At the NCRegister: Living Mercifully

My latest at the National Catholic Register:


I was in the confessional, feeling particularly bad about my list of the usual sins, when a priest gave me one simple prayer for a penance. I wanted to say, “But wait, I have been doing the same things over and over and over again. Didn’t you just hear all the things for which I deserve a just punishment?

And then it struck me: This was mercy.

7 Hopes that I Had for Family Life While in College

In my research for writing the second installment of the story of my relationship with M, I have been reading my old prayer journals. First of all, why was everything so dramatic in college? Second, of all it has been fascinating seeing who I was then and seeing how I have changed, and how I still need to improve.

One of the things I came across was how I imagined family life would be. M and I had a lot of serious discussion during our time in Austria, and this was a topic that came up as we wondered if and when we should date again. It is kind of fun to see how I hoped life would be. Here are a few of the hopes that came true.

1. “Husband in charge of kids so that she can work on her book or read a novel”
Now I have not written a book, but I am doing a lot more writing than I once did in my married life. I do feel that writing has been a kind of fulfillment for me these last few years that I had forgotten about when we first had children. Usually it happens not while M is watching the kids, but during our daily quiet times or after the kids are in bed. And I am finding plenty of time for reading novels and other things.

2. “Group of women to spend time with”Developing friendships always takes time, but it is worth the effort. Everytime I get together with lady friends or have a good conversation online, I am reminded of how important it is for women to support and have each other in their lives. It is especially helpful with family life to have the support of other women.

3. “Family meal time is sacred”
When the professor works at home, we sometimes have all three meals together. In fact, he would forget to eat lunch sometimes if it were not for the family eating lunch with him (#philosopherproblems). Family mealtime has become crucial to our spiritual life and cultural life as well, since it is at these times we pray together, read Scripture together, or at lunch read fairy tales together.

4. “I do not want stacks”-This means “no clutter.”
We are not always the best at this, especially on select spots on the counter, the dining room table which doubles as the pre-K craft table, but we have become pretty good at having a spot for everything, and eliminating the offending stacks fairly often. We also purge the house a couple of times a year of things we do not need.

5.”Children should be everywhere”–but God is in charge
I had a strong desire for a large family in college, but also realized that when it comes to having children, we only have so much control. Bringing new people into the world/adding to the perfection of the universe is not something to be taken lightly. And I am so thankful I have been blessed with these four amazing human beings. Sometimes I look at them all together and it blows my mind that I bore them all in my womb, gave birth to them, and tended to their basic needs day in and day out. How did I get to four children already?

6. Home cooked meals
I love home cooked meals, and I love cooking home cooked meals. But I also love the ease of ordering out when I need to, or just would like a break. Food is yummy!

7. Close tight-knit family
This is something I had growing up in my own home. So far the kids are all really close, and I figure if we do what we can to promote a close family, it will probably happen.

Linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum on Seven Quick Takes Friday!

In which I get to go to the ER again

I have considered myself exempt from commenting on the things that have been blowing up the part of the internet I happen to peruse lately. Like the Pope (again) for example. I pray for the pope, a lot. And I pray for the Church, and I just plug along in my domestic church and local Catholic community. Some days it is just enough to do that. Some days we just have to be a part of the Church no matter what everyone else says about us. And some days we are just trying to get by at home.

You see last week I had a big fall.

Down these.

Not like this.

My fall was a little quicker, and less enjoyable, and I am not nearly as cute as F at age one. Though it began on the same step. And my PSA about the whole thing is to not have a stack of thin, slippery books books on the first step down. It is a bad idea. It leaves room for all sorts of accidents to happen, including ones that end in a trip to the ER.

But as in all bad things that happen to me, I have tried to look on the bright side.

Here is what did happen. I was holding a heavy bag of groceries close to my body, and was taking them downstairs to store for later. I stepped onto the stack of books (of which I had no idea of it being there) and my foot slipped forward out from under me. My elbow flailed out to stop the fall, was scrapped and bruised, and was useless. I held onto the groceries for dear life, apparently, and counted each time my head hit the steps, one, two, three, four, five, following the thump of my tailbone.

When I finally made it to the bottom I lay on my side in a sobbing mess. Everything hurt. But I thank God that M was home. What would the children have done had this happened without him home? He came running down, and I never went unconscious. I stayed in place and iced my head until I stopped feeling shocked by the whole incident.

Once I was on my feet, I took into account any symptoms of a concussion, and sure enough, I was having dizziness and nausea. I carefully went back upstairs. As my symptoms did not improve, we decided to go to the ER just to be on the safe side. We found some friends available to watch the kids, dropped them off and head over with the baby to the same hospital he was born in.

After checking in, we sat in the same waiting room seats we had used before. T was happy to tag along, and I was happy that my symptoms were not getting worse. At the ER they Xrayed my bruised bones and CT scanned my head. After 45 minutes of waiting for results, we were given the OK to go home. Just bruises, nothing broken. Our wonderful friends fed us and the children dinner and I have been trying to take it easy since then.

L had a concussion a few years ago, and her symptoms persisted for about 10 days, so it does not surprise me that I am still feeling a bit off. I am still sore everywhere I hit the steps. But I have lots of people to offer my sufferings for in prayer, and it is Lent after all.

On top of this all, I just want to say how great M has been in all of this. He has been helping a lot with the kids, coming home earlier than he planned from work (I love the flexible academic schedule). And he was so so anxious for me and my well being when it all happened. There is nothing to make you love your spouse more like the thought of losing each other.

And we have another reason to be thankful for the great basement flood of 2013. For if that had not happened, there is a possibility that I may have fallen down noncarpeted stairs, which would have been much, much worse.

In your charity, please pray for my complete recovery. I hope to have my next relationship post soon since I have finished my research of reading all my old prayer journals up to the end of our semester in Austria. SO stay tuned!

The Story of Our Relationship, Part One: Chipping that Chalice

Freshman year of college at Franciscan University was an intense experience of prayer/emotion/friendship/studying. Besides the fact that I met my husband there, I know that I would not be the same person I am today, had I not gone there.

My Catholic faith was central to my life as long as I can remember, and my confirmation in 7th grade was a major time of growth for me, but it was not until the summer before college that I really decided that I wanted to stop the roller coaster spirituality I had been living and chose to continue going deeper always. I had spent all of high school going on retreats and committing myself to a life of prayer, and slowly giving up on my good prayer habits for whatever was there to distract me (boys, baseball, movies, dances, etc.).

I knew I was missing something by not staying focused on being holy, and was wishy-washy about where I wanted to go to college, what I wanted to do with my life, until I got my financial aid package in the mail and realized I could go to FUS without too much debt. Okay, so I am still paying that debt, but it was so worth it.

It was worth it to go to Steubenville because my first semester of college I really let myself be loved by God and really started to love Him. I spent so much time praying and being prayed over, and crying in Marian Hall chapel in my pjs and crying in my closest friends’ rooms. I was being broken and healed and converted over to God.

And by the end of the first semester my friendship with M was starting to be one of the most important friendships of my life.

We met around the second week of school through my cousin-in-law. She was the niece of my aunt’s husband. Got it? And my cousin-in-law and M knew each other from high school. In fact they had several friends from Ann Arbor, MI who were all at FUS and who all befriended me immediately. It was through these friends that I learned to pray better, and in praying with them that I really experienced the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit the first time. And it was in this setting of friends, M and I grew close.

There was always a sort of chemistry between us (still is). It took him longer than me to admit it, but I began to wonder late first semester if M and I were getting too close.

I was extremely worried because HE was in the pre-theologate program, a PRE-THE (soft “th”, hard “e”). This meant that he was supposed to be seriously discerning the priesthood; he was practically a seminarian.

So, I spent a lot of my prayer time trying to overcome my attraction to him. I prayed for his discernment and tried to let go. M on the other hand did not realize until early February that his feelings for me were any different from any other crush he had had, because pre-the or not, he was still a young man with lots of feelings.

Looking back I see how unavoidable our falling in love was. We just got along so well, we loved spending time together. The time we spent together was wonderful. He loved me for my whole person and I felt the same about him.

But things were getting too intense, I liked him too much for things to continue at the level of close friendship we had developed. He needed space to discern, and he needed to be clear with me what he was thinking in his actions.

Then on Valentine’s day of all days, I confided in a few good friends, including a wonderful couple who let me interrupt their date night in a common room to get advice. They advised me to talk to him and tell him that he was confusing me.

I called him up, and asked to go for a walk because “we needed to talk.” My plan was to tell him that I was attracted to him and to ask him to give me some space, so that I could get over him and he could go on discerning the priesthood.

We met up on a rainy courtyard clad in rain jackets (what a mild February that must have been!). I dove right into my problem. “I am attracted to you,” I confessed to him. “Um, well, I am attracted to you,” he replied, and then we paused. I was a bit shocked and relieved, all of this flirting had actually meant something to him.

But what were we supposed to do? Well, I decided to tell him the entirety of my past crushes and involvements with boys; I am not really sure why. I think I wanted to let him know that I really needed him to be straight forward with me. By the end of our discussion we decided that we needed to put serious limits on our interaction since we had become way to close to be “just friends.”

That worked for one emotionally painful week, in which we eyed each other mournfully and wrote bad poetry, and then I guess he had had enough. He met with his formation director, told all, and then left the program. He was free to date. The next day he asked me out.

It was amazing for about a week, and then we became moody and at times strained. We really did like each other. We really were attracted to each other. We really did feel a love for each other that neither of us had really felt for anyone else. But perhaps we were not quite ready for the full commitment of dating.

Spring formal.

By the end of Spring semester and into the Summer, it seemed that M wanted more space and time for discernment.

He came to see me for a day during my summer visit to my grandparents in Cleveland (a mere 2 hours from his house), and the visit was bittersweet. We both knew things were coming to an end. We both intensely cared for each other. We went out for ice cream and went to the pier to watch the sun set over Lake Erie. When he left to go home, I knew things were going to be over soon.

The next week, when I was at home, he finally “officially” ended it. I was heartbroken, but I took it to prayer. I took it all to prayer.

Stay tuned for Part Two. 🙂

Things I Learn From my Mother

If you have ever met my mother, then you know how beautiful of a person she is in all aspects. Well today we had our “we are in the same city, so lets go out to brunch” outing, and I came home to be reminded that I wrote the devotion for Blessed is She today.

I spent a long while reflecting on today’s readings when I wrote the devotion, and today we made it to daily Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Mom came with us to Mass, and at brunch we had a lovely, blessed conversation about God’s movements in our lives. (See, awesome lady.)

And then I reread my devotion, forgetting what I actually wrote about, to see that it is all about my Mom teaching me to pray for all my little needs.

If you want to hear more about her, head on over to Blessed is She for today’s Mass readings and devotion.

A Day with Morning Mass

Things have been busy here, and when things get busy my personal, random thoughts writing time goes by the wayside. Naptime turns into catch up time on everything or cooking Thanksgiving dinner time or frosting birthday cake time or talking to my mom because she is visiting time, etc.

Well, last night, I decided I was going to write this afternoon, no matter what. So, here I am squeezing it in, with a messy kitchen and the children’s toys everywhere. And it is okay, because my dirty house is a grace.

I wonder if my cluttered mind is also a grace?

This morning we finally all were feeling well enough from the latest cold to get out of bed for daily Mass. Daily Mass here is 7:30 am. And if it is going to work on a day the Professor teaches or really any day, we have to get ourselves out of bed at 5:45am and get that breakfast eaten and coffee in us by 6:30, so we can get the kids up to eat, so we can leave on time.

We went through the morning routine in the typical pre-caffine fog (coffee takes time to kick in), and finally we were sitting in the pew at Mass. The kids were not in their most prayerful behavior this morning and it was a struggle. But it dawned on me that besides the obvious Sacramental graces of receiving communion at a daily Mass, there are other reasons that it makes my day so much better when we do go.

I realized that I love being in a church full of people (the church in our neighborhood has like 100 people at morning Mass daily), but not be expected to talk to anyone. I like the community of silent praying (and verbal responses). The prayerful silence in a community of believers being led through the quiet liturgy of a morning daily Mass by a priest is so soothing to my whole being. And then we top it off with Jesus’ sacrifice and receiving communion.

Then I am ready to really face my day. Coffee, quiet communal prayer, Jesus, and I can do this thing.

When we don’t go, I struggle harder to make it through the day even if I have slept an hour extra. Call me needy or something, I need my daily Mass, and I need it quiet.

*By quiet I mean me not talking to other people, no music. Quiet does not mean that my children have not made noise. I can pray through shushing my children; I have been at it for 6.5 years!

Seven Quick Takes, Friday, Nov. 13

1. I have not done quick takes in over a month. The thing is, they are not exactly quick to write, but I have about 30 minutes if the baby stays asleep, so I am going to give it a go.

2. A month ago, I was dying of lack of sleep. Seriously. Well, not really, but since then the baby has popped in two teeth, we did a bit of sleep training/letting him learn how to fall asleep without being bounced vigorously (yes, it was that bad). And instead of waking every 90 minutes and taking 40 to get back to sleep, he is we are getting stretches as long as 5 hours, and I am only waking most nights 2 times to nurse him. Guys, it is amazing. I feel like a person again.

3. Now that I am no longer a zombie, I am thinking a lot more clearly. When we finish a school day I can manage a chore or two before lunch rather than just staring off. When we make it to quiet time I am actually able to write things instead of a mindless Facebook experience. And we are getting at least one long nap a day out of the baby, the other one is usually not as good, but still.

4. Someone woke up.

It is tricky to type with a baby on your lap, but I am going to give it a go. Also, here you see my haircut I just got literally an hour ago. I always say two inches and add some layers and I feel like after the layers they have shorn off at least 4 inches.

5. I realized that I was getting boring back when T would not sleep as I was only and always talking about it, so I am going to really try to think of something else to write about, like how G finally got that one math concept down this week that we spent three agonizing days on and I finally asked M to explain it to her and she got it in five minutes. Or how the kids stopped screaming as much, well for like two days. My mom and dad are coming next week. I have not seen them since June, so we are pretty excited to see them. I think they are excited to see this baby who has doubled in weight since they last saw him. Oh, baby again. Sorry.

6. I finished two books in the last week. The first was Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens which was about as Dickensesque as you could want. He has a way of describing grimy, dirty places that just makes me feel icky and gritty and sometimes even nauseated. M suggested that I write about our free system of English laws, but I am not going to. Second book, the letters of Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin (A Call to a Deeper Love). It was soooo good. I am writing something up on it, so look for that soon. But really, just read it yourself, especially if you are married and a mom.

7. This week I started In This House of Brede by Rumor Godden. We found it at Loomes over Labor Day weekend, and it is beautiful so far. I like books that make me a better person, and this seems to be one of them. So were the letters. M this week finished Emma by Jane Austen and has decided that it is one of the most brilliant English language novels ever, and then he started Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

And that about sums up life lately, baby, homeschooling, books, and writing projects. There are few coming out soon, stay tuned…

Linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Teething and Overflowing Grace

Why, oh why, does the devotion I write always happen on the right date? What I mean is that it has to be providential or something. I wrote about needing grace so desperately and even losing myself to grace, especially in overcoming my own weaknesses, and this week I have felt more stripped than ever due to feeling helpless as to how to help my teething baby sleep at night.

T is the sweetest teething baby there ever was. During the day I can’t even tell they are bothering him, unless I pay attention and notice that he is cheerfully stuffing everything into his mouth. Cheerfully, I tell you.

Then we put him to bed and he goes down easily. Then he wakes up, nurses back to sleep, but won’t let us lay him down. He is sound asleep, and we lay him down, and immediately he fusses. So, this is what teething looks like for him: he wants to be held to stay asleep at night.

So, I need the overflowing grace; you know, grace that hits me like a projectile-spitting up baby at 4 in the morning. That kind.

I am much more eloquent over at Blessed is She writing on the daily Mass readings…

Learning to Enjoy the Waiting Time of Recovery

In anticipation of the birth of little T, I talked about how I really was not looking forward to the immediate post-partum recovery time. But I also have to make a confession, I am an impatient person. I confess impatience and my struggles in how I handle it every time I go to the Sacrament of Confession.

I have been trying to be okay with sitting around, sleeping, resting, bathing, waiting to feel better. I have been doing pretty well, but perhaps not as well as I should. The weather is so lovely, I look out the window and see people going for walks, the children playing in the yard, and all I feel up for is napping, reading, and cuddling the baby. I am impatient to feel better so that summer does not pass me by. I am impatient to go for walks. I am impatient to feel normal again. But when a shower is enough to make me tired for the rest of the morning, I know that I have to wait.

I complained about feeling impatient last night to M, and we sat down to do a little silent prayer time. I am back to reading Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales for like the fifth time since we had G six years ago. It is so full of reminders that I doubt that I will never stop going back to it. The last section I read, the night before T was born was on patience. I read it again, and, well God knew what I needed to hear:

As to the trials which you will encounter in devotion (and they are certain to arise), bear in mind our dear Lord’s words: “A woman, when she is in travail, hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world.”

You, too, have conceived in your soul the most gracious of children, even Jesus Christ, and before He can be brought forth you must inevitably travail with pain; but be of good cheer, for when these pangs are over, you will possess an abiding joy, having brought such a man into the world. And He will be really born for you, when He is perfected in your heart by love, and in your actions by imitating His life.

When you are sick, offer all your pains and weakness to our Dear Lord, and ask Him to unite them to the sufferings which He bore for you. Obey your physician, and take all medicines, remedies and nourishment, for the Love of God, remembering the vinegar and gall He tasted for love of us; desire your recovery that you may serve Him; do not shrink from languor and weakness out of obedience to Him, and be ready to die if He wills it, to His Glory, and that you may enter into His Presence.

Bear in mind that the bee while making its honey lives upon a bitter food: and in like manner we can never make acts of gentleness and patience, or gather the honey of the truest virtues, better than while eating the bread of bitterness, and enduring hardness. And just as the best honey is that made from thyme, a small and bitter herb, so that virtue which is practised amid bitterness and lowly sorrow is the best of all virtues.

Gaze often inwardly upon Jesus Christ crucified, naked, blasphemed, falsely accused, forsaken, overwhelmed with every possible grief and sorrow, and remember that none of your sufferings can ever be compared to His, either in kind or degree, and that you can never suffer anything for Him worthy to be weighed against what He has borne for you.

Consider the pains which martyrs have endured, and think how even now many people are bearing afflictions beyond all measure greater than yours, and say, “Of a truth my trouble is comfort, my torments are but roses as compared to those whose life is a continual death, without solace, or aid or consolation, borne down with a weight of grief tenfold greater than mine.”

-Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales, Part 3, Chapter 3, “Patience”

So, even now, I pray for more patience and more joy in being with my newly born baby and in my newly post-partum achey, sore, tired, generally exhausted state. I am not supposed to be doing anything besides taking care of me and baby, and I will work to enjoy it patiently. And when that fails, I will look to the Cross, which carried me through labor and will carry me through now.

This little guy is much more comfort than trouble for sure.

And honestly, I am mostly enjoying it. It is just the sudden moments of impatience that show me I need to grow.