Goose Island State Park-"Big Tree"

Goose Island State Park-"Big Tree"

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Those Little Hands


Those hands are five. Sometime, between the chubby baby fingers and what will certainly someday be graceful and lady-like, those hands turned five. As often as I possibly can, I put them in mine, I put them to my face while you sleep and look at the last remaining traces of 'little' girl there in those hands. If I look closely I can see the remnants of dimpled knuckles and rings of delightful fluff on your wrists. I can remember them clenched and bright pink, gripping a single index finger. The grip has loosened now. Peeling grape-scented nail polish attempts to cover the nails with dirt caked under them. Those hands like to dig, to trace your name in the dirt, to build sand castles and turn over seashells on the beach. Those hands pick flowers and timidly poke June bugs. Those fingers are often scraped and pricked and embedded with splinters. In a single day they can be clean and filthy and clean again. So busy-- they attempt needlepoint and sandwich-making, they have created thousands of artistic masterpieces that made you so proud. Sometimes those hands get you in trouble, don't they? Remember when they colored on the wall? Remember when they insisted on touching the wet paint in the living room? And remember when they didn't want to be held while we crossed the street? Yes, hands tend to do those things sometimes. Keep them busy with good things, little girl, so they don't get you into too much trouble.

I know they're only going to grow, but please remember to always keep them this way, okay? They won't ever be too big to hold my hand, to hold your daddy's hand. Don't worry about them getting muddy, or later, wrinkled; don't ever stop playing. And they're going to age even more with work. Don't let this scare you. The most important people will know that the age spots and wrinkles and dirty finger nails from work, from the garden, from building things in the sand, are more beautiful than a pricey manicure. Still, don't forget that it's okay to pamper them sometimes too! It's okay if they need to soak in paraffin, or to uncork a bottle of wine now and then.

Someday those little peeling grape-scented nails may get a treatment more fitting to a grown lady. Maybe someday you'll have a ring just like mine, in place of that little trinket with the pink cubic zirconium you love so dearly now. That ring will mean a lot; make sure you love the hands that give it to you more than the jewelry itself.

Someday maybe those hands will learn to be really good at something. And listen, it doesn't matter what it is. Whether they become skilled surgical instruments, or swift typing tools that transfer your thoughts to the world; whether you use them for gesturing as you speak, or keep them folded in humble prayer all your life; whether they paint or sculpt eternally, and even if they only ever do the simple tasks of preparing food, sorting laundry, wiping little baby orifices and patting little backs at all hours of the day and night; remember to put all your love into whatever they do.

Those beautiful hands are an extension of you. And today, they are five.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Book Review- "The Apostolate of Holy Motherhood"


I recently came across this book at the suggestion of an e-friend. This book was written by an anonymous woman (she calls herself "Mariamante") who, at the time, was young mother with three small children. She claimed to have had a series of several visions of the Blessed Mother and Christ in the mid-1980s. In these visions, the Blessed Mother and her Divine Son revealed several pieces of useful advice (practical, literal, and spiritual) for mothers-- specifically for mothers of young children-- to carry out their lives as wives and mothers in the way that God designed it to be fulfilled. The woman who had these visions was told to write down everything she received during her visions, and thus the book, "The Apostolate of Holy Motherhood," was born.


(You can purchase this HERE or on Amazon.com)


A summary of the major points (taken directly from the introduction in the book) is as follows:
  1. An Apostolate of mothers consecrated to the Mother of God for the glory of God
  2. Pursuit of the Divine Will in their lives
  3. Contemplative prayer
  4. Eucharistic Adoration
  5. Practice of evangelical purity
  6. Devotion to the Christ Child (Esteem and Appreciation for children)
  7. Devotion to the Holy Family (Communication of the faith to their children
  8. Fifteen decade Rosary daily
  9. Wearing of the Scapular and the Sacred Heart Badge
  10. Intense sacramental life, frequent Confession and Communion
  11. Devotion to the Sacred and Immaculate hearts
  12. Practice of the Nine First Fridays and Five First Saturdays, reparation for sin
  13. Devotion to duty
  14. Fidelity to the Holy Father, the Magisterium, and all the teachings of the Church (both faith and morals)
  15. Upholding of all the moral teachings of the Church
  16. Prayers for purity in the world
To me, this book was both necessary and difficult to read. In an age when the task of raising children is often left to daycares and public schools; and when children are often shooed to the television or placed in front of computers or video games rather than engaged by their parents, the words given to "Mariamante" in these visions provide poignant and practical ways to salvage the souls and precious innocence of children and families. An equally present theme in this book is the idea that the role of wife and mother should not be diminished or regarded as less valuable when there is no outside income being brought into the home.  This is not to say that we should be held in regard above our husbands, but that the role and responsibility of the mother is incredibly important to our children, and by default, to the Church and to society as a whole.

The author of the foreward writes:

It is of great concern to all to save the Chrisian home at a time when Satan is using every nefarious and insidious propaganda to lure women away from their responsibilities and belittles the role of Motherhood, all of which is the devil's way of destroying woman, the home (a domestic church), and the family-- the basic unit of society.



One thing that makes this book really hit home is the fact that it was written in relatively modern times. Scores of child-rearing experts have said in numerous books that parents should strictly limit television, that we should respond to our children's misbehavior with compassion and prudence, and that we should be careful to spend time playing- and praying- with our young ones; but hearing those words from the Christ-child Himself, as well as from His Blessed Mother, will strike a chord in any reader that is intimate, personal, and magnificently practical.  This book is exceedingly "Catholic" in the sense that it gives the reader a direct path to melding prayer with daily life.

I was fortunate to get a few reviews from some other moms who have also read the book. Here is what they said:



Lynne writes: I first found the book when my oldest three were the ages of the visionary's children. I was looking frantically on the web for a novena to the Holy Spirit before Pentecost. The children were so active, and I was so tired; I truly needed those gifts!. As i read it, the book spoke volumes to my heart, which was heavy at the time balancing motherhood with my own life's ambitions and spirituality. While the tenets of the apostolate are easily things that a good Catholic mother probably does anyway ( or at least aspires to do!) the tasks are explained by Christ and His Blessed Mother in an entirely new and refreshing light. Burdens become joys and the everyday stresses of motherhood are turned into opportunities for immense spiritual growth and great graces to be earned not only for herself, but for her husband and children as well. We are led to realize the profound plan God has for the next generation of Catholics, and that He has called each of us, as mothers, to assist Him in fulfilling it! I've bought dozens of copies of the Apostolate of Holy Motherhood and have given them to practically every mother I know. I use it as a reference for myself now, reading passages over and over again when I need spiritual clarity and support. In short, it is wonderful and I recommend it highly.

Barbara writes: I think it's excellent, inspiring and beautiful. I strongly recommend it to young mothers. I don't question that this woman HAD her experiences, but I do not relate to God in the same way she does, so her spirituality is interesting to me. 
I really loved the core message-- to pray, to love God, to suffer well.



Andi writes: I just read most of the book this afternoon and WOW! That hit home. It did feel like a reiteration of what a lot of saints have said, but the Lord knows we need to keep hearing it over and over in every generation. What struck me most was how Mary said that because of materialism many children are being spiritually neglected and that is even worse than physical neglect because the child could end up losing the Kingdom of God. Lots to pray and reflect on.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Suffering and Peace


I was not raised Catholic. In fact, at 29 years old, I am only into my third year of being a confirmed Catholic. My journey into the Catholic faith was, in some ways, long and slow; throughout my childhood and adolescence I met some great Catholic people who seemed to have something that I did not, despite my fervent evangelical belief in Christ. Although deep down I believed that their faith was a skewed version of genuine Christianity, I always hoped that maybe they had “accepted Jesus” as Savior and would join me, and my evangelical friends, in Heaven one day. Many people know that my husband was raised Catholic and assume that I converted because I “had” to. But in fact, the opposite is true. You see, my husband was a poorly catechized, lapsed Catholic who knew and felt apathetically about his faith. In hindsight, this was a blessing, as I probably would not have married him (and he definitely would not have married me!) had he been outrageously passionate about Catholicism. 

After our first “legal” wedding and a short stint at community college, we attended university together some 300 miles away from our parents. For three years, we worked, went to classes, studied, went to the beach, and otherwise had a jolly old time. We lived a typical college life, subsisting on cheap college food and regularly imbibing in the cheapest beer and wine available. Those were wonderful, carefree times! Spiritually we were in somewhat of a limbo; although our coursework was difficult, life was easy; we were both science majors and I, at least, had all but abandoned my Christian upbringing and was leaning toward Gnostic ideals. I don’t think my manly husband had given his own religion or spirituality much thought. During our senior year, however, we decided it was time to get pregnant. Not knowing whether, or where, my engineer-major of a husband would be employed, we took a chance and tried to conceive in the fall semester of our senior year, knowing that even if I got pregnant right away, the baby would be born right after his graduation.  To our great joy, we conceived that first month! For the next several weeks, I had an uneventful and perfect pregnancy. There was some mild nausea and fatigue, but it was otherwise simple and joyful. Like many zealous first-time parents-to-be, we announced our news to the world without blinking or even considering the possibility of something going wrong. We were due on June 6, 2008.

My first prenatal appointment was scheduled at 10 weeks, a few days after my birthday. We were thrilled at the prospect of finally seeing an image of our child. What a lovely birthday present that would be!

At 10am on a Tuesday morning in November, our happy lives came to a screeching halt. Without any definable cause or warning, the ultrasound revealed that our baby’s heart had stopped beating. I was immediately scheduled for a D&C, and after a whirlwind and groggy-drug-infused 24 hours, I was no longer pregnant.

I can’t even describe the magnitude of grief that we felt.  The following days and weeks were consumed with emptiness, tears, questions, and futile attempts of understanding why such an innocent life had to stop.  Why did this happen to us? Why did this happen to our unblemished beautiful innocent baby? Our college friends were there and tried to comfort us, but they didn’t know; they had never experienced that kind of loss. Our families were hundreds of miles away; we were all alone; we only had each other.  Even then, I wondered if my husband knew how it felt to be me, to have carried that precious baby for nearly three months, only to have it all ripped away so suddenly.  Did his heart ache like mine did?  Despite our very different genders and grief patterns, Andrew and I clung to each other, cried together, and watched useless 80s comedies to pass the time together.

I was lying in my bed one night, wondering, weeping, trying to sleep, when a source of comfort hit me like a ton of bricks. In a flash of clarity and peace, I thought of the one woman in history who had also lost her only innocent, spotless, child: the Blessed Virgin Mary.



What I experienced over the next few days and weeks would change my life forever.  Whenever that raw, painful, uncontrollable sadness would well up within me, I was reminded of the suffering that SHE went through, two millennia ago. I thought of the fact that Christ, on the day of his crucifixion, was just as pure and innocent as He was at the moment of his conception. As if that were not enough, His lingering suffering was done voluntarily, for us. I thought of His mother, watching in agony as her undeserving Child was brutally scourged, forced to carry that tree, bloody and tortured, and then sacrificed not because of His own faults, but for the faults of all humankind.  And still He was as innocent as a newborn babe. I realized that any kind of pain or grief that I might face in this life was also experienced by Jesus and his Holy Mother. Rather than asking those unanswerable questions of "Why?", I chose to dwell in that contemplative place of Christ's Passion; this brought an indescribable peace and comfort. While my own sadness over the loss of my child was still present, meditating on Christ and His holy Mother always brought with it the knowledge that my own pain, and the pain of my husband and family, was not in vain; and that WE are loved by a compassionate Creator, who chose to bring redemption into the world through Jesus' suffering.

            If nothing else, I realized that we are not alone in our suffering. We are not alone in the universe. Even further, our suffering has the capacity (if we let it) to unite us more fully to Christ's heart. When it seems that nobody can possibly understand our grief, our physical pain, our despair over relationships or daily struggles, or our anxieties, we can remember that our human suffering brings with it a glimpse into the very heart of Jesus, into the very soul of His Mother, and into the mind of God our Father. 


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Homeschool!

My husband and I have recently come to the decision to homeschool our children. Although my oldest, who just turned four years old today, is not yet officially old enough to enter public preschool, (they have to be four by September first) I have begun a small preschool curriculum with her this year.  So far, it is going well!  We have already hit our share of bumps in the road; we've fallen behind, changed our schedule, jumped ahead, changed the schedule again, and made spur-of-the-moment field trips!  Hopefully, by the end of this year, I'll have some of the finer details ironed out and will be closer to the advice-giving end of the homeschooling mom spectrum, rather than in the "I have no clue what I'm doing" realm of the homeschool world. =)

We do have a spare room downstairs that I had hoped to convert into a "school" room by the time we officially started lessons this fall, but alas, the room is still cluttered with empty boxes from the move, spill-over from the laundry room, and it is devoid of any storage- or school-related furniture. Perhaps over the next few weeks (or months?) I will make some progress and will post pics as we go along.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Reflecting the Silversmith

I haven't posted anything in a while, and hadn't intended to write this morning, but something our associate pastor said yesterday in his homily is still ringing in my head. Without getting into too much detail, my husband and I have been dealing with some extraordinary stress in our separate lives as well as in our marriage. (Don't worry, it isn't anything terribly tragic or marriage-threatening!) Consequently, I have not focused much time on blogging as we have both been focusing most of our energy into our current strange pile of conunundrums (some stemming from friends' problems and extended family, if ya know what I mean.) and life-decisions. Our lives have been emotionally draining and physically tiring.  We are both learning to be patient with each other and trying our darndest to make good decisions right now.

Father Alex gave a great homily yesterday, but the most eye-opening part of it was his comparison of us, Christians, to pieces of silver with God as a silversmith. He talked about the way silver is purified so that it can be made into something beautiful. The silver is put into fire that is extremely hot, it is melted down so much that it has no solid form. The Silversmith works with the silver, removing all impurities until finally, at the end, the metal is so pure that He can see His reflection in the silver!

Isn't that a lovely musing? Sometimes our circumstances may be painful, or we may feel the sting and difficulty of removing vices or habitual sins from our lives; but the intended goal is not simply to experience these things, but to allow us to fully reflect our Creator. It is such a simple metaphor but one that I, personally, needed to hear with all that is going on in my own life. Let us go about each day, knowing that our problems and our struggles are not in vain!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Keeping the World at Bay: Nursing the World Away

Until recently it hadn’t really occurred to me to write about that ever-important aspect of motherhood—nursing. My “Aha!” moment occurred while trying to google “how to wean a three-year-old from the breast” and subsequently finding all of two resources for weaning geriatric babies….err… preschoolers.  It just isn’t very common in our society. So this blog is dedicated to you with the walking talking almost-in-kindergartener attached to your breast; it is dedicated to you with the infant or baby who refuses to take a bottle even though you would like to wean him by one year—you might be in my shoes one day (I was in yours, once!); and it is dedicated to you, the first-time nursing mom, with questions and curiosities about extended breastfeeding. 

I will start from the beginning.  My own journey with nursing began during my pregnancy with Alison; I knew I wanted to breastfeed (doesn’t every soon-to-be mom?) but had heard stories of how difficult and painful and trying it could be, so I did as much research as I could.  On the wonderful World Wide Web I found videos, websites, and just about every imaginable troubleshoot for breastfeeding problems with which I might be faced.  I was prepared for milk blisters and mastitis, for engorgement and a poor latch, for under-supply and over-supply; I was NOT prepared for the intense emotional stronghold that would form the moment my newborn took those first precious swallows of colostrum.  On a foggy morning in September of 2008, Alison latched on for the first time, and suddenly my previously not-so-useful A-cups became the source and summit of nourishment and comfort and security for a tiny little being.


Breastfeeding: Day 1 of 1,277


To my great astonishment and pleasure, Alison had a natural easy nursing instinct with an above-average latch and fell asleep easily at the breast.  The following months offered a few hurdles—a little pain, mild colic, some engorgement and one mildly traumatic milk blister—but nothing proved so insurmountable that I felt nursing needed to be discontinued.  On her first birthday, Alison was still nursing several times throughout the day and was being nursed to sleep for naps and bedtime.  I had long since forgotten about my silly plans to start pumping at six months so that she could wean by a year old.  (In her short stint at daycare while I finished my Bachelor’s degree, Alison would refuse every type of plastic nipple she was offered and starve until the real thing came to pick her up.)  This trait continued almost to her second birthday, at which time she was finally eating some “real” food and would sporadically drink juice or water from a sippy cup.  Alison’s 2nd birthday came with some happy news; we learned that we were expecting again! (And now I suddenly have the notion to blog about the wonderful natural-child-spacing effects that breastfeeding can offer! Stay tuned!)  The early months of pregnancy didn’t seem to change our nursing relationship much at all; I was still producing plenty of milk and she showed no distaste with the hormone-laden pregnant mommy milk.  At around five months pregnancy, however, something changed. All at once nursing my sweet two-year-old became uncomfortable and irritating to me; and Alison seemed to feel the same way.  After a few nights of cuddling to sleep and some distraction-filled mornings, it seemed our nursing journey had finally, and peacefully, ended.  


Fast forward to the birth of her baby sister, Margaret.  About a week after Maggie was born, I had settled in my bed with the boppy and remote and water bottle to feed my new nursling, when Alison burst in the room to check out the action.  This was one of those turning-point moments we all have in life, when you know you are about to make a decision that will drastically change the future; like that first introduction to your future spouse, or the split-second decision to take the access road instead of the highway only to hear of a fatal car crash later on.  Alison approached her mommy and her peacefully nursing baby sister, and I could see a familiar light in her eyes.  At that moment I knew, she remembered.  As she lovingly caressed her sister’s downy hair and looked up at me, I could see the longing in her face.  She didn’t ask.  She wouldn’t. A moment later my newborn was fast asleep so I laid her down in her tiny hand-me-down cradle.  That sweet two-year-old climbed onto my lap and nuzzled her head into my chest.  She didn’t ask.  She didn’t push.  This was that split-second decision I was talking about.  With a deep sigh, wondering if I would regret my words later on, I uttered, “Would you like some of mommy’s milk, Alison?” Without even replying, Alison fluttered into that oh-so-familiar cradle position and gulped down every last drop of one (very engorged) breast. I knew that I had started something then. Something had been re-ignited.  Thoughts and worries of nursing my sweet Alison until college buzzed through my head, but I shoed them away; because that moment was a happy reunion for both of us.  That very large almost-three-year-old was still so small and had so many needs.  In my arms, at the breast, she gulped and breathed those deep nursing breaths and looked up at me and I could see the sense of wholeness in her face. She was lighter than air. I could feel the complete sense of security of her relaxed limbs. I realized, then, that somewhere along the road nursing had become something more than nutrients and fluids.  The mother-nursling relationship is complex and important, albeit imperfect.  The next few months brought new nursing challenges—balancing a newborn and a preschooler on each side, trying to “exit” while not waking two sleeping children, and trying to keep track of which one nursed on which breast so I wouldn’t experience the dreaded lop-sidedness that can plague many nursing mothers.  But I also witnessed something beautiful.  My innocent daughters smiling at each other while nursing, falling asleep simultaneously while nursing, holding hands while nursing, and growing to love and care for each other as siblings.  Until I tandem nursed I didn’t know my heart could be so full.  There is no greater feeling than watching an older sibling gently pat and caress your newborn’s head and face at the breast. Sibling rivalry is almost non-existent in this household.

This is the very last picture I have of Alison at the breast; taken several months ago, on a whim, with my phone, right around three years old.


Nine months later, Alison seems to have weaned (again…maybe) at 3.5 years old.  I hadn’t truly reflected on what our nursing relationship meant to me until that first morning with no milk request.  She still frequently asks for “gocky” (the mysterious word for breast/milk with no-known origin) but instead of nursing, she will give it a kiss and a hug and a pat and then move on to another important task. And she does face an important task, indeed. The world is a very big and often scary place; I am grateful and proud and enamored with the fact that the simple act of nursing made it less daunting for her, if only for a small portion of her life.  

"Oh Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high....But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me." (Psalm 131)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lenten Ramblings

Baby was up at 5am, as was her big sister who was really upset about wetting the bed.  I haven’t had any coffee and yet am still attempting to get some meat out of “Interior Castle” by St. Teresa of Avila.   My eyes can barely focus on the words; I may try to read later after a few cups of java.
This Lent is off to a wonderfully horrible start.  (It’s supposed to be kind of crappy, right?) My car is having transmission problems so we won’t be able to make Ash Wednesday mass.  It would probably be crowded anyway; Ash Wednesday is the highest- attended mass of the year.   Alison has been doing this yelling/anger thing that is so utterly irritating that my only recourse is to run away to another room.  I should probably be putting her into timeout or doing some sort of constructive parenting but I have been beaten into submission and every thing I try discipline-wise seems to bite me back later. 

Ya know, Barney songs are pretty catchy…

I was good and remembered to read the girls their daily Bible story today.  The story happened to be about Cain and Abel—read, MURDER.  We had a short discussion on the terms “envy” and “jealousy” and also talked about sharing.  I think we’re off to a pretty good start! I need to get back to folding laundry. I’m excited about moving on to Noah and the ark tomorrow!