Friday, August 31, 2012

Finally figured out how to truly honor my Tess

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tess is Two

My little NICU newborn turns two today!

I'm less a mess than last year, but still feel a little weird. We're doing a small family party today. Hope to post pictures soon.

Coming out of the fog

Baby Abigail--praise God--has finally started to kick her infant reflux. I was all proud of myself for figuring out the right dosage of her meds, when I remembered that her happier behavior didn't correspond to the last doctor visit, but her last Nun visit. Abigail Clare got blessed with a St. Clare relic and prayed over by the Poor Clares of Washington D.C. Thank you St Clare! Thank you Sisters!

I feel like I'm coming out of the fog of childbirth, and everything around me is a mess. My husband is neglected. My older children are clingy. My budget is upside down. My house is messy. My dog needs a haircut. My parish is infighting.

I just want to lay down and sleep for a thousand years.

Tomorrow, my Tess turns two.

She's beautiful.

I don't have much money, but I do have lots of love and time. I think the kids and I are going to give her "a special day"--doing all the things she wants to do more off but usually just shortchanged being one of the little ones in our family.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Prayer Request

One of my favorite bloggers lost her baby at ten weeks. Could you please say a prayer and give her some love on her blog. Thank you.

Another dear blogger lost her daughter, Gianna, and is having surgery today. Please pray for her family!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sister Update

Very excited to report that all three of the novices I featured on my blog have raised enough money to pay off their student loans and will be entering the convent this Tuesday. Hurrah!

These Sisters need our prayers!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Prayer Request

One of my favorite prayer buddies is newly pregnant after having serious complications with her last child. Whatever difficult task you are doing today, could you offer it up for the safety of her sweet newbie?

Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Following the Quiet Movements of the Holy Spirit

I went to a church meeting last night. A woman that I'm just starting a friendship with told me "Abby, you hugged me after Mass last Wednesday and I really needed that hug!"

I didn't even remember doing it.

Turns out that earlier that day (on the Feast of the Assumption) she had a difficult run in with an extended family member. She didn't think she could make Mass that night because she was crying so hard all day. She went to church at 7 PM, and cried all through Mass.

As she walked out of church, she walked into a giant hug from me!

(I was in the back of church because Miss Tess was a handful at 7 PM).

You never, ever know what He is going to use from you. The smallest word, the smallest smile, the sweetest hug. When you pray, He uses you to write a love letter to the world. Most of the time, we don't see the result of our "perfect timing" because it would hurt our humility. Sometimes I feel like He "tips His hand" to let me know--see this prayer stuff is working! Keep loving me more, and I'll help you help them.

On Being a Servant For God

Oh my goodness! I think Tuesday was the hardest day in my life, and that is saying something because I've already been pregnant for five times!

8PM on Sunday I got this news that totally freaked me out. I spent the entire night awake with my mind racing. Earlier in the weekend, I had a small exposure to poison ivy (I wiped my eyelid while weeding the garden and forgot to wash that part well afterwards with Dial soap). I think it was from my mental stress, but by 3 AM on Monday night my entire eye had swollen shut.

I woke up on Tuesday and looked awful. I didn't even know if it was safe for me to drive with one eye to Target to buy Benedryll. Finally, my right eye opened up a small crack.

If you can picture me with the entire right side of my face red and swollen, with my eye--this giant blob--shopping for medicine with five kids, trying not to die from social phobia--that was me. Vanity is a sucky sin, thanks for working on that with me, Mr. Jesus!

I waited all day for my husband to come home at 6:05 to relieve me. Turns out that he had a suckier day than me. How is that even possible? It is.

I decided that since we are "one flesh" my freakish 96 hours after exposure poison ivy break out was really my body reacting sympathetically to his stress.

Wednesday was super, duper hard.

This Thursday, I had a task to do for Sallie Mae.

Have you met my friend, Sallie? She probably owns the student loans for you, your spouse or someone you love. She's "rawther" demanding, and has all sorts of forms with complicated directions written in small print.

I got to the post office and realized that I'd forgotten to bring one piece of paperwork for my friend Sallie. So I loaded up 5 horribly upset children into my van and drove back to my house. I think I was in the middle of hearing a long litany about how I am the worse Mother in the world when I saw her....


The Iraqi immigrant mother who Sister Mary Ann profiled in our Catholic Charities August newsletter.

She was walking her three year old down my street.

So like the crazy Servant I am, I waved. Then I parked my car and jumped out to greet her. She was very, very kind. I told her that "I have four daughters and one son". She laughed and said "we have five daughters and no sons." I drove off with a light feeling in my house and resolved to invite her to dinner at my house soon.

I hate being a Servant of God when it means that I have itchy, red splotches of poison ivy on my face, or have to console sobbing toddlers in the post office, but I love it when I get to greet someone in person that I've prayed for from afar. Our God is good. He uses long, boring, post office errands to promote the good of his Holy Kingdom.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

An African Woman's Open Letter to Melinda Gates

by Obianuju Ekeocha

Growing up in a remote town in Africa, I have always known that a new life is welcomed with much mirth and joy. In fact we have a special "clarion" call (or song) in our village reserved for births and another special one for marriages. 

The first day of every baby's life is celebrated by the entire village with dancing (real dancing!) and clapping and singing - a sort of "Gloria in excelsis Deo." 

All I can say with certainty is that we, as a society, LOVE and welcome babies. 

With all the challenges and difficulties of Africa, people complain and lament their problems openly. I have grown up in this environment and I have heard women (just as much as men) complain about all sorts of things. But I have NEVER heard a woman complain about her baby (born or unborn). 

Even with substandard medical care in most places, women are valiant in pregnancy. And once the baby arrives, they gracefully and heroically rise into the maternal mode. 

I trained and worked for almost five years in a medical setting in Africa, yet I never heard of the clinical term "postpartum depression" until I came to live in Europe. I never heard it because I never experienced or witnessed it, even with the relatively high birth rate around me. (I would estimate that I had at least one family member or close friend give birth every single month. So I saw at least 12 babies born in my life every year.)  

Amidst all our African afflictions and difficulties, amidst all the socioeconomic and political instabilities, our babies are always a firm symbol of hope, a promise of life, a reason to strive for the legacy of a bright future. 

So a few weeks ago I stumbled upon the plan and promise of Melinda Gates to implant the seeds of her "legacy" in 69 of the poorest countries in the world (most of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa). 

Her pledge is to collect pledges for almost $5 billion in order to ensure that the African woman is less fertile, less encumbered and, yes, she says, more "liberated." With her incredible wealth she wants to replace the legacy of an African woman ( is her child with the legacy of "child-free sex."  

Many of the 69 targeted countries are Catholic countries with millions of Catholic women of child-bearing age.  These Catholic women have been rightly taught by the Church that the contraceptive drug and device is inherently divisive.

Unlike what we see in the developed Western world, there is actually very high compliance with Pope Paul VI's "Humanae Vitae." For these African women, in all humility, have heard, understood and accepted the precious words of the prophetic pope. Funny how people with a much lower literacy level could clearly understand that which the average Vogue- and Cosmo-reading-high-class woman has refused to understand. I guess humility makes all the difference.

With most African women faithfully practicing and adhering to a faith (mainly Christian or in some cases Muslim), there is a high regard for sex in society, especially among the women. Sex is sacred and private.

The moment these huge amounts of contraceptive drugs and devices are injected into the roots of our society, they will undoubtedly start to erode and poison the moral sexual ethics that have been woven into our societal DNA by our faith, not unlike the erosion that befell the Western world after the 1930 Lambeth conference!  In one fell swoop and one "clean" slice, the faithful could be severed from their professed faith. 

Both the frontline healthcare worker dispensing Melinda's legacy gift and the women ....

read more here.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Spiritual Help for Homeschooling

Last week we started year four of home-schooling. This is the letter I wish I had read as a new teacher.

Dear New Home-Schooling Mothers and Fathers,

You're here. Sort of. Congratulations. You are in a Holy Spot. Take off your shoes and pray for a while.

If you're feeling certain about your educational philosophy and school year goals, relax. You'll be feeling uncertain in a few short weeks. If you're trembling with uncertainty, relax as well. There is confirmation on the path of God's will. You'll soon see little sign and signals that nudge you and your child in the direction God wants to lead them.

Home-schooling is spiritually scary.

We don't talk about that enough. Instead there are thousands of thousands of websites, and lists and curriculum. Each author basically promises you "buy my teaching method so you won't be scared."

Beware of false promises.

There are no guarantees in life.

Whether you teach Singapore Math, or Miquon, or Math -U-See. Your kid could still end up hating math, failing to balance their checkbook in twenty years, and blaming you.

Your kid might end up learning "nothing". Hating Mass. Hating you. Home-schooling is not a vaccination against all the challenges of childhood.

Homeschooling is not about you, what subjects you feel comfortable teaching or what level of stress you think you can or can not handle. Homeschooling is also not always about what your kid does or does not feel like doing in the moment.

Homeschooling is about HIM.

If He's telling your heart in a quiet whisper that some or all of your children will learn better with a handcrafted education from you, rather than at a parish school or public school--believe Him.

He is trustworthy! He knows your kids better than you do. He knows you better than you do. He wants your children to learn and be on fire with their faith.

(In contrast, if He is giving you the quiet confidence that your children do belong in a parish or public school classroom, listen to Him. Do what ever He tells you to do. Don't worry about justifying yourself to the rest of the clattering homeschool community).

Make your homeschool journey a time of spiritual growth. Have a prayerful heart. Work at serving Him joyfully with the happy child, and the stubborn child, and the bored "why do we have to do this child." Don't be embarrassed when you fall down. If your stretching you and your child right, you will fail. Fail, often. Be foolish.

Love always protects,
always trusts,
always hopes,
always perseveres.

Home-schooling is just love in service from 8 AM to 3 PM for older kids on weekdays.

Your friend and prayer partner,

Abigail Benjamin

Thursday, August 16, 2012

God Loves You More

I had an intense envy attack while reading Facebook this week.

My second-cousin has a newborn son, her third. She wrote "After 55 days of help, today was my first day alone with the boys".

I almost fell off my bed. She had 55 DAYS of help after childbirth?

I posted something bitter.

Then I deleted it.

Hours later.

I confessed to my husband that night about my feelings of envy.

He said something to the effect of "some women have that, what's the big deal?"

Tears sprang to my eyes. "The big deal is that this isn't some stranger. This is someone in MY family". The only difference between my cousin and me, is that her branch of the family tree kept their Christian faith. Mine lost it. She had a mother, and sisters and probably in-laws, that were joyous and helpful after her son's birth. I didn't.

I'm alone.

My husband, and fellow Carmelite, looked at me and said.....

"God loves you more!"

I think I laughed sarcastically. He said "No really, your cousin is going to have a wonderful life and a wonderful reward in heaven. She's from good Christian stock and she's going to raise good Christian boys. But you--you are on the frontier. You are on the front-line of this war. You are a Special Operative. You have a totally different assignment, you're fighting behind enemy lines. God gave you the much harder assignment, because God loves you more."

Prayer Help for the Unwelcome Welcome

This is the sign at my local County Courthouse.

A little chilly, no?

The sign is posted in two places in the small hall waiting area, and (as the bailiff told me) "in each and every courtroom."

I read that sign and shrunk down a few inches. I was only in the Courthouse to get a copy of my official property map.

I can't image sitting on a bench, waiting for an Eviction hearing, distracted for a moment about my possible future homelessness--and having a chilly bailiff point to that sign out to me and say

"Humpf! We expect you to exercise control over your child's behavior!"

All because my child was (to use an exact quote from my discussion with my local Clerk of Court yesterday) "climbing up the stairs."

That sign has bothered me for a month. Yesterday, on my Mommy's feast day, I went to the County Courthouse. I parked my four children ages 9 to 2 on a wooden bench under that sign. With my youngest girl in her Bijorn on my chest, I asked the bailiff to please take down the sign. He said no.

I often him a replacement sign that I handmade with kinder language (Unattended Children will be given a puppy and a cup of coffee). The bailiff said "My boss wants it that way."

So I went to talk to his boss--the Clerk of Court.

He said "NO!"

I said "Well, where do I take this matter from here?"

He said "No where!" Then he gave me a look that said "Who do you think you are???????"

I must have looked like a sight. A girl with wet curly hair in a banana clip, a blue cotton dress, and  my husband's oversized black flip-flops with a red faced baby strapped to my chest...but....

I know who I am!

A Beloved Daughter of Mary.
A Catholic mother of five who is sticking up for the Baby Jesus.

My local Clerk of Court may choose to post a sign in the waiting area that says "QUIET, Court is in Session". He does not have the right to single out children. He does not have the right to be rude to mothers and fathers.

So I pulled myself up straight, gave him a quick nod of the head and said "You will be receiving a letter from me about this matter soon, Sir."

Then I walked out out of his office with my cheeks blushing.

Now, I am coming to you, gentle readers. Please pray! My Clerk of Court has a last name that starts with "S" and his bailiff first name starts with "L". Ask the Lord to remove the rude sign and soften their hearts towards all children in general.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Help With A Different Kind of Bridal Shower, Part II

Hurrah! Miss Amanda prayed to Our Blessed Mother and raised the entire amount to pay off her student loan debt. She can now enter the Dominican Order on August 28th! Yippee!

There are two more wonderful women that would like to join her novice class. Meet Sophia (who needs $2,105 by August 28) and and Caitlin (who needs $6,000) Please go to either website and donate $1, or $5 or $10. 

These faithful ladies need prayers and encouraging blog comments. Giving up everything to follow the Lord is scary stuff--they need us to be spiritual cheerleaders!

Be like out Blessed Mother--nourish the spiritual life of someone precious.

Update: The Holy Spirit is advocating for these women! Found almost the same post over at Shoved To Them--posted 12 hours earlier. Please help!

Happy Feast of the Assumption

So hard waiting for my husband to come home to do 7 PM Mass together. It was 9 AM, and then 12 PM, and I kept telling the kids "you sure you don't want to go to Mass twice today?"

Mama's such a Mary lover!

Monday, August 13, 2012

My favorite sight

The Franciscan Monesary has acres and acres  of the most beautiful spiritual gardens imaginable. My favorite part was the private garden with a pink flamingo. Those monks have such a sense of humor!
Posted by Picasa

Monestary Cloister Garden

Posted by Picasa

The Dining Room

The priest who sat next to us, is the confessor for the "Little Sisters of the Poor".
Posted by Picasa

All things work together for those that love God...

We had our hands full at the 800th Celebration for the Poor Clares. While we were getting food for our five kids, someone stole our seats. I didn't even know what to do. It was so crowded, and I had grumpy babies who needed to eat.Then the cater said "there are tables in here". She ushed us into the private dining room of the Franciscan Brothers. We ended up getting to eat with Monks and made friends for life! Here's Maria and Tess dancing in front of the Last Supper painting by the Monk's soda machine.
Posted by Picasa

My husband's new friend, Brother John of God (Franciscan)

Had to laugh, I just finished teaching one week of intense Vacation Bible School on the rosary, but it was a 30 second comment from my husband's new friend, Brother John of God, that got us finally praying the rosary together as a family. Those Franciscan brothers are powerful friends!
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Real "Power Player" In Washington D.C.

Hanging out with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Washington D.C. on their 800 celebration of the founding of their order at the Franciscian Monastery. These Sisters came from Cleveland, Ohio in the 1960s to pray Daily for our Federal Government. Their prayers keep our country going. During the homily their confessor urged us parents to support vocations to this order because "in Washington D.C.-a city obsessed with power, these women have access to the true source of power, a intimate relationship with our Lord,  Jesus Christ!" Amen!

(These Sisters prayed for Teresa to heal during her stay at Children's National Hospital and for Abigail Clare to have a safe delivery. Because they are cloistered, we had never met them until today). 
Posted by Picasa
Posted by Picasa

Poor Clares Celebrating Their 800th Anniversary

Posted by Picasa

Abigail Clare on her first Feast Day

Posted by Picasa

Turning to Say Thank You

This is one of the sickest pre-cylampsia premie babies that I've ever prayed for. (Among the NICU set, there is a special gasp of fear if the baby and Mama qualify for an emergency helicopter ride as opposed to a regular ambulance ride). Now she's a healthy 10 pounds, at home, and looking darling. Thank you, Jesus!
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Help a Future Sister With a Different Kind of "Bridal" Shower

Miss Amanda can join the Dominican Order to become a Religious Sister, IF she pays off $750 in student loan debt within the next 17 days. Please go to her website and donate $1 or $5 or $10. Please! She's an orphan. She needs us, her church family. Her prayers will help you for the rest of her life!

(You can also leave her an encouraging note at her email address. The world needs more beautiful women going into religious life).

Thursday, August 9, 2012

God Judges The Heart

There are so many times when I don't know what I'm doing.

Today I dragged the kids to Mass at St. Joseph's after our trip to the library. (They are next door to each other). They were not happy, but basically okay. Then right after the homily, Tess started running between the pews. Our church has this giant baptismal font--the one with the huge pool underneath a flowing fountain of holy water. I get that we're supposed to welcome the Baptist home by placing it at the entrance way, but it was an inviting wading pool to my toddler. Tess leaned farther and father inward to get holy water to bless herself. I had visions of her falling in completely.

Abigail had fallen asleep on my chest (a great rarity for Miss Chilipepper). I knew I needed to move to go after Tess, and I remember thinking "there is no way this is going to end well."

Of course, it didn't. Hannah held Abigail who started to wake up and demand to be fed. Tess started shrieking, then would go silent, then shriek again. I didn't want to abandon everyone by taking her out--besides in these old churches there really wasn't anywhere to go.

I didn't know if I should take all five kids out of church. Or if we should just brave the embarrassment and wait for Tess to settle down in three minutes.

Father Eric had specifically told me to keep the kids in Mass. My husband has asked me to keep the kids in Mass.

I told God, "I don't know if its more respectful to you to leave, but I'm just going to trust these dear men in my life and stay..."

Right then a quiet Tess started shrieking with joy. Her five year old Sister had noiselessly slid under three pews on her belly and was going for a fourth. Tess, understandably was eager to join her! "Get back here," I hissed. Then I sort of mentally rolled my eyes at a dear friend in heaven, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (whose feast day I was celebrating) and prayed in a tone you'd use to an actual sister "You wanna help me out here?"

By the end of Mass, I wanted to flee. But I couldn't because there were library books strewn across the back pew. I waited in the Narthex while my older kids packed the books into the bookbag at an agonizingly slow pace.

"I could use a pick-me-up" I thought. There weren't any smiles coming from the early exiters. "Well, I'll just give out the smiles then." I stood with my two fussy babies and gave out a big smile and friendly greeting to everyone who left Mass.

When I take 5 kids to Daily Mass, I often feel exposed and incompetent. I don't know how to get my crew to sit neatly in a pew without help from my husband. Today, my toddler joyfully played in the Holy Water and my new First Communicant spent most of Mass play with Star Wars action figures that I forgot he had on hand.  It's not a pretty picture of reverence that we make at Daily Mass, but God judges the heart.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that its the "intention" that counts.

A One on One Duel

About two weeks ago, Jesus sent me to fencing classes. I thought I was going to get in shape post-pregnancy. Last week I finished my second 90 minute lecture on fencing--my instructor is one of those "detail" people who insist his beginner class understand umpire hand signals before holding a foil in their hands. In each class so far, I've don't less than five minutes of my beloved leg work (Advance, Advance, Retreat!).

In the middle of rolling my eyes in bored student agony, I started to ask Jesus "exactly why I'm here."

I'm there for  "warrior training."

(At which point, I'd like to whine that my Carmelite husband current God homework is to learn how to relax and be nourished by Beauty while holding a fishing pole--and boy would I really like that assignment. But a small voice in my heart responds that I've eaten far to many scones, and visited far too many Art Museums in my youth. Romance and I don't need to be introduced to each other--it's time for me become a warrior.)

Spiritual Fencing! That metaphor has been on my mind a lot. Here are two insights. "Love is patient, Love is kind" from St. Paul has also been described as a "shield of patience" and a "sword of kindness." I also think of this now as "advancing" or "retreating." During an annoying situation (isn't that what we mothers tend to swim in) I can "retreat" with patience. No matter how determined an attack on my soul is launched, if I move myself out of the way with patience, my opponent sword only finds empty air.

At the same time, kindness is sort of a challenging assertive action. You've got to really go after a person. This is opposite the sort of vague "tell us if you need anything" is wimpy charity. If you want to do something kind for a tired spouse and chronically unhappy teenager, or panicked NICU Mom, you need to commit yourself to a long lunge of effort.

The other thing I'm learning is to break down my bad days into one on one duels. The fencing "strip" is controlled warfare. You only face on opponent at a time, and there is a shin strip of floor where sword play is in bounds. Before I'd have a "bad day" and it was just a midst of chaos.

Now I try to break it apart into individual interactions. First, I have a challenging interaction with an extended family member, the I've got to wrestle with my feelings about our medical debt, then onto the "sympathy impaired" children's librarian. It helps to think "new opponent, new match" instead of letting my stressful experience snowball together.

Today I was in the middle of a long, hot errand run with five tired children. I started having strained communication with a new librarian. I told myself "I'm going to win this one". That was a little prayer that went right up to God in heaven. Five minutes later, we were shaking hands and trading first names. That was a successful match because I was totally exhausted, there was no one ounce of energy in me, and I was already deep in the hole between 10 overdue books and a screaming toddler to boot.

A warrior lives for battle.

Pray for us Teresa Benedicta of the Cross!

Our First Children's Choir--Sing of Mary

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Hardest Part About Mothering Is the Mental Thing

Baby Abigail is back on the "colic" thing. (It's really infant reflux, but I call it "colic" in my head and in public because it gets me more sympathy. Heartburn doesn't sound so bad unless its your  own newborn who is sobbing and twitching for 20 hours each day).

She was doing better on the new meds. Then we lost power for 11 days. Her medicine need to be refridgerated and honestly, things were so nutty I think I just forgot to give it to her for a few days. She cried for two weeks solid. Then she was perfect for Vacation Bible School (my girl is a social butterfly and there were lots of people to hold her and talk to her while I was teaching). She started sobbing on Sunday. Monday, I thought I was going to lose my mind.

I got her into the doctors today. We're working with a new dosage. Things are going to work out--either we'll figure out a medicine schedule that work, or the kid will outgrow this bad reflux thing shortly.

Here's the thing, the baby is not going to feel better overnight. Meanwhile, I have to figure out how to stay sane while my kid is crying for hours and hours every day.

I don't know how to do this. Her cries spark all kinds of negative thoughts in my head. "I'm a bad mother." "I should be able to stop this." "Why is this bad stuff always happening to me?"

It's so embarrassing to write this because I was a NICU Mom two years ago. With Teresa, we really were facing a life and death situation. With Abigail, it's just chronically annoying. Here's the thing, with Tess, I felt His grace. It was horrible. I feel apart. I was pushed as a Mom far beyond what I thought I could handle--but I felt his grace. There was no one day where I didn't feel multiple "pick-me-ups" from God.

This cross seems even harder. She's not sick enough to run to the ER. But she's not "well" either. She's just a irritated baby who can never seem to quite get down for a good nap, or nurse a good meal, or stay calm and happy alone in her swing.

I'm not hitting "bottom" like I did with Miss Teresa's "nosedives towards death." But I'm not "off" either. There's just this grey zone.

I'm so sick of grey. I'm so sick of perpetually being in a bad mood.

I'm going to try to stand closer to Jesus during the crying episodes. Pray for me to kick the bad mental thoughts habit.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

'Tis the Gift to be Simple

The thing I like best about my walk with Christ is that more and more things became simple.

I had an epiphany in church today. So for years, I've had this giant "check list" of the acts of mercy. Everytime, I heard that "what you did for the least of them, you did for me" reading--I'd think "Oh man! I haven't visited anyone in prison lately!"

This was how ridiculous I was. I thought I had to go enter some prison ministry program, in order to get Jesus to like me.

Here's what I think now happens. Jesus writes those acts of mercy directly into our heart!

I might not get that many.

Here's the one that I did get in spades "I was a stranger and you welcomed me."

I'm on the church's welcoming committee. It doesn't matter that I don't have an official name tag. Everything that I do, hospitality, getting pregnant, greeting new priests and seminarians, teaching Vacation Bible School, smiling at new folks in church--that's my unique mission to "welcome strangers."

I have wasted so much time and energy trying to get other people onto my program. "Young kids should be in church", etc. Truly, it doesn't matter what anyone else does. In fact, they might not have that same grace to  drag their often screaming two year old into Daily Mass. But I can smile at strangers--if they are toddlers or 94 year old men.

So here is what happened today. I knelt down in the back of church with 15 kids ready to launch our first ever children's choir, when a Dad with a screaming toddler tried to climb over me on the way out of the door. He collided with a microphone, which I so felt in my heart. (I've so often been there and done that).

After the song, I had my eye on the little girl. She was being two and refusing to sit in the pew. Instead, she played hopscotch in the aisle. I looked down the line and realized their was no Mom. Then I really felt bad. (My kids often act up in church and the only thing that gets me through is winks from my husband. Solo parents in church have it so much harder).

Something in my heart told me to help. I asked my friend if she had a pen. Then I scooped up Baby Abigail, jumped up some pews, knelt down in the aisle, and started smiling at the little girl. I intended to hand the girl a pen and some paper because I often keep my two old daughter silent and still while drawing. This two year old just stared at me. We were strangers. It's in the middle of Mass, so I can't talk to her. I took out the pen and started drawing for her. She looked at me like she's never held a pen before. (Which is probably true, since normal people don't let 2 year olds draw in pen and ink). So I drew a woman and some rainbows.

Then the little girl said "What's that?" pointing to Baby Abigail.

"That's my baby," I answered. We talked about the smiling baby for a while. I pointed to Jesus in the manger next to her and said "See baby--baby!" We had a nice moment. Then the Consecration was done. I figured the super important quiet part of Mass was finished, so I went back to my seat.

The entire time I was kneeling there, talking to the little girl, I had this voice in my head "This isn't how we do this!" I wasn't supposed to get out of my seat, kneel on the floor and help entertain a strangers child. I was supposed to sit in my pew and sent a few indulging smiles. At the same time I thought, "Wow this is so easy! I wish someone had done this for us." Instead of massive lectures about the appropriate behavior expected at Mass, I wish a more experienced, kind parent had come up and drawn some stick figures on a piece of scrap paper for my kid --in the moment that I was having trouble. No judgement, just help--welcoming the stranger to Mass that was my little puddle of 2 year old energy.

After Mass, I went up to cute toddler's father and introduced myself. We started talking and in the crazy way of Jesus-one second we're talking about the coincidence that this toddler shares the same name that the baby getting baptized --and then I find out that this toddler isn't baptized and this is the Dad's second time back at Mass in over 10 years!

The man needed a welcome!

It is so beautiful to realize that Church is not abstract. It's not "oh the Church welcomes sheep back into the fold." But a specific act--Mommy Mary will send her daughter Abigail to personally greet a Father trying to bring a wiggly toddler to Mass for the second time.

I don't know if this Father will come back.

I do know, that he's a heck of a lot more likely to come back after his little girl had a rockin' time hanging out with my four daughters in the back of a church pew and after I took the time to learn his name and assure him of my prayers.

My name is Abigail Benjamin. I am door greeter for the Catholic Church.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Why I Love Having a Big Family.... Instant Parties!

Posted by Picasa

Rosary Camp

Posted by Picasa

It's All About Her....

Posted by Picasa

Rosary Idea (Made out of Pool "noodles")

Posted by Picasa

St Teresa of Avila--Foundations

Did you know that as a Catholic Mom or Dad, you are engaged in building a "foundation?" Your family is domestic church for God. Some of my readers were blessed to grow up in a loving Catholic family and feel well-equipt to enter into the vocation of marriage. However, I suspect that many readers feel totally 'unequipt" and are "learning on the fly."

Home-schooling. Raising teenagers. Running your first marathon. Starting a new Food Pantry in your parish--God has something for you to accomplish in His Will that you feel totally inept at doing.

Enter my bff St Teresa of Avila.

She teaches us that God can do great things with His followers who clueless, flaky,  ill-equipt, impatient, sick, and poor. The Foundations of her "innovative" reform convents were not a result of some together Saint with a clear master plan--but a result of someone kept her eyes constantly on Christ and did many foolish things in his name.

St Teresa's  "Book of Foundations" is underappreciated. Yet this is a gem of a book. I felt like I really got to connect with the "lady behind the myth." I was stunned at how much I could relate to her struggles and challenges. Before going into "The Interior Castle", try to connect with the frail, human who is Teresa.

Here's is an excerpt from Friar Mark Foley, OCDS (so crazy that I know him now)

The Book of Her Foundations is the least read, the least quoted, the least known of St. Teresa's works. Why this is so is probably because people do not think it is a spiritual book. But as you read on, you find that St. Teresa grew in holiness, not in spite of obstacles such as being entangled in lawsuits, mired down in disputes over dowries, tied up in interminable bureaucratic red-tape, and having to deal with unscrupulous businessmen, but because of these difficulties. None of these challenges impeded her spiritual growth. This study guide will help us to see how Teresa grew in holiness in the marketplace as much as in the cloister, perhaps even more so. None of us has been called to found convents, but like Teresa all of us are called to practice virtue and grow in holiness within the fray of daily life."

Can't recommend this book strongly enough. You can buy it on the Nook and Kindle Fire.

I Am What I Am..... (Popeye)

My husband Jon (a man so knowledgeable as Father of four daughters) has a new saying 'the curly hair girls want their hair to be straight, and the straight hair girls want their hair to be curly!"

I have spent so much of my life wishing to be something I'm not.

I learned this week at Vacation Bible School that I am a "starter". I'm someone who does "Foundations" like my bff St. Teresa of Avila. I'm a "visionary leader."

I hate this!

I want to be a little "follower". Or if I have to have the discomfort of being in charge, I want to be the calm, efficient "administrative" leader, the one who is has all the support systems running smoothly in place.

Beginnings are hard! Beginnings are messy! No likes you. Every is a critic. You work your finger to the bone and there is next to nothing to show for it.

What is a foundation--a giant, empty hole in the ground! Or maybe if your lucky a drab slab of concrete!

The fun part of the house is the frame--the drywall- the interior decorating!

But God gave me a special talent--I'm a girl who starts things from scratch. He gave me the grace to start a Vacation Bible School in a parish that not only didn't ever have a Vacation Bible School before in its 27 years of existence, but for the past 20 to 25 years --didn't even have KIDS IN THE PARISH. (We're a mission parish that consisted mostly of retired people. God has a great sense of humor and put 5 super, large homeschooling families there. Then He moved me there!)

Now there are many other "started ideas" I have floating around my heart.

I spent my Saturday brunch* today telling my husband--"but I don't want to be the leader! Why can't one of the other ladies be in charge?"

My husband kept telling me--but "you're the Carmelite!" (Which I think loosely translates to "you have the most access to grace so you have to have the hardest job").

So here I am, age 37. Trying to finally make peace with the messy, unruly texture that is my hair. Trying to make peace with my unruly, messy, creative leadership style and the fact that I will never, ever have a safe, boring, established job in my church.

I'm the Fool. I'm the Mystic. I'm the girl that sees a large future building rising from an empty field currently covered with cow patties.

Thank heavens, He's a good friend in my heart because Man--it is lonely out here. Being a Carmelite means that I live in a desert!

*(By the way, thank you Little Jo Ann for sending us delicious, organic Applegate bacon to eat for this all important post VBS brunch. I didn't like anything I was hearing from either Mr. Jesus or Mr. Benjamin--but at least my tongue got to delight in delicious tastes).

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Power of a Hail Mary

My hometown Catholic girl, Katie Ledecky just won a gold medal!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Be My Pinrest

Gotta throw a quick pro-life baby shower for a former NICU premie this Sunday. I'm already exhausted from VBS, so ideas need to be pretty, quick and easy. All the shower games etc I know are about a baby that's coming, not celebrating one who is already here. Do you guys have ideas for how to host a baby shower?

You Can Not Steal My Joy

"You can not steal my joy!"

I said that out loud to someone today. Right in front of the tabernacle (in church). Right in front of everybody.

I was working hard at a task for God. It was hard. It was an uphill battle. After a massive effort, I'd started to see the tiniest crocus blossom of promise from a few of my students.

As I walked out the doors of church, some one rushed towards the group with negativity.

I said "You can not steal my joy!" She was stunned. I was stunned. I kept going "I know what the kids accomplished today. They did a great job. This is going to work out. We've got to start somewhere and this is a great beginning."

Then I kept on walking.

And I stayed silent.

Three times later someone came up to me and said "I didn't mean to steal your joy, you can't say that to me..." but I didn't talk about it!

My whole life I have been battling this thing--that I didn't know what it was called until my husband read about it in Imitation of Christ last week. There are people out their who hate your peace with God. There are people who will try to rush at you and attack you for having it. There are people who will call you "foolish" and stupid and dumb to the bone.

Beginnings are fragile. Beginnings are precious. Foundations are hard. You need to put up a firm fence around your beginning garden of tasks for God, and not let the opinions of others stop your efforts before they've even begun to bear fruit.

I have no idea if the dream I have in my heart for my poor parish to have a children's choir is going to come into fruition. I do know that if the Holy Spirit says teach 24 kids in our Vacation Bible School who have no musical background how to sing a Marian hymn in time for Sunday Mass, I will try to do it--even if I look like a fool. Even if the final result is 4 minutes of silent, off-key mush.

It is okay to fail in front of God, Jesus and everybody.

A bigger failure is to be afraid to try something new to bring more Glory to the Kingdom of God.