Friday, July 30, 2010

Why Math is Important

The baby's godparents are quickly establishing themselves as the most incredible godparents on the planet! Not only is the godfather already insisting on taking a full day off from his important job at the Pentagon in order to drive me and the baby home from the hospital, this week his wife dropped off three $50 gift cards to Toys R Us.

"Your kids are all so great!" Mary R. gushed. (Yes, this lady has actually sat next to my family during Daily Mass. Evidently, crawling under pews and waving various Lego creations at the Blessed Sacrament can still qualify a kid for "great" status in Mary's book.) She continued, "I don't want anyone to feel left out during all the exciting preparations for the new baby. Make sure the older Benjamin kids get some fun new things as well!"

The Toys R Us gift cards appeared on Wednesday. I took one look at my swollen belly and decided that I did NOT want to stand up for the hours that it would take a 3 year old, 5 year old, and 7 year to jointly decide how to spend the enormous sum of $50 each in a toy store. With free shipping, I easily voted to conduct all our toy shopping online.

For the past 72 hours, my house has held intense budgeting negotiations over this all important toy purchase. Maria easily agreed to my suggestions for extra food for her play kitchen. Hannah picked out a kid-friendly digital camera to use with her new blog in about 5 seconds. This has left Alex, my future engineer, a boy who is so intense that he should wear a pocket protector in the 1st grade.

Alex and I spent hours pouring over the Toys R Us website on Wednesday afternoon. Then Alex and his Dad spent additional hours talking over his toy options on Thursday night.

This morning, Alex greeted me with his final list: three drawings of various Star Wars Action figures and picture of a Plant Hoth Lego Set. "Mom, the Action Figures cost $10 each and the Planet Hoth set is $20."

"Great!" I said with relief. "Please go ahead and add your toys to our shopping cart while I finish Hannah's reading lesson. I'll be along later to fill in the gift card information for you."

When I finally made it to the computer this morning, I was surprised to find that our online shopping cart at Toys R Us contained 26 items. Alex's total bill made me laugh.


Oh, that pesky little decimal point!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Birth and Death

I discovered that I was carrying this long awaited baby at 11 AM on January 1, 2010, Our Lady's Day. At 10 PM that night, I got a call saying that my maternal grandfather had died.

After a long struggle with infertility and a miscarriage, my father's youngest brother is expecting a son on August 23rd. I've had a lot of fun comparing pregnancy stories with his wife, Amy, since I'm due with the 4th great-grandchild on August 30th.

Today, I got a call saying that my paternal grandfather, Bob Rupp, will start hospice soon for his cancer. He's declining fast.

My Papa might not be alive to see the babies.

Birth and Death. Death and Rebirth.

Our Blessed Mother, please pray for us.

Feast of St. Martha

From a sermon by Saint Augustine contained in today's Office of Reading:

"But you, Martha, if I may say so, are blessed for your good service, and for your labors you seek the reward of peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland will you find a traveler to welcome, someone hungry to feed, or thirsty to whom you may give drink, someone ill whom you could visit or quarreling whom you could reconcile, or dead whom you could bury?

No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose"

Please check out this amazing homily about St. Martha and St. Mary from fellow Third Order Carmelite, Father Dan Gallaugher.

(Father Dan has just finished his first year serving as a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Washington D. C. Our Blessed Mother is shepherding some incredible men into the Catholic priesthood. We are so blessed!)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ending My False Humility

I fell into venial sin this morning. I had a super sized temper tantrum over a mistake made by my five-year old son in front of a painting of the Sacred Heart.

You've got to love the irony of being a Catholic mother.

And the humility that comes from correcting the bad behavior of young children 24 hours a day, only to fall into the same sin yourself.

This morning I fell into a deep sleep on my living room couch at 9 AM. I got woken up by my five year old and three year old quarreling over possession rights to the DVD player.

About 10 minutes into my failed peace-keeping efforts, I noticed a smashed ring-box on my living room floor. I'd treasured that ring-box for 10 years, ever since the night of my husband's proposal. I knew my son had gotten into Mommy's special memory box last night. I hadn't realized that he'd accidentally smashed something sentimental inside.

Suddenly, it was all too much! I hated that my most precious stuff was stored under the bed because we are too poor to have a proper amount of closet space. I hated that my inquisitive five-year manages to find everything that I hide away from him. I hated my sluggish, pregnant body for failing to properly supervise my inquisitive son. Poverty, Inquisitiveness, Pregnancy. Life suddenly seemed overwhelming.

It makes no sense to scream at a five year old for breaking a sentimental ring-box that signifies the start of a beautiful marriage, when the child himself is a fruit of that sacrament.

My anger always fails to make rational sense.

I yelled at my son for being careless. I childishly stomped over to the bedroom hallway and threw a laundry basket that stood in my way. I turned around and started yelling at my son some more.

Then out of a corner of my eye, I saw a flash of red. It was my Sacred Heart of Jesus picture. My savior tapped me gently on the shoulder and reminded me of my sin. I felt ashamed to yell at a little kid in front of Jesus, yet I finished my angry sentence anyway.

Then I stomped into my bedroom to collect myself. I had to stop sinning. I asked for Mary's help.

I apologized to my son through gritted teeth and demanded that everyone put on their sandals so we could go for a walk outside. The scramble for shoes for four pairs of feet always takes a long time.

By the time we made it out to the sunshine, I wasn't gritting my teeth to keep from sinning anymore. I had true peace again in my heart.

I apologized a second time, much more sincerely, to my son. I said my Act of Contrition (my apology to God) out loud so that my children could hear me. All three of my children were instantaneous in their forgiveness of me. Alex told me that he loved me and gave me a kiss. I held my children's hands and we chatted easily about "Mommy's mistake" as we walked along the bike path.

Hannah reminded me that I'd lost my temper three years before when I thought she had lost my grandmother's engagement ring after playing in my jewelry box. "Mama, you came to my bed that night and said that you shouldn't yell at children for losing things because children are more important than jewelry."

"I totally forgot that this morning, Hannah" I said. "Maybe we could write that down somewhere so Mama won't forget again."

Hannah squeezed my hand. Then the little nun who inhabits my house shared some of her deep spiritual insight with me. "Mama, you should never yell at a kid for breaking your jewelry because we kids are your jewelry!"

"I like that," I said. "You kids are my spiritual jewelry. My best jewelry! Everything else gets left behind on earth. I can only take your souls with me up to heaven. You guys will be my sparkly jewelry up there!"

Last year, I had such a false humility about my bad temper. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I felt like a fraud for eating the Eucharist at 6:30 AM and screaming at the kids to put their shoes on faster at 9 AM the same day. I wanted to have all of my long-term venial sin struggles to be instantly wiped away the moment I became an official Carmelite.

Now I have more peace. Jesus and I are working on my habitual sin of anger. Over that past 18 months, we've made some progress. Now that I'm 8 months pregnant and exhausted all of the time, I'm dumped back at the starting gate once again.

But this time, it's different.

This time I trust God's grace. I can see him working with me.

My big brother Jesus is there as a tangible presence to warn me when I start slipping into sin. He admonishes me because he loves me.

And while I wish that I was a perfect Mother and never sinned with my children, I have more peace with my flawed human nature. I know that apologizing promptly to both the brother that I've offended and to God is an important act for my children to witness. I bless my children with my spiritual strengths and my spiritual weaknesses.

False humility is a hidden face of pride. "Why did I mess up again today? I'm already supposed to be perfect!" pride says to the heart. False humility brings up feelings of shame and despair. It can ruin an entire day.

True humility brings peace. I'm aware of the mercy I receive from God and my children. I know I don't deserve it. I'm so grateful that God is so good and that he puts such goodness into the hearts of my children.

A year ago, Mommy losing her temper at 9 AM would have signaled an awful day of tears and frustration and bitterness. This morning, by 9:15 AM, all was right with the world--even better. I took a happy walk with my children and got to savor the thought of holding hands with my "spiritual jewels."

Dear Lord,

Thank you for your merciful heart! Help me to better share your mercy with others.

Monday, July 26, 2010

It's Not All About Me

This pregnancy has caused a litany of aches and pains. Thankfully, there are no serious complications, only a list of petty annoyances which make life miserable right now.

The latest joy at my 36 week mark is called "irritation of the ribs." Picture breaking a rib during a sudden coughing fit. Then picture a little foot kicking that sore rib for the next three hours. That's the feeling I get from my rib muscles being pulled too tightly from a rapidly growing little body. Nothing serious. Nothing that can harm me or my baby. It's simply an awful experience to endure several times a day.

On Saturday, I pushed my three year old to Starbucks in the new stroller that my sister snagged at a garage sale for my expected baby. (My husband had taken our older kids to a trip to the pool while I ventured outside alone with younger set.) The 110 degree heat index didn't help my mood. However, the combination of heat and a smooth ride lulled my 3 year old to sleep instantly.

I found myself at Starbucks in an unusual moment of solitude. I sipped my ice-coffee. I read the paper. And I grumbled excessively to God about my painful left rib-cage that made it hard for me to sit down.

In the Metro section, I read a story about a couple who have started lobbying Congress for an increase in funding for cancer research after their only child died of bone cancer at the age of nine. I read placidly along, filled with ice-coffee and sympathy and prayers.

Then I reach this sad sentence: "As cradle-Catholics, the [couple] found their belief in God diminished [after their son's death.]"

That sentence hit me in the gut. It's not all about me.

My sore ribs and the frequent heartburn, and the brown circles under my eyes are not all about me. I'm not simply shortening my own time in purgatory here. I'm not simply reliving the ancient curse of Eve to suffer "pain during childbirth." I'm not simply sacrificing a pleasant summer day in order to grow a new human being.

Instead, my pregnancy pain is also a form of redemptive suffering for others.

There are real people who are cut off from the life-giving sacraments of the Catholic Church. Life hurts for them. If there is anything sadder than a seven year old child coming home with a sore arm from tennis camp only to have x-rays show there are four types of rare tumors in his bones, it's having his Mom suffering a worse spiritual death, all alone, her faith in God "diminished."

As children of Mary, we know for certain how much comfort and peace is waiting to be poured into a grieving mother's soul during the Mass, during Adoration, or during a tearful recitation of the rosary.

If I'd happily bring that grieving family a casserole, couldn't I offer up one day of a sore rib in order to reintroduce those same parents to the gentle hugs of Our Blessed Mother?

I'm not very good at enduring pain. I'm not very good at refraining from grumbling. I'm praying this week that I grow one inch bigger in my capacity to offer up redemptive suffering. There are so many poor souls on earth and in purgatory who need our prayers.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Saint for Strained Family Relations- St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Sometimes when I read about the close, spiritual bond between St. Therese the Little Flower and her saintly father, Blessed Louise Martin, I feel stabs of envy. How I'd love to experience that easy blend of natural and spiritual love in my own family of origin.

When I visited the museum of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, whose shrine in Emmitsburg, MD is practically in my backyard, I read glowing words of praise of this Saint's close relationship with her Father, Dr. Richard Bayley. Elizabeth was described as Dr. Bayley's "favorite child." She wrote warm, funny letters to her father virtually every day in her adult life. I read these facts and immediately tossed St. Elizabeth into the category of saints with "easy Father/Daughter Relationships."

Last month I picked up a delightful biography of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton titled "Mrs. Seton, Foundress of the American Sisters of Charity" by Joseph Dirvin. This book paints an intimate portrait of one of America's first saints.

I was surprised to learn that St. Elizabeth Ann Seton did not have a naturally close relationship with her Father from birth. In fact, quite the opposite.

Dr. Richard Bayley was a world famous doctor in Colonial America who was a genius at medical research and surgery. Dr. Bayley discovered a treatment to croup which cut the infant mortality in both the United States and France by 50%. He became close friends with many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He served as New York City's First Health Inspector. While helping poor immigrants in this official position he caught typhus and died.

In contrast to his great service to the sick, as a father and a husband Dr. Bayley was an utter failure. He seems to have been a "workaholic" who constantly put his medical practice ahead of his family responsibilities. As author Dirvin explains, "With all of this greatness of soul, it is puzzling and regrettable to find Richard Bayley a failure as a family man. Marriage seems to have been for him a thing of convenience, and he never seems to have grasped his responsibility as a husband and a father. (pg, 3.)"

The outcome of Dr. Bayley's career choices had devastating consequences to his second daughter, St. Elizabeth. In pursuit of his medical studies, Dr. Bayley lived across an ocean from his first wife for half of their 8 year marriage. St. Elizabeth's mother died in childbirth with their third child while Dr. Bayley voluntarily served far away as a medical officer in the British Army during the American Revolutionary War.

Dr. Bayley then remarried a second wife who took a strong dislike to the three children from his first marriage. St. Elizabeth was only 3 at the time. Yet Elizabeth's tender age failed to engage her step-mother's affections. St. Elizabeth remembered that at the age of 4, "sitting alone on a step of the door, looking at the clouds, while my little sister Catherine lay in her coffin; they ask me: Did I not cry when little Kitty was dead? No, because Kitty is gone up to heaven. I wish I could go, too, with Mama. (pg, 11.)"

When Dr. Bayley returned to England, St. Elizabeth and her older sister were sent to live with an uncle for a period of seven years. At one point, St. Elizabeth has no idea if her father was alive or dead. He had failed to write to his wife or any of his children for more than a year. St. Elizabeth hides herself in a quiet place on her uncle's farm and cried in a "gust of hysteria." She was certain that her father had "no care or concern for her."

When St. Elizabeth was 15, her father returned from England to attend the marriage of her older sister to one of his former medical students. This began a confusing period of time which the author described as St. Elizabeth's "martyrdom" from 1790-1794. St. Elizabeth leaves her uncle's home upon Dr. Bayley's return. However, she is an unwanted and unwelcomed guest at her father's and stepmother's home. From the ages of 15 to 19, St. Elizabeth is homeless. She is forced to board alternative months with her married sister and an elderly aunt. At a time when a rich Colonial Girl is expected to find a husband, St. Elizabeth finds herself begging for charity.

In the middle of this distress, a wonderful suitor enters the scene, Mr. William Seton. St. Elizabeth and William are a true love match within the upper crust of New York Society. They have five children before William Seton dies of consumption. William is responsible for giving St. Elizabeth the first true home she's had since her mother's death at age 2.

What is amazing and supernatural about this story, is that as soon as St. Elizabeth finds a home with her true love, she immediately extends hospitality to her estranged father. She invites Dr. Bayley to stop by her New York home in between his physician's house calls. Her father would drop exhausted in a chair by the fireplace and St. Elizabeth would cheerfully serve him a drink and his favorite little teacakes.

Gradually, Dr. Bayley and St. Elizabeth developed a warm Father/Daughter relationship that was denied to them during her childhood. Dr. Bayley and St. Elizabeth traded warm notes and letters. She worried about his colds and sore throats. She reminded him to not overtire himself in his work. In return, Dr. Bayley became a doting grandfather. Dr. Bayley invited St. Elizabeth and her five children to spend summers at his house on Stanton Island. Through Elizabeth's help, Dr. Bayley also repaired his estranged relationship with his oldest daughter, St. Elizabeth's natural sister. Eventually, Dr. Bayley, his two daughters, his many grandchildren and two sons-in-law enjoy happy family visits for many years.

The author describes St. Elizabeth as "her father's favorite child, the one most like him in personality and vitality." Yet I wonder if Dr. Bayley's special regard for his second daughter occurred because St. Elizabeth was the only one of his nine adult children who forgave her father fully in her heart.

I was so inspired that St. Elizabeth Ann Seton clung to her relationship to God the Father to help her during the painful misunderstandings with her earthly father. Through the beautiful virtue of hospitality, St. Elizabeth was able to reconnect as an adult to her estranged and distracted Father.

Even the end of their relationship is marked by supernatural grace. As a busy physician, Dr. Bayley never had time for religion. However, Dr. Bayley dies after serving the poor in the arms of his daughter, a future Saint, who urges her Dad to unite his suffering to Christ and utter the saving name of Jesus Christ.

A naturally close Father/Daughter relationship from birth like St. Therese and Blessed Louis Martin is something to envy. However, the supernatural Father/Daughter reconciliation of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and her father, Dr. Bayley, is something to admire and copy.

(Experts taken from Dirvin, Joseph, C.M. "Mrs. Seton: Foundress of the American Sisters of Charity," Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, New York, 1962.)

Be Thou My Vision

I never understood before why choir was one of my favorite classes in Middle School. Now I see that choir was one of the few places in public school where it was okay to talk about God. Here is one of my favorite hymns from Middle School Chorus. I sing it now as a lullaby to my children. I hope I start to live out the truth of these beautiful lyrics in my own life soon. Enjoy!

Sung by David Arkenstone: Celtic Hymns

Ancient Irish hymn, possibly from the 8th Century, tr. by Mary E. Byrne

1.Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

2. Be Thou my Wisdom, Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee, Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

3. Be Thou my battle-shield, sword for my fight,
Be Thou my dignity, Thou my delight.
Thou my soul's shelter, Thou my high tower.
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

4. Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

5. High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven's joys, O bright heav'ns Son!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O ruler of all.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Movie Goer: North & South Ending

Just what every pregnant girl needs! A little historical romance flick to remember why she got herself 35 weeks pregnant in the heat of summer in the first place. True love rules!

This is from the excellent BBC miniseries "North and South". The backdrop to this story is the Industrial Mill town of Manchester, England in the Victorian Era.

In this scene, I love how the heroine gets off a train headed to an easy life in London and gets on the hero's train to a rougher life in Manchester instead. In real life, I feel like I made the same metaphorical life's "train switch" to join my husband in his car.

Check out this series for free on Instant Netflix downloads or Youtube. (Note: this series is different from the US Civil War drama with the same title).

Monday, July 19, 2010

Humor at the Doctor's Office

After my first needle poke in the lab today, I stopped by my Doctor's office for my RhoGAM Shot. (I've got Rh Negative Blood. Therefore, I need a special medicine to prevent my body from making antibodies if my baby ends up inheriting her father's Rh Positive blood type. I got one shot today as a precaution before my labor and delivery. Then they will test baby's blood type at her birth. If the baby is Rh Positive, I'll receive a second RhoGAm shot during my hospital stay.)

I had the funniest exchange with the nurse who administered my RhoGAM injection.

For some reason, the nurse keyed into the fact that I've had three previous children who all inherited their Dad's positive blood type. This struck her as horribly unfair.

For five minutes my nurse kept saying "Maybe this baby will finally be the one that inherits your blood type instead of your husband's blood type. Wouldn't that be great? Then you'd be SPARED a second RhoGAM shot. Don't you wish that could happen? Don't you hope for at least one of your children to be Rh Negative? I'll be hoping for your sake, Mrs. Benjamin. I'll be hoping!"

During this whole conversation, I couldn't speak. I stared at this woman in a surreal state of disbelief.

I'm having another c-section for this child. Of all of the physical discomfort that will accompany my three day hospital stay, the pain from a second RhoGAM shot is so tiny. It's laughable to be so concerned about my reception of an "extra" RhoGAM shot when I'll suffer so many harder trials as a new mother to this precious baby.

The whole conversation over my RhoGAM injection just seemed so ironic!

He Cares for Us in the Little Things

Today is the vigil before the Feast of Elijah the Prophet. Elijah is a big hero to us Carmelites. On Mount Carmel, Elijah proved the God of Israel was the one, true God by calling down fire from heaven to the astonishment of 400 + prophets of Baal. In the 12th Century, European pilgrims moved to Holy Land and established hermitages near the Spring of Elijah on Mount Carmel. These holy men wanted to live their life "fully in the presence of God" and grow in prayer like their beloved hero Elijah. The name "Carmelite" comes from the Order's original location on Mount Carmel.

So the Feast of Elijah is a big day for Carmelites. We're supposed to fast the day before the feast in order to prepare our hearts for greater prayer. On Sunday, I asked my group leader how pregnant Mamas were supposed to observe the fast. He said "I'd recommend that you don't fast at all." Another nursing mother consoled me that we could at least give up candy and sweets as a partial fast.

I felt sad. I learned about this pregnancy on January 1st. So in 2010, I'd already missed all the big fasting days in Lent. Now I'd have to opt out of another important Carmelite fast in July. I miss fasting. There is nothing like "feeling" focused and prayerful during a long, hard fast. (I probably couldn't have said that last year but there is something about pregnancy that highlights the ordinary things in life that I tend to take for granted.)

On the way home, I told my husband about my small sorrow. He reminded me that I had my 3 hour blood sugar screening scheduled for Monday.

I couldn't believe it! On an important Vigil Day, I had a medical reason to fast from food and drink for 12 hours while I got my blood drawn to screen for gestational diabetes.

I don't think there's ever been a pregnant woman who has been more happy to spend 3 hours in a lab getting her blood drawn with repeated needle sticks. Today, I spent all morning alone in the lab. (A rare moment of quiet). I read my Carmel homework. I prayed. I had an actual medical reason to fast on Elijah's vigil, just like all my Carmelite brothers and Sisters all around the world.

God is so good! He takes care of all the little details and makes the lives of his daughters truly happy.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Choosing the Better Part

Jesus Visits Martha and Mary
Luke 10-38-41

"Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her."

Listening to this Scripture passage during Mass today made me glow. How consoling are the Lord's words: "Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her."

I've received many chastisements from the Martha's of the World as I enter more fully into my Carmelite vocation. One Catholic friend stopped talking to me completely because she thought my pursuit of a Carmelite vocation at this time was irresponsible. "Of course, everyone is supposed to pray" she said. "But a mother's place is doing the dishes. Mothers of very young children shouldn't neglect them in order to pray for 30 minutes a day."

It's a modern day problem. The Marthas are still angry at the Marys.

Yet Jesus rebukes Martha. He doesn't say, "well there are two ways to serve God, the contemplative and the active. You go your way and let your sister go her way." He say's clearly "Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."

My husband and I talked about this scene during our drive to our Carmel meeting today. There is Jesus, the Son of God, sharing delightful truths about heaven. Everyone around him immediately stop their daily tasks. They listen to the Son of God in amazement, in rapture.

Then there's Martha. She's worried about overcooked lentils and unwashed napkins. So Martha walks up to the Savior of the World and stops his speech mid-sentance. "Tell my lazy Sister Mary to get over here and HELP ME!"

Martha's totally convinced that she's the one in the right. She's the ONLY one acting like a proper hostess. The time has come for Jesus to tell Mary to stop wasting her time mooning all over him and to get busy cooking his supper.

Meanwhile, in her fury, Martha interrupts the Savior of the World while he is preaching!

Jesus loves Martha, so he admonishes Martha's sin.

"Mary has chosen the better part."

Today at Mass the word "chosen" leapt out at me. "Chosen." Sitting still and listening to the soft whisper of God in your heart is a choice. You're not lazy for neglecting the housework for thirty minutes in order to listen carefully to Jesus. You're consciously choosing the better part.

Prayer takes time. Today, I attended my monthly Carmel meeting with my husband. As a result, we ate frozen pizza for dinner and I'm still working on the smelly laundry at 8:30 PM at night. Yet because I took time out to be with God, I'm doing our family's wash with greater joy. I came back from my mini-retreat with peace and clarity. I returned from Carmel with a great devotion to my vocation as a wife and a mother.

There's a right balance between listening intently to the Lord and serving him by making his dinner. Mary, the Sister of Lazarus, and Mary the Mother of God, both demonstrate this "better way." First we listen to the Lord, then we do whatever he tells us to do.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

This Could be Why My Home is Currently Devoid of Any Pretty Extras from the Pottery Barn Catalog

A stunning sentence from my Carmel homework today,

"Prayer and comfortable living are incompatible."


A strong word choice from the Carmelite Constitution to highlight the necessity of penance in the average Catholic girl's life.

(And here I'd hoped to skate up to the glory of spiritual marriage based on the mere discomfort of five pregnancies alone!)

Friday, July 16, 2010

That's One Way to Get Up for Morning Prayer!

My husband and I had a sleepy start to our great Carmelite feast this morning.

Our alarm went off at 5:00 AM and we both complained about achy joints and sore eyes. For a few minutes we debated whether to sleep in for another half an hour or rouse ourselves immediately to start our Morning Prayer routine.

Then an earthquake got us out of bed in a hurry!

It was crazy. I've never been in an earthquake before. Washington D.C. is not known for being an earthquake zone.

Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

"On this Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, let us all be Carmelized!

Carmel is a place of God's Triumph. Carmel is a place where God builds community. Carmel is a holy place.

What makes a place holy? A place becomes holy if it is visited by God. Let us make our own lives holy. Let us invite God to visit our lives and transform them into a holy place by his grace."

-from Father Willy's homily
July 16, 2010

Happy Carmelite Feast Day everyone! Hurrah for the Brown Scapular!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Baptism of Newborn

Has anyone else run into trouble trying to schedule a baptism for a newborn?

We belong to a large city parish. Our church schedules baptisms only twice a month in a small chapel outside of regular Sunday Mass. The earliest baptism date I can get in September will occur when my baby is over two weeks old.

I asked if there was any flexibility to schedule a private baptism with one of our many parish priests. The secretary told me that most parents wait until the baby is 2 to 3 months old before they baptize. She hinted that I was a little nuts for worrying about a baptism before my child was even born.(At my last daughter's baptism at this same parish the Deacon told me he never sees baby's under one year.)

I'm pretty sure that this "common" practice in my parish is against Cannon law. We're supposed to get baby's baptized within the few weeks after birth. I feel like I saw something from our Pope which recommended not waiting longer than 10 days after birth.

Canon 867
§ 1: Parents are obliged to see to it that infants are baptized within the first weeks after birth; as soon as possible after the birth, or even before it, parents are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared for it properly.

In addition, my parish prints a very unfriendly notice in the church bulletin which states "you must be a parish member for the past 6 months before baptizing your child." Everyone in my community works for the government and the turn-over for jobs is super high. I can't imagine telling a couple that newly relocates to D.C.while the wife is pregnant- "Sorry you need to wait six months to baptize your child." Can't there be some exception if you provide a letter from your old parish stating that you're a Catholic in good standing? Do we really want to raise extra barriers to this extremely important sacrament?

Baptism is so critical. I feel like I'm supposed to say something politely to my pastor about this subtle discouragement of newborn baptisms, but not sure what to say. Anyone have any ideas?

St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

We Have A Date to Meet Our Baby!

St. Rose of Lima, pray for us!

The nurse called this morning with a c-section date for me, August 30, 2010! We'll get to meet our little daughter on the Feast of St. Rose of Lima (if not beforehand). So nice to have a firm end date for this pregnancy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Theology of Housework

One of the most dangerous books that
I read in college was "The Second Shift," by Arlie Hochschild.

I read it in one astonished swallow in the beau parlor of my freshman dorm on a lazy Saturday morning. Hochschild was a sociologist who observed fifty married couples in San Francisco in the late 1980s. After hours of observations, Hochschild concluded that despite the feminist revolution of the 1970s, most working wives are still responsible for the majority of housekeeping task at home. This "extra" housework constitutes a six to eight hour "Second Shift" that most women work after they return home from paid employment.

At age eighteen, I was "domestically impaired" and had a strong bias against marriage and babies in general. I wasn't certain that I wanted to lose my last name and merge my identity with some boy. Babies frightened me. Housework filled me with dread.

Despite Hochschild's grim statistics, I decided that I would NOT spend more hours than my future husband scrubbing mold out of the bathtub. I'd insist on equality. I'd use my extra free time doing much more worthwhile activities such as Chairing a Volunteer Mitten Drive for the Homeless, Tutoring A Special Needs Child, Writing a Novel in a Hip Coffeehouse or watching reruns of old M.A.S.H. episodes.

I made a solemn vow to myself after finishing the stark conclusion of "The Second Shift." If I ever got married and if we ever had kids,then I would insist that my husband split the housework with me 50-50.

God has a good sense of humor! I grew up as a feckless diva in a house filled with dust mites and a shortage of clean towels since both my parents were absent-minded and messy professors. Meanwhile, my beloved grew up in a house where the living room floor wasn't considered habitable unless it had clear vacuum marks on the carpet. (My husband's mother, sister, and grandmother were all professional housekeepers at his grandfather's hotel on the beach.)

I married my complete opposite in the home-maintenance department.

As a newlywed, my husband mopped the wood floors with our baby smiling in a backpack above his head. He fed me vegetable stir-fry each night for dinner. Gradually, I learned to stop flinging receipts and credit card bills all over our bedroom floor and file them in neat folders instead. Still, I kept my solemn housekeeping vow- with a twist. I did all the laundry for the family. Meanwhile, my husband handled 95% of all other domestic chores.

At 28, I found myself with a husband and a baby. I had an office with a view of the Ohio River and my name on the company letterhead. I had a husband who cleaned my house, planted broccoli in the vegetable garden, played tickle monster with our daughter and painted with oils on the side porch.

I had a life that would have made Arlie Hochschild proud.

There was only one problem.

I felt miserable.

One Lent, I broke down in tears inside the confessional. "I hate my clients," I said. "Every time someone comes into my office with a new legal problem I feel so much resentment and anger towards them. Every new case that I open means more time away from my nine month old daughter."

The priest spoke gentle words that surprised my soul. "God made a mother's heart and a baby's heart to need each other. If you feel so much grief about missing your baby, why not quit your job?"

I took that advice to heart. At 30, I found myself a non-working, stay-at-home mother of an 18 month old daughter and a newborn son. God dumped me straight into the traditional role of wife and mother that I'd earnestly avoided for over a decade.

I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed my new job. I discovered how easy it was to be at home with my babies every day. I loved having conversations about art, religion and philosophy with my husband each night instead of always rehashing the stressful events from the office. I joined a choir for the first time since Junior High. I started writing again for the first time since age 10. I taught myself how to make chocolate eclairs. I took afternoon walks by the lake and started to attend Daily Mass.

I loved almost everything about stay-at-home motherhood.

Finding my inner joy as a housewife, however, took another five long years.

As an overwhelmed and incompetent housewife, I read many articles about "quick ways to clean" and "how to run your home like a CEO." None of this advice helped.

The only thing that helped convert my heart was prayer.

Slowly, I learned the theology behind housework.

I realized that I couldn't incorporate Helpful Heloise Hints or Fly Lady Suggestions until I first corrected my attitude towards housework. I needed to answer the basic "why" of housework before I could embrace my domestic chores with a cheerful smile and willing spirit.

Here's my humble list of five things that I learned on my spiritual journey.

1. All work is for the Glory of God
My distaste for housework came from a major case of pride (self-love). I thought there were there were important things that you did for God (such as volunteer at soup kitchens) and important things you did for your children (read Oliva 100 times a day or visit the Smithsonian.) Since domestic work was lowly, repetitive, and "simple" my sole objective was to fly though my tasks as quickly as possible to get onto the really important stuff in my day.

Reading about St. Therese of Lisieux's joy at "picking up a pin for the Love of God" in her "Story of a Soul" rattled my complacency towards housework. God does not desire big actions from us. Most of us are not called to leap into flaming volcanoes as martyrs for the Faith. Instead, God desires many small sacrifices done with great love.

I started to think about my two Teresas (St. Therese and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta) while I puttered around my house. Gradually, I started to redefine hated chores such as picking up legos, washing poopy underwear, matching pairs of socks, as many small acts of Love for my children. I started to say a prayer before each task, "Lord, Let me bless Alex by this action".

Prayer changed my heart. I realized that I told my husband and my son that I loved them each day. Housework was a chance to demonstrate my love in a visual way. If I gathered all 700 legos from under the living room sofa and returning them neatly to the lego box under my son's, then both Father and Son would be delighted to find all the undersea legos eagerly waiting to be turned into an imaginative drama on Saturday.

2. Adopt a Saint for Each Hard Task
One of my least favorite chores is to pre-wash poopy underwear before tossing the smelly load into the washing machine. One morning, I remembered that St. Clare of Assisi is the patron saint of laundry. As I did my dreaded task, I started talking to St. Clare in my mind.

I imaged how delighted St. Clare would be to trade places with me for a moment. This golden saint, the one so dedicated to the Eucharist, washed St. Francis grimy habit with joy. Surely, she'd do the same for my son's smelly underwear. I asked St. Clare to lend me her joy for laundry. I started talking to her in my mind. This great Nun reminded me how privileged I was to serve a child of God, what a limited amount of time I had for work on this earth, and how I couldn't imagine what glory a joyful woman washing brought to the Lord in heaven.

Matching up household tasks with an individual Saint brings great joy. I'm a chatterbox by nature. Praying to the Saints while I do my domestic chores means that I'm never at a loss for good company. I pray to St. Martha in the kitchen, St. Zita whenever I'm feeling overwhelmed, and St. Martin de Porres while I'm cleaning toilets. For some strange reason, I also pray to St. Bernadette whenever I vacuum.

3. Practice Penance The concept of "offering up" disliked chores is valuable. One day, I felt super stressed about how our Secretary of State was handling the peace process in Israel. I couldn't do much. Still, I found the most overwhelming task in my house and offered it all up to God in order to help. Afterwards, I just laughed. There are many, many people who might receive credit in the New York Times if peace is ever declared in the Middle East. Yet only God knows the hidden part this Carmelite played!

4. Accept all interruptions gracefully
Once I started taking housework seriously, I immediately became super agitated over any interruptions. Anyone who has small children in the house knows that it's virtually impossible to accomplish a task from start to finish without multiple interruptions from small people. In fact, it's easy to get discourage that nothing ever gets checked of the "to do" list.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton gave excellent advice to her Sisters of Charity "Do all things With God, For God, and For As Long as God wills." In a nutshell, that means deal with interruptions to your task with grace and humility. You should never be discontent to leave your spinning in order to attend to a crying, small child. Both spinning and consoling children are work for God. What do you care if God wants you to stop one task and attend to another one?

Thanks to St. Elizabeth's wise counsel, I stopped defining my work as a housewife as one of "production." My job was not to get X number of loads of laundry done a day or bake X number of pie-crusts from scratch. My job was to respond with love to the needs of my family. If I had a calm day and got caught up on the laundry, great. If quarreling kids caused my detailed chore chart to get tossed into the trashcan, then my new job was to loving teach an emergency crash-course in Advanced Placement Socialization to the elementary school set.

5. Adopt the Concept of Spiritual Motherhood
On the door of my fridge is a photograph with all the seminarians of my diocese and my beloved Archbishop. I can see this happy photo across my living room. The love that I have for Seminarians, Priests, and Bishops is so intense. On the hard days, I look across at the smiling faces of those blessed men and feel so consoled. Everything that I do in my hidden, humble home helps those priests build up the kingdom of God. Just as Mary prayed for Jesus and the Apostles, every Catholic housewife can pray for Priests to become Fishers of Men. Having a clear conception of Spiritual Motherhood gives a solid purpose to each action in the home, no matter how hidden or how mundane.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Elijah fed by Ravens 1620, Guercino

So wonderful to read about my beloved Elijah in the Daily Office today. He's the ancient model for the whole Carmelite order.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

There's No Nest Like An Old Nest, for a New Bird!

There's an Italian saying "Every baby comes with a loaf of bread under it's arm!"

Our newest baby came with a complete home make-over! In the past four weeks, our humble apartment received a huge assortment of free gifts from our apartment manager, our neighbors and our family. We received new carpet, a fresh coat of paint, two couches, four dining room chairs, three sets of new curtains, three side tables, and two lamps. My mom even found a $600 inheritance made up entirely of rolls of quarters that my grandmother had left me over 10 years ago. We used my "surprise" inheritance to buy a new computer.

God is so good! He uses many helping hands to bless his faithful ones. He's especially kind to nesting pregnant ladies!




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New Couch
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7 more weeks!

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Waiting at the Bus Stop

Hannah age 7
Alex age 5
Maria age 3

(I need a new baby because my "little ones" are now so big!)

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Change in Seasons

I've lived in Washington D.C. for five years. I finally figured out that there is this thing called "air pollution."

For the past five summers, my family has suffered from clogged sinuses, itchy red eyes, sore throats, achy joints, total exhaustion and the general feeling that a mack truck has run over one's body.

I thought it was just allergies. I raised my fist at the innocent cherry blossom trees in total frustration. I blamed the moldy leaves in the Fall and the acres of budding tulips in the Spring.

It turns out, all our symptoms are a result of the air pollution.

Washington D.C. has this rating system called the "air pollution grid" which is a range of colors from green to purple. When the air pollution is at a safe level (a green or yellow day) everyone in my family feels cheerful and mild. When it's Orange (a dangerous level of air pollution for sensitive groups), each of us feels grouchy and miserable. One a red level day (a dangerous level for everyone!) my family feels awful! My kids start start throwing punches and climb the walls. I start to loose my temper at the drop of a pin. My husband wakes up with purple circles under his eyes and suddenly needs 8 cups of coffee before 11 AM. (I've never had an "extremely dangerous" purple day yet, and hope I never see one!)

Since we discovered our city's air pollution index, we've made a strange reversal in seasons.

My husband and I met each other at school in Wisconsin. Up North, the winters are harsh and the cool summers are glorious. Everyone spends 3 months soaking up the sunshine. Even on week days, people garden, ride their bikes around the lake, or go on long canoe rides.

Here in D.C., the winters are mild and the summers are awful. Each morning, I check out the air pollution forecast. On Orange days, I keep my kids inside and my husband rides a bus instead of biking to work. Keeping everyone's exposure during high air pollution days has already made a big difference in the intensity of our symptoms.

It's odd because I thought that insuring that your kids get lots of "fresh air" and exercise time outdoors proved that you were a good mother.

It's ironic that our sensitive bodies make us suffer so much for the "social sin" of air pollution, meanwhile our family's carbon footprint is practically zero since we didn't own and car and use low-emission public transportation.

It feels strange to have cabin fever in the middle of July. We're in the middle of a heat wave and a bad air pollution wave. For the past week, the kids and I have stayed indoors. I made batches of cookies. We painted sea shells. We play imaginary games involving Transformers, plastic cupcakes, and checker boards.

It feels totally weird to keep my kids house bound while the sunshine streams through my bay window.

I have to keep reminding myself that in the South, "summer is the new winter!"

Monday, July 5, 2010

Me and Shimmy B.

Baby Number Four has greatly accelerated my husband and my spiritual journey up Mount Carmel.

These beautiful changes in our spiritual life have angered a lot of people. I rearranged my apartment this weekend and placed a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by my front door. I discovered that nothing makes some people madder than to have the compassionate face of Christ greet them at the door. Who knew that one antique portrait could cause so much strife?

Since I have a strong tendency towards vanity and people-pleasing, Our Dad in Heaven has gently prepared these rejection experiences. Over the last few months my prayer conversations have consisted mostly of my duty to "rejoice" whenever I'm called names on behalf of Christ, how all insults greatly "profit my soul", and how I have a Christian duty "to not hold a grudge."

The Word of God is transforming--slowly. Yet nothing has before has clicked like Today's "Office of the Readings" story of Shimei the Benjaminite. (I've nicknamed him "Shimmy B." in my mind. Notice how that vivid Benjamin clan is all over the Old Testament!)

The Scripture reading occurs as King David flees from the murderous wrath of his son into the desert and runs into this trying test of his patience. (2nd Samuel 15:71-14,24-30,16:5-13)

As David was approaching Bahurim, a man named Shimei, the son of Gera of the same clan as Saul's family, was coming out of the place, cursing as he came. He threw stones at David and all the king's officers, even though all the soldiers, including the royal guard, were on David's right and on his left. Shimei was saying as he cursed; "Away, away, you murderous and wicked man! The Lord has requited you for all the bloodshed in the family of Saul, in whose stead you became king, and the Lord has given over the kingdom to your son Absalom. And now you suffer ruin because you are a murderer.

Abishai, son of Zeruiah, said to the king; "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the King. Let me go over, please, and lop off his head." But the king replied: "What business is it of mine or of yours, son of Zeruiah, that he curses? Supposed the Lord has told him to curse David; who then will dare say, "Why are you doing this?" Then the king said to Abishai and all of his servants: "If my own son, who came forth from my loins, is seeking my life, how much more might this Benjaminite do so? Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. Perhaps, the Lord will look upon my affliction and make it up to me with benefits for the curses he is uttering this day."

David and his men continued on the road, while Shimei kept abreast of them on the hillside, all the while cursing and throwing stone and dirt as he went.


A little background information: King David was a murderer. He sinned with Bathsheba and had her husband murdered to cover up his adultery. Yet King David also gave us a beautiful model of repentance. When the prophet Nathan came to admonish the king for his sins, King David did not respond like the later King Herod and chop off Nathan's head. Instead, King David had a humble, and contrite heart. He told God he was sorry. The prophet Nathan told King David that he was forgiven and that he would live. However, he'd still suffer the punishment of having a son rebel and commit sins with King David's wives.

So at this point in the story, God and King David are on good terms. King David is submitting to the punishment of his great mortal sins in an obedient and humble fashion. God is very pleased with his servant, King David.

Absalom's rebellion had NOTHING to do with Saul's death. In fact, calling King David the murderer of Saul is a blatant lie. Saul was the crazy, jealous one who repeatedly tried to kill his faithful servant David. David did nothing but forgive Saul and protect his life. Later on, in the midst of a defeat on the battlefield, Saul tried to commit suicide himself, and later requested that another solider finish the deed with a mercy killing. That solider came to David to boast of his deed and expected to receive a big reward. Instead, David was so upset about the act that he punished the solider with the death penalty. "No one has the right to kill one of God's anointed kings," was David's life long motto.

So Shimmy B.'s personal attack with curses, rock and dirt throwing is totally unfair. The Head Guard responds, as I'm want to do, to this injustice with the comment "this isn't right, let me lop of his head!"

Yet King David extends mercy to Shimmy B. The king orders his soldiers and everyone in his household to extend mercy as well. "Leave justice up to the Lord!" King David announces. We are going to sit here and suffer these insults with humility and patience. We are not going to respond. We are not going to have revenge. We're going to suffer the slings of insults and dirt throwing for as long as it takes. Why are we doing this hard thing? Because the Lord is permitting this suffering and the Lord will bring some benefit to our souls for our afflictions this day."

Pretty cool story, right?

Hannie, my brilliant seven year old theologian, asked an interesting question when we read this passage at the breakfast table. "Why did Shimmy B. keep following King David out into the desert? It's hot out there! Did he bring some water with him?"

Hannie's question is an interesting one. The fact that Shimmy B. kept harassing the King is an important detail.

Why would you follow a person far out into the desert to keep throwing rocks at them? What if the mercy of King David infuriated Shimmy B. further? What if he kept saying to himself, "Who does this guy think he is! I know he's really a jerk and a hypocrite. If I just throw one more rock at his royal robe, if I utter just the right curse word, then King David will show his true colors at last! The King will stop this fake piety show and act like the bloodthirsty murderer I know that he is!"

So my second question is, What happened after Shimmy B. returned home? How does he explain what he did all day to his wife? "Sorry, I'm late for dinner tonight, honey. I spent all day throwing rocks at King David."

What if his wife gasped in horror? "Are you hurt? Did the Captain of the King's Guard do anything to you?"

"Um, actually King David took everything on the chin," Shimmy B. would be forced to admit. He told all his guards not to hurt me. No one responded to me at all actually." Then Shimmy B. will have to admit in his heart that King David failed to respond to his insults with anger. King David showed superhuman strength and extended the virtue of mercy. Is there a better way to convert the heart of your enemy than to model the Mercy of Jesus Christ?

Starting today, I've stopped praying for the rock throwing at my Catholic faith to end. Instead, I'm inspired to start looking at these "rejection experiences" as a chance to exercise the virtue of Mercy.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

God Bless America

I'd like to introduce you to some patriots not listed in the history books- the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration of Washington D.C. Thirty years ago, these Sisters moved from Ohio to D.C. in order to be a constant presence of intercessory prayer for America, especially for our National Government.

Things in our country would be so much worse if we didn't have these lovely Brides of Christ constantly urging Jesus to have Mercy on our Country. Thank you Sisters!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I Wanna Be a Tree

I found myself in a tense and chaotic social situation today.

Due to my anxiety problem, I usually experience serious tension as a lack of oxygen. My airways get tense and constrict. There are people and situations that I've encountered in the past where I felt like a gasping guppy suddenly pulled out of its fish tank.

Our Lord explained my suffering to me once in Adoration as a type of Spiritual Asthma. So I took St. Bernadette as my patron saint in this area.

Pregnancy is a state of heightened anxiety for almost every woman. In past, I've had to be super conscious of preforming the little anti-anxiety tricks that I learned in therapy with each and every baby.

This pregnancy, however, is totally different. I think it's Carmel. My daily prayer routine has all the "scientific" anti-anxiety tricks built right into it. In addition, I have all the reassurance and grace inherent in our Catholic faith.

Today, I noticed the huge difference that Carmel has made in my life. I encountered a tense, chaotic social situation while being exhausted, sore, and seven months pregnant.

It was no big deal! I was totally fine! I breathed easy. I practiced the virtues of Silence and Prayer. I felt content to be "the boring one", "the wallflower", the helpless infant who simply referred all the big stuff directly to God.

I decided that I want more of this feeling.

I wanna be a tree.

A tree is the opposite of most people. People breathe in pure Oxygen and breathe out C02. I want to breathe in the waste gases of C02 and breathe out more Oxygen for others.

I'd like to be someone who breathes in chaos, worries, and tension and breathes out prayer, hope and love.

I aspire to be the still potted plant in the room that makes everyone else breathe easier.

Right now, I'm only a tiny sapling. I'm sure that my current spiritual oxygen export could barely be measured. That's okay. Whether I stay the spiritual size of a sapling or grow into a mighty oak is all of God's doing, not mine. It's the intention in my heart that counts.

I like the "Be a Tree" principle.

One day, I'd like to hear my Father in Heaven say "everyone in the room breathes easier whenever Abigail is present."