Friday, December 21, 2012

7 (not-so-quick) Takes Near Newtown

--- 1 --
I’ve been observing a kind of “radio silence” regarding this blog, due to last Friday's tragedy in Newtown.  What can be said in the wake of that?  Newtown is a brief car ride up Route 34 from where we live.  While this did not “hit me where I live,” this was close to home.  We had a relative teaching in the building; she and the students with her are safe.

The daughter of my former department chair was also working there; she was shot.  She survived and is recovering(how does one “recover” from witnessing the unimaginable?)

Two of my husbands’ college classmates lost their six year old girl.

There are no words.  

--- 2 ---
I would be lying if I said I was not pinned down by depression last week.  Depression saps the desire to do and replaces it with a never-ending-chain of procrastinations, of "I'll-get-to-that-eventually's." Everything from paying a bill, returning a phone call, wrestling over handwriting with your focus-deprived son, making dinner, getting the mail, showering... The mundane hurdles of daily life suddenly seem insurmountable.

What can one do when this weight settles in?  First, face it and call it out for what it is.  In this case, the root cause was obvious.  Profound sadness was "normal".  How could I possibly feel happy and in the moment?  I allowed myself the grief.

What else can one do?  Be real.  I stopped blaming myself for the myriad things I had not done yet for Christmas.  I'd had a massive cold the week before; being pregnant I'm also responsible for the well-being of another soul who currently shares this body with me.  For the good of my child, I had to take that week easier.  More sleep and less activity means less gets done in a day; there is a cumulative effect to that.  That is life, not a character defect.

One needs to talk it out: online with friends, with my husband, phone calls with my mom.  And especially with God.  Its OK to remember to ask Him for His grace for myself.  To do so is not selfish; it won't deprive the others who are in need, because there is no shortage of Grace.  His mercy is infinite, and for the asking.

Finally, after all of that was done, I had to take some action.  Start with one thing, even if small, even if the completion of it is less than perfect.   Make a little list of what you want done this day.  Then begin.  

Help others who are struggling.  A gesture as simple as helping an elderly person to reach that chocolate syrup on the highest grocery shelf shines some light into the darkness.

--- 3 ---
Returning home from Little Flowers and Blue Knights on Friday was like returning from another planet. While I'd heard about Friday's shooting from my husband, who had called from work before we'd left the house, details were sketchy.  I went about my day without knowledge of its tragic extent.

I came home to find Emre already here before us, eyes red.  He assured me his cousin was safe, but then whispered the outcome in my ear: an entire kindergarten class gone.

Meanwhile, Gianna flitted about the room, laughing, loud, on a sugar high.   

How do I explain the reaction in a mother's heart?
My outer reaction was to hug each of my children, who had no idea of the days' events, as they carried on with the business of playtime.  Emre later sat on the couch, with all three children close, our own kindergartener hugged at his side; every so often I heard a bemused Gianna, full of sillies, complain, "Dadd-y, you're squeezing me..."

Gianna's Rosebuds group had spent Friday afternoon celebrating Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe.  She returned to us sporting a tilma and mustache.  My heart brimmed both with joy and pain when I snapped this picture. 

--- 4 ---

Reflecting on our parental reactions of Friday night has reminded me of James Russel Lowell's poem, The First Snowfall.  Most of us read this in high school, but to review: the speaker gazes out of his window as the first snow of the season falls.  He seems merely focused on the transformed landscape outside of his home, but his thoughts are actually with a "mound in sweet Auburn" (a cemetery in Massachusetts), and a "little headstone" that is likewise being "gently" covered by the snow.   This reverie is interrupted by his inquisitive young daughter, Mabel.  His actions in response to her typically child-like questions serve a dual purpose: one purpose is visible.  The other is invisible, but just as real.
--- 5 ---
The First Snowfall

The snow had begun in the gloaming, 
And busily all the night 
Had been heaping field and highway 
With a silence deep and white. 

Every pine and fir and hemlock 
Wore ermine too dear for an earl, 
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree 
Was ridged inch deep with pearl. 

From sheds new-roofed with Carrara 
Came Chanticleer's muffled crow, 
The stiff rails were softened to swan's-down, 
And still fluttered down the snow. 

I stood and watched by the window 
The noiseless work of the sky, 
And the sudden flurries of snow-birds, 
Like brown leaves whirling by. 

I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn 
Where a little headstone stood; 
How the flakes were folding it gently, 
As did robins the babes in the wood. 

Up spoke our own little Mabel, 
Saying, 'Father, who makes it snow?' 
And I told of the good All-father 
Who cares for us here below. 

Again I looked at the snowfall, 
And thought of the leaden sky 
That arched o'er our first great sorrow, 
When that mound was heaped so high. 

I remembered the gradual patience 
That fell from that cloud like snow, 
Flake by flake, healing and hiding 
The scar of our deep-plunged woe. 

And again to the child I whispered, 
'The snow that husheth all, 
Darling, the merciful Father 
Alone can make it fall! ' 

Then, with eyes that saw not, I kissed her; 
And she, kissing back, could not know 
That my kiss was given to her sister, 
Folded close under deepening snow.

--- 6 ---
In all of the shock and tragedy, I have been consistently awed by the witness of people who are obviously filled by God's grace.

There are friends who stand at the foot of that cross with these mothers and fathers, regular people who unceasingly pour out their love in order to carry these families through this hellish time.

Countless numbers of firefighters attended the funeral of a little boy whose dream had been to grow up and be a fireman himself.  Their presence at that event had everything to do with honoring the wishes of a fallen little boy who had become, by his desire, one of their own.

Priests, rabbis, pastors of all denominations were side by side with first responders on the scene.  I can not fathom what they witnessed.

Communities step up to support these people, who daily offer up their lives in service to God, this week serving Him without ceasing.

The faithful offering prayers and sacrifice.  So many offering some service, some help.

Victoria Soto, who offered her life and saved her class.

I am humbled.  Their example speaks volumes.  As St. Francis observed, the gospel is best preached by living it.

Words often matter very little in the end.

--- 7 ---
This song performed by Mahalia Jackson has been on my mind this week.  It has become my new prayer:

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Riu Riu Chiu: Reflections on the Immaculate Conception

One of my earliest obsessions was with The Monkees.  I fell in love with these Beatles knock-offs in 1980s syndication, in those days before my family had either cable or a VCR; I depended on  the static-ridden airwaves to bring the show to me via Boston's Channel 56.   On a good day, the wavy lines weren't too distracting, and the sound quality would be decent.  I hovered about the television set, adjusting the antennae for an optimal experience.

In those days before Youtube and digital recordings, I never had a choice of what episode or what portion of an episode to watch.  I had my favorites which always thrilled me to see; having one of those aired was like getting a gift.

The best such gift for me was the Christmas special, the plot of which I can no longer recall; I loved it for the closing sequence, an a capella harmony of a song called "Riu Chiu."  This tune was, hands down, my favorite Monkees recording of all time.

Furthermore, the airing of this episode was a near-sacred moment for me because I did not own a copy of this tune on any of my Monkees albums; I had not been able to find a recording of it anywhere in that pre-streaming, pre-Amazon, pre-iTunes era.

Last Advent, I was brainstorming ideas for hymns that I could listen to before Christmas, to prepare for the season without jumping in full-tilt, full-steam-ahead.  (Yes, I love "O Come Emmanuel," but there are just so many times you can hear it/sing it/pray it, no matter how many versions or languages you find it in.)  I wondered, "What songs would prepare my heart for the coming of Christ?

Suddenly, after years of not hearing the tune, "Riu Chiu" entered my mind's ear and stayed there.  Thrill to my soul!  I ran to the computer, and a quick search of Youtube provided me with that moment I'd always waited and waited and pined for as a kid.

The song was every bit as moving as I recalled; as a child it had moved me to tears, the harmony was so lovely.  I never took Spanish, so I had absolutely no idea what it meant.  All I knew was it was a "traditional Spanish carol," and I loved it.

I was teary-eyed again as I played it on Youtube.

Then I googled the lyrics.

Suddenly, my emotional response made perfect and logical sense.

"Riu Chiu" flat-out begins with the Immaculate Conception of Mary: the belief that Mary was conceived in her mother's womb to be free from Original Sin (i.e. the first sin of man).   It alludes to the enmity that existed between the devil (the black wolf), and Our Lady.

River, roaring river, guard our homes in safety,God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.
Raging mad to bite her, there the wolf did steal,But our God Almighty defended her with zeal.Pure He wished to keep Her so She could never sin,That first sin of man never touched the Virgin )

Thus, God has kept the devil away from Our Lady by preserving her from "that First Sin of Man".

The round about Our Lady's protection continues, after which the lyrics focus on the culmination of salvation history: the Incarnation of Christ.  

He who's now begotten is our mighty Monarch,Christ, our Holy Father, in human flesh embodied.He has brough atonement by being born so humble,Though He is immortal, as mortal was created.

Never in my wildest imaginings did I think this song had that much depth. 

Another translation (of a different arrangement) of this carol notably differs in associating the refrain, "Riu Riu Chiu," with the song of the nightingale, rather than with the sound of the river:
Riu, riu, chiu (nightingale's sounds)
The river bank protects it,
As God kept the wolf from our lamb (Bruce Cockburn
Here, the river bank protects the nightingale in the same way that God protects Our Lady from sin.  As a literary symbol, the nightingale has at times been associated with love, and its song has been associated with a "lament." Such imagery is entirely appropriate for the Blessed Mother, who would one day follow her Son to the foot of the cross, and there have her own heart pierced with swords.  The very fact of her Immaculate Conception prepares her for this future role:

The rabid wolf tried to bite her
But God Almighty knew how to defend her
He wished to create her impervious to sin
Nor was this maid to embody original sin

Why would such preparation for Mary's role as mother of God be necessary?   Consider how even once Baptism washes away Original Sin, our souls are left weakened by it.  This is our fallen nature, our temptation to sin and to not strive for virtue.  Could a weakened soul like yours or mine find the strength to face an angel, hear his words and say, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word"?  Could such a weakened soul consent to and face the suspicion and the ridicule of being found pregnant out of wedlock in that time and place?  Could a fallen soul patiently, courageously, and with consistent hope and faith rear that child, knowing who He is and the violent fate that awaits Him?!

It only seems fair that a perfect, loving, and merciful God would prepare Mary for the coming task of mothering Our Savior.  And He did prepare her;  His grace was instantaneously granted upon her conception, the moment in which He preserved her from Original Sin.  Thus Mary's Advent began; she had time to love and grow closer to God without the obstacles the rest of us have.  Without that propensity to sin, Mary would not kill the grace within her the way the rest of us so often do.

 I know how many times I stumble and fall in my own motherhood: how often do I lose patience, shout,  say "yes" when I should say "no," or say "No!" when I should say "yes?"  How often do I cling to my own desires ahead of my children's needs, even if unconsciously or just for a moment?  How frequently do I set them a poor example?

How many times a day do I fling myself on my knees to apologize and beg God for His mercy?  I'll tell you: not as often as I should, given how any mortal sin kills the life of grace within me.  Even those venial sins leave my soul sick and at less-than-optimal efficiency.  

I can not imagine undertaking the task presented to Mary.  No one truly can fathom it.  In my weakness, there is no way that I could co-operate with God's grace enough to walk with a Son who was fully God,  my own Creator and Savior, yes... but who was also fully human and as such, needing a mother's love.

I recommend folks check out the full translation of the original carol; it will rock your theological and literary worlds.  Especially on a day such as today, as we ponder God's plan in preparing Mary to one day be the first to know, love and serve Jesus: when He was a baby in her own womb.

And yes, before bed I will give this version one more go as well:

Friday, December 7, 2012

7 Quick Takes: St. Nicholas Dreams

--- 1 ---
The doctor couldn't get a good enough look at the little one to reveal the gender today, but I am tempted to declare that I am carrying a boy.   My dreams have been movie-quality vivid.  One of my dreams this week featured a scene in which I was cut off in traffic by a yellow corvette convertible, driven by an attractive blonde woman wearing a cream-colored skirt and tailored jacket.

I am either experiencing an influx of testosterone to my system, or I have completely missed my calling as an Advertising Executive.

--- 2 ---
Here is my cutie at just under 14 weeks today, measuring 7-ish centimeters from head to rump:

--- 3 ---
Another vivid dream, which woke me up because it was so disturbing, was that the neighbor's backyard was completely over-run by snakes of mythically huge size (both fat and thin) and rainforest colors.  On one hand, I thought it was a visually striking scene.   Then again, nothing curdles my blood like serpents.  In the dream, after pausing to think how amazing this looked, I turned tail to head inside.  

One shiny green python-looking one slithered after and leapt at me; I caught it mid-air,  before it sank its shimmery fangs into my neck.  I then wrestled with it, bashing its head against a countertop.  I woke up before I'd learned if I was successful in doing it in, whether it wriggled away to bite me anyway, or whether the army of red & black, blue & black, green, and striped cousins followed after it.

I hate snakes. Why on earth would I wrestle one?  Even if merely a dream, why would the sight of a dozen or more snakes cause me to pause and think, "Wow.  That's so cool looking"? 

Its a boy, I'm telling you...

--- 4 ---
For some inexplicable reason, when the rain started today, I decided to bake chocolate chip cookies.  Not only would the kids be stuck inside (with me), they would be stuck inside with a sugar high.


--- 5 ---
Speaking of sugar highs, yesterday was the feast of St. Nicholas.  Last year I decided to incorporate the leaving-shoes-out-by-the-chimney tradition in observance of this feast.  My kids woke up to find their shoes filled with chocolate coins, chocolate Santas and Crayola crayons.  I slacked off this year however; I did not make mini paper bishop hats for the tiny chocolate Santas.  Happily, no one noticed.

--- 6 ---
Today's Quick Takes and FB newsfeed reveal that I'm not the only Catholic amused by the St. Nicholas "Hammer of Heretics" meme.   Hmmm... I wonder why the Arias incident wasn't included in the Veggie Tales re-telling of the Story of St. Nicholas?  I say this begs for a sequel.

--- 7 ---
On Saint Nicholas' Feast Day, I  break from my Advent playlist and allow a day of Santa/St. Nick themed tunes during the day (Did I mention I'm a domestic church geek?)  Here is one of my favorites from my St. Nicholas iTunes Playlist (seriously: total geek!).  Enjoy!:

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Veni, Veni...

I'd honestly thought I would be blogging in a frenzy of Advent-inspired ideas this week.  Try as I might, nothing in that vein has materialized on the screen.  Instead, something is prompting me to move beyond the topic of hymns and purple candles, to focus for a time on those "gloomy clouds of night" overhead.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve suffered with depression.  First for years, without understanding what plagued me, sometimes not thinking there was any problem with me; obviously everyone around me had problems, and their issues were what brought me down.   Later, with therapy, I learned to identify, face and deal with reality: I am the adult child of two alcoholics, a co-dependent with a second-hand form of PTSD.  Yet I’d walked through life as if I was the Unscathed Normal One, the Marilyn of the Munster clan.   By the time I was twelve years old,  I had already read Bradshaw's On the Family, and the Al-Anon publication Adult Children of Alcoholics ("gifts" from my big sister).  I was painfully well-informed of the dynamics of the "dysfunctional family" shaping me, but I figured my knowledge was a talisman against actually being affected in any "forever-after" sense.  I always imagined that all I'd need to be a healthy adult was to just get away.

Once alcohol loosened her memories and lips, my mother would share horrific or sad recollections of her own childhood.  My heart always felt near-to-breaking for her.   My much-older sister was living a wild life and in therapy; she often shared family secrets she'd experienced or uncovered as well.  Thus, my second-hand trauma;   I knew too many gory details of others' poverty, alcoholism, and experiences with violence while I was still a child myself.  My friends had grandfathers who were retired from careers, owning vacation homes, and playing catch with them.  I never knew my grandpa, and recall meeting him only twice, but I knew he was an abusive drunk who'd wielded a butcher knife and chased after my grandmother.  (That is the lesser of horrific tales I'd heard about him...)

On one hand, I was highly sensitive and introspective as a result of such disclosures.  On the other hand, I felt an increasing desire to ameliorate everyone's past hurts by becoming the standard bearer for our clan, Bradshaw and all not withstanding.  Everyone has a role to play; seeing how I was already trending, I supposed I could choose worse... and maybe, just maybe, my goodness would achieve results.  Thus began my savior complex.  

Adulthood brought trials that my "goodness" was no match against.  My brother-in-law died in his thirties, after battling Chronic Mylegenic Leukemia.  My sister was left to raise 2 teenagers, neither of them her biological children, both of whom turned to hard drugs, a rough crowd, and theft because they were still children and they had been through hell and this was all they knew how to do in response.  I watched helplessly as my sister unsuccessfully navigated these modern realities of family life.  Suddenly, it didn't matter how good I was; my sister and these young people suffered so profoundly.  It didn't seem just.

This was the period in which my own father died, rapidly and painfully, from lung cancer.  I struggled with how to "properly" react to his impending death.  I can see now that I should have visited him more often; I'd thrown myself into my career and raising my (then) two children, instead.  While my mom and dad encouraged me not to step away from my own responsibilities, in hindsight, I think that was a form of denial on all of our parts.  I'd even skipped out on Thanksgiving, telling myself that my young family was already maxed out/stressed out, that in-laws were visiting from California, that there would be more time to be with dad during Christmas.  

By the time I visited for Christmas, he was in too much pain to truly talk or to enjoy time with us.

The fact that my father was dying at this time of year is something I need to recall and mourn and not push away anymore.  The fact that my mom had achieved and maintained sobriety, only to lose the soul mate who had stuck by her through her nightmare of chemical dependency, is a pain I need to share with her, not shirk away from or ignore.  (There are other traumas and griefs, the total of which comprises my own "gloomy clouds of night," but I feel like I have given a good enough snapshot with just this much.)

Everyone has their personal darkness; details may differ, but the dark nights are there.  It is no secret that the holidays are a catalyst for depression in many people.  Is it because our reality, with its gloom and imperfections, does not line up with what we want for our reality?  Is it our helplessness to disperse the darkness that drives us into a holiday funk?

The price I paid for not dealing with reality was that I stopped functioning.  My anxiety became so acute, I was afraid to drive the car any great distance.  I was reluctant to leave the house alone.  I was uneasy about leaving the children.  I sloughed off my hygiene habits, ending up with ten (!) cavities in one dental visit.   Meanwhile I crafted with the kids, took them on walks, taught the oldest to read, had friends over for dinner... Increasingly these were mere motions that covered over the crumbling that was happening on my inside.

Have you ever felt numb? I am talking about emotional frostbite: to know an emotion should be present in a given circumstance, either happiness or sadness, but instead realize that you have no feeling of any kind.   For me: to host a family celebration, and cognitively know that this is the kind of thing I get happy and excited about, yet in the moment feel absolutely nothing.  It was as if I had left my body and had stopped being me.  I had not told my husband this was happening inside of me, but he was perceptive enough to see it.

My husband  was the one who one day said, “Are you okay?  Really.  I am very worried about you.”  I answered with, “Everything's fine,” or “I'm just tired,” excuses.  I told myself that as always, the problems were all outside of me, in the issues of others: my husband, his mother, my sister, my mother.  If everyone else could only get it together.  If I could just hold everything in place and get these people to see how to live... we'd all be fine and then I'd be fine. I didn't know that was co-dependency, a sign of my own savior-martyr-complex keeping me from treating with reality.

Luckily, my husband did not accept my dismissive assertions that all was well.  "I am very worried about you.” He said it again.  And again.  And finally, after several months of this gentle prodding, he told me a truth that terrified, angered, and yet strangely, relieved me to hear spoken: my behavior towards others was dysfunctional. It was time for me to seek help.

How did I get to that point?  Rather than show my wounds, admit my pain, and cry over tea with girlfriends, I'd tried -- as always-- to be the exemplar of courage and good cheer.  I had tried to skip and deny my dark periods, fast forwarding through my life's losses to get to the good parts.  I thought those negative emotions, and the story of my upbringing, were unattractive and unacceptable; I decided they didn't jive with being a Catholic revert.   I stuffed my negative emotions; I hid the pain of my formative years and the real experiences of my life from everyone.  This was not stoicism or strength.  It was not Christianity in action.   It was dishonesty and maybe a bit of cowardice. 

I had always feared hurt, which was why I always ran from it, denied it, pretended I had beaten it back, and outrun it.   What I learned from therapy, and from reading books such as this one is: If you don't sit patiently with your pain for a while, it won't leave; it will seek you out, and it will catch you.  It caught me.  You just won't see it for what it is when it does.  Add to that the self-pride I had at being a sort of martyr, of thinking I mattered that much to everyone around me, well... My suffering wasn't exactly sacrificial in the end.

Why do I feel like ruminating on all of this today, instead of waxing on about seasonal feast days and Advent hymns?   Perhaps there is an appropriateness in facing and remembering the darkness right now, not just ritually, but personally.  Our struggles are real and the darkness is there, alright.

 It is just that a Light shines in the darkness, and that Light will not be overcome.

In shutting my eyes to the darkness, I had shut my eyes to the Light of Christ.  In denying my own loss, struggle, and pain, I denied my own weakness.  I denied my need for Him to heal me.  Even as I professed my Christian beliefs, even as I received the sacraments and participated in the life of the Church, in my fear and pride, I denied my own dependence on God.

Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for Christ.  It is a two-fold preparation: we are readying our homes to celebrate His birth and we are readying our hearts for His Coming again.  He will come again for each of us; that should not cause despair.  He has shown through His Incarnation and His sacrifice on the cross, that he is Love itself.

This is reason for hope in the midst of the chaos and frustration on this side of heaven.  This is reason to exhale, to wait it out in this darkness, and to trust in its passing.  This is reason to rejoice.

Friday, November 30, 2012

7 Quick Takes: Monkeying with Advent

1.  As I mentioned last week, I am giddy for Advent.   I enjoy saving Christmas for the season beginning December 25th, and preparing our hearts and homes in the meantime.  There are crafts, activities and feast days to fill our four week wait in this domestic church; all of it builds my longing for Christ.  Our tree does not go up until Gaudete Sunday; Christmas music typically fills our speakers that day, and not so much beforehand.  In the meantime, I am such a geek that I've created an Advent-appropriate playlist on iTunes to get us merrily and mindfully through until then.  (The selected songs are akin to not singing "alleluia" in Lent.)

Before anyone slaps a gold star of liturgical orthodoxy on my forehead, I must publicly confess: I've failed to wait this time around.  My moment of weakness arrived last Friday;  our left over turkey was already in the freezer, and December 2nd was just too far out.  As my FB friends talked lights, shopping and Christmas carols, I'll admit it: I despaired.  I lost control.

I was jones-ing for my Advent hymns, and all things purple.

I plunged into Advent nearly two weeks early... even as I knew the Church Herself still observed Ordinary Time.  Mea culpa!

What guilty pleasure did I have to indulge in ahead of time?

Here it is: The Monkees' Riu Chiu. Play this now, or wait for Sunday... but be awed.

2.  I love this tune (totally an Advent hymn), this band (yes: band! I'm controversial like that) and this season so much, I may have to dedicate an entire blog post to this topic.  Consider this a preview.

3.  Speaking of preparing for Christmas: how do I untangle unbridled materialism from our celebration?  I am striving to impart more "Let's give," and "Let's do," and less "I want," but this doesn't seem to jive with how we've been doing things.  My girls already have lists of pined-for "My Little Pony" characters, and my son's wish list includes such reach-for-the-stars items as a battery-powered jeep to ride around in...  Ugh.   Even if I moderate their desires (and admittedly, my temptation to give them the world on a platter, too) I still end up spending more money on toys that get broken or not used in very short spans of time.  This does not promote stewardship of either finances or the environment.   It also takes the focus off the birth of Christ and puts it squarely on Toys R Us.

Perhaps Sunday will begin a moratorium on phrases beginning, "I want..."

4.  We need paring down.  I need paring down.  One blessing of the tiredness resulting from this pregnancy is that it has brought me to clearly see and admit what I'd been denying before:  this family has too many activities.  We have been sucked into the vortex of what now passes for American Family Life, namely: thrust each kid into an extracurricular activity, plus a club, plus another club, and then stretch yourselves so thin in the name of socialization (you know, that thing we homeschoolers lack so much of)  that you snap, and end up barking/braying/losing your composure with your brood every other hour, in the search for missing socks, unmatched gloves, hats, dance shoes, piano books and whatnot...

Yes.  We are out of the house at an activity nearly every afternoon of the week.  While that may sound great to some of you, in truth, it is a strain on me, and often on them.  Once I've finished the duty of imparting knowledge to three blossoming minds,  I am spent.  Emotionally, and now that I'm pregnant, physically spent.  Plus, with all of these organized activities, I find there is no time for the impromptu play date with friends.  Our house is always a shambles, because I constantly have to leave on a dime to get someplace on time, and there is no time (or energy!) to put it back together.   I need to stop the insanity.

My question to weigh is this: do I finish out the year, teaching the kids to honor their commitments, or do I pull us out now...  How would that impact the kids?  How will I feel if we "quit" midway through something, especially with non-refundable money laid out?  Am I quitting, or am I ceasing to act crazy?  These are thoughts to ponder.

5.  One of my husband's Amazon Prime picks this week was so incredible, I have to share it.  I was dimly aware that Robin Wright had starred in a new film about the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, but I'd been sketchy on the details.  If you can stomach a Civil War period piece with neither zombies nor vampires, The Conspirator may be the movie for you:

6.  Yes.  Robin Wright is Buttercup.  My husband saw the whole movie without making that connection, but any degree of The Princess Bride in anything can only enhance its artistic value.

7.  Sigh.  I have been at this computer too far into this school day morning.  I must tear myself away to attend to the booklearnin' that these young, eager minds await.  First, some coffee... and one more round of Riu Chiu.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How Do I Handle Emotional Darkness?

Last Sunday was one terrible day for mood swings.  I hadn’t felt so extremely low in ages.  

There was a period in my life when heavy moods lingered without lifting. I suffered from depression, although for years I didn't know the interior darkness for what it was.  I used to be ashamed of my melancholic feelings; I thought they pointed to my weakness, my sinfulness, my being a lousy person. (I confessed to emotions as if they all were sins.)  Yet my dark moods did not indicate any of those things, and trying to hide and deny them could not make them go away.  On the contrary, stuffing my feelings made my condition worse.

Emotions, including the unpleasant ones, were created by God.  Understanding that fact, today I can appreciate even my negative emotions; they are signs which indicate the places I need healing or change. This has been a huge shift in my perspective, and I would not have arrived here without much therapy, journaling, reading, and more therapy.  While emotionally trying, last Sunday was a wonderful case study to remind me how far I have come.  

The day began as "normal." I made breakfast at 8 a.m.  I began to feel a bit of anxiety in my decision to make chocolate chip pancakes from scratch; valuable "get ready" time was being lost!  At 8:30 a.m., annoyance joined my anxiety as we prepared to leave; no child listens the first time I say something like, "Please brush your teeth now," "Let's get dressed for church," or "Go find your socks and shoes."  As CEO of herding cats, I am the last to get my shower, and so in the end I become the most harried family member of all.   Still... as long as we all got out the door and into the car by 9 a.m., I expected to exhale and be happy.  

Instead of meeting with relief in the car, I landed in despair.  Over what? While driving on the highway we realized  that the car was on Empty; we needed to stop for gas.  It takes a half hour to get from our house to our parish.  This meant we could not be on time for the 9:30 a.m. Mass.

My Despair then morphed into Monumentally Pissed Off.  I became angry at: myself for skipping the gas stop yesterday, myself again for choosing to have the family join this distant parish (with only one Sunday Mass time!), the recently assigned pastor for cutting loose the homeschooling ministry which had drawn me to that parish in the first place.  I was beyond frustrated because this was my son's longed-for sacrament year, so I felt trapped there now, and it was all going horribly wrong. 

I huffed, I puffed, I ranted.  My language grew increasingly colorful; my husband cut me off before I taught the little pitchers some choice new words.  “Whoa--!  Hold it right there! You are being irrational.  We can just go to a closer parish with a later Mass time.  This is not that big of a deal.”  A church we’d visited the week before had an 11:30; we would go there.  We returned home to let the kids play until then.    

My interior remained like a pot of boiling water.  Now I was ticked off for being labelled "irrational." More steam gathered as I realized it was possibly true.  I was ready to blow.

There was a time when I would have roared at my husband, jumping on his words as the line in the sand at which to stand and do battle.   Truthfully, at most his words would become a red herring, a distraction from a larger issue.  I would launch a fight.  Afterwards, the air still thick with both of our resentments, I'd grow increasingly confused (what just happened?!) and then eventually contrite, and ultimately guilty for the argument.  I would make peace with Emre.  And in my hour-or-more detour through marital angst, I would have dropped -- and lost-- the trail to what actual hurt had lurked and set me off course in the first place.  Some buried psychic pain drove me in such moments, like a wounded and frightened cat, to growl, hiss and lash out at those around me.

That was Pre-therapy Lee.  Post-therapy Lee moved through Sunday's scene quite a bit differently.

What was different?  On this day, I held my tongue, and heard Emre out.  While he left the car to pump gas, I mulled over his words.  We arrived home to kill time before Mass, and I was still at my boiling point.  I have learned to withdraw and regroup at that critical moment.  I knew it was time to take stock and take care of me.  No one can do that for me; it is solely my responsibility to assess how I feel and why.

By 10 a.m. I’d retreated to my bedroom and closed the door.  With lights off and tissues in hand, I curled into bed and mentally walked through every thing about the morning which irked, worried, frustrated or upset me.  I realized there was more to my pain than merely not getting to the parish I’d had my heart set on attending that day.  

Yes, it was frustrating to miss that Mass;  I had anxiety about the pastor not allowing J.P. to receive first penance if we weren't there for several weeks running. As I mentioned, I was angry about his lobbing off a large and vibrant homeschooling ministry; my anger was a response to the pain of rejection I felt inside.  There was something more behind that, though, further fueling the anger in my reaction: a memory of another time and place, when people and events beyond my control spun around and hurt me.  And behind that memory, there was another one very much like it. 

My therapist likened this phenomenon of linked or associated memories to "pulling open a memory drawer."    Do you remember the old card catalog system in libraries?  Imagine the mind as working very much like that system: memories (good or bad), are grouped and filed away together.  It can be surprising to see how much hurt we have stuffed into one drawer; pull out one "card, " and those packed tightly behind it slip out, too.  

Last Sunday, Post-therapy Lee did something that took two years of work to learn how to do:  I took stock of my emotions and let myself feel it all.   Once my heart swelled to bursting on one score, I let myself cry it out.  Then I looked to see how this tapped other memories. The key to accessing those linked memories has been to ask myself, "When have I felt this way before?"

My private exercise runs like this: Remember the hurt. Feel it. Cry. Ask the Question. Repeat.

I marveled at how intensely my heart ached, but I didn't cork up or run from the pain as I'd done for most of my life.

A new thought intervened to say, 'This pregnancy makes your feelings even more intense right now.  This all will pass.'  Even in my Sunday sadness, I recognized that thought as a breakthrough for me: prior to therapy, I'd flounder about denying my moods, not facing their causes, yet feeling as if the darkness would never disperse.  The darkness had a near-tangible weight that hung on me.  In my attempts to lock away negative emotion and hurtful memories,  all positive emotions (i.e. satisfaction, happiness, peace) were stopped up, too.  Prior to therapy, I had given up on ever feeling joy again.

Contrast that with last Sunday: I cried in bed, feeling horrible, yet all the while knowing it was OK, because this storm would pass.  Call me crazy, but there is something miraculously hopeful in that expectation.  It was as if a hand rested on my back, to steady me.

A forty minute nap ensued.  The darkness was gone by morning's end, even as the problems which prompted that mood remain.  It is just that my reactions to these worries are not driving me; my conscious mind is calling the shots, and that is a very big deal.

Depression is different for everyone; my experience with it is not universal.  There are varying degrees, myriad causes, and a vast number of treatments.  I am not sharing my little Sunday moment as a template for anyone to go it alone if anything I've shared resounds in you.  This vignette is meant to show that it is OK and even good- and necessary! -to admit our weakness and seek help.

My journey to balance and sanity began with contacting a Catholic therapist I found through this website.  I would not be where I am right now without his help.  It is a resource I can not share or recommend enough.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

7 Quick Takes: Our Week & Recipes in Review

--- 1 ---
My kids and my husband have made me into a bigger Star Wars fan than I'd ever been in my own youth.  (Granted, I had been on the nostalgia bandwagon when the original films were re-released  to the theaters.  Emre & I even had Star Wars parties to celebrate.  It was a good excuse to get grade school & college friends back together.)

This is something else again.  My children are eating and breathing Star Wars.  We now have two light sabers glowing about the house, and the quest to accumulate action figures has begun.  I bought Scholastics' Star Wars phonics for school-time use, and it was the only thing my loathe-to-read son would jump to read. 

I found this song on the Essential Weird Al Yankovich album my husband just downloaded.  Given how my kids have had to endure Don McLean's American Pie since infancy, they found this version quite entertaining. The video is an example of Weird Al's absolute brilliance:

--- 2 ---
Our Thanksgiving meal was awesome.  I am thirty-eight years old, and have only just made mashed potatoes on my own from scratch for the very first time, in honor of this year's feast.  (My husband loves to cook, and chases me out of the kitchen for all major holidays.  This year, however, he fell asleep-with his shoes on!- before he could start prepping the sides.)   My potatoes were delicious; they included 8 oz of sour cream and 8 oz of Philadelphia Cream cheese, plus onion powder, salt, pepper, evaporated milk and yes, butter.

I also pre-prepped sweet potato wedges, marinated in maple syrup, olive oil, honey and brown sugar, and seasoned with thyme.  That may have been the only part of our meal to not include butter as an ingredient.

In total, our Thanksgiving meal preparations used up 8 sticks of butter.  I think that was my daily butter allotment for the entire year.

P.S.- I forgot to heat the steamed green beans.  No one missed them.

--- 3 ---
My husband made the most amazing stuffing I 'd ever had, out of Pepperidge Farms breadcrumbs, venison and Carolina Hog sausage.  I had to freeze the leftovers to prevent us from devouring all of it in 48 hours, thus becoming large as blimps.

Several folks present for our feast passed on the stuffing once they'd learned what meat it contained.  I admit there was a time I might have been turned off to trying hunted food as well.  Such reluctance now causes me to reflect on how truly removed from our food supply we are in our post-modern age.

Polite society finds it socially acceptable to eat cows and chickens if they live locked up in huge warehouses, slotted for slaughter, and butchered there; none of us see the animals' crowded living conditions, or the carnage of their warehouse-style deaths.  Yet so many people frown upon hunting, because we see deer in our parks and backyards and we think they are pretty?!  As I said to my sister's "poor deer" pooh-poohing, "This has nothing to do with the animal.  It has everything to do with your feelings toward that animal.  How is a deer different from a cow?"

--- 4 ---
Don't get me wrong!  I understand and respect people's decision to live as a vegetarian or a vegan; I have even considered that lifestyle for myself from time to time.  (All I have ever managed to eliminate is veal, formerly a favorite of mine.)  Yet if someone eats meat and frowns on hunting (which is harvesting meat from a wild animal instead of one that has been confined to an unnatural setting) well... I find that distinction to be oddly incongruous with the larger reality of how all meat gets on our plates in the first place.

Then again, maybe its just that I'd never watched Bambi as a child.

--- 5 ---
Thanks to inspiration from Lacy at Catholic Icing, our children participated in Operation Christmas Child for the first time this year.  In case you aren't familiar with this Christian initiative, it involves packing a shoebox with toys, school supplies, and toiletries for a child in an impoverished country.  The gift is meant to show these children that God knows and truly loves them.   I was often teary- eyed in the process of shopping, packing, and discussing with my own kids what life might be like for the children on the receiving end of these gifts.

This was a wonderfully concrete way for our kids to experience what "Love Your Neighbor"means,  an opportunity for them to learn how much harder life is for other people around the globe, and a chance to put the Corporal Works of Mercy in action.   We shopped for these gifts as a family, with daddy helping, after Mass last week.  I can honestly say that shopping trip was a spiritual experience.

One of the best moments arising from Operation Christmas Child was tucking six-year-old, always-silly, Gianna into bed and hearing her, unprompted, pray for the children who would be receiving the gifts she packed and dropped off.
--- 6 ---
That "Boyfriend's Guide to Downtown Abbey" video I shared last week totally worked!  My husband and I have almost finished watching the Second Season.  Although he wasn't impressed by the brief plot twist involving P. Gordon, at one point this week he really did turn to me and say, "This is the best show on television!"  

Sorry to ruin your image, dearest...

--- 7 ---
Whereas most people post-Thanksgiving are psyched to indulge in Christmas music, trees and lights, I remain here under my Catholic rock, chomping at the bit for Advent to start.   I long to drape the house with my favorite color (purple).  Our family has a ritual of lighting the Advent wreath each night, then praying and singing together by candlelight.   This tradition and togetherness is so lovely, I literally long for it all year.  Anna hopes to play "O Come Emmanual" on piano this year so that we don't need to sing along with it on iTunes.   

I plan to venture out to buy new Advent candles today.  While it is nice for a procrastinator like me to have a week to prepare, I am still bummed that Advent doesn't begin until next Sunday!   

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

7 Quick Takes: Recipes for Health, for Fun, for Downton Disaster?

1.  I feel morally compelled to hip everyone to this epic recipe I found online: Black Bean Soup with Cumin and Jalapeno.  I serve my version over rice-- completing a protein!-- with shredded  Mexican cheese drizzled on top.

I am in heaven eating this meal; I have not been enamored of meat this first trimester.  The smell of this soup cooking is pleasing in a way that nearly nothing else has been these past several weeks (more on this in Take 4).  My husband is happy because this recipe is so high in vegetables that its virtually points-free for his Weight Watcher's tallying.  Furthermore, my dear hunter has hankered for the venison in his freezer; he can easily brown up ground venison and add it to his dish, and the meat need never touch my plate.

Frugal person bonus:  This is cheap to make with supplies I typically stock in my pantry (i.e. black beans, diced tomatoes, chicken broth,  cumin, onions).  Busy person/lazy cook bonus: This is fun and easy to make!  Health conscious person bonus:  Runners World just sang the praises of black bean stew, which frankly inspired my search.  This recipe could be adapted to vegetarians and vegans by dropping the cheese and swapping chicken for vegetable broth.

I am not getting paid for this endorsement, mind you.  Check it out!   I promise you'll be happier for it.

2.  All that extra rice from dinner is calling out for me to make pudding with the leftovers.  Mmmm...  I pledge to post that recipe and a pic if I make it tomorrow.  While that recipe isn't exactly a Weight Watcher's win, it is supernaturally delectable, and one of Emre's favorites as well.

3.  I am decidedly not ready for Thanksgiving.  We host my mother, brother, sister (with boyfriend!) and mother-in-law here each year.  Luckily, my husband chases me out of the kitchen and cooks most of the meal himself.  However, given that we have entered the final week before Turkey Day, I should probably get out there and buy the big bird, the makings for stuffing, and some cranberry sauce.  (Random aside: the phrase "cranberry sauce" recalls that Christmas scene in Shadowlands, when C.S.Lewis [Anthony Hopkins] is striving to make Joy Gresham's [Debra Winger] holiday visit with him comfortable; he asks his cook whether she is familiar with cranberry sauce, and his cook replies, "I don't know, but if you get me some cranberries, I'll sauce them!")

4.  Did I mention how smells drive me crazy in the first trimester of pregnancy?  Like the character Gus on Psych, my nose has transformed into the Super-Sniffer.   I notice smells that no one I live with can detect.  A damp hand towel dropped on the  floor yesterday offends my nose from two rooms away.  Meat, cooked or uncooked, disturbs my equilibrium; even the slightest drib-lit of a splash-over from the previous night's dinner that was missed and left stuck the stovetop is enough to send me over the edge. Then there is the garbage-oh! Ugh! Bleagh! THE GaRbaGe!  To which I hold my breath and call, "Emre could you please...?" I have cleaned/bleached/aired/disinfected the bathrooms, top to bottom, twice in one week.  This is decidedly not like me. And don't even ask about the cats.  (Thank God pregnant women don't do litter boxes, you know? )

Speaking of cats, I have eliminated soft food from their diets, thereby restoring more sanity to the kitchen smells (no more bowls of seafood pate strewn about the floor).  The cats weren't happy at first, but I think their kitty memories have moved onto other needs.   They've quit harassing me with meows and head-butts, and I can type here in the kitchen without the compulsion to suddenly cover my mouth and bolt for the bathroom (which has this overwhelming scent of bleach about it.  UGHhh)

5.  The world has been turning with Downton Abbey for ages without me; I was recently elated to have finally tricked forced coerced convinced my beloved to watch this highly touted phenomenon with me.  He actually warmed up to it for a couple of episodes; the Mr. Pimuk incident struck us both as wonderfully bizarre in a Twin-Peaks-meets-Flannery-O'Connor kind of a way.

6.  Sadly, my victory was short-lived; the constant under-handedness of utterly cruel, self-serving characters apparently induces too much anxiety to be enjoyable.  His exclamation in the midst of episode six, "This is not entertaining!" announced his burnout and break from Downton before we'd finished watching Season One!  In hindsight,  too many nights of back-to-back episodes was a recipe for disaster.  Now, I am not angry; I completely understand his perspective.  Yet there must be something I can do to perhaps manipulate help him to return to the series (Remember the "co-Dependent" part of my bio?  Yeah. Totally. Really. Me.)   I figure other couples have endured this struggle for Downton as well: the internet must have a place to turn for support for people like us!  And by George, I think I've got it (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!!! ... & some naughty language, too):

Its like reading the last chapter of a novel to mitigate the suspense (Like "Harry Burns," my husband has done that).  Yes.  This medicine just might work.

7.  Even if my public plotting fails inmost dreams are dashed regarding this Downton Abbey share-fest, I am fairly certain that I can at least get my husband in the room for what promises to be the social media event of Friday night:

Clan Donaldson: A Very Special Invitation

 A virtual Office Space party on Twitter!?   That sounds like a recipe for fun.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Clan Donaldson: A Very Special Invitation

Clan Donaldson: A Very Special Invitation

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Our Own October Surprise

Last summer was a fantastic summer of change; my husband and I had already flirted with running as regular exercise the year before.   While I had not yet reached the point of running a 5k or a half-marathon, by July non-athlete me had gotten to the point where I could out sprint my three very quick children, even after giving them head starts.  (Important Life Lesson: running 150 yards across a field at a family campground without first warming up is not a great idea, even if fun in the moment.  Stretch first, or else... ouch.).  

My husband joined Weight Watchers at the end of July.  His decision impacted the rest of us.  I started to pay more careful attention to the food I planned and prepared for the family.  I re-evaluated how I shopped and what everyone had been eating.  The new point system for Weight Watchers makes all fruit and vegetables “free” of points, so I naturally began to cook more vegetables, even as main dishes.  I cut our fat intake in half by baking or grilling instead of frying meals.  We increased whole grains and virtually eliminated more processed white breads.  Desserts like chocolate, ice cream or cake became a once-per-week family event that Emre and I didn’t necessarily share in ourselves.

Emre has mentioned his success and motivation on his blog.  As for me, I didn’t count points.  I just ate healthier.  My snacking between meals became nutritious: I devoured more carrot sticks, watermelon and cucumbers, not so many crackers and tortilla chips.  

The results of these changes were gratifying.  With proper nutrition and regular exercise in place, I dropped down three clothing sizes within a three-month span. In May, I weighed just under 120 lbs. and I didn’t fit into anything in my summer clothes bin.  In September, I weighed my high school weight of 104 pounds! (Please note: I am short.)  I had more energy than I’d felt in a really long time.  

Then: a change.  At the end of September I began to feel really tired.  I thought I was fighting off a virus, so I slept later.  Instead of getting up at 5:30 a.m., I found myself glued to my bed until 7:00 a.m.  I gave myself a week: the feeling didn’t pass. Now I needed naps, too!  And my breasts hurt.  A lot. What was this!?  Could I be...?  Nah.  

At some point I looked at the calendar to discover with a shock that we’d entered the second week of October.  My last cycle had begun over Labor Day weekend.  Could I be...?  Since I had a dentist appointment with X-Rays coming up, I ran out and bought a home pregnancy test.  The “Plus” that showed up in the window made me laugh out loud.

Apparently, my body was young again. 

I am 38, I have miscarried twice, and four years ago we were actively using Natural Family Planning to conceive a fourth child.  After my second miscarriage, we repeatedly failed to conceive.  The inability to conceive was shocking, because we’d conceived “as planned” for each of our other three (Emre’s joke then had been, “If I look at my wife, she’ll get pregnant.) Eventually we stopped charting/trying.  We’ve been “providential” for over two years.  We said to ourselves, “Whatever,” figuring that it was just God’s will that our family remain an odd number.  We were getting older, not younger. (I recently blogged about the emotions I stuffed with this along the way.)  Then, suddenly, without planning or intervention: pregnant!  The only thing we’d changed was lifestyle.  (In other words, just about everything.)

I don’t offer this testimony with the intention of bragging, but as a witness to what surprises may lie in store if one maintains hope and is patient with oneself.  I am not special; I could be anybody.

Don’t give up your aspirations for health and fitness, whatever your stage of life.  Is it overwhelming?  Yes, it is.  Take baby steps: talk to your doctor, then change one thing.  (My first was regular exercise).  If you fall away from it, do not chastise, demean or put yourself down.   Instead, brush the dust off, stop comparing yourself to everyone else, stop beating yourself up for whatever you “failed” to do in the past, and instead do the best you can right now.  God is in this moment; He is not left in your past nor merely waiting in the future once you are “worthy” enough.  He is with you now, so talk to Him.  Make your change a sacrifice for Him, once.  Then make it once more.  Then once more again; before you know it, a habit has been born.  This may take weeks, or months.  It won’t feel “natural” or easy.  Don’t let that stop you.  Find support from family and friends.  Don’t give up.  

Eventually you'll see that one change has been molded into a habit.  Don’t stop there; you have momentum!  Commit to creating another good habit.  (My second was healthier eating, for me and for my kids.)   Then I committed to following another dream (writing).  I have committed to each goal with prayer and thanksgiving to Him, hoping for everything while expecting nothing.  It has all been an exercise in patience and fortitude.  

It has also been an adventure which has yielded an unexpected and wonderful surprise.  

Saturday, November 3, 2012

7 Quick Belated Takes in Sandy's Wake

1.   When I wrote last week’s Takes, I was still in denial about the approach of Sandy the Superstorm.  We’d already had a freak blizzard at this time last year, and Irene had been hyped but downgraded to a tropical storm prior to that, so I was using an odd combination of superstition and faulty reasoning to pretend that Frankenstorm would also be a myth.  I was suffering from week 2 of the never-ending-cold-virus; I honestly did not feel up to the task of preparing for a catastrophic storm. 

2.  Eventually the husband and I broke through our denial and storm prepped.  We brought our lawn furniture inside, we purchased propane for the grill in case we had no electricity to prepare food with after the storm, we bought paper plates, cups, paper towels... and I washed every last piece of laundry in the house, so that we'd all have underwear and warm clothing to last a week if need be.  However, by the time we’d gotten to the grocery shopping part, every store was sold out of water and bread.  Thus, I filled pots, pans and soda bottles with water from the sink.  We baked bread, muffins, and brownies all day Monday before Sandy made landfall.  The night before the storm arrived we’d passed on the opportunity to buy a generator for $800 (we'd been on a waiting list), and I was glad because we never did lose power (and $800 is not anything we can just spend for the heck of it).  All through our storm preparations I felt feverish and lousy.  We ended up not needing the myriad containers of water, and we weren't housebound for more than a day.  Yet if I had not prepared, Murphy’s Law dictates that we would still be in the dark, and hungry.

3.  We did lose 4 large trees in the backyard.  My husband tested my anxiety-handling capabilities by deciding to not call a tree service; instead he tackled this sixty-five foot beauty on his own, with his chainsaw... cutting it up from the bottom in four-foot chunks, letting it fall/drop at an angle closer and closer to that elm it was caught in at the top.  As I watched, slack-jawed, through our diningroom window, he seemingly morphed into a Jack London character within a naturalist plot of  Man vs. Tree.  I accidentally proclaimed him CRAZY in front of the kids a few times.  However, I am proud to say that I never stuffed my opinions of the danger, nor my emotions regarding said danger; nor did I stomp my feet, yell or pout once his mind was made up to do this.  He is a grown up, after all.  He got this big 'ole tree down and cut into pieces within two hours time.  I'll admit to being both relieved and proud.

4.  In the storm insanity I’d almost forgotten that Heather King (an author I very much appreciate and admire) quoted me in her blog!  (Perhaps I need to ammend my inland vs. coastal New Englander distinction.  After watching the aforementioned large spruce tree fall vertically on my would-be-lumberjack of a husband, who afterwards said he’d “planned it that way,” I wonder if I am just projecting my cautiousness onto those who live around me...)

5.  Once Sandy passed, the family made it out for Halloween!   Since we’d been so busy with the storm prep, and then who knew if there would be a Halloween with that hurricane blowing, I didn’t get the costumes out of the basement bin until the morning of Oct. 31st. (No. I never made the milk jug skeleton, either.) We needed to go to Target for an extra light saber and Anna’s mask, but what they ended up with was not bad for last minute:

6.  I have had a form of writer’s block all week.  This is partly from the family-illness cycle we'd entered into, and partly from the anxiety and relief and sadness for others in the wake of Sandy, and of all the harried time that went into meeting her arrival.  Moreover, I’ve felt too wounded to write this week.  I’ve wanted to write and I’ve wanted that effort to be Good, but I am in the middle of something that is burning me.  On one hand I need to face that Thing, but on the other I want equally to retreat into a ball somewhere deep inside myself and not come out. (Was this maddening impulse why my mother drank?)  Meanwhile, there are these three little people (quickly becoming not-so-little) who need their mom to teach them, to lead them, to be an example for them... and to (hopefully) encourage them to love life, and Jesus, and not just try to make it through existence by avoiding hurt while fearing any hardship. 

7. Thursday was The Feast of All Saints.  The reading from 1 Jn 3:1-3 was reassuring.

See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.
The reason the world does not know us
is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God's children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.
Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure,
as he is pure.

Ponder this with me, because it is such a relief: what we shall be has not yet been revealed!  God does not require me to be perfect now; He asks me to grow in patience as He perfects me.  We're in a process here, after all.  God does not require that I "hold it all together," or even that I walk around pretending that I have it all together; He prefers that I come to him in my very real weakness, and ask for His grace to strengthen me.  He never expected me to have won any races by now; He calls me to grow in fortitude and perseverance, and by His grace, endure. 

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!