Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"The Present is the point at which time touches eternity"

Hi, everyone! Abby's friend Jen here again. Abby asked me to do a guest post summarizing her birth story. I wasn't able to take notes while we talked, so I hope I got this all right. I'll do my best!

When I talked to Abigail yesterday, she sounded like a different person than she did just a few days before. As you probably know from reading her posts about feeling like she's offending people by breathing or having her childcare arrangements for while she's in the hospital fall through, she was having a tough time leading up to the baby's birth.

But yesterday she sounded joyful. Actually, a better description might be to say that she sounded victorious. The day of her fourth c-section was when the spiritual and metal battle that she'd been fighting for nine months finally came to a head, and the way she handled it was a shining example of how to stay spiritually strong even when you're plunged into a situation that triggers all your anxieties and fears.

"I will bless the Lord either way"

My impression is that the turning point came at 4:00 AM yesterday, the day of her surgery. Abigail woke up and couldn't go back to sleep. She was harassed by those same thoughts that had been plaguing her for days:

The baby's not going to make it.

She's already gone.

You're not going to make it either.

Though she didn't spell this out, it seemed to me that it was at that moment, in the pre-dawn darkness, that she suddenly realized that these thoughts were simply temptations to give in to despair. Every time that she'd indulged them in the past, following the trail of "What-If Worst Case Scenarios", she drifted a little further away from God. But this time she fought back. Her simple response to each of these thoughts was:

I will bless the Lord either way.

Even if all those worries did come to pass, she would still cling to Jesus. She would still thank God for his goodness. That response had a neutralizing effect on those acerbic whispers that had troubled her for so long.

"Let's just try, and leave the outcome up to God"

She and Jon left the apartment a little later than expected, so Abigail figured that they already missed the bus to get to Mass before going to the hospital. Jon suggested that they at least try: maybe they wouldn't be able to make it, but if they didn't at least give it a shot, they weren't even giving God the opportunity to work something out. Sure enough, the bus they needed to take was late, and they arrived at the church just in time.

(Abigail did note that they got a lot of funny looks riding on the bus with her so pregnant and carrying an empty car seat.)

"This is my work"

They called a taxi to get from the church to the hospital, and the skilled driver navigated them around all the rush hour traffic. Abigail got checked in so early that she and Jon were able to say their full morning prayers together in a silent room.

While they waited to be taken into the surgery room, she says she felt waves of panic come over her, but, through prayer, they'd eventually subside. She thought of it like contractions in labor: you have to just push through the intense parts, and know that they'll be followed by rest.

When she faced those moments of anxiety, Jon pointed out that this was her work for today: She was to undergo the surgery to have her long-awaited baby, and unite her suffering with the suffering of Christ on the cross for the salvation of souls. She had a cheerfully resigned tone when she recounted the words she kept repeating to herself as the big moment neared: "This is my work for today!" This was the special task that God had picked out for her, and she'd do her best to embrace it.

"Stay in the now"

Then it was time for her and Jon to separate (he would only be able to return right before the baby was born), and she was led into the freezing, bright operating room, where the arms of the table were spread out Dead Man Walking style. It was tempting to panic. She had so much to fear: the physical pain, her doctors' warnings about the possibility of an emergency hysterectomy, the judgment of the medical staff (who'd already made some comments about this being her fourth c-section), the worry about the recovery, the baby, the money, the size of their apartment.

She clutched her rosary beads as an outward expression of her inner clinging to God. A surgeon's assistant walked in, and she expected that he'd tell her she couldn't keep them; instead, he pointed to them and said, "That's good. Hold on to those."

She defeated the temptation to panic by staying in the "now." The way Abigail described it, it reminded me of a post I recently read by Anna Mitchell where she quoted C.S. Lewis to point out that the future is least like eternity. It's made of unrealities. "For the Present," Lewis writes, "is the point at which time touches eternity."

If I had to choose one theme for the spiritual victory that Abigail wrought that day, it would be that: to stay in the now. Praise the Lord right here, right now. Turn to him with your joys and sorrows and concerns that come from whatever is happening to you at this moment -- not what you fear might happen to you later.

"Our 'extra' baby"

The surgery went great, and the doctor even commented that Abigail was easily in good enough shape to have future c-sections. The joy poured through the phone as she described the moment she and Jon first saw little Teresa. All throughout the pregnancy they'd heard plenty of critical comments about having a baby, especially since they already had three other children. "What's the point?" the society around them seemed to ask. When they looked at the world's newest human being with her little blond curls, they knew the answer.

Abigail will probably take a week or two off as she gets used to life with her new little one. I know she looks forward to updating you soon.

Monday, August 30, 2010

She's here!

Abigail's friend Jen Fulwiler here to update you with the joyous news:

Teresa Benjamin came into the world at 11:42am, weighing in at 8 lb. 8 oz. Mom and baby are both doing great -- and Teresa even has little blonde curls!

If you wanted to leave Abigail a note of prayer or encouragement, I know she'd really appreciate it.

Welcome to the world, Teresa!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Slew of Sacraments

In the past 12 hours, I've received 3 sacraments: Confession, Communion and the Sacrament of the Sick.

The Sacrament of the Sick was especially sweet. I got blessed by a priest from Romania. (One of the joys of living in Washington D.C. is that we get to hear homilies by the best priests around the whole world at our own regular parish Masses. Priests come to get PhDs at Catholic University and our Archbishop assigns them to celebrate Mass at local parishes on the weekends.)

The Sacristan couldn't find the find the right prayer book, so Jon and I had a lot of time to chat with Father about his experiences growing up as a Roman Catholic under a Communist Regime. His history was so fascinating.

The Sacristan actually never found the book, so I received the majority of this Sacrament in the priest's native Romanian. I'm sure God didn't mind. It will be a funny story to tell my daughter in the future. I'll laugh if she announces one day that she wants to study abroad for a semester in Romania in 20 years.

My Carmelite sisters organized a beautiful prayer session in front of the Blessed Sacrament at 2 pm. The baby hadn't moved all day. As soon as I sat down during Adoration, she started dancing around like crazy. I ended up having to stand for a while in the back because her little kicks were so strong.

This was my first time being blessed by a priest with the new Catholic pregnancy prayers. The prayers were so powerful. I wish I had done this blessing earlier in my pregnancy, because they helped clarify how motherhood is so closely aligned with the Sacrament of Baptism. I now see my pregnancy and the baby's birth as being part of one single thread to the beautiful Sacrament of Baptism.

I highly recommend that all pregnant gals contact their local parish priest and request this new "blessing of pregnant mothers and their babies" as soon as possible. This prayer service (and the graces from the Sacrament of the Sick) greatly relieved most of my anxiety about tomorrow. I was only sad that my husband and my older children didn't celebrate this meaningful blessing with me.

Thanks in advance for all of your prayers!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

38 hours to go

My c-section is scheduled for 10:30 AM on Monday morning.

That's like 38 hours away.

I'm making peace with the fact that my long "to do before the baby comes" list is not going to be completed. I hadn't factored in many of the basic requirements such as "make sure that all of the kids fingernails are cut short before bringing a newborn into the house."

Cutting children's fingernails is a long, painful act of penance in my house.

At this rate slow prep rate, I'm going to be lucky to have my hospital bag packed by Monday.

The Moviegoer- "Pressure Cooker"

This is an enchanting documentary about an inner-city culinary arts teacher who coaches her public school students to win full college scholarships.

I found the personality of Mrs. Wilma Stephenson to be amazing. She is so tough on all issues related to attitude and discipline! Yet in her heart, she's a softy who buys prom dresses for her poor students. She also PRAYS every single morning for her students. (No wonder her seniors take away almost all the culinary art prize money in the city of Philadelphia each year!)

Even though this documentary focuses on the wonders of "teaching", I watched this film thinking about the wonders "motherhood." Mrs. Stephenson's life in her kitchen is extremely similar to my life as a stay-at-home mother. I felt so affirmed by seeing the results of 41 years spent serving children with both consistent discipline and unconditional love.

Check out the documentary "Pressure Cooker." It's an instant down-load on Netflix. Then catch an update on Mrs. Stephenson by the Rachel Ray show online.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Friday Round-Up

(Or 7 Quick Takes minus 2)

1. 72 hours to go until baby time!

2. This afternoon, I stopped by the hospital to get some blood work done before my surgery on Monday morning. The patient registration person had a funny comment for me. She asked me if this was my first baby. I told her this was number four.

She said "and you're an American? That's so good! In Africa women have 8, 10, 12 babies, no problem. Here in America everyone thinks that more than two children is to much trouble! Very good for you!"

I thought that was so cute that at number 4, I've earned honorary status as an African mother.

3. My baby's Godmother has now become elevated to "totally awesome" status. She drove me and my three restless kids to the hospital for my blood work this afternoon, took us to Burger King so the kids could get some exercise on the indoor playground, bought an heirloom baptism gown for the new baby AND tracked down actual water for the River Jordan for new baby's baptism.

4. While Godmother and I were busy yapping about our Catholic faith, I got to experience our culture's new "anti-boy" sentiments in action. Hannah and Alex started a "girls against boys" chase game with two other 7 year olds on the playground. Alex started screaming in pain after a girl bent his wrist in the wrong directions for several seconds in order "win" the chase game.

I attended my son's injury in complete shock. There was the little girl by my sobbing son. There was no apology or look of concern from either the little girl or her parent. I guess intentional injuries by "older" kids is now considered 'fair play' on a Burger King playground.

Thank heavens it doesn't appear to be a bad sprain. Alex offered up his pain for the "People who make movies to stop making bad Witchcraft ones" and I made sure we said several Hail Mary's at our table to forgive the little girl.

5. Can I just respond to the millions of posts saying "I'm so happy my kids are going back to school." It's a jungle out there. I'm so happy my 1st and 2nd grader and NOT going to back to school next week.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

K-LOVE - JJ Heller "Your Hands" LIVE

Six Days to Go...

My brain is fried. My stomach is sore. Here's a random, wandering update post.

1) Took all 3 kids and myself to the OB's office today. Baby's heartbeat is good. She's already measuring 8 or more pounds at 38 weeks. There are zero signs of an early delivery. So I guess it will be Monday before we meet our girl.

2) My regular doctor was on vacation. This new doctor was kind, but of course had to give me the complete, by the book danger report on having a 4th c-section. I don't know if I'll be this calm during my surgery, but in the OB office today I felt totally calm about the risk of an emergency hysterectomy.

I just felt totally peaceful. If I lose my uterus at age 35, it's okay. It's God's will. I definitely used that body part well. My womb has sheltered 5 souls. I'm simply so, so grateful that I got have another baby after 2 1/2 years of secondary infertility.

3) All the kids in my house have already regressed. It's like I suddenly have twin toddlers and a helpless 4 year old. After a full year of successfully sleeping through the night, both Alex and Maria now come to sleep in our room in the middle of the night. It stinks! Alex knocks over the fan. I have to step over his body to go to the bathroom 20 times in the night. I'm freaking out about adding a newborn to this odd sleeping mix. Jon just jokes that we should start inviting Hannah to spend the night in our room to make night time a true family experience.

4) I've run out of energy to clean. Baby Benjamin could well be brought home to a house with cobwebs, a sticky kitchen floor and thousands of legos stuffed underneath the couch. (It's a sure sign of having a 4th baby when I simply shrug my shoulders and reassure myself "Well, who needs a clean floor? The baby won't be crawling for another 5 months").

5) Another sure sign of baby #4, all of my nesting instincts are directing into getting the rest of the family ready for Mommy to spend hours nursing. Last weekend, I finally set up automatic bill pay on our checking account. I got Jon a new teapot and Hannah a super serious Anatomy coloring book which is actually a Kaplan study guide for Medical Students. (Hours of fun for my science geek and easy home-school lesson plans). I'm ordering some Father Corapi DVDs for my hospital stay.

Meanwhile, I'm going totally minimal on the baby prep. Right now, the new baby only has a few pre-washed clothes, a car seat, and 2 bottles of baby soap in our house. (The baby only really needs a holy, rested, Mama to cuddle her for the first 12 weeks, right?)

6) On Monday, the kind neighbor who was supposed to watch my kids overnight during my 3 day hospital stay, abruptly cancelled. As of this moment, I've got no idea of the "sleeping arrangements" for my kids next week or even if I can have someone watch them during my c-section on Monday. I'm trying to calmly "Wait for the Lord" to direct me on the new babysitter hunt. I promised myself that I wouldn't start to worry about this minor glitch until Friday morning. All things considered, the lack of a car and the lack of a babysitter are very small crosses to take into the excitement of a new birth.

7) I love the Catholic Church! I was getting very nervous about the upcoming c-section. On Saturday, I had a super holy chat with my parish priest during Confession. He told me to focus on how "wonderfully made" I am and how God has blessed our bodies with the ability to heal. It's so helpful to stop fearing the actual surgery and instead focus of the wonderful, physical healing power that Christ extends to a life in grace.

My local Carmelite Sisters are so dear. They are planning a "baby Blessing" ceremony for me with a priest in front of the Blessed Sacrament on Sunday. (The day before my c-section). It sounds elaborate and gorgeous. I'll try to get some good pictures to share with all of you dear readers.

Pray for me!

Also, give me your prayer intentions. I've got lots of suffering to offer up in the coming weeks. You can leave a comment or email me with a private intention.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Making Peace with Having Enemies

During my senior year at Smith College, I served as a Protestant Deacon.

Obviously, the Protestant understanding of "a deacon" differs significantly from the Catholic understanding of that holy role. My job duties consisted mostly of wearing a gigantic gold cross over a black choir robe and passing out bulletins prior to Sunday Services at Helen Hills Chapel. I also read "Protestant Readings" between the Baha'i and Muslim representatives at Inter-denominational Prayer Services, held a student chair on the Alumnae Religious Life Committee, and preached a sermon during my graduation week.

My women's college was intensely secular. At Smith, it was perfectly acceptable to argue that the Gospel of John was actually written by a woman in an Intro to World Religions term paper. The Christian religion was viewed as an oppressive, male-dominated "institution" by most of the campus. My freshman year, the Head of Residential Life made a campus wide policy which forbid students from posting any Christmas "symbols" on our room doors or erecting any Christmas trees in common areas of our dorms.

Even within this anti-Christian environment, I never made any enemies as a Protestant Deacon. I could walk around with a teeny gold cross on a chain for weekdays, and a gigantic gold cross on Sundays, without any cold looks or verbal harassment.

In college, I was careful to toe the line as a "tolerant", "politically correct", inoffensive Christian girl. Christ was "my thing", my way of coping with the onslaught of Senior Year Stress. However, I freely endorsed peoples right to "other things" to relieve stress such as yoga, all liquid diets, fake Buddhist chants, and Margarita parties every Friday night.

Christ was someone I talked about, and Christianity was something I enjoyed "experiencing" on a Sunday morning. Yet Our Savior didn't find fertile soil in my soul to grow a garden of virtues.

Even with a gigantic gold cross on my chest, my life looked similar to every other Senior's life. I approved of fornication and birth control. I worried obsessively about my grades and my L-SAT scores. I gossiped about my classmates and carelessly broke boys' hearts. I could dissect pre-Revolutionary Russian History with ease. But, I was terribly, terribly afraid of intimacy, commitment and motherhood.

At age 25, I entered the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris as a broken hearted and confused soul. I recited my first ever Hail Mary, reading the words from an English guidebook that I picked up at the entrance. Mary answered that single prayer in a dramatic fashion. Now I'm here--a married Carmelite who expects her fourth baby in less than 10 days.

I strive to live a life "hidden in Christ." My current world is almost the complete opposite of my college days as the loud-mouth Christian with the flashy gold cross. I stay at home. I don't hold a job. I'm not on any committees. I don't volunteer for any noble Community Service projects. I'm not invited to give "guest" lectures at Women of Prayer lunches or write Op-Ed pieces for my Catholic paper.

I sit at home. I pray. I serve five people in the whole world. Since one of these sweet people actually resides inside my womb at the current moment, I take many naps. I eat vitamins. I cook fish on Fridays. I tell little people to "brush your teeth," "finish your homework," "stop poking your Sister" and "pray before you eat!" many times during the day.

My new "hidden" life has arose the anger of many enemies. There are bus drivers who are instantly offended whenever I enter a bus with my armload of babies. There are nurses who start screaming about my decision to avoid pre-natal testing for Down Syndrome despite the statistics surrounding my advanced maternal age. There are people at Daily Mass who accuse me of praying "too much" and for dragging a "clearly Autistic-looking" five year-old son into Adoration. There are friends who worry about my family being too poor and in-laws who accuse me of being a "free-loader" for not using my law degree. So many people accuse me of "irresponsible parenthood" for having so many babies so close together.

For the first time, I can't rely on my charm and a sweet smile to get me out of sticky situations. My brown scapular is around my neck, my stomach is clearly swelled from pregnancy, and there is no new mini-van parked outside my front door.

Right now, it seems like I offend certain people by simply breathing.

All of this "enemy" stuff profits my soul. My vanity scar is finally shrinking to a manageable size. I know longer instantly second-guess myself whenever I find myself on the end of a cold look or long anti-population growth soliloquy.

Christ promised us that if we follow him, we will have enemies. It's the price of having Our Dear Savior as a friend. The fact that I once called myself a "Christian" without experiencing the world's rejection and ridicule merely means that at one point time, I had no idea of how to be a real friend to God.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ecumenical Play Dates

Our favorite neighbors came over for a visit today after three weeks of Baptist Bible Camp. Everyone in the house was overjoyed to see them again.

In the middle of the play date, Hannah and her 10 year old friend, Christian, entered into an earnest theological discussion while playing with our new marble game. It was so funny, I had tears in my eyes listening to them.

Christian would propose a vague Christian truth like "The Devil is bad. He didn't like God or something like that."

Hannah would immediately jump on the topic and spout out all kinds of deep theology such as "The Devil's real name is Lucifer. He once was the most beautiful of all the angels. But he told God "I will not serve you" and then St. Michael kicked him out of heaven. Now we all pray the St. Michael prayer to get the Devil kicked out of earth."

This whole praying to St. Micheal thing was totally new to Christian. He clearly enjoyed the conversation with Hannah, however, and tried to keep up. "What about that Adam and Eve? Why did they have to eat that apple?"

Hannah launched into this deep explanation of temptation, sin and the Devil's role in tempting us to disobey God.

At hearing about sin, Christian, the good Baptist, jumped on the bandwagon again. "Sin is bad! But all you have to do is say your sorry to Jesus. You just need to say sorry and then Jesus fixes everything."

Then my darling daughter, the possible future Nun, jumped off the couch in excitement. She started telling her friend all about the joys of the Sacrament of Confession. Hannah talked a mile a minute about going into the confessional and how the priest acts as Jesus to forgive all of your sins. Then Hannah said "the priest is acting as Jesus when he forgives you. Jesus gives the priest a special power to totally forgive sin. You can't see Jesus when you talk to the priest, but you know he's there. . ."

At which point the throughly confused Christian, a child who has never heard a remote mention of the Sacrament of Confession, latched onto the one statement of Hannah's long speech that he recognizes. "Yes, Jesus is INVISIBLE! We can't see him- AT ALL."

At which point, my Catholic daughter, casually flipped her pony tail and said "Actually, I see Jesus all of the time!"

I'm going to enjoy watching that Hannah evangelize the whole world!

Wisdom from Saint Gregory the Great, Pope

St. Teresa of Avila used to sleep with a volume of St. Gregory under her pillow. I totally understand. St. Gregory is awesome!

Here's a gem from last Monday's Daily Office:

"Holy men best by tribulation must endure the assaults of those who use violence and verbal attacks. The former they resist with the shield of patience, but against the latter they launch the sharp arrows of true doctrine. . . For they have nothing but patient scorn for the enemy who moves against them, but they sympathize with their weaker fellows and bring them back to the safe way."

(From the Moral Reflections on Job)

I love those powerful images-- "the shield of patience" and "patient scorn". Whenever someone is mean to me I can now picture using the virtue of patience as a "shield" to protect me.

"Patient scorn" seems like such an odd juxtaposition. Patience and scorn. It's deep. I'm still wondering how to better apply "patient scorn" to my enemies in my daily life.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Jon's New Prayer Quote

My 7 year old lost both her front teeth this week!

She was "helped" along by her brother's misplaced foot during a friendly game of sibling leg wrestling on Mama's bed. Yesterday morning passed in a great drama of blood, tears, and frantic calls to Daddy, a former army medic. (Why does the bloody stuff always have to happen on my watch?)

One of Hannah's front teeth came out immediately after the leg wrestling match. The other tooth hung on stubbornly by one thick thread for the next 32 hours. Hannah said her tooth was too sore to pull or wiggle. My poor girl couldn't eat well or talk normally.

It was a great opportunity for penance. Hannah happily offered up her sore tooth for the first hour. Then the injury lost it's novelty and a stream of constant complaints began. It was a long day for me.

When Jon came home from work, he dealt with Hannah's refusal to pray (or to help loosen the sore tooth on her own by wiggling it) in about 10 seconds.

"Hannah," Jon said firmly. "God doesn't answer to complaints. He only answers petitions!

I've got to keep that quote around for the painful days after my c-section next week!

You Might be 8 1/2 Months Pregnant If . . .

Your three year old says "I want to be the Mama" during your playtime with her doll house. She immediately says "I'm tired. I want to take a nap" and places the Mama doll on a bed. You then notice sheepishly that the Mama doll NEVER reappears during your daughters entire 30 minute imaginative role-play drama.

That's me, right now- the non-moving lump on the couch.

Catholic nun commercial

Go Religious!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Feast of the Assumption

"The Feast of the Assumption is for days when the rent is due, when the baby is crying, and its raining outside."

"This Feast reminds us of the bigger picture. One day God will reward all of our hidden earthly sacrifice with a crown in heaven, just as He honored Our Blessed Mother."

Homily at St. Mary's Church, Feast of the Assumption 2010


My paternal grandfather is dying. It tears me up inside to know that my Protestant family members will die outside of the amazing, protective graces of the Catholic Church.

My dying grandfather has no access to the Sacrament of the Sick, to Confession, or to the Eucharist. He can't sooth his natural fears by the recitation of a Chaplet of Divine Mercy or even say a single Hail Mary. There are no priests to comfort him, no kind Sisters to bring him the Eucharist on his sickbed, and no Legion of Mary members to hold his trembling hands and pray the rosary.

Last Sunday, I poured out my broken heart to Father Valentine after Mass. "Father, my Protestant grandfather is dying in another state." I pointed to my big, pregnant belly, "I can't visit him in person. I'm restricted to mail and the telephone. He doesn't have access to the Sacrament of the Sick. How should I pray for him? I'm praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet on my own but I can't pray that with him. He doesn't really understand the concept of "redemptive suffering" or uniting himself with Jesus on the cross? How do I talk to him? What should I do?"

In that tender, intimate love that shows that a priest always acts as our true Spiritual Father, Father Val shook my hand. In a lovely Irish lilt he told me with certainty "You can't do better than the Our Father. That was the prayer that He taught us himself. Just keep praying the Our Father with your grandfather. That will be enough."

I'm often guilty of making my prayer life too complicated. Praying for the dying is a big responsibility for a Carmelite, and indeed, for all Catholics. Sometimes, however, I find myself frozen in fear. I easily become overwhelmed by the multiple devotions that are available to assist the dying. I worry that I'm not praying hard enough, in the right way, to the right Saint, in order to make any sort of difference.

Yet Father Val's words are a beautiful reminder to me that prayer is always easy. The Our Father is the common ground between Protestants and Catholics. I don't need to be the vehicle of grace that converts my grandfather to the Catholic faith on his deathbed. Instead, my simple job is to help my grandfather keep praying his familiar "Our Lord's Prayer" in the final days of his life.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love

Eeek! That movie comes out this weekend. The words sound so close to the Catholic life, yet the movie is SO FAR OFF!

I humbly suggest a change in the title.

Pray, Love, Serve Dinner

(That's how the quest for the Spiritual Life gets played out in my house!)

Thursday, August 12, 2010



My "techno-nesting" is still going full force. It's looking pretty doubtful that I will complete Maria's baby book on Shutterfly before the next baby comes. (Yes, that would make me three years behind on organizing photos for my third baby!) Still, I'm having fun going down memory lane. Here's a five year old photo from our first D.C. apartment-back when all my babies could nap on the same bed. Aren't they cute?
(Hannah age 2, Alex age 1)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Raising The Bar

In 19 days (or less) I'll enter into serious Spiritual Combat with my 4th c-section at a Catholic Hospital. This hospital has a gorgeous statue of our Blessed Mother in the front courtyard and 24 hour a day Adoration. The priests are wonderful. The Sisters are wonderful. Everyone who attends Daily Mass is wonderful.

Then there is the maternity ward staff, which somehow are not wonderful. Satan did a fantastic job of terrifying me after the birth of my third child at this same Catholic Hospital in 2007.

It's nuts how many crazy doctors, nurses and pediatricians we ran into during my hospital stay with Baby Maria. I'm talking seriously crazy. The Ped that was looking after my hefty 10 pound baby girl actually told me less than 24 hours after her birth "You will kill your baby if you insist on breastfeeding her exclusively! We've already had 2 deaths from breastfeeding at (insert the name of my HMO) this year!"

I sat in the hospital bed thinking "Are you serious?" Breastfeeding, that's like the gold standard. I've never run across any doctor before that moment who actively discouraged a mother from nursing her newborn.

Because I wasn't a well formed in the art of Spiritual Warfare back then, I did not fight back with prayer. Instead I crumpled up like a used Kleenex and cried my eyes out. I spent 3 days holding a precious newborn and crying after each and every negative encounter.

Needless to say, I haven't looked forward to a repeat experience in this same maternity ward with precious baby number 4.

In the past month, I've finally stopped dreading my hospital stay. Instead, I've started to arm myself for serious Spiritual Combat. I'm packing holy water and blessed salt in my hospital bag. I'm taking my rosary into my operating room. I'm scheduled to receive the Sacrament of the Sick soon. My Carmelite sisters have planned a beautiful prayer session in front of the Blessed Sacrament on the night before I enter the hospital.

Entering into Morning Prayer today, I felt pretty good about my progress. Then Jesus had his heart to heart with me. My Gospel passage for Lecto Divino said "Love Your Enemies, Bless those who persecute you." My whole thirty minute prayer session consisted of me saying to Jesus "Really? Those doctors who were so mean to me, I'm supposed to love them? That nurse who failed to administer any pain medication during her shift and then called me a drug addict because I requested "extra" OxyContin hours after my abdominal surgery--I'm supposed to bless her also?" Jesus kept telling me "Yes! Your job isn't solely to resist evil during your hospital stay, your job is also actively love and bless the very people who are being mean to you."

Jesus is all about --Raising The Bar.

I'm rapidly discovering that the spiritual life is an uphill climb. Just when I become content with my progress, Jesus, my personal trainer, kindly points out that I've got so much more mountain face to rock-climb before I can summit Mount Carmel.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


This is an incredible movie about the friendship between an Orthodox Jew and a Muslim. Their joint search for true love is charming. It's also an amazing description of the challenges of living as a woman of Faith in the secular, modern age. Available in instant down-load from Netflix. Watch it today!

My One Task for Christ- Growing a New Baby

Yesterday, I sent an email asking a family member to babysit my older children the night of my scheduled c-section. After two months of benign neglect, I received six emails back from this family member within a fifteen minute period. There was the strong YES to my babysitting request. Each succeeding email brought some new suggestions of additional acts of charity that this family member could preform for me. Some of them were off the wall and would require a great deal of prep work from me-- the girl with a hugely pregnant body who can barely haul herself off of the couch by 3:00 PM in the afternoon.

As usual, whenever my brain is in a whirl, I sought clarity from my husband. (My Jon was put on earth by Jesus as my personal "Guide to the Perplexed.")

I explained to Jon all the problems associated with accepting random charity act #13, when Jon stopped me mid-sentence.

"You don't need to do anything. Your family member is panicked at the thought of you having another baby and is running around like a chicken with her head cut off. She's throwing out a lot of useless suggestions. You don't need to follow any of them. Your job is to keep her focused.

There is one task that this family member can preform that will make our lives 100% easier. We need an overnight babysitter. Just keep reminding this family member there is only one thing that we really need. If she helps us with this babysitting job, she's already doing her part!"

I laughed and took his advice. The stream of random emails gradually came to a close.

Today, I had some time alone while riding the bus after my OB appointment. I thought about this situation and realize that I've got a similar tendency, especially in my relationship to Jesus.

Right now, Jesus has given me one task: Grow A Baby.

Yet all last week I felt miserable because my tired pregnant body "wasn't letting me" cook dinner, or clean up toys, or chat with my husband after 9:30 PM. I'm like the girl giving out endless suggestions to God via email. "Oh, so you want me to Grow A Baby. Sure I'll do that, but why don't I also bake my family fresh banana bread today, prewash all the baby clothes and start First Communion Prep with my son a full year early."

The Abby/Jesus conversation gets even more funny when I start to complain that my pregnant body won't let me "pray."

"Jesus, pregnancy stinks!" I tell him. "Because of my pregnancy, I now sleep through Morning Prayer. I've missed adhering to my regular Confession schedule. I'm 6 chapters behind in my Carmelite reading and I haven't visited you in Adoration in forever!"

I could just picture Jesus giving me the same advice. "Adoration? Abby, I don't need to see you at Adoration this week! You're busy growing a me a new baby.

Abby, Abby, I'm giving you one project for God. Grow a Baby. One task. It's the most important thing you can do for me and for the kingdom of heaven. Stay FOCUSED! All those long prayer sessions, your multiple household tasks, your knitted sock for lepers-- none of those are necessary acts of love right now. I'm asking you to do ONE thing for me."

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for me. Keep me focused.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Netflix- You So Don't Get Me!

Based on your interest in "North and South" . . .

We recommend. . . "Look Who's Talking!"

What do these two movies possibly have in common?

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Feast Day (Edith Stein)

Yeah! Today is the feast day of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. I hope I get to write a real post later about this awesome Carmelite saint who died in the Holocaust.

St. Teresa Benedicta, pray for us!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Public Service Announcement

Today, the 71st person asked me quizzically, "Are you going to keep homeschooling after the baby comes?"

My answer, "Yes."

Homeschooling is the easiest and most pleasant part of my day. My kids and I will continue to chat about cheetahs, Slavery in the American South, and how to best divide a plate of brownies into fractions even after a newborn enters into our lives.

A more relevant question would be "Will your kids continue to have clean underwear after the birth of their baby Sister?"

My truthful answer, "Probably Not."

Raising Catholic Kids

The menus have changed radically in our house, now that there is an "over-pregnant" chef in the kitchen. Instead of hot cereal, we're eating boxed cereal every morning.

Yesterday, Hannah came back to the table at 10 AM for a second helping of breakfast. She figured out that the novel box on our table actually contained a prize inside.

"Mama, I got a new rule," she said. "Whoever gets the toy first in her cereal bowl . . ."

Mentally, I supplied the rest of her sentence "gets to keep it."

Instead, my daughter surprised me. She said "will get to play with the toy first, before the others. Don't you think that's a good rule?"

I was totally shocked. My siblings and I were born five and nine years apart. Yet I remember having countless fights at the breakfast table over who would get the coveted toy in the cereal box. In our minds possession meant "ownership." I never remember us working together to find a fair way to share our toys, not even the cheap plastic things found inside a cereal box.

Yet in my daughters mind "getting" a toy, meant simply having first dibs before you shared that toy with others. She couldn't imagine one kid having sole ownership rights to a cool new toy while the rest of the siblings had nothing.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Trusting in God to Provide

Last September, I watched my athletic daughter zip around our apartment courtyard on her tiny red Trek bicycle with an older friend.

We bought that bike for Hannah at age 2 in Wisconsin, another life time ago. Back then, "economizing" meant buying one expensive birthday present for a toddler in a gender neutral color so that a new bike could last through several siblings.

My Hannah is amazing on a bike. (I'm the family slug who can barely walk without tripping over her own heels. I married a man whose idea of a good time is to hike 26 miles down the Wisconsin Ice-Age Trail in a single day. So far, every one of our kids have inherited their Dad's athletic prowess.)

Another Mom and I sat together on a park bench, watching the street light start to shine one by one over our daughter's bike helmets. I was very quiet, watching my oldest daughter with joy. Hannah had taught herself how to do wheelies, at the age of 6! It's incredible for me to realize that this shiny daughter slipped out of my own body, sometimes.

The other Mom was a Single Mother who I often make ill-at-ease by my incomprehensible ability to slip baby after baby out of my womb and into my 2 bedroom apartment without showing any reassuring signs of an imminent nervous break-down.

As I watched my kid pop wheelies, the neighbor leaned into me and said "Hannah needs a new bike. That old one is much to small for her! They are having a half-price sale at Performance Bicycle this week. You should send Jon over there to pick up a new bike for Hannah immediately!"

My mood turned sour. I couldn't talk. A half-price sale at Performance Bicycle still meant at least a $150 price-tag. There was no way we could swing the price of a new bike in our family budget.

"The only way Hannah can get a new bike is if God hands her one," I thought.

Then I prayed, "Take care of her God."

I hoped God would care for this future nun. I hoped that Accepting His Will, didn't mean watching my pretty, shiny baby getting teased by richer friends for riding a rusty "baby bike" next year. "Can't future nuns love Jesus with their whole heart and still ride nice bikes in their childhood?" I wondered.

Sometimes, when I'm brave, the virtue of poverty seems like such a simple thing to master: just bake all your meals from scratch, hit the Lands End sales, and watch your husband cut his own hair every month.

Then there are the times when the wind ruffles my sail. Suddenly it seems incredibly stupid to have four children without four matching college savings funds. What are Jon and I doing on this path of prayer and trust and patience? Our financial lives are so different from all the other middle class parents who have extra cash for sale-price purchases from Performance Bicycle.

When I listen to the voices from the outside world, a small seed of doubt creeps into my soul. I start obsessing about a missing item- no crib for a new baby, no school shoes in September and no bicycle for a tall 6 year old to ride.

By March, my worry over the missing bicycle had spread to Jon. "We've got to get Hannah a new bicycle for her Birthday" we decided. We priced bikes at Target. The cheapest one was $80. We floated the idea of canceling Hannah's birthday party to divert funds to a new bike. Hannah, my social butterfly who plans out her birthday party themes years in advance, started to cry. So I enlisted Hannah's grandparents help. They offered to take Hannah to Target to pick out a new bike on her big day. It seems like the Spring bicycle crisis was averted.

Then a mere five days before Hannah's party, Jon took out the trash and found a gently used "big kid" size Trek bicycle by the trash. (People move all the time from our apartment complex and the sidewalk by our trash dump has evolved into a local Freecyle site.) He brought it home.

The bike was beautiful. A sturdy mountain bike with little wear. My husband with a lot of bicycle savvy told me a "Trek is built to last forever."

There was only one problem. The bike was clearly a "boy's bike", with bright yellow and black racing stripes. Would Hannah ride it?

My daughter was excited, but hesitant. Her younger brother immediately pronounced it cool. "It looks just like Bumblebee!" he shouted. Thanks to Alex's enthusiasm for Transformers, Bumblebee is a beloved figure in our house. That endorsement was enough for Hannah.

Hannie started riding her new bike that very moment. Within a week she could keep up, and sometimes pass, her Father on their joint bike rides around the city.

Fast forward, a few months. My son taught himself how to ride without training wheels on the old, red bicycle that is sized for 3 to 5 year olds. Last week, my husband took both kids out cycling on our neighborhood bike path.

Jon noticed that Alex's recent growth spurt made riding the old bike difficult. "He looks like he's riding a clown bike," Jon thought.

Then two days later, on the sidewalk next to the trash dump, my husband found it. A beautiful hot pink Diamond Back bicycle for "a big kid", with clean white tires and a price tag still attached. He brought it home.

"Will Hannah switch bikes now?" he asked me. "Or do I try to give this new one to Alex?"

"This bike is beautiful!" I said. "It's a clearly a girl's bike. Hannah will jump at the chance to ride it. What are you worried about?"

The next morning, Jon unveiled the new bike to Hannah. The kids were so excited, Daddy had to make a special bike riding trip with all three kids during his lunch hour. Everyone had fun. The older kids zoomed quickly down the bike path with speed and agility. By the end of Fall, Alex will be also able to keep up with his Dad on his new Bumblebee bike.

The provision of two new bicycles was a marvel to Jon and I. Jon tells me that Trek and Diamond back are the top of the line. We easily got a gift of $500 worth of new bicycles. It seems so extraordinary that the children of two poor Carmelites can have expensive, well-working bikes to ride.

"We now have 4 bikes for 4 kids," I said. In further wonder, I added "I can't think of any way easier to get the older kid's their daily exercise after the new baby comes. I'll put the baby in the Bjorn, put Maria on the comfy stroller Aunt Emily found and calmly walk up and down the bike-path. Meanwhile, the older kids can go as fast as they want on their new bikes!"

Then Jon told me how important biking is to him. It's the one outdoor sport that he's retained after our move to the City. "Now I can pass that love of cycling onto my children!" he said.

I'm reminded once again that "Trusting in God to Provide" is a real concept. It's not some pious truism that is worn out by overuse. God doesn't give us what we want. God doesn't give us what we think that we need in the moment. He reads our heart. He's a loving Father who gives us what we truly need.

Precious Lord, help me to trust more in you!

Just when you think that your tired body can't go on another second without a cup of real coffee. . .

15 pounds of toys arrive at your front door!

Thank you Godparents!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cowboy Junkies Anniversary Song

For Jon-Nine Years of Wonderful!

(This is the song that we played for our First Dance at our Wedding Reception)

(It's about the joy of seeing your beloved Spouse over a cup of coffee each and every morning.

Which is ironic, because we ran out of coffee this morning.

My boy, left an exhausted pregnant woman alone in a house filled with 3 hyper children and no coffee.

So the lady dragged her exhausted, pregnant body and three hyper children to Starbucks to in order to buy herself an iced, CAFFEINATED coffee at 9 o'clock in the morning.

Then the kind boy offered to pick up some real coffee at Target on his way home.

But a grumpy 3 year old started sobbing so hard at 5:45 PM that the wife begged the husband to come right home, instead.

Now there is no coffee in the house for a second day.

Tomorrow the cycle will repeat itself again with zero caffeinated beverages available in the morning to sip during breakfast while gazing into each others eyes

But I love him. And I love my life. Nine whole years of something wonderful!)

Signs of the Time

(For Hallie)

I need to post a picture soon of my fantastically large belly and the fantastically large circles under my eyes.

Ms. Mexican Jumping Bean now regularly starts to hat dance inside my womb at 10 PM, 12:30 AM, 3:30 AM and 6:30 AM.

So far, I've managed to stay fairly cheerful about the whole lack of sleep thing. When I prowl around the house at night, unable to go back to sleep I think "Well, why should I start sleeping through the night now? A newborn baby is entering my home in less than 28 days!"

When my Carmel magazine arrived this month, the cover had a picture of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity in her death mask. In the old photograph, Elizabeth is pale and wasted in her coffin, surrounded by lilies. The dark shadows under her eyes are so large that they reach past the end of her nose.

My exact thoughts when I saw this photo are as follows: "Wow, Elizabeth of the Trinity and I have the same brown circles under our eyes! I can't match her faith in anything important, but at least I can match her face in this one small matter!"

Ahh! Exhaustion in our service to God. One lady surfed her trials to became a saint. Another tired Secular Carmelite managed to knock a whole 35 seconds off her future time in purgatory!

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, pray for us!

Best Piece of Fan Mail that I've Ever Received!

"I think you're right to keep up your drum beat of the radical priority of prayer. The Martha/Mary passage makes very clear that prayer is the one necessary thing and that work should flow from it and is subordinant to it. Anxiety from many things comes from a failure to sit at the Lord's feet and listen to him. Many people misinterpret this passage as a call for the proper balance between work and prayer. Jesus isn't calling for the proper balance between work and prayer. He's stating that prayer is number one. We must still labor in the vineyards and avoid the sin of sloth, but prayer must come first. I think it's important to leave the judging to Jesus when it comes to determining whether someone who obviously works hard is making Martha's mistake. Many people who work very hard put prayer first."

Thank you Anonymous!

My Baby and Lady Gaga

(for Danya)

It is a universal truth that my husband is never allowed to take time off work.

Last month his boss canceled Jon's request to schedule an annual physical with the excuse "you're a young, healthy guy! You don't need a yearly check-up until after you turn 50!" Once my husband had to come into work while still retching from the stomach flu in order to help his boss insert a comma inside an Adobe InDesign document. In order to take two hours off to attend our baby's ultrasound, Jon had to make a draconian deal to work four extra hours on that same day!

Now my husband has five weeks of accrued vacation time, but I've really worried about the practically of him actually using this time to hold his newborn daughter this August.

Technically, it shouldn't matter if an employee uses his vacation time to a) take a two week European Grand Tour, or b) schedule a two week stay-cation with a child less than 12 minutes old. However, Jon's work is sort of "anti-family." Fellow employees make conversation regularly around the coffee pot with such cheerful comments as "I worked through all of my wife's three labors. Once I got an entire 45 page report finished in the delivery room." (When these helpful comments are repeated at my dining room table, I make not so Marian comments such as: "Maybe that's why that man is now divorced!")

So when the time came to submit his vacation request, my husband skipped over all sentimentality. He didn't write an email saying "please grant me two weeks vacation time starting on August 30th so that I can spend quality time gazing into my newborn's blue eyes." My husband wrote the cold, hard facts. "My wife is having surgery on August 30th. She will require my to help during her 2 week recovery time from said surgery. Please grant my vacation time request."

Jon hit send.

Fifteen minutes later, an amazing thing happened. His boss replied: "Yes." She then got up and immediately wrote his vacation time on the official office schedule. The man who was not allowed to attend his annual physical, who barely got time off to attend his Father's funeral, that exact same man suddenly found himself with TWO weeks of approved vacation time.

My husband immediately rose from his chair and ran to his boss's office.

What had happened?

When he got there, he found the same boss as yesterday- a 60+ year old lady with dozens of jangling bracelets who was divorced and had never had children herself.

However, this day, the boss was pro-baby.

After 10 years of infertility, her niece had gotten pregnant at the exact same time that her struggling musician husband finally landed a steady gig with--get this-- Lady Gaga's band.

The niece was over the moon about her new baby. The musician husband was over the moon about the new baby. Evidently, Lady Gaga was also over the moon about this special new baby as well.

Five minutes before my husband sent his email, the niece sent her aunt, Ms.Boss, a delightful email saying that Lady Gaga had generously agreed to send her husband home from a giant world tour in order to attend the birth of his first child. Ms. Boss thought that was so cute, that a Daddy would leave a World Tour in order to see his new baby. She was impressed that the famous Lady Gaga would spare a major part of her band, in order to help a new family bond together at birth.

So when my husband's cold, factual email arrived in Ms. Boss' inbox-- he hit upon a special moment. Ms. Boss now thought it was "cute" for Daddy's to long to attend their children's births. She wanted to match Lady Gaga in generosity. So she did what she had never done before, she immediately okay'd a vacation time request and placed it on the office calender without further comment or condition.

My husband came home and told me this story. I was in shock.

Now my husband is so out of the loop with the current music scene that he said "I think Lady Gaga is the name of a Broadway Play or something."

I almost feel off the couch laughing. "I haven't heard any of her songs either, honey, but I know Lady Gaga not the title of a Broadway Play. Lady Gaga is a rock star. Just this week she did something on American Idol that had all the Mama's on their Catholic blogs wagging their fingers."

I have still never listened to a Lady Gaga song. I've avoided looking at her videos. Even so, Lady Gaga has a special place in my heart. She's high up on my daily prayer list.

God can use anyone to do good. No one is beyond God's mercy, (even Lady Gaga and my husband's usually anti-child boss). Let us all pray that Lady Gaga gets reintroduced to the full wonders of her Catholic faith. She's been an instrument of God's grace to the Benjamin family during this latest pregnancy.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Help From An Unexpected Source

This morning, the Number 54 rolled by me as I missed the bus stop by inches outside my ob clinic. What bus driver would fail to stop for a super, pregnant lady who is running and waving her arms frantically?

God makes the bus stop at a red light half a block away. I kept running, as fast as my giant belly can go. "There is still no way I'm going to catch this bus," I thought.

Just then two Morman boys, in their neat ties and telltale black backpacks, step off at the cross walk in front of the bus. "Are you trying to get on this bus?" they call.

"Yes!" I answer.

The tallest Morman started beating on the bus door until the bus driver opens the door "There's a lady here who needs to get on!"

"God Bless you!" I called out, as I swung my tired body onto the bus.

At the mention of God, the Morman looked totally shocked. (I don't know what aspect of our whole exchange shocked him.) Once I made it on the bus, I prayed hard for Our Lady to bless those two kind men today. I love praying for Mormans. Our Lady seems to throw a lot of them my way.