Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Nesting- Jesus Style

This week my husband and I had a big "family budget summit." I'd looked forward to this meeting for weeks. We carefully scheduled time on the calender to have a global financial planning session for the next year.

Turns out that having a fourth baby means starting over from scratch on all necessary infant equipment. The infant car seat that we bought with Hannah has passed it's expiration date. I donated Maria's IKEA high chair to Goodwill during one of my weepy "why am I suddenly infertile at 33?" episodes. Then last month, Alex managed to break the expensive crib that was supposed to last us forever. So the expense tally for "the things that we'll need in the first year for a new baby" is -rather- HUGE.

Because this baby is bringing a new sense of order to the Benjamin household, I dreamed big. I imagined my husband and I having a huge Dave Ramsey style meeting where all of our household expenses would be carefully charted out on Excel Spreadsheets. For the first time in nine years of marriage, we'd be super organized about our spending.

I thought the only thing I needed to bring to the table was patience. I'd carefully dole out the baby's needs to fit with our growing savings account. First, I'd purchase a new car seat in July. Then I'd get cute pink baby clothes in August. In six months, when the baby could start to nibble on cheerios, I'd have the funds to buy a high chair. Finally, when I was ready to stop co-sleeping with the baby at 8 months, I'd have the enormous sum of $450 to buy a new crib and new Sealy mattress.

We started the 2010 Budget Summit with great hope. We'd recently finished paying off our credit card debt. As a result, we expected to get a nice increase in our spending allowance.

After we crunched the numbers, however, we had a rude shock. After figuring in the doctor bills, the lab tests, the dental co-pays and my future hospital stay we had $25 dollars of Jon's paycheck left over each week. $25 for "everything" from home school supplies, new shoes for rapidly growing kids, bicycle tires, Zip Car rentals and the host of other things a family of 6 needs each month. We had enough to cover our monthly bills and expected medical expenses, yet nothing "extra".

Jon took a deep breath. "Well, I guess everything else that we need gets filed under 'Depend Upon God.'"

I giggled.

It was the perfect Carmel moment. Our "big budget summit" had taken exactly fifteen minutes. Turns out that God had entrusted two Carmelites with just enough money for rent, utilities, food and health care. Our big plan for acquiring Clothing, Cribs, School Supplies, everything four children need to exist in America is labeled simply "Depending on God to Provide."

Prayer works. After my failed planning session, I didn't pout. I didn't pick a fight with my husband. I didn't fall into depression. I didn't start making plans for Jon to take a second job. Instead, I simply shrugged my shoulders. "That's so Carmel," I said.

Two days later, my Sister called. She found an infant car seat for $10 at a garage sale. I told her to buy it for me. I didn't get my hopes up. The car seat might be ratty or unsafe. I just took my Sister's find as a little confirmation from God that not all car seat purchases need to cost $150 at Target. (Cheap car seats are especially good for a family that doesn't own a car and literally only needs one for the trip home from the hospital or for an emergency doctor run.)

The next day, the head Maintenance Guy from our Apartment Complex dropped by. He took one look at my pregnant belly and said yes to an entire apartment make-over- For FREE! Because we're going on our fourth year in the same apartment, he said we could have all of our walls repainted, new carpet laid, a new dishwasher installed and a new ice-maker for the refrigerator.

We saw Head Maintenance Guy later as our family walked to the pool for a swim. We all gave him a happy wave. My husband said 'You know the maintenance guy only did this because he's got a soft spot for children and he wants to make life better for a pregnant woman."

I started to protest, "I'm sure it's thanks to my great negotiating skills! I know my tenant rights. I used to be an attorney, you know."

My husband rolled his eyes at my naivete. "Abby, we rent a two bedroom apartment in a giant complex in a major Metropolitan City. We are so not on the VIP treatment list. You got that us that star-quality apartment treatment because the guy has a soft spot for struggling, sweet families."

"Well, may our Father in Heaven repay him," I said.

This afternoon, I heard a knock at my door. Outside was our elderly Jewish neighbor who is a recent immigrant from Israel. "Do you want two new couches?" he asked quietly. "My daughter is cleaning out her storage locker. She has two nice matching sofas and no where to put them. Would you come look at them?"

I put on some flip flops and followed him outside. In a rented garage, I saw two sandy brown sofas under piles of Israeli art and children's toys. "They look great!" I said.

"I'll call my son and have him bring them over to your house today," my neighbor said.

A few hours later, three sweet Jewish men entered my house, my neighbor (the grandfather), his son, and his grandson. The trio smiled at my children and chatted in Hebrew together (or Aramaic? What do they speak in Israel in these modern days?). All three men sweated with the effort of hauling couches in the hot Southern sun, yet all remained cheerful about this gift of charity.

The son, Paul, said that he had three girls. One of the little girl's name in Hebrew means "Footprint of God." "Do you have three girls?" Paul asked looking at Hannah and Maria bouncing happily in front of him.

"My other child is a son," I said. "I will have three girls in August!" and I rubbed my pregnant belly.

"I bring you a crib!" Paul said.

"What?" I asked.

"A crib. I got a nice crib in storage. From Sears. Color of deep wood. Nobody in my house use anymore. You home all the time? I bring it by soon. I just love children! I love them!"

I stood there in shock, trying not to cry in my living room over three sweet Jewish men who loved children and who think that a family of six fit perfectly inside a 2 bedroom apartment. One of these men somehow guessed that I needed a new crib for a fourth baby.

God is good! I'm the apple of His eye! You are too! Living the virtue of poverty in 21st Century America is incredibly exciting. A little scary, perhaps. But very fruitful.

(Update: I received the car seat today from my Sister today. It's perfect! It's in near perfect condition with an elaborate stroller attachment.)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Devil Is Real

As a former mainstream Protestant, I used to believe that the Devil wasn't real.

I grew up in the middle of the Bible Belt. My high school classmates had Grandmothers who stashed extra condensed milk cans in their corn crib for use during Armageddon and had Deacon Uncles who picked up poisonous snakes during church services to prove that Jesus truly lived in their hearts. To me, an excessive concern about The Evil One, fell equally into this category of Christian "fruit-cake" beliefs.

When I became a Catholic, my nonchalance about the Devil didn't immediately change. I promised to renounce the empty promises of Satan on my Confirmation Day, of course. Yet I didn't fully conceptualize what this promise meant.

I remember the night that I first learned the Devil is real.

Three years ago, my husband and I asked the Legion of Mary to consecrate our family to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Legion sent two lovely Catholics from our parish to our house, along with a five foot statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The consecration ceremony lasted about an hour.

In the middle of our devotions, my three year old son started "acting up." Alex flipped somersaults on the carpet, slammed his body repeatedly into his two sisters, chattered loudly about his Transformers Collection, and started making disparaging comments that our rosary prayers took "forever!"

I watched my husband's face turn red from stress. My efforts to shush Alex and keep him pinned to on my lap had no effect. Finally, I whispered "Alex go to your room and play quietly until Mommy and Daddy are finished!" Alex burst up from my lap, ran to freedom, and banged his bedroom door shut.

Then one of the visiting Legionaries, a beautiful African immigrant, stopped her rosary prayer in mid-sentence. In a crisp French accent she said "Please, you must go and get the boy. Bring him back here!"

My husband and I started to make frantic excuses. "No, no! Our son is really naughty tonight. If we bring him back, it's only going to get worse and worse. He just can't sit still for so long."

The woman looked deeply into my eyes. "You must go get him. The Devil hates what we are doing here. In middle of the prayer circle, we are safe. But now your son is in another room. He is not safe. You must go get him and bring him back until we finish our prayers. The Devil is real! Yes? The Devil is real!"

"Is the Devil real?" I wondered. Now didn't seem to be the time to debate questions of Christian theology. This woman had a deep devotion to Our Lady. She seemed certain that my son was in danger. I trusted her protective instincts over my own.

So I grabbed my son and brought him loudly protesting back into our prayer circle. Together we finished an extremely uncomfortable and awkward consecration ceremony to the Blessed Virgin. I did not find inner peace while singing hymns of praise to our Blessed Mother with a thrashing, biting, howling three-year-old son in my arms. Mama Mary didn't mind. She still rained down her blessings upon my humble and inattentive family.

Many weeks later, our parish priest preached this message in his homily "If you believe that the Devil isn't real-- If you believe that the Devil is simply an outdated product of a medieval mind- then it's a sign that you are already lost, my friend. You are a POW, a Prisoner of War, in the enemies camp. The consequences to Spiritual Warfare are real. As Catholics, we must fight the Devil. And we must fight to free our many brothers in Christ who have already been taken as hostages by the Evil One."

As I listened to Father's homily, I nodded in complete agreement. I surprised myself. I'd grown so much from the night of my family's consecration ceremony. Now I believed the Devil is real. When I believed that the Devil was simply a medieval myth in the past, I made it super easy for the enemy to capture me in mortal sin.

Two years ago, I started my formation as a lay Carmelite. Whew! Good thing my Spiritual Mother had already started to prepare me for the reality of spiritual warfare.

I used to read stories of martyred Carmelite Saints in wonder. Why did the Communists, and the Fascists, and the French Revolutionaries care so much about a few girls dressed in brown? If there is one empty threat to the establishment of Absolute State power, it must be a tiny group of cloistered Sisters who pray long Latin texts every day. Carmelites are poor. They can't supply food or ammunition to rebels. Carmelites are required to "stay put." They can't leave their cells to offer Acts of Mercy to wounded rebel soldiers every night. Where is the perceived threat?

Slowly, I began to understand the power of intercessory prayer. On Satan's enemy lists, Carmelites are on the top. Shooting all Carmelite Sisters at the start of a Fascist Revolution in 20th Century Mexico makes perfect sense. The prayers of a few holy woman are more powerful than thousands of rebel soldiers in bringing down the elaborate plans of an evil dictator.

On the Eve of Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe last year, a Catholic neighbor had a bizarre meltdown in the middle of my living room at 11 PM. After weeks of her midnight knocks on our door, her 3 AM phone calls, and a mid-winter visit from policemen working on her Missing Person's Case, I finally learned from a priest that my neighbor was a Demoniac who had refused all treatment offered by the Archdiocese.

It's strange to have the Devil freely inhabit someone who lives in the same apartment building as me. Odd. Scary. Yet, also Useful.

Last week, I did a small thing for God. I skipped teaching Vacation Bible School at my old church this summer because of my pregnancy. I placed my tired body and teeny baby's health over my desire to chat with dear friends and the joy of teaching young kids about the Eucharist.

As a result, the kids and I had a plain, somewhat boring week, at home. We baked cookies. We played Lego games on our new computer. Hannah struggled to learn how to read stories about a dog named Biscuit. Alex taught himself how to make water balloons for the first time. Maria cooked plastic food in her pretend kitchen. I took many naps.

On Friday, the Church had a huge end of Vacation Bible School Party for the whole parish. There were carnival games and pizza and snow-cones that only cost one dollar.

At 8:43 AM, my phone rang. It was the Demoniac neighbor. "Hi! It's Lady X. So today is the big party. We're ready to pick up your family in fifteen minutes to drive you to church."

I had not heard Lady X's voice since the day of the big police investigation in early February. I almost dropped the phone in shock.

"Um, No Thanks! We're not going that party today," I answered. I hung up the phone as quickly as I could.

I have no idea why God wanted me and my children to stay home from Vacation Bible School this year. What's so harmful about a week of fun, friends, and sharing the love of Jesus?

Maybe I needed extra rest this summer. Maybe my new First Communicant could have learned some harmful misinformation. Maybe seeing all my "doer" friends at my old parish would have tempted me into signing up for a thousand committee assignments which were incompatible with mothering a newborn. I don't know. God's ways are mysterious.

I do know that the Devil thought it was a great idea for me to simply attend a VBS pizza party. He was so certain I'd say yes, He didn't even ask "Do you want to go to the party?" The first lines out of my neighbor's mouth were "Today's the Party. We'll be there to pick you up in fifteen minutes."

The Devil Is Real.

My job is to say NO to Him.


Monday, June 21, 2010

What Do Nuns Wear To the Beach?

I have a seven year old daughter who eagerly desires to become a future Spouse of Christ. Having a potential nun in the house has really changed my viewpoint as a mother.

This past year, I suddenly became uncomfortable about my standard for dressing my daughters modestly at the beach and the pool. Initially, I dressed my girls in the same one piece bathing suits that I wore to the beach. I thought modestly simply meant skipping over the two piece bikinis that are all over the toddler racks.

Here's Hannah in a one-piece bathing suit at age 4. This was my old standard of modest dressing for the beach.
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Once Hannah started hanging out with Nuns who confirmed her future vocation to me, I started to feel uncomfortable about my bathing suit choices for my daughter.

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(Hannah with one of her best friends, Sister Peace.)

What do Nuns wear to the beach?

I couldn't imagine Sister Peace or Sister Revelation leaving their beautiful habits for a "modest" one piece.

I can't really describe it, but a small voice in my head said that if something was inappropriate for Sister Peace, it also wasn't great for Hannah. Hannah's not in a habit yet, of course. But she does wear conservative sweet dresses. I didn't want Hannah to ever look back on smiling photos of herself as a child at the beach and feel embarrassed by her immodesty.

Moreover, because Hannah is tall, this year we suddenly had to deal with unwanted male attention at the swimming pool. I didn't want some strange boy drooling over my pretty daughter in her tankini at age 7. A boy drooling over any girl at the beach is bad. A boy drooling over a girl who is pre-engaged to Jesus Christ, the chaste Savior of the World, seems so much worse!

I prayed a lot for God's help to choose a new swimsuit for Hannah. Here's the modesty solution we've come up with for this year. My girls and I have long-sleeve rash guard shirts and matching swim skirt bottoms from Lands' End. My girls love their new swimsuits. I love that the Lands' Ends suits make me appear like a Mother who is terrified of sunburn and not a crazy Catholic mother who prays 2 hours a day!

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(New Standard of Modesty: Long Sleeve Butterfly Rash Guard with Swimming Skirt from Lands' End, Hannah age 7).

Modesty became a family affair as I bought my husband and my son rash guard shirts, so that their top halves are completely covered this year.
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(Benjamins at the Pool, Summer of 2010)

When I looked at Hannah happily playing at our apartment pool for the first time this summer, I felt such relief. Hannah looked like a sweet young girl. I was shocked to see how the modesty issue played out among her young friends. Every single girl who had a divorced father wore a revealing two piece bikini. Every girl who had a Dad who still lived at home, wore a one piece. (Then there were my girls with their long-sleeve one pieces!) All of Hannah's friends at the apartment pool were under age 8! The link between a missing father and a young girl's need for male attention plays itself out so early.

However, my biggest surprise I had came from my husbands change in swim wear. In the past, my husband has Jon worn long swimming "shorts" and a kept this abdomen bare. This year, my husband added a white rash guard shirt.

Every time I saw my husband across the pool wearing his new swim shirt, I felt this rush of love. I knew how cute my husband's chest was under that modest shirt, but no one else could see him. By dressing extra modestly at the pool my husband sent me a little valentine that said "my body is for you alone."

What are your thoughts about modest dressing?
Have they changed as your daughters grew from babyhood into young adulthood?

How to Make Scripture Studies Interesting to Young Boys

This week the Daily Office is focused on all the heroes of the Old Testament. I got reminded this morning how critical it is to actually read the Word of God to our children, rather than only reading Children's Bible Books or playing Veggie Tales DVDs.

The Word of God is a living thing- it strikes at the soul. Today's Office of the Reading contained the familiar story of David and Goliath. How many hundreds of times have I heard this story? Yet this morning several new details jumped out at me. First, David declines Saul's expensive armor. He goes to fight Goliath in his simple, familiar and seemingly flimsy shepherd's gear. (How often am I tempted to wear some unfamiliar type of protection or add a new type of spiritual devotion whenever I'm headed into a serious spiritual battle?)

I also discovered that after David flung the stone from his slingshot "the stone embedded itself in [Goliath's] brow." That word "embedded" jumped out at me. My little 5 year son said later "it's as if David threw the slingshot on his own power and then an angel came and swung an invisible bat to smash it into Goliath's skull!" You've got to love the combinations of the Word of God and a young son's vivid imagery!

This year, while preparing for my daughter's First Communion, my family found the perfect time for Scripture Study. We keep a Bible near our dining room table. Each night, my husband reads a small bit of Scripture for about 2-3 minutes. Then we chat about the reading. (There is something about having all the kids already sitting around the table and happily chewing their food, that makes for a more peaceful setting.)

Months later, my husband and I laughed to find out that the ancient 12th Century "Rule of St. Albert" encourages all Carmelites to have read the Holy Scripture during meal time.

If you'd like to try something similar here are some readings which were very appealing to young children.

Ehud (Judges 3:12-30)
We Benjamins have some fascinating blood relatives in the Bible, St. Paul, Queen Ester, etc. My husband's favorite Benjamin in the Bible, however, is Ehud! This is a crazy story which I'm sure is new to you. An evil foreign king, who happens to be super fat, is oppressing the Israelites. Ehud gets the job to dispatch him. Ehud tells the king he's got a secret message for him from God. Then Ehud drives a dagger
into the kings belly. The king is so fat, that his belly hides the dagger, letting Ehud make a clean get away.

"The Reign Over Me Trees" (Judges 9:7-15)
For some reason this metaphor about different trees ruling over the plants of the forest is a big favorite among my kids

Judges 15:14-16 (jawbone of the donkey)
16 (Samson and Delilah)
17 (Death of Samson)

David and Goliath (1 Samuel: 4-10, 41-48)

Finally, preview this story before you read it out loud to the kids.(2 Kings 6: 24-31, 7:1-20). We found it by accident and it was such a memorable story about trusting in God.

This is a story that happens to the Prophet Elisha. There is a long siege of Samaria and terrible famine happens inside the City. Things are so bad that two hungry mothers make a gross promise to "eat my son today and eat your son tomorrow." The mothers boil and eat one son. The next day, instead of handing over her son to be eaten, the neighbor hides her own son. Then a mother goes to the King demands that he enforce the neighbor's promise to eat the second son. The King loses it, and says "What have we come to as a nation?" Then the King starts yelling at the Prophet Elisha "things are really, really bad! Do something!" Elisha tells him not to worry that by tomorrow night, there will be plenty of food in the city. Through a complete miracle, God delivers the city and provides plenty of food from the vanquished army." The details of this story are unforgettable and encouraged my family to really think about trusting completely in God even when the current circumstances look totally helpless!


Please let me know if you have any other interesting passages to share!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Decision to Follow God or Mammon

Oh glorious day! I got to attend Daily Mass and Confession. What a treat!

Father Gary's homily was so simple and powerful. The reading today was "You can't serve both God and Mammon."

Father explained this choice between God and the Devil is not a like buying a car. It is not a calm, rational decision that you can linger over for days. Instead, you make your choice about who to follow in a crisis, in the chaos, in the confusion of life altering events.

The choice between Good and Evil is not like buying a car!

I love that. Because when I'm calm, the choice is so clear. Of course, I love God. Of course, I want to take the harder path that leads to heaven. God's footprint is in my heart.

Yet its in the chaos of life that the choice becomes messy; when I'm tired, when I'm sick, when I'm broke, when the kids are screaming at each other six hours into a long car trip- that's when the choice to stay obedient to God's "hard" will becomes a challenge. Yet our choice in those hard moments show us where our true loyalties lie.

No one can follow two Masters. Like my good buddy Job, it's following God when times are hard, confusing or scary which is the test of my true loyalties.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Disappointing Dad

Put yourself yourself back in time to November 2000. Now imagine getting a call from the president-elect saying "Abby, my dear, this is George. I loved the enthusiasm you displayed while stuffing envelopes at the RNC during the last campaign. You're one of a kind! I want you to be in the West Wing this January starting a new job as my main scheduling secretary. Book yourself a flight down to Crawford this weekend, make sure to bring Jon and those sweet kids, and we'll chat about our next four years together!"

Now imagine calling your Dad in excitement and saying "George Bush just called me! The President-Elect! I've got a job working in the West Wing!"

Your Dad responds "What are you talking about? George Bush isn't the next President. How can he hire you? He's got nothing to give you!"

For the next eight years, as you fly around in Air Force One, greeting Heads of State and organizing Easter Egg Rolls on the White House Lawn, your Dad continues to deny that George Bush is even president.

You never figure out if your Dad's disbelief stems from a strong loyalty to Al Gore and the hanging chads that might have been, or is a sign of early dementia. One thing is clear, however. In your Dad's mind, George Bush is not the President. As a result, his daughter doesn't have a real job.

Imagine the bizarre conversations that you'd have with your Dad over the next eight years.

Maybe one day your Dad calls to say "Honey, I've got great news. Your cousin Chris got a new job managing a bar in Columbus!"

"That's great!" you answer cheerfully.

"Finally, you've got an inside employment connection! Now call Chris up tonight and ask him to hire you as a waitress!"

"Um, Dad. I can't be a waitress."

"What's wrong with being a waitress? You were such a great one in high school! Is there something wrong with being a waitress? Have you become a snob?" your Dad says accusingly over the phone.

"No, Dad. There's nothing wrong with a wait staff job. I just can't be one because I've already got a job. Remember? I got a new job as the Scheduling Secretary for the President of the United States."

"I don't know what you're talking about. George Bush isn't the President of our fine country. Right now, you are my completely unemployed daughter. Working in a bar for tips would be a great step up the career ladder for for you!"

After several weeks of these odd conversations where your Dad suggests alternatively working as a builder on a Buddhist stuppa, or going back to school to get a PhD in French, you decide to take drastic action.

You invite your Father to lunch, get him to shake hands with the President, and then give him a tour of your new office space. Your Dad's only comment is "Wow, this office is pretty small. What are you working in, a converted closet? You don't even have a window in here!"

"Dad, I've got a private office in the West Wing of the White House. The Oval Office is two doors down the hall. I have daily access to the President of the United States! I don't need a window."

"Yeah, I don't know what kind of two-bit operation your working for, but I'd immediately request a new file cabinet and a bigger desk."

Imagine this misconception keeps going on and on for years. There is so much of your life that you suddenly can't talk about with your Dad. And you start getting in trouble all of the time. Because if your work doesn't exist, then you have zero excuses for being absent from any social obligation.

Imagine one day that your Dad calls you up and announces "Abby, I won the Yard of the Month for July! I got you a front seat ticket for my awards ceremony on July 15."

"Dad, I'm so happy for you! All that hard work in the garden this Spring paid off. Sorry about missing the awards ceremony, however. I'm flying to Brussels that weekend as part of the advance team for the G-8 Summit that weekend. Have Mom take lots of digital pictures and shoot some video of your acceptance speech."

"What do you mean you aren't coming?" your Dad says in shock. "Did I mention I won the Yard of the Month! The Garden Club only gives out 12 of these awards each year and I won one!"

"Sorry, Dad can't make it. I've got a work conflict."

"Are you still talking about that imaginary job working for that Texas Oil Man again? What do you do for him all day? Can't you take one day off? Your Sister is using one of her vacation days to fly in to see my awards ceremony. Doesn't your employer give you any vacation days?"

"Yes, Dad. I get vacation days! I just can't use them when I'm needed to help plan a G-8 summit."


It's an odd thing to become a Carmelite when no one in your extended family is even a Catholic. I now serve a King who is completely invisible to my father. Praying, doing the laundry, growing a new grandchild in my womb- those activities don't constitute "real work" in my Dad's eyes.

This Father's Day, I'm thinking a lot about unconditional love.

How I can open myself up to trust in the unconditional love of my Father in Heaven.

How I can extend forgiveness and unconditional love to my Father on Earth.

How can I find peace when the growing love that I have for the Lord, my Husband, and my children lead me to many more "I'm so disappointed in you" conversations with my Dad.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Beautiful Prayer

"I Am Yours Lord,
I was born for You,
What do You want of me?"

by St. Teresa of Avila

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Notes from Carmel

Here are some great thoughts from my recent Carmel Meeting.

1) Prayer is a gift from God to have access to him, 24 hours a day. (I never thought of prayer as a gift before, as an obligation, a duty, a delight- but never as an actual "gift" from God. It brings tears to my eyes to think off all the people in history of mankind who didn't get the intense access to God that I have as a Catholic.)

2) Our duty as Carmelites, under the Rule of St. Albert, is to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ. (I love that new word, "allegiance." It's more than "following" Christ, or signing Jesus songs in Church on Sunday. Allegiance to Christ is a cool concept which encourages me to step up my devotion and loyal behavior each and every day.)

3) When we start the day with morning prayer, we take the day, instead of letting the day take us.

It's very calming for me as a Mom to know that the very first thing in my day is set- my hour of personal prayer time. I don't know who is going to wake up during that hour, or how many poopy diaper changes will happen in the middle of morning prayer-- but I have certainty that I will get to pray each and every day. (That certainty is even greater when I get to attend Daily Mass). Starting off your day and ending each day totally refreshed and refilled with on the mystical love of the Holy Trinity is awesome. I fell like prayer is my soothing structure during a period of my life that is filled with the unpredictability of caring for young children.

4) The Catholic Catecism and the Carmelite Constitution are extremely similar. (St. Teresa's last words were "I am a loyal daughter of the Church!" so what else can you expect!) All the same, there is one important difference. The Catechism starts with a section on Belief, then Worship, Morality and last of all, Prayer. This means the Catholic church sees prayer as a summation of Catholic life. If you believe in the truth, worship in truth and live consistently in truth- then your whole life ends up being a prayer.

For Carmelites, prayer is at the center- the heart- of every thing that we do. We start with prayer first, which is why a section on "how to pray" is in the exact center of our Constitution.

I thought this different structure really makes sense. For me, prayer comes first. Prayer is the heart of my life. First I pray, then I can open my mind to accepting the truth of the Catechism without my own natural doubts hindering the process. First I pray, then I can experience more fully the beauty of Mass and can become attentive while sitting in my pew. It's a prayerful heart that helps me do my work of service to my husband and my children. Increased prayer time is the forces that changing my morality and my behavior. Rather than a "summation," or an end result, prayer is my path to becoming a better Catholic.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

How Poverty Helps Me to Be a Better Parent

"Evangelical poverty recognizes personal limitations and surrenders them to God with confidence in His goodness and fidelity."(OCDS Constitution, Section III)

The intersection between the virtue of Christian Poverty and Parenthood is an interesting subject. There are a wealth of studies on how "poverty" negatively affects parenting. We talk about how kids in poverty are "at risk" for all kinds of problems.

I'm starting to see, however, that Christian poverty, by which I mean a parent's "voluntary poverty for the Service of God," is a huge benefit to the child. My "choice" to be a Stay-at-home mom, for example. I choose to be obedient to God's plan for my life and as a result of that obedience, my family experiences the pinch of poverty.

We don't have money for my kid's to take Suzuki violin lessons or attend private school. At the same time, however, poverty is a virtue that brings great benefits. It's probably better for my 2 year old not to be forced into violin lessons to fulfill her Mother's dream of recreating Laura Ingell's musical domestic life.

Also, I can't imagine homeschooling or having a fourth child, if I still worked 60 hours a week. It's a paradox. By becoming poor and humble, my husband can support a family that is huge by modern American standards.

I like thinking about poverty on a spiritual level, as well as material level. On my own, I'm helpless as a mother. I yell at my kids. I terrible at teaching routine memory work, such as phonics. I forget routine dental appointments. I'm constantly leaving the house without pacifiers and extra diapers.

Yet when I'm poor, I'm also rich. By recognizing my personal limitations, I invite Jesus to do the heavy lifting in my life. As a result of being a faithful Catholic, Jesus runs my 'huge' family far better than I ever could alone.

Anyone have any similar thoughts in their own life as a Mother?

My Carmel Homework

I affectionately call Carmel my "Special Reading Group with Jesus." Remember those poor readers in fourth grade who had to have weekly meetings with the teacher at those dinky group tables in the front of the class? No matter what cheerful name the teacher came up to call the group such as "The Reading Rockets", everyone knew that this group contained only slowest kids who needed extra remedial instruction in phonics.

I feel that way about belonging to Carmel-- only now I'm happy to be identified as a "slow Christian" and someone Jesus knew at her conception would need extra remedial instruction.

The purpose of Carmel, in fact, all Third Orders, is to "deepen the Christian commitment received in baptism." Jesus totally knew that I was so clueless about how to discern and follow our common Christian call that he gives me extra help. Thus, Carmel is my "Special Reading Group Time with Jesus!"

Just like a poor reader who finally figures out the wonder of phonics, I'm constantly amazed by the insights that are simply handed out for free through Carmel meetings. Check out this line from my Carmel Homework:

"Christ is the centre of our lives and of Christian experience. There are various ways of following Jesus: all Christians must follow Him, must make Him the law for their lives and be disposed to fulfill three fundamental demands:

a) to place family ties beneath the interests of the Kingdom and Jesus himself (Mt 10:37-39; Lk 14: 25-26);
(b) to live in detachment from wealth in order to show that the arrival of the Kingdom does not depend on human means
but rather on God’s strength and the willingness of the human person before Him (Lk 14:33),and
(c) to carry the cross of accepting God’s will revealed in the mission that He has confided to each person (Lk 14:33; 9:23)."

(OCDS Constitution Section II).

Wow! Has anyone else heard about this a,b,c approach to Christianity before?

I've vaguely heard about "carrying your cross" or "detachment from the world." What does "placing the ties of family beneath Jesus himself mean?

How does that play out in my life as a wife and mother?

I've figured out that I need to go to Catholic Mass during visits to see my Protestant Parents, even when that displeases my Mother. By honoring my obligation to attend Mass each Sunday, I am placing Jesus ahead of my natural family ties.

Yet, how does this sentiment apply to life withing my own Catholic family? Does this statement meant that I should make sure to get necessary prayer time for myself, even when I nurse a newborn 24/7 in the Fall?

Anyone have any ideas?

It will be interesting to discuss this at my Carmel Meeting tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Who Is In Your Circle of Prayer Friends?

Wise words from my spiritual Mama, St. Teresa of Avila:

"A great evil it is for a soul to be alone in the midst of so many dangers. It seems to me that if I should have had someone to talk all this over with it would have helped me. . . For this reason I would counsel those who practice prayer to seek, at least in the beginning, friendship and association with other persons having the same interest. This is something most important even though the association may be only to help one another with prayers. The more of these prayers there are, the greater the gain.

Since friends are sought out for conversations and human attachments, even though these latter may not be good, so as to relax and better enjoy telling about vain pleasures, I don't know why it is not permitted that persons beginning truly to love and serve God talk with some others about their joys and trials, which all who practice prayer undergo. . . I believe that they who discuss these joys and trials for the sake of this friendship with God will benefit themselves and those who hear them, and they will come away instructed; even without understanding how, they will have instructed their friends."

(The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Vol. 1, pgs. 92-93)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Inspiring Thoughts

One of the amazing things that I discovered about praying the Liturgy of the Hours, is how fresh and modern the words of ancient Saints appear to me. God is timeless. Therefore, the deep thoughts of saints from centuries before accurately reflect struggles of my current reality.

Here's a mind-opening thought from today's reading by Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr:

"Our task is not one of producing persuasive propaganda; Christianity shows its greatness when it is hated by the world."

Wow! We are not supposed to spend our time creating persuasive propaganda! We don't have to spend our time writing slick media ads or holy screen-plays or deep blog posts. Instead, we're supposed to focus on growing in personal holiness. While we can always tell someone "the reason for our hope", as St. Peter commands, we need to balance our evangelism tasks with the realistic acceptance that true Christians will always be a small minority in the world. God set it up so that our faith shines the brightest when we are the most at odds with the surrounding pagan culture.

Deep thoughts from a man who ended his life getting chewed up by a lion!

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Praise the Lord for a fourth baby! For the last two babies, I had such worries. How could I have the strength or time to be a good Mom to more than one? This time my little one has a loaf of bread under her arm that's not so much related to extra money, but extra time.

For the past three weeks, I've been on fire with doing daily tasks to help our family's basic organization techniques. I call it "Techno-Nesting." Rather than obsess about repainting the house or actually finding a new crib that doesn't have some of its railings kicked out by my five year old, I'm over the moon excited about finishing mundane tasks on the computer. For example, my family now has a "Health Notebook" with each kids medical records, immunizations and prescriptions neatly filed and ready for the next doctor's appointment. Hurrah!

I love "igoogle docs." It feels so great to organize our favorite recipes, write out my family's Standard Operating Procedure regarding the laundry, make list after endless list and know that they'll be in one central place FOREVER!

Do you remember the scene from Erin Brockovich when the new big-time lawyers have her in a small cubicle and she's basically downloading her brain into various computer files. That's me! Only I'm so happy about it!

I picture all the things that Jon will need to know during the awful week I'm going to be out of commission after my c-section and I simply write it down in advance for him. The best part is that helping Jon, helps me. I no longer have the mental space to keep all of this "Mommy stuff" in my head. Once I write it down, I no longer have the anxiety of "forgetting" something. Of course, we'll still leave for Sunday Mass in the future without a water bottle, extra diapers or that over-due parish library book. However, I'll no longer have that nagging anxiety about misplacing papers and notes with important factual stuff like "which of my 700 user-names did I use to access my account at Sallie Mae?" One detailed "Control Journal" and that problem is gone forever.

Hip Hip Hurray for Number 4! Suddenly, I've graduated to full CEO status of my little family. A stitch in time saves nine! Everywhere I look there is tons, and tons of time to love a newborn baby. I had no idea that God truly takes care of everything in my vocation- including multiplying time for Mothers of Large Families!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Happy Anniversary

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Nine Years . . .
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five kids,
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seven moves across five states
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four dogs, two graduate degrees,
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two converted hearts, one Carmelite profession Mass,
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and I'm still happily married to the same man!

Happy Anniversary, Honey! You make every year better than the one before. I love you!