How to Hurt

Pain, like laughter, is one of the few universal human experiences shared across cultures and socio-economic statuses all over the world. Sometimes public, sometimes hidden. But the experience of pain… rather the response to it… is one of the most powerful gifts we can offer each other in the Body of Christ. Have you ever overcome a deep moment of temptation?  Or been consoled through a tremendous loss? Or seen the unexpected conversion of a loved one? Perhaps it was through the offering of pain by another sister or brother in Christ that effected this grace… only in Heaven will we be made aware of how interconnected the Body is.

And so there is only one way to hurt actually. And it’s, as many might suspect, the way of surrender. The more we resist pain and try to course correct things beyond our control, the more agony we drink into our own soul.  But there comes a point in most people’s lives… and especially in all Christian lives, when we will be faced with our own limitations. We can give direction to building our lives and exercising our freedom, but one day, helplessness will walk right up and come into the house of your soul without knocking and make himself at home. And this powerlessness hurts and is a feeling in our human nature to resist. But by laying the table and offering the finest bed to this guest, we become masters of an extraordinary gift…

There’s nothing to be done except peacefully accept this suffering. We abandon ourselves to the mercy of God knowing that He can draw good from everything.

What’s more is that the deepest kind of peace is that which can’t be bought at any old lemonade stand. It’s not a peace that means we’ve achieved a pleasant, problem-free sort of homeostasis. Father Benedict Groeschel (pray for us!) once said that if an angel walked in his room offering a promise of a happy, problem-free life from now on, he’d chase it out as a wicked devil, yelling “No! Never!” Christians have been promised the Cross. It’s our baptismal guarantee and part of our family inheritance. And the most profound kind of peace is the kind that embraces our powerlessness, accepts and even loves our weaknesses to some extent.  This unfathomable kind of peace can only be found when we consent to our true, authentic identity as a child of God. He who was not just our Creator… but He who was and is and ever will be our loving Father.  By our baptisms we were adopted into His family and there is no other family I’d rather identify with. No other Man I’d rather call Papa than He whose love is inexhaustible… whose mercy never fails. I’ll be just His little girl for as long as I live…

Don’t be afraid to hurt. Don’t be afraid to be fragile. His greatest gifts are often only experienced when we are the most poor and the most wounded.

Happy are those who weep, they will be comforted. So many graces and lessons can be learned only through the painful period of waiting. If we don’t spend days, months or years yearning and begging for His consolation (which He does promise)… our Father’s glory will never be fully manifested or abundantly experienced. He does not answer prayers in response to pious manipulation… but in a way that respects our human dignity and with an eye to a future full of hope and goodness that we ourselves can not see when standing in the deep, shadowy valley.

Anybody out there reading this, know that you aren’t alone in your pain. All of us have been given a custom piece of the Cross. Kiss this relic and identify with it. He will see us through. And know that faith in the promises of our Father is a decision, not a feeling…

We can strengthen the entire Body of Christ this way. We can use our pain. And we can trust that God Himself sees us and allows this suffering as a way to purify our own hearts and bring about the glory of His name.

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The Death of the Landline

phone1While the world transitions almost fully to personal cell phones, there is something being lost with the disuse of home phones, or land lines. The opportunity for instruction. The gateway to the family. And cultivation of healthy socialization. Before these concepts get developed, allow the disclaimer that I have no illusions that culture will change overnight and suddenly the unrelenting grind of technological advancements will somehow reverse itself in a startling moment of moral clarity. Of course not. But the least that can be done, while the killing off part of our cultural heritage takes place, is to be fully awake and aware of what’s happening. An acknowledgement is in some way, a gesture of honor for what is lost.

The opportunity for instruction:

At the age of four or five, children were once taught to answer the family phone in this way: “Hello, this is ______.” The caller then asked to speak to someone. The child responds “Just one moment please.” End of basic instruction. These first lessons in politeness and speaking to adults not only set the stage for “real life” conversations, but they are tremendously effective because answering the phone is an important, real responsibility. Lessons are always best learned in the actual context of real life and there is no more pointed and effective way to teach a child lasting politeness than by trusting them with a significant task, rather than hoping they soak in the lessons from a sing-song dinosaur on television. The first phone calls were entrusted to the child while the parent stood encouragingly nearby. Later lessons included how to field solicitors or strangers, how to take a message and how to properly make a phone call. The family phone was a useful, educational tool.

The gateway to the family:

When people get a personal cell phone, they are no longer sought at a communal number. Their acquaintances and friends generally call the number that will ensure a direct and usually immediate response from the person with whom they want to speak. But cutting out the middleman actually has some side effects too. Primarily, land lines reinforced the identification of a family unit. Members do not exist in and of themselves. When calling a family line, callers are reminded of the network of individuals who live there. In some ways, the family line was always a sort of social safety check too. Parents knew who their children’s friends were for the most part. Young boyfriends couldn’t reach a father’s daughter without going through the family line. And men and women weren’t engaging in extramarital conversations via chat boxes or text message. By going through the household line to communicate healthy, fairly transparent interactions, the false intimacy that screen conversations sometimes now produce was impossible. Home phones were also excellent, necessary tools for parents who went out and left an older child in charge. The babysitter had a way to reach the parents (on their cells) or make emergency calls, without necessitating the current trend to give young teens their “own” phones (arguably opening the floodgates to other problems). Lastly, parents could call their home, speak to a child on the family line, and be able to get a fair gauge on how the hired babysitter was doing or what the state of the house was. The family phone served as a publicly visible entry to the family.

Cultivation of healthy socialization:

Without going into all the dangers of living in a culture becoming more isolated than ever (despite being more connected than ever), it’s clear that household phones offered an excellent moderation to human communication. Because of their range and limitedness, people were forced to eventually hang up the receiver and resume living in the present, interacting in 3D with the real people around them. Nothing beats the authenticity of realtime, face-to-face communication. The disuse of landlines has contributed to a new culture of people constantly furrowed over their smartphones, engaging in the e-world, with their pocket-network fan club. Home phones allowed us to talk freely with friends and family far away, and to deal with businesses or officials that needed to be dealt with. This was good and healthy. But now, we are expected to be always on. Always reachable. And those living in the real world next to us—whether they are our spouses, children or friendly strangers in a waiting room, are suffering because of our ‘absence’.

Will the dwindling number of home phones ever grow completely extinct? Projections would seem to indicate yes. But here’s to hoping that there are just enough thoughtful people left in the world who can see how quickly human interaction has shifted and who will be intentional in developing habits to reclaim meaningful connection where it still exists. And here’s to hoping that trend will spread.

turning in the stone

Have you ever built your own stone, cold tower in which to live? The construction isn’t nearly as difficult as the maintenance. All you really need to be attentive to is that the elements can’t get in and that you can’t get out. In stone towers, you neither want the storms to break down your walls, nor the sun to beckon you out. Living conditions can otherwise be perfectly tolerable. Not exactly pleasant, but safe. Not exactly sociable, but safe. Not exactly meaningful, but safe. And there’s no point in trying to throw safety to the curb; it is valuable and necessary. But all the attention given to it will only turn into a wolf that you imagine to be lurking outside the tower, growing louder and more menacing by the minute. But is he real?

Oh the mysteries of life! When does taking a leap of folly turn into a leap of faith?! When can we live and love with complete abandon…? Even if it doesn’t go away, will the desire to have no fear be enough to offer Him? Is there hope that even those with agonies and illusions can be lifted up at the end of the Day to feel His mercy fall on us in a torrent of love. And there are no wolves, real or imagined, that could even turn their faces to Him, no stone tower that can keep Him out. Let it be done unto me…

The Suggested Fiction List…

In my latest email broadcast, I asked for fiction book suggestions that I can indulge in during this postpartum period… in exchange I offered to send one of my current reading titles to one person in a random giveaway.  Congrats to Leslie in New York for winning!

But I wanted to let the rest of you know the titles that were suggested to me, to share the wealth of goodness!  I know I’m always scouring book lists from like-minded people to get new ideas so I hope this offers some fresh material for some of you. I was delighted that I had only read one of these suggestions! And there are several here that look right up my alley, so thank you!

                                 

Beetle Mania!

With the arrival of Diana Hutts-Aston’s newest title in her exquisite series— A Beetle is Shy— I thought it would be an opportune time to celebrate all my favorite beetle books.

Listen, I don’t love bugs. Especially not ones that venture into my house. But I do love a few other things that make this subject worth pursuing, namely trivia, art, science, alphabetized lists and vintage readers.  Titles in this collection cover all these areas quite well. And some of these books had me in rapt attention far beyond what I expected.  Beetle books make for excellent strewing titles since there is so much fascinating information to be found in this animal family…

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 First, as mentioned, is the latest from the Hutts-Aston and Long duo: A Beetle is Shy.  I only own ONE of the books in this series, but as a homeschooler and as a curious human being, I hope to acquire all of them someday.  Each one is a graphic feast and beetles are no exception. Couple the facts, lovely text and gorgeous art, and this is a book you will want to pass on to your children some day…

Jerry Pallota is an alphabet wizard. He loves creating alphabetized lists too and has a wonderful line of books covering a broad range of subjects.  The Beetle Alphabet Book delivers large, colorful images and excellent nuggets of trivia for every letter of the alphabet,

 

This book is what kickstarted my beetle fascination.  It had me delighted for the better part of an hour with its beautiful illustrations (stink bugs are beautiful people!) and curious facts.  Did you know that 1 in 5 every living being is a BEETLE?!?  Isn’t that just riveting?!

 

P.D. Eastman is at his finest in this old tale about mischief being righted.  The wee firefly causes mayhem with his messages he lights up around the sky until a wise old owl corrects him… you really can’t improve on some of these old reader books.

 

I admit it. The only reason we love The Grouchy Ladybug (other than it being by Eric Carle) is that it lends itself so well to the arbitrary bully voice that I like to inject whenever possible into stories: “Hey you, wanna fight?” Yes, it teaches manners and how nice it is to share… fine. But I’m not really into stories for the moralizing. I just like to frolic along the pages with different voices.

Dung beetles.  Behold. This is one of the rare times that I break my rule on entertaining “potty humor” in picture books.  And that’s only because it’s educational to learn about how these unfortunately named beetles are able to survive and thrive off of the excrement of animals. Very well done!

 

Here is the classic book that’s listed on most bibliophile’s “Best Summer Picture Books” lists.  The evocative tale of trying to capture the magical light of fireflies and the consequences that come of it. Fireflies and ladybugs are probably the most (and the only) well loved beetles out there…

 

Gail Gibbons has just never failed me yet. Ladybugs, like all of her informational titles, offer just enough information to engage children without overwhelming them.  Perfect for leaving on the back of a toilet for a child to pick up and read! Ha!

 

The Very Clumsy Click Beetle is one of Carle’s lesser known titles but I think it’s just as much fun as his more popular ones. Follow along with the the beetle as he figures out how to the nail the landing on his click-jump.

 

What would one of my Top Ten lists be without an exception?  This isn’t strictly a picture book… more of a coffee-table book actually. But it. is. stunning. If you ever doubted that the world of beetles and bugs could be a beautiful world, this is the book for you. Pheromone is a magnum opus. Check out author Christopher Marley’s website for a taste of what he does.  This book would be an excellent inspiration to budding artists everywhere…

Top Ten Picture Books for Grownups

pbadultWhether you need an unusual gift for the person who has everything, or you just want to regress into a simpler mode of making sense of the world… or if you suspect you’re needing a little bit of bibliotherapy (yes, it’s a thing!)… this list is for you. I’ve included a little bit of everything, the sweet, the sentimental, the funny, the thoughtful and the macabre… all are treasures in their own way.

6ecf6b6f53cd5594292f75d8528072adI’ve often said that picture books aren’t just for kids. C.S. Lewis famously said so too. But in this genre, there is an ability to harness the universality of human experience on a level all too often dismissed as juvenile. There is nothing exclusively juvenile about these books and indeed, any one of them would make for a fine, literary cuppa to pause and savor your day.

 

 The Giving Tree I’m pretty sure this would be a universal listing on ANY “picture books for adults” list otherwise they are seriously deficient. It’s the classic tale that can touch even the most shriveled up raisin of a heart I’m sure…

 The Lion and the Bird is one of those treats that demonstrate the actually complex decision-making process artists and publishers go through to create a perfect book. There is so much more to having a good story and nice pictures. Considerations have to include font, sizing, white space allowed etc.  The Lion and the Bird is a subdued, sparse telling of friendships found and lost and found again. A beautiful, beautiful book. Reminds me of the quote: “Distance is to love what wind is to fire— it extinguishes the small and enkindles the great.”

 Mrs. Biddlebox has been purchased and wrapped up for me to give my own sweet mother for Mother’s Day this year. Not only will my mother find the story a riot—how one disgruntled woman turns her bad day around and bakes it into a cake!— but the illustrations just screamed my mother all over it.  Perfect humor to offer someone going through a series of irritable days.

 Sidewalk Flowers is probably my favorite book of 2015. Like many other wordless books, this one crosses all age boundaries to reach a wide audience… especially those who have or who aspire to have a childlike heart. It’s a story of small actions having big consequences.  A tiny reminder of how “Beauty will save the world…”  (Dostoevsky) and a book I wish I could give to all my dear friends…

 Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World: is a book for word lovers. For culture lovers. For curious humans. It’s a lovely little book to leave lying about on a coffee table or in the bathroom or to open up and feature a new page on a daily basis. The book features words that can’t accurately translate in other languages… but the concepts are universal and the connection felt when reading the the word is unmistakable. So much fun to look at…

 Our favorite, absurd, childish author/illustrator—Oliver Jeffers— has created the most poignant book for adults in The Heart and the Bottle. It’s a book about losing someone you love or who’s had a big impact on your life… and then locking your heart up. How to figure out a healthy way to become vulnerable again, to loving again…  a beautiful book that helps people grapple with loss or grief.

 The Arrival is one of those books you just need to see and spend time with. Not only is Shaun Tan an exquisite artist but he is clearly insightful about human nature because his book dives deep into the experience of what it means to be human… albeit in a very approachable and unique way.  This book would be perfect not only for immigrants, but those who’ve ever had to uproot and move to a new area and get used to a new community or sub-culture where they felt completely lost.  An excellent and evocative wordless tale…

 The Treasure by Uri Shulevitz is the book to give people needing a healthy dose of gratitude in their lives… for those who maybe don’t realize how good they’ve got it or who keep thinking the grass is always greener on the other side.  It’s the classic folktale of searching far and wide for a treasure that can only be discovered at home.

 If You’re Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow.  This was the first picture book I ever received as a gift when I was NOT a young child.  In fact, it was a gift for my 16th birthday from a teacher/mentor at the time.  I treasured it deeply and still do. Eden’s artwork carries an ironic sophistication for being such simple, colored pencil drawings.  And the message of hope and whimsy are perfect for people needing any sort of encouragement in their lives.

 Here it is: The Gashlycrumb Tinies, the book listing that my readers will love or hate me for. In short: it’s an alphabetical book of childrens’ demise. How many different ways can people meet their death?  Some are horrified at the idea of such a dark topic being in a picture book.  I get it. We want to protect children. But I also want my children to have a healthy, light conceptualization of death. If one is in the state of grace, it SHOULD be laughed at!  If your sensibilities are offended by this, that’s okay. This is a list of books for adults anyway. Most children would pick up Gorey’s book and laugh their way through it, not taking it too seriously that Maud was swept out to see or Kate was struck with an axe. I honestly think children make sense of the world through a light handling of certain darker themes. Some children are more sensitive of course and discretion should be used. But unlike some reviewers, I don’t think this book is just feeding into a warped, sociopathic delight of pain or dying. I think it’s simply a book… and a clever one at that… that makes for funny, interesting reading. I would readily give it to many of my adult brothers, friends or priest. Yep. I think it’s obvious that this book isn’t for everyone… but it is for some.  And it does offer a steady balance to what are otherwise thoughtful, lovely, or prosaic titles in this list!

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Okay, that’s all for now. I’m going to have a baby any day now so I’ll catch you on the flip-side!

 

 

Water People


We are people of water he said,

So unpack your bags and rest your head
No chasing home like an skipping stone.beach 040
Peace is the needle and hope is the thread.

Itching, wishing, sand follows you in,
Dusty shells decorate shelves therein. 
Known long shadows on bluffs and on shore 
Flushing, blushing wears proof on the skin.

We are people of water he said,
With salt and rocks and green overhead. 
No land-lock ever gripped us so tight
Stopping the glory of full wingspread.

Breezing, freezing, on north side of raw
Coastal storms whipping senses of awe.
Where is the thrill away from the edge?
Flowing, growing, this tidal seesaw.

We are people of water he said,
Here, no other ’til come the deathbed.
We will rise here and we will fall here,
Making our home and breaking our bread.

The Little Friar Who Flew

When I learned of this book’s existence a few years ago, I was frustrated at the lack of information on the book, the expense of out-of-print copies and maddening lack of interior images! I think might be able to find a couple pictures now with a google search, but I thought I’d post my own for curious people.

The Little Friar Who Flew by Patricia Lee Gauch is one of the lesser known saint picture books on the market and not nearly as talked about as illustrator de Paola’s other works are.  I was finally able to buy a reasonably priced copy to add to our bookshelf recently and am quite happy with the purchase. We had seen The Reluctant Saint as a family and enjoyed it very much (the kids laughing hysterically at the flying scenes) so the children were happy to have even more context to learn about St. Joseph of Cupertino.  The book is simple and a perfect introduction to this humble, “little donkey” of a saint. He, along with St. John Vianney, always reassure me with my not-so-academically advanced children… God measures our love, not our IQs.

Please enjoy these inside shots of a lovely, little book:

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Yosef’s Gift of Many Colors

IMG_7579I know it’s getting too late to make plans for new books in your Easter book basket, but I loved this book I just received so much that I couldn’t wait until next year to show you all.  Unlike Christmas titles, we don’t have a ton of Easter books in our house, but I really treasure the handful that we do have. Yosef’s Gift of Many Colors is another beautiful book that celebrates the Ukrainian tradition of pysanka.  It’s slightly obscure compared to the other more popular books on this topic (notably Rechenka’s EggsEaster Eggs for Anya or Nina’s Treasures) but this one is specifically folky and simple… my favorite of the pysanka lot.

The story is about a father who wants to present something that represents his family at church on Good Friday. When he creates beautiful egg art and tries so hard to make it just perfect, an accident happens that makes him reconsider what perfect really is…

Enjoy these inside pictures… and have a beautiful Easter!

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Holy Week in the Third Trimester

Entering Holy Week has never felt so significant to me. Parents everywhere already know a bit of what it means to be Christ-like. When we drag ourselves out of bed to calm some night-terrors, or offer the last piece of cake to a teen or give up a career to care for our children.  Through these and a million other things, parents intrinsically know what it means to “lay down our life for our children.”

holyPregnant mothers experience this is an especially salient way. Our bodies are not our own. The aches and pains of a heavily pregnant woman echo in the faintest way, the sufferings of Christ on the Cross. But like all crosses, we are tempted to squander this. I feel entitled to a second helping of ice cream because I’m pregnant. We accept the cultural attitude of pity toward us also, waddling in exasperation or audibly groaning whenever we stand up. We especially like to joke or bitterly comment with people around us about how “done” we are.  “This baby is getting an eviction notice!”

After nine long months of nausea, sciatica, poor bladder control, weight gain, food aversions, stretched, painful ligaments, swollen veins, difficulty breathing, standing, walking and sleeping and enough hormonal turmoil to fuel a volcano… of course we are ready for it to be over!  Each pregnancy becomes more difficult than the last and this final month especially is agony. But for some reason, unlike the sufferings that every good soul has to bear privately, even good, pregnant Catholics feel a bit of license to freely complain during a pregnancy.

Yet, what potential these little agonies hold for us! If only we don’t fall temptation to squander them and moan and groan to every sympathetic ear about it. Like Mary, can we find strength to “hold these things in our heart”?!  Can we give witness to life without letting the world know how miserable we are? It’s hard, I know… These past couple weeks I’ve been trying to envision how different the Passion of Our Lord would have been if he whined His way through it: “I just want it to be over!”  or “Ugh, I’m in such pain! Does everybody know how much I’m suffering for them right now?!”

What a turn-off!  But this is what I do all the time– vocalize my sufferings, consciously or sub-consciously trying to elicit the pity of others. And I wonder if the redemptive merit of each little pain isn’t lost a little bit when I do this. Holiness is found in the shadows of the cross…

Of course Jesus couldn’t hide his pain all the time. When lashed at the pillar, people knew how painful it was. And at the final moment, he cried out in thirst and a feeling of abandonment. He was fully human. In the same way, I’m not saying pregnant women need to be peppy 24/7 and never utter a word about their aches. But a smile can heal a million hearts and privately enduring some discomfort can be tremendously powerful. Accept a seat if it’s offered to you!  Wince if the baby kicks too hard! Cry a little if you’re feeling hormonal! But through all this, I want to plumb the depths of mystery and redemption that are offered uniquely to us; I want to give everything I am, my very body even, so that this child of mine can have life. The challenge is to choose to give freely and with unconditional love (regardless of our FEELINGS at the time!)… just as He did.