Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Devil is Afoot- That's a Good Sign!

I love St. Theresa of Avila! Far from one of those head in the clouds saints, she's so human. She's so real. I read her luminous writings and it's just like my dearest girl friend is gabbing to me over the phone about our big mutual brother Jesus. If I make it to heaven, it's because this saint, who actually floated during prayer, left some firm steps to follow from flightiness to holiness.

One of the incidents that captured her personality happened as she went to found an early reform Carmel Convent. A friendly priest rides up with an urgent message for St. Theresa. The Augustine nuns in the town are "stirring up trouble." The entire town is in an uproar. No one thinks its a good idea to found a convent at this time and place. The priests are trembling. The new nuns are fearful. "Should we turn back for home, Mother?" they ask.

St. Theresa just smiles. "The Devil is Afoot! That's a good sign!"

So St. Theresa walks calmly into trouble, more determined than ever that her work will bear good fruit for God.

I've replayed St. Theresa's words a lot these past three months. It seems that the moment I got pregnant, the Devil has been on the prowl. Some of the events are just funny.

During this pregnancy my two worries were that a) the baby is going to die or b) I'm going to die on the operating table in my 4th c-section. Neither of these fears are based on medical facts, and in fact, are mutually exclusive. Still, pregnancy seems to be a time of great fears based on little actual facts. These thoughts will intrude during the day and make it difficult to complete my daily work.

One day I was praying during my prayer of the quiet, and I felt true peace. I was in complete dread of attending my early pregnancy sonogram. My appointment was at the same office where I found out my son had unexpectedly died three years before. While I prayed, I felt Jesus' presence in a tangible way. I felt that there were painful places where no one could ever pay you enough money to revisit. But if you took along Jesus, the real, physical older brother that I never had- I could have the courage to go back to that sad place.

I went to bed that night and I was so happy. I'd had terrible insomnia for the past week. I'd wake up in the middle of the night and dread going to this appointment and hearing bad news. This night I lay my head on the pillow, so happy. "Finally, I get a good night's sleep!" I thought.

At 12:30 AM that night, the phone rings. I pick it up in a panic, thinking it is going to wake up my sleeping toddler. This grouchy voice says "Are you SLEEPING?" It's my neighbor; the one who's been under the help of the Archdiocese Exorcist for six weeks.

I take the phone off my ear and stare at it. I know it's my neighbor's voice, but my immediate thought is "Satan is calling me on the telephone!"

I said "I can't talk right now" and hung up.

I was so mad, I couldn't go back to sleep for two hours. "I finally kicked the devil out of my head, and then he called me up on the telephone!"

Since I got pregnant the attack have become more intense. I'm still tempted the in "normal way". I still yell at my kids, sulk with my husband and go on "I hate prayer" tirades.

Yet as soon as I get those outbursts of sin under control, really weird things will pop up.

I had a RN at my ob clinic describe with hatred the "ugly flap on the neck of Down Syndrome babies" and I got a cold shutter thinking "this is a clinic that encourages parents to kill Down Syndrome babies. This is why 90% percent of all babies with Down Syndrome are being aborted, because you're targeting us older Mama's with scare tactics."

As soon as I recognized that evil, our conversation got really wacky. It ended with the nurse chasing me down outside the elevators as I left the appointment. She accused me of stealing her confidential HIPA forms from other clients and furiously searched my backpack.

My old way of coping with these attack was to replay them a million times in my head and try to figure out the perfect appeasement language.

"If only I could have explained that we'd already researched the risks associated with amniocentesis with our first baby, then the nurse would have accepted my refuse to do pre-natal testing with more grace."

To me, all unpleasant social contact was due to a simple misunderstanding. (If it was me in St. Theresa's shoes, I would have lost days trying to "reason" with the untrusting nuns and furious townsmen.) Yet, the clarity I got from a recent confession showed me that my efforts to "always stay on people's good graces is actually the sin of vanity."

The Devil is never going to shake my heads politely after a fencing match and say "Good show, Abby." "You've really grown in fortitude. I had you quaking in fear with that CF scare for your first born, but by baby number 5 you've really begin to trust in God."

That scenario is totally ridiculous. In the same way, someone who advocates mortal sin as a solution to a problem is not going to suddenly think my Catholic position is "reasonable." St. Paul's conversion was miraculous for a reason.

On nights that I still can't sleep, I pray. I pray for my littlest child. I pray for doctors and nurses and Senators who still think abortion is a valid "choice." I pray for all of the scared Moms who are post-35 like me, who have creaky bones and old ova.

On my brave days, I resolved to more closely resemble Our Blessed Mother Mary and St. Theresa of Avila. King Herod is still out to crush the Baby Jesus. The Devil might be trying to crush your actual baby, or simply divert you from the task Holy Spirit has directed from your life. Spiritual mothers and actual mothers are the same. We all have to fight spiritual battles.

May this Lent find you better trained for battle. Remember St. Theresa's confident saying "If the Devil's Afoot, it's a Good Sign your doing God's will!"

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Missing My Prayer Partner

Two days before Christmas, the granddaughter of my mother's close friend got diagnosed with a severe form of blood cancer at age 10. I never met Kami, but through the mystical body of Christ, she was already dear to my heart.

Her Grandma Shirley is a strong Baptist, whose son converted to the Catholic religion after his marriage. As Grandma Shirley navigated the alien forms of Catholic baptism, First Reconciliation and First Communion she shared her cheerful granddaughter stories with my Mom. I'm grateful to sunny Kami who made the Catholic faith less feared and foreign to my Mom.

Everyone prayed hard for Kami Fortney, last Christmas. Within weeks, the news came back that her four year old sister Jillian was a perfect bone marrow match. Everyone rejoiced. Kami bravely started chemo treatment at Children's Hospital in Columbus.

Her Mom, Rita, sent an update to my hometown prayer list that went straight to my heart. Kami was having a rough time vomiting after the chemo treatments caused a strange metal taste in her mouth. Turns out that a simple remedy of mints before chemo solved the problem. Rita wrote "Keeping the faith" at the end of her update.

Thirty minutes later I was laying on my bed feeling awful with pregnancy nausea. "Maybe Kami's mint trick will help?" I thought. I started sucking ferociously on a cough drop and felt less ill.

I thought about that little girl in a hospital in Columbus. We were separated by many states and 25 years, yet both of us were building up the kingdom of God through nausea and fatigue.

From that moment on, every time I got sick, I gave up my pain for Kami. She was my prayer buddy through the last miserable month of the first trimester challenge.

Last Sunday Kami died. On Friday, Kami was looking at at 90% chance of full recovery with a sibling bone marrow match. Within 24 hours, she suffered severe complications from her bone marrow surgery and died.

Yesterday, I was walking around still feeling nauseous and tired. Every time I instinctively prayed for Kami, only to realize that my "Lord, help her carry her cross" prayer is no longer needed. It still comes as a hurtful shock to stop that familiar prayer in mid-sentence.

Now, I'm retraining myself to pray TO Kami and not for her. A 10 year old who never kissed any boy but her Daddy is now my "go to" saint for pregnancy pain. Great is the glory of God!

May the angels of God lead Kami into Paradise! Our Lady of Keboho, pray for us. Please wrap Kami's family in your loving embrace. May we always remember as Catholics our Lord's promise "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

The mystical body of Christ is a true reality. Today, give up some pain or discomfort for someone suffering from physical or spiritual sickness.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gold Nuggets from my Carmel Meeting

"If a person admits that he has been unkind, impatient, and selfish, invariably that is caused by his failure to let God love Him enough in prayer. No one confesses sins against charity who in in the same breath does not confess missing hist time for God in prayer." Father Angelus M Shanghessy, Order of Friar Minor, Capuchin.

This quote, shared by my Carmelite, teacher was a little kick in the pants for me. Crabbiness and pregnancy need not go hand in hand! My problem is that I give myself a complete pass on most of my prayer routine since I'm so tired as a result of a pregnancy. Then I'm shocked that I don't have enough charity to get through the day without losing patience with my other three children and blame my nastiness on my pregnancy, rather than my lack of prayer time.

When I'm this physically weak I need to give God MORE time to love me in prayer, and all of "His" love will easily overflow in my daily interactions with my children and spouse.

"We can love others freely because we have been loved first by God in prayer."


Another thought from my Carmelite class:

All virtues are attributes of God. If we are "good", it is not because of ourselves. It's the Lord's "stuff" coming through us. That's why one of the marks of your prayer life isn't the feeling that you get in the moment.

Can you see new virtues growing in your life? That is the "footprint of God." That's the proof that He's been with you, deepening his dwelling place in your soul. The fruit of prayer is the growth in virtue.

Stop hoping for great consolutions or happy feelings during prayer. Did you get through your school day with a smile on your face? Did you keep silent in the face of a personal attack? That is proof that your extra prayer time in Lent is working.

Keep a look out for your growth in virtue this Lent and don't hope to levitate off the floor during Morning Prayer!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Leaping for Joy in the Grocery Line

Four years ago, an eloquent Catholic blogger wrote a post about getting chastised for having a large family while her four perfectly behaved boys waited patiently in line at Whole Foods. She prayed for her attacker, which was more than I would have done four years ago. Yet this well-written post ended with the basic complaint was "Why can't people be nice to those of us with large families?" Something like 72 people wrote in with comments echoing similar feelings.

I read that post as a young Catholic mother, with two young toddlers, and shook with fear. I'd already gotten numerous unsolicited comments "How perfect, one girl and one boy. Now you're done!" I didn't relish becoming more of a spectacle in the grocery store in the future as I cheerfully accepted God's generous gifts of more babies to our household.

Yesterday, my husband announced my pregnancy at his workplace. He received some very sweet and supportive comments. He also received some not so supportive comments.

It's the same story for each and every pregnancy after we received universal praise for conceiving baby number one.

The thing that is different this time, is me.

I don't yet relish the pokes and digs at my openness to life. I'm not leaping for joy in the grocery store line. All the same, a huge difference has occurred. I'm not shocked at suffering for my Catholic faith anymore.

The way I see it now, is if my beloved parish priest Father Willie stops by Whole Food to pick up some organic orange juice to mend his sore throat before Sunday's homily (it's probably a rare trip to Whole Foods given his small salary), he's open to all kinds of attack just by wearing his priest's collar. My beloved Dominican nuns, with their gorgous habits, were asked all manner of embarrassing sexual questions when they appeared on the Oprah show last week.

If our dear Priests and Sisters suffer snide comments every time they leave the parish chapel, why should we Catholic Moms and Dads be any different?

Just as a priest wears his collar, and a nun wears a habit, some of us parents, who were blessed by God with abundance off-spring, will wear our closely space, overwhelmingly active, children around our grocery carts.

Scripture tells that not only are we to bear scoffs meekly and humbly pray for our attackers, we're also to "leap for joy". If we suffer rejection from the world, it means we will have a great reward in heaven.

So this Lent, think about dropping your Saint Catherine's Wheel penance whip and sleeping on the floor like St. Martin of Pours. The cheerful acceptance of trials allowed by God are more valuable than any self-imposed act of penance.

This Lent resolve to take your ego-bruising social interactions on the chin like our big brother Jesus and our wonderful Mom, Mary.

Don't cry in the grocery line. Don't come up with a pity retort.

Instead, leap for joy. Do a little ballet jump. A bunny hop. An Irish Jig. Anything physical to show your great joy at having a chance to suffer for the faith.

At the very least, an unexpected Irish Jig in the grocery aisle will stun your accuser into silence and make all those "excessive" babies, who are currently pleading for gum and chocolate bars, laugh in surprise.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

How to Pray with Small Children

In honor of Lent this coming week, I wanted to share my small observations on this topic. Here are some helpful tips that might work for no one's home but my own.

1) Pray In the Midst of Calcutta

In my house, our prayer corner is a small table next to a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary in my dining area. (Our apartment is laid out as one giant square box with living room, dining room and kitchen all open and inter-connected.) My husband and I pray the Daily Office first thing in the morning next to the dining room table, rather than cloistered off into our bedroom. Our kids get up, turn on the TV, play with legos, talk loudly with each other and generally ignore their parents.

I found that when my kids can see me praying, they are generally content to leave me alone for twenty minutes. If I tried to hide in a closet to pray in great silence, my kids will freak out and come find me, convinced I'm doing something super fun in my secret space.

2)Deal Patiently with Interruptions

When you're chatting with anyone, including the Creator of the Universe, your kids will interrupt you. My model is St. France of Rome who got interrupted from her prayers 12 times in a row, calmly went back to praying each time. On the last time her prayer was written in solid gold.

I try to remind myself that God understands my situation! He gave me these babies. My job is to patiently deal with whatever need is critical, and kindly remind my kids that all non-urgent requests can wait until "Mama is done talking to God." I prove my dedication not by having some amazing transcendental mountain top experience every morning, but by persistently returning to my prayer time after each distraction.

3) Pray Immediately After the Kids Bedtime

We have three young kids who share the same room. Bed time can be exhausting, some nights. Even though all I want after the bedtime routine is finished is to grab some tea (or a stiff drink) and relax on the couch with my husband, I found that if we both IMMEDIATELY start out evening prayer ritual the night goes so much smoother. Even if bed time turns into one of those awful, bleeding into the late night times, I'm so much calmer after a simple 30 second recharge with God.

So each night at 8:00 PM, my husband and I stumble exhausted into our prayer corner and start praying the Evening Prayer of the Divine Office. Some nights the frequent "I need you..." mean that we don't finish praying until 9:15 PM. It's such a great use of our time. Praying keeps us from fighting with our kids or each other. Praying first helps us to clean the house faster later. I've had so many sweet, sweet evenings with my husband since we started to pray first and talk later. Even if we have only an hour together before bed, it's a happy time when we're both recharged and refreshed after a tough day.

4) Enjoy Life with Babies

In heaven, all of us will be contemplatives. That will be our job for the rest of eternity. Whatever small piece of this crazy, short life that we hand over to God will help us get to our end goal.

Prayer is everything. All the concrete actions that we do each day, are all outreaches of our inner relationship with God.

And because Prayer is so important, there are going to always be tons of distractions. St. Anthony in the Desert, had distractions from his prayer life. So that being said, there is something for learning how to pray in the midst of lots of young kids.

The truth is that as mothers, we're not living fabulous lives of luxury and comfort. I never have to say "Sorry girls, I've got to leave our fascinating mah jong game to go pray my half an hour prayer of the quiet." Instead, I simply decide to forgo picking up legos off the couch to go pray with my husband.

In that sense, because our life as mothers is so simple, because our life is hard, because we're exhausted at the close of each day, it's far easier to appreciate our intense dependence upon God.

One of my Carmelite friends is the mother of 10 children and someone in our class questioned how she could possibly pray each day with that many children. My friend simply answered "I get up before anyone else in my family wakes up to get in my half-an-hour because I need to pray everyday." That answer mystified my classmate. Yet it made perfect sense to me. If you've got 10 kids from ages 2 to 20, you need to pray everyday. I need to pray everyday and I've only got four!

Anyway, hope these brief notes encourage you to carve out some prayer time this Lent.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Life Below the Mason-Dixon Line

Two blizzards have hit D.C. in the past 5 days.

33 inches of snow in my front yard.

45 mile per hour winds.

No buses. No cars. No open grocery stores.

My children now refuse to go outside to build another snowman due to "torpedo snow."

Did I wake up in North Dakota this morning?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Losing My Friend

For George Gableman 1919-2010

My ninety-four year old maternal grandfather died on January 1, 2010, Mary's Day. We drove through two giant snow storms on curvy Appalachian roads to bury him. I got to the funeral home after an eight hour drive with three children under the age of seven.

Grandfather's casket was closed. A giant batch of red roses lay on top. He and I were all alone in the room.

I laid my exhausted head on his coffin.

"My friend, you have gone and left me here all alone."

I'd never called Grandpa my "friend" before. The new name felt strange and odd. Instantly, I realized that the new title fit. We were sixty years apart in age, but we were still dear friends in Christ.

Grandpa was the one who was always happy to hear about the conception of a new great-grandchild. Grandpa had endless appreciation for my husband and endless respect for my work as a stay-at-home mother. Grandpa answered every phone call with "Hi Ab, What can I do for you?"

Grandpa sent us money for a car seat for our first child. He lent a Cosco card for diaper runs for baby number two. But the past four years, I only need happy chats with a cheerful Christian grandfather. His intangible gifts of faith and hope and unconditional love were beautiful as I moved father from the path of worldly success and acknowledgment.

Now, my friend was dead.

I am left here all alone.

I laid my head on the casket, and the sense of loneliness welled up from my soul.

I'm alone. I'm the last Christian in my family.

When I was a little girl, my Grandpa and my Grandma were the two people who made sure that I was baptized as a three month old infant. My parents were in graduate school and had stopped attending church. My grandparents made sure that I got an infant baptism in the Methodist Church where they faithfully attended Sunday Service for the past 55 years. My parents were married in that church. I wore my paternal grandmother's silk baptismal gown, and got baptized on March 30, 1973.

How do you thank someone for insuring that you became a Child of God?

As a child, I had many strong Christians in my family. Everyone was Methodist. My Grandfather, both my Grandmothers, and three of my Great-Aunts. These people wore Christ deep in their bones. It was faith deepened with struggle, the Great Depression, World War II, Infertility and the threat of Nuclear War in the 1950s. You went to Church. You prayed to God. You helped others. You tried to live a Good Life. These were the similar rules that colored each of their individual lives.

I grow up, a girl with a Carmelite soul, under the steady presence of these gentle prayer giants, like a sapling under a grove of oak trees. One by one each of these family members have died peaceful, happy deaths.

Grandpa was the last Christian to die.

Beside his coffin, I suddenly looked around and realized I'm only one who still believes in God. Each one of my siblings, each one of my cousins, each of my parents, each of my many uncles and aunts, each one got that precious light of Christ at baptism. Yet, all of their candles have all burned out. Everyone's faith is gone.

It's unexpected. It's unexplainable.

Why am I left?

Why did I get the added gift of the Holy Eucharist, and Confession and deep understanding of the mysterious of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony? Rather than a frail, flickering candle in the wind, as a new Catholic, my faith is fed daily with an amount of Divine Power that I'm only beginning to understand.

I put my tired head on Grandpa's coffin and cried.

Suddenly and automatically, like some deep reflex, I started to pray both for Grandpa and to him. We had an easy conversation through Christ, as simple as chatting over the phone.

I gave thanks that my Grandpa finished his race. Over Christmas I visited him in the hospital. Grandpa had lost his wife, he'd lost his teeth, he'd lost his ability to go to the bathroom by himself. Yet this formerly fiercely independent man had no complaints. He was as docile and happy as a child.

In that bare hospital room, I pulled out a Methodist Hymnal. Jon and I and Grandpa sang Christmas Carol after Christmas Carol. In the days that he was in the hospital, the stress of not sleeping made him lose most of his memory. He forgot who I was. But it didn't matter. All the choruses of those beloved hymns were still in his heart.

My grandfather spent 70 years singing as a baritone in the United Methodist Men's Choir. For the last two years of his life, he appeared half an hour early in his living nursing home, wearing a shirt and tie, ready for my father to take him to Adult Sunday School. All of those songs, all of that faith, it was all in his heart. He welcomed the Christ Child with great joy at age 94.

Back in the funeral home, chatting over the Jesus prayer hotline, I told my Grandpa to pray for me. I wasn't sure I was going make it to the end of my life, the way he did.

Then after praying, I helped carry his coffin outside. We had an outside grave site service in January. I played the clarinet Grandpa bought me in 5th grade. Then I sang "How Can I Keep From Singing."

I didn't realize how much my family had become fallen away Christians, until I attended my Grandpa's funeral. Their faces were so hardened against any talk of the resurrection. It's a fairy tale to them. I felt a little uneasy. Things felt flipped around. It felt like the dead people were the ones who were walking on top of the graveyard, while the vibrant, living souls were resting comfortably underneath.

It's not the easiest time to remember your clarinet fingerings when you mind is constantly struck by how much your family members resemble spiritual zombies.

Then my kids got up and sang "this little light of mine." Well, Hannah my future nun sang happily and loudly. My son Alex walked off mid-song and the baby Maria buried her freezing face into her coat hood.

I don't know why I got the only gift of living faith. Yet I'm grateful that I now live in a vibrant community of Catholics. I'm a wife of a strong Catholic man and the mother of strong Catholic children.

My job is to keep passing on my faith and pray valiantly for all of my dear family.

For Grandpa George: Thank you for the gift of a good singing voice and also teaching me to know who I'm singing the hymns to each Sunday

How Can I Keep From Singing?
My life flows on in endless song,
Above earth's lamentation
I hear the real though far off hymn
That hails a new creation

No Storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

Prayer TIme: Giving God a Worthless Metal Band

It's a divine joke that God has called me to be a Carmelite.

I'm horrible at prayer.

I can't sit still. I fidget. I fret. I daydream. I think about stain removal strategies in my laundry. I hate doing the laundry, so that fact that I would rather clean clothes than sit completely still in one place cleansing my soul with the Creator of the Universe says something.

If I were handing out assignments for Miss Abigail, I would have given myself something epic and noble and flashy, such as feeding Haitian refugees, being a CCD teacher to non-native English speakers, or heck, even embroidering Alter cloths.

Instead, I got something else.

Something hidden. Something humble. Something hard.

My job is to go to Daily Mass when I can, pray the Divine Office, and then sit perfectly still for half and hour each day praying the "prayer of the quiet." Of course, my marriage and children come first. Yet the pattern for most days, as a Secular Carmelite, is to set apart a quiet time to recollect myself and get in touch with the Divine.

My husband has a quiet, introspective and calm temperament. Recollection of the faculties comes easily to him. (His first name matches the most contemplative Evangelist and the prayer giant, "St. John of the Cross" for a reason.)

Every night we pray side by side like two badly matched bookends.

My husband pulls down his Divine Office with joy. His feet are motionless. He calmly flips a practiced finger through the multiple pages of prayer. He looks likes someone made to pray each and every day.

I, meanwhile, become restless and agitated. My feet fall asleep and twitch. My knees hurt. I review a long "to do list." I imagine that I hear a sleeping baby calling "Mama!" During our time for prayer of the quiet, I frequently get up to check the kitchen timer "how much longer???"

Every day, it's still a hard battle to pray.

Thankfully, Saint Teresa of Avila, the founder of the Discalced Carmelite order, had a chatty, restless, sanguine personality like me. She left very explicit instructions on how to pray, precisely because she found it so difficult.

One of her metaphors has given me fortitude in my prayer life.

Saint Teresa writes think of God as a bridegroom who gives his bride many gifts. She has land and clothes and fancy bracelets on her wrists. And in return, the bride gives her groom a small metal band as a wedding ring. The gift isn't valuable in itself, and certainly a pales in comparison to the wealth of riches she's received as wedding gifts from her bridegroom. Yet a wedding ring is still treasured all the same, it serves as a symbol of the bride's faithfulness.

That image of a worthless metal band has helped me fortitude in my prayer life.

My thirty minutes of distracted, restless prayer time can certainly seem worthless from the outside. My prayers, however, are a sign of my faithfulness to God. Good or bad, rich or poor, my daily prayer time is more than a collection individual insights gained. My daily prayer time is an outward sign that I'm "God's girl for life."

It's a teeny, almost worthless act. Yet I know that my daily fight to pray is a gift that is received with great joy.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Joy of Being A Non-Medal of Honor Winner

Currently, I'm in the incredibly sexy place of Catholic formation called "tumor removal treatment". Actually, the phase is called "the removal of deeply rooted venial sins," however, that is much too gentle and polite a term to describe my daily life.

As a former Protestant deprived of the grace of the Sacrament of Confession from ages 7 to 27, those pesky sins of vanity and pride have calcified into these giant, three foot wide tumors on the side of my neck. That's a spiritual metaphor, of course. In real life, my neck looks fine. But those hardened bad habits are still there interfering with every interaction I have with God and with Man.

My treatment for vanity has been these painful, humiliating interactions with others that leave me feeling like my beloved physician Jesus has scraped off a few layers of living tumor cells with a cheese grater. I've come home from embarrassing encounters with neighbors to tell my beloved husband, Jon, through tears "at least I had an opportunity to chop off a little more of my vanity."

The process of losing my vanity- sucks!

The benefit, however, is that sometimes I get to see how much I have progressed on this journey of faith.

Last week I had a normal Mom moment of refolding clean little boy clothes (Alex has graduated to dressing himself for outside snow adventures but somehow always manages to leave the entire content of his dresser drawer on my bedroom floor) when I realized "I will never get a Smith Medal of Honor for this!"

And for the first time, rather than get depressed, or rail on the current state of my Alma Mater, that thought made me laugh!

My "elite" women's college hands out five Medals of Honor to alumna in February. Smith being Smith, the net is cast pretty wide. We've honored have female economic advisers to Presidents, and brilliant play writes, newspaper reporters, scientists, community organizers. You could win a Medal of Honor by becoming a Justice on the Federal Court of Appeals, or saving historic buildings in NYC or even carving decorative masks from African hardwoods. You can pretty much do anything your heart desired and as long as you made a "substantial difference in the world" there was a chance Smith College would call you back as a "Golden Daughter" and crown you with mass approval and thanksgiving.

(Oh, the hours I wasted in college scheming about how to receive a Smith Medal of Honor.)

With such a diverse and open-hearted view of the contributions of talented females, the ONLY achievement that is certain to NEVER receive notice from Smith College, happens to be my daily goal, being a good wife and mother.

This irony strikes my funny bone, because the one thing in my life that I know makes a cosmic difference in the world for now and eternity, is the my vocation as a wife and mother.

It feels good to be slightly weaned off the "I want my old college to approve of me" trap. I get so many "That a girl!" and "Thank Yous" and "YOU ARE SO IMPORTANT" from the Holy Spirit each and every day, that I'm happy to remain a Non-Medal of Honor Winner my whole life.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Praying Through the Human Condition

Welcome back!

Many exciting things have happened since my blog fast.

In November, my husband and I received our Brown Scapular. We are now official members of the Third Order Carmelites. I'll have to post a picture of the happy day, because it ranks right up there with marriage and child birth as a life changing event. One of my dear seminarian friends got to be there for my Profession Mass. He and I were jumping with joy during the Mass. The love between Carmelites and priests, even future priests, is so deep and so dear.

The priest who did our investitures was so sweet. He told me "don't give up praying now" as he put on my scapular. I held my toddler Mimi during my whole Profession, since she was not about sit quietly in the pew without Mom or Dad. Rather than being a distraction, her presence was a joy. Father joked "where's her scapular?" after he had invested both Jon and I. I had tears of happiness when we were announced as the "Catholic Church's newest people" of prayer after our final vows. I can't think of a more honorable way to serve this Church that I love so much.

We sailed through a smooth Advent. I got my prayers routine down pat. Didn't overspend on Christmas presents. Whipped up a seven course seafood dinner without notice when Christmas Eve handed my mother a family emergency.

I turned a happy 35 on December 31st.

On Mary's Day, January 1st, I found out that I'm pregnant. Our dearest prayer for two years has come true. I told my Carmel group that this was a Carmel baby. We'd had no luck conceiving for two years. Yet as soon as I got my Brown Scapular, everything came together again.

So pray for me and the newest Benjamin baby.

HA HA about my great prayer routine. Morning sickness has struck me hard over the last three weeks. Instead of deep mystical prayer experiences, I now spend my daily half and hour, moaning on my bed uniting myself with every time Jesus experienced the stomach flu during his 33 years on earth.

My prayer time is seriously pathetic. Sometimes I just sprawl out on the carpet in the morning and let Jon pray the beautiful words of Divine Office over me. We're one flesh so that still counts, right?

I asked advice from one of my Carmelite friends who is the mother of TEN. "How do you prayer with morning sickness?" She just laughed at me. "You just muddle through", Stephanie said sympathetically. "Jesus understands. It's part of praying through the human condition."

I wish all of you a happy time in our preparation before Lent. Keep praying through whatever is happening in your life. We weren't made to be angels. Our muddled and pathetic attempts at prayer are a part of our human condition.