Category Archives: Bits About Life

On Love and Things

I knew the vase was going to be a problem right away. I liked it too much. My friend had given it to me near the beginning of my marital fallout and I was incredibly touched. Someone was thinking of me?! Someone sees me?! Someone wanted to do something nice for me?! In a way it was actually quite pitiable just how amazed I was at this gesture of thoughtfulness. It was all in the timing. I was in the process of being devalued and discarded, see. And when one is in the throes of questioning their entire self worth, any small token counts. Like bones being tossed to a starving dog. Already, it feels like a lifetime ago…

My appreciation and love for the vase should’ve tipped me off. And at the risk of sounding too prophetic or sagacious… it did. My household seems incapable of keeping nice things… nice. Or even intact. We have been known to break cast iron pans and kill cacti. Nice things… in a household with five choleric-sanguine boys? They don’t live here. At least not for long.

So I was simply waiting for it to happen. For some careless child to break the vase. I had the choice to lock it up high and out of sight… but I liked it too much. So I placed it strategically at one end of my mantle, in full view and designated it the bearer of all seasons. It held tall grass in spring and summer, cattails and wheat stalks in autumn, silvery bare branches in winter.

Then it happened. An exuberant 7 year old was tossing the throw blanket basket into the living room air (because this is what makes sense when one is 7) and the vase plummeted to the brick hearth and broke. Terra cotta and hand painted designs in pieces. The children stopped. Silence. Everyone knew I loved that vase. Odd, because it is a rare few “things” that I love at all… preferring utility and minimalism to clutter. But beauty trumps both utility and minimalism.  I put my hand over my mouth and closed my eyes, distrusting myself to speak until I processed what just happened.  An older child began the shaming of the younger one. A couple minutes later, I calmly said, “Please go brush your teeth and get in bed.”  Rare, prompt compliance.

My emotions?  I observe them as a scientist with curiosity. My initial instinct was one of compassion for the child. Shockingly… and honestly.  I felt bad for him. Not anger, not irritation, not frustration… as has been my historic norm. But compassion. It’s true! I AM growing a heart!! His eyes had met mine. He knew. He knew that he’d made a mistake and broke something precious to me. What an awful feeling! The poor kid! He was just being a happy, little scallywag and the vase happened to be in a place that—in this family— is the High Risk Zone (read, anything between ground-level up to 6.5 feet high). What a burden to bear!

So I swallowed my disappointment about the vase. Those reading this are the only ones who know, now, just how much I loved it. Just how much it meant to me. Just what a shaft of light it was for me in a very dark time. But in the end…. it’s just a thing.

I went to my son’s room that night at bed-time and beckoned him with my finger. He couldn’t make eye contact and moved towards me in silent shame. I hugged him. I told him I loved him. I reminded him to say his prayers that night. I kissed the top of his head.

And that was it. No need to lecture the poor kid about rough-housing in the living room. He already knew. I just wanted to make him feel loved. To make him know that he was worth more to me than the vase. To show him what mattered in life: bed-time hugs and prayers.

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Christian Music that Doesn’t Make Me Vomit

You can tell a lot about a person by the books they read, the shoes they wear, the laugh they have and the music they listen to.  That’s just the truth.  I am always giddy to foist my booklists upon people because of a misplaced zeal—my books are elements of my person; books are relational beings almost!  And naturally, in the same way that we want to introduce our family to our meaningful lovers or friends, bibliophiles want to introduce loved ones to their important books. All good books should be good to all good people.

Music… now there is something entirely different. The unique tastes of people get a lot more leeway with me. I mean, if you don’t appreciate Bach’s Goldberg Variations or Mozart’s Piano Sonatas, I don’t know how to have a conversation with you; those things exist outside of time and space almost.  But outside of that, you’re free to jam to Adele or Johnny Cash or Pearl Jam. No matter to me.

But Christian music is something else… a sort of contrived category of the same five chords, hook, and emotional exploitation that seems to sound all the same.

I mean… I love Jesus too. But there’s something very saccharine about creating an entire radio channel of good looking, pearly white people singing His glory. Art is art. And the truest artists aren’t categorical to one subject alone (I mean… the classic composers could do Catholic Mass settings and also rage about lost pennies too without feeling like they deviated from their musical identity).

In my opinion… the best ‘praise and worship’ music should strive to be excellent art first. If musicians happen to be Christian and that is reflected in their lyrics… awesome!  But if they strive to be a “Christian musician” primarily… I feel like this is a disordered expression of gifts. That’s not to say I ‘judge’ all Christian musicians as frauds or cheapskates— truly, they’re probably doing the best they know how with what they’ve got! But the sound? That unmistakable contemporary Christian sound?  It’s just not my thing…

Truth be told. I can barely stand most contemporary Christian music. I know that sounds awful, but categorically, maybe it’s the way people feel about country music. As a whole, some people loathe it, as it is usually so single-minded in its sound and theme… but occasionally, there’s a standout.

We all have our standouts in most genres.

I wanted to share my favorite “Christian music” here. Because the list is pretty limited compared to my wonderful other curated playlists of folk, fiddle, rock and classical music etc…

I made this playlist when I was at the height of my marital trauma. I needed someone to have words for me, when I had no words and when nothing made sense. These musicians did that for me. I have since added to it here and there. Some of these songs are definitely of the ‘typical contemporary Christian’ sound that you are free to dismiss. Others are the plight of the human spirit in verse… so listen up! It is still music I turn on when my heart hurts or when I need to jam while making supper and not worry about my children overhearing the lyrics.

… So, entirely subjective and a million other disclaimers, I call this list “Healing” and I love it. I organized them into sections for you to laugh at or love. (As a general rule, I usually hate music videos, and I’ve not SEEN most of these but YouTube links are convenient.)

When Nothing Makes Sense:
“Where I Belong” by  Building 429
“Sweet Simplicity” by Brother Isaiah
“Rest” by Matt Maher
“Carry Me” by Jenny and Tyler
“Trust in You” by Lauren Daigle
“Your Grace is Enough” Matt Maher

To Raise the Volume All the Way Up and Scream into the Void Like a Crazy Person:
“Taste and See” by Shane and Shane
“Psalm 46” by Shane and Shane
“Jacob’s Song” by Brother Isaiah

To Fight Fear
“No Longer Slaves” by Bethel Music
“Mighty Fortress” by Matt Maher
“Safe” by Phil Wickham
“Back Home” JJ Heller

I Just Love Him and Desperately Need Him
“Tender Remedy” by Brother Isaiah
“How He Loves” by David Crowder Band
“Champion” by Alanna Boudreau
“Lord, I Need You” by Matt Maher
“Fortunate Fall” by Audrey Assad
“Jesus Lover of my Soul” by Fernando Ortega
“Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns
“I’ll Keep On” by NF (featuring Jeremiah Carlson— love his voice— who incidentally, I went to school with… used to play the game RISK at his house with him, some friends and his savvy father— good times…)
“Praise You in this Storm” by Casting Crowns

Claim Me, Jesus
“Love Song for the Bride” by Brother Isaiah
“Spoken For” by Mercy Me
“You Say” by Lauren Daigle
“Remind Me Who I Am” by Jason Gray (*nota bene: I actually love this video)

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2018 Booklist (÷ 2)

If you read this website, there’s a fair chance you have similar tastes in literature as I do. And if that’s the case, it’s probably also true that you like booklists curated by likeminded zealots.  So I’ll give you one. I have enjoyed doing Year in Review booklists before but this year is different (and we’ll all just collectively erase 2017 from our memories, thankyouverymuch) because I had an excellent amount of reading time during the first part of the year and will have very little free reading time during the rest of it. It’s also different in that there is a disproportionate amount of spiritual books and non-fiction listed here; I usually prefer to have a more well-rounded biblio-meal than this. Be that as it may, here are the books upon which I feasted these past few months, and my commentary about whether or not you NEED to read each particular one.

 Night by Elie Wiesel. This was not a pleasant read. But it was important. Sometimes books are like that. They force us to squirm and wince and confront the horrors of humanity. I believe this book should be mandated reading for all high school students before graduating. And it should be mandated reading for all adults who have any interest whatsoever in being fully human.

 

The Power of Silence by Cardinal Sarah. This is the most important spiritual reading I’ve done in years. I would go so far as to say it’s in my top 5 books that every Catholic/Christian/Thinker needs to read. There’s simply no way to overstate its impression that was made on me… and in such timely and relevant times within our culture. I urge you, if there is only one book on this list begging to be read, it’s this one. You won’t regret it.

 

Thirsting for Prayer by Jacques Philippe. “Misnomer” is when something is named wrong… what is the word for when a book is published with the wrong cover image? This is my lament will all of Father Philippe’s books; they look like 1990s self-help, woo-woo stuff. But they are absolute gold. Every one of them. No other contemporary writer has had such a massive influence on my spirituality than this author and he has been a fundamental part of my spiritual growth especially these past couple years when I’ve faced tremendous hardship. This book, like all of his is profound, concise and easy to read.

 Belles on Their Toes by the Gilbreths. This is the fantastic sequel to Cheaper by the Dozen and it’s just as much fun! I was looking for something light and comical before heading into Lent and this book delivered exactly what I needed. If you’ve not read any of these original, TRUE stories, do yourself a favor and start now.

 

 In the School of the Holy Spirit. (*Sigh* Scepter Publishing… please… stop.) I read this book to refresh on the concepts before I gave a presentation of Fr. Philippe’s teachings last March. It is wonderful for those who feel kind of “stuck” in their lives or paralyzed with indecision on making choices.  He is always full of wisdom and common sense.

 

  A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell. This was definitely my most challenging read of the year. So, just as a disclaimer, Thomas Sowell is my socioeconomic man-crush; he can write no wrong. The man is genius in how lucid and wise he is in explaining our culture. I’ve been a longtime follower of his syndicated newspaper column before he retired but never actually read one of his books. Basic Economics is sitting in my Audible library waiting patiently for me to get around to it, but someone recommended this book in particular as being an ESSENTIAL title that all Americans should read. So I made this my first Sowell book and I now can emphatically agree. It’s difficult to focus on the writing if you’ve been living primarily on memes and HuffPo , but with some effort you’ll see why the academic language is necessary to explain the polarity in our country. I don’t think it’s possible to find any other writer who can explain both political positions with as much unbiased clarity as Sowell does. He is an absolute gift to all of us.

 The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Anne Catherine Emmerich. I started this two years ago and decided to pick it up again and finally finish it. I’m so glad I did. The book is chalk full of fascinating trivia first of all, but the real reason why it’s so wonderful to read is that it gives a real, meaningful picture, EXPERIENCE, of Jesus in His humanity!  If you have any interest in Lectio Divina or contemplation, this book can be a powerful aid to that.  So good.

 Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown.  I read this out of sheer curiosity about the Brené Brown cult that seems to be growing. And it was good. What I like about this author is that she’s not just a self-help guru, she is a trained researcher and I appreciated her balance between brain and heart in this book. I’ve since listened to a couple talks she’s given and find her very compelling in nearly everything she says. I can’t quite say I’m looking for backstage passes, but I definitely think what I read in this book was worth my investment and I’ll be making time for some of her other titles as well.

 Arise from Darkness: What to Do When Life Doesn’t Make Sense by Benedict Groeschel. If there is a title that epitomizes my life this year, it is this one. I have always loved this priest and his no nonsense delivery of profound spiritual guidance. I think what makes him especially compelling is that Fr. Groeschel was trained in psychology and understands human behavior so well. He is witty and thought provoking and I am glad to have picked up this book last month.

 Forty Reasons I am a Catholic by Peter Kreeft. I felt so strongly about this book that I wrote a review about it on Amazon. Read it. Also read the description of the book on that site and tell me it doesn’t sound absolutely riveting. This is the kind of book you need to have sitting out on your bookshelf or coffee table to spark the interest of any visitors. Because even just a flip through the pages is extremely compelling and forces you to pause and read. Excellent.

 Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak by Leila Miller. I hated this book. It made me cry. It hurt like hell. And I never want to see it again. That said, you should read it.  Every person should. This is the untold perspective.  I am not seeking a divorce in my situation, nor do I think divorce to be healthy for children in most cases, so I was angry and bitter when a friend challenged me to read this book. I don’t need to be convicted on how traumatizing divorce is for children! Leave me alone! But, wanting to face the full, ugly truth of my defense mechanism and to go into whatever my future holds for me as prepared as I can be, I read the book. And I am thankful that I did. I don’t think people realize how important it is not just for couples who are divorcing or on the brink of it, but for everyone to read. Marriage is not a private institution; the stake in it is communal. So don’t just recommend this book to some struggling couple that you know, read it yourself also.

 Strong Mothers, Strong Sons by Meg Meeker. I read this when it first came out a few years ago, but since my situation changed so drastically, and teenagers suddenly sprouted into my existence, I thought it was time for a revisit so I’m working on finishing this one up. I really like Meg Meeker a lot. You’re not going to find any gimmicks or profound truths with her necessarily, but just well written, thoughtfully researched stuff on childraising.

 

And that is the end of it! I expect to be fully consumed with textbook reading in my “free time” this year so I will just be very happy if I finish the current fiction titles I have already started: The Brothers Karamazov and there’s about 6 hours left of The Count of Monte Cristo (ahem, Bill Homewood narrating ONLY please… his voice is like delicious French butter…) which I began on audio last year when I was spending more hours in my car than I am now. I’ll toss in some spiritual reading for the morning time, fairy tales in between semesters, and call the year well spent!

 

 

 

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Protecting Young Minds

I’m writing a full article on this rather than a Facebook status or just a book review on Amazon, because this is Important. Like, capital “I” Important.

No one likes to talk about pornography. Least of all with children. We shouldn’t have to! But if we don’t tackle this difficult subject head-on, we are leaving our children unarmed and vulnerable in a world that is out to destroy their innocence.

I’m somebody who struggles to find the right words to discuss delicate things with children. It’s taken me a long time to overcome blushing at even naming anatomically correct body parts with my kids. Much of this is due to how I was raised and what happened when I was a child. While I was growing up, body development and sexual issues weren’t talked about.  At all. I had to figure it out on my own and everything I thought I needed to know was learned by sneaking peeks at our medical encyclopedias at home (feeling SOOO ashamed trying to understand the “V” section) and seeing pornography in 6th grade.  11 years old.  I would stay the night at a friend’s house and she’d sneak her dad’s VHS tapes and put porn on for our entertainment. I was disgusted and morbidly fascinated all at once… I knew it was wrong but I didn’t know what to say to defend myself.  25 years later… those images are still burned into my brain.  Add in some other awful bits of harassment and exploitation from strangers as a child and you can bet that it took a long time for me to come to a healthy and proper understanding of sexuality. The trauma has left lifelong scars.

And my circumstances are not unique.

My 5th grade son says kids watch porn on their phones on the school bus. My 8 year old daughter has been startled by images from seemingly benign Google searches. Today the vast majority of children will be exposed to pornography LONG before they hit adulthood. It’s not a matter of if… it’s when. 30% of the Internet industry is pornography!  30%.  We live in an age where kids don’t have to sneak their dad’s VHS tapes anymore… they don’t have to go looking for it. The porn will find them, online.  If we are not proactive in handling this, we are doing a disservice to our children… and one that will have major consequences as they get older. Internet filters aren’t enough. Not by a long shot. Even with a great filter and a publicly, supervised computer situation; they are still vulnerable. If children don’t see porn at home, it’ll be at the park on other kids’ phones, or from neighbor kids who want to show the newest, cool game on their tablets… or it’ll even come up driving down the street on billboards!

There is hope. There are organizations out there providing excellent resources for educating the public.  Like Enough is Enough. I am so proud, particularly, of that organization for standing behind things like the National Sex Ed Sit-Out Day on April 23rd. The research and statistics this organization provides are sobering… please take the time to educate yourself.

One tool that has been absolutely critical in our household is the use of two books:

 Good Pictures Bad Pictures is where we started. What drew me to the book was that it contained a SCRIPT for someone like me who is awkward at finding the right words for sticky subjects.  Secondly, it has the right KIND of illustrations—ones that offer a visual for a concept with soft, appealing artwork but are not cartoon-ish or trite in any way. Third, this book is EVIDENCE DRIVEN. It is not religious, making it a universally powerful tool.  I love how the science of addiction is discussed and how it gives kids proactive action plans for what to do when they encounter pornography. I use this book with my children as young as 6-7. And even my teenagers have reviewed it with us upon repeat readings.

Last year the same authors came out with Good Pictures, Bad Pictures Jr. which is ideal for ages 3-6 ish.  It is also an excellent tool for beginning to dialogue on this issue with very young children. Our children need to know from a very young age that they can always talk to us about things like this and that it’s important to not keep secrets from parents.  This book also has an easy-to-remember action plan for young children and also tips for parents on how to help children who can’t get bad images out of their head.

The situation isn’t perfect. But these two books have helped me to feel some major peace of mind that my children know what is what… and what to do about it. I can’t save my kids from all the evil in this world that will come across their paths. But I can stay educated on the issue. I can keep open communication with my kids. I can practice healthy habits with them. And I can equip them with tools on how to fight this beast that threatens to ravage their mental health for years to come.

The world is blessed by a child’s innocence. It is our duty to safeguard it.

“Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.” 

-Maria Montessori
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Plan B: Chapter 2

I’m beginning a new chapter of life. One that developed as a sort of plot-twist to the plan I had written out for myself. And it is filled with goblins and shadows. 900 different reasons to be afraid, to doubt and to run away. Starting in early May, I will begin full-time studies in a grad program working towards my Master’s degree and licensure in professional counseling. There has been well over a year of discernment on what exactly I ought to do with my life since it hasn’t gone how I anticipated. So I had to adjust. Per court orders, I had to get a job, wean my baby and find somewhere else to live. I have worked hard at the bottom of the ladder as a restaurant host for a year. It was humble work but I have been thankful for that paycheck… and getting paid to greet people and invoke in them a genuine smile is something kind of on the spectrum of wonderful. I learned a lot about the real world outside my stay-at-home, homeschooling mommy bubble and developed a genuine love for my coworkers. I am grateful it provided the stop-gap for me to make ends meet for my children.

During this time, I have been blessed in astonishing ways by countless people. Childcare that I couldn’t have otherwise afforded. Helping hands in repairing one home and setting up another while living with friends in the meantime. Anonymous monetary gifts that appeared at just the right time.  A three hour road-trip to bring my children to me for my father’s funeral. Homemade soup and a bottle of wine left on my front porch, a safe place to call home with generously reduced rent… the list of blessings goes on despite the continual onslaught of challenges during this time of transition. I have never known such kindness. And it hurts in the most painful, beautiful way. Turns out that people can be rather extraordinary…

And now, I am quitting my job and taking a massive leap of faith in God (and in the federal, student loan program), to devote myself full-time to these classes. The demands of solo-mothering seven incredible children and working part-time are already very challenging for me. Adding in a full academic load would make for an unsustainable lifestyle.

So I’m all in.

Regarding the counseling profession: many people go into counseling because they have a tremendous amount of compassion and empathy for others. That wasn’t my story at the outset. I have always found the human mind and heart intriguing… where people come from, why they think the way they do and how their experiences have shaped them. I used to pore over psychology textbooks in my early teens just to feed my curiosity. It’s been a fascinating study for my intellect. But a shift happened when my passion for understanding morphed from a purely scientific interest into a truly more genuine love for others. I have benefitted so much from my own counselor and the healthy thinking that has been offered to me through the past couple years of upheaval, that it has awakened in me a desire for helping others be restored to wholeness also.  Not that I have all the answers now (I don’t) or that I’m the perfect specimen of emotional-cognitive balance (Who is?).  But Peter Kreeft once said something to the effect of “I’m just one bum pointing out to another where there’s free food.”  And I like that thought. I don’t know exactly in what capacity I’ll practice this profession, but somehow, I want to point out bridges to wellness and authenticity for those struggling in their own minds or in their relationships too. There’s a part of me that is able to see and connect and love others through their own trials in a way I wasn’t able to before. I guess counseling for me is a career choice that began in my mind and perhaps only after taking a scenic route through the backwoods of trauma… did it find its way to my heart.

To be honest, what I choose to do to provide for my family is almost beside the point. Because above all else, I simply want to be as available and present as possible to my children. They deserve the best of me, not just me scraping by for the next 20 years trying to hold it together. I can do more for them. And through God’s grace, I will.

There have been many lessons for me over the past couple years… new understandings of what humility, love, mothering and friendship actually mean (and don’t mean) in practice. I know I still have so much to learn. Everything must be held with an open hand… all I can do is the next right thing—which is always providing what is best for my children. If I get the honor of helping others along the way, all the better. And so, this is the door that has opened in front of me that will provide a means to care for them the best way I can. 900 goblins being on the prowl and all…

So, yes; there are fears. Absolutely. But I can’t be a slave to those fears. There is an extremely questionable amount of “certainty” in front of me. Everything may not be okay for some time. However, I know that I’ve survived “not okay” before.  And I don’t expect my Jesus will abandon me now. I’m a great excuse for Him to show off His goodness to an unworthy woman who happens to be in very difficult circumstances. So to be courageous, for me—in this case— is an act of the will. I.e., there are so very many things that could go wrong, it is laughable in fact! But I’m choosing to not let that stop me. I am casting my net out into the deep and committing my will to my God, Whose ways are mysterious and Who can bring good out of even terrible situations. Because He is Love.

I know there is much unseen and perhaps misunderstood in all this. That’s okay. It’s not right to bare all the mysteries of the soul. And I don’t have time to agonize over that in the way I used to anyway. I am simply thankful for coffee, rain, juncos chirping in my yard and being Christ’s littlest idiot. May He do with me what He will.

Thank you all for your love and support.

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2 x 2 = Faith

 

The 2nd grade class of St. James Catholic School in Oregon City, OR was not a particularly bright bunch in 1989. We slouched our socks and picked our noses and jockeyed to be Teacher’s Pet. There was seriously not a lot to write home about this particular group of kids. We were also forced to memorize the multiplication tables through the twelves. Did us puny, distracted 8 year olds really know anything about the grouping of numbers? No. I don’t think we were even taught what it meant to multiply until another year or so. But we drilled those rote, memorized facts every day, until the whole class knew their times tables forward and back. And when we did progress through the years and get tested periodically, we were glad to have those facts at the ready. We plugged those facts into our problems, confident that they were true… even if we didn’t know why they were true.

I was thinking about this the other day when I was knocking my head against the wall in trying to fully comprehend what it means in the Bible where it says “Faith is a free gift…” I used to beg and beg and beg for this free gift and wonder where the heck it was?! Why didn’t I ever feel all warm and fuzzy and start ordering mountains around and such?! I prayed hard for faith all the time! Well, because I am the queen of strange (and sometimes, mildly inappropriate) analogies, my 2nd grade multiplication tables came back to me. Those facts have been a “free gift” to me my whole life. And while I’m no math whiz, I clearly understand the methodology behind the number facts now. But for a very long time, I didn’t. I could just plug in the right answers because I knew they were right… not because I understood them.

This is very often my faith life as an adult now. I’ll be honest. I don’t “get it” more often than not these days. I can not intellectually conquer the theology behind Romans 8:28: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him…”. But the older I get, the more delighted I am to become childlike in ‘not getting it.’ After decades of trying to research and philosophize and “grasp” Catholicism, I have reached a point where I just throw my hands up now and want to leave that to smarter people than me. Plumbing the depths and breadth of our faith is so far beyond what my brain can handle in the context of the life I’ve been given… I am content anymore to simply play in the shallow end of the pool where I just take everything at face value.

Jesus says “Have no fear.” Okay. Jesus says “Eat my body.” Okay. Jesus says “Have faith.” Okay. Trying to master the enormity of what that means is just plain too hard. The Catechism defines faith like this: “[Faith is] both a gift of God and a human act by which the believer gives personal adherence to God who invites his response, and freely assents to the whole truth that God has revealed.”

There is nothing about warm fuzzies there. Joy! Faith is an act of the will, a choice to be made. A response to a gift we receive from God but don’t necessarily understand or feel! I’m pretty sure Flannery O’Connor is considered on par with the Catechism right?! Well, she is responsible for my very favorite definition of faith of all time: “Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not.” Amen.

So when I’m faced with extraordinary situations that challenge my relationship with God and my identity in Him… I think of Romans 8:28. Then I shrug my shoulders and say “Okay. I choose faith. I choose He who has the words of Eternal Life…”

Because I’ve got no better answer to the question. Thankfully the cheat sheet to the Exam of Life has already been imprinted on my mind. 2 x 2 = 4 whether we understand that fact or not. And God has us in the palm of His hand and is working constantly for our good… whether we understand that or not. What a relief.

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Life in Plan B

No one ever chooses to stand outside of Time. It’s only in moments of tremendous grief or personal upheaval that time itself serves an abrupt eviction. And standing there in a cosmic void of uncertainty, you can only examine the wreckage of expectations with a primal instinct. And lacking any cues to survival, the best that can be done is to begin searching through the rubble for any fragments of ‘normal’ that can be found. And so begins the long, hard work of rebuilding an identity.

* * *

I am a single mother of seven children now. I am not a widow. I am not a divorcee. And I am sacramentally bound to my husband until death do us part. But the process of legal separation has been a brutal reality check on a life that I thought I had all figured out. An identity I thought I had all figured out. I have been with this man for half of my life and on our 15th wedding anniversary this past December, barely a word was spoken between us.  When we started dating, he was my world. I looked to him to show me and tell me who I was, for better or worse. When the ring was on my finger, I delighted in being “his” wife and the Mrs. in front of his name. When the children were born, I thought we were complete and that hand-in-hand we’d let the fire of our love ignite and evangelize the world through the raising of good, wholesome children. I knew there’d be trials… but never, ever dreamed that I’d have to come up with a Plan B.

Yet here I am. 35 years old and navigating how to make sense of Plan B as best as I can. I have to provide for my family for the first time so I work in a restaurant to supplement the child support in order to make ends meet. I am not a stay-at-home wife anymore. The lives of my children have been thrown into extraordinary trauma, so they’ve all been enrolled in school. I am not the home educator anymore. Years of tending babies throughout the night now leave me restless and awake at all hours, haunted by the silence.  And my breasts ache to nurse the baby who is denied his mother’s embrace. I am not an attachment parent anymore. I do not go out on dates. I do not enjoy Valentine’s Day. I do not feel the complete happiness and satisfaction I once knew hanging out with our married friends, but I have no place among the young singles either.

* * *

What is most bewildering is the forgetting that happens outside of time. Faces you know and love may come to visit. And they will offer some comfort: a breaking of the bread or companions in the search for artifacts of consolation. “A sorrow shared is a half joy.” But the faces know what the native can’t seem to remember: life goes on. Elsewhere. Inside the proper laws of time and space and a reasonable continuum of normal.  A place where babies are born, brides are kissed and dogs are played with at the park. So a choice has to be made. Build a bridge to this Elsewhere. Or stay longer and continue to water seeds of bitterness that can never bear fruit. Keep trying to warm the dead body with a torn up blanket or take the blanket to a friend and have her help you stitch it back together.

* * *

Plan B is a no-man’s land in the world of devout Catholicism. While broken families are the norm in the larger culture, being separated with children makes you a demographic ghost in my particular community. People aren’t quite sure how to make sense of what happened to our family and without cutting through what fragile threads of privacy I imagine to remain, I am forced to live with question marks tattooed on my face and speculation following me around like a personal rain cloud. It’s not my job to correct misunderstandings about how the public perceives my situation. It is only my job to be who I am and be that well.

My identity now is the same as it’s always been; I’m  just seeing it for the first time. My self-worth and character are not in the context of another person and should never have been. I am the daughter of a good, royal Father who wants nothing but the best for His children. So He gives us the Cross. Married, single, religious, or ghost… it doesn’t matter, He gives us the Cross that becomes our identity. If we can drain our ego enough to fill up on the Blood and Water that gives us life, we won’t just “accept” our cross, but we will long for it and kiss the beloved wood that will carry us to Heaven.

I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t know how much more I will have to lean on the extraordinary charity of all my friends—my myriad of Simons— to help me carry this Cross. I don’t know how much longer I’ll vacillate wildly between laughter and tears, hope and grief. I don’t know if my husband will ever be open to reconciliation. I don’t know how God plans to shield and save my children through this. I don’t know the end to my story. But I am trying to be patient and faithful in living it. For some people, it’s not even so much that He’s exactly authoring our story… but that He’s ripping pages away from the book we thought we had all written out already, The Divine Editor if you will. When all is said and done, we do know that He promised to work all things for the good of those who love Him.  His ways are mysterious— to be sure. But I know that I love Him the most that a broken, little fool can and thankfully… that is enough.

* * *

Time won’t wait. And time won’t promise to never toss you out again. He is cruel. But there is a way to beat him. At least, I hear it’s so.  Bury down deep, into the beating, bleeding heart of the One who beat time at his own game. And time will roll over you, high above searching for his victim, thrashing and gnashing about, like a storm inciting the ocean to a boil.  But beneath the waves,  inside The Heart, you can’t get tossed.  Time will call your number but the Heart has already called you by name.
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Spiritual Direction for Each Temperament

Ever been too intimidated to try reading the Summa? Or found little, pithy lessons on Proverbs to be “fluff”?  It’s probably just the type of person you are…

Well, I found something genius.  I’ve read so much on the temperaments over the years that I tend to gloss over the details nowadays. But I read that entire file and soaked up every word.  Honing in on the right kind of spiritual path for each person is really an excellent way to grow in virtue.  And what works for a Sanguine will not work for a Phlegmatic necessarily… so knowing the base tendencies we are sort of born with can really help us figure out the best way to stretch our hearts and grow in faith.

If you don’t know your temperament, I recommend this test. I think it is the most credible one you’ll find on the web and the same one found in the excellent book, Temperament God Gave You. Remember, we can’t use our temperaments to excuse bad behavior or make stodgy claims like “Well, that’s just the way I am!” Christ Himself is said to be the perfect embodiment of all the temperaments. And many saints worked on their characters so hard as to mitigate the negative side of their inborn tendencies while simultaneously cultivating characteristics that may not come naturally to them.

Once you’ve got a pretty good idea of what your base tendencies are, you can begin looking at what *type* of spiritual direction is ideal for you… assuming you don’t have a real, live, holy human at your ready.

I used Fr. Christian Kappes’ analysis of the temperaments to make a suggested reading list for each type of person.  I recommend reading the entire analysis to “know thyself” but here are just a few book ideas for each type to get you started:

Melancholic:

(“The melancholic needs to experience tenderness and love of her soul created and cherished by God. Thus the melancholic must refrain from literature that exacerbates despair and a sense of guilt that already (for the melancholic) penetrates to the bone.”)

Introduction to the Devout Life
Finding God’s Will for You
I Believe in Love
The Power of Silence
Searching for and Maintaining Peace
In the School of the Holy Spirit
The Reed of God
Into Your Hands, Father: Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us

Choleric:

(“She needs to hear and acknowledge her defects and pride as personal sins to be attributed to her own volition. The devil is usually the scapegoat for the choleric.”)

The Twelve Steps to Holiness and Salvation
The Imitation of Christ
Preparation for Death
The Spiritual Combat
The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for our Lives Today
Humility of Heart
The Way, Furrow, the Forge
Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and the Gospel on Prayer

Sanguine:

(“…because of her weakness for immediate and gratifying pleasures, short, pithy say- ings and stories will speak to her temperament. Lengthy biographies and tomes on the spiritual life are often lost in distractions and overwhelming spiritual lethargy.”)

Way to Happiness: An Inspiring Guide to Peace, Hope and Contentment
Peace of Soul
Called to Be Holy
Reflections on the Psalms
Mother Angelica’s Private and Pithy Lessons from Scripture
Anima Christi: Soul of Christ
Saintly Solutions to Life’s Common Problems

Phlegmatic:

(“Recommended are the more passionate and less intellectual and ideational works.”)

The Fulfillment of All Desire
Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas
The Life of Christ
Abandonment to Divine Providence
The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Divine Intimacy
The Joy in Loving: a Guide to Daily Living
Interior Castle

 

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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.

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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.

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