Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Blog Fast

"He has won you for himself . . . and you must proclaim what he has done for you: he has called you out of darkness into his own wonderful light." (1 Peter 2:9)

I'm taking a Lenten break from blogging in order to focus my energy on working on a Catholic writing project. My husband & I joined a Catholic artist guild recently. Jon shocked me by putting on his smock and setting up a new studio on our patio this week. Between a new, hard job & three kids, my husband hasn't held a paintbrush in his hand for three years. All those rosary intention prayers for Catholic artists must be working!

I'm so hopeful about joining him in the art life again.

Please pray for us. It takes courage to create new art from scratch. It's also a test of fortitude to find regular time to "do art" as the parents of young children.

Yet the Lord is the one who gave us our talents and creativity. If I can write one awkward sentence praising Him for calling me out of the darkness, I'll be happy.

Hannah's 6th Birthday

A prayer request:

Today my oldest kiddo is 6. She cut her foot badly on some broken glass yesterday and needed 15 stitches. She'll be fine. The two weeks of enforced bed rest, however, is already driving both of us crazy. Hannah is my athletic ballet dancer who hates to sit still. Please pray for her speedy recovery.

I'll have to post some funny pictures of the "golf club crutches" Jon rigged up for her last night.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


There's an incredible story of forgiveness in the Washington Post today. A father forgives the adult neighbor who shot and killed his 17 year old son after the boy accidentally set off the neighbor's car alarm while playing basketball. Here's the report of the parole hearing 13 years after the initial murder.

(Bernard is the father, Norman is the neighbor)

"Bernard looks at Abramson, who nods her head, encouraging. Bernard opens the small piece of paper he has folded into eighths and creased and unfolded and refolded 20 times in the last two hours. He reads haltingly at first, as he explains that he has met with Norman twice in the past, but his voice grows stronger as he continues. "I asked him about his feelings about taking my son's life, and he expressed remorse."

The commissioners look stunned.

Bernard hesitates only a fraction of a second before affirming that he believes Norman to be sincerely sorry. "So it is my intention to ask that Mr. Norman be granted parole and release today," he says. "I hope the board takes this into consideration and grants my family and Mr. Norman some relief."

Minutes later, as Bernard and Abramson are ushered out of the room, the speaker is turned off, and the two commissioners lean their heads in to talk to each other. When Norman comes into the room to sit where Bernard had been sitting, the commissioners flip on the speaker. "Can everyone hear?" they ask Bernard and Abramson, who are now sitting outside the room watching the proceedings through a glass window.

The commissioners grill Norman about the night of the crime, whether he had been drinking, whether he had ever done drugs, whether he had used drugs in prison, whether he had taken classes in prison, whether he had a place to stay if they released him, whether he thought he could get a job with the plumbing certificate he had earned, why he had shot at the kids.


Norman says what he has said all along, that he only meant to scare them by firing into the sky, that the window blind crashed down on his gun, that he lost control of his weapon, that it was an accident, that he never meant to hurt anybody. He was angry, he says, but he never should have reacted the way he did, and he is sorry.

The commissioners, still reeling from Bernard's statement, point out that the victim supports his parole. "I'm just about ready to pass out on the table," Blount says. "I've been here 19 years and have only heard a victim say this once before."

"This man has shown incredible mercy to you today," Commissioner Perry Sfikas says. "I don't know how you pay this back in the future." He shakes his head.

What if your roles were reversed, and he had shot your daughter? Blount demands. "Do you think you would be able to say the same thing?"

Norman is paralyzed by the question. Would he? Could he? Will his answers affect his chances of parole? He tries to imagine. Finally, he gives up, shaking his head and looking down at the cuffed hands in his lap: "Honestly, I don't know."

The commissioners send him out of the room. Three minutes later, they announce their decision: William Norman will be granted "delayed release," parole that will be granted in the next 18 months, after attendance at some required classes and six months of active work release.

"This concludes the parole hearing," Blount says.

As Norman leans forward to sign the parole document the commissioners have given him -- one hand awkwardly dragging its cuffed partner along the page -- he looks out through the booth's soundproof glass seeking Bernard's face.

"Thank you," he mouths.

Bernard gives a barely perceptible nod. And leaves the room.

Downstairs, the friendly corrections officer at the front desk, who had signed Bernard in and knew he was a victim testifying at a parole hearing, waves him out the door with a smile. "Hope everything went your way," she says.

"It did," Bernard says, snapped out of his reverie. And then again, more firmly, "It did."

Read the whole article "here.,"

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Love Letter From Jesus

I'd written a funny post in my head about hosting my six year old's birthday party made up of members of her ballet class. It ended up being a surprise Marian event. There were nine, "surprise to us," Catholics and one Koren Presbyterian.

I spilled out all the grace from that event, however, by complaining about my hostess duties to my husband after the event was over.

I crawled off to Saturday Vigil Mass like a deflated balloon. The weekends are usually my "recovery" time. Instead, I spent all Friday tracking down a formal gown, baking a cake and cleaning our teeny apartment. Saturday was spent extending hospitality to mostly strangers. Our kids skipped their afternoon naps after the excitement of visitors and too much pinata candy.

I walked up the church stairs at 5:30 feeling exhausted and grumpy. I dreaded another day alone spent shuttling kids to two sets of babysitters and myself back and forth from Jon's all day Knight Event in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Then I walked into the church. I saw the happy signs of Welcome in Spanish, French, and Vietnamese. I sprinkled myself with Holy Water. There in the first pew was my fellow Carmelite, Mary Rice, with her ailing father. I'd prayed for this man for four months and I finally got to meet him at Church. (Mary's Dad has severe heart failure and it was a rare event for him to feel well enough to attend Mass.) I said hello to the lady's whose Adoration shift I covered last Sunday. Even at an unfamiliar Mass time, the church felt familiar and filled with friends.

I sang. I listened to Scripture. I heard Father Avelino's homily on St. Paul where he thumped his Bible and announced "WAKE UP Dead Man!" Then it was time to be fed at the Table of the Eucharist.

Now this is a completely unfamiliar part of Mass for me again. (Baby Maria has been going through a phase where she insists on exiting the family pew and running madly TOWARDS the alter. I think it's been a solid six weeks since I've actually got to Celebrate this Holy part of Mass inside the church, rather than pacing the narthex with a wiggly almost two year old in my arms.)

During this novel experience of actually focusing on the raising of the Host, I noticed vividly that something was different.

Most priest hold the broken Host vertically over the Chalice.

This time Father Avelino held the Host horizontally.

The curve of the half moon Host lined up perfectly with the bottom curve of the Chalice cup. The flat line of the broken Host mirrored the flat edge of the Chalice.

"It's one thing" is what my heart thought. The Body and the Blood of Christ, the Host and the Chalice, it's one, unified event.

Just as a started to lose myself in the contemplation of that thought, Jesus flashed me a little love letter.

Father picked up MY purificator as he started to distribute communion.

That purificator is unique in our parish. All of our other purificators are white linen "napkins" embroidered with a sedate red cross. This purificator also has a three inch square embroidery of Jesus heart pierced with thorns united with Mary's heart pierced by a sword.

Hannah had drawn my attention to the "pretty one" when we did Jesus's laundry together on Tuesday afternoon. She had washed it clean of the Sacred Blood. I carefully insured no drops landed in the carpet. Together we had a procession to the front yard where we poured out the "now Holy water" onto some Tree Roots. Alex squirted Spray 'n Wash on the fuchsia lipstick stains. I ran that exact purificator through the wash and fussed over the tricky ironing process.

A few days ago, that purificator was in our house. We cared for it and returned it promptly to church. Now my work was in the priests hands, in Jesus's hands.

I felt this little love note to my soul from Jesus:

"I use everything you do, no matter now modest or how hidden."

It's all important. My trips to Target to figure out the exact right pinata. My hurried invitations to the "ballet girls." My emergency trip to Alexandria to borrow a friend's black tie worthy gown for Jon's Knight Dinner. All of these hidden duties are as important to the building of Christ's kingdom as doing Jesus's laundry before the rush of multiple Lenten Masses.

Thank you Jesus! May our hearts always be united to you through our gracious Mother Mary.

My Sir Knight

It's official. My husband got his 4th Degree at the Knights of Columbus knighting ceremony last night. I got to wear a fancy ball gown and have "Lady Abigail" on my name tag. There were 135 new knights from 5 states at the dinner. I got to met all kinds of wonderful Catholic families.

The best advice I received on how to raise kids Catholics was "have Catholic friends." A wife of a retired Coast Guard member told me that one summer a neighbor invited them to visit their beach house. On the trip down, her oldest daughter gave the mom a big speech. "Now, Mom DON'T embarrass us by asking about Sunday Mass! If our friends want to skip this weekend, that's fine. Let's not make a big deal about it. We really don't need to go either if its to much trouble." The Coast Guard Mom held her tongue and said a prayer. When they got to the beach house the friend's house, the other mother met them at the door. The first thing she said was 'Now lets figure out which Sunday Mass we're going to attend and we can figure out the rest our weekend plans around Mass!" The Coast Guard wife told me, "having other friends who take their faith seriously is such a help. Your kids won't feel so alone or so weird."

After a rare night alone, my husband told me something so sweet. "You are my whole world. You and your children. Everything else I care about is in heaven!"

I love marriage so much. Things get so much better with time, and ours was a great marriage at the start!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reed of God Quote

Because He is in the little house of our being, we will learn to control our minds, to gather our thoughts to silence, and to crown them with peace, just as we learn to control our voices and to move softly when a child is asleep in the house of bricks and mortar.

We know by faith that Christ is in our own family; it is He whom we foster in our children. When you tell your child a story, you play a game with your little son, you tell a story, you play a game with the Christ Child. . . .

A woman too weary for articulate prayer will find that for her the best of all prayer is the unspoken act of faith in Christ in her children. When she knows that she is setting the table and baking a cake for the Christ Child, her soul will be at rest.

The Reed of God, by Caryll Houselander, pg. 150

You Are A Chalice

A big theme on my recent retreat was the fact that we Catholics are “consecrated”. We are chosen, set apart from the world, reserved for sacred things. The short hand for this concept became the tag line “you are a chalice.”

Father Dan Leary explained further “What happens if a chalice doesn’t know it’s a chalice? If it doesn’t know that it’s job is to hold the sacred blood of Christ?

A chalice might think it’s just another cup. It could let itself be fill up with beer or Coke.

How to you differentiate between a Chalice and a plastic cup. A plastic cup gets thrown into the trashcan when the party is done. A Chalice is reverently cleaned and placed in a safe place until the next Mass”

Somehow the image of a chalice letting itself get filled up with beer really struck my soul. I had this visual image of a silver chalice showing up at a frat party and getting stuck in some pretty profane activities.

That’s what happened to me in college & grad school. I swam in the pigsty.

And so my conversion isn’t so much, “oh once I was a drunken fornicator and now I’m a chaste Catholic.” I was always a chalice. I was always intended to hold the wedding wine of Cana. I was always Jon’s wife.

There was just this period of time from my first kiss age 12 until I figured out the details of Theology of the Body at age 28, when I had no idea that I was really a Chalice intended always for the Lord’s use.

Prayer: Dearest Mother, this Lent let all Catholic women remember that they are Holy Chalices which hold your dear Son’s Presence at all times. Remind us to “Do whatever He tells us.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ways to Know Your Child Might Have a Vocation to Religious Life

Hannah: Mom for my 6th birthday I want

1) a horse pinata with junior mint candy

2) a birthday party at Chuckie Cheese &

3) A Jesus is Resurrected Birthday Cake.

Me: What is a Jesus is Resurrected Birthday Cake?

Hannah: You know, you go and get some rocks. You wash them. You make a cave on top of the cake. Then you make sure the cave is empty. Because, Jesus isn't there anymore.

Some Lenten Comic Relief

I opened up a letter from our apartment complex with the ominous subject heading "Violation of Community Policies."

We have received several complaints from your neighbors . . .

regarding a boat that you have presently parked in the community parking area.

A boat? Seriously? We have three kids in one of the most expensive metropolitan cities in the States. I don't even own a second car!

The Imitation of Mary

God wants of us a continuous series of little actions, while you want to do some great ones. The only result, if you follow your own way, is that you will do neither the small nor the great well. pg. 167


A little excerpt from my retreat packet which illuminated my mind yesterday:

"Reform of Life: Deepening your examination of conscience, look at the recurring sins in your life. Which kind of pride is at the root?

Selfishness (valuing yourself most?)
Vanity (valuing others' opinions most?)
Sensuality (valuing comforts most?)

Ask Christ for humility to apply the opposite virtue:

Charity (serving others first)
Fidelity (valuing Christ's love foremost)
Discipline (accepting your crosses)"

From "How to pray a Holy Hour", Faith & Family Magazine

I had a "falling off my horse" St. Paul moment when I read this yesterday. I thought I was completely immune to vanity since I own one tube of lipstick that has so far lasted me five years. I had no idea that the sin of vanity isn't limited to endless mirror primping, it's caring about other people's opinions more than Christ's love. Man does that sin acts as a cancer in my soul.

The same for "sensuality". I thought that meant craving expensive massages and rose petals baths. But instead that sin "craving comforts most." So that is why the torn IKEA couch cover drives me crazy everyday! I like my treats. I like madelines with my tea, and pretty church shoes for my kids, and new DVDs from Redbox on Wednesday nights. If the opposite virtue is "discipline" how little of that do I possess? I feel every pea under my mattress and complain loudly about it during my time as a Princess in the Lord's Kingdom.

During our St. Patrick's Mass yesterday, I said contrition for my toxic cancer of people pleasing vanity sins and my "must have my creature comforts" sensuality sins. Then I asked for the Lord to bring me "fidelity" for my communion intention.

A few hours later I was late dropping Hannah off to her religion class. "What must her teachers think of me?" I cringed as I looked at the clock as Hannah skipped out of the car. "Oh, I can't think that way anymore" I told myself.

I drove home elated. I'm looking at regaining hours of free time after fully ridding myself of the vanity curse. Worrying about what other people think, worrying about making people mad, worrying about doing something "wrong." Those thoughts have taken up hours of my life. They make me feel crazy. They make me depressed. Now it's about pleasing one guy, who also happens to be Truth Itself and Eternally Consistent.

What joyful, pleasant work!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Love Song From Jesus

When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love

When evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love

I know you haven't made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong
I've known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong

I'd go hungry, I'd go black and blue
I'd go crawling down the avenue
There's nothing that I wouldn't do
To make you feel my love

The storms are raging on the rollin' sea
And on the highway of regret
The winds of change are blowing wild and free
You ain't seen nothing like me yet

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn't do
Go to the ends of the earth for you
To make you feel my love

"To Make You Feel My Love", by Garth Brooks

I came home Sunday night after my Adoration Hour and had a lovely slow dance with Jesus to this song when it came on my daughter's radio. Tonight I'm alone again and sick in bed. Jon left for a Knights Meeting and I absently flipped through the TV channels trying not to mind my sick tummy. This song just came on American Idol! I guess this will be my reflection for Lent.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

What a great Catholic bishop who was so helpful getting me "straightened out" as a new member of the Catholic Church. My trip to Ireland in late May 2002, only weeks after my confirmation at Easter Vigil made my new found Catholic faith feel "shiny and electric." Our trip to Catholic Ireland inspired us to start following all the rules. Hannah's conception happened days later and her due date was March 17th. We spent my whole pregnancy thanking St. Patrick and hoping that Hannah would get free green beers for life. (Instead, Hannah decided to stay put until March 26th.) All the same, Saint Patrick is Hannah's special saint and a dear friend of our family.

Christ shield me this day:
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every person
who thinks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.”

— “The Breastplate of St. Patrick”

Friday, March 13, 2009

Losing Carmel

During my retreat, I had this incredible experience in confession. I go to confession a lot. My priest offers confession immediately after Daily Mass and there's nothing like the Eucharist & motherhood to immediately expose most of my shortcomings on a daily basis.

So needless to say, I've become a little blaze about receiving this sacrament. I mean I'm thankful always, but sort of in the "it's nice to have a newly washed car" type of way. I rarely get the "Wow there is something seriously wrong with your soul's engine and it needs immediate repair" type of surprise.

This confession was so "weird." I was in the middle of Adoration when I felt this strong pull to go immediately to confession with the director of our retreat. I felt confused, because confession was "scheduled" later in the retreat when more than 5 extra priests would hear confessions on Saturday afternoon. One of the things I most looked forward on my retreat was making a leisurely catalogue of my sins without the immediate neediness of three young bodies. So the fact that I was "hurrying" to confession, seemed a waste of my opportunity this weekend.

The thing about Adoration is that these "pulls" happen in a very tangible way in your soul. So without even knowing why, I got up and stood in line for a rushed confession before the start of Morning Mass.

While I stood in line, again reviewing why this action was so foolish, I looked up. There was a luminous stain glass window of St. Yves. I was so shocked. St. Yves is the patron saint of lawyers. He was the first guy I prayed to in RCIA class when I first starting opening up to the whole "communion of the saints thing." I'd stopped practicing law soon after converting to the faith and promptly forgot all about him. St. Yves isn't a popular saint, and I've never even see a prayer card made out to him. To see a main window dedicated to him immediately off the central alter, seemed incredible.

I didn't have much time to contemplate what this meant, because it was my turn.

I started out the same "Bless me Father for I have sinned, it's been two weeks since my last confession...." I've said those words countless times in the last six months.

But this time WHAM!

This sacrament was so intense.

I even got called over from behind the screen to get my head prayed over at the end of confession. That's has never happened to me before.

So in the middle of all of intension confession and advice, I heard this really hard truth.

"You know, becoming a lay Carmelite is a lot for a mother of young children to handle."

I'm losing Carmel? It hurt so much, I couldn't breath.

The priest went on to say "I'm not saying that you can't participate in the charism. It's just that you've got to be sure that this is God's will. You can't get caught in checking off things just because you like to check off boxes."

Every word that he said hurt my heart. I still couldn't catch my breath.

The priest went on to say "You're the one who said you had a problem with perfectionism. I'm just talking about things that you've already brought up."

I nodded. I still couldn't talk. Then we went on to talk about my other sins.

That conversation happened three weeks ago. This Sunday I'm not going to my regular Carmel meeting. I've taken a break from trying to squeeze in Daily Mass, two Litany of the Hours, a rosary and a 1/2 hour of quiet prayer each day. With the exception of my rosary & my St. Louis de Monfort prayers, I catch the rest when I can. My prayer life is much better. But it still feels weird. My husband does most of these prayers each day, and it still feels weird to not join him in the Litergy of the Hours or a full 1/2 hour of quiet prayer.

A Catholic friend of mine asked me "what do you mean it hurt when the priest said this might not be time to become a lay Carmelite?" I couldn't describe it really.

It just hurts.

Carmel is home. Carmel is the place where my life makes sense. Where all my character defects are suddenly not "stupid" or "wrong." I liked having a place. I liked belonging to an order. I liked having an intimacy with Theresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross and all the other Carmelite saints. Maybe that's just my pride and selfishness.

What's the big deal about waiting?

This waiting for my kids to grow up doesn't have an "end date." I'm hoping to have more children. It feels weird to have this excuse of motherhood when the other mothers in my group have 5, 6, and 10 children.

But the truth is, I'm still little. 90 minutes of prayer every night after my kids go to bed at 8 PM hurts. It makes me resentful. I went into confession just thinking that "I was the problem." I came out confused that something so "right" could still be not in God's plan for me right now.

In the middle of my retreat, when I hurt so badly after that confession I felt the comforting presence of the Little Flower. Saint Theresa wanted to go to Carmel at age 12, when her beloved older sister joined the order. She hurt so much she got sick. I felt comforted that at least this awful "waiting" period was still part of the Carmel experience.

Today, as I struggled to figure out how to tell my Aspirant class leaders that I was missing class on Sunday, I opened the "Story of the Soul" for comfort. Immediately I saw this passage concerning St. Theresa's request to enter Carmel at age 15, "Come come" the Holy Father said "if it's God's will you will enter."

Comforting words on a hard, Lenten Friday.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My Yoke is Easy

So the opposite of the whole "if you plant tomatoes without God's blessing you only get a crop of messy bugs" is the "my yoke is easy, my burden is light."

My expansive pride still has me spending most of my day in "my life is so DIFFICULT" conversation with Jesus, but I wanted to share this amazing event that happened on Monday.

So Monday is Ballet lesson day. In in a series of freak events, Jon comes home from work early & dinner is actually cooked by 5:30, which means Hannie and I have a leisurely drive to her Ballet class at 5:45. I planned to drop her off at class and spent an hour frantically hunting around Whole Foods & Giant for the ever elusive bread flour which seems to be always missing from my regular grocery store's shelves.

"Don't forget to get Alexandra's phone number so we can invite her to your birthday party" I call out as she unbuckles her seat belt.

"Mom, I can't. You have to do it."

I look at her serious face. I think about the realistic possibility of a kindergartener getting all ten digits in the correct order. (City kids need to know the area code of their friends as well as the full regular number.) I sigh and park the car.

My vanity is sticking me in the eye. I broke my eyeglasses, (actually they were snapped off in an awkward place by an inquisitive 2 year old), just before my flight to Florida last week. My husband did an emergency patch job with half a chop stick and two bright red hair bands.

I felt the total Christian trooper during our trip among strangers. Now that we were home, and the reality of circumstances meaning no new glasses until late March, I was feeling very self-conscious. I didn't want to get out of the car and face Alexandra's mom looking so foolish.

Yet what can you do? You've got to do what God wants you to do, and not hide in your car outside of Ballet class.

So I go and get the phone number. Alexandra's mom ends up being a total sweetheart. I chat happily with a grandmother of another classmate and discover that Farsi and not Arabic is the language spoken in Iran. I feel so happy. This is why I love living in a city. You hang outside the community rec Ballet program and learn interesting things about far off cultures.

So all flush with my recent success, I decide to forgo the immediate plan to see if Whole Food carries bread flour, and instead enjoy a rare moment to watch Hannah at dance class without her younger siblings pulling me in 800 different directions.

I crumbled down on the floor because my feet hurt from being sun burnt. I started talking to Alexa's mother (a different child, and yet another reminder that I'm so happy Jon didn't insist that our Alex's legal name be the gorgeous masculine Russian name "Alexei", since all the girls of his age group in America seem to be Alexa, Alexis or Alexandra.)

This mom and I struck up a friendly conversation. We're talking about pre-school and home schooling. It turns out that the little girl in Hannah's class is her youngest. The mom has two older boys one in college and one in high school. I asked the question "how does your older son find it to practice his faith in college?" The mom had mentioned that she went to Catholic school as a child and I'm always curious about that university experience is going to work out for my kids.

Alexa's mom turns a different shade of white and says "Actually my husband is Jewish and my oldest son identifies himself more as a Jew than as a Christian." Now you all know how dear the Jewish faith is to my soul. So for the next fifteen minutes we have the super fascinating talk about Judaism and living in an inter-faith marriage.

I'm so excited. The lady is sitting on the side of me that has the broken glasses, but I've stopped caring. I'm so interested in what she has to say about her Life story.

Suddenly, and it was so random, I can't even remember how it dropped into the conversation, the lady says "You know the Archbishop has this welcome home invite campaign going on and I think he means me."

I felt this full weight of heavenly silence come over my soul. Everything excited and animated in me stopped. I listened to her with my whole soul.

Our Archbishop of Washington D.C. has printed invitations for each parishioner to invite a fallen away Catholic home for Easter. There are beautiful engraved invitations which say "Your Catholic family misses you. Please come back to the church" outside every doorway in every church in our diocese.

For someone to say that "I think this campaign means me," means something profound.

Out came this story, in the middle of a normal middle school hallway, of this woman who married her college sweetheart and stopped receiving the Eucharist 23 years ago.

She mentioned that "someone said that it would be easy to get approval for my marriage to a Jewish man."

I nodded.

The lady immediately got all agitated. "I believe that rules are rules. I don't take the Eucharist lightly. I don't just want to shop around with various priests and find one who will say what I want to hear."

I smiled. That's exactly the answer the church longs to hear. At the same time, as a former prodigal daughter myself, I also know how simple the "rules" are to convalidate marriages and how much God is the father longing to hug a returning prodigal daughter.

I didn't speak much out loud. I just made a mental note to grab one of those Archbishop invitations at church, jot down my parish's priest's email address, and bring it with me next Monday to Ballet class.

Outside in the cold, I asked her to give me her phone number. I thought Hannie could use an extra friend at her upcoming birthday party. While she jotted down a phone number on the back of a gas receipt, I asked if I could have the name of her friend who had recently died. A young mother who leaves an 8 year old and 12 year old boys behind. "Can you write down your friend's name so I can say a rosary for her."

This woman looked at me with utter shock. It was like I handed her a jewel. She was stunned.

Our girls were skipping around in their leotards in the cold, so we hurried away to get them into our respective cars.

I thought about that moment of beauty, which God just handed me. I can't tell you how many prayers from this woman's Catholic family members must have gone into her slipping out a hidden story in the middle of a school hallway. How I was directly in the middle of my reconsecration to Mary. How my parish priest happens to have recently studied under rabbis in Israel. How much our Archbishop must have prayed before launching this simple idea of printing invitations asking people to come home to the Catholic faith.

For the small price of overcoming my vanity about some broken glasses, I get to carry an invitation from my Archbishop to a new friend in Hannah's ballet class on Monday.

Please pray for her. Please pray for my in-laws and all of our dear friends who count themselves as "fallen away Catholics."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Make Sure God Wants You to Plant Tomatoes

(retreat post)

During our retreat meal times were a big deal. We spent our time in Silence after the retreat talks, Mass and at night. If we wanted to have a conversation, we were supposed to travel downstairs to the break-room. The idea behind so much silence, is that this retreat was 250 women working on their personal relationship with God. Silence respects other peoples ability to listen to the quiet, still voice of God-- and also incidentally-- makes it easier for God to speak to you.

Meal times were important because it's the only time we were encouraged to talk. We were also encouraged to trust Christ by coming out of comfort zone. One concrete way was to make sure we sat with strangers at every meal, instead of clumping together with our friends.

I felt all shiny after my Saturday morning confession and decided to take that direction literally. I imagined holding Christ's hand and having Him direct me to my seat each meal. Not surprisingly, He had me bypass the jolly souls who had pretty bangs and engaging smiles. I sat with the awkward ones who sat alone at a table looking desperately afraid.

Meal one on Christ's seating chart was a jackpot. I ended up sitting next to the only Baptist at the retreat. You all know how much I adore future Protestant converts, so I listened intently to her story and prayed hard to Mother Mary all through our meal.

Meal Two seemed to be the complete opposite. I sat next to a shy mother of five, who had an extremely soft voice which was almost impossible to hear over the chatter of a 250 person dining hall. Every topic I suggested was a strike out. Things started getting painful. Our topics of conversation for 15 minutes was the elevation of certain hills in Wyoming and actual street names in her small town. I'm painfully shy as well, so when conversations start flagging with strangers, I really get sweaty palms. "I don't know what Jesus was thinking, clearly this lady and I have nothing to talk about for an hour . . ."

Just as I was really starting to panic, a friendly vet & mother of three young boys sat down on my right hand side. I thought this was my "reward" for being a good sport and eagerly started comparing working/versus homeschooling notes with her.

The friendly vet was conflicted about working part time. She had just described this lovely aspect of her work. Lonely old people with pets would schedule unnecessary appointments with her, just so they could have an excuse to talk. She said she ended up talking sharing her Catholic faith with many pet owners, because these intense conversations kept happening in her vet office.

Even so, she was worried that she was missing out by not being home with her boys full time & doing exciting things like homeschooling.

I took an excited breath and was just about to launch into my "Stay At Home Motherhood Is fabulous speech."

When the shy violet sitting next to me asserts "You've got to make sure that God wants you to plant tomatoes!!!"

That statement was so odd, the vet & I were stunned into silence.

Recovering her shy, whispering voice, she tells this story. "Once I was flipping through the TV channels and I heard this lady talking about planting tomatoes with her neighbor. Her neighbor wanted a crop of tomatoes and she thought that was a great idea. They bought seeds together. They worked on clearing a big patch of garden. They planted the tomatoes at the same time. They weeded the tomatoes. Over the summer, the tomato patch because a big pain. The lady always needed to weed it. Finally, in August she goes outside and finds her giant tomato crop crawling with bugs. The whole tomato thing was a giant bust. A few days later, she talks to her neighbor. "Sorry the bugs came and ate our tomatoes." The neighbor says "What are you talking about." Her crop, which stands only a few feet away is completely pristine. Not a bug in sight."

The lady was mad. She took the matter up in prayer. "This isn't fair God. I did all the same stuff as my neighbor. How come she has beautiful tomatoes and I've wasted all that time on nothing." God's response "I didn't want you to plant tomatoes."

I was completely blown away by this story. I mean it's, tomatoes. How can God not want you to plant tomatoes. Gardening is a great good, right. You get to eat cheap organic produce and spend time in the sunshine. What can possibly be wrong with planting tomatoes?

My shy seat mate explained, "but God didn't ask her to plant the tomatoes. Maybe she was supposed to spent that time in a greater good, like reading to her kids or visiting a sick aunt."

So that tomato story from the woman I thought had nothing to talk with me about, is defiantly on my mind. You can't assume that God wants you to do something just because you see your neighbor doing it. You've got to check in and confirm this is God's will for your life. This "check in" doesn't just apply to big things like your choice of a spouse. You need to check in on life's little projects as well.

The tomato story is such a clear metaphor for the "I'm the vine you are the branches, only good fruit comes from me."

Hopefully, I'll be more meek before suggesting "this is how you should mother" in the future as well.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Don't Start Building Tents!

(a post from my pre-Lenten Retreat)

Mark 9:2-13

"And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves; and he was transfigured before them, and his garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Eli'jah with Moses; and they were talking to Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli'jah." For he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him." And suddenly looking around they no longer saw any one with them but Jesus only."

This reading occurred during my pre-Lenten retreat. Here's some of my notes from Father Dan Leary's homily:

In the miracle of the Transfiguration, Saint Peter is overcome with emotion at the sight of Jesus in the full glory of his Divine Nature. Immediately, he turns to the fellow apostles and suggests “Lets build some Tents.”

It is enough to stand and give God our Adoration.

Jesus doesn’t need our suggestions! If He wants us to build tents, he will tell us.

You cannot do any action outside of a direction from God. All of you “doing” will fail.

Moreover, if you are new to this “seeing Jesus with the eyes of Faith” it become less likely that you are being directed to immediately go out and “do” anything. You need to stay and Adore God first. You need spiritual healing. You need to “know” him and “love” him before you “serve” him. You cannot bring the healing touch of Jesus to anyone before you’ve experienced his love and healing yourself.

This message hit my soul. By my fallen nature, I'm a "tent builder." I'm afraid. I'm overwhelmed when I see a glimpse of God. I deal with that fear by immediately distracting myself with "action."

When I was 14, I got ripped out of my sheltered middle class suburban existence in put in the midst of severe poverty in Appalachia. I went from a middle school were guidance counselors stressed about what bond of paper to type their college references on to a new high school with a 40% drop out rate.

I didn't know how to "deal" with poverty, so I ran around trying to "fix it." I joined every service club imaginable in High School. When I got into a good East Coast College, mostly because I'd been extremely hyper in academics and service projects in high school, I felt like I only coasted in as a resident of a "poor state." There were five students from Kenya at Smith College and only 3 from West Virgina. I felt that tiny number every day.

I remember sitting in a beloved professor's Modern American History class and the entire theme of the hour lecture happened to be "Johnson's Great Society was Racist." My professor's thought was that the "obsession" with helping the "white" poor in Appalachia was a distraction from helping the "black" poor in Northern inner city in the early 1960s.

I raised my hand and contributed to the class discussion. "While racism is real and a definite factor in 1960s politics, I don't think we can deny the real need in rural Appalachia. That was a serious cycle of poverty there that continues to this day." My professor and my class were totally hostile to that insight. I sat through the rest of class with my cheeks burning. I felt such anger. I just thought 'nobody knows." Nobody knows how bad it is in a coal town, they think these pictures of desperately poor children were just staged photo ops."

I hung on to that anger that I felt in my sophomore history class. It fueled me through three years of law school.

I remember having this emotional talk over a cup of coffee in a ratty diner in March of 2000 with my then boyfriend, Jon. I was trying to decide between three job offers. The ever sweet Jon drew me a little diagram on a napkin of Abby in her space ship trying to decide between three planets: the red planet, a plume job with the renowned Child Advocates of Chicago, the green planet, a safe, comfortable job with the Elder Law Center in Wisconsin, and the yellow planet: this unknown public interest job in rural Appalachia. I remember telling Jon, "I know I should take this great job in Chicago, but I just have this overwhelming need to go home to Appalachia and help."

So I went home and tried to build Tents, for four years. It was a failure. I couldn't "fix poverty." I couldn't build things without Jesus' direction. I didn't really know who Jesus was, or what this poverty problem meant.

I just know that poverty made me uncomfortable. I didn't like feeling that way, I wanted to "fix it" my way.

Thankfully, God is good.

Even when pride had me blinding going the wrong way, God gently got me back on track. During that awful lonely period as a young lawyer, I happened to get a sacramental marriage and start RCIA. As a new Catholic, I didn't get the "fix poverty" assignment. I got "become a mother" assignment.

Seven years after becoming a Catholic, my "must fix" poverty assignment is totally different. I still help the poor directly in small ways. Yet mostly I'm called to start "living" a life of poverty. Not just with my broken glasses and eight year old car held together with duct tape. It's living a life of poverty of spirit, of realizing my littleness, realizing my pride and my sin, realizing that I need His grace every tiny second of the day.

A quote from my "Saint of the Christian Cliff notes"

To desire to be poor but not be inconvenienced by poverty, is to desire the honor of poverty and the convenience of riches.

-- St. Francis de Sales

Monday, March 9, 2009

Lines in the Sand

During my Lenten Spring Break trip, I went to Bob Evans with my Dad and his Dad (my 89 year old grandfather.) Jon offered to stay home with our wiggly, sun burned babies. So I had a rare night out alone.

I went into Bob Evans impossibly happy. My maternal grandmother and her sister graduated from high school with THE Bob from Bob Evans. I'd met the guy in the big hat at the original restaurant in Gallipolis, Ohio and heard lovely compliments about the lovely McCormick sisters. Ordering biscuits and hash browns at this chain restaurant has the easy familiarity of visiting a cousin's house for lunch.

So I settled down with my familiar Pot Roast Sandwich and listened contentedly to my grandfather talk. My Dad's youngest brother is 45 and his wife is newly pregnant. Uncle Ben married late and for a solid two years our family rosary has contained the intention "for Ben and Amy to have a baby." When my Dad called earlier last week to say "Guess who is having a baby!" my husband and I traded high-fives in front of our Marian alter.

I'm so excited about this new baby. I'm the oldest Rupp grandchild at 34. This little one, at seven weeks in utereo, will make grandbaby number 10. We've been a group of nine cousins for so long, it seems so sweet to make it number 10.

I think I had my mouthful, actually, as I excitedly toss out "So what about Ben becoming a Dad!"

There was this moment of confusion, because the news did go over well with my grandfather.

I have one of those rewind moments in my brain when I'm desperately trying to figure out how the conversation suddenly flipped around on me. Did I say something wrong? What happened?

Then my brain lands on this explanation: "it must be too early to talk about." Maybe my grandfather is super tied to this "don't talk about a baby until after the 3 month mark."

So stupidly, I swallow and start talking again "I know it's still early and no one knows how painful miscarriages are more than me. . . still this is such a beautiful sign of hope. For Ben and Amy to have a baby after three years, it's just miraculous. .."

I suddenly stop talking because it suddenly becomes apparent that no, it's not the "early announcement" that's the problem, it's the announcement itself that's the problem.

I had this horrible, horrible feeling in my belly.

I really almost started crying into my coleslaw.

I've accepted that no one in my family will be excited about us having another baby. We're too poor.

I just felt so sad. "Can't Uncle Ben have a baby?" My uncle. The guy who got married at 42, who struggled through three years of infertility, the youngest brother who took over the family insurance business and is super, super rich. Can't he have ONE baby? Can't we be excited that his wife is finally pregnant with what could be their one and only child?

The answer was "no."

And that made me so depressed.

I realized in this gross moment which was so intense that I will probably never eat a Bob Evan's Pot Roast sandwich again-- That it's all Lines in the Sand.

Lines in the Sand.

You can say your not excited about a baby because a family has too many children too close together. Or because they don't have enough money saved for future college educations. Or because a family is poor.

But it's all lines in the sand.

Because eventually there will be "the perfect" set of parents who get pregnant, the ones who meet all of your personal and all of society in general criteria for having a baby. When that happens, you still won't be excited.

Being Pro-Life is a black or white thing. Your either excited about new life or you aren't. If you've got all these internal "issues" with genetic testing for unhealthy fetuses or people having babies who can't afford them, these are really just signs that you personally have issues with babies.

Today President Obama may overturn limits on embryonic stem-cell research. That hurts me also. I'll be praying hard today for Our President and all our Catholic representatives.

Thank heavens for new life!