, 1574 -1577, made after a vision he had at prayer in the Avila, Spain)

I'm a Carmelite who really struggles with getting her prayer time in daily. I'm still messed up with my priorities. I feel like I'm "stealing" time from  my kids whenever I pray. Yesterday, was Good Friday, so I let myself do the Divine Office without any guilt. The prayers for Good Friday were extraordinary. I copied and pasted a homily from St. John Chrysostom to my husband and my two oldest kids. Then I had an amazing time coaching my 12 year old daughter through her own Good Friday prayer time with God.

I keep forgetting that the prayers that benefit me, also benefit my husband and my kids. I'm so used to seeing religion as this "personal" thing for me, like working out or writing or knitting a sock. The practice of prayer is something deeper. The mysteries of God overflow from my heart and head and bless the people around me.

I find this walk with God so difficult at times. Ahh, the colic! Ahh the scruples! Ahh the dryness and irritation and loneliness. Good Friday shows up in lots of times during my calendar year.

I will not forget how wonderful it feels to encourage someone who is carrying a heavy cross beside me. I will not forget what true friendship feels like. The only way to get to the joy of Easter Sunday is to carry my own burdens with persistence and patience like Jesus.

Lord, forgive me my sins. Help me to be more faithful to you in the coming year.

A Shout Out to Saint John Paul II

There are so many reasons that I love Saint John Paul II. I really struggled to come under obedience to a Pope during my conversion process from being a Protestant. Then my husband took me to see "Witness to Hope" at an artsy Independent Film Theater in Rochester, New York. I came out of the movie and it was like a switch flipped instantly in my heart. I told my husband, "I don't know if I can follow all Popes. But I can pledge obedience to THAT Pope!" Saint John Paul II made obedience look easy to me.

There are so many stories that I love about him. One of them happened during the last days of his life. Saint John Paul II was in the middle of a surgery and doctor warned his friend, "he may not be able to talk afterwards." The friend said seriously "Better let him die then!" I'm a fellow sanguine, and that story just makes me laugh. My husband would probably have the same thoughts for me.

I love Saint John Paul II and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcuatta. These are the people of the Catholic church that I loved, even before I became a Catholic.

Saint John Paul the Great, pray for us!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Welcome to Holy Thursday!

Today is one of my favorite moments in the Catholic church. My family does a Christian Seder. We have a Benjamin Family Haggadah. I make the lamb and the Seder plate. My husband buys the wine for us adults and the grape juice for the kids. He makes sure that we all wear our sandals to dinner. I'm an actor at heart. I get to tell the stories of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus' Last Supper.

Passover is about sharing your faith with your family. One of the treasures in my heart is that a tradition that I started alone while I was a single girl in College, is now shared with my husband and my children. I remember the toast that my husband said "Next year in Jerusalem!" the pre-Easter of 2002. He said that toast with such joy and hope a few weeks before he finished graduate school.

Today we were coming home from buying the lamb for Passover. My 10 year old son Alex said in the, "Now guys, we have to put the lamb's blood on the door so that I get to save my life!"

We'd played April Fool's Day Tricks on each other all day. I shrugged my shoulders and said "Oh, Alex, we don't need to bother with that part anymore."


"This year, John is here. We now have an extra boy in case you go."

There was a second of pause. Then I said "April Fool's Day! Alex, you are irreplaceable to us!"

My son let me tickle his hair. Then five of us let out this beautiful laugh in the car. "This year, John is here!" For the first time in 10 years Alex won't be the only son at the Passover table. The gift of Baby John is amazing. We finally had a son who lived. It's the yearly tradition of Passover that lets us all take those mental snapshots and rejoice in the changes of our family.

I like to feed my kids Scripture at the dinner table. Either Jon or I read a short passage from the Bible while the family is eating dinner. Then we usually talk about it. (This way of hearing Scripture is a Carmelite tradition, but it is also very practical. When small kids are chewing, they are more likely to sit still and less likely to interrupt. I also like the image of feeding my kids physically and spiritually at the same time.)

Last night we read about the Last Supper from Matthew. "And he reclined at table." I took a second out to explain that in Ancient Roman times people sat on couches when they ate dinner. My almost First Communion Recipient said "Mom, the picture is wrong!" She meant the Leonardo da Vinici painting of the Last Supper. I told her that she was right! That painting was made by an artist almost 1500 years after the Last Supper and his best guess about the table wasn't very accurate. We also talked about how silly it was to have all 13 guests sit on only one side of the table. Maria and I decided to look it up today and draw our own version of the Last Supper.

In my 7 year old's eyes, this image for the Last Supper is wrong.

This image for the Last Supper is right.

I love the comparison of the two. The second table seems really intimate. It feels like getting to hang out with Jesus at a Slumber Party. It's also so shocking that Judas lied to Jesus right inside his personal space. "Surely, not I Rabbi?" My family had a lot of fun joking around about other possible ways Jesus could have answered Judas. "You've hung out with me for 3 years. You've seen me heal the blind and get dead people talk! What else do I need to do to convince you that I am the Son of God!"

Today we will celebrate the Last Supper with a Christian Seder at home. I hope to go pray at Adoration tonight. We have lonely Good Friday, and quiet Easter Saturday, and then the joy of Easter Vigil.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Why I'm Grateful My Baby Has Colic!

I have a baby with colic. Actually, my little man has "infant acid reflux." I call it colic when I talk to other people because "my little baby has heartburn" really does not do justice to the amount of stress this condition puts on me as a Mom.

My baby is on anti-reflux medication. I'm so grateful that I was a strong advocate for him. After only a month of medication, his weight jumped up from the almost dangerous 15% on the average infant growth chart to 85%. His medication is working. My son has flipped from turning so red and mad that he was burning off most of his caloric intact each day to now merely being a crabby baby who refuses to nap and violently vomits over all of his clothing.

This is my sixth time having a child with a variant of this condition. My son is one of our worse cases of infant acid reflux, but I've certainly been here before as a Mom. (We think it's genetic.) Because I've been here before I know that no medicine, no sleep position, no special infant sling, etc is going to help me reduce my son's pain level to zero. I work with my doctor to help monitor my son's reflux. However, I'm done searching for a magic cure.

My son will always spend a part of the day crying loud, awful cries. As his Mom, it will always hurt my heart to hear him in pain. This is our life together until he reaches 8 or 9 months and that little immature swallowing apparatus finally starts working better.

The thing about colic is that it exposes every single weakness that I have as a human being. ("I thought I was a nice person until I had a kid with colic" could be a Tee Shirt Slogan for me.) For the other two kids who had this condition in an extreme way, the colic period has scared me to death. "What can I do to stop it? When is it going to be over?"

As a more experience Mom, I know that this stage will pass. So instead of getting obsessed with "Make this stop now!" or "Why doesn't my baby always have to be the hard one?" I'm developing a resigned patience. If I want delightful, funny, sensitive, and artistic kids with my tall husband--then I get babies with sensitive digestive tracts. I can't have the joy of one without the pain of the other.

The thing about having a baby with colic is that situation strips me naked. There is no hiding from myself. Every flaw in my marriage, in my housekeeping, in my homeschooling, in my parenting, in my prayer life--every sinful habit that I have gets magnified when I'm walking around without sleep and either twitching because I hear my baby crying in his crib upstairs or terrified that my slightest movement will wake him up in my arms.

For 12 years and 5 babies, I kept focusing on healing the baby. "If the baby stops crying, then I'll feel less stress and become a nicer person." Now, I think "the only solution I've got is to become more holy myself."

I'm a little freaked out finishing Lent this exposed. I know what sinful stuff I need to work on. My husband knows what sinful stuff I need to work on. My older kids know what sinful stuff I need to work on. My Catholic prayer friends know what sinful stuff I need to work on.

What I'm grateful for is the virtue of humility. When I'm this low, I have no choice but to work on the really broken parts of myself. Right now, I'm healing the parts of myself that were broken before age 6. It's awesome because whenever I patch up something this deep, I can see the results really fast in so many areas of my life all at once. Getting this low is embarrassing, but it's effective.

I joked with one of my friends this week. "Isn't Motherhood wonderful? There is a Miraval Resort in Tuscon, Arizona, where people pay thousands of dollars to get the same life lessons that we learn practically overnight, for free!"

I mean that comparison to Miraval Resort in a very concrete way.  To survive four more months of colic, I have to learn how to cook better. I have to improve my diet. I have to exercise more. I have to ask my husband for a neck massage at the end of the day after holding our son for 12 hours. I have to rebuild my self-esteem, re-evaluate my Faith, and learn how to better manage stress in the moment.

All my efforts at self-improvement were optional before.

Now my self-improvement feels CRITICAL.

That is why I'm grateful for my son's colic. That is why I'm grateful for a hard Lent. It's so easy to drift into complacency as an adult. "Oh, I'm a good enough person for God!" As much as I hate Rock Climbing the Spiritual Mountain for God, it's good for me.

Jesus, thank you for dying for my sins. Help me to better slug off my sloth and work harder for the Kingdom of God!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Catholic Take on A.D. The Bible Continues | Episode 1

"The Catholic take is notice Peter!" and "Remember the Book is Always Better!" Can't wait to watch this on TV with my family on Easter Sunday!