Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mother Teresa's Words of Love

Things to remember in my vocation today.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Papal Intentions for January

I'm going to miss not praying this Papal intention in front of my rosary in February.

"That the family may become more and more a place of training in charity, personal growth and transmission of the faith.

Good thing I get to attempt to live it out everyday!

Here is another glorious quote on prayer:

"Prayer itself, born in Catholic families, nurtured by programs of Christian formation, strengthened by the grace of the sacraments, is the first means by which we come to know the Lord’s will for our lives. To the extent that we teach young people to pray, and to pray well, we will be cooperating with God’s call. Programs, plans and projects have their place; but the discernment of a vocation is above all the fruit of an intimate dialogue between the Lord and his disciples. Young people, if they know how to pray, can be trusted to know what to do with God’s call." Pope Benedict XVI

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Sacramental Marriage

I married my husband, Jon, on June 2, 2001. We honeymooned for a week in Vancouver, Canada.

During our engagement, I worked as a poverty law attorney. I had to ask for three continuances on my trial dates. The trial dates all concerned divorces.

“This is ironic”, I thought as I carefully typed “Please grant me a continuance on the above captioned matter as the Plaintiff’s Attorney, Ms. Abigail Rupp, is unable to attend the final hearing because she will be on her honeymoon outside of the State of Ohio” three times on my law firm’s letterhead.

I did a lot of divorce work that spring of 2001. “I hope this doesn’t happen to Jon and I someday,” I thought as I watched a woman jump on the back of her soon to be ex-husband and pummel his neck in a court hallway during a break in the divorce proceedings. “Once these angry people had said vows,” I thought. “Probably in a church. Now they were causing a ruckus in a public place. At least neither one is one of my client!” I pushed the uncomfortable comparisons away as a courthouse clerk called a security guard to break-up the melee.

On my last court appearance before my wedding, my favorite Magistrate, who had heard dozens of my Domestic Violence Abuse Restraining Order cases, waved at me from the bench. “I hear you are getting married Ms. Rupp.”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

The Magistrate took off his glasses and punctuated his serious words with jabs at me. “If that new husband of yours ever tries anything funny with you, I mean ANYTHING, you race up here and see me!”

I started to laugh. “Yes, Your Honor. Jon’s a gentleman, your Honor. You don’t need to worry”

“I mean it Ms. Rupp. You don’t know how many young ladies that I’ve had up here," (he jabbed at the witness chair). "Those ladies who cry and say they never saw it coming. Never. Saw. It. Coming!”

“Yes, sir.” I nodded with more seriousness.

I started my marriage with mental images of my former clients. Wives who got beaten with ten-pound electric fans. Wives with husbands who left them at age 40 to date nineteen-year-old girls. Wives whose husbands got on drugs or got into gambling or who committed serious theft. Wives who universally said, “I have no idea how this happened. My husband changed. He wasn’t like this when we dated.”

“That’s not going to happen to Jon and I,” I thought regarding divorce in general. “We’re different.”

I whistled in the dark.

Fast forward to July 2002, when I first told a lawyer friend that I was newly pregnant with baby Hannah. “So your going to have a baby?” she said. “Now you and Jon have to work together for at least 18 years,” she said.

I looked at her with confused eyes.

“Because of the child support and visitation schedule. Even if you split, you can’t really be out of each other lives until the baby turns eighteen” my friend clarified.

“Um, that’s okay,” I said “Because I want to stay married to Jon for eighteen years. More than eighteen years, I hope.”

My friend nodded her head as if to say “You poor sap.”

It’s as if the whole world expected Jon and I to break up one day.

When I got engaged to Jon in September of 2000, I thought I was pretty committed.

“I’m going to stay with him for life, unless he becomes a cocaine addict or a compulsive gambler.”

Those two things seemed pretty remote. They were small loopholes in my overly tidy lawyer mind.

I thought it was pretty big of me to let go of the “I’m automatically out of the marriage if my husband ever crosses the line with adultery” which was the mantra I’d use to mentally reassure myself during every sad Lifetime movie starting at age 13.

“I’m in here for pretty much ever and ever, unless something goes terribly wrong” I told myself during our nine-month engagement. “I’ll give my marriage my best try. Divorce is only an option for rare cases. Still, if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.” I thought."There doesn't seem to be any way to predict which marriages go sour at the start of a relationship."

I didn’t know that God had other plans.

I didn’t know that my 6 foot 4 inch guy with his goofy grin happened to hide a giant fishhook in his heart.

God put Jon in my life in order to yank me into the Catholic Church. That “yank” from my comfortable “I’ve got this whole religion thing figured out” into a new reality of the mystical body of Christ led to some major changes.

No contraception.

No missing Sunday Mass.

No divorce.

I first learned about the “No Divorce Rule” from a Catholic Deacon in Rochester, New York. That fishhook had yanked me on a nine-hour drive in February, through dual snowstorms in Cleveland and Erie, to stand blinking in a ‘dispensation marriage interview’ inside a sacristy of a Catholic church.

I went along with the quaint “we need multiple meetings with the prospective bride and groom in person, even though the bride lives nine hours away and has an extremely demanding job” – out of religious tolerance.

My fiancĂ© was Roman Catholic. I was Methodist. (Protestant, a reform branch of the Anglican Church.) Before granting approval for our marriage, his church demanded multiple in person meetings, a pre-cana retreat, verified baptism cards and weekly church attendance. My friendly pastor, listened to our funny “how we met story”, handed us a taped copy of “Men Are From Mars/ Women from Venus” tape and then started to ask if we wanted a unity candle.

Clearly all this Roman Catholic marriage prep was “excessive” and “really, really strange.”

And yet oddly reassuring.

“We make entering into marriage hard because this is it for him,” the Deacon said pointing to Jon. “Once you both have a valid, sacramental marriage, Jon can never remarry. If he does, he can not receive Communion.”

“Wow, a serious no divorce rule,” I thought.

[The “No Divorce Rule” is how I categorized it in my unformed mind. It’s really a “no remarriage because only you get one shot with a valid sacramental marriage” rule.]

That rule gave me comfort. I like the reassurance that if Jon left me at 40 to marry a nineteen year old (as happened to one of the families that I babysat for in middle school) that a priest in a black shirt and white collar would proclaim “NO COMMUNION FOR YOU, go back to your original wife!

I warmed up to the Deacon in spite of the odd, non-heated sacristy and sailed through the rest of the marriage interview. I particularly loved the “This is an odd question, but one we must ask. Did either of you participate in the death or demise of a previous spouse?”

I got shivers of recognition. “That question is in interview because of Mary Queen of Scots” I said in my happy, I love history voice. I explained the royal struggle over her deceitful second husband.

The Deacon was a little taken back.

“Wow this Church is old!” I remember thinking. I had such respect. I realized that this "institution" learned about a troubling aspect of the human heart back in Medieval Europe and now diligently screens new marriage candidates in the 21st century.

Our Deacon ended up being a convert from the Baptist faith. (God had me drive through two snowstorms for a reason!) He was the first one who explained to me the beauty of the Eucharist as the real presence of Christ. He gave me dignity as a Protestant Sister of the Faith, equal in the sacrament of Baptism. The deacon explained the Protestant Reform for the first time not in glowing terms of “healthy reform” to me but in the painful realities of the heart.

“We want Jon to promise to raise his children Catholic because he is being fed at Two Tables. You are fed with the Table of the Word also. You are nourished with the same Holy Scripture. Yet as a Catholic, Jon is nourished with a second Table, the Table of the Eucharist. We want his and your future children to be fed at two tables as well.”

“We are all one family in Christ,” the deacon said. “When Luther and the other Reformers broke away from the Catholic Church it was like a painful divorce in a family. No matter what, we are still related. We are still one.”

The Deacons voice cracked during this statement. “Divorce.” The Church got Divorced just like families got divorced. “It hurts,” I thought. “The church wants all of us divorced Protestants to return home someday."

After this realization, I went along with the various requirements of the Catholic church more cheerfully. I received the most beautiful love letter from my husband during our Saturday Pre-Cana retreat. I helped Jon locate a Catholic priest in the town where we were going to be married.

The Catholic priest in my hometown of West Virginia said he liked “Remote control weddings.” He didn’t like to preside at inter-faith ceremonies. “I just push all the dispensation buttons from far away, like on a remote control.” He did insist on meeting us in person, which required now a 12-hour trip on Jon’s part. Our interview lasted exactly four minutes. Afterwards, the priest took us outside and talked to us about carpenter bees.

“Well, that was odd,” I said. “At least it’s over."

"That’s the last check-mark for the Catholic Church,” Jon responded. We held hands down the priest’s driveway and drove to the florist who designed my prom corsage to pick out blue cornflowers and yellow freesia for my wedding bouquet.

Of course, our wedding day was just the beginning. That “remote control” priest sent in the official paperwork and also slipped a wedding invitation to a happy woman rarely invited to Protestant services, Our Blessed Mother.

Our Lady sat in the back. I didn’t acknowledge her. Our Lady didn't mind. She still gave us some Wedding of Cana wine, an engraved invitation to become her special friend, and gigantic pile of wedding gifts which Jon and I are still unwrapping.

The surprise find in November 2008 was a joint call to become lay Carmelites.

(To understand how rare and precious this gift is you have to realize that there are only 26,000 Lay Carmelite women in the WORLD and 3,000 Lay Carmelite men in the whole wide world! To discover that my husband is a fellow Carmelite and moreover desired to start his novitiate on the same month that I started mine is so rare, it's almost mathematically impossible.)

I’m still unwrapping all our Catholic wedding gifts. I’m still learning that my marriage has cosmic significance. How my faithfulness to my husband, reflects the faithfulness of Christ’s church to Christ. How my little daily acts of sacrifice can heal the whole world.

I’ll never get written up in my Law School Alumni Magazine in my current work as a common wife and homemaker. There are no gold medals for finding lost wallets or fixing frayed buttonholes. There are no silver trophies for my discovery that the dented can shelf at Safeway contains Manning's All Natural Hominy for only 59 cents per can.

There’s only the simple peace that comes from living a steady marriage commitment in a midst of the broken world.

Considering all the heartache that I’ve witnessed and personally experienced, I think that’s more than a fair wage for my daily labor.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Every Saturday my husband wakes up at 5:30 AM, takes a shower, grabs his Catechism and heads to a Catholic Men’s Group, called Men of Emmaus, which meets in our Church basement at 7:30 AM.

We only have one car, so Jon needs to either catch the bus or catch a ride. If it’s the bus, Jon has to scramble to find six quarters and walks a half-mile from the bus stop to our Church in the cold. If it’s a ride with his friend Wes, he usually gets treated a free Starbucks coffee.

Bus or car. Sunshine or Sleet. If he’s physically present in Gaithersburg on a Saturday, Jon makes it to the Men of Emmaus Meeting.

Father Francisco warned us at Mass this week, “The people who complain, will always complain.” I’m in the complaining category. While many members of my Women of Prayer Group would adore having their husband’s take an interest in the Catechism, I’ve previously complained “Every Saturday? You really have to go EVERY Saturday?”

“Saturday is supposed to be my Mom’s Day Off!,” I thought fiercely.

The sum total of my “increased” work due to Jon’s weekly meeting happened to be the following: entertaining three kids for an hour, dressing them in church clothes, moving our bed out of living room and back in our/ Mimi’s bedroom, buckling three car seats, and transporting the kids from the car to a church pew in a timely manner before 9:00 AM Mass.

Such a tiny, tiny amount of work to build up the kingdom of God.

Such a tiny, tiny price to pay to have my husband absorb the Catholic Catechism with other men!

Eventually, not through any helpful or cheerful thoughts of my own mind you, it hit me that while we “sacrificed” Jon for 1 1/2 hours on Saturday, he returned to us rested and renewed the whole rest of the weekend.

Soon I actually embraced my “extra” work, telling myself as I struggled to move the floppy IKEA futon mattress back onto my unused IKEA bed frame without further tearing the already broken hand-holds, (we’re a five member family in a 2 bedroom apartment), that my recently widowed friend Theresa & Jon’s co-worker who is still-single-not-by-choice at age 40, would both ADORE having to cover a husband’s usual jobs on a Saturday morning. I did my tasks more cheerfully as a sacrifice for them.

“Offering It Up.”

I thought that was the end of the story.

I didn’t think that I would personally benefit from my husband hanging out regularly in the Church basement with some Catholic men.

Then yesterday, a friend from Virginia emailed me that a porn shop is opening up in Old Town, Alexandria. The new shop with the disgusting shop window display is next door to a toy store, two blocks from a historic waterfront where families eat ice-cream on lazy Saturday mornings, and ten blocks down from a Pauline Bookstore, one of 12 in our whole country, run by the Pauline Sisters, or as I affectionately call them “the librarian nuns.” My friend wanted us to send an email to the Mayor stating our displeasure. She warned us that the First Amendment Issue probably prevents the city from doing anything.

I told my husband this sadly over lunch.

“I’m on it!” he said.

Twelve hours later, Jon forwards me an email from the head of Men of Emmaus. Encouraged by successful efforts by a Catholic men’s group in Pennsylvania, these Maryland men are on it. They want to pick a date to picket and pray. They want to go down early and scout out “parking places.” They want to rally the Catholic Men and Knights of Columbus in the area to join this case.

These men are committed to winning the battle against pornography. They are starting with my friend’s problem neighborhood, fifty minutes away from our parish church.

It is amazing to see these modern Saint Georges fight the dragon.

Ten years ago, I read Larry Flints’ First Amendment Cases with blasĂ© in law school. Back then, I didn’t have a son whose “custody of the eyes” I had to protect. I didn’t really understand the evils that pornography does to marriage, and life, and the dignity of women. I didn’t feel physically ill when I thought of those dear, chaste sisters having to go to work with such evil on shop windows on their street.

“I’m on it!” my husband said.

He’s a Catholic man.

A man who protects his family from both physical and spiritual harm.

I don’t have to worry about my son or my daughters growing up leaderless and adrift in the hostile currents of our present culture.

I’m so honored to be Jon’s wife. You can be sure that I’ll be buckling those three car seats with a little more joy next Saturday morning. Praise to the Lord.

Fr. Jim Martin's Introduction To The Saints

Great description of how a boy's choice of spending $3 on a St. Jude Statue over a Spiderman figurine changed a life. Go St. Jude!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

March for Life 2009 Supreme Court Building

Stopping to Pray by the Supreme Court.

March for Life 2009 Outside the Capitol

Check out Mimi's crazy sleeping position. Jon had to guard her head for a 2 mile walk.

March for Life 2009 Waiting on the Mall

March for Life 2009 Eating Lunch

Enjoying a yummy free parish lunch at the National Building Museum. (I'm so thankful the kids got to run and play after sitting still for the Youth Mass.)

March for Life 2009 Walking to the March

The challenges of pushing "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (our stroller) with three heavy children. A good act of penance!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

March for Life

Incredible. Unbelievable. Inspiring.

Wow, my first time at March for Life--with my beloved husband and all 3 of our young children.

We rose at 4 AM to catch the free parish shuttle to the Verizon Center at 5 AM. The kids were so excited to take their first bus ride. We decamped at a super crazy, super crowded Verizon Center at 7:00 AM, a full 30 minutes before the Basketball Stadium Center opened. We needed all that time because trying to thread a group to the right entrance with a giant 3 kid stroller was a bit of a challenge.

Once we got inside, we got ushered into this amazing spot on the actual basketball court, a few rows back from the main alter. To the right was a giant slab of seminarians, the ones in NYC who got a visit from our Holy Father in April. There were also the extremely cool monks. Everything in their habit screamed 12 century, thick, course robes, giant wooden rosaries and their bizarre wool wraps instead of coats. I loved it when they pulled out cellphones to direct fellow brothers to their seats, what a contrast!

On our left was a huge section devoted to the Sisters. On the top were 30,000 high school and college students from all over the country. Around the floor stood hundreds of priests all in white at least four rows deep.

The 2009 Youth Rally and Mass started with a fun Catholic rock concert. My last concert was when I took Jon to U2 in Cleveland for his 29th birthday two weeks before we were married. It was surreal to sing my lungs out to "The Streets Have No Name" with my husband, my 3 tiny babies, hundreds of boisterous seminarians and thousands of students.

Then things quieted down with a 1/2 hour recitation of the Rosary. I thought the MC made a good point. He told all these students that it's easy to feel pumped up for God at a rock concert. Yet when the hard times come in college, when your girlfriend breaks up with you or your grandpa dies, their won't be a rock concert available. You have to get yourself immersed in the traditions of the Catholic faith that are dependable, these are the rosary and the Holy Mass. With that introduction, and the good example of hundreds of priests and religious, the rosary was quiet and deeply personal.

Then came the Holy Mass. What a transformation. After the Papal Mass, I was a little nonchalant about viewing hundreds of priest come in to Celebrate the Mass. Then this huge row of men in pointy hats entered. Honestly, there were at least 50 bishops and archbishops who attended this Mass from all over the United States. I started tearing up. I couldn't believe that all of these men fly to D.C. for one day, just to celebrate this Mass with the Catholic Youth and pray in front of the Supreme Court.

The Pope even sent an Archbishop from the Holy See. It was incredible. Every single person in a crowd of 30,000 stood up and screamed appreciation and adoration for the Holy See for a good 5 minutes. It was such an incredible act of Catholic universality to see these 20ish seminarians, these 50ish nuns and 18 year old high school seniors all shouting "We love you Papa Benedict!"

The actual Eucharist part of the Mass was handled by our Archbishop Wuerl with honor and dignity. The communion hymn was a Latin chant lead by the Mount Saint Mary's Seminarians. My own Archbishop handed me the host with such an intense, reverent gaze "THIS IS THE BODY", then I got to float away on gorgeous music for 20 minutes afterwards.

The thing that most struck me was the reverent way the hundreds of priests carried the silver bowls carrying the remaining consecrated hosts down hundreds of stadium bleacher steps. Everyone did it differently. Some carried the bowls with both arms outstretched, watching their feet carefully on each step. Some clenched the bowl tightly to the bodies on one hand and the other hand firmly held the handrail. Some reverently covered the bowl with one hand to protect the host from above. Some of less coordinated priests looked slightly panicked and held their entire abdomine under the bowl hoping to at least cushion the bowl with their own body.

Every single body position translated the same, however, "this is truly the body of Christ our King, not some plain wafer."

We finished Mass, which I have to say also carried an amazing amount of grace. My kids can usually not sit through 30 minutes of Daily Mass. Heck, my son can't sit through 10 minutes of "mat time" at pre-school. Yet here all three sat quietly in their seats from 8 AM until 12:30. We were helped so much. Some unknown, friendly parish members took turns holding Maria for 3 hours. She adored the fresh faces and novel environment. Alex started getting agitated during the rosary and mercifully fell asleep for the entire Mass. As we left, one usher waved us onto the VIP elevator because of our stroller. We ended up riding the elevator with all the bishop. One kind bishop from Rhode Island mentioned how happy he was that during the "encouragement to respond to the call for vocations, the Archbishop also included the vocation of marriage. That's such an important vocation," he said.

After our express trip past 30,000 exiting Catholics, we headed to the National Building Museum for our Parish Lunch. One more grace. This is Alex and Hannah's favorite museum of all time because of the expansive young kids play area. After being quiet church mice during Mass, they got to run around and have fun for over an hour.

At about 2, we headed to the March for Life. That was actually the only stressful part of the day. Mimi fell asleep in this weird position in her stroller, her whole body was projected 90 degrees of the giant 3 kid stroller. That meant that one parent had to push a stroller while the other carefully guarded Mimi's head from being accidentally knocked by another Marcher. I didn't get much praying down, maybe 3 Hail Mary's the whole march. We also didn't get to chat much with all the visitors to D.C. Our slow pace meant that we kept falling behind which ever fascinating conversation we had just started.

I'm happy on two counts. One, I got to see how important it is to pray for a Catholic event, even if you can't attend in person. I only got 3 Hail Mary's said during the March, but I know all of you dear readers had many more prayers going up to heaven. Second, I really hit me that I've got a prayer apostate just by living in D.C. Jon & I can go regularly to the Supreme Court building an pray for Roe v. Wade to be overturned. I hope we'll start doing that soon. It hit me as funny, that I spent most of my twenties wishing that I could argue at least one Supreme Court Case in my lifetime and idealizing those that did. Meanwhile, I hope to spend my life praying outside that same building- with far more powerful results!

Oh, I forgot to mention an incredible signal grace. Inauguration Day on Tuesday was freezing cold. My parents were so, so miserable in teen degree temperatures. Today, warm, sunny, high of 41 degrees. It was so warm that I didn't wear at coat or mittens during the March. This weekend it's supposed to return to frigid winter weather again.
It's as if Our Lady Clothed in the Sun peeked out today just to keep us company and I was so, so grateful that the antsy kids were not also freezing and miserable.

I hope you all had a lovely day of prayer. Please remember to pray for all of those excited, chaste pro-life Catholic students in the US. I meet 20,000 today and they were all lovely!

(I took pictures and video, but I'm not sure when I can get them posted. We just got a new camera, which means learning a new photo program. I'm not sure when I can get to reading the instructions. Funny photos of me and Jon puffing up a steep hill loaded down with children and excess water bottles to come, however!)

Pope Benedict says hello!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Imagine Spot 1

Don't Forget

President-elect Obama has his private prayer service from 8:30 to 10:30 at St. John Episcopal Church. Lets join him in prayer for our nation and his family.

Here's more information from the Washington Post:

Monday, January 19, 2009

Wisdom from St. John of the Cross

"The honing of [St. John of the Cross] spirit came to a head in circumstances where his weakness was extreme; months of imprisonment in Toledo for his part in the Teresian reform. Transferred to a tiny, dark dungeon, where hunger, squalor and isolation could set to work. John was pushed there beyond the thresholds he had never had to cross before, into the unfamiliar regions, where his emotional and physical weakness would have made him very vulnerable.

And it is precisely here that John began composing his most personal poetry, from which his writings derive.

That then is the first indication for us from John about prayer; the place within us where not everything is all right, where the wound that is in you aches, John says: go there.

Go to that place of need, because that is the threshold at which Christ stands; our need is an evidence of God. . .

Let your need be your prayer.

This, then is one of the seasons of prayer in St. John of the Cross. We have been led by him to Cana, the family wedding where the wine runs out. Mary sees the anxiety, and has a quiet word with her Son just pointing out what she has noticed.

this is a scene with cosmic scope: the wedding of the Lamb, espousing humanity, a humanity in peril. The mother of Jesus perceives what is lacking, and names it, without dictating a solution: "They have no wine." Hers is a prayer of need; her perception of need is a prayer. She takes it, hold it. allows it to ache before Him. And that precipitates glory. He "manifested his glory, and his disciples believed in him."

This, then, is a way of prayer; to feel our way to the wound that is in us, to the place of our need. Go there, take it, name it; hold it before Christ.

To feel our way to the wounds of the world, to those people or situations in dire need of healing. Go there, take them, name them, and hold them before Him.

Go there, not to dictate to Christ what the answer should be or what he should do about it; but to hold the wound before Him.

"They have no wine." John of the Cross sees wisdom here. A love which does not spell out "what it needs or wants, but holds out its need so that the Beloved might do what pleases him" is especially powerful.

"St. John of the Cross and the Seasons of Prayer," Iain Matthew, O.C.D.

Prayer Plans

Anyone have some prayer plans for this week?

Today is Martin Luther King Jr Day, a good day to pray to end the personal and social sins of racism.

Tomorrow is the Inauguration. It turns out that President Elect Obama will have a private prayer service at the "Church of Presidents" from 8:30-10:30. That might be a good time to pray and offer up some sacrifices. (The actual swearing in ceremony is 11:56 AM.)

Thursday is the 35th Anniversary of the "Roe vs Wade" decision, which means the annual March for Life. (I had a chilling thought the other day. My husband is 36, which means that he's mother was virtually prohibited from an abortion and I'm 34, which means my Mom could easily have obtained an abortion on demand. Two souls conceived two years apart, but what a difference a Supreme Court decision makes.) This year will all be on our parish bus at 5 AM to celebrate Mass at the Verizon Center. We'll wave at y'all if we find the EWTN camera.

Happy Snow Day!

Today is the first time that we've had snow this year. All the non-home schooled kids are home for Martin Luther King Jr Day, so there is a big party outside my window. My five year old daughter is currently making a snow man in tights and her new "Christmas lipstick." (That would be the Jello chapstick Aunt Emily brought over from the "stocking stuffers we accidentally left at Grandma's" pile.)

Hannah's girly make-up genes are so clearly from Jon's side of the family! The funny part is that my sister, Emily, loudly shrieked that baby Maria woke up from her nap on Sunday and insisted on carrying all THREE purses out of her crib: "That Baby has THREE purses and she carries all of them at the SAME TIME!"

This morning Emily frantically called me to see if I had a fancy purse that her friend could borrow for tomorrow's Inauguration Ball.

I, of course, have only one mangled black leather purse from Payless which isn't fit for any black tie event.

My 18 month old daughter, however, has THREE fancy purses including one darling scarlet Banana Republic purse which I donated to her older sister five years ago.

You've got to love that innate wisdom of toddler girls!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Holocaust Museum Visit II

At the Holocaust Museum last Saturday, I prayed inside a cattle car used to transport Jewish victims to Auschwitz. It was quiet inside the car and a shaft of light came in through one of the high, small windows. I stood alone in the car and prayed “Hail Mary full of grace. . .”

“She was in that cattle car back in 1940,” I thought. “Maybe no one could feel her presence, but she was in that car.”

I touched the edge of the doorway by my right shoulder and prayed again. I prayed to acknowledge our Blessed Mother’s presence.

When I was fifteen I read “Night,” in a crowded public high school English classroom with purple nubbed carpet and bad florescent lighting. My high school was designed in the 1970s when my rural county was flush with coal money. The innovative design called for “open classrooms” which simply meant “no doors.” The resulting din of voices from four English classes all having ‘discussion’ on great works of Literature usually meant that you missed half of what your teacher or fellow classmate said.

All that background noise didn’t dim the horror of our six week Holocaust unit. It didn’t diminish the horror of reading a Eli Weisel’s Nobel Prize Winning Autobiography.

I read this work in a secular classroom and it terrified me. Weisel writes about the loss of faith of seeing “God hanging dead on the gallows in front of him.” That statement didn’t fit well into my heart, but I couldn’t pour my thoughts into any concrete words. How do you argue God exists against the Holocaust?

I remember the feel of my elbows against the metal desk, and the paperback pages with the grimy cheap newsprint. I remember someone being called on to read out loud the details of life in the cattle car. I’d skipped that gruesome part in my reading at home, so this passage in the text was new to me.

“We were packed against each other in the cattle cars for three days. Mothers cried out for water. We drank our own piss to survive.”

We drank piss.

I remember how those words sealed up my throat. I felt closed in, trapped. Even in a crowded classroom, with the door less room and the din of other students, I felt trapped and alone.

“There is no way I could drink my urine,” I thought. “There is no way I would survive.” And I sat through the long remaining weeks of the Holocaust unit certain that I would never have lived through the horrors of World War II, and there were probably many similar things that I couldn’t survive.

When I’ve gone through the Holocaust Museum before, I’ve looked at things that I didn’t really want to see. I felt hatred and helplessness. I felt an unimaginable distance from those criminals who did unspeakable crimes against humanity.

Always, always there was this chasm between the Nazi SS officers and me

This time, I entered the museum with my Women of Prayer Group and a beloved parish priest and my whole visit was different.

During the bus trip downtown, we prayed the rosary together. At each joyful mystery we read a passage about charity towards our neighbor. “How I treat my neighbor is a direct link to how much I love God,” is one phrase that stays in my memory.

Our priest, who studied under Rabbis in Israel, gave a stirring lecture on the intellectual currents (Darwin, Eugenics, and Zionism) which led to the Holocaust. “This was not a simply a bunch of thugs in police uniforms. The highest levels of the intelligencia supported anti-Semitic views.)

I started praying in the middle of my priest’s introductionary lecture. I was worried he might accidentally offend our museum guide. Who was elderly, seemed agitated about seeing a priest collar and just wanted a giant group of 30 women to stop blocking the entrance to the elevators.

And while I prayed for our guide to not be offended, Our Blessed Mother sort of nudged me to also pray for his heart to be opened. So I started praying. Then something happened. Our guide’s whole body language changed. He started nodding his head, “that’s exactly right.” When my parish priest mentioned that he’s been to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, our guide broke in “Me too! I am a Holocaust survivor. What you’ve said is exactly right, priest.” Our parish priest finished up and motioned us to the elevator. The elderly guide came over and started talking excitedly to our priest in private. Just as the elevator doors were about to close, my priest slipped inside.

“Our guide is an extraordinary man. He survived one of the worse Death Marches in history at age 14.”

A Holocaust Survivor trading healing words with our parish priest. I started tearing up. I got out my Marian handkerchief out of my pocketbook and started wiping my eyes. One of my prayer friends looked at me with concern. I shrugged my shoulders, “We’re only in the elevator and already I needed to use this!” I held up my Marian handkerchief and then returned it to my coat pocket

The museum is self-paced and quiet and still. I unintentionally walked alone for most of it.

I prayed at the bunkers from Auschwitz. At the recreation of the gas chambers, I forced my eyes to stay open and prayed to Edith Stein. I prayed by the racist German school books and by the free radios distributed by the Nazi propaganda machine. I prayed by lost village names, and shoes and photos of medical torture of young children.

My scheduled lunch break came, but I kept praying. I went into the Hall of Remembrance and said a rosary for the victims and the sinners.

Then I went to lunch and ate a turkey sandwich. Some of the ladies couldn’t eat, but my stomach needed nourishment. I ate my entire lunch and then ate the part of an extra tuna sandwich.

Our parish priest wanted to go back, so a few of us went back with him. There was some confusion about whether we had permission to renter at the point where our group stopped. “You’ll need a special guide,” the women in a dark museum staff coat said.

“Okay, lets get a special guide.” I turned and walked to the volunteer table. Of course, we got our same guide. The walk back led to more friendly exchanges between this elderly survivor and my parish priest.

This time, I hung around the back of the exhibit, the part where there is a constantly moving tape of Survivor stories. A woman, Gledda, I think told about when she first knew she was liberated. Here is her story as close as I can remember it:

“I came out of the abandoned factory in Poland, where I was left with all of those dying girls. They were too weak to reach the door, so I was alone. I saw a jeep come down the hill and it had a giant star on it, instead of a swastika, so that is how I first knew that I was freed.

The jeep stopped in front of me and a man came out.

“I am Jewish,” I said. Those were my first words.

There was a long silence. At least it seemed to me, there was a terribly long silence. And then he spoke, his words betrayed his emotion. He was wearing glasses, so I couldn’t see his tears.

He said in a trembling voice “I know. I am Jewish too.”

Then he said “Lady, will you go inside with me?”

Lady? I couldn’t understand who he was talking to, so I looked behind me. It took me along time to understand he was talking to me. He called me a lady. It was the first time in six years that I was addressed that way.

Then he held open the door for me. Again, no one had done that before for us.

I followed him inside. He gave me back my dignity. This hero who fought to our ideals, he handed me back my dignity. He gave me back everything that had been lost.

And I married him! I married my hero, the first solider I saw, the first one who called me lady and held the door open for me."

What a story of love and hope. What an endnote to my trip.

We were late for our bus, so we hurried out of the exhibit. Our next stop was St. Peter’s Catholic Church, the marvelous stone building outside of the Senate Offices. We walked into this formal white marble church and celebrated Mass. We waited in the pews while Father changed into his robes for the Mass. It was a beautiful place to pray.

I thought about that last story, of how an American solider handed a woman back her dignity. A formal address and a kind gesture. That’s how a victim knew the war was over.

“That’s me, also” I thought and started crying again. (I cry a lot when I pray.) Six years in that destructive lie of premarital sex had left me in bad shape. Then along came a Catholic boy who changed the rules. He married me with honor and turned our love into a sacrament.

“He takes away the sin of the world.”

There is a new beginning for all of us.

Prayer: Blessed Mother, give us your peace. Help us lay down all our sins. Protect the innocent and crush evil with the heel of your bare foot.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Holocaust Museum Visit

Tomorrow morning my Women of Prayer group will visit the Holocaust Museum together. We are taking along Father Avelino and will celebrate Mass together at St. Peter's in Downtown D.C. I'm excited and a little nervous.

The Holocaust Museum always stirs up deep feelings for me.

I first took my daughter to the Children's Exhibit (Daniel's Story) when she was 2. I don't let my kids wander freely in this museum, but the children's area is a beautiful, sensitive and age appropriate space. My husband's Jewish last name goes back to one of the original twelve tribes of Israel. I figure it's never too soon to be teaching the "no anti-Semitism" thing to my little Benjaminites.

Hannah took her first visit in stride. "It's not fair that they didn't let the (Jewish) children eat their favorite cake" she said at the recreation of the 1930s German street exhibit as she pressed a nose against a tempting German Bakery display with a giant "No Jews Allowed" sign. The yellow stars and the Jewish ghetto life with rotten turnip soup didn't make an impression on her two year old brain. The "no buying cake" rule did.

I tried to hurry her past the concentration camp part of the exhibit, but she was affected by the dim blue lights and the barbed wire fence. "Mom, they put people in cages here like they were animals at the zoo!"

I knelt down to my 2 year old in her double stroller seat and had one of the most dramatic conversations in my life.

"Hannie, the Nazi soldiers did lock little children up in cages. They did treat them like they were animals in the zoo."

(Thankfully, the "Daniel's sister ending up as wreaths of smoke" is absent from the child friendly movie that played overhead. So I could easily skip over the most horrid part.)

"That was a great evil. But there were good people in the world at that time, like your great-grandfather George. He went over to Germany and told the Nazi's they had to stop. Great-grandpa George and our army won. They stopped the Nazis and let all the children out."

It was a simple conversation. We lived with Hannah's Great-Grandfather at the time, so she knew him well.

Sitting in that darken room, however, it just hit me what a miracle it was that my Grandfather and Hannah's Great-Grandfather fought in the Battle of Normandy, and that he survived, and came home to have my Mom in 1946. I had a glimpse of what would have happened if WWII hadn't turned out the inevitable way it had in the pages of my history textbooks.

I went home and wrote a meaningful letter of thanks to my maternal Grandfather.

On our second trip to the Holocaust Museum, Hannah was four and newly in her CCD class. As we pass through the museum on our way get a much needed lunch break, Hannah said "I know why the Nazis were bad soldiers Mom."

"Huh? I said as I pushed a stroller with a newborn and pulled 2 lagging walkers behind me.

"The Nazis listened to the clever snake, Mom. They listened to the clever snake!"

The clever snake was Hannah's name for the clever serpent which tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. She's learned this on day one of her CCD class.

I thought her statement ranked as one of the most profound insights into history.

"Why did the Holocaust happen?" Such an angst ridden question that resounds through history. "Because the soldiers listened to the clever snake."

My latest visit to the Holocaust Museum occurred on October 31, 2008, All Hallow's Eve and a few days before the Presidential Election. We stopped in downtown D.C. to stock up on free science labs from the Smokey the Bear exhibit at the National Forestry Office. This fun, interactive exhibit is next door to the Holocaust Museum.

Instead of the somber, sullen feeling from the museum's bleak exterior, in October I entered the building with an uplifted heart. I'd just started the Carmelite formation. I just learned about Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who was pulled out of her Carmelite convent by the Nazis and sent to die.

"We were here!" I kept thinking. Even in this dark, awful time, there were Catholic martyrs for the faith.

At the Daniel exhibit, my feeling of peace grew. "This must have looked like our dear Pope Benedict's house" I thought, looking around at the early 1930's boyhood German home exhibit. I kept trying to dismiss this happy feeling and instead focus on the exhibits mention of Krystalnaucht, and growing Jewish tension. Yet I felt the comfortable hands of our Pope and his dear friend Pope John Paul. These two Catholic men experienced this event. They were heartbroken about the treatment and loss of their Jewish friends. This terrible event didn't occur "outside of human history", it didn't prove that "God was dead." Instead, these external tragedy shaped the deep inner faith of two of my favorite Catholic leaders in history.

In a weird way and for the first time ever, I felt love all through the Daniel's Story exhibit instead of fear and hatred.

Then I got to the end.

The children's exhibit ends with a place of reflection where you can send a post card to the fictitious "Daniel" from Daniel's Story. Usually, the inviting velvet chairs, friendly post office box, and warm lighting are a relief.

This time I felt a strong hit of bile.

Along the walls were children and adults messages who had traveled this exhibit before me. "NEVER AGAIN!" "How could this happen?" "I wish you lived in America, Daniel. This terrible thing would never happen in America."

I stood reading these messages, five days before the Presidential Election and felt my stomach turn green with bile.

How could all of these outraged visitors miss the current connection with abortion?

Here were all these people, completely disgusted with the Holocaust and meanwhile they refuse to make the obvious parallel with disregarding the moral issue of the 21 century. These same parents were going to vote for a new President in five days.

That visit left me emotional. It left me praying my rosary for hours around the Mall afterwards. The pro-life ticket didn't win of course on November 4, which left me sad and numb for several hours.

If Our Blessed Mother were alive in Germany in 1942, she would have been packed off to a concentration camp. In America in 2009, some nosy neighbor would have advised this unwed teenage mother to have an abortion.

When my husband and I went to our local abortion mill to pray on Christmas Eve, we found it open, with the TV flickering on in the waiting room. On Christmas Eve!

The best weapon we have against evil is prayer.

Mother Theresa said that if everyone in America spent one hour in Adoration a week, abortion would end instantly. There is such a strong correlation between seeing the "hidden" Jesus in the host and seeing the 'hidden' human person in the womb.

Let us commit to ridding ourselves of "listening to the clever snake" in our own hearts this year. On January 22, the day of the March for Life, let's pray hard as a nation that the seductive lies of the clever snake get out of the hearts of our beloved countrymen as well.

What are they thinking?

For those of you who don't live in the DC metro area, D.C. proper, the Southern suburbs in Virginia and the Northern Suburbs of Maryland are 3 areas with a 30 mile radius with 3 different cultures. Our Washington Post even comes out with 3 different front page covers depending on where you buy their paper.

Still, it seems a little odd to have the Secret Service traffic plan during the Inauguration to completely discriminate between commuters from the Southern suburbs in Virginia vs. those in the Northern suburbs in Maryland.

Quote for the Washington Post:

"First was the hysteria of announcing over 4 million people might be flooding the Mall. Later, they amend that number by half. Then they announce there will be no parking, few toilets and that everyone will be standing and waiting for hours. Then they tell people not to bring children and, finally, they close all the bridges," fumed Virginian Holly Kenney. "Do they think we're dense? Clearly, the public is no longer welcome." . . .

The plan unveiled by the Secret Service and area transportation officials Wednesday closes all Virginia bridges across the Potomac and interstates 395 and 66 inside the Beltway to personal vehicles. It also cordons off a large section of downtown Washington to help manage the unprecedented crowds expected. Maryland, in contrast, has no planned road closures.

One more reason to love living in Mary's Land!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Finding my Home Among the Carmelites

In ninth grade, I lost my steady lunch group. For five years, I'd eaten lunch every school day next to my best friend Kellum Ayers. Kellum was Scottish, with a Scottish Terrier named "Scottie", thin blond hair and an amazing talent with the violin. Some days, I brown bagged my lunch with bologna, cheese and mustard sandwich. Some days, I had peanut butter and red raspberry jelly. Some days I had a Capri-Sun. Sometimes, I had a can of Cherry Coke. Occasionally, I had enough spare quarters to buy an Almond Joy at Huffington Market for dessert.

Every day, however, I had Kellum's sunny chatter about the latest happenings in Orchestra class to accompany my lunch.

Then my Dad failed his tenure review at Ohio State University and suddenly I got yanked out of my "perfect" suburban high school dreams and placed in a rural West Virginia where there were actual dirt roads and days off for deer hunting season and boys who wore Redwings to school instead of K-Swiss tennis shoes.

Nine grade was a bit of a culture shock for me.

I remember sitting in Health Class filing out a State Testing Form which had the following question:

How many years of school do you intend on completing?

a) ninth grade

b) tenth grade

c) eleventh grade

d) twelfth grade

e) some college

"How ridiculous!" I thought. At 14, I knew I was going to graduate school. Here the official state form wouldn't even let me check off a bachelor's degree.

I snorted out loud, and several of the guys sitting next to me looked up. I rolled my eyes and pointed to this questions. They looked back at me in confusion.

That's when it forcibly struck me that in my 9th grade Health Class, I was one of only three ninth graders. Health was a freshmen required class. If you flunked it, you repeated it. I sat in a 35 person class filled with 32 juniors and seniors. There was a big chance that most of the people in my class weren't going make it past letter "b."

The world sort of opened up to me in that moment.

In retrospect, the whole yanking me out of sheltered suburbia was a good thing.

During my ninth grade year, however, it was incredibly lonely.

Every time the bell rang for first lunch at 11:45, I'd get an anxious knot in my stomach: "Where would I sit at lunch?"

By some scheduling fluke, I got assigned to the lunch period with very few freshmen. I think there were 12 freshmen girls in the whole cafeteria at that time.

Ten of them were freshmen cheerleaders.

The freshmen cheerleaders were all good Christians. These girls were extremely kind. They let me sit down at their table. They asked me kind questions about my family and my sports interests.

The problem, of course, is that I don't have an sports interests. I had no idea how the Pittsburg Pirates differed from the Pittsburg Steelers. I didn't have a boyfriend who followed baseball or football or basketball. (My father and baby brother didn't even follow baseball or football or basketball.) I had no idea what being "pre-engaged" meant. I had no favorite perfume, or favorite skin care regime or favorite shade of Cover Girl lipstick. I didn't even have a common Algebra homework to groan over, because I skipped out of even taking a math class that year.

So every lunch period I sat down with a steaming, yet inedible hot lunch of mashed lasagna and faced a wide social gulf between my inner world and the rest of humankind at Buckhannn-Upshur High School.

It wasn't that the Cheerleaders weren't open. It wasn't that they weren't friendly or kind. It was just that deep down I knew it was only a matter of time before the glib social small talk around the lunch table bumped against a brutal uncomfortable truth; I was a strange, strange girl from an alien planet.

So everyday for a year at 11:45 AM was "Please, don't make me sit at the Cheerleader table today."

I think said yes to at least two Friday dance dates that year, solely so I had a place to sit for a while other than the Freshman Cheerleader lunch table.

Fast-forward two years to the beginning of my junior year, where I found myself sitting next to a girl I'd shared the same Cross-Country Team Bus, Pep Club Bus and Band Bus for three years. Only today, during this otherwise ordinary lunch in the same glaring lemon yellow cafeteria, we start having a real conversation about a book, I think it was Pride and Prejudice. Suddenly, we start finding all of this commonality, like that we both adore English class but despise Math Class, and it turns out that I find a new best friend again. I found my "Kellum." And all I can think, after all of my lonely, at loose end lunch periods is,"I finally have a person to sit next to at lunch!"

That grateful feeling is all I can say about finding the Carmelite order. It feels so good to have a home in the Catholic church.

I know what I'm supposed to do. I'm a contemplative. I'm supposed to pray.

I don't pray well yet. I don't pray often. Yet I still know where my lunch table is in the interior social map of the heart.

The Catholic church. A grand place for everyone inside!

Tips on Attending Daily Mass

In 2008, my humble little convert family started attending Daily Mass together at 6:30 AM each morning. Our Holy Father gets all credit for this new habit. (We started attending Daily Mass in April to prepare our tiny kids to sit through the Papal Mass.) Since we have 3 kids under age 6, we're the only noisy ones in the pews at that early hour. A friend asked me to share some advice gleaned on this subject. Here's a recap of my email to her.

Reasons to go to Daily Mass:

1) You have a front seat to your priest's best homilies.

2) You effortlessly learn Scripture & observe cool, formerly unknown Saint's Days.

3) You get to form close friendships with other highly motivated and extremely kind parishioners. The "Daily Mass" folks tend to be a regular, stable group who you'll meet over and over again at church events. We've formed close friendships with people of all different ages, and in our immigrant Catholic church, from all different countries.

4) You get to know your priests well and they get to know your family.

5) Your kids get exposed to Mass as a regular part of Daily Life.

Those are just the quick tangible things that keep us former night owls going to bed early so that we can wake up at 5:30 AM, dress extremely sleepy children into nice clothes and bundle them into a freezing car in the dark.

Here's the mystical part that I can't put easily into words. "It's the Eucharist." Its the summit of Catholic life. It's the world's greatest miracle that gets enacted at your local parish church each and every morning and several times on Sunday. When you show up to the "optional" Mass, you receive grace. You get told explicitly in a homily or in a Sacred Scripture quote exactly how you are supposed to change your life to better conform yourself to Christ. And like the helpless humans that we are, Christ gives you himself to help you reach up to God.

If I'm asked why I drag a pack of restless young children to Mass each day, my simple answer is "because I need it." I need Mass. I need the Eucharist. I need that daily dose to get myself through the laundry washing, and the naughty chair enforcement, and the finding of the missing buckle shoes.

I go to Mass nearly day because I need Christ.

I go to Mass nearly every day because Christ needs me. He needs me there to receive his daily outpouring of love.

When I'm at Daily Mass, I get to pray for the needs of our whole Church and our whole world. My kids get to notice that the three Wisemen moved a little bit closer to the Nativity set and that someone kindly glued back the donkey's ears which got broken off last Sunday. By going to Daily Mass, I get to pray, to go to confession and to be blessed on every trip home to see my parents, every big meeting for my husband and every scary homeschooling meeting for myself.

When I go to Daily Mass, I'm already in a holy routine. When my father-in-law had his scary helicopter flight to the regional ICU, we didn't have to look up the next Daily Mass times. We already knew it by heart. On that scary day when we didn't know if Jon's Dad would be okay, we got up at our regular time and prayed our "regular" Mass with with our beloved parish priest and a beloved group of devout friends.

Not every day is an "emergency", of course. But every day, especially these hectic days with lots of young bodies in my house, is Holy. The single greatest help to living a more holy life is to "eat Jesus" more often!

If you feel any pull of your heart to go to Mass more often, just start. Don't make a big plan or big announcement. Start where you can. Drag the kids out to Mass at Candle Mass on Feb 2. Or start going by yourself on Saturdays in honor of Our Blessed Mother.
Start where you can start and let yourself be surprised by all the heavenly help that will race forward to embrace you!

Anyone else going to extra "optional" Masses either alone or with young children in tow?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Benjamin Academy of the Arts and Sciences

It's official, we passed our first review with flying colors!

The Holy Spirits fingerprints were all over this meeting. We had a tender Asian grandmother do our review. We were supposed to bring a sample of reading material for our review. I limited myself to 2 books per subject area. When I brought out the plastic bin of books, the darling Mrs. L burst out with "so many books for a kindergartner! That is good! That is very good!"

We had the most pleasant hour of conversation. Mrs. L is completely on the same page as us. She was so happy to see Hannah's drawings and scribbled "books." As a former math teacher, she was all over Math-U-See and my random collection of unfinished Number Street drawings.

"Emotional security counts," according to Mrs. L. "The most important thing you can do is read them a book each night, sign them a song and then give them a hug from Mommy and Daddy. That way the child had no bad dreams fearing that they are alone in the world."

Can you imagine a sweeter, more confidence building portfolio review? So much for my fears of being busted for not more vigorously pursuing phonics!

As a final mark of the Holy Spirit's presence occurred when we got to the music section. Last Saturday, I completely panicked over our lack of music lessons this semester. For Hannah's portfolio I photocopied two Catholic hymns. That section seemed a bit small so I added our Nutcracker unit. When typing out the labels for the portfolio, Jon made a mistake and wrote NUTCRACKER BALLET in huge bold letters. The words jumped out from you on the page. We were going to change it but ran out of time.

So in the midst of this delightful review, Mrs. L turns the page and NUTCRACKER BALLET leaps off the page at her.

She stops in silence for a moment. Catches her breath.

Out tumbles this long story of how much she loves this ballet and how important it is for young girls. Her own granddaughter performed this ballet in front of 1200 people in St. Louis at age 10. Mrs. L loved the performance so much so put the Nutcracker as the ring tone on her cellphone.

So when she turns the page and sees the pictures of Hannah's dance and choreography notation, she almost faints. "This is so advanced!" she shouts and notes all sorts of nice things on our official paperwork.

And to think, that was one of the many parts that sort of landed in the portfolio by accident. Yes, just another day of the Holy Spirit at work.

(It went so well, I'm sheepish about all my earlier stress. It wasn't until later that I realized that in both side of my family we have public school teachers who are deeply opposed to our decision to home school. Jon and Ibuilt it up in our minds that the entire public school system in Maryland was hostile to home-schooling. I'm glad to know that some boogymen only exist in our imaginations!)

New Year's Resolution: To Learn How to Suck with Grace

In a few hours, I have my first home school review with the State of Maryland.

Ever since my husband and I heard the first nudging to "home" school for kindergarten some nine months ago, I've sat in dread of this review. All of my poor friends have spent months listening to me verbally roll my eyes at this meeting. I cried during the five hours it took me to assemble a portfolio of Hannah's work on Saturday night. Then on Sunday night, I feel into sin. I screamed at my kids for dragging the chocolate King Cake into their bedroom and picked a fight with my husband when he tried to ease my nervousness with hugs and words of comfort.

All of my sin is because I'm a baby. I don't want to go to a meeting with a State Official telling me that "I'm doing it wrong."

My Mother is an Education Professor. "Doing teaching right" has a far, far exaggerated place of importance in my mind. Home schooling has revealed a definite tendency towards perfectionism in my life.

There's no way to be "perfect" in this portfolio review and that lack of a standard is driving my pride crazy. I couldn't find a specific checklist on how to "pass" this review. Even the basic guidelines contained in my meeting letter such as, "make a list of your textbooks," is problematic for me.

As an unschooler, we don't use textbooks. We don't have worksheets. For my Science Class, I'm bringing a Audubon Magazine article about Venus Fly Traps because that what we do for science class. I read a fun article about endangered carnivorous plants and then we all jump around pretending to eat flies with our arms and make up theories as to why the Venus Fly Traps are losing their populations in North Carolina.

I don't know how this is going to go over with my Portfolio Reviewer. It might go over well, but it might totally miss the mark especially since, I tend not to be the best "recorder" of all of our spontaneous fun science conversations.

Besides, kindergarten isn't really supposed to be about unit studies on carnivorous plants. It's supposed to be about learning how to count. Somehow, we've gotten stalled on anything past the number 9.

My daughter, Hannah, doesn't get the whole "number placement" thing. She doesn't see any pattern yet from 0-9, and 10-19, or 20-29.

I've got the sweet Decimal Street from Math-u-See with the tiny green house for the ones and the blue apartment building for the 10s and the red castle for the 100s. Yet Hannah doesn't get the rule that only nine people can fit into the "ones" house and then when another friend comes to stay they all have to move into the 10 place and leave the ones place empty with a giant zero.

Hannah does like math rules. She thinks that if a friend is coming to stay, they can all hang out in the green "one" house. "The green family doesn't need to move into a new house, Mom! The little girl isn't coming to stay. She doesn't need a new bed. The little friend is just coming to play for a few hours!"

Hannah likes to do math Hannah's way.

"You do math your way, I'll do it my way." That statement has been repeated often during this semester. Curiously, the lovely teacher on Math-U-See does not have any guidelines for the great "why do we all have to count the same way at the same time?" going on in my kindergartner's head.

We've stayed stuck on the parallel play during math time for a few months now. As a result, our portfolio has pages and pages of Number Street, with detailed drawings and my cut-out pictures of "numbers of Popsicles" needed for the ice cream truck. Hannah has people, horses and flowers numbering 11, 13, and 27 hanging out all in the "ones" house. Whether this meets the criteria of "regular and thorough home instruction for the State of Maryland" is anyone guess.

The State Reviewer might tell me to give up and start giving out math worksheets. Oh, and please give more tests and informal assessments. (I'm really bad at the recording and testing where we currently are thing.)

Also, I'm pretty sure we flunked the physical education section. Because in hind sight, I did a "here's the playground go play," which is more recess than a "progressive program in cardiovascular fitness" which counts a P.E. Honestly, we didn't even get recess nearly enough because I'm a bookworm who hates the cold. Bundling up the 18 month old, finding the missing gloves and hats, and locating that one missing shoe never seems worth the effort. So mostly we stay inside and let the kids jump around on our couch and swing on the door handles. I'm not sure this honestly qualifies as "gymnastics."

Teaching is humbling work, because it's too vast to do well or perfectly. It's a lot like parenting or being a spouse.

My priest has told me to "do the work the best you can and hand the rest over to God." Today is the day to test my virtue of obedience.

Today is the day I listen to some criticism, not as "punishment" but as a source of direction in my life.

I would never choose to be vulnerable like this to someone in authority such as in this home school meeting. But humiliation often leads to the virtue of humility.

Blessed be the name of the Lord. He leads his servants in the ways they need to go and not where they want to go.