Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Having Peace While I'm Screwing Up

This officially marks the first time that I've been awake past 8 PM for several weeks. Gosh, what a humdinger of a time I've had over here. A move. Early Pregnancy. My rock of a husband suddenly leaving his inept and fragile wife Home Alone for 13 to 14 hours each day.

On Tuesday, I didn't get ANY Carmelite prayers done for the first time in several months.

I was completely CRUSHED by the various demands of my life by 10:15 AM.

Today was better, of course.

I'm trying to find meaning in all of this struggle. I feel like I'm very much a black/white thinker in terms of self-esteem. When I bake cupcakes with my daughter, or clean up a messy paperwork mistake over the phone, or I find the elusive size 2 soccer cleats for my son, then I feel like a "good Mom." However, when our home-schooling sessions go horribly wrong, or I'm so sick I can't leave the living room couch for an entire afternoon, then I feel like a "bad Mom."

I thought I left most of that perpetual race of "I have to be productive and competent all the time or I'll be fired" back at the workplace.

But it seems like I dragged much of it home with me as a stay-at-home mom.

And now whether its failing behind in home-schooling, or falling behind in housework, or my failure to even get the frozen shrimp thawed before my husband comes home at 7 PM at night, all of those "mess ups" have my irrationally afraid of screwing up my dear children for life.

I have no idea what a "normal" home-life is supposed to look like when your newly pregnant with baby number five. In God's eyes, its probably perfectly okay for my husband to do all the work, make dinner, put all the kids to bed, and dig out dirty pajamas from the laundry pile, all while a newly pregnant Mommy slinks off to bed at 7:45 PM.

Here's to hoping the cross will help break me of my "irrational Mommy perfectionism" soon!

K-LOVE - Steven Curtis Chapman "Do Everything" LIVE

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

CATHOLICISM - An Epic TV & DVD Series, Book & Study Program

"The Christian Faith was never meant to be a private matter. It was meant to be shared?"

Are you a missionary?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Laundry ---Ideas? Tips? Commiseration?

The only bad part out of moving out of a tiny apartment, is that I'm suddenly finding it overwhelming to do laundry in a house with three floor and an unsteady toddler who likes to always be in eye sight of her Mama.

How do you guys survive?

My old laundry routine was a) have a family closet in our room three steps away from the dryer (I put all the dresser drawers in our room. My young kids tend to throw clean clothes on the floor and that way I could quickly clean up the mess without resorting to tons of unnecessary loads.)
b) fold clean clothes on my bed
c) make it a rule that we always had to fold up any extra clean clothes before the parents went to bed

The new house doesn't have a system yet!

Now I've got my kids on the second floor, our bedroom on the first floor, and our washer/dryer unit on the first floor. Our dryer is old and on the fritz, so we're talking about having to run each load through multiple times. Also, my only safe place to put Baby Tess while I'm doing laundry in our dangerous basement is leave her in her crib, and she hates that! Her crying sort of add this added pressure to get all laundry tasks done within 2 to 4 minute spurts. All that post-moving chaos combined with my fatigue, have just made me feel so hopeless about the situation.

Just today, I'm trying to figure out a big-picture solution to this task.

First, I thinned out the kids clothes to things that they actually wear. I'm putting everything that is not currently a summer-time favorite, on a hanger in their bedroom closet. Then I moved down their dressers to the basement. I've got a place for "hanging items" and now places for clean laundry. Now it should be easier to fold things straight out of the dryer, or hang up wet delicate to air dry.

I also found these two interesting articles on green laundry methods and practical laundry collection ideas.

Does anyone have some wisdom to share? I'm open to trying almost anything but FlyLady.

St. Clare, patron Saint of Laundress, pray for us!

How to Host A Kid's Birthday Party While Pregnant

Some day I will have a chance to write my stylish "how to host parties in the real world". Throwing a Birthday bash for a special birthday girl with no time, no money, and no energy was a challenge. Yet I ended up having some cool ideas that I wanted to share.

We picked a party time of 10:30 AM on Saturday. (I like having parties first thing in the morning because I think that it doesn't interfere with other peoples precious "family time" on the weekend as much. Plus, my kids are extremely hyper with excitement before a big party. If I pick at 1:00 PM start time, I've already driven myself crazy trying to keep them from eating the cake for five hours AND I still have not had time alone to get additionally prepared from the night before.)

For this early morning party, we had simple breakfast hors d'oeuvres. I picked up frozen mini-bagels from Target and arranged an elaborate "bagel bar" with different type of toppings like mini oranges and smoked salmon. We had sausage on toothpicks.

For the fruit salad, I picked up mini cookie cutters at Michaels ($5).
I cut up cantaloupe into 1/4 inch planks. Then I used the small cookie cutters, instead of a knife, to remove good parts from the rind and seeds. (Don't remove the seeds first). Then I tossed them into a fruit salad. (Imagine fruit salad with little yellow hearts and butterflies.) The result was so cute that its going to be my new "go to dish" for Church Socials.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Happy Birthday Baby Tess


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You are a gem of a girl! So glad you are still here with us!

Friday, August 26, 2011

We're Celebrating Tessy's First Birthday Tomorrow!

She was a pretty special kid right from the start!

Pray for me! The house is not clean. The laundry pile is ridiculous. I've got low energy from morning sickness. But it's fine. Kate and Tharen are willing to look over a few dust balls, right? The important thing is that we're all grateful for an incredible year with Miss Tess.

Instead of my whiny rebuttal to the "don't have your kids too close together" argument

I'm re-posting this "oldie but goodie" about the joys of having new babies while home-schooling.

Honestly, I don't know how long its going to take me to learn how to be Silent and let the things of my life speak for themselves!

Oh Holy Virgin, please come and kill off the incessant debater in me!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Alan Jackson - Small Town Southern Man

Because my Jon is exactly like the lyrics in this song!

And he bowed his head to Jesus
And he stood for Uncle Sam
And he only loved one woman
He was always proud of what he had
He said his greatest contribution
Is the ones you leave behind

Raised on the ways and gentle kindness
Of a small town Southern man

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What Really Counts As Meaningful Work?

I'm very thankful for all the interesting thoughts posted as comments to my recent post.

I wanted to put a deeper Carmelite question to you thoughtful readers.

What really counts as meaningful work?

There are many dramatic examples of 'important' work, that I witnessed first-hand during my daughter's stay at Children's National Hospital. The most amazing thing was that there was literally one guy, Dr. Kanter, who had the ability to fish an 18 inch plastic tube OUT of my daughter's heart without open heart surgery.

(For those who missed the initial story last year, Baby Tess had a type of IV called a PICC line that broke off in her foot during her hospital stay. An 18 inch plastic piece immediately got sucked up into each of the four ventricles of her heart. The x-ray of what appeared to be a large tangled ball of yarn inside her tiny newborn heart is an image I'd like to forget!)

There was my three week old baby who needed emergency open-heart surgery UNLESS this one guy on the entire hospital staff could fish it out using some tiny heart angioplasty tools.

At first we heard hopeful rumors. Then late at night, we meet the man himself.
Dr. Kanter stood by the NICU crib-side of the baby with the scary chest x-ray. Dr. Kanter promised he could fix it. Dr. Kanter did!

After one hour under a live streaming x-ray, Dr. Kanter used a tiny tool called a "lasso" to fish out that nasty PICC tubing through a tiny slit in her thigh. My beautiful girl was returned to me, with a tiny band-aid on her leg, instead of a giant nasty post-open heart surgery gash up her chest. (Not that Dr. Kanter doesn't do lovely sutures from open-heart surgery, because my buddy Joey T. looks awesome post surgery.) I'm just saying, that this Mama so is grateful for the wonders worked inside the Heart Cath Lab.

So it's kind of weird to have your baby saved by someone with an extremely rare talent. I remember going home and wishing I could match Dr. Kanter's socks. I just wanted to do something to make is life easier, something to help him keep focused on that amazing gift of rescuing other needy babies with walnut size hearts from horrible PICC entanglements.

The odd contrast is that as a Carmelite, I'm starting to understand that all work is "nothing." I mean really, it kind of is. God has all things in his hand. He lets us "help". We can be "co-workers" with God, but it's a loving, invited role only. God doesn't truly need us to do anything. He lets us help Him because He loves us! Sort of like, how I invite my little girls to help me in the kitchen (even though its a far easier and cleaner process without their inept 'help') because I find it to be so much more fun to make cupcakes with friends!

Add to this line of thinking my buddy St. Therese of Lisieux's little way; "picking up a pin for love." If I understand her correctly, she is saying that "that picking up the smallest pin, for the pure Love of God, is more important that all the amazing heart surgeries in the world." Not that heart surgery is "bad", per se. Just that LOVE is what makes an action beautiful for God. "Love of neighbor" is the praise of glory to God.

What my addled Carmelite brain is trying to focus on, is that if I pour my children's cereal into a bowl in the morning with pure, holy Love THAT is meaningful work that is EQUAL to Dr. Kanter's angioplasty skills for little Tess.

I think that is right.

Work isn't "meaningful" or "not-meaningful" based on some outside objective criteria--work is meaningful when it is done as a prayer.

That's a really wild concept to me.

To close, I wanted to share two more vivid examples of love from my NICU stay. (My one year anniversary of Tessy's illness begins on September 5th, so indulge me!)

The second surgery for Tess was so much more awful for me than the first. (Tess had a birth defect called duodenal atresia and she needed emergency abdominal surgery at eight days old to correct her blocked small intestine.) For the first surgery, it was clearly an emergency. My kid looked awful. We were handing her over to a caring surgeon with the hope that she could be cured.

For the second surgery, it was a result of a medical equipment failure, which was some how so much harder to accept. A scary foreign object was lodged inside my kid's HEART! One of the hardest things was that Tessy looked fine. She was pink. She was alert. And my kid was FURIOUS! They yanked Tessy's food for more than a 24 hour period to prepare her for this procedure. Tess hated that!

To transport her to the Heart Cath Lab, they put Tess inside this special movable tube called an isolette.

Tess hated it. She knew something was up, and that something was NOT good.

Needless to say, I was a mess. In the prep room for the first surgery, I have sweet memories of holding my little girl's precious head and singing "Be Thou My Vision". In the second surgery waiting area, I was a blubbering mess. I couldn't believe my little girl was crying. I couldn't believe that her skin was so red from pure rage. I didn't want to be there. I didn't want to be away.

In the middle of this, her anesthesiologist came. He checked with us to confirm that last time she ate. He asked if she was breastmilk or formula. He looked at the pacifier in Tessy's mouth and teased tenderly "What is a breast fed baby like you doing with a binky?" Of course his kind statement made me burst into loud tears. I didn't want my newborn sucking on a pacifier before we had firmly established a breast-feeding routine. However, NOTHING had gone normal with Tess and eating ever since we entered the hospital four weeks ago.

While I'm in the middle of this wrenching tears, a beautiful thing happen. The nurses started to wheel Tessy's isolette into the surgery room when Dr. Rich stopped them. "She doesn't need this!" he said. He opened the isolette and picked up my baby. He carefully cradled Tess in his arms, mindful of her thousands of IV poles. Dr. Rich carried Tess into the surgery room himself, in his arms.

I can't tell you what that meant to me. A doctor holding my sick little Tess like she was a normal newborn baby. I felt his love. I felt like I could trust everyone on that team now to look after my Tess. That unexpected gesture of reassuring "normalcy" was the only way my husband was able to drag his mess of a wife from the spot where she last saw her baby girl disappear from sight.

The second example of "meaningful work" happened while I was waiting for Tessy's heart surgery to finish. A very kind blog reader wrote to me "have a rosary, will travel" and showed up at Children's National Hospital. She had a very cheerful conversation with myself and my husband. At one point in the conversation, however, I needed to take a break. I wanted to purely focus on Tess and pray for her little heart.

I went all by myself on this lonely hospital corridor and curled up in a big window. I held my crucifix in my hands and prayed. I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. It was such a weird feeling to have something be so "thumbs up or thumbs down." Dr. Kanter could either fish that thing out, or he couldn't.

In the middle of my prayer, a janitor came by with a mop and a pail. "It's going to be okay," he called out. I shook my head. I couldn't explain that this wasn't a routine heart angioplasty. Instead, some freak accident had happened to lodge a gigantic foreign object inside my daughter's heart.

"He doesn't really understand how bad things are for Tess," I thought. I couldn't even meet his eyes. I looked down at the cross in my hands and started to cry.

"It's going to be okay," he firmly said again.

I didn't believe him. I didn't look at him. I started praying again instead. After a while, the man moved on down the hall. When I left the windowsill after a long while, I didn't see any trace of him.

Many minutes later, Dr. Kanter emerged from the surgery room flush with success. One of the first things that I thought after (oh my does that PICC tube look super scary close-up!) was "The janitor was right! How did he know for certain that my Tess would be okay?"

I never saw the janitor again. Who was he? But I give you this closing thought, who had the more meaningful work that day in the Heart Cath Lab of Children's Hospital? The amazingly talented Dr. Kanter who fished a PICC line out of a newborn's heart without causing any soft tissue damage? Or the janitor who encouraged a mother to have Hope?

More Reasons for My Smith College Diploma to be Revoked for My Failure to Toe the Feminist Party Line

I took my kids to Staples yesterday to load up on home-school supplies. They are so cute right now and so independent! Hannah (age 8), Alex (age 6) and Maria (age 4) each grabbed their own individual carts and had a blast browsing the sale racks for great finds. Afterwards, I was reviewing their selections to make sure that each item was truly in the $1 to $3 price range.

Each kid had gone with a color theme. Maria had chosen all pink: pink scissors, pink pens, a pink pencil case and a pink notebook. Alex had chosen all blue--except for one glaring exception. His notebook was a deep purple.

I struggled inside. "Do I say something, or let it go?"

I was raised with the firm social truth that "Gender is a construction in the mind, and a child's freedom of expression should trump 'outdated' social norms." Yet deep in my gut, I didn't like it. I decided "Well, I might be just a socially phobic jerk, but the truth is that I'm going to be totally embarrassed if my son's main notebook for school has a deep purple cover."

So I said something. "Er.....Alex, this notebook is purple. That's usually considered a girly color. Wouldn't you rather have a notebook in blue or red?"

My son looked deep into my eyes and said something that rocked my whole world.

"Mom, I thought it was deep blue. I wanted it to be blue. Sometimes I can't tell the difference between blue and purple."

This was light a lightening moment for me and the Holy Spirit, right there in the middle of the Staples aisle!

A ton of thoughts hit me at once.

First, my kid is color blind! Which I sort of suspected was happening between the colors red and green, but I never expected it to also be a confusion between purple and deep blue.

Second, there were all of these moments in the past where my son had chosen the purple candy, or the purple pencil--all these times when I assumed he was just a boy heavily influenced by having three sisters clustered in close proximity around him. But that wasn't the truth at all. My son couldn't see! Each time, he thought he was choosing the blue lollipop!

Third, it is clearly OKAY for me to be more bossy as a parent when it comes to color selection choices. Pink and purple are for girls. My son wants (and medically needs!) those type of leadership decisions from me.

I treasure that precious interaction with my son inside of Staples. Unless I tell the microscopic truth about myself, even embarrassing things like "I'm NOT cool with my son choosing a purple notebook", I miss out on so many things going on around me.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

My Beef With Women Doctors

Six years ago, I walked out of a wildly successful legal career to take care of my babies. I never looked back. I rocked newborn babies. I struggled with infertility. I learned how to swaddle, cook and home-school. I never paid attention to the debate that raged around me about "retaining female talent" in the workplace. I was convinced that making my baby laugh far outweighed any theoritical legal victory I might have won in the Appellate Court.

Then came the dramatic day of September 5, 2010, when my baby girl Tess started dive-bombing towards death.

I found myself dramatically thrust into a room at Children's National Hospital surrounded by women. There were three female pediatricians, and female respiratory therapists. Female residents and female nurse. Thirty medical personnel surrounded my newborn's crib. The most striking fact to me at the time was that not one of them was male.

In that helpless moment, I felt chastised. "I was wrong," I admitted to myself. I was so profoundly grateful that some women dedicated their lives to specializing in one field. They sacrificed many things in their personal life to learn medicine, years of medical school and residency and extra long hours in on the job training. In that frightening search for the exact cause of Baby Tessy's distress, I was grateful for every single hour they spent learning how to save newborn babies.

I gave birth to my baby girl.

I loved her.

But I couldn't save her.

And in that moment, I was so profoundly grateful that a place like Children's Hospital even existed. A place where extreme specialists gave hope for the "almost goners."

For two weeks, I admitted defeat. This "Mommyhood" vocation was simply a path that I had chosen. It wasn't naturally superior. It was very important that other women chose to stay in their careers. The world clearly needed female NICU doctors.

I tiptoed around the exalted NICU doctors, especially the residents who visited my daughter's crib side often. I learned their names and their family histories. I learned who was newly married and who was divorced.

And then something happened which changed my opinion again.

First, a surgeon complained that her surgery schedule was double that week because another colleague was ordered on immediate bed-rest after her premature labor pains put her unborn twins at risk. I remember overhearing the conversation and thinking "This is not good!" and "What an irony!" Here is hospital that is dedicated itself to saving premature babies, yet it's own 10 to 14 hour a day surgery schedule put one of it's own female surgeons at risk for premature labor. The apparent lack of concern expressed by these two consulting doctors for the babies at risk really shook me up both as a mother and as the mother of a hospital patient.

Then there was my buddy Sachika. (I'm nicknaming her this because I can't clearly remember her Indian name and Sachika supposedly means kindness in Indian). Sachika was my angel in the NICU ward. She was a resident assigned to my daughter--super tiny, super petite, a newlywed with an extra large wedding ring, who gushed with kindness and knowledge. Sachika was the one who explained my daughter's frightening diagnosis in plain English. She would give us the heads up about what to expect in the NICU room before we got there in the morning. She would see us out when we left late at night. One of the most precious conversations we had was when she warned me that a cardiologist was currently conducting an "echo" on my little girl's heart "purely as a precautionary measure." It was if she knew beforehand that for a Mother to walk into a NICU room and see a doctor from an entirely unknown department working on her kid, that was enough to start a chain reaction of new panic attacks.

At the end of her hospital stay, Tess had recovered from her emergency surgery on her small intestine and we were just waiting for her special feeding schedule to end. Jon went back to work and I spent nine hours a day rocking my baby girl alone in her NICU room. I positioned the special NICU rocking chair towards the hallway door. Tess and I sat and rocked and rocked.

One morning, I kissed Tessy's little forehead. I looked up and meet the gaze of Sachika.

She had this look.

Her look was one of such intense longing.

Overcome with emotion, she dropped her gaze and stumbled into the women's bathroom across the Hall.

I sat there, holding my almost perfectly healed Baby Tess, and I realized what a profound gift I had in being her Mother. We brought her to that hospital dying, and many, many people rushed around dedicating their lives to fixing her broken body.

But now the drama was done.

And I was the one who was getting to take her home.

All around me were these wonderful amazing professional women, who dramatically saved the lives of newborns every day, while meanwhile almost none of them had little babies of their own to rock to sleep every night.

Almost a year later, I'm still mixed up about all of this. I know in my bones that staying home is the right thing for my life.

Yet if one of my three girls announced that she wanted to become a pediatric surgeon at Children's National Hospital, I burst my buttons with joy. Heck, if one of my kids wanted to wash dirty hospital linens at Children's National Hospital I'd be overjoyed. That hospital is simply amazing.

At the same time, however, I'd be praying hard to Mommy Mary that if someone I loved chose the obsessive careers of medicine, law or police work, that it didn't ever stop them from raising up their own children for the Lord. Not even the most important job in the world can beat that joy.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A First For Us

So I took my four sandal clad kids to Daily Mass this morning. I ran into a long, green and yellow SNAKE on the church side walk. The snake flecked it's forked tongue at us for several seconds and then finally slunk away into a nearby stone wall.

I've never seen a wild snake's head up that close. I've never seen something like that coming out of a City parking lot.

I didn't say anything at all. Yet my kids were filled with various opinions about our encounter. My favorite was from my six year old son who said "They need to get that Mommy Mary statue fixed at our Church pronto! Snakes don't scare kids like that when she's around."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Loving My Little Olive

I'm in the ninth week of pregnancy. My baby is the size of an olive.

Man, do I suck at this!

Tuesday, I spent 3 1/2 hours in the ER waiting room for Alex. (Poor guy found out rather dramatically that our front screen door window pane was made of glass and not plexiglass when he pounded hard on the door and then had glass smash all over him. He's fine! Surface scratches only, no need for stitches).

So I'm in the ER waiting room, feeling nauseous. I'm trying to intellectually compare the two events. "This is the same thing. Waiting here with an injured son Alex. Feeling nauseous from new baby Olive. Both acts of a love for a beloved kid...."

But of course my ever active intellect is saying "I don't want to have massive stomach flu systems anymore! What is this "olive" thing in me and WHY do I have to feel so tired, crabby, and miserable just because I want to add a new person to my family? Come on, God! Don't I get a "pass" on morning sickness just for doing a sixth pregnancy for you?"

Of course I read St. Augustine yesterday in the Divine Office who said "in every affliction we suffer, count it as both a punishment and a correction."

Honestly, sometimes I hate doing my Carmelite reading because it's a constant reminder that I have VERY FAR TO GO in the Spiritual Life!

I'm pretty far from rejoicing in suffering, but I am trying to more affirmatively love "little olive" this week. I take my pregnancy vitamin every day (even though it makes me want to throw-up). I do it as a prayer for my little olive. I try to pray. And I try to just be happy that my little flock has grown from six to seven.

I'll be hanging out on the couch today, thinking of all of you. Have a blessed week!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Seeing Mommy Mary At Work, Part 4

(Part One, Part Two, Part Three)

I found an old post from 2008 that describes my conversion of heart on "the Mary issue."

In my post I said: "I became a Catholic in 2002, yet I've always had a "block" when it came to Marian devotion. I remember clearly my first Holy Day Celebration in 2001. As a new RICA member I slid into a pew at the evening service of the Immaculate Conception. "This feels pretty weird, what am I getting myself into?" as I struggled to understand why I needed to be in church at night to celebrate an "invented" doctrine from 1950 which I'd never heard before in my 25 years of being a Christian.

This year, I formally consecrated myself to Mary, through the method of St. Louis de Montfort on the Feast of the Annunciation.* It's been a slow-a pathetically slow- process. I stumble along in darkness, groping through the nightly rosary, staring a devotional pictures, trying on unfamiliar concepts like "Mediatrix" and "Assumption."

This year [ 2008] is the 150 anniversary of Our Lady of Lourdes. I feel a special kinship with Saint Bernadette. Her "dullness" at the her catechism consoles me. Just as her trust and faithfulness in suffering inspires me. I've gradually gone from viewing Mary as this strange, fearful BVM, to my Blessed Virgin Mother too.

"Through this journey, I've always felt this "Mary block" must be mine alone. "I must have some weird mother issues" I thought. I could figure out why so many other Catholics leaped confidentially into the lap of Mary, why I always felt shy and uneasy."

My parish had a program where a Statue of Our Lady of Fatima "visits" individual households. Having a visiting statue of Our Lady in my living room was a real turning point for me. I talked about learning more about the "Five Saturday" devotion.

"First Saturday's making reparations to our Blessed Mother's Heart." The premise behind this devotion is beautiful. The faithful devote the first Saturday of five consecutive months to going to Confession, Daily Mass, saying the rosary and my favorite "keeping our Mother company for fifteen minutes."

The reason for choosing the number five, has to do with the five major ways the world hurts our Blessed Mother's heart. First, we deny the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Second, we deny the perpetual virginity of Mary. Third, we deny Mary the title of "Mother of God." Fourth, we desecrate the holy images and statutes of Mary. Fifth, we "uprooted the devotion of Mary, particularly among the young."

The priests on the video carefully explained how each of these "hurts" harm our relationship with God. The Immaculate Conception was God's first gift of redemptive grace. Mary is "the dawn of Christ's perfect day." Her quiet, hidden sanctification was God's signal to the world that we will able be saved through Christ.The perpetual virginity of Mary, was Mary's gift back to God. He accepted that gift and insured that she remained forever a virgin, even through the birth of Jesus.

At this point, I gasped openly. I felt this sting in my heart. My Methodist faith, which I'd always seen as sort of sweet and harmless, was actively promoting four of the five harms to Mary. The Methodists (and most other Protestants) recognized Mary as "the Mother of God" and trotted her out in nativity scenes at Christmas. Otherwise, my religion was actively seeking to destroy devotion to Mary as "incompatible with the true worship of Jesus Christ alone."

We denied that Mary remained a virgin and taught that she had other children beside Jesus. We denied that she was special or above us, through the special circumstances of her conception. We tore down her "idolatrous" shrines and built crisp white churches with plain walls. We "uprooted" Marian devotion, particularly among the young, particularly among ME.

You can read my entire post here.

* I have to give a special shout out to fellow Catholic Blogger, Conversion Diary Jen, for encouraging me to first finish this challenging month long devotion. I fell completely off the daily prayer schedule during a week long Florida vacation trip. In a fit of perfectionism, I was about to give up finishing this devotion completely. Jen encouraged me with the memorable quote "I think Mary understands that we're not going to be perfect the first time we try this. She's a Saint after-all!" The very day I dedicated myself to Mary, I "mysteriously" won 4 tickets to the Papal Mass from my parish lottery draw.

Going to the Papal Mass in April 2008, helped my husband and I realize that we called to become Carmelites. I was about to completely drop the idea of contacting my local Carmelite group before making an initial phone-call because I felt so unworthy. Jen said to me "I don't think people are exactly beating down the doors to become Carmelites. Why don't you just call them and see if they'll take you?" The funniest thing was my reaction: "Oh no, Jen. The Carmelites! The Carmelites! Everyone wants to become one of them!" She's a good friend to have in your corner, that Jen!

Seeing Mommy Mary At Work, Part 3

(Read Part One and Part Two).

Telling this beautiful story always makes me cry!

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Last year, our seemingly healthy six day old newborn suddenly ended at Children's National Hospital in downtown Washington, D.C. As soon as we found out that Baby Tess needed to be transferred, my husband drove our car to the new hospital. (Because I had just had a c-section and still couldn't drive, I ended up being the parent who rode in the ambulance with our baby). My husband arrived at the new hospital least an hour before me and had lots of time to talk to the new doctors.


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When I got into Tessy's hospital room, my husband told me some very grave news. Tessy's birth defect was commonly linked to other serious problems in the heart and the brain. The doctors at Children's Hospital would be screening for all sorts of really awful complications.

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In a gesture completely opposite to the pattern of our ten year marriage, I put my hand on my husband's shoulder with an attitude of complete trust. "We are NOT going to cross those bridges until we come to them. Right now, we just have one diagnosis. That's enough. We're not going to worry about anything else until the doctors tell us that we have reason to worry."

As soon as I said those words, I looked out the NICU window--


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there was my Mom's house! The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It felt like Mary was right there in person, putting her hand on top of mine and saying "that's right Abby! That's the right attitude to take!"

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Because my kid's body was nutty, we ended up moving NICU rooms like 10 times. Yet we could ALWAYS see the shrine from Tessy's new hospital room. (We never ended up in one of the many, many rooms without this specific view). That visual connection to the Shrine during Tessy's three week NICU stay was so comforting!

I promised that when we got Tess out of the Children's Hospital, our first stop would be to the Shrine. Here's a picture of me saying "thank you!".

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Thank you, Mommy Mary!

Seeing Mommy Mary At Work, Part 2

(Part One is Here)

"I do have a question, though. I commonly see blessings in my life and see them as God's "fingerprints", if you will. I don't quite understand why you would think Mary is the one at work there. Is there something different about what haopens that makes you think of Mary?"


Oh Mommy Mary, let me sing of your glory!

Dear Carrie,

I see most of the blessings in my life as straight from God, as well. My miracle house, the healing baptism of my daughter Tess, and my latest baby--those are blessings I see as straight from God, not Mary.

But "seeing Mary" at work--that is something cool. Our Lady is just in her own class! Here are some examples.

At my Grandfather's death bed on December 24, 2009, I was flipping out. As a novice Carmelite (and as his only Catholic relative) I felt all this pressure to pray for dying. I really wanted to have a holy experience like Joy Behind the Cross. I wanted to sit in the hospital room, hold my beloved Grandpa's hand, and pray endless Divine Mercy chaplet's for his soul. It was absolutely KILLING me that we happened to be in a Catholic hospital but my Grandpa couldn't get the Sacrament of the Sick. (Because he was Protestant). In the absence of that special, reassuring visit from a priest, I felt tense and alone.

Also, I found "caring for the sick" to be soothing and familiar. Worrying about my weak Grandpa's fluid intake, wiping his chin after a drink, making sure his legs were in a comfortable position, singing some favorite hymns--these were all things that as a mother of young children--just felt innate. Caring for him at the end of his life was a special way for me to say "thank you" and "goodbye."

To the rest of my family, however, death was something to be avoided at all costs. They kept insisting that everyone leave Grandpa's hospital room often to "regroup". I was also requested leave my Grandpa alone for long periods to have a normal Christmas as possible at my parent's house.

There was one family meeting that we had in the hospital waiting area that was so emotionally painful for me. I sat slumped in my chair, broken-hearted. I really, really wanted to be physically near my dying Grandfather. Instead, I was stuck in this random room having a ridiculous conversation with my parents and my siblings. My mom sat directly across from me and she said something really awful. And I looked up--and there she was!

Three feet above my own Mom's head was this giant picture of Mommy Mary. (I think it was Our Lady of Guadalupe). The peace that I felt in that moment was supernatural. The message that I felt immediately in my heart went something like this: "I'm your Mom!" (As in, be kind to this lady who gave birth to you. Cut her some slack! Her Dad is dying. But always know that I'm your Mom! I've got you, and your Grandpa, and this whole family situation covered!")

I remember getting through the rest of that awful conversation by glancing at that beautiful picture over my my own Mom's head periodically. It was so reassuring. I felt like a shy child holding onto his Mother's apron strings.

Seeing Mommy Mary's picture helped me start to "go with the flow." I agreed to leave my grandfather's hospital room to help cook a big seafood Christmas Eve dinner for my family. For most of that weekend, I prayed for my Grandfather far away from his hospital room.

As a more mature Christian, I can see now that sacrificing my desire to hold my Grandfather's hand while I prayed for him--was actually the more holy choice. Work can be a powerful prayer. My family really needed "normalcy" to cope with my Grandpa's sudden health crisis. By cooking dinner for my family, I helped my parents feel more comfortable. Time away from the hospital room, probably made their shorter visits more pleasant and meaningful.

In the moment, however, I was very confused. I had a firm picture of what a "holy death" should look like. It hurt so much that the reality of my Grandfather's experience fell so short of this perfect image in my head.

That's where Mommy Mary is such a genius! Because sometimes when I'm alone with my Bible and my love for God, Satan can get me honestly confused. (Not that I don't help Satan often through my own extreme sinfulness!) But sometimes, despite my best intentions, I get mixed-up. I get lost. I don't know which path is the one God truly wants me to take.

Back in that moment inside the hospital waiting room, I was lost. I was fighting so hard. "I'm the Carmelite. I'm supposed to be praying for the dying. Leave me alone so that I can pray!" My tense attitude caused a lot of extra drama in an already bad situation.

Catching that surprise glimpse of Mommy Mary--that was everything to me. She reminded me that she was present. Praying for a dying Christian was her special role. She had everything under control. I could just relax and do my part--which was always something very, very little!

(More examples to come. Thank you Carrie, this is very fun! To Other Catholics, what are your unique interactions with Our Blessed Mother? Can you write about them and link to his blog?)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Making Sense of Mommy Mary

I got a letter from a reader this week:

"I am becoming interested in Catholicism. But this Mother Mary stuff just doesn't make any sense to me at all. Could you point me in the direction of some help understanding this?
Thank you,

Well as a little Carmelite, rather than point you to a book or a website, I'd rather point you to having a prayerful heart and rereading the Gospel of Luke.

Mary is a real person. She existed in a specific time and place. She is Christ's first and his best disciple! St. Peter messed up a few times. St. James, St. John,and St. Paul, all very good, inspiring men--but they had flaws that Scripture faithfully records.

Mary on the other hand, consistently hit the ball out of the park.

She said YES!

Again and again and again.

So lets just review a few highlights of Mary's discipleship career.

Angel Gabriel comes and announces an unexpected pregnancy for God. An event that may mean public ridicule, divorce, and potential death by stoning as an adulteress. Mary says Yes!

Early in her pregnancy (during the first trimester when I'm personally having trouble getting out of bed in the morning) Mary RUNS to visit her elder cousin Elizabeth in a far away community. Mary has great love for people as well as for God.

Being the Mother of God has such glory connected with it as giving birth in a filthy stable, fleeing from an Israeli king who is intent on killing your toddler, living as an alien in a foreign land for several years and "misplacing" the Holy Son of God for three days as a teenager in the Temple of Jerusalem.

All of this happens prior to the major heartache of watching your son die in a painful way in the midst of great cruelty and ridicule.

Mary was a purely human being, like us, who had a supernatural gift of grace (the Immaculate Conception, not like us). We don't have to be jealous that Mary got a unique gift from God. Instead, Mary does help us all accept that "goodness" is a gift from God himself. In our lives on earth, we won't ever be able to duplicate Mary's "home run" of faith. Jesus only came as a tiny baby once and none of us currently living women will ever be able to nourish him in our womb. But Mary will help us "give birth to Christ" in our soul. We can become more Christ-like. We can start to resemble our Savior's life more and more in our frail human form.

So when we pray to her, she responds. She's real. She helps us to see her working in our world.

Two common Catholic Prayers to Mary are the Hail Mary and the Memorare.

Hail Mary
Full of Grace
The Lord is With You (this is a quote from the Angel Gabriel's words in Luke)
Blessed Are You Among Women
And Blessed Is the Fruit of Your Womb, Jesus (This is a quote from St. Elizabeth also found in Luke)
Holy Mary, Mother of God
Pray for Us Sinners,
Now and at the Moment of Our Death (This is a saying of the entire Catholic Church who wants help from Mom right now, and at the most decisive moment in their Christian life--the moment of death)

Also, my husband suggested drawing closer to Mary by using his favorite Marian prayer, the Memorare

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection,
implored your help or sought your intercession,
was left unaided.
Inspired with this confidence,
I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother;
to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful.

O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions,
but in your mercy hear and answer me.


Blessed Mother, pray for Carrie and pray for us!

I'm on a mission....

to help curly haired girls adore their natural hair type!

So you see my pretty Mimi pictured below. At age 4, she is already complaining that she wants straight hair like her big sister!

As we walk through life, so many women come up to me and talk about "I had hair just like that, but my Mom couldn't brush it, SO SHE CUT IT ALL OFF and it grew back like this.." These woman who are in their fifties or sixties and still have tears in their eyes when they talk about that trauma.

Then I found that I had curly hair like my daughter Mimi, but I got it "cut wrong" at age five also. Now my hair is more "wavy" than having adorable "Annie" curls like Miss Mimi.

So I'm nominating reformed curly girl expert Miss Kaitlin to give all us moms of curly tops an online tutorial in hair care.

And please, if you have a pretty curly girl in your life, tell her that she looks uniquely beautiful every day--because that pressure to comfort to "straight hair" beauty is very dreadful!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Back To School Shopping

Glad Home-Schoolers Can Still Enjoy Go Back to School Shopping With Grandma

(Doesn't this girl deserve her own modeling gig?)
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Spiritual Help for the Home Schooling Mother

I'm back to struggling with fear and pride again this August. Last year, we had just one disruption after another during our home-schooling year. As I'm struggling with fatigue and morning sickness my constant thought is "God, please don't let us have another year where Alex (my first grader) doesn't learn how to read!"

The Devil is real! The very fact that I'm so caught up in all the complications I'm going to have home-schooling while newly pregnant in a brand new state, is probably proof positive that our 2011-2012 school year is going to be awesome. At least resulting in major spiritual insights and improvements for my children's very flawed teacher, ME!

To fight the Devil at his own game, I'm resolved to NOT spend hours scrutinizing new home-school curriculums online UNTIL I get my heart straight!

BE IT RESOLVED THAT: This home-school year is about growing in spiritual formation for me and all of my babies.

My job as a teacher is to fight sloth and timidity in myself.

My 3rd grader's job is to strengthen her virtue of perseverance.

My 1st grader's job is to practice obedience by doing short bursts of activities that he doesn't like.

My four year old's job is to practice patience.

Every day, I'm going to use school work as a method of strengthening these fundamental spiritual virtues in my children and in myself. If we do our work "well for Jesus" each day, that counts as success.

Hopefully, I'll be able to put together lots of inspiring Scripture and examples from the lives of the Saints to help me fight the vice of pride in thinking homeschooling is more about "making myself look good by having super smart kids" and more about the humble work of serving Jesus.

St. Ann, pray for me!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

August Home School Angst

So it looks like we're going to be home-schooling again this year.

I need some advice.

Who has a good spelling program for a high school student or an adult? (I want to set a good example for my kids by fixing my own poor spelling habits.)

Easiest Math Program out there that won't bore my 1st and 3rd grade children to tears? Any votes for Sigapore? I'm looking for a substitute to Math-U-See.

Miss Abigail Is Not Herself....

Just want to apologize in advance for all the weird, off-base posts that are potentially coming in the next few days.

Miss Abigail is not herself!

This new pregnancy has really thrown me for a loop. Moves and Babies go together for the Benjamin family. Three of our four kids were conceived immediately proceeding a major out-of-state move. (Does this happen to anyone else?)

In June, I was sobbing because I WASN'T pregnant. We took almost 4 years to conceive Baby Tess. I was convinced I was stuck in "unexplained secondary infertility" again and that feeling stunk!

But then came early August. A positive pregnancy test! And I'm excited, but I'm also not excited. I don't have my feet underneath me at all post-move. (Although, I know realize that part of the reason I'm feeling so physically crummy is because I'm newly pregnant).

It's just this complete loss of control thing.

Everything I thought I would be doing this Summer and Fall to help us adjust to our new community, I now can't do.

So here I am.

No friends. (well, no local friends)

No structure.

No steady prayer routine.

No husband for 14 to 15 hours a day.

But I got a new baby on the way!

So I'll just remain "un-artfully" winging it with Jesus until a better pattern emerges.

Meeting Someone Who Doesn't Know Our Mom

I met someone who didn't know our Mom today.

It feels strange to be so shocked about it.

I mean, I grew up Protestant. The number of people who I know who DON'T have an intimate relationship with Our Blessed Mother must be well over a thousand.

Both this surprise felt like a curve ball.

I had a deep conversation about a recent health crisis with a fellow Catholic who matched me in all the external trappings of my faith.

I followed the conversation so closely about the doctors, and the test results and that "we can't promise anything certain about the outcome until after surgery..."

And then there were these gaps, because in my head I kept remembering my own journey through the NICU and mentally adding "and that's the moment when Mommy Mary entered into the hospital room."

But this story didn't have that.

No Mom.

No sacraments.

No intangible spiritual presence.

Everything commented upon was something tangible. The doctors where great. The church was "great" --but only in a physical, tangible way as in "everyone brought us food every night."

And it made me realize what a very precious gift it is to see Mom in my life. I get in trouble. I get hurt. I get scared. And Mom shows up!


I can see her. I can smell her.

And anytime someone does a great kindness to me- either a priest giving me some great advice, or a friend sending me flowers in the hospital recovery room-- I see it as a special sign of love from Her! It's HER son or HER daughter that is giving me that love.

I don't walk around being amazed that some random people are "spontaneously" kind to me.

Those special signs of affections come from a source-Her.

And all healing comes from HIM.

I wonder how many other people are out there, going to Mass on Sunday, giving birth to lots of kids, going through the dark night of unemployment or health scares or unexpected pregnancies who doesn't know that

Sort of make me want to tell the whole wide world about "what a friend we have in Mary!"

Turn me over, I'm done on this side!

Happy Feast of St. Lawrence! I love him!

Psalm 17 Save me, Lord, from those who hate you.

"You give them their fill of your treasures;
they rejoice in abundance of offspring
and leave their wealth to their children."

This quote from the Daily Office brought me great joy today! If you think of "fill of your treasures" and "leave their wealth to their children" as true wealth-- spiritual insight--then God is giving us such a glorious promise.

Also, "abundance of offspring" is really more than simple biological offspring, its the promise of having many spiritual sons and daughters. Another beautiful promise that extends equally to the chaste Religious sister as well as to the wife who suffers from infertility.

I also liked this quote from Saint Augustine in the Second Reading about my dear St. Lawrence:

"I tell you again and again, my brethren, that in the Lord’s garden are to be found not only the roses of his martyrs.In it there are also the lilies of the virgins, the ivy of wedded couples, and the violets of widows. On no account may any class of people despair, thinking that God has not called them."

I love that visual image of "ivy" for married couples. I'll have to go find some ivy somewhere and put it in my dining room.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Prayers Please!

A new baby Benjamin is on the way!

Please pray for me and my littlest one.

I'm only six weeks into my pregnancy and this is where all the important stuff gets formed.

In my prayer life, I feel like a bad short order cook. I'm all like:


I don't want my new baby to copy Baby Joey's heart, or Baby Ishmel's missing ears, or Baby Sky's ruptured placenta....."

I'm not exactly a Carmelite girl full of trust this week.

It's a good thing God works with the lowly!