Sunday, August 26, 2018

This is What a Father Does

I was going to wait and just share an article that I wrote for Catholic Exchange once it went live...but then the news just kept rolling out. And then I heard the readings for this morning.

The readings for this Sunday include the "husbands love your wives" passage as well as Peter declaring to Jesus, "Lord, to whom else shall we go?" Both of them summarize what's on my heart today.

On Friday morning, I woke up and was terribly nauseous. I was afraid that I was unexpectedly pregnant. (Spoiler alert, I am NOT pregnant.) It turned out that I just had some kind of stomach bug, and I've been in bed most of the past three days.

Thankfully, stomach flu is a piece of cake compared to HG (another post for another time), but I've still spent the weekend noticing how much my Andrew has been doing for me and our whole family. First, he had to stay home from work on Friday (because I was in no shape to be taking care of the girls). For some husbands, that might be a treat, but Andrew ADORES his job, and he is genuinely sad when he doesn't get to go into work. Then, he spent all day Saturday and Sunday taking care of the girls, too. (I was well enough to go to Mass, but that hour at church was really the only stretch of time when he had help....and he spent most of it pacing in the vestibule with the baby.)

That's a piece of cake compared to what HE has to do when I have HG. He basically has to take over most of the parenting and household responsibilities for around two months - and clean up my puke, bring me whatever food or drink I can stomach (and run to the store or get take out if it isn't something in the house, because HG is all about survival, and I can usually only stomach one particular food at a time), and talk me through swallowing a million anti-nausea pills and sticking myself with needles for more anti-nausea meds. To say his life is messy and smells like puke and dirty diapers and wet sheets from a potty-training-someone wetting their bed, etc. would be an understatement. (I mean, maybe not literally, because he has the best hygiene habits of anyone I know, but you get what I'm saying.)

One of my favorite early parenthood memories of Andrew was right after we had had our first baby. I was still home on maternity leave, but he had to go back to grad classes the day after I got home from the hospital. He changed most of the diapers in the beginning, and I remember him coming home from class one day and saying, "I was sitting in class today, looking at my fingernails...and I realized there was yellow baby poop stuck in there."

My husband may not be perfect, but he is genuinely trying to lay down his life for his bride and his adorable little brood.

I was also thinking of this, because a friend of mine is currently pregnant with twins and has HG, and another mutual friend was commenting how - watching this friend and me with our HG - she was struck by how hard pregnancy and motherhood are.  And I was reminded (especially this weekend, as I've been having HG flashbacks with the stomach flu) of the times that I have literally laid down everything that I have to give for the sake of my husband and children.

Added to that is the fact that we, like so many young Catholic couples we know, practice NFP. Chastity in NFP is essential, especially if you are using it to avoid pregnancy. Abstinence and chaste love are a given at times. Self-control is a must. And through that chaste love, real love grows. Through the cross of sacrifice, our marriage is strengthened.

Then, I've been following all of the things happening in the Church.

There is simply no explanation, and no excuse. I sincerely hope that you have a priest or bishop or someone in your corner of the world that is showing you what a father's love should look like right now.

But do you know what? I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure that out. When Andrew and I were talking about what sorts of responses were appropriate to the recent rounds of scandal, I asked him, "Andrew, as a father, how would you respond if someone hurt your child like this?" A look sufficed to confirm what I already knew - he would hold nothing back.

I hope that you - like me - are in a diocese where the bishop is taking some swift and sure action to dredge up all the dirt and begin the work of healing. I hope your pastor, like mine, didn't mince words in his homily. I hope your local seminary, like ours, takes this all very seriously and has been actively working to form priests rigourously.

But, I'm guessing that that's not the case for many of you. And do you know what? Despite that being the case for me, I still feel hurt, confused, frustrated, angry, discouraged, disillusioned, etc. Because even if I know good priests or bishops, it doesn't take away from the awfulness of the many who perpetrated these terrible crimes.

And so, I'm not going to make excuses for any of it. I'm not going to defend any of it. There are no excuses. We have been terribly betrayed.

If that is you, if you are feeling hurt and betrayed right are not alone. God is big enough to take it. And Mother Church - the real Church, not those in the hierarchy who have been masquerading as such - is big enough to take it. It isn't the first time that the Church has been rocked to the core by scandal. The Holy Spirit hasn't given up. I know He hasn't, because so much evil is continuing to be uncovered, instead of getting swept under the rug. I've had fleeting moments when I've wondered, "Am I in the right Church?" Then, I remember the words of Peter, "Lord, to whom else shall we go?" No church can stand as substitute for the Church founded by Christ.

But even knowing that doesn't take away the anger at knowing that here we are - trying our best to live chastely in our state of life, to sacrifice for our children and each other, and yet, many of our spiritual fathers have turned out to be absentee or abusive.

What we need right now, what the Church really needs, is fathers. Good fathers. The Church needs fathers willing to get poop gunked under their fingernails if it means a spotless Bride of Christ. The Church needs fathers willing to clean up puke and run themselves ragged taking care of their children.

I know some men who already fit that bill (both priests and bishops), and I'm happy to call them my spiritual fathers. These men fairly reek of their sheep, just as shepherds should.  But we need a whole lot more of these good men. And we need that fathering especially from those in authority, some of whom it seems have been more interested with their own gain than that of their children. We need fathers willing to lose everything so that their chidlren may live. We need men willing to lay down their lives or for their Bride, the Church.

Please join me in praying for the Church, and especially for the many, many victims who have had to suffer in silence for so long. No more. Come, Holy Spirit.

Please also join me in praying especially for all seminarians. I know so many, and they are a cause for real hope.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Failing as a Mother and the Cross

This summer is flying by, and I have to admit that I've been feeling like I'm drowning. My anxiety has been acute at some points, and it is so hard to parent small children when you're in a state of high anxiety.

This video is a pretty accurate representation of what anxiety feels like. It is relentless, and it can make daily functioning so, so hard.

Thankfully, I have a lot of tools for managing my anxiety and I have an incredibly supportive husband. But that doesn't take away from the fact that this particular cross is one that I really struggle with. One of the things that I struggle with the most about it is the fact that it makes me feel like such a failure. I know that I'm not as patient of a wife or mother when I'm feeling anxious. I know that I'm more productive when my anxiety levels are low. I wish that I didn't have any anxiety and I could just be productive and...well...super human?

So, anxiety is part of my cross. But we all have crosses. Yours may be anxiety or depression or some other mental health struggle or it may be something else. But we all have a cross in our lives. Some of us have heavier crosses than others. Some of us have more crosses than others. But no one is immune from the presence of the cross.

We live in a society that is obsessed with productivity and accomplishments. But the reality is that living a life of holiness is often very mundane. I think often of what one of my best friends (who got married the year before I did) told me before our wedding. "It's like...the little things are what are so exciting about marriage. You get to wash dishes together! You get to cook together! It's the little things." That was so wise of her, because it's true. There is beauty in those little things. 

That's why I love the image of the domestic monastery so much. People don't enter monasteries so that they can advance in their careers. They enter monasteries to embrace a mostly simple, mundane life. A good seminarian friend of mine has a friend in a cloistered religious order. He told me recently, "She says that she mainly does dishes. She does a LOT of dishes." Sound familiar? Monks and nuns wash dishes, clean, garden, maybe do some sort of simple work to support their monasteries. Overall, it is not a glamorous life. 

I was talking to this same friend about my thoughts about the domestic monastery and the parallels between monastic life and family life. "That's what my sister said her Mother Superior told them [about waking up in the middle of the night to pray]. 'It's like getting up with a baby.'" I love cuddling a chubby baby in the middle of the night - but it is also exhausting. And it is anything but glamorous. 

I do some part time work from home, but the important work that I'm doing isn't that - it's taking care of my children. The work that I'm doing has its greatest value in the smallest moments.

The other day I was at the very end of my patience. To add insult to injury, I had a baby who was getting into everything. If you've ever had a baby or a toddler, you know what I'm talking about. She either was whining at me, wanting to nurse, or she was crawling off to find trouble. I was so frustrated with her. My husband had been working longer hours than usual, finishing up a project, and I was just drained. My frustration was pouring out, and poor baby sensed it. As I grew more frustrated, she grew more whiny. She knew I was unhappy, and it was making her unhappy.

We made it to nap time, and I settled down to nurse her, still feeling super frustrated. I texted my husband, pouring out my frustrations. He asked what he could do to help. "Go to the chapel, please, and ask God to give me the grace of spiritual communion. Because I really need him," I requested. I broke down crying as I texted him. Between the tears and the knowledge that he was taking me in his prayers to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I felt peace creeping in. Suddenly, it hit me. "Oh, right. This is just the cross. I just need to offer this up."

(Side note here with a story I don't think I've shared before. At some point a few months ago, I was really struggling with jealousy that my husband could just visit Jesus in the tabernacle at any point in the work day - since he works in a seminary with THREE CHAPELS - and I was desperate for that time alone with Jesus, but couldn't have it. I was talking about this with my confessor, and he told me that, because Andrew and I are one in marriage, whenever he goes to be with Jesus he is actually bringing me with him. At the time I thought, "But that's not the same!" But since then, I've remembered this and occasionally dispatch him to Jesus for me, and it has been such a gift to me.)

As I was texting my husband and calming down, I began looking down at my nursing baby and smiling at her. She sensed the shift in my mood and became ecstatically happy. Her whole little face lit up in a scrunched up smile. Little things indeed.

 Recognizing the presence of the cross doesn't remove the suffering. But recognizing the presence of the cross does make it bearable. When Jesus said, "My cross is easy and my burden is light," he wasn't saying it would be easy. He was saying that we aren't alone in the cross. He is right there, with us.

I'm trying to remember that, as I feel drowned in failure so many days. If only I was more patient. If only I was more selfless. If only I was better at organizing or scheduling or managing things perfectly. It's easy to get so, so lost in the feeling that I am failing.

But this vocation is so much bigger than that. These pictures were from a recent visit to the Carmelite monastery where we got engaged, ten years ago this October. I had no idea what I was saying yes to that day, but I know that what I was longing for is what God has given me. I was longing for the opportunity to journey to heaven with my husband. I didn't know what that would involve. I didn't know what the cross would consist of in our lives. I couldn't have imagined something like hyperemesis gravidarum. I was hoping that I would never have to experience losing a child to miscarriage. And there have been other crosses we've been asked to carry that I couldn't have imagined and certainly wouldn't have asked for.

But in the midst of it all, I hold on to one thought. I remember, over and over again, that this life is so fleeting. In heaven, we won't be able to offer up anything but prayer and praise. We won't be able to offer up our sufferings. We only have this one chance to do that. By no means do I want suffering in my life. I don't seek it or desire it. But I also know that it is an unavoidable part of this world. The world tells us that it is meaningless. But Christ tells us that it is a means of love.

As Pope Benedict XVI famously said, “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness." In my lowest moments, I try to remember that. The world tells us that we're supposed to seek comfort, wealth, health, material goodness, etc. But that isn't what God tells us. "Take up your cross," He says, "and follow me."

And one day? One day there will be heaven. And then, this will all seem worth it.

In the meantime, I fail, I struggle, I fall, and I keep begging for grace. It is always there. Because Love - actual Love made incarnate - is present in the cross. And we are never alone. 

Take heart - you may not be failing after all. You may just be carrying your cross. 

(By the way....I started a YouTube channel recently! You can watch it here.)

Monday, June 4, 2018

Subfertility, NFP, and Spiritual Motherhood

This past weekend, our family finished off ordination season by going to the ordination of our dear friend, Fr. Taylor Leffler, in Omaha.

Taylor was the very first seminarian we befriended, when Andrew first started teaching at the seminary (four years ago!). He was a newly minted "theologian" (the term for the guys in seminary who are studying graduate theology and are in the four years leading up to ordination). His ordination was one of the most emotional I've experienced. The Mass itself (and his packed dinner reception) were incredibly beautiful. But to see this young man who we have welcomed into our hearts enter into this vocation...there are no words. 

The other night I was venting to Andrew about the frustration of our predicament in NFP. On the one hand, we have faced secondary infertility multiple times, and it is not easy for us to get pregnant. On the other hand, because of the seriousness of my hyperemesis gravidarum, we have to actively and seriously work to avoid pregnancy for long periods of time...even knowing that we will probably struggle to conceive again, anyway. It's like a double whammy. We love our babies. We want more of them, so much. But being bedridden for months, hospital trips, home's just not something we can lightly take on. We definitely are willing to take it on again in the future, but I need time to physically recover. I need to be healthy enough to take care of a baby. (I can't even be in physical contact with other people during my early pregnancy because their touch makes me so sick. Definitely a no go with a little baby!) 

I can't begin to put into words how much I love all four of my children. Even on the days when motherhood is really hard, I am so, so grateful for them. I can't believe that we have four children, especially knowing that we went into marriage not knowing if we would be able to conceive (and having a difficult time conceiving initially). But here they are, and they are so beautiful. Therese, Maria, Gabriel, and Zelie. I can't believe four little ones have lived in my womb. 

I don't want to sound ungrateful, but I wish I could have more. I wish I could be one of those people who is able to just take babies as they come. I wish that being pregnant didn't literally make me feel like I was dying. (And, in all honesty, if I wasn't living in modern times, I actually could die from hyperemesis gravidarum. HG is no joke.) Sometimes, I don't understand why God has given us the cross of HG pregnancies. 

But recently, I've been feeling the Holy Spirit increasing my awareness of a different vocation He has called me to - spiritual motherhood. In particular, I feel called to spiritual motherhood to priests and seminarians.

Recently, (I think it was actually when I was talking to Fr. Taylor) I remembered a story from over a decade ago. I was an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame. I think it was before I met Andrew, and I was in the midst of trying to discern where God was calling me. I felt such a strong call to holiness, and I assumed that meant that I would have to be a nun. But I didn't feel called to religious life. I felt called to marriage. That made be feel guilty, like I was somehow taking the easy way out, or something. (Which is hilarious, in retrospect.) I remember trying to bargain with God. I remember praying in my dorm chapel, late at night, about this. I knelt before Jesus in the tabernacle and told him, "Okay, my Jesus, if you are calling me to marriage, then  how about you give me a son? And you can call him to be a priest. Please, give me a son that is a priest."

Flash forward many years and many daughters later...

When I was pregnant with Gabriel, I really thought he was my boy. Andrew was already teaching at the seminary at that time, and I imagined that the baby in my womb - possibly a son! - might one day be called to the priesthood.

Then, we lost Gabriel. He was called to a different kind of priesthood. 

But, right before we lost Gabriel, Andrew was hired on as a full-time professor at the seminary. It would become his job for the foreseeable future. 

Unlike an ordinary teaching position, the seminary is a family vocation. The rector of the seminary is a wise man who knows that friendship with families is an important part of forming future parish priests. From the beginning of our marriage, Andrew and I have felt called to the charism of hospitality. Welcoming these guys into our hearts and prayers (and sometimes over for dinner or yardwork) has been a very natural fit for our family's vocation. Having a background in theology, I have especially enjoyed getting to support Andrew in his work at the seminary. 

In the beginning, being connected to the seminary was just plain fun. It was fun hanging out with the guys, and getting to know them. It was fun praying for them. It was fun having so many priests and future priests in our lives. 

This past year, the seriousness of this is beginning to hit me. In particular, the Holy Spirit began making it clear to me that He was calling me to become a spiritual mother to these guys. I have a friend who promotes spiritual motherhood to priests in our archdiocese, but I felt called to something more. I felt called to spiritual motherhood of seminarians, too. Like with regular motherhood, this means praying so much for all of these men. It means knowing such joy when I see them ordained. It means enjoying seeing them grow and flourish. 

But is also means being open to heart ache. It means accepting that some of the men we befriend will discern they are not called to the priesthood, and will leave the seminary to pursue other vocations. It means others will be ordained to the priesthood, and will leave the seminary to live out their vocation to the priesthood. 

One of my best friends is a foster mother. She's described the emotional rollarcoaster of foster mothering, and the need to love intensely, even knowing that you will lose that child from your life. In fact, if you do foster mothering well then that child will be removed from your care and reunited with his or her family. That is a success story.

This past weekend, seeing our dear friend being given back to his diocesan family, I knew that we had succeeded in helping support him through his formation. I saw him flourishing, and I saw the joy of the people of his diocese, as they embraced him.

But my heart was also breaking, knowing that we had to let go. It was heart breaking knowing that this is what our family's vocation is. We are called to love these guys intensely, knowing that - one way or another - we will have to let them go. Knowing that, we can't love them any less. We have to keep befriending them, praying for them, opening up our hearts and prayers to them. We have to do that, knowing that if we succeed, they will leave us. They will either leave to discern a different vocation, or they will leave to be ordained to the priesthood. But, either way, they will leave. 

But in the midst of this all, I realized that God had answered that old prayer of mine. In fact, he had answered it abundantly. I wasn't called to be the mother of a priest. I was called to be the mother of hundreds of priests. 

In my wildest dreams, I could never have envisioned this life that I am being called to. I could have never imagined being married to a seminary professor, and raising my children in the midst of this beautiful community. I could never have imagined chasing crawling babies and running children through the halls of a seminary. I could never have imagined countless hours spent rocking a baby to sleep in the back of the seminary chapel. I could never have imagined the exquisite little joys - the time I was rocking Zelie to sleep and one of the seminarians went out of his way to ring the chapel bell extra quietly so it would be "perfect for an infant," or the time that I was worn out by motherhood and the seminarians obliged by tossing my giggling preschooler in the air to keep her happy for me. (When I thanked them, I told them, "Thank you guys so much! The next time I'm having a hard day, I should just bring the girls over so you can help me with them." "That would be so fun!" they responded. #blessed) 

But I also couldn't have imagined the sorrows and the separations and the seriousness of taking these men and their intentions into my heart. In a way, mothering Gabriel prepared me for this particular vocation. I wouldn't know how important it was to let go and give a "child" (spiritual or otherwise) back to God, if it wasn't for him. I wouldn't have realized that I was only a small piece of their journey, and that that's okay. 

And as painful as infertility/subfertility/hyperemesis gravidarum and using NFP to avoid pregnancy is, if it weren't for all of that, I wouldn't be as free as I am for spiritual motherhood. If I had a large brood of kids, I wouldn't be able to easily pack them up and take them for Mass and lunch at the seminary every week. I wouldn't have the time or energy to sew up a set of vestments for a friend
 or two who needed them. I wouldn't have the emotional energy to invest so much time and so many prayers into friendships with these guys. 

I look back over the course of my life, and I know that this spiritual motherhood is something that God has been preparing me for all along. I am in awe of this unexpected vocation. 

But that doesn't dull the pain of having to say good-bye to these guys. It also doesn't begin to describe the joy of seeing them live out their vocations. 

And, in this vocation of mine, God has done the unexpected. He has given me sons to love and pray for. He has given me the grace of spiritual motherhood.

Friday, May 25, 2018

My Vocation is Nothing (and Everything)

When I was dating Andrew and in the midst of serious discernment about my future vocation, I remember receiving some truly beautiful consolations in prayer. They aren't really anything I can put into words, but they were moments of knowing in my heart that everything I believed was real. Even in the midst of the dryness and doubt I often feel, I can recall those moments of grace and find strength.

During that time, I remember meeting with my spiritual director and asking her, "What if God has something really special in mind for me?" In her wisdom, she told me to focus on just discerning where God was calling me and not on whether or not it was something really special or great. I had the hubris of a young twenty-something, though, and I envisioned a remarkable vocation, one that might even get me canonized?!

A decade later, I can look at that young girl and know two things: 1) her desire for holiness was not totally off base and 2) her idea of holiness was totally off base.

This August, Andrew and I will celebrate nine years of marriage. I can't even put into words how much I am still in love with him, and how that love looks so different that I could have imagined nine years ago.

But before I fell in love with him, I fell in love with Jesus. I stole away quiet moments with Jesus in the tabernacle, and he was so incredible lovable that I fell head over heels in love with him. As lovers would do anything for their beloved, I knew that I wanted to do anything for him, because he had already done everything for me. I imagined that that might be a call to religious life, or to a great work of ministry, or maybe even to a remarkably holy family life - one where we would pray all of the liturgy of hours together and talk about God constantly.

What I didn't picture and couldn't picture was my domestic monastery.

It really shouldn't have surprised me, though. For goodness sake, when God became incarnate he spent a full thirty years of his life just living in a family and doing mundane things. And I'm sure that the Holy Family didn't just sit around in contemplation all day. There was cooking/cleaning/carpentry to do! There was playing to do! There were diapers to change! There were poop jokes to tell! (Kidding. Well, kinda. There isn't really anything sinful about a good poop joke, after all.)

Even in a monastery, nuns and monks don't just pray all day. They spend most of their day doing ordinary things.  And as much as I find inspiration from their way of life, they find inspiration from mine. I was recently at a reception for a new deacon and was talking to him about his sister (who is about to take her temporary vows in a cloistered order). I was telling him about my domestic monastery theory, and of the hilarity of seeing a monastic schedule as a teenager and thinking, "Oh, way I would want to have to wake up in the middle of the night every night!" Of course, that's exactly what is required of my current vocation. He laughed and said, "Yeah, actually [my sister] said that that's what their Mother Superior tells them when they have to wake up in the middle of the night for prayer. 'It's like waking up with a baby,' she tells them."

That anecdote stuck with me. I always think of the monastic life being an inspiration to those of us who are married. It hadn't occurred to me that we were an inspiration to them, in living out their monastic vocation. The married vocation is

Last weekend, we went to a diaconate ordination in Kansas City (Kansas side) and Archbishop Naumann gave such an incredible homily. Part of his homily was a reflection on the vow of celibacy, and what these men were giving up. Instead of focusing on how holy celibate life is, he focused heavily on how holy and important the vocation to Christian marriage is. His point was to highlight that celibate life wasn't about rejecting a less holy way of life. It was choosing to sacrifice an incredible, incredible good - the vocation to marriage. I can't remember his exact words, but I can tell you that I stood in the back of that church (pacing with a baby I was trying to keep asleep) and suddenly felt that what I was doing mattered. 

Earlier this week, Andrew was out of town for a conference. While he was gone, I hunkered down and just stuck to the basics of making sure that everyone (literally) survived every day. (If anyone has ever had a newly mobile, highly curious baby in the house, you know what I'm talking about.) I'm the social media manager for one of the offices of our Archdiocese and I also had book promotion work to do, but those two "jobs" took around an hour and a half a day max. The other twenty-two and a half hours of the day (actually, twenty-four, because I was watching the girls while I was working, too) was spent doing the tasks of motherhood. One of my days started with putting a child in time out and having her shout repeatedly at me, "You are a bad mommy! Bad mommy! BAD MOMMY!" I was near tears, and that kind of set the tone for the rest of the day. I was exhausted and in an awful mood. And while the same child did later come and hug and kiss me and tell me, "You're a good mommy!" I was in a funk all day. While I was prepping food, checking math worksheets, rocking a baby to sleep, etc. etc. I just felt incredibly grumpy. My biggest struggle of the day was battling my own bad mood and trying not to take it out on my children. They were just fine. Their mommy, though, was a hot mess.

There are days when I am just in awe of my vocation and so happy to be where I am. I genuinely love my daughters. I've worked a lot of different jobs over the years, and I have never liked a job as much I like the job of being their mother. There is nothing else I would rather do. That being said, it's a process of dying to myself over and over again and sometimes I just want a break. Sometimes I want to feel holy. But holiness really isn't about feelings. And the way to sainthood is through the ordinary, mundane moments. Jesus spent 1/11 of his life in public ministry, and 10/11 in ordinary family life. I can't even claim spending 10/11 of my life just doing ordinary, mundane things. I haven't even come close to that level of commitment to the "ordinary."

But that ordinary nothingness is exactly what a holy vocation looks like. It doesn't look like greatness and glory. It looks like cleaning crumbs off the floor for the millionth time and scraping crust out of the corners of the high chair for the hundredth time. It looks like choosing to live the ordinary life for the sake of love.

This vocation is so, so much harder than I could ever have imagined. But do you know what? God really was calling me to something special. Because to Him, the little things are the most special.

Monday, May 21, 2018

This Dying to Self Business

I'm in the middle of reading Jen Fulwiler's amazing new book, One Beautiful Dream. I  can't recommend it highly enough for other women, especially mothers. The book is the story of Jen finding the balance in her own life between her passions and the mission of her family. Usually when people talk about finding "balance" they mean something more like, "How can I pursue my dreams despite having these responsibilities?" Jen's take is that a wife and a mother following her passions can enrich her family's life and are integral to a family's thriving.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

I've been struggling so much with frustration with my children. So, so much frustration, despite the fact that they are actually pretty good kids. My real frustration, though, is not with them. My real frustration is with myself. I went to Notre Dame for my bachelor's and master's degrees, and prior to that was a career overachiever. Old habits die hard. There may have been a period of my mothering when I was rocking the whole homemaking thing - cleaning our (tiny, at the time) house top to bottom, meal planning, and "homeschooling" my three and one year old. Now I have a seven year old, four (almost five) year old, and almost one year old. They are more important than the dusting and vacuuming, and I just don't have the energy that I once had. For the first time in my life, I have to gulp down coffee to keep my eyes open.

But this is combined with awe at this vocation. With a family history of infertility, I didn't know if I would ever be able to have children. I never dreamed I would be blessed with four little ones (including my Gabriel). Part of my current growth is in letting go of what I thought was important in favor of what is important. I'm trying to learn how to embrace the messes, not as a sign of my failure to clean but rather as a sign of hospitality to the three people who have entered our home in the last nine years. That means I don't have to have everything perfectly decluttered by the end of the day. Did I mention old habits die hard?

But there's more to it than that.

My life looks completely different than I imagined it would. It is infinitely better. For example, I never, in a million years, would have imagined that I would be married to a seminary professor and would travel the country for a slew of ordinations every year. I never imagined that I would be called to spiritual motherhood of priests and seminarians. I never would have imagined the extent to which I would take them each into my heart and prayers.

Befriending seminarians is kind of like falling in love with a baby in your womb. So many of them will not make it to ordination. If the formation and discernment process is done correctly, that is exactly as it should be. However, it is disappointing when you hear about guys discerning out of seminary, or being encouraged to move on. Like with a miscarried child, you have to trust that God has something else in mind and be okay with that. (Can you tell how much Gabriel has influenced my view of motherhood?) But despite the fact that so many of them will not make it to ordination, you are called to love them anyway. The challenge is to view them as real men, not just "seminarians" - men in need of prayer in their many difficulties and their painful growth.

That being said, when a man does make it to ordination, the joy is like nothing else. There is such intense joy in seeing a man fully alive, living out his vocation.

I also never imagined that God would call me to be a writer and artist. I grew up thinking that I could never be either of those things. I can't get into all the reasons behind that, but I still am surprised that much of the income I bring in to the family is from paid writing work.

But then, there is also just the incredible growth pains that come with "getting over yourself." I feel like that's the best way to describe motherhood. A mother isn't supposed to "lose herself." She's supposed to become more fully herself. Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, and all of that. It doesn't mean letting go of your dreams, but it does mean trusting that your dreams will now be lived out in the context of loving little people who demand everything of you.

I often tell friends, "I thought I was going to be called to religious life. But if I was a religious, I think that I would think that I was holy. Instead, what God called me to is actually making me holy because I realize that I am not holy."

I seriously feel like I could go to Confession every single day and not run out of things to say. It's not that I'm committing mortal sins left and right, but it's that I realize now how desperately I need God's grace to make it through the day.

I have an incredibly gentle confessor, a man who also knows our family well and can put my sins into context for me. I recently went to Confession, pouring out how incredibly frustrated I get with my family at times. He told me, "You are dying. This is a process of dying to self...and dying is painful." It was all I could do not to break into sobs when he said that. He got right to the heart of what makes this vocation painful. I am being forced to die to self. And it is so, so painful. The pain is not a sign that I am doing something wrong; it is a sign that I am doing something right.

In the midst of that, sometimes I want to cry because I wonder, " I matter? Who do I matter to?" I know that my husband and children love me, but I just yearn for the love of someone who has known me since the beginning, knows my struggles, and loves me. And then I remember...He loves me like that. He has seen the whole process. He knows my heart. And I matter infinitely to Him.

This doesn't mean that this isn't still incredibly hard. I still wish I had more time to write, or to do other work that I love, or...heck...even just more time to have a coherent thought without multiple little voices vying for attention. But remembering His love, and trusting in the friendship of the saints, I'm able to shift my perspective. This work matters. This dying to self matters.

And, in the end, it will be like how I feel at the end of pregnancy. Anyone following this blog knows how much suffering went into Zelie's pregnancy. Yet, once she was born, all that awful suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum just seemed like nothing. "Was that all I had to do to have this  person in my life? It was too little, too easy, in comparison to the honor and joy of having her in our family!" I remembered the suffering - the months in bed, the iron infusions, the IVs, the Zofran pump, the puking and dry heaving - but it just seemed like such a small price to pay in comparison to the incomparable goodness of her existence.

That is what heaven will be. This dying to self will seem like nothing, in comparison to the prize at the end. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Catholic Field Guide is HERE!!!!!!

IT'S HERE!!!! This book has been in the works for over a year...and it's finally here!!

This project just kept growing and growing and growing, but I'm so happy with how it turned out! It started out just being a Catholic dictionary picture book, but then it evolved into a resource that isn't just for kids...adults will love this, too! It's modeled on a nature field guide, divided into sections and categories and with detailed pictures and descriptions. Guys, I have a Master's degree in Theology and I LEARNED SO MUCH writing this book! Of course, as it turned into a more sophisticated book, I realized it really wouldn't work well for little kids. My oldest daughter (who is seven and a half years old) is a fluent reader and adores this new book. My four year old likes looking at the pictures but I knew she needed her own version. If you keep scrolling to the end, I'll show you the little kid version of the Catholic Field Guide.

Would you like a closer look???

Isn't it just lovely?? I'm so happy with how the cover design turned out. It's also thicker than I originally planned. There is a LOT of great content in this book!

Here's my favorite part! I didn't just want this to be a picture dictionary. I wanted it to be a field guide. I wanted readers to be able to see something at Mass and easily look it up. I wanted it to be visually appealing, and to have that beautiful color coding you see on the sides of nature field guides. Just look at this lovely edging! Each color represents a different category in this book. If you keep scrolling, you'll see what I mean. 

Let's take a peek inside, shall we? Like in a nature field guide, The Catholic Field Guide includes a map and a clear guide to the contents. 

Each section starts with the color coding for that section, and a brief description. Each page has a color coded header, too. 

But what if you know exactly what you want to look up are aren't sure which section it's in? Flip to the back and look at the index! If you look at this page, you can get a sneak peak at the complete contents. Look at how much information is covered!!!

When I am thinking through book projects, I try to use resources that I actually want to use in my own home. This is a resource that I can see being used by a classroom teacher, a homeschool teacher, a catechist, or a parent. My hope is that it won't just be used by kids. It's definitely not intended "just for kids." If you ever wanted to learn more about the things you see in your church, this is a great resource. Adults will enjoy this one, too!!! I can also see this being a great resource for high school students and youth ministers. It could be a First Communion gift OR a Confirmation gift!

And what about those little kids in your life? There's a version for them, too! This book has the same pictures as The Catholic Field Guide, but look at how much simpler the content is? It's perfect for little hands, and I'm looking forward to reading it with my two youngest daughters. 

Ready to get your own copy?? 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Dear Gabriel

Dear Gabriel,

Happy 2nd birthday! I can't believe it's been two years since I've held you (in my belly). I still long and ache for the day when I will finally hold you in my arms.

On the way to Mass this morning, your big sister, Maria, remembered that it was your birthday and was talking about it. We decided, as a family, that we would offer our Mass for you today, as our birthday gift to you. We also talked about how, if you are in heaven already, that means that you were participating at Mass with all the we got to celebrate with you today, after all.

My little Love, I still ache for you and miss you. I don't think that will ever go away. You are our sweet "bonus child," the one who ended a long stretch of infertility. I will never forget how filled with joy Daddy and I were, when we found out you were in my tummy.

Whenever people ask your big sisters about their siblings, they are always eager to tell people, "There are actually four of us! We have a baby brother in heaven." When Mommy is so sick during pregnancy, one of the things that keeps me going is thinking of how much the older siblings will delight in having a new baby. Even though they never met you or held you, you are truly a joy to your big sisters. They love you so much.

In the two weeks between your ultrasounds, I spent a lot of time praying. I prayed that you would live, but I think I also prayed that God would accept my baptism of desire for you, if you died. We also had the doctor who delivered you conditionally baptize you. You were blessed by priests while still alive, and you had a whole army of priests and seminarians storming heaven for you when you died. And so, I have great hope that you are, indeed, in heaven.

I wonder what your life has been like, since we said goodbye to you. You are the first of our children to leave our nest, and you are (hopefully) the first to have reached heaven. I dream about what it will like for the six of us to be reunited one day, and I treasure the foretaste of that at Mass.

Each of you four children have changed our family. Each of you four have changed me.

When I lost you, Gabriel, heaven became more real to me. Our family gained an intercessor. I am especially amazed by the power of your prayer for your sisters. Whenever one of them is sick or injured and I am worried, I ask for your prayers . I think your prayers are a big reason why we didn't lose baby Zelie, and they have helped your big sisters on more than one occasion. It brings me joy to see how God works through you.

As much as I have grieved over you, my child, you have brought me so much joy. It makes me so happy to know that you are becoming -and perhaps already are - the saint that God has created you to be. You've taught me how to be a mother - how to love despite knowing that I have to let go. Daddy and I know that, ultimately, you are God's. We treasure the four of you.

Oh my sweet Gabriel. My love goes with you always. I hope and pray that you may be in heaven, and "spend your heaven doing good on Earth."

I will always love you.