Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

Tonight we party! Tomorrow we go to Mass! See at the All Saints Day Service--mandatory church day for Catholics!

(Costumes: Ice Cream Cone, Butterfly Princess, Ninja, Pink Spider Girl and Toddler who refused to wear anything)
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A Married Woman's Fight Against Pornography In Society

Last Sunday, the Catholic Daughter's handed out white ribbons at our parish to remind us to pray for an end to pornography. I recently moved to a small city in West Virginia. The Mountaineer State has defined "always free" to mean that no zoning laws should exist in town. That means an Adult Book Store sits happily on Main Street. How I hate that bookstore!

When the White Ribbon campaign was announced, I had a clear image of my activism. I was going to sit outside the bookstore, with my five kids, and have some kind of vivid sign saying "Pornography Hurts Women, Pray For It To Leave Main Street." I was going to pass out white ribbons and pray the rosary. I even pictured myself going in there--St. John Vianney style and telling the bookstore owners, "So what are your true job goals, because I'm praying for you to get out-of-here fast!" (Didn't St. J. V. help the tavern owners land on their feet after he shut them down in his town?)

So when I ran into a fellow Catholic Daughter passing out White Ribbons at my tiny mission church on Sunday, I first felt guilt. All of those big plans came to naught. It was already White Ribbon day and I hadn't even signed up to pass out ribbons to my own church!

Yet God is really good! He's constantly reminding me that rather than becoming a grand social agent outside my home, His wants me to become an even more effective agent of change inside my home.

So here is my challenge to all you precious married women readers of my blog. Our husbands love us, and they love our bodies. Men have a gift to truly see the "embodied soul" in their wives. A loving husband's gaze on his wife is truly the antidote to sinful, lustful, pornography in our culture. It's a gaze that heals.

I didn't know until I started sobbing because I now have two c-section scars instead of one--that child birth really changes my perception of my body. I think that after 5 kids, I'd get "over it." But it's still there. Miscarriage makes you hate/fear your body. Infertility does too.

We need our husbands to love us. We need to be vulnerable and let God heal that "body issue" wound in us.

So that is my challenge. Husbands, Be the gaze that heals. Wives, Let yourselves be seen and loved.

There 's a Song of Songs relationship waiting for each of us, on earth and in heaven.

Prayer Request

Thank you for your kind prayers. My family did great during the storm. We lost power. The fireplace, candles and, a new Monopoly Game kept everyone calm for the night.

We have a relative who is in a precarious situation in New Jersey. My husband's uncle Bob was are only Catholic relative for a while and hence is my daughter Mimi's Godfather. He defied an evacuation order, and is now on a barrier island that is completely submerged by ocean water. At the last update he and his wife were staying on the second floor of their home with some neighbors, refusing to leave with the National Guard.

St. John of the Cross, please pray for him. Pray for all men caught in the storm to have great recourse to God's counsel.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Signing Off

Looks like we might be losing our power and electric during a serious storm this weekend.

Friday, October 26, 2012

On the Importance of Welcoming The Stranger

(for Joanne)

I read these paragraphs and they made me catch my breathe in recognition. I've felt such similar feelings, only mine exclusion happened in the public school cafeteria at age 14 when I moved from the Big City to a small town in Central West Virginia. Joanne, everyone in the town he is describing is Catholic--probably most of them received the Eucharist each and every Sunday. God Bless the Stranger. I'm making my life's work to extend this corporal act of Mercy.

From Garrison Keillor, Creator of Lake Wobegon

(talking about his real life experiences moving to a small town in Central Minnesota to "live cheaply" while pursuing his writing career)

"Nobody ever welcomed us to town when we came in 1970. No minister visited to encourage us to worship on Sunday, no neighbor dropped in with a plate of brownies. Several times, I stopped at neighboring farms to say hello and announce our presence, and was met by the farmer, and we spent an uncomfortable few minutes standing beside my car, making small talk about the weather, studying the ground, me waiting to be invited into the house, him waiting for me to go away, until finally I went away. In town, the shopkeepers and the man at the garage were cordial, of course, but it I said hello to someone on the street, he looked at the sidewalk and passed in silence. I lived south of Freeport for three years and never managed to have a conversation with anyone in the town. I didn't have long hair, or a beard, didn't dress oddly or do wild things, and it troubled me. I felt like a criminal....

As I sat in the Pioneer Inn and recalled the years I spent in Stearns County, it dawned on me were Lake Wobegon had come from. All those omniscient-narrator stories about small town people came from a guy sitting alone at the end of a bar, drinking a beer, who didn't know anything about anything going on around him. Stories about prodigals welcomed home, outcasts brought into a circle, rebels forgiven: all from the guy at the end of the bar nursing a beer in silence. In three years only one man ever walked fifteen feet to find out who I was--he walked over and said "You live out there on the Hoppe place, don't you?" I said that yes, I did and he nodded satisfied that now he had me properly placed, and turned without another word and moseyed back to the herd. There was nothing more to say. He had no further curiosity about me, where I came from, or what I did out at Hoppe farm, or if he did, he felt that a conversation with me might lead to expectations on my part, might lead to my dropping in at his place for more conversation, perhaps asking to borrow his pickup or inviting him and his family to dinner, a whole unnecessary entanglement. So he walked away. It kind of broke my heart a little.

I'd been away from country people for a while and was under the illusion that they're hospitable and outgoing, and they're not. It's not that they're bad people. They are good Christian people, the soul of kindness. There is a hand-woven net of kindness in all of those little towns and people looking out for other people, visiting the sick, caring for the sick child so mom can go to work, inviting the widowed for supper, bringing food to the elderly, giving rides, driving old fold to Florida in January and flying down to drive them back home in April, coaching the teams and helping out at church and with Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and 4-H, daily acts of kindness. Everyone is generous to those in need, except to those in need of conversation, especially if you're not from here.

So I invented a town with a bar in which, if a stranger enters, he always turns out to have an interesting story. The stories were my way of walking fifteen feet and joining the circle. I had to invent a town in order to be accepted, like the imaginary friend I had in second grade, David, who walked to school with me.

The longer nursing his beer at the end of the bar is starved for company. He has little to say to his wife, who is depressed and has little to say to him. In the long shadows of a cold winter night, anxious about money, in dire need of society, he drives five miles to town and sits at the bar, where his pride and social ineptitude get in the way: he has no idea how to traverse those fifteen feet without feeling like a beggar. He can overhear the talk and it's about farming, of course, and hunting and trucks, and he has nothing to offer here. He goes back home to his typewritter and invents characters who look like the guys in the bar, but how talk about all sorts of things that he knows about, and soon he has replaced the entire town of Freeport with an invented town of which he is the mayor, the fire chief, the priest, the physician, and the Creator Himself, and he gets a radio show and through perseverance and dumb luck and a certain facility, the fictional town becomes more famous than the real town, and now when he goes to Freeport, some people come up and say "You're Garrison Keillor, aren't you?" A person could write a novel about this."

(Keillor, In Search of Lake Wobegon, pg 21-22_

The Loneliness of Leadership

(for Thomas, who asked me to write more about this subject)

All men enjoy being a leaders when things are good. When there is plenty of money, plenty of time, and plenty of good natured agreement from your wife. Imagine coming home with an unexpected bonus from work, "Hey Honey, you know that return trip to Aruba you've dreamt about since our honeymoon--we're going!"

Similarly, there's the easiness about the less dramatic decisions about family life. Is it Lavender Twill or Big Montana Sky Blue the right color for the living room of the new house? Your spiritual leadership role is clear and easy in this scenario, too.

a) its stupid to put up a color you both hate
b) you have plenty of time to discuss the matter and reach a mutual decision
c) a bucket of paint costs $28, not a huge investment if the final decision ends up being wrong.

When people tell you "That spiritual head of the family is stupid, outdated stuff, we have an equalitarian marriage..." don't believe them. If you choose your spouse well, (and I'd like to add have the benefit of grace from a sacramental marriage) 90% of the stuff in married life is "easy decision making." Either both spouses agree, or one cares and the other doesn't, or someone's in such a jolly mood they cheerfully give up their way.

Spiritual Leadership is about the husband stepping up to direct the other more messy 0.001% to 10% of married life.

There are some hard decisions in married life that have to made quickly--there is not enough time, there is not enough money, and there is no clear agreement between two people who however in love--remain different individuals with different tastes and preferences.

In those decisions, the husband takes the lead.

He doesn't get to make the decisions because he's better than his wife. He makes the decisions because someone has to do it--life is miserable if a husband and wife have to stop and debate the smallest minutiae of life--and the husband gets to do it because he is the servent of his wife and his children, and the Holy Spirit gives him some kind of special insight into God's Will "on the big stuff."

It's easy to do that when your wife gracefully acquiesces to your leadership.

But sometimes, a husband is urged to make a decision that no on in his family (his wife or his kids) likes. That is the "loneliness" of leadership. As a wife, (who often sports a disrespectful "Nobody is going to tell me what to do" attitude towards her loving husband) I want to encourage you to embrace the loneliness. If there is a decision that is important, that you've prayed about, that you are doing out of loving concern for your wife and your future kids, don't automatically default to the thought "this must be the wrong decision if she doesn't agree 100% with me..."

If you make a small step out to Him in faith He will bless you. You are like our Father Abraham, talking to God in your heart, as you bravely journey with your family, into a new land. You are St. Joseph protecting the family by fleeing to Egypt.  The uncertain is scary, but as a husband, you are uniquely equipt to lead your family out of danger and into safety. (There is a reason why you love to watch Action Films and Sci-Fi Adventure-it addresses that uniquely male question "What would I do if this happened....")

Here is a small sample list of things that I've only later agreed with my husband on:

Example One:
Jon made some sort of promise to God at our daughter's baptism never to miss another Sunday Mass. It's such a deep promise, he doesn't even tell me about it. Three months later we're going camping with our friends. As a new Catholic convert, I'm still on my old Methodist rule that it is perfectly okay to church for sickness or travel. We have this discussion in public with our friends, while me and two other people tell Jon he's being a stickler for wanting to go to Mass on Sunday.

My husband decides to drive 4 hours round trip to go to a 7 PM Mass in the capital city in our state, just so he fulfills his spiritual obligation to God. At the time, I thought he was dumb. I most likely even groused about getting left extra hours alone with our baby. The fact that he drove so far to go to a Sunday Mass, stunned me. It really spoke to my soul. I didn't change overnight, but I did start taking my obligation to go to Mass much more seriously.

(It was months and month later, that we discovered that missing Mass was a mortal sin. We had to go to confession for it.)

Jon was right. His leadership on an issue I thought was "unimportant" changed my life. I am a Capital "C" Catholic because I watched him drive so far to attend Mass that day. (As long as I kept making mortal sins, I couldn't get the full grace from God to change my life around and start growing into the person He wants me to be).

Example Two:
Winter is coming. As a new homeowner, my husband had this dream of getting our propone fireplace converted to burn wood. He's married to a timid girl who once had the misfortune of attending a Tort Law class. Last year --under the democratic decision making process model--I flatly vetoed Jon's dream.

I'd read somewhere that you shouldn't mess with a fireplace without a licensed professional. An entire year passed while we were waiting to save up the fireplace renovation fee. We had a baby instead-- no dice. This Fall we were no closer to our goal.

Then my husband said "I think I can do it. Let me give it a try." Totally begrudgingly I let the matter go. I said "Ummm, we'll see" without any enthusiasm. I totally expected the measure to fail. To my shock, the husband I would have formerly dubbed "unhandy" fixed our fireplace. It burns wood! The kids were overjoyed. I think the quote of the night was "Mimi, get off the computer and come downstairs, the fire is on!"

Can I tell you how warm, delicious, and sexy it is to have a wood burning fireplace in my living room? I was 100% against the decision to even let Jon "try" to fix our fireplace. Now he's got my enthusiastic support--so much that I'm telling him "a blizzard is coming, better take some of our savings out to buy a cord of wood this weekend!"

To get to this stage, my husband both times, had to risk my displeasure. Sometimes it's an unenthusiastic "well, if you insist..", sometimes it's a frown, sometimes its actually (as in the real life case of me coming down with kidney stones and refusing to bother the ER doctors with some of my quote "stupid" PMS pains) my husband stands strong in the face of such opposition as when I start screaming "WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE to order me around? I told you this is no big deal! Leave me alone!"*

Yet my husband risks the loneliness of leadership-because he's acting out of love. He knows in his gut that he's got a divine connection to the Holy Spirit, and he can make the hard, unpopular decision because he's acting in the best interest of his family. God doesn't just issue you a wife--he entrusts you with a precious treasure. The more you act with courage to protect and safe guard your wife, the more she is going to trust your leadership, in the few times that you disagree on your joint journey to heaven.

Prayer is the fast-track to spiritual leadership.

Many prayers and best wishes to Thomas and all the Holy Christian Couples out there. We are all fighting the good fight!

If "the World cannot hate you...." you are in trouble!

Meditation today--Luke 7:7

"The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil."

Scorn, ridicule, hatred. I am not comfortable with those parts of the Catholic journey. If it were up to me, everyone in my life would join hand and sing Kumbaya. (Can't we all be friends, is the seventh grade plea of my heart!)

"The world cannot hate you."

When I am consumed by the world--when I'm frivolous, overly intellectual, or inattentive to my vocation--the world cannot hate me.

I confess, it still feels good to be "not hated." I like the fake safety of having lots of false friends' cellphone numbers in my address book. (What was that Wicked Song about "Popular"--I want to be Popular?")

Yet Jesus isn't content to let be bask in the false security of "Everybody knows her name" (and my coda "and thinks she's a nice girl, too!) He wants me to become HIS friend, first. His friendship starts to dramatically turn my life inside "right." My new self "testifies to the world that its works are evil."

Often times, I don't even have to say a thing. Showing up with five little kids in a grocery store line is a testimony, but so is a pure smile to my husband after church, a brown scapular messily sticking out of my sweater, or walking my dog kindly around the block on his leash, rather than sticking him in a fenced in yard all day. Those silent, hidden actions of a Catholic heart are enough to inspire spitting hatred in my non-Christian block.

Contrary to my programing, scorn from my community is not a sign I'm doing things wrong, its a sign I'm doing things right!

My Dear Jesus, lend me your courage today!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Advice I Want to Share With My Girls About How to Choose a Mate

This is a real life story of a first date from a long-married farm couple

Archie Lieberman's Neighbors: A Forty-Year Portrait of an American Farm Community, Bill, Sr and Mildred

Mildred (on the story of how she met her husband in 1938): "Bill was about eighteen. I was sixteen. He was with another boy in Scales Mound. It was  Sunday noon, and maybe they were playing pool. This boy had a date with me that night, but he didn't have a car. This boy wanted Bill, who had a car, to bring him to see me. They called up and wanted to know if I could get a date for Bill. I got a girl for Bill and I went with my date, and we went to a show in Sullsburg. It was wintertime, and a real snowy night. Bill was driving, and we took his date home fist, because she lived closer to town than I did. Then, going to my home, we had to go up a steep hill called White's Hill, and we couldn't make it up. Bill had to get ou and put chains on. He was whistling and work, and this guy I was with was doing nothing but grumbling and grunting, and I just decided right then and there, that I liked whistling better than groaning and that I liked Bill a lot better than the guy I was dating.

pg 47.

I really loved that story. Something similar happened to Jon and me on our first date skiing in snowy Madison, involving a flapping edge of his cloth Jeep cover that he had to keep getting off the highway to re-duct tape together. There was something so relaxed and unnaturally cheerful about him.

New Thoughts on the Familiar Story of Zacchaeus

My little five year old came home talking about Zacchaeus and his big tree after Sunday School this week. I took sometime to reread it in Luke on Monday. Wow! Is this a powerful story about prayer.

Luke 19:1-10

"He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycomore tree to see him, because he was going past that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lor, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."

Some brief thoughts I had during my prayer of Lectio Divinio (a fancy Carmelite way of saying praying the Bible very slowly and asking God for help in applying it to your life).

--Jesus was just "passing through" town. He actually changes his plans after he sees Zacchaeus' actions

--Imagine Zacchaeus for a moment. He's rich. He's in fine clothes. He's got a dignity and stature about him. Yet he climbs up a tree! A childish action if there ever was one. He doesn't worry about getting his nice clothes dirty. He doesn't worry about people making fun of him. He impulsively climbs up a tree simply to "get a glimpse of Jesus!"

--Jesus rewards this "foolish, childlike action" with a dinner invitation

--Zacchaeus "hurries down" and is "happy to welcome him." (That's how Jesus wants us to respond to his invitations)

--people around him start to complain. They are jealous. They wanted Jesus to come to their house to dine. They complain that Zacchaeus is unworthy to have such a great guest in his house. (He's a sinner!)

--Yet, notice that Zacchaeus is no longer a sinner. Zacchaeus is instantly converted. "I will give half my possessions to the poor.."

-Jesus then rebukes the grumbling townfolk. He gives the unpopular Zacchaeus back his human dignity. He asserts "this is my true mission--" "For the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost."

Wow!  A gold mine of stuff for contemplation.

Prayer: Lord, help me foolishly climb tall trees in order to see you better!

Also, it reasserts my belief that Young Children should spend time hearing the actual word of God.  Try out the New Revised Standard Version--it's highly accurate, written in plain English and retains so many beautiful images. Children's Bibles and stories are great for pictures of "add ons"--but truly the actual passage in Luke is so vivid. I don't the water down picture book my daughter read in Sunday School contained nearly the power of this accurate translation of Luke's original words.

Our Need for Holy Recreation

I'm learning a lot from this challenging newborn of mine. (We're currently in month six of "whatever you call it"--colic, infant reflux, hyper sensitivity, dragging her Mama to heaven one scream at a time.)

I figured out a clear difference between "Me Time" and "Recreation."

Me Time is selfish. It was NOT working. Me Time was when I either threw the tense, crying baby at my husband the second he came into the door after work and announced "I'm off duty now!"--or when my husband found me sobbing after another failed breastfeeding session would say "Why don't you go to the coffee shop for a break..."

That sounds great in theory, but it didn't work out in practice.  I'd go to our only local coffee shop --which does NOT sell good coffee (only burnt) and overpriced stale baked goods, and spend money we didn't have, eat stuff that tastes worse than I could make at home, I'd read bad Nora Roberts romance books for an hour and then come home still a mess. I'd walk in, the baby would see me and start crying for milk, my insides would get into a ball of acid and I'd think "When can I get another break from my life again..."

In my head, Me Time is something I grab as my "right" when I'm feeling overwhelmed and ungrateful about my life.

Contrast that with "recreation."

Recreation demands foresight. Recreation is intensely individual. Recreation is a gift of play given to us by God.

Recreation demands sacrifice from the whole family. It feels uncomfortable on the front end. For example, I often grab a $3 Nice Chocolate Bar while shopping at Target without thinking about it because "It's been a hard day and I deserve a treat." That was a totally different experience from my husband saying I think you should spend $125 (which is a week's worth of groceries for my family) to go to fencing lessons." It felt really hard and weird to quote "take" that money from my family for my lessons--and the only reason I could do it was because I'd urged my husband to buy a fishing license and new pole two weeks before. (Not to mention the fear I had getting into a car leaving a young baby who won't take a bottle yet, while I spent an hour in a gym in another town).

Yet my individual fencing lessons blessed my family beyond measure.  My husband and I now have plans to fence competitively when we're 70! (Can you imagine a sport that starts out at age 9 and yet also has an over age 70 division?) Similarly, his early morning fishing trips make him so relaxed and happy. He's taken our family out on picnics to beautiful local fishing spots and caught fish with our kids.

Recreation is holy. It is time alone that restores you. It blesses your family. It sets up a good role model to your children and your spouse. Recreation is a fancy name for "recess". It makes you feel like a kid again.

When you feel like a kid, you can pray better. When you pray better, you love better.

What are your holy recreation choices?

Here are mine: Fencing practice, playing tennis with my husband (perfect toddler friendly activity b/c you can shut the gate and let the toddler run around while you work up a sweat), running around the block at 6 AM when everyone is still asleep in bed, talking Fall walks with my husband while pushing two sleepy babies in a stroller, dancing in the living room while listening to Pandora, knitting

Here are things I want to add: playing bridge with friends, writing snail mail letters, singing hymns, starting a church choir

Monday, October 22, 2012

On Joining the Girl Scouts

As I grow as a Carmelite, I'm learning how to trust my heart above my head. I'm learning how to be flexible inside God's Will rather than sticking to more comfortable black and white way of thinking like the Pharisees. It's an uncomfortable transition, but one with great benefits. This is a story of one transition.

Five years ago, when my oldest daughter was in pre-school, I wanted her to join the Girl Scouts. My plans kept coming to dead ends. After I started reading Catholic blogs, I found out a lot of stuff about the Girl Scouts ties to Planned Parenthood that I hated. "Well, God must not want my girls in the Girl Scouts..." I thought. I wore my non-participation as a badge of honor. I boycotted Girl Scout Cookie sales. When at last a troop was formed down the block from our City Apartment, Hannah and I wore the sacrifice of not belonging. "Oh we can't do Girl Scouts, we're Roman Catholics..." we said.

Last year we moved to a small city in West Virginia. My son joined the Boy Scouts. My two oldest daughters and I watched his adventures with wistful stares--like little kids with their noses pressed against a forbidden toy store window. "Oh won't it be fun to go camping together, Mom?" I told Hannah and Maria, to keep praying. "We'll find something like that soon!" There were two American Girl Troops in nearby towns, but there was no way I could drive there while I was pregnant. My daughters had another enforced, holy wait as the elder siblings in a large family.

Late this summer, I started looking around for a holy "Girl Scout like" troop to join. I started getting this whisper in prayer, "join the Girl Scouts itself." I thought that must be wrong. Hadn't God been telling me NOT to join the Girl Scouts for years? So was this new directive wrong, or did it just mean I wasn't supposed to join the troop in my old neighborhood? To make it even more confusing some families in my small parish started talking about founding an American Girl Troop in my church. This was the total answer to my prayer--a safe, Catholic organization that would be totally comfortable for my kids and easy for a home-schooling Mom to fit into her schedule.

God told me again "I want you to join Girl Scouts to be a missionary..." (God doesn't speak to me straight out, He just sort of floats soft, quiet ideas in my heart. This methods of giving messages can be very confusing, especially when they don't match up to what other Catholics are doing around me). So a lady at my church actually got mad at me--because I wasn't willing to help form a troop in our own parish. That was really hard for me. Because every fact she cited about why Girl Scouts was bad made intellectual sense to me--but I was just going against my natural instincts based on this "hunch" from prayer.

The first day we came to Girl Scouts I was shocked. It was a huge troop--50 girls, and they were all from poor families. I came home to tell Jon, "I know why I'm supposed to go here for God, but this is not going to be a comfortable fit at all. Should I get a new troop?"

I kept going and it was really humbling. This troop is all about "the girls." These Moms have so much on their plate, but they keep showing up for love of their girls. Sitting in the meetings, I overhear stories that are exactly like waiting room of my old Legal Services office. "My phone got shut off for a $400 bill, you can't call me until next pay day?" Or "My SSI check got tangled up, been going on 8 months now...."

Girl Scouts is where the needy girls are in my town. They are not in the American Girls Troop at the big Catholic Church one town over. I show up on Wednesday nights--often exhausted from hours of caring for Baby Abigail, and I give love. I get to watch my two little daughters, age 9 and 5, be missionaries of God's love with me.

Saturday was my town's big festival parade--the Apple Harvest parade. My girls got to wear their uniforms for the first time and march in the parade. It was totally crazy being their for 5 hours, while still nursing a teething six month old. There were a lot of boring, hard moments where I was like 'WHY am I doing this Lord!" But that picture is a reason.

So my troop has some pretty hard pressed Moms. One of their ideas  is that the girls were supposed to sit quietly on the hay bales until the parade started. After two hours of waiting, the girls started getting restless and the threats to get kicked off the float started coming down. I spoke up and caused trouble. "There's a field over there. Do you mind if I take the girls out to play some games?"

So I became the unofficial "Games Leader" of my Scout troop. This is a picture of my girls and their troop playing Red Rover. The cheerleaders behind us came over to play with us. It was a beautiful sunny October day. None of these girls had played Red Rover before  and they had so much fun.

Later we marched in a parade through my City and it was unbelievable. There were so many girls, and Moms, and Grandmamas who flashed beautiful smiles when our homely float passed by. There are wannabe Girl Scouts everywhere. I'm so encouraged to get even more girls to join our troop. I told Jon later, "if we had marched as American Girls, it wouldn't have been the same." We wouldn't have had that same access to people's hearts.

Girl Scouts is 100 years old this year. Please say a prayer that it will be cleansed and renewed. Our holy Bishops started investigating Girl Scouts for alleged improper contacts to Planned Parenthood this May. (At first I was scandalized by this, but now I think it only makes sense that the Evil One would attack such a great mission from the inside).  Twenty-five percent of all Girl Scouts Members are Roman Catholic. My girls and I will follow the Bishops' final recommendation. If they ask us to leave Girl Scouts, we'll obey. In the meantime, its an honor to pray for this group and an honor to have such an easy way to give love to so many precious girls in our community. 
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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Why We Love 4 H--The Heidi Factor

One of the girls from our local Swim Team started 4 H at age 9 with one Dairy Goat. Her family now owns the third Goat Dairy in the entire state of West Virginia. Last Friday we started finally 4H , after this City Girl Mom said "Ack, we can't possibly join yet another club.... for months in a row." My oldest daughter started kissing the goat herd after 4 H. ("Hmm, that must be something she remembers from her old infant babysitter," I thought.)

Then my Tess demanded to get into the goat pen. That would be my former NICU Baby, the toddler who hates anything new. Look at her with those goats. She scared and frosty, no?

These daughters of mine amaze me. There is so much that they don't get from their mother!
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My First Adoption Party

This is a story of two brothers. The brother on the left is named Anthony. He is the youngest of a family of 10. His Mom is a totally normal Catholic, who had a big time job, quit it to start home-schooling her family, had a son who got cancer at age 3 and then died of cancer at age 10, and then soon after his death said Yes to Life Again (because a Holy Catholic  Death teaches us that Life is Precious and Wonderful). Anthony was born with Down Syndrome. It was a big shock at his birth. I'm sure a few tears were shed. Then this totally, average, Catholic Mom (with A LOT on her plate remember the 8 older surviving siblings) put together this totally awesome support nework her beloved son in a rural area where previously those services were almost non-existant.

Now Anthony is a gem of a guy. Funny! The light of our parish.  (He's making funny faces at me while I tease him behind my camera because why should the guy look dignifed inside a courtroom.)

Then there was a little boy (on the right) who was born to a woman "in trouble." The world saw him as a problem because his Mom wasn't rich, or married, or totally 100% expecting him. His Mom chose life. She picked out a bunch of perspective adoptive families and set up a birth plan. Then her son Dylan was born, and no one expected him to have Down Syndrome. So the prospective adoptive families went away.

This boy showed up on some blogs begging for prayers, begging for a Mama. There are faithful readers of this blog who actually said prayers for this little boy to find a home. AND MY FRIEND ANSWERED. Remember, she's totally normal and has a lot on her plate. One Sunday in February, she raised her hand during 'prayers and concerns" and said "(something soft and uninteligable..) there is this baby with Down Syndrome....(something soft )....  next week."

It's hard for me to hear over Tess sometimes in Mass, so I just assomed there was a baby with Down Syndrome who needed heart surgery next week. Being the incredibly nosy girl I am, I wondered over to my friend after Mass and said "what is the name of this baby who is now on my prayer list.." and she said "it's OUR Baby, We're adopting him! We leave tomorrow!" Oh my goodness!

The first time they brought the new baby to church, there was a rush of Mama trying to get a look at him. Everyone prayed. Everyone loved.

On Friday, he got officially adopted. It was an unbelievable day-- and we haven't even hit his baptism day yet. I looked at this baby (who slept) and remembered all of your Adoption Day posts, and it was that incredible. Love is amazing. Love is so ordinary.

It's so hard to write this but 90 % of all Down Kids are aborted. Here are two brothers--safegaurded by two women's Christian Faith. A gift to a tiny country parish. These brothers have parents that have already started remolding their basement into the coolest "bachleor pad" for these brothers when they turn 18. Right now they are only 2 and 1! On that day that was so full of hope, I joked "I've already seen your pad man and its' pretty hip!" In my heart, I just thought, "Maybe they won't even need it!' Who says these beloved prayed for brothers won't go out and stun us all with their growth and independence. They already made it to birth. They already made it home!

God bless all the adoptive parents out there. St. Thomas Moore, pray for us!
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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Still Life, Part VI

How to tell you  if live in a house with real artists. When the new play dough figures are finished, do they get automatically stored in Mom's china cabinet because they are precious too?
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Pearls at the Football Game

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Pearls for Breakfast

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Shopping with Two--More Normal Moment

I'm running a contest for who can take the best "Tantrum in the Grocery Shopping Checkout Line". Join me?
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Grocery Shopping with Two

Idealized Moment with two little girls in the grocery store!
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Still Life Part V, My Imperfect Kitchen Table

Here is what my husband taught me, embrace imperfect home design. So this is not the "right" kitchen table in my mind. Rather than wait until it shows up (as in my case formerly) my husband grabbed something free from the curb. This imperfect kitchen table is blessing us so much! We now have a cozy breakfast nook to enjoy on crisp Fall mornings.

My new mantra is "grab something imperfect first to try out the space" while I wait to have the money, time, inspiration, etc for something "perfect" for my home.
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Alex Turns 8

Some things are even sweeter with time. Can't believe that eight years ago, I had my one and only son. He stands out even more forcefully with four sisters surrounding him. You rock my world, Alex!

There is this beautiful post going around facebook where two eloquent Mamas talk about "Mom never being the picture." It has to do with vanity, etc.  I'd have to add that I'm never in the picture because I'm always the one taking the picture! So I'm making a conscious effort to end each photo session with "Take one with me and the birthday boy, please!" (Thank you, Jon!)

St. Teresa of Avila's Fest Day

Yesterday was my Confirmation Saint's Feast Day-- Ms. Teresa of Avila.

I spent the day being sick.

Perfect for her Feast Day! Jon keeps laughing at me! He says something like "You think the Feast Day is a success when it involves making Brown Scapular cupcakes, but really its successful when it involves you living more like a Saint that day."

It's hard to conceptualize just how much St. Teresa suffered from sickness during her life. At one point, they dripped melted wax on her eyeballs to see if she was dead--that's how deeply she was inside a coma. She had constant migraines, and stomach pains. She was crippled for three years, etc. The craziest part is that this saint prayed to be sick! She saw a saintly Carmelite suffer with some sort of "open sores in her small intestine" and she decided "I want that peace. God make me sick!" Boy, did God answer that prayer.

I named my daughter after Teresa--she was my and Jon's miracle baby after 3 years of secondary infertility. I conceived her immediately after we both received our Brown Scapular as Carmelites. So she was nicknamed "Carmel Baby" by my Carmelite Community.

Praise God they all prayed for her in utereo because at day six the girl almost passed right to heaven and we road an ambulance from our local Catholic hospital to Children's National Hospital in Washington D.C.

I got so made at Saint Teresa! I told her "I named her after the wrong saint! You think sickness is such a gift. You prayed for this in your own life. You better fix my kid!"

(which she did. Thank you!).

Anyway, St. Teresa of Avila is very awesome. I love her. If you have any wish to become better in prayer (and who doesn't) ask her to take you under her wing and teach you how to converse with God "as with a friend.

The best translators of Teresa's writings are the friars at the Institute of Carmelite Studies. They now have Kindle and Nook versions. If you are new to Teresa, I'd try Volume Two, which contains the Way of Perfection, Interior Castle and one of my favorite "Meditation on the Song of Songs." It's $20 and I met the translator, Kieran Kavaugh, OCD, he's a spiritual rock star!

If you're looking for a new take on Teresa, I'd try the new Study Edition of Teresa's Foundations, by Friar Mark Foley (another great friar I've met in person!) Foley's argument is that Teresa didn't  become a saint despite all her obstacles with lawsuits, and petty fights and unscrupulous businessmen, but because of them. It's so encouraging for those of us lay people who mistakenly think that a serious prayer life is only for those Nuns who are far removed from the Daily Grind.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Marriage is Healing, Part IV--Respectful Communication

(Make sure you read part one and part two and part three first.)

(Special note: everything contained in this series of posts are pre-approved by my husband. It's hard to find the narrow way when speaking about your marriage on the internet. I didn't want to come across as a glib "we're perfect and have no problems, isn't God great?", but I didn't want to disrespect my husband's and my real need for privacy either. I tried to find the middle way. God's healing mercy is real. My prayer is to give Hope)

This is the part that Amy asked me to write about --respectful communication with my husband--and honestly, I don't have it yet. I just know there is a piece of the puzzle missing for me.

I love my husband.
I enjoy his company.
I admire his virtues.
I find him hot in both baseball caps and in sweater vests.
I believe in his leadership of our family because I see the Holy Spirit working in him.

Yet, I can not seem to keep this annoyingly disrespectful tone out of my voice when we're talking about something I disagree with him about.

I can't even tell you what I'm doing wrong yet--I just see his sudden "nails on a chalk board" reaction to my voice, and I know now to quickly stop, say "I'm sorry for disrespecting you" and wait until the air is fully clear.

I'm only at step one of learning how to respect my husband unconditionally (meaningfully apologize when I screw up)--but that one step is huge. I'm getting new love letters on the kitchen table! So I'm just really motivated to keep going. I really think this "Respect for my Husband" is huge and sort of applies to everything from healing our disunity to our Bishops to Better Knowing the Lord, My God.

If anyone has ideas on how to better respect our husband jump into the comments, or better yet, write your own post and link to us. Husbands, if you have thoughts on "Respect" please chime in.
(Remember personal anecdotes are awesome--that's how I remember new concepts--but always check with your beloved spouse before airing private moments in public!)


(To briefly recap for new readers)

So--watching the movie Fireproof helped me kickstart a conversation with my husband about "What 3 things can I do to show you respect." He picked tithing, doing evening prayer together, and not using my father's credit card. Three months later, those tasks are much easier for me.
I also learned that chronic complaining about my hard days with our kids was a form of disrespect to my husband. I'm now working on ironing his work shirts and keeping hand towels in the kitchen (acts of service). Respectful communication itself continues to elude me.

Reading this book "Love and Respect" helped. (I checked it out of my local library)

This book is wordy, you just need to read the first chapter. There is a picture of a "Conflict" Cycle. In theory, couples are always in a "race to the top" for outdoing each other in showing love or respect--or in a downward spiral. Basically she feels unloved (or overwhelmed I'd add with childrearing) so she acts disrespectful, then the man feels hurt and this ugly race happens. Things can get ugly really fast.

The stuff in the a blog post by the Author sounded like Greek but also somehow made sense to me.

"The secret is this:  A husband is motivated to love in response to a wife showing him unconditional respect.  

Paul, as well, shares God’s secret.  “The wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33b NIV).  This is his summary statement on marriage to the wife in the most significant treatise on marriage in the New Testament.Did you know that God does not command a wife to agape-love her husband?  Only the husband is commanded to agape-love (Ephesians 5:33a).   Agape-love is that God-like unconditional love.
The Mysterious Island
Why is a wife not commanded to agape-love?  God designed a wife to love.  She loves to love.  For this reason, a husband does not doubt his wife’s love.  What he doubts is her respect for him.  During an argument, if she shouts, “I love you a ton but don’t feel any respect for you!” he’ll become an island unto himself.  A mysterious island.
That is equal to a husband shouting, “I respect you more than any other human being, especially since you received a million dollar inheritance from your old man, but I don’t love you, never have.”  What wife will jump in the air and click her heels over that comment?  She is devastated and would never get over it.
As a wife needs love like she needs air, so a husband needs respect like he needs air.  He is devastated and never gets over the declaration, “Nobody could ever respect you.”
I recognize myself in this, but I still don't understand what "unconditional respect" to your husband means or even looks like in practice. I'm eager to learn. This healing of Eve's sin starts with me!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Marriage is Healing, Part III --A Truce on the Housework Wars

(Make sure you read part one and part two first.)

(Special note: everything contained in this series of posts are pre-approved by my husband. It's hard to find the narrow way when speaking about your marriage on the internet. I didn't want to come across as a glib "we're perfect and have no problems, isn't God great?", but I didn't want to disrespect my husband's and my real need for privacy either. I tried to find the middle way. God's healing mercy is real. My prayer is to give Hope)

A surprising thing happened when Jon went on his first retreat last May. I'd pre-paid for a weekend at a nearby Benedictine Monestary for his 40th Birthday Present back in February. (Pre-payment is very important when making a retreat. It keeps your commitment). When I made the reservation, I was still pregnant and full of Hope and Charity. I didn't want this important milestone brushed under the rug in the choas of having a new baby.

Then the new baby came--and she had colic.

I sort of bravely shoved my reluctant husband out the door on his retreat weekend. He was leaving me for 72 hours with the following

a colicky seven week old newborn
a teething toddler
a non-sleeping through the night five year old
a seven year old
an nine year old
a dog
and a cat.

When I shut the porch door behind him, I told myself "Let go of the housework this weekend! No expectations! As long as I keep everyone breathing for the next 72 hours, I get to count that as success.

I pictured him coming home on Sunday evening to miles of dirty dishes, unwashed laundry and a listing dog that hadn't been walked properly in days.

Here is the shocking part. Housework was easier when he was gone. I was busy on that solo weekend, but I felt better. Everything went into two piles, either I did it, or it didn't get done. Here's the pile that wasn't open---"leave it for Jon to do when he gets home." It was amazing how much I could get done--and how much peace I had when things didn't get done--when I was alone.  

Each night, I went to bed tired--but in a clean room, with a candle burning, fresh flowers on  the windowsill and clean sheets on the bed. I had time to chat with my honey on the phone, read a good book, and chat leisurely with my daughters. That's an abnormal outcome for me.

While I was cleaning up on retreat weekend, God told me "I want you to do all the housework when Jon comes home." 

Like a true daughter of Mary, I said "that is impossible!"

Then, I said reluctantly, "Okay, I'll give it a trial period of two weeks."

When Jon came home, I told him he couldn't help me with housework. He was sort of shocked. He felt uncomfortable. I kept telling him "it's only two weeks."

You see, I thought I was doing this experiment FOR ME.

I have incredible problems with housework. I have ADD-Indecision, so housework is hard for me. I hate making back to back decisions. Guess what cleaning a house is--a trillion little back to back decisions. Often, I start working on one project (the dishes), and then I go off on another (organizing the plastic lids) before abandoning the entire purpose to go sort the clean clothes from the dryer. For an extra layer of challenge, I'm a gifted student who remains a horrid perfectionist. So in the middle of housecleaning I start beating myself up over not doing this "right" or "well." (By the way, my perfectionism is so bad, for years I didn't think I qualified as a perfectionist because I didn't do anything perfectly!) On top of everything, I have low stamina for stress, anxiety and I have anger issues. So rather than feel depressed when I'm upset at myself--I start yelling at everyone else--it's THEIR fault that our house is messy. 

Housecleaning and me equals recipe for disaster and a quick descent into serious sin.

Now contrast my attitude with my husband. My husband was raised by a mother and grandmother who ran a Sea Side Hotel in New Jersey. He learned how to keep a house clean from professionals. He also served in the Army Reserves. The man has a calm, orderly nature that actually finds steam cleaning a living room, and polishing shoes relaxing!

So if we were sitting down in marital counseling, a priest or therapist could easily say "divide the chores according to likes and ability" and Abigail would say "not it" for housecleaning, and Jon would say "my pleasure!"

The reason why Marital Life is so exciting is that God does not hand out life experiences based on what we "like or dislike." God hands out tasks that are "good for our soul."

So for two weeks in early June, I told Jon he couldn't do housework. He couldn't clean the table for Saturday dinner. He had to sit around while I did the pancakes. At first it was so cool. He said "What do I do?" I said "pull up a chair and talk to me while I cook."

I realized that this is what I really wanted while I did my domestic tasks. I didn't need his help. I needed his company.

After a few days of this, he said "Well..... I guess I'll go check on the dehumidifier...." There was another shock. When I didn't burden Jon down with all of my unfinished "wife" concerns, he was free to do tasks around the house that were bothering him. This was a surprise. 

We had just bought our first house and were moving from apartment dwelling "call the landlord about it" to "Man, guess I've got to figure out how to fix this myself." My husband had all kinds of new concerns and worries about how to keep us safe and comfortable in the new house. When I stopped unloading my own to do list on his shoulders--help me move that, I didn't get this finished today because the baby was crying--then my husband started fixing big worries on our family. 

Turns out, my husband has his own To Do List from God that often includes things that are completely off my radar. For example, we have an original oil heating furnace from 1950--with the oil drum storage inside our basement. My husband figured out how to install ceremic electric heaters this winter, so it appears that we won't have a $200 a month heating bill. Do you know how relaxing it is to NOT leave in fear of the cold weather coming this October? 

That is a BIG HELP my husband handed me--all because I didn't ask him to set the table for me every night before dinner.

Another funny note, my husband changed tons of diapers when our first two kids were born 18 months apart. He actually developed a terrible allergy to diaper wipes and dish soap. We tried all kinds of new soaps and different wipes. Nothing works. It's so hard because he can use a wipe or soap twice or three times without a reaction--but if he tips the balance this incredibly painful eczema starts. It takes months of expensive prescription steroids to fix.

When everything was falling apart during Baby Abigail's colic I told my husband "You can not change even one diaper!" Everything was so hard, I knew we couldn't handle even one break out of his eczema. It was far easier to change every diaper than live with the consequences of even a mini-break out, like what happened with Miss Tess.

So here is the funny part, now that I change each and every diaper (okay --sometimes he still pitches in using paper towels), but now that I change almost every single diaper for two little girls--I don't notice diaper changing duty anymore. It has disappeared from my day. It's invisible work. What I used to do was thing "Oh, this is a nasty one." "Uh, should have left that messy one for Jon." "Why do the awful messes always happen when he's at work?" Now that it's firmly my job, the nasty thoughts are gone!

Also, dish-washing duty. We have a new dishwasher that the seller unexpectedly added to our house during the sale (God at work!), but many times dishes still need to be washed before Jon cooks a special dish like Nutella crepes. (Oh, you mean you always finish the pots and pans after each and every meal? Well, I'm a terrible housekeeper. See notes above). So there is this funny moment when my husband has to ask me to clean a pot for him. I can tell its hard on him. 

It is this beautiful --I need you to wash my feet for me moment-- inside our regular Daily Life. When my husband was a bachelor, he could wash the dishes himself. Since he's not, he has to ask his wife for help. I think its good for us to practice such an important act of humility on something as mundane as doing the dishes.

We're now about four months into following God's advice that "Abby does all the housework." We're still tweaking it. For example, my husband is much better at doing the deep cleaning. I think he's getting a pattern at getting our house "fixed" each Saturday. So I think we are drifting from clear black and white rules, to a more relaxed pattern. Still, I think the general gist is "don't divide the chores 50/50".

The crazy part about this truce is that fighting about housework was 90% of our weekly fights. Once we stopped fighting about housework--it was a little scary, because suddenly we started fighting about THE BIG STUFF. (When I say "we were fighting", I mean me. I'm pretty sure that I'm the one who starts 99.9% of the disagreements in our marriage). 

Once I stopped feeling put down because I did all the housework, or overwhelmed about the housework, or depressed about the housework--I could start looking around with clear eyes and see what truly needed to be fixed in my soul, in my life, and in my marriage.

I stopped asking my husband to set the table.
I started asking him to write me love letters.

That transition, honestly, was a little scary. There were a couple of days during the Ugly Time when I said "I wish I was fighting with you about the housework." Fighting with my husband about housework is safe and limited. Fighting about "Do you let God truly Romance Your Soul" is vast and frightening. Yet guess which intense discussion is more likely to matter in heaven?

So that is my challenge to you lovely Christian wives. Stop fighting about the housework. Wash the dishes yourself. Then ask your husband to fix a broken speaker so that you can slow dance to Pandora in the living room tonight. At least for me, I learned that I need my husband to to be my protector, my provider and my hunky dancing partner a heck of a lot more than I need him to be my fellow "maid of all work."

Notes From My Husband: Jon said he heard a Norwegian Study on NPR yesterday that said that couples who evenly split chores were more likely to get divorced.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Marriage is Healing, Part II

(Make sure you read part one first.)

(Special note: everything contained in this series of posts are pre-approved by my husband. It's hard to find the narrow way when speaking about your marriage on the internet. I didn't want to come across as a glib "we're perfect and have no problems, isn't God great?", but I didn't want to disrespect my husband's and my real need for privacy either. I tried to find the middle way. God's healing mercy is real. My prayer is to give Hope)

John Eldredge's book, Fathered by God:Learning What Your Dad Could Never Teach You, was a game charger for me.

This man is a Carmelite. I know that he's a Protestant Pastor who's probably never read St. John of the Cross--but Christ is Christ, and this man found his way into the deepest secrets of the Carmelite spirituality without having once tasted the Eucharist. A good prayer life is the gateway to Truth.

Here is my favorite part: God As Lover

"John Wesley was thirty-five when he experience the now famous "warming" of his heart--not his mind--towards Christ...."the difficulty as John Julian said "is the term Lover as applied to our Lord." Revisions now in hymnbooks now read, Jesus, Savoir of my soul, or Jesus, Refuge of my soul," which are touching but nothing close to what Wesley meant. He meant Lover."

Men who have fallen in love with God are often referred to in the church as 'mystics' a term that gives a sort of honor while at the same time effecting a dismissal. Mystic, meaning 'inexplicable,' which devolves into 'unreasonable.' Mystic, meaning also "exceptional: , as opposed to perfectly normal. (Large print edition, page 192)

This book is written specifically to men--but the whole thing is amazing, and as a woman who was poorly Fathered by a Man, and who is In Love with a Man, and who is the Mother  of a young man, this book was an amazing read.

The chapter that helped my marriage this past summer is Chapter Six, called "the Lover." Elderedge's theory is that the journey of men is a journey of "initiation." We've lost a sense of Fatherhood in our modern culture--so it means that guys get stuck in stages.

There is a natural progression Beloved Son-to Cowboy--to Warrior--to Lover--to King--to Sage. Modern day guys often get "stuck" in one stage--or skip over whole stages completely and that causes spiritual trouble--distance from God.

As a wife, I was totally shocked to discover that my husband was having trouble with stages of his masculinity. I know that sounds stupid. I'd totally accepted that my grating, annoyingly prim feminist upbringing and hurtful experiences at a radical college were serious obstacles to fully embracing my vocation as a wife and mother. I witnessed how God was slowly using my day to day experiences as a stay-at-home mother to heal serious cracks in my soul.

Yet, somehow, I just assumed from the outside that my husband had it easier.

My husband was doing everything "right."

He'd stepped up to become the sole provider of our family.
He changed diapers.
He joyfully welcomed new babies into his life with all of their joyful messiness and sleeplessness.
He said he loved me.
He drove me to church and sat in the pew with me.
He made love to me often.

Somehow, my husband, the artist, the Carmelite, the mountain climber--wasn't a Lover. He had gotten stuck in the "warrior for Christ" stage and was having trouble moving into Holy, Song of Songs type love for God and for me.

He said he couldn't  let Beauty saturate him.

We would sit together in Mass, a new church dripping with beautiful stain glass windows and the Holy Mysteries of the Rosary, and He wouldn't FEEL God kissing his soul.

And I was sitting next to him, feeling those personal soul kisses, and I didn't realize that he wasn't experience that intense, personal, Romantic love from God also.

So when I blithely told him, "I need more Romance from you...."
He told me "I can't do that. I don't even feel that way about God.... this is a bigger problem than you..."

That was scary. For him. For me.

I know this seems selfish, but I walked around a lot this summer crying about this. I cried during our new Pastor's installation Mass. I cried while my whole family went happily fishing. I felt like that lonely scene during Marie Antoinette, when she just feels so helpless about her marriage and she says "I can't believe that a pretty girl like me is having these kind of problems..."

Then my husband told me "Don't you think this is bigger than you? Don't you think God is even more sad than you..."

And so that became my prayer. "Jesus, this hurts you even more than it hurts me. Go fix it!"

It didn't help that we both had baggage from previous sexual partners before our union. Yet somehow, in my imperfect theology, I'd let that fact rob us from truly relaxing and "delighting" in our sex life. It was like "Oh, I once was a whore, I once used an aborficent, I once had good sex with this man before we were lawfully married... so I better button down and muddle through the sexual part of our marriage at year eleven--um, especially now that we're trying to make out with a colicky baby screaming in a cradle in our dining room--what else can I expect at this stage of my life..."

Not talking to my husband about our sex life was the unnecessary hair shirt I wore in my marriage. I was how I paid for all of my sexual sins before we became knowledgeable, faithful Catholics.

(I can't talk about sex with him because its too scary. I can't talk about it because I'd be too vulnerable. He's so tired from working a hard job, just for me, how can I tell him I'm anything but totally happy? What else can I expect as a Mother of a newborn, anyway?)

And it got really depressing really fast. Because as an Open to Life Catholic, I couldn't just tell myself "oh just wait six months until the baby stops having colic, then your sexual union with Jon will really take off..."

Because, as far as I knew, we could have ANOTHER colicky baby in nine months.... at age 37, I could potentially have four or five new Baby Abigails in my life...we sort of needed to find a way to become Lovers in the middle of colic.

This debate I was having in my soul was so hidden--I didn't even know it was going on, until I read a passage from Fathered by God "Even now, at the stage they ought to act like kings, many men are frightened by their wives because she feels like the verdict on them...It brings a terrible ambiguity into the heart of the lover. So does early sexual experimentation. For years I was a cautious lover towards [my wife], and it hurt her. Even on our wedding night she wondered, "why doesn't he want me passionately?" (page 202)

It hurt me to read my unexpressed pain in black and white words inside a strangers book. I actually ran upstairs into my sleeping children's bedroom and cried on their bedroom floor. It felt so painful. It felt like frost bite must feel when the blood starts recirculating back into a numb limb. I didn't even know I wanted "passionate pursuit."

I just knew that the polite democratic discussions about starting sex during the throws of colic--"So do you sort of want to.." "Okay, well maybe we can try a little bit..." "Whoops, better skip ahead before the toddler wakes up..." those types of discussions were crushing me. I wanted to be pursued. I wanted to pursue him.

(Much later, we were visiting my Dad's college and I noticed the anti-rape signs all over campus. It was like "I wasn't sure how she was feeling, so I asked!" Rape is everywhere in College, so we train men --always Ask before Sex, because otherwise You Are A Rapist. But the reality is that Sex is NEVER good for girls outside of marriage. Emotionally it is not safe, so physically for us, it is not going to feel good. So the truth that those posters should have said on this Methodist College Campus is "Don't sleep with someone who isn't wearing your wedding ring on their finger.")

Once you get married, however, it's hard to turn off that line of thinking. Our culture is so messed up about sex, it's hard to suddenly flip and say Okay, now Sex is fine. For me it was "Am I a slut for wanting my husband when he's tired?" and I think for him it it was "Am I allowed to kiss her passionately while she's standing there fuming about the unwashed laundry with circles under her eyes and a fresh c-section scar from bearing the last fruit of our marriage on her stomach?"

The answers to both questions, and I think Mr Jesus and our Catholic Church would agree, is YES, desire for your spouse is always a beautiful holy thing.

Truly, I need to know that I'm sexy right after having a fifth c-section.
God thinks I'm Beautiful after Childbirth--so why would it be so strange to my husband to think that he can love me at those exact moments that God finds me so loveable?

So thank you Mr. Eldredge! We might never meet for a personal thank you until Heaven, but thanks to your bravely honest book, I now have a heck of a better shot at getting there!

Marriage is Healing, Part I

(Special note: everything contained in this series of posts are pre-approved by my husband. It's hard to find the narrow way when speaking about your marriage on the internet. I didn't want to come across as a glib "we're perfect and have no problems, isn't God great?", but I didn't want to disrespect my husband's and my real need for privacy either. I tried to find the middle way. God's healing mercy is real. My prayer is to give Hope)

When I woke up today, my early morning commuter husband had already

a) turned on the electric heater in my kitchen making everything warm and toasty
b) made our first ever pot of French Press Coffee
c) left a love note on our kitchen table.

That last act of romance warmed my heart the most!

I can easily write a mushy post about "Why I love my Husband," but what I want to try to accomplish in the next series of posts is "Why I love God," because He teaches my husband how to Romance my heart, and my Soul and my Body.

God pursues me. This isn't a theoretical debate we're having in my mind, heart and body. "Do you think I exist Abby?" "I dunno God, do you exist?" "Well, lets break it down into a mathematical equation..."

God wants me. He goes after me. He gets jealous. He gets perturbed. He tells me to do something--I refuse and after much back and forth I finally follow His totally useless, impossible, embarrassing suggestion....and lo and behold--He's right. And I think "Ahhh, God..... You truly Get Me! You Really Do Love Me! I'm Yours!"

God romances my Soul.

(At some point I'd like to skip ahead to the part where we're living in romance without all my"Kiss Me Kate" prelude drama, but that is much further ahead in my hike up Mount Carmel, right now I'm just grateful Mr. Jesus and I are getting all kissy face at all.)

In the middle of this "I'm totally underwater with a colic baby" episode this summer, I decided that I wanted my husband to Romance me. This request was not handed to him in a clear legal memo with helpful bullet points. Instead, I flung my need disrespectfully in his face when he asked me simply "Do you think I should take my car in for repairs on Monday since I have the day off for our anniversary?"

(He's said the above comment in a completely sincere tone while bouncing a feisty Miss Chillipepper on his hip and emptying the dishwasher for me.)

I have this immediate intense reaction: "This is the first thing you think about for our anniversary?" And it all comes out in one awful messy spool. "I finally got us a babysitter for all five kids, our first babysitter in five years--and we put no thought into what we are going to do together on Monday all week--but you can think about your stupid car needing an oil change at 5,000 miles on Monday?"

(I may or may not have said something worse than the word stupid but lets pretend I don't cuss when I'm angry, okay? A Southern Lady has to pretend to have some class on the internet)

Then I flounced out of the kitchen, took my first shower of the day at 5 PM in the afternoon--because that is how we mothers of colic infants sometimes roll--and cried hysterically in the shower. My heart broke. I made all of these noisy sobs that probably broke my husband's heart (did I mention that we live in a tiny house where the shower is next-door to the kitchen?) When I realized he could probably hear me, I just cried louder. "Served him right the lout!" and "my life totally sucks!" Then I came out, dried my eyes on a towel and tried to sort things out in my mind. Then I tried to go and talk to my husband in a somewhat more respectful tone "I just really need more date nights alone with you...."

And he said "I don't believe you...."

As in how can "I need more date nights" make you go off like a nuclear warhead out of no where.
"There must be something more to it than that!" "Why are you so mad at me?"

But there wasn't anything else I was mad about. A girl who is drowning under an annoying constant crying baby, really needs to dream about going to a quiet French Bistro in another town away from her offspring--or at least this sinful girl does.

(I'm kind of like Esau trading in my birthright for a bowl of soup. I'm pretty shallow that way.)

Well, this marital spat happened the night before my husband left for his 40th Birthday Retreat with the Benedictine Monks. We patched things up before he left. He went sought spiritual direction, and the healing power of Confession from a Monk--and this is the really funny part to me--the Monk basically said "Wow, Women are totally strange, you poor thing!"

"It was perfectly understandable that you wanted to take your car in for maintenance. You had the time off. This was a task that needed to be done. Why would your wife take that so personally?"

(unspoken subtext being--Wow, that must be so hard for you to constantly live with a totally irrational, alien species....)

When my husband told me this story when he came home, I just started laughing. Basically, I made a Monk feel better about his vocation! Oh yes, praying for hours is hard, working the farm is tough, but thank God I'm a Monk because hanging out with an irrational, irascible wife sounds like hell indeed!

That would be me, Mr. Jesus. Setting such a poor example of marriage that I make a Monk feel better about being celibate.

I thought things were patched up after his retreat--and things got better, and then they got worse. This "I need romance" she said, "I'm giving you everything I have and more... I've got a killer commute, an awful job, and a colic baby that stays up all night, what else could you possibly want from me since I'm working myself to the bone for you here, there is nothing left to give...." he says, argument kept coming up.

I tripped over it all of the time.

I never had an argument that didn't get worked out within an hour--maybe three days back when we were newlyweds.

This just felt weird.
And Hopeless.

And I started driving my minivan around town, suddenly sobbing hysterically to morose First Album Taylor Swift songs about unrequited love--at age 37, with five kids in the backseat!

Ugly times.

In the middle of this, all I could do was pray.

(And get really, really scared. Because I thought we were doing things "right." Having lots of babies. Trusting in God. Starting a long commute because He picked out this new house for us. I felt blindsided. I never heard  of in love, previously all lovey, dovey Catholic couples with lots of babies suddenly having troubles in their marriage. The only troubled ones I heard about were the ones that shocked us with a divorce. I started thinking about my second grade friend whose Catholic parents of six talked about divorce--and the Carmel family in my old parish who got divorced, and I started reading horrible articles about the Tipper/Gore divorce)

First, I prayed that God would teach my husband how to Romance me.
That didn't get anywhere.

Then I gave up and told God, "You romance me directly."
As in, I need romance, He can't give me it, so you have too..

Then after a long time --(From the May to the beginning of August) a Catholic priest from the Order of the Little Sisters of the Poor sat down at our table during the Feast of St. Clare, and said "this is how you write a love letter..."

I'm not kidding.

We were talking about some general subject. The priest said "My parents wrote love letters...." And then very directly told my husband "This is how you write a love letter. Abby, When you had Hannah in the hospital room, I felt this.... When you had Alex, I felt this.... "

It was actually painful to sit there and listen to this priest give advice about my marriage.
I needed that love letter from my husband so badly.

All the kids were messing around. My husband was tending to them and nodding politely--and I wanted to start jumping up and down saying "Listen to this, this is super important...."

When the priest said "When I made love to you on our wedding night, I felt this..." My cheeks got bright red with shame and I wanted to escape under the table.  My husband couldn't write a love letter like that to me, because we were sinners on our wedding night. We used contraception. We hadn't waited... This love letter advice wasn't going to work because it was for other Catholic couples, pure ones in a different era.

I decided right then and there that this simple advice wasn't going to work for us.

Yet my husband did listen to the priest.
He learned how to write a love letter.
He told me that he needed it to be in an envelope, on nice paper that I can save.

So I went to Goodwill and bought some old Martha Stewart wedding invites for $2.

Almost every morning there is a love letter waiting for me from my husband. Everything in there is holy. (My husband prays before he writes it.). Love letters make my heart happy.

Now I have a shoebox in my closet titled "Love Letters."

Once I picked up a very special one and accidentally smeared baby poop on it. I was so sad--because I wanted to save it. Then I started laughing because baby poop is actually how I answer my husband's love letter. (As in, He and Mr. Jesus tell me they love me, and my response back isn't so much a sweet note back but to submerge myself more in baby poop and the uncomfortable parts of motherhood).

Sometimes my girls find the love notes, and they love being the postman..."Mommy, there's a letter here for you!' You can't imagine the joy it gives my 9 year old to see that her Dad wrote her Mommy a love letter.

God answers prayers.
God loves marriage.
Marriage is a healing sacrament for both spouses.

How God Answers Prayers, Exhibit A


How I Love Hosea!

"For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings."

Hosea 6: 6, "A Call to Repentance"

Everything this prophet writes is so good for me. God desires a "steadfast love"--that is so hard for me. I'm everything BUT steadfast.

"Knowledge of God" in this passage, suggests to me a "quiet confidence", a stillness in the turmoil and chaotic things of this world. That's bigger than all of the "super-mommy" projects I can come up with or diligent "committee work" I can volunteer for at my church.

God doesn't want me "burnt to a crisp" on Catholic motherhood today! God wants me to show Him a "steadfast love" and a "knowledge of His ways."

St. Teresa of Avila, pray for me to have perseverance today.*

*I'd like to admit that after several tries, I finally had to google how to spell perseverance. I'm a Carmelite who can not spell that holy virtue, let alone demonstrate it regularly in her life!

Monday, October 1, 2012

My BFF's Feast Day

Have you "friended" her yet? Check our her autobiography "Story of a Soul" and make this special Carmelite saint your bff too!