Monday, September 26, 2016

Grief and That Dumb Dog

I just don't get the way that God is working in my life lately. This whole year has just completely baffled me.

First I was hoping and praying for a baby. Then God sent one to me, and took him back. Then a million other things happened. Andrew graduated from graduate school. We bought a house. Andrew started teaching full time at the seminary. We got a dog.

Sigh. That dumb dog.

I just want to make it clear...I don't actually think she's dumb. She's a cute little stinker. And, as puppies go, she's a pretty good one. But I didn't grow up with a dog, and I'm about as illiterate in puppy language as it is possible to be. In fact, bringing Agnes into our home has left me feeling almost as overwhelmed as I felt after bringing our first baby home...without the benefit of the rush of hormones that made me bond with my newborn.

No offense to Aggie. It's just that I had visions of bringing a new, sweet baby into our home this year. But, in all my imaginings, it wasn't a puppy baby I was envisioning. It was the baby that was growing in my womb. 

Instead, that baby's tiny body is buried in the ground and I'm left with a puppy who steals my heart half the time, and makes me want to pull out my hair the other half of the time.

There are times when this dog reduces me to tears. I took her out with the girls the other day and was so overwhelmed you would have thought I had an extra toddler in tow. It didn't help that I took her to Petco (or "Pets Go" as our oldest thought it was called) and the people helping me were referring to her as a cute kid. Don't get me wrong - I'm starting to get the "dog parenthood" thing. I don't refer to myself as a dog parent (mainly because I'm still overcoming the latent fear of dogs I had as a child) but having a dog is TONS of work and requires lots of love and patience. Having a puppy for two weeks has made me had more respect for those who have dogs, and who have had them for years. Let's acknowledge that God asks us to be good stewards of creation, and caring for and loving and treasuring pets is an incredibly beautiful way to live that call out.

So, really, it's nothing wrong with Aggie. It's me. 

It's that stupid, dumb grief. I can't seem to shake it. 

Every new thing that I take on, since the death of Gabriel, seems like a betrayal of him. Because my pregnancies are so stinkin' hard with my hyperemesis gravidarum, there are a lot of things that I don't know that I would have been able to tackle, had he lived. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to make it to Andrew's graduation. I can't imagine buying a house and moving - let alone painting the entire upstairs of a house - pregnant. And I can't imagine getting a new puppy while pregnant. So, poor Agnes is just one piece of a path that leads me farther and farther away from the child I lost.

Sometimes, I think I'm subconsciously resisting the marching on of life. Sometimes I run forward, full throttle. Other times, I can sense myself resisting. I don't want it to seem like he never existed.

I had multiple encounters this week with triggers...triggers that reminded me of Gabriel and what I lost all over again. One trigger was when we went to Mass at the seminary on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, and the priest was talking about how Mary had lost her only son and I was like, "Oh, right. I lost mine, too." (Although, technically, we don't know for sure that Gabriel was a boy, so I may have lost my third daughter. Either way, still the grief of a child lost.)

Later, I was talking to one of my good seminarian friends, and I told him, "It feels like all I wanted was a baby, and God just gave me a dog instead."

Because that's really and truly what it feels like. I used to dream about getting a puppy when I was younger. This would normally be a fun new thing to take on. Instead, it's wedged into the experience of grief.

Every once in a while, I take something to prayer and feel semi-ridiculous praying about it, because I know that God has already given me the answer. I prayed pretty hard when we were looking for a dog, that God would lead us to the right one. Agnes is clearly, clearly, the right temperament for our family.  She's a puppy, which means she's crazy at the moment, but you can just tell after a few minutes with her how excessively sweet she is. 

But now, even after getting her, I feel like I sometimes come to God and am like, "So, this puppy. I can't take it anymore, God. We just have to return her!"

But God knows me well enough to know what I'm really praying, "Give me back my baby. I want that craziness, not this craziness."

And God seems to respond, "Nope. Be patient. This dog has a role to play in your life."

Sometimes I haven't the faintest idea what that role is. Other times it's glaringly clear.

I came home last Saturday night, fresh from writing on this blog and writing a different article about Gabriel for another site. I was a wreck. Before I came into the house, I was literally sobbing in the car because I missed Gabriel so much. I came in the house and was instantly greeted by that ridiculous puppy of ours. And then...I gathered her up in my arms and cried into her fur, and was surprised by how much it helped.

So maybe God is going to work through her after all. Still don't understand what He's doing, but I can see He's doing something here. I just need to learn to sit back and trust.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Not the Monastery I Was Expecting

The girls had their first day at our (large and remarkably well  run) homeschool co-op. The Catholic homeschooling community in our city is extensive and so supportive.

The girls are taking three classes together. The first one of the day is Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, and if you have been reading this blog for a while, you know how much I love CGS. My three year old was nervous about going into atrium by herself, but she managed to separate from me. When the girls got out of atrium, my first thought was of Maria, and how she had managed. What I wasn't expecting was the picture that my dear Therese handed me. I think I will treasure it forever.

She drew a picture of her siblings. Both of them. I almost cry seeing this picture, but the tears are more happy, grateful ones than anything else. I worried so much, when I was pregnant with Maria that I was doing Therese a terrible disservice by being so sick and not being as good of a mother as I wanted to be. Needless to say, one second of seeing these little sisters together wiped away all my doubts.

But when we lost Gabriel - after another difficult pregnancy - I worried it had all been in vain. I worried that the suffering had been for nothing. At the very least, I worried that I was the only one who knew how precious the child was who had been lost, and how much the suffering I had endured (and continue to endure) was worth it for him.

But I see this picture and I realize - they get it. Therese and Maria love their youngest sibling. They always will. They will always pray for him, and ask him to pray for them. And one day, when they are reunited in heaven, it will be a joyous reunion for them. The suffering was worth it, because the love that Andrew and I had for this precious baby enabled our girls to love him, too. And he is forever a part of their lives. 

I'm thinking about this today, because a friend said something (half jokingly) to me at our big girl's first soccer game this afternoon, and it really got me thinking. He joked, "Michele, you're living the American dream - at a soccer game on a Saturday, kids, house, does it feel?" 

(By the way, we did get a puppy. That's another story entirely, but I owed my sweet, long suffering husband this puppy. Her name is Agnes, and yes, he named her after the saint. And, coincidentally, we named her Agnes on Mother Teresa's canonization day, completely forgetting that that was Mother Teresa's given name. Thank you to Andrew's godmother for reminding us!)

Meet Agnes.

Anyway, that comment about "living the American dream" stuck in my head and made me think. I remember a night, over a decade ago. I was in my room, saying my prayers before bed, and looking out my window I saw our neighbors having an impromptu get together with friends. These neighbors were incredibly dear people, and so my thoughts were no reflection on them, but in my teenage zealousness for the faith I remember thinking, "I don't want that for my life. I don't want my life to be ordinary." I didn't know what God would call me to, but I was hoping it would be something dramatic and different and something that would be an obvious path to sainthood. 

Surely, God would call me to religious life. Something set apart, something different. Surely, God would call me to be set apart. Was there any other way to be holy?

I remember, as an undergraduate at Notre Dame, searching through the library's stacks and desperately trying to find books about married saints. I think I found one - one book in a thirteen story library. In my heart, I felt that tug to marriage and family life, but I was so terribly afraid that it was too ordinary for holiness. 

Fast forward many years later, and I never dreamed that God would call me to the life that He has called me to. I never dreamed that I would be the abbess of my own domestic monastery. I never dreamed the ways that God would humble me, over and over again, day after day. I never dreamed I would be trying to pray the Liturgy of the Hours with a puppy jumping on me and a small child asking for a yogurt tube, or that my daily rosary would be said over the insistent questions of a child in the backseat of the car, on our way home from homeschool co-op. Basically, everything I described in those two sentences was the opposite of how I imagined God would call me to holiness.

But the remarkable thing is, I can't imagine any other way that I could become a saint. I need my Therese, Maria, and Gabriel. I need my Andrew. I even need that ridiculous puppy of ours. 
I need the many ways that my life is in direct parallel to the life of a monastic. 

A daily rhythm of prayer, even in the early hours of the morning and late hours of night? Check.

A schedule not entirely under my own control? Check.

Obedience to the needs of others? Check.

Sufferings and joys hidden away from the world? Check.

Beauty in the unexpected? Check.

And...holiness in ordinariness? Check.

Because that's the thing about both the monastic life and the life of the domestic monastery - it is deceptively simple looking to outsiders. The daily routine is deceptively ordinary. Working, praying, sleeping, eating, playing? What's so remarkable about that?

But God does not see as we see. And what we consider to be ordinary, He knows to be extraordinary. 

G.K. Chesterton, in one of my all time favorite quotes of his, says, 

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” source

I didn't understand this before this vocation of mine. God exults in monotony. He also exults in the ordinary.

In fact, He exults in my (and your) own, ordinary life. 

And in the midst of this ordinariness, there is a beauty that I could never have anticipated. This is the lesson that Therese and Maria teach me daily. But that beauty can only be truly found in the midst of suffering in love, with an eye always to heaven. That is what Gabriel reminds me every day, that child of mine who has already journeyed beyond this earthly pilgrimage. Earlier today, I had to go to the store and get a few more articles of clothing that Maria's needed for her fall wardrobe, and I was contemplated swinging by a new St. Vincent de Paul store that recently opened, to find a few more pieces for my own fall wardrobe...not clothing that I needed to buy today. Then, in that moment, I imagined my Gabriel - possessing nothing, and possessing everything, all at once. "...for everything belongs to you...all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God." (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)

In that moment, I no longer felt the need to go shopping for something that wouldn't satisfy. Gabriel reminded me that God alone is enough. His way of ordinariness is enough for me.
This is not the monastery I was expecting. But it is clearly the one that I needed.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

How Do I Teach Them How to Pray? (And a GIVEAWAY!)

We're homeschooling this year, and one of my goals is to familiarize the girls with the rosary. Mostly, I'm making a point of praying the daily rosary aloud when they're around. I don't force them to pray it with me, but I'm well aware of the fact that children absorb the language of the faith the same way they absorb their native tongue. (At least, that's what I'm hoping!) So, when we're in the car, I've been trying to opt to pray the rosary aloud myself, instead of reaching first for the radio dial or my latest podcast episode.

I have no idea if it's working, but I really do think that the most important thing is just to surround them with the faith, you know? I've heard so many stories of people, as children, witnessing their parents pray and it leading them to personal prayer of their own. I know, for myself, that my interest in and love for the Liturgy of the Hours starts with my dad, who prayed his tattered copy of the Divine Office every day.

That being said, I'm a total sucker for Catholic toys and playful learning aides (which should be no surprise for those of you following this blog from the early days...wasn't our oldest SUCH a cutie??). I've been eyeing crocheted rosary roses forever and even made a mini set for one of my godsons a while back. But I'd never made one for the girls! And I'd been itching to try a set.

You guys...I seriously geeked out a bit when I got the opportunity to review a set made by the lovely Annie of Annery at Home. I got to meet Annie at a blogger conference last year, and she is truly lovely through and through. So, I was excited to get to try out her rosary roses!

Needless to say, so were my daughters. ;-)

They love using these rosary roses! So far (since they're still both kind of little) I only make them focus for a decade at a time. These roses would be perfect for an entire family rosary, but they are really perfect for our little decades. Getting to take turns holding the roses and put them in the basket makes them engaged and interested. And if someone doesn't behave...well, heaven forbid someone is too naughty for a turn with the roses! Added motivation for good behavior during prayer time.

These roses are made from 100% cotton so they are super soft and gentle for little hands. Annie has a bunch of color options, but I really love the red and white roses. They look lovely sitting in a basket on our mantelpiece, wedged between our icons (okay, the stack of icons that we are working on getting hung up in our new house) and our Mary statue. The set comes with 11 roses - 10 of one color for the 10 Hail Marys, and 1 of a different color for the Our Father. I love having a visual distinction for my girls. That might just be the visual learner in me speaking. ;-)

With some excellent Marian feasts coming up with month (Mary's birthday on September 8, and Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15th) and the month of the rosary next month, these are a great aide to snatch up and add to your Catholic home!

Want some of your own? You can find them at Annery's Handmade on Etsy or over at Peter's Square. You can get a simple set of the roses or opt for a full gift set, complete with a gift bag and rosary prayer cards. 

I was given this darling set free for review, in exchange for my honest opinion. But honestly, I really do love this set. I love it so much that I want to giveaway a free e-book copy of my kid's rosary book to help you use these rosary roses in your own family prayer. Enter the giveaway below!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Journeying With Joseph

The seminarians have all flooded back into the halls and chapels of our beloved seminary, and our family is thoroughly glad. It is so good to have these dear men back in our lives for another academic year. 

In discerning where God was calling our family, one of the huge draws of the seminary was that it wasn't just a calling for Andrew. It was a calling for our whole family. This incredible place where my husband teaches gladly welcomes professors' families to their chapels and courtyards and refectory and community nights, knowing that we represent the people they are called to serve. They welcome the cries of our babies, the shrieks of our toddlers, the chattering of our preschoolers, and the crazy thumping of a pack of our children racing down the hallways. 

They also welcome the spiritual motherhood of the women associated with the seminary. They let me be a spiritual mother to them, as they are becoming spiritual fathers to me. And, in the case of many of them, they are open to growing in friendship, as brothers and sisters in Christ. That is such a gift. 

(Pray for seminarians and priests, you all.)

The other day, one of my dear seminarian friends offered to give a tour to a visiting friend of mine. He took us to their gorgeous chapel, and my visiting friend was duly impressed. I actually learned some things about the chapel that I hadn't learned before. 

One of the features that he highlighted was the "Ite Ad Joseph" inscribed above the altar. He explained how "Go to Joseph" is actually a reference back to the Old Testament, when during the famine in Egypt, Pharaoh instructed the people to go to Joseph for food. St. Joseph, as the foster father to Jesus, leads us to his foster son who will feed us with food that will endure.

I was suddenly reminded of a story that I hadn't told this seminarian friend, yet. It was a Gabriel story, and is actually one that I've already shared here, but I'll refresh your memory.

Back when I was newly pregnant with Gabriel, I went to one of the young adult nights (aptly named "Nazareth Nights") at the seminary. With that little guy newly nestled inside me, I prayed during adoration and was overwhelmed with anxiety. Then, I looked above the altar and saw those words, "Go to Joseph." I had a deep sense that I was called to make Joseph the patron saint of Gabriel's pregnancy. This was long before I knew anything was wrong with my sweet baby, and I wondered why Joseph would be a fitting patron.

After Gabriel died, I remembered that and realized that St. Joseph was the patron saint of a happy death.

Not knowing when Gabriel died, and being able to give him anything more than a conditional baptism/baptism by desire, I don't have a guarantee of heaven for him - only the hope of heaven. (I do nurse the hope that he died at the moment of the blessing given him by our priest, right after I received the Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick. Can you think of a more beautiful passing for him from this life? Surrounded by love and prayers and Jesus in the Eucharist...) Lately, I've been missing Gabriel terribly - it's almost physically painful at times. Triggers seem everywhere, and I find myself aching for him every day.

I think in the silence of prayer - like at adoration - the grief hits me the most. Sometimes, I just can't believe that he's gone. Once, when I was little, we went to my dad's company picnic at a park and found out after the fact that we could have brought bathing suits to go swimming. There was plenty to do without bathing suits, but I remember getting it in my head that if I just looked hard enough I would find my bathing suit in some forgotten corner of the trunk of the car. Needless to say, it wasn't there.

I keep having those kinds of moments with Gabriel. I keep thinking surely, surely it was all a terrible dream. The swelling bellies of my (many) friends who were due when I was due are reminders that it's all too real. He's gone.

But today something occurred to me. I had been thinking of Joseph as the patron saint of Gabriel's pregnancy. But maybe St. Joseph wants to be more than that to me. In a way I am, after all, still waiting in expectation for that day when I will be reunited with my little one.

But today, it occurred to me that St. Joseph is all too familiar with being asked to take sudden, unexpected journeys. He is betrothed to Mary, expecting to be a guardian to this beautiful woman who has taken a vow of celibacy. Then...wait for it...she's pregnant. Oh, yeah, and she needs you to take her on a journey to Bethlehem. Then, after that child is born...they need you to take them on a journey to Egypt, Joseph. Then, after the child has grown a bit and Herod has died...they need to take you back on a journey to Nazareth, Joseph.

Joseph never knew what was coming next. And make no mistake - taking a journey back in that day was no small undertaking, and was certainly not without its risks. Yet, again and again, Joseph embraced the unknown, the suffering, the inconvenience, the struggle...and the joy. He journeyed again and again, trusting that God would lead the way before him.

Maybe that's who Joseph wants to be for me right now. Maybe he wants to be my companion on this unexpected, painful journey. Maybe he wants to teach me to trust his foster Son. 

Sweet Joseph, please pray for me. Because right now it still just hurts so much. I'm trusting Jesus to lead the way. 

Because I still believe it - this story of our family isn't over. Our relationship with Gabriel isn't over. God still has a plan for the five of us...and there are five of us. Death has been conquered, and one day, God willing, we will all be reunited again. 

St. Joseph, pray for us.

(Pictures courtesy of our epic hike in the mountains back in June. An apt analogy, I figured!)

Saturday, August 27, 2016

It Isn't a Linear Path

Hello, friends.

I didn't intend to be gone from this space for so long, but I needed to be.

Since we last talked I turned 30. We moved to a new house. We started homeschooling (with a Kindergartener/1st grader and a preschooler). I traveled for a speaking engagement. We celebrated seven years of marriage. Andrew started his new job.

I have so much I can share, so much I want to share. But today there is only one thing I need to share. I need to share it because I need other mamas in my shoes to know that it's okay to feel the way that they feel.

Monday is four months since Gabriel's "birthday," and tomorrow is four months since learning we'd lost him. Sometimes I think I'm okay, and sometimes it all comes rushing back. Lately, I've had a lot of things that I've done, or places I've gone, that I had envisioned doing with Gabriel nestled inside of me. The other day, I realized he would have now been past the point of viability - that is, he could have technically already been born at this point and survived. Each instance has been a painful reminder that he's gone.

I also am a part of an incredibly pro-life community and am surrounded by women who are expecting (some due around the same time I was due), and women with babies. I am so grateful for the women who share their babies with me. You know the kind - the kind of friend that sees the aching in your eyes and knows the aching in your heart and lets you take their little one into their arms for a little while to soothe your heart. It's funny, because I always am nervous about meeting my friends' new babies, but then having that little one nestled in my arms for a bit - it heals my aching heart. The worst feeling when you're infertile (which is us, again) or mourning the loss of a child is seeing friends with their babies and feeling excluded from that. The best feeling is when you're allowed to, at least, be a spiritual mother to the little ones of your friends. I have some incredible friends who are really, really good at that. We mother each other's children, we put each other's babies into each other's arms, and it is a real comfort.

Last weekend, we went to an incredible final vows Mass and celebration for a dear seminarian friend of ours. It was so beautiful, so filled with joy. It was such a gift to celebrate with him and his community, and we were so grateful to have been invited. So, so much joy.

(Please, please pray for Brother Joel and all of the Apostles of the Interior Life!)

After the final vows, we visited one of Andrew's best friends, who teaches at a college near where the final vows were celebrated. His wife is a dear friend of mine, too - one of those dear women who you can go a long time without talking to and then pick up right where you left off. She has a newborn, but she also lost a little one a little over a year ago. It was so, so good for my heart to have that time with her, and to - of course - have the opportunity to snuggle her sweet newest addition.

One thing she said stuck with me, though. I was telling her how much my heart aches for Gabriel, and she confessed to me that even with the joyful distraction of her new baby, she still does ache for the child she lost. That made me feel better about my own, ongoing grief. The grief never completely goes away. It's not natural, losing a child. It shouldn't happen, but in our fallen world it does.

Recently, a thought occurred to me. In a way, losing a baby through miscarriage is a bit like having a greatly prolonged pregnancy. I was reading a beautiful blog post the other day, in which a woman shared the story of her traumatic birth and how much she ached to hold her child after delivery, but had to wait to. When she finally was able to hold her little one for the first time, all the nurses were in tears, witnessing her love.

When she described her aching, I felt as if she were describing my own aching. And suddenly, I realized - one day, God willing, that will be my reunion with my child happening. I haven't the faintest idea what our bodies will look like at the final resurrection of the body, and I prior to that, only our souls will be in heaven. So, it may be that I never get to physically hold Gabriel's infant self. But, nonetheless, God willing, he and I will be reunited. One day I'll get to see how he looks (or find out if he was actually a she!). My arms will be able to go around him. His arms can go around me. With tears of joy, I'll be able to say, "Oh, Gabriel. I love you so much. You are so beautiful, and I have missed you so much!"

(And shoot, because now I'm crying in Panera like a crazy person.)

The thing is, though, that I held Gabriel his whole life long. Every living moment, I held him. I sacrificed for him. I suffered for him. I held him. I whispered my love to him. His daddy blessed him. Our pastor prayed for him and blessed him. But God's plans for him were something different. The fact that we cannot see him does not change how very, very real he is. It doesn't take away the reality of that tiny, beautiful heartbeat that I saw on the ultrasound screen. My baby was and is real, and my love will go with him always, whatever it is that God is asking him to do.

(My speaking engagement was for an Ohio diocese and  the conference was held on the beautiful shores of Lake Erie. So stunning.)

And one day, I will have that moment with him that I had with his sisters at their births, except even more joyfully so, since we will be in that perfect place, free of pain and suffering. I will lay eyes on him for the first time. And the long, long wait will have been worth every moment.

It's appropriate that I'm writing this on the feast of St. Monica. Unlike her Augustine, my Gabriel is (hopefully) not a wayward sinner, but you can bet I pray for him every single day, hoping and praying that he may know the joys of heaven. I pray for him relentlessly, in hope of sharing the joys of heaven with him one day.

But for now I wait. I thank God every day for the gift of all three of my beautiful children. I tell each of them that I love them. And I hope for heaven and the day of the final resurrection, when our family will be reunited again, praising God forever.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Dear Gabriel... I thought of you today.

Dear Gabriel,

I walked with your dad at sunset today, and I thought of you.

Because the thing is, little Love, you were supposed to be with us on that walk.

I think of you and pray for you every day, my Sweetheart. But some days it hits me, all of a sudden, that you really are gone. I should have been feeling you kick by now. I should have been finding out your gender and getting one of those cute ultrasound profile pictures. I shouldn't have been crying on a walk, missing you.

I miss you every day. From what I've been told, that ache never fully goes away, but some days are harder than others. This week was hard - visiting your grave by myself for the first time. Having to go to the doctor's office and lay down for an ultrasound in that same awful room where I found out you had died. (Although this time, knowing my womb was baby free, but still healing from my littlest Love's time there. It is so hard to still be healing physically and mentally.)

I met someone new today.

This new friend is wonderful, but you will never know her, and she will never know you. And I couldn't even put that into words when I met her.

You missed the sunset, Love. And you and I will never watch it set together.

I try to trust that the beauty you now see far surpasses any I could show you. I feel so selfish, but I still wish we could have shared this earthly beauty together.

Because tonight, littlest Love, I saw the sunset. And I missed you so much.

My love goes with you always, my Gabriel.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Sacramentality of Radio Towers

It's been almost two months since we lost our third child, Gabriel, to miscarriage. Not a day goes by that we don't miss him, talk about him, and pray for him. 

I've been avoiding his grave. I feel like a terrible mother for saying that, but I have. We chose to have him buried in an individual plot with a marker, because I knew that, long term, I would want to be able to visit him. In the beginning, though, having a marked, real grave for him - a grave stone bearing the sweet little name we gave him - has made the grief much more raw. Every time I visit his grave, I cry. Most of the time, I almost feel like my pregnancy with Gabriel was a strange dream. Much of the time, I try not to think too much about the loss of this child, because I have two other children to raise and a marriage to nurture, and I can't afford to let the grief crush me. 

But every now and then, something will trigger my grief. The other night, I opened our medicine cabinet and saw the small bottle that contained my hyperemesis gravidarum medicine (to combat the crippling nausea I experience in pregnancy). That little bottle wasn't there, prior to March. I felt the grief come rushing back. 

I was running errands recently, and realized that I had been meaning to get a new pinwheel for Gabriel's grave. (I didn't fully understand the value of those pinwheels and toys in the baby section of the cemetery until losing our little one and realizing what a comfort and joy a simple little pinwheel can be to older siblings.) I didn't particularly feel like visiting the cemetery, and experiencing the rawness of that grief all over again. But, darn it, I knew I needed to check that stupid pinwheel off of my list.

It was my first time visiting his grave by myself. The other times I had been with friends or family. I got there, and the first thing I did was laugh when I saw how dirty and dusty his little marker was. I knelt down to brush off the dirt, and laughingly said, "Oh my goodness! Your little marker is always so dirty. I wonder if you would have been a messy little boy..." As I said these words, the tears filled my eyes. I hate the "what ifs."

The lack of rain recently meant that the soil was hard and dried out. I couldn't get that pinwheel stuck in the ground. So much for a short visit! I ran back down the hill to my car, and got my travel mug, which was filled with juice and water. It's a staple drink of mine, and of my girls. I poured it on the dirt to soften it, and as little rivulets ran down the grave marker, I used the wetness to clean off his dirty little stone. "Oh my sweet Gabriel," I said, "I wish I could just be pouring you a sippy cup of apple juice and water." Again with the "what ifs." I felt a fresh wave of tears come.

"I love you, my sweet littlest Love," I told him. "I will always love you, my sweetheart. Until my last breath and even after."

I cried and prayed and talked to Gabriel, and worked on the dirt until I was able to get the pinwheel wedged in. 

I sat back on my heels, and turned to look down the hill, and that's when I saw it.

It was a radio tower.

I don't know how I had never noticed it before, but the view from Gabriel's grave was mostly taken up with this radio tower. 

That might seem insignificant to most, but God and I have a long history of radio towers in our relationship. I've always loved them.

When I was little, I used to live on the top floor of an apartment building. In the distance, we could see a line of radio towers from our front window, their red lights blinking steadily. I always remembered those radio towers, and associated them with the feeling of safety and security. They were somehow a connection to the girl who I was, and I link to the woman I was becoming. 

When I was in college, newly engaged to my (now) husband, I went on a silent retreat. Because I struggle with anxiety and depression, I was really nervous about subjecting myself to days of silence, sans any distraction. The retreat also came at a time where I was dealing with some stressors in some of my close relationships (not my relationship with my husband), and I was in an extremely vulnerable place. 

If you are familiar with the campus of Notre Dame, you know that there are two lakes on campus. Across St. Joseph lake, the Congregation of Holy Cross has their seminary. The retreat was being held in the seminary, overlooking the lake and the campus. 

I'm resurrecting an incredibly old, embarrassing picture of myself, participating in my dorm's "chicken run" in order to show you the view I'm talking about. 

(And yes, prior to my three children, I had the body of a twelve year old. Thank you, dear children, for making my body look like the body of a woman's, not a girl's.)

Anyway, the first night of the retreat, I was in my room and looking out the window when I saw it, glittering far in the distance. It was a radio tower.

It sounds strange, but I knew that that radio tower, blinking steadily in the distance, was God's way of reminding me that he loved me and that he was near. That ridiculous blinking red light was linking my girlhood to my emerging womanhood. It gave me such peace to know that God loved me enough to give me a window with a view of a radio tower.

When my husband was applying to ph.D programs, I was crushed that the one he chose was so far from family, friends, and the world that I had always known. It was in a city that I had never been in before! Thankfully, a couple of our dear college friends were from that city (the city I now am grateful that I don't have to leave!) and they let us stay with them when we visited, prior to moving.

I remember laying in their guest room and crying. I didn't want to be moving, didn't want to have to live in a strange place. I felt so sad, and so alone.

Then, one night, I looked out the window and saw a radio tower, blinking steadily in the distance. And, in that moment, I knew everything was going to be okay. It was God's signal to me that all would be well.

That radio tower, the one I saw that night, is the same one that I can see from Gabriel's grave.

When I turned around and saw that radio tower - literally taking up the entire view from Gabriel's grave - I laughed out loud. There it was - a reminder of God's love. A connection to the girl I was, and the woman I am becoming.

The other night, we had one of our seminarian friends over for dinner. One of the things we were talking about was the incredible ordinariness of our vocations, and the fact that holiness happens in those ordinary moments.

One of the things I love the most about our faith is the sacramental mindset. God works always, and in everything. The Incarnation - God becoming flesh at Christmas - transforms everything. The Incarnation redeems this world - this sad, tired world. Each thing we touch can be transformed. God can work through the most mundane of things, turning them into conduits of grace. The most ordinary things can be reminders of his love.

He can even use radio towers. 

(On a totally unrelated note, can you say a quick prayer for my continued physical healing? Not getting into details, but I'm having some minor, lingering issues and could use a spare prayer. Thanks!)

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