Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Happy Little Flower Feast Day!

St. Therese of Lisieux is easily the most famous of all the Carmelite Saints. She is this true blend of the spirituality behind our two founders, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. She only wrote one book in her life time, her memoir "The Story of a Soul." That single book made her a Doctor of the Church.

Today is St. Therese of Lisieux's Feast Day! St. Therese was a real person. Even though both of her parents are on the tract for full Sainthood, she had a lot of problems in her childhood. She had a difficult anxious and depressed personality. Even after her famous healing on Christmas Eve at age 14, she still struggled as a young adult.

I laugh when some Catholic writers describe St. Therese as "a mighty oak." That wasn't her personality at all. St. Therese was someone who made peace with all her broken pieces. With God's help, she became comfortable being little, humble, ineffective and small. She really made peace with that Old Testament Psalm, "What delights God the most is a contrite heart." The most mighty thing about St. Therese is her gigantic love for God. That is something that all of us can emulate! 

It's good to remember how little St. Therese fit into the theology of her time in France. Most of the Carmelites around her were big into making constant "reparations" to a God of Fear.  They feared God's Judgement and were constantly trying to make up it to God. St. Therese comes along as a 15 to 23 year old, and she starts talking confidentially about easily approaching a God of Love and Mercy.  Her approach to God predates the establishment of Divine Mercy Sunday by 200 years!

Real Christian theology is timeless. The love that the Saints show all of us can't be ended by their death. My daughter Hannah and I are so blessed to feel a special friendship with St. Therese of Lisieux. Many of her struggles are our struggles too. We hope that her triumphs, one day, become our triumphs too!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Learning the Difference Between Moments of Stress, and Times of High Anxiety

This mothering thing is HARD! Right now, my husband is a super-commuter. I'm solely responsible for six souls while he's gone for 12 hours a day, 5 days a week. Since the unborn baby needs me to be on bed rest, I spent large chunks of time managing conflicting needs from my IKEA bed. I might not be moving my body much the past two weeks, but I'm seriously over using my brain.

Today, I spent my most peaceful morning time scheduling an OB appointment and making sure the our church had scheduled a baptism. That meant I was homeschooling 3 kids, in the late morning, right while the two little girls (2 & 4) were feeling the most needy. There were a couple of moments when I thought I was going to lose my mind.

I gave thanks for my Law Degree because I used the concept of contributory negligence to settle an inter-sibling argument between two preteens. After the two parties left satisfied from "Mom Court," I gave God thanks for my incredibly expensive Legal Education. I told God "I have no idea how Moms settle this stuff without resorting to court speak." I'm sure there are these beautiful Catholic families that can settle sibling disagreements with appeals to Christian virtue and being "more like Jesus." There might even be a few families with the obedience issues so settle that all Mom has to do is say "Give it a rest, please!"

That is not my life. I have one child whose interior sense of justice, my husband and I joke, is straight out of the Code of Hammurabi. This child does not usually instigate a fight. However, once he's injured, either by accident or on purpose, he wants his "eye for eye justice." Almost every time there is a sibling conflict, I've got to walk him forward from the old school revenge code of ancient Mesopotamia into a more modern, Christian way of dealing with inter-personal conflict. It's a project.

After homeschooling was finished, I made myself a healthy lunch and then rested on my bed for a solid hour. Abigail, my 2 year old, cuddled up next to me an took a impromptu nap. I watched a cop show. I ate my food. An hour later, when I got up to get myself more ice-water, I was surprised at how relaxed my body felt.

My mothering work this morning was hard and stressful. Yet it didn't freeze up and harm my body same way chronic anxiety affects me. I can rest and recover after stressful moments in mothering. The Monday before had been horrible. We had an anxious thing happen with our house selling process. I've also been really worried about landing back in the hospital with a preterm birth for the new baby. This morning, I worked too hard to let my mind wondering into the "what ifs" of a move and a hospital stay. I simply dealt with the here and now of my Motherhood.

I'm promising myself that I will remember this idea. Even while pregnant, my body is designed to recover well from moments of extreme stress. Sometimes an hour of stress means that I'm simply doing my "God work" for the day. What God doesn't want me to experience are those ugly feelings of chronic anxiety.

St. Jerome, pray for me!

I'm In Love With St. Jerome

Today, I'm prepping before tomorrow's big Carmelite Feast Day for St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. (The Little Flower, or St. Therese of Lisieux). I was so delighted to discover it was St. Jerome's big day while I prayed my Daily Office. He is wonderful!

There is this special thing that happens with male and female saints become friends together. It can happen among married saints, like Louis and Zelie Martin, St. Therese's parents. (Who I guess are still technically blessed). Yet often this special spiritual friendship between men and women happens in a totally chase way. My own bff, St. Teresa of Avila became friends with contemporary St. John of the Cross. St. Scholastica had her brother, St. Benedict. St. Jerome had his friendship with St. Paula.

As a woman who lives intimately with her husband, I really get jazzed up by this idea that my love, isn't just my lover, my co-parent, my handyman, or a kind person who brings me chocolate and detective novels while I'm stuck in the hospital on bed rest. My husband and I have this buzzing spiritual friendship with Jesus that really produces new insights and new discoveries that I could have never gotten if I always prayed alone.

I love St. Jerome because of his chaste friendship with St. Paula.

I also love St. Jerome for his fiery temper! I am a Scot and I have a Scottish Temper.  You remember the Mel Gibson, "Braveheart" speech where he fires up his rag tag army saying "They will never take our freedom!" I can get just as fiery over my local City Hall's ineffective customer service when I pay my water bill. It does not take much to ignite my inner sense of injustice.

One of the hardest things about becoming Catholic was feeling like I didn't fit this popular notion of Catholic femininity based on Mary, the Mother of God. It could just be my imagination, but I feel like there is this notion that "proper" Catholic women are quiet, soft spoken, demur, and have perfect, flat hair tucked sweetly into their bobby pins.

I love St. Jerome because he is the antidote to all of that fake, surface-only, holiness stuff. St. Jerome is into honest holiness. He lets some things rip, because he cares. He lives passionately for Christ. Sometimes he left people in Rome pissed off because of that passion.

St. Jerome is a talent writer. He's a serious scholar. He's a desert hermit AND a posh city preacher. He was someone who served God.  I'm so grateful that he's a real friend to me.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Only Two Conditions Are Necessary For A Christian Life

This is one of the most important articles I've ever read on the Christian Life.  My buddy, Pope Francis, reminds us that the Christian life is "simple, simple." Jesus gives two conditions to be his discipline.

1) Listen to the Word of God

2) Follow it

The pope reminds us that Jesus had crowds of people following him, yet he had very few real friends. Some people follow Jesus with ulterior motives. They follow him "out of convenience" or out of a "desire to be better." The pope also said "So often we go to Jesus because we need something and then we forget him there, alone." "There are not many people who then effectively practiced the Word of God."

When I read this article, I feel energized. My duties are really simple. I need to reflect on God's word. I need to give him space in my life to talk to me through Holy Scripture. Then I need to take the personal nudges that I get while listening to the Word of God and put it into practice.

God's not looking for me to become a superhero. God already has many angels! What he needs from me is friendship! Friends are loyal! A good friend does what she is asked to do, with a little dash of joy and good humor thrown into the mix.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Meet Jen the Great In DC This Weekend!

Author, blogger, radio host, and conference organizer extraordinaire, Jennifer Fulwiler, from Conversion Diary, is coming to Washington DC tomorrow to promote her new book, Something Other than God. If you have never heard about this witty Catholic convert from Austin, Texas, take a moment to check out her blog.

Tomorrow, on Wednesday Sept 24, at 7:30 PM, Jennifer Fulwiler will host a book signing at Pauline Books and Media, on King Street, in Alexandria, Virginia. If you are a book lover who has not yet found this gem of a bookstore run by the sweetest and most media savvy Religious Sisters ever made, take $100 and go to this book signing. After buying Jen's book, the Daughter's of St. Paul will personally help you select a dozen other Catholic books that will also boost your soul.

On Thursday, Sept. 25,  Jen has a live radio show on SiriusXM at the DC Station at 1 PM, and will appear on EWTN live at 8 PM.

On Friday, Sept. 26, at 8 PM, Jen will give a talk at St. John the Apostle Parish in Leesburg, Virginia.

On Saturday, Sept. 27, from 9 AM to 4 PM, she will attend the "Risk Jesus Conference" at the Hylton Memorial Chapel in Woodbridge, VA.  Tickets are only $25.

On Monday, Sept. 29, at 6 PM Jen will talk and host a reception at the Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington DC. The event is free but please RSVP here.

If you live in the DC Metro area take a moment to share a laugh with Catholic author, Jennifer Fulwiler this week. For more details, check out her list of DC publicity appearance here.  (I'm disappointed that I'll be missing out on all this fun due to my bed rest.)


I made it exactly one week without need for an emergency c-section! Now I'm at week 34 of pregnancy. If I can make it another 7 days, to 35 weeks, then the doctors at the NICU will be happy.

My OB was super skeptical about my ability to rest while supervising 5 small child in my house. Yet, I've got to say that having a lot of kids while on bed rest is the best. There is always someone eager to talk to me. (Boredom is my biggest challenge.) I'm hanging out in bed with them for hours more than I would normally.  Alex and I are watching the new series, Gotham, on xfinity replay together. Maria and I are having a good laugh critiquing "Utopia" together. Maria is so scandalized because "Those girls never work!" She says "Swimming is good, but you do it after you work! Yoga is good, but you do it after you work!" She's convinced the chicken died because no one remembered to give it water. Utopia is a show I would have never watched when not on bed rest, but it is so great for ironic moments of laughter. I can't wait to have all these fun TV critiques on the phone with my kid when they are all grown up and out of my house. Art makes for great bonding moments.

I like having 3 kids who are old enough to fetch and carry for me. I never feel like I'm burdening any one of them. I've got an unofficial nursing rotation in my head.

The hardest part is having a 2 year old bounce on me. We got a new mattress last weekend because our old one was a 10 year old futon from IKEA. The new mattress is such an improvement. The only down side is that my toddler thinks it's a trampoline. Her gymnastic antics are doubly awful because I still have morning sickness.

When I can't get my toddler to settle down, I call on my older kids to distract her for a bit. I'm blown away by their creativity with "impromptu pre-school." They've made forts out of old packing boxes. They do elaborate make-up games of Pirates and Princesses. They do half an hour squirt gun fights in the backyard. Usually in our family of five, the kids drift off into two groups by age. The 2 and 4 year old play together. The 11 and 9 year old play together. The 7 year old drifts between the two groups based on her interest. Bed rest has given me the chance to see how well my whole family plays naturally together, even when I'm not there as "Camp Counselor Mom" to come up with a joint activity or a joint field trip.

The hardest part about bed rest is that it's a huge mental challenge. I'm used to activity. I'm used to directing my own day. This should be a great writing time, but instead I feel so exhausted that I don't write. (That's weird right? I lay in bed all day but I feel even more exhausted than normal? I feel like "staying still" is exhausting for me.)

One day at a time!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bed Rest

My family went to Sunday Mass without me this morning. It feels so weird. I'm on strict bed rest until I deliver the baby. I knew before I checked into the hospital, that my OB wanted me to be extra careful once I got out. "No errands," he said. "Only get out of bed to pee or make dinner." When the nurse went over my hospital discharge instructions and asked me if I could put a plastic chair in our shower, I got a little freaked out. There's bed rest and then there is "assigned to the prison of my bed room for the next three weeks."

This morning, I woke up. I made coffee for myself and my husband at 8 AM. Then I stayed in bed for the next 3 hours. I watched CBS' "Sunday Morning."  I co-directed the whole "preparing for Mass melee" in the morning for 5 kids. I fixed pony tails from the bed and gave directions to brush teeth. I'm still shocked that my kids are obeying me, especially the little ones. I can't get up and physically put a toothbrush in their hands if they start to balk at my commands.

I lay in bed and I problem solved as backup for my hard working husband. "Don't forget to return the library books while you are out." "Tess still doesn't have on her shoes. Try looking for her sandals in the TV room." I feel like this weird voice-only app on an I-Phone. I can't actually do any work from my bed, I can only help my spouse remember which items need to be checked off before a minor family trip.

Bed rest feels super weird to me. I'm used to being active. It's so surreal to sit on my bed, in my first floor bedroom that is right off our kitchen. To be part of the family, yet set apart. I feel lonely when my family goes off to Mass without me.

At the same time, this cross is such an antidote to my anxious, perfectionist nature--that somehow gets whipped up into a more intense frenzy in late pregnancy. I realize that the most important thing I give to my family is this gentle, emotional presence. For three days, I was in the hospital. Even though my kids had their Dad, their house, their pets, their Minecraft games, their whole world went upside down. I had never seen a 2 year old happier, than when I came back home to my bed. She grabbed my cheeks and squeezed them with a smile. Then she promptly drifted off to a deep, contented sleep. She could rest now that her Mom was back.

At 6 AM on Friday, my husband went back to work. It was hard and scary. My husband is a super-commuter who works 70 miles from home. I'd gotten checked out thoroughly at the hospital the day before. We had cellphones. We had a back-up plan with friends and neighbors in case I had an emergency. It wasn't dangerous in fact, but the distance felt scary and dangerous. I think the only reason we decided to send him back to work was so that we could have a "practice day" before he resumed work for 5 days in a row the next week.

My life felt lonely and scary until my kids woke up at 8 AM. I was shocked at how critical my presence was in our house, even though I was useless on my bed. My being home, instead of in a hospital room, meant that Jon could go to work. My kids got back on their homeschooling schedule. I taught my 11 year old how to do laundry. I reminded my 10 year old to walk the dog 3 times a day. Fights between the little girls got solved. Fights over the computer time among the big kids got solved. We all ate dinner around the dining room table at a normal time. About the only thing that got skipped because of my bed rest, is that I couldn't easily drive to Target to buy us more paper towels as soon as we ran out.

I'm promising myself that I will remember what it feels like to be "useless" on a bed. I am not useful to my family, I am critical.

The seven of them (counting my husband and our youngest baby)  are a pretty remarkable bunch of people. They are all independent and feisty. They are capable of totally directing their own lives. They are also capable of great kindness towards each other. My job as the mother isn't to do every task in their life. (Even my 2 year old figured out how to make her own bowel of cereal this week.) My husband's ways of parenting are not always similar to mine, but his ways really do work! Bed rest has really forced me to take a side-line approach to parenting. I'm impressed how much my respect for my husband has grown this week.

All this letting go of the practical stuff of mothering, has made me appreciate how much I am my husband and my children's heart. The older kids need someone to listen intently to a detailed recap of the new Maze Runner Movie. They need encouragement to practice reading every day. My husband needs hugs at the end of a long day. My little girls just need someone who is emotionally present enough to react to whatever intense emotional delight or emotional trauma they are facing in the moment. (Mirroring, I think, is the fancy psychological term.)

Bed rest feels like a weak point during my normal vocation as a wife and mother, yet it also makes me feel much stronger.

St. Teresa of Avila, patroness of the sick, pray for me!