Saturday, March 17, 2018

Eating Scapulars and Peek-a-Boo with Icons

That sounds like it could be another book title, right?

That's how my sweet baby and I spent our morning, though. I was able to attend a beautiful morning of reflection at our parish. She's the world's easiest baby, so I actually had an opportunity to pray and go to Confession, and attend Mass. She was content to chew away on my scapular for most of that time.

We followed that up with some prep for Passion Sunday tomorrow (which is different than Palm Sunday). The girls and I are on the sacristy team, which mostly means just keeping altar cloths and tabernacle veils clean and ironed, altar candles fresh, and occasional liturgical veiling all the statues and icons for Passion Sunday. We pretended they were playing peek-a-boo (which is this little girl's newest game).

The theme of the morning of reflection was "Glorious Wounds," and it was basically reflections on suffering and the value of suffering. As I sat there, holding this little love, I remembered all the suffering of love that I endured last year. I have spent so much time reflecting on the grace of those four pregnancies, and the opportunity to suffer in love. I have been kind of quiet on this blog this year, because I've been having some quieter crosses. I'm sure you've gone through periods like that in your own life. As I was sitting in prayer today, various concerns heavy on my heart, I had one of those brief glimpses of realization. As I listened to the priest reflect on the gift of suffering I remembered, "Oh, right. This life is passing. The opportunity to suffer and offer up that suffering is ultimately an opportunity to love." It is so hard to remember that in the moment, though, isn't it?

The crosses of anxiety and depression are adding to all of this, and sometimes I have a really hard time remembering to offer those up. When I'm in the midst of a good day, or a day that is only mildly anxious, then I can hear a talk or read a quote about suffering and think, "Yes! What a gift! I am so grateful for the crosses in my life!" In the midst of that same suffering, though...not so much. In the midst, it just seems too heavy, sometimes. 

I was thinking of the "heroic minute" the other day. Have you heard of the "heroic minute?" St. Josemaria Escriva described the moment when you're supposed to wake up as the heroic moment - you could either hit the snooze button, or you could leap out of bed and heroically overcome your drowsiness and embrace the day. That sounds great, and when I'm not sleep deprived, or struggling with anxiety or depression, I tend to be a morning person and could see myself embracing the heroic minute. I sometimes feel discouraged that it's so hard for me to get my day going, but then the other day, it occurred to me - God isn't sitting up in heaven with a stopwatch and judging us all by the same standard. For some of us (especially those struggling with depression, anxiety, grief, etc.), and at some points in our life (like when we have a baby that wakes up a million times a night, ahem) then just getting out of bed in the morning is heroic. I have definitely had mornings when I struggle to get out of bed, not because I'm a lazy person but because sometimes I am physically or mentally weighed down. On those mornings, I am called to offer up that suffering to God, pour an extra cup of coffee...and just let the fact that I got out of bed be heroic in and of itself.

If you have never gone through a patch like this, that will probably boggle your mind. But if you have ever been sleep deprived, or struggled with something mental health related, or gone through a period of grief or illness...then I hope you find comfort in that reminder. There is heroism in your daily struggle. I think there is a good analogy in the Stations of the Cross. By the time Jesus got to the point of the Stations, he had already been up all night in a state of grief and had been scourged. When He fell down the first time while carrying the cross, it must have been hard to get up. When he fell down the second time, it must have seemed even harder. But when he fell down that third time? Can you imagine how difficult it was to get up that third time? Was his love for us any less in that moment? On the contrary, the harder the Way of the Cross got, the greater His love was. 

And so it is for us. One who suffers much is invited to love much. 

It is often so hard to do this. But sometimes, we are given a glimpse at the value of suffering in love. When I wonder about the value of suffering, when I question my faith, I look at this wall, and I remember four times in my life that Jesus invited me to suffer for the love of another...and each time it was so incredibly worth it:

Each of those pregnancies and post-partums had their share of suffering. But I look at these four beautiful children (three of whom I get to hold in my arms every day, and one who I hold in my heart always) and that suffering seems like nothing. I look at them and I feel like the gift of their lives is something so infinitely greater than hyperemesis gravidarum, or post-partum depression, or even the grief of miscarriage. My suffering for them has been so little in comparison to the joy of simply knowing that they exist and are called to sainthood.

And so I imagine it is for Christ, on the cross. Crucifixion is one of the worst ways to die, and added to that is the incredible grief of holding all of our sins and dying for them. But do you know what Jesus did? He also thought of each of us by name, holding the image of every person who ever was or ever would be in his heart, and he thought, "This suffering is so great, but it is as nothing compared to my love for you." 

And so, sometimes, in the midst of this passing life, the suffering we undergo can seem like too much. Even little sufferings can seem like too much (indeed, sometimes the daily sufferings of our vocations are the hardest to bear with patience). But this life is passing. Even if we live to 100 years old - a century is nothing in comparison to eternity. 

This is the hope that keeps me going, and that is renewed in my heart each Lent. This is the hope reaffirmed each Holy Week. 

Speaking of Holy Week...would you like a little peek inside the new book?? I usually like seeing the inside of picture books before buying them. Here's a peek at a few of my favorite pages...

Thanks to everyone who has already bought a copy! Interested in getting a copy of your own? There's still time to get one before Holy Week!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Holy Week for Children (A New Book)

I have some really exciting news for you all....a new book is here!!

This project has been a total labor of love. I have seen some lovely books that give the Scriptural stories of Holy Week, but no books that walk children through what to expect at the liturgies. This book does both!

Our family tries to go to the Triduum liturgies, and if yours does, too, this would be a great little companion to help your 3-9 year old(ish) follow along. However, I know that a lot of families aren't able to make it to those liturgies, but may want to. If you aren't able to make it to the Triduum liturgies, this book would be a good way to teach your children about what happens at the most important Masses and liturgies of the liturgical year (without dragging little ones to church past bedtime). 

You can purchase it on Amazon...just in time for Laetare Sunday! This would be perfect for your Easter baskets.  

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Unending Washing of Feet

This little icon sits on the windowsill of our bathroom (with the lovely 1950's blue tile). We were given it as part of my graduate program, back at the beginning of our marriage. We've stuck it in the bathroom in this house and our previous one. Initially, it was almost a, Jesus is washing feet and we're in the bathroom? Get it??

But it's taken on a deeper meaning as we've continued in this business of forming a family, our own little domestic monastery. Over the years, it's served as a reminder for me, sometimes in the most convicting moments. When potty training a stubborn toddler, dawdling on the toilet and begging me to read her the potty board book one more time, I've been reminded to take a deep breath and be patient. When bathing a tubful of little ones, I've been reminded that what I'm doing has significance. By my very job description, I wash feet (and, as Peter said, "hands and head" as well!). It's so ordinary, that sometimes I forget how extraordinary this vocation of mine is.

We used to keep this icon in our main bathroom, but when we moved to our new house, we put it in the little half bath that is connected to our master bedroom. It's the bathroom that I periodically retreat to and lock the door, so I can take care of business without an audience. It's also the bathroom that I use when the baby doesn't want me out of her sight, because I put her in her crib and keep her in my line of sight. So, it's the bathroom that offers me a moment or two of silence in the midst of a nonstop day.

The other day, I noticed this icon and suddenly saw it in a different way. I noticed the weariness on Jesus's face, and the expectant looks on the Apostles' faces. They weren't looking with hope...they were looking with neediness. And Jesus looked with a combination of weariness and love. They are twelve of them. They're surrounding him. It seems like too much for any one man. Granted, this one man is also God, but he still took on our physical limitations in his incarnation. And with those limitations, he took on the ability to experience exhaustion.

Our little Zelie is probably the happiest baby I have ever met, and is also a terrible sleeper. I think she's "slept through the night" (i.e. at least six hours) once. Normally, she eats every 2-3 hours (at least) around the clock. Her incredible sweetness makes this bearable, and even enjoyable. But that kind of relentless does lead to exhaustion, as any parent of a baby knows. I was exhausted with one daughter, then with two, but adding in a third child has added a new level of exhaustion. (Thank goodness for coffee!)

Then there are my two older daughters. Their needs are more complex.  Since we are homeschooling, there are their academic needs, always on my mind during the week (and weekends, but I don't make them do school then!). But their needs extend so far beyond that. They are beautiful little loves, in need of emotional and spiritual formation. They need smiles. They need my love. They need my patience (admittedly, the area where I fail the most). And, of course, they need all of the basic physical things every child needs - fresh, clean clothes (that fit!), filling meals and snacks, enough sleep, and a good bath every few days.

One day recently, I was in the midst of changing a very messy diaper while meltdowns were happening and I found myself saying aloud, "It's too much! This is too much for any one person!"

It is too much. It is far too much. I've had other jobs, over the years. I've done graduate level coursework. Never have I done such difficult, demanding work as the work I now do. And never have I loved a job as much as I love this one.

Yet, sometimes I feel weary. Sometimes the needs that surround me feel like too much.

But...that icon. This is the beauty of the Incarnation, isn't it? Jesus took on our sufferings and he fully understands what we are facing.

In seeing that icon, I is okay to be tired. It is okay to feel overwhelmed. It is too much for one person to do. But...I don't have to do it alone. He does it with me. 

In fact, the feet I'm washing (and searching for socks for and tying shoes on) don't belong to me alone. They ultimately belong to Him. I don't have to do this alone. I have Him. I always have Him.

Unseen though my work is, weary though I may be at times, this is my path to heaven. This ordinary, beautiful life is my vocation. And through this vocation, I'm gifted with the opportunity to kneel beside Jesus and wash feet.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Praying with Dirty Diapers

It's been almost one year since we found out we were expecting Zelie. The other night, I was reading old blog posts while trying to convince her to go to sleep, and I ended up re-reading the posts from when Gabriel died. Remembering the grief of that time, and now holding my Zelie... I realize what a miracle she is. 

But it's not as if she's a replacement baby. She is our fourth child, a unique person in her own right. While having her heals some of that heartache, it also reminds me what I never got to experience with him...which in turn makes me more appreciative of her. After miscarrying Gabriel, then thinking we were miscarrying Zelie, then having such a difficult pregnancy, I don't take a moment with this baby for granted.

Having Gabriel as my child has changed me. And now, having this little girl in my life has changed me even more.

But all of this doesn't negate the hardness of mothering young children. It is easier to face that hardness having faced the alternative - secondary infertility, miscarriage, hyperemesis gravidarum. When having children doesn't come easily, it heightens your awareness of what gifts they are.

But this vocation stretches me in ways I never dreamed possible. This vocation makes me realize how selfish I am, how lacking in true humility, and how much I need God. I suppose that's the whole point of a vocation, right?

But I need a framework for understanding that this work I am engaged in isn't drudgery. It is anything but. Recently, I was at a meeting of a mom's book club, and someone reminded me that we're called to make everything we do into a prayer. 

Of course. The Little Way of St. Therese. How could I have forgotten?

But I have a graduate degree, my second theology degree from the University of Notre Dame. I always had excellent grades, and a long list of accolades. I found my worth there. I still look for my worth there.

But my worth isn't there. My worth is in how I love, and in the fact that I am loved by God.

And the only work I do that actually matters, is the work of loving. Jesus emphasizes the value of giving a cup of cold water with love, because the little things matter.

In fact, little acts of love matter more than any accomplishments from my past. After St. Thomas Aquinas had his vision of the beatific vision while working on the Summa, he abandoned his project and called all his work "straw." If you've ever encountered the Summa Theological, you know it is magnificent. "Straw" is the last word I would use to describe it. But when faced with God's love? What isn't straw in comparison?

I really don't like experiencing hyperemesis gravidarum. But I am so grateful for my pregnancies, for the opportunity to experience real suffering, for the sake of loving another.

In a way, I sometimes have a twinge of sadness after an HG pregnancy, because my spiritual work is so straightforward during it. I suffer because I love my baby. I have ample opportunity to offer up suffering. It's awful to experience, but I grow a lot.

Do you know what's harder? Offering up that extra ten to fifteen pounds, lingering and making me feel like I am no longer my young, thin self. But even there is the challenge to love as Christ, who said, "This is my body, given up for you." Because, that is still what it is. A tired body, a body that's softer around the middle, a body still experiencing occasional bouts of nausea - it is still a body that is loving. It is a body given up for another.

That is, after all, why we have these bodies of ours. They are made to glorify God. They are made to show His love.

 Of course, everyone's vocation calls them to glorify God in different ways, at different stages of life. But living out our love and offering our actions as our prayer to God, transforms the everyday moments.

I love praying morning prayer when I first wake up. But sometimes, the prayer God wants from me first is changing a dirty diaper.

Because, guess what? Changing a dirty diaper, with love, is a actually a pretty big thing. It is more important than an alphabet soup of degree abbreviations after my name. It is more important that any of the other job titles I hold.

Small things with great love. It is enough.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Birth Story and Humility

Miss Zelie is officially a month old today!!
This is basically where she spends all of her time, and it has been so, so healing for my heart.

High time for a birth story!

So, just over a month ago (on June 19), I was 37 weeks and 5 days pregnant and....soooo done. Anyone who talked to me knew I had felt that way for weeks. My hyperemesis gravidarum got worse again in my third trimester (although not as bad as it was in my first), and I was up to sticking myself with a needle at least twice a day, because my body was not happy with my Zofran pump.

My doctor sympathized, and since I had been measuring ahead for so long AND was already dilating and effacing and had been having prodromal labor...he suggested stripping my membranes (i.e. separating the bag of waters from the wall of the womb). He said if I was actually ready to deliver, it would kick start labor. Worth a try!

Over the next 24 hours, I kept having stretches of contractions, but it didn't seem to be turning into anything. A little before 9:30 on Tuesday morning, I felt some painful contractions, but assumed it was more prodromal labor. Andrew wanted to replace the bathroom fan, so I said he could go to Lowe's and buy a new one. I would take the girls to swim lessons.

In the meantime, I worked on switching the clothes around in the girls' new dressers, but I had to keep stopping to squat through contractions. It was taking forever because I was getting contractions every minute, and they were getting more painful. Maria's labor had been only four hours long and I was convinced I wouldn't have another precipitous labor like that. But I realized I should probably time the contractions... just in case there was a pattern.

There was a pattern. They were about a minute long, less than a minute a part, and not letting up.

My texts to Andrew went from something like:

"Still having contractions, but probably nothing."

"Maybe something. Kind of hurts."


"Call the babysitter. Maybe head home."

"Come home now! We need to go to the hospital!"

As soon as the babysitter arrived, we headed to the hospital. We got there around 11:30 a.m. and I waddled in to triage while Andrew parked the car. It took forever for them to check me in, because the contractions were so close together.

Then, the nurse checked me. I was 5-6 cm. Definitely in labor! I pulled out that Zofran pump almost right away. So glad!

The next couple hours were a blur. I wanted an epidural because this labor was as intense as Maria's, and I had barely managed that one. I had never had an epidural before, but I had had daily pain with the Zofran pump for the past six months, and I felt like God was calling me to humility... I needed help managing the pain, and that was ok.

The epidural came while I was already shaking in the pain of transition, and it was bliss. Zelie's heart rate dipped, though (probably because I wasn't squatting anymore!) so they had to give me some oxygen. They checked me right after they got the epidural in (around 12:50 p.m.) and I was already 8 cm! Almost complete.

The doctor was called, and by the time he came in, I was ready to push.

"How long did it take you to push out your other girls?" he asked.

"Oh, around half an hour," I told him.

"Oh, we have time! Okay, give me a practice push. Let's try in this position. Okay, good! I can see the head. Do you still feel like pushing?"

I did. "I can see her face!" Andrew said.

"Wait!" the doctor said. "I need to get on my gloves! I'm not ready!"

"I can't wait!" I said.

And out popped Zelie Jane...and a huge gush of amniotic fluid all over the floor and the doctor. "I just got these shoes yesterday!" he joked.

I heard a little cry, and they placed her tiny newborn self on my chest. She had a headful of dark hair and was so perfect.

She wasn't pinking up, though, so they took her over to her bassinet and rubbed her vigorously. Her heart was going strong, but she laid there not really breathing, and bluish. Then all the nurses and doctor's pagers beeped.

"Wait," my doctor said, "Who called a Code Blue?"

"I did," one of the nurses said. And then, a flurry of NICU doctors rushed in and gave her an oxygen mask. (They later explained to me she wasn't actually coding, but that's what they do when they need NICU doctors to arrive fast. Still terrifying and not something I ever want to experience again!)

"Is she alright?" I asked. Simultaneously, I begged Gabriel to pray for her.

She pinked up enough that she didn't need to go to the NICU just then, but they were going to come back and check her in half an hour.

I spent that half hour doing skin to skin and getting her to nurse a little, and within a half an hour, she was doing well and got to stay with us. Hooray!

I was so grateful for her big brother's prayers. A few hours later, her godparents brought her sisters and it was love at first sight!

And now we can't imagine life without our sweet, sweet Zelie. :-)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


It's been three weeks, and I realized I haven't yet introduced our newest little love.

Zelie Jane
Born June 20th at 1:31 p.m.

She was baptized this past Sunday and was gladly welcomed into the seminary family, too. In fact, her godparents work for the seminary, and have become so close to our family that the girls call them "Aunt" and "Uncle."

It was the first time we've used the Extraordinary Form for Baptism. It is achingly beautiful, but I wouldn't have been able to do it before Gabriel. In the EF of Baptism, the godparents hold the child and answer for her - an acknowledgement that the Baptized is her own person who can speak for herself (or have her godparents do so).

Baptism is one of the things that sustains me in pregnancy. It is an ecstatic moment for me to hold my child as the water is poured over her head and she becomes a daughter of God. I had to hold back tears, not being able to hold Zelie at that moment.

Before Gabriel, I wouldn't have been alright with that. Despite the fact that the Extraordinary Form for Baptism is beautiful, and offers additional blessings (and exorcisms!) for my daughter, I would have wanted to selfishly cling to have that "moment" with her at Baptism.

But the reality is - Ordinary or Extraordinary, both forms of Baptism are a kind of death. They are a giving back of our child to God, just as Hannah did with Samuel. In that, Baptism is the beginning of acknowledging an unavoidable reality - my children are not my possessions. They are children of God, entrusted to me for a time. They may bring me joy, but that isn't the reason for their existence. Ultimately, Andrew and I are only a part of their journey back to God. We are an important part, but only a part.

It was my Gabriel who helped me understand that, my Gabriel who I could only request a conditional Baptism for (a conditional Baptism offered by a doctor, in an operating room, without his mother conscious or his father present). We had to entrust Gabriel to God long before we were ready, and it was the hope of that alone that made it possible to let him go.

With Gabriel I learned that although my love will always go with my children, they do not existence merely for my benefit. One day, each of our three daughters will fly the nest. Whether they fly to a house down the street and give us grandchildren running in and out of our doors, or they fly to a cloistered convent hundreds of miles away - either way, we will eventually have to let them go. We'll have to let these three girls live out whatever vocation they are called to, even if it means enduring the pain of separation.

Baptism is only the beginning of that. Yet, Baptism clothes that process in a kind of grace. Maybe we are offering back to God the child he gave us - but God is never outdone in generosity. 

But for now? For now, I'll hold this child close, well aware of the gift she is, and appreciating her even more after the loss of her big brother. For now, I will be grateful that God has permitted me to care for and raise another little girl.

And do you know what? All the suffering of this pregnancy was totally worth it.

(Btw, birth story coming soon...but there were traumatic moments involved, so no promises on how soon the story will be shared!)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Not Enough on My Own

37 weeks, 5 days pregnant today...but who's counting?!

As the long stretches of silence on this blog attest to, this pregnancy has stretched me in ways I didn't think possible. In trying to process it all, I alternate between being traumatized by various aspects to feeling strong and grateful for being able to do things I haven't previously been able to do.

My Zofran pump is the perfect example of this. I think back to all the times I've stuck myself with a needle, to the pain that caused, and also to the pain, welts, bruises, and burning sensation it's caused...and I just want to curl up in a ball and cry. But then, I think about the difference the pump has made, how sick I would be without it, and how amazing it is that the love I have for a little girl I have yet to meet, motivates me to stick a needle in my skin (sometimes multiple times a day). Then, I am flooded with gratitude and in awe of the graces I've received this pregnancy.

Because, that's basically what this pregnancy has been for me. I've walked a tightrope between being gripped by sadness and fear and being overwhelmed by hope and love. There isn't much space in between.

In these final days (or weeks) of pregnancy, I feel this even more acutely. The end of pregnancy is hard for every mom. But in addition to those normal struggles is weird HG stuff. There's the ongoing nausea and feeling like puking. But, it's HG, so it's also being worn down by all the HG triggers. It's missing being able to read a book without the smell and feel of the paper making you too nauseous to continue. It's constantly shushing or shooing your children because their little voices and hugs make you feel like throwing up. It's getting sick from a light being on, or from looking at a screen.

And it's also the well meaning comments... especially people reassuring you that it's ok if it's still weeks until you deliver your baby, when you're hoping it will be hours. It's being asked your due date a million times, and being reminded that there are still days and days between you and an end to perpetual stomach flu.

To add to all of that, I've been feeling so afraid of labor lately. Afraid of the pain, and afraid of the unknown.

Until today.

I had my weekly doctor appointment, and although I had looked up Mass times in the hospital chapel and knew Mass was earlier, I decided to pay Jesus a quick visit, anyway.

Except that, as I knelt in the chapel, more and more people trickled in, grabbing a Missal as they entered. Then a priest came. Then...there was Mass!

After Communion, I was praying... praying for my four children and husband, and begging God for the grace to keep going. And then, it washed over me- beautiful peace and sudden conviction that I needn't be afraid. I felt renewed grace to offer up my suffering, and suddenly didn't feel terrified of labor anymore.

It was just a moment of grace, pure and simple. But that moment changed everything.

I may still have days or weeks of HG left. I may have a painful labor ahead. I may even have another bout of post-partum depression ahead.

But it is just the cross. And Christ has already conquered the cross. There is no need to be afraid.

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