Wednesday, 25 December 2013

"holy feelings"

For a couple of years now, this one line from O Holy Night 
has been my richest food for Christmas contemplation.

Long lay the world
 in sin and error pining
'til He appeared 
and the soul felt its worth. 

This year I was seized by something new, 
a longer meditation from What Child is This? 

Why lies He in such mean estate
where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear -
for sinners here the silent Word lies pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through
the cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, 
the Babe, the Son of Mary.

This, this is Christ the King, 
whom shepherds guard and angels sing. 
Haste, haste to bring Him laud, 
the Babe, the Son of Mary. 

I've been quite content to have these verses stuck in my head for days, 
to be thought over at every prayerful opportunity
(and to be sung aloud whenever I'm certain 
no one can overhear my near-perfect imitation 
of a musically-inclined dying cow in the stable at Bethlehem.)

Why is He in a stable, for goodness sake?!

fear.... thoughtful consideration should lead to trembling....

the silent Word is pleading.....

beloved baby, tortured and nailed to a cross three decades later = maternal nightmare

Word made flesh.


For days, it's been the big words in the first 2 verses that have most attracted my thoughts;
tonight it is simply the word haste and the urgency attached to the act of praise.

In all the rushing around before, during and "after"* Christmas, 
the only priority about which it is worthwhile to make haste  
is beelining to spend time in the presence of the Infant.

Can one even imagine the shepherds hearing the angelic tidings of a newborn Saviour 
and NOT rushing immediately to see Him?
Could they have moseyed over to Bethlehem? 
Could they have procrastinated, done some other things first,
(and then after doing those things, ended up being too tired/sleepy/wiped out?)

No! A thousand times No!

My goodness, the things that I felt necessary to do before spending time adoring baby Jesus
last night, this morning, today....

* Thank God that Christmas is not over. 
Thank God that tomorrow is Christmas, 
and the next day, and the day after.....
Because I want to do this better tomorrow. 
Tomorrow I want to truly make haste to His side. 

Tonight, at 8pm, 
when I finally carved out a nice big chunk of time from my celebration of Christ's birth 
so that I could think about and pay attention to Christ,
I drove over to our church and entered our little Adoration chapel. 
I waited and waited and waited for some appropriately holy feelings to come. 
A rush of joy....a little wonder...some otherworldly peace....


I tried to force some out - to squeeze something up out of the depths of my soul.

Then I felt the Lord asking me, 
What are you looking for? What is it you are seeking? 
Kelly - what do you want? What exactly is this "holy feeling" you desire?

I didn't have a clue. 
Seriously - I could have asked the Lord to make me feel anything at all, 
but actually.... I really didn't have the foggiest idea of what it was that I wanted. 

After considering it for a few minutes, 
I think I sort of wanted to feel a little like one of those shepherds, 
after they saw the angel(s) and rushed (making haste) to the stable and saw the Holy Family
  (but not exactly like one of them).  

And I knew that experiencing that particular cocktail of fear, wonder, joy, confusion and awe 
was not the gift that the Lord meant to give me tonight. 

Instead, He gently led me to remember my first nights 
utterly alone
with each of my four newborns. 

...and the "little kid first thing on Christmas morning" feeling I had 
every time the nurse woke me up in the hospital that first night of her life
and I would drowsily remember that I have a baby! and be suddenly and exuberantly WIDE AWAKE!
I remember most the perfect JOY.

....who slept very little that night she was born, choosing instead to 
stare peacefully into my reciprocating eyes almost the entire night.
I didn't even feel sleepy. She had the most stunningly beautiful, soulful, dark, dark eyes I had ever
 (and have ever) seen.
I remember most the perfect PEACE.

....who was under six pounds at discharge and seemed so very tiny and vulnerable to me, 
especially since he was too sleepy to nurse at all. I had to feed him hand-expressed milk, in his sleep, through a syringe - for the first week or more of his life.  I remember puzzling over the mystery of his incredibly tiny, fragile body, marvelling that an entire, functioning human person could fit into barely more than five pounds. 
I remember most the sense of profound WONDER & AWE.

...who was slightly more than 8.5 pounds and such an endearingly fat leprechaun of newborn, with a full ginger beard, red sideburns, and chunks of vernix oozing out of every single one of his abundant chubby rolls. From first sight, he made the nurses laugh, his parents laugh, his siblings laugh. There was such a crew to come and take him home, to give him the warmest welcome to our family and to laugh at and encourage him in everything he has accomplished this past year. 
I remember most the outpouring of LOVE.

My most precious, most sacred memories are these:
 my very first night with each child.
Each of those four nights was spent in the most intimate solitude - 
just tiny newborn and mother. 

Tonight, for the first time ever, 
I just pictured Mary alone with Jesus on their first night together.
No angels. No shepherds. No Joseph.
No one. 

Unlike Richard, Joseph did not have to kiss the newborn hello, make his wife comfortable and then hurry back to Nazareth to take care of the toddler and pre-school aged older siblings of the new baby.

But perhaps he left the stable for a half hour to find food or water for his wife. 
Maybe she sent him out for the 1 AD equivalent of nappies. 
Maybe he just had to use the potty himself.
 Surely at some point on that very first night, mother and infant enjoyed perfect solitude.


I tasted, not Mary's own experience, but the remembrance of a shadow of her experience. 
Sacred too. 

And I left the chapel suddenly aware that producing some allegedly "holy feelings" 
was not an act of perfect worship.
Desiring to give perfect worship was.

make haste....
 Venite Adoremus.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013


The saint peg swap was a success! 
One John Paul II peg got lost, so I painted my own as a replacement. 

The kids were given their pegs as an early Christmas present this morning (Christmas Eve)

Bernadette lining up the freshly opened saint pegs

Here's the gang! Each one was painted by a different woman in town. 
A good Catholic should be able to identify every one :)  

Merry Christmas!
May the infant Jesus, who found no room in the inn at His birth, 
be given generous room in your heart and time this Christmas. 
I pray the Lord will bless you with many graces this Christmas
and may your feasting be holy, peaceful and fun!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

preparing little hearts for Christmas

They're done! 

I had so much fun doing this project. 
It was an awesome quiet, reflective project to dive into for Advent. 

Holy Family

(my girls flipped over the "real" feathers)

shepherds & shepherdess & little peasant girl
(I got ridiculously involved in crafting a "good shepherd")

magi and drummer boy

And after working our way through all our favorite Christmas books
plus some new library loans this year, 
the kids know exactly what to do with the new Nativity pieces. 

Sealy Kids' Top Picks:
Room For a Little One
Little One, We Knew You'd Come
This is the Star
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
The Crippled Lamb
The Fourth Wise Man
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
Christmas (straight Scripture with intriguing illustrations by Jan Pienkowski)

Monday, 2 December 2013

maggot lady

The elusive "tidy home". I hardly know a woman (or married manwho does not bewail disorder and mess in the house - in degrees exponentially linked to the population per capita of the home (particularly when some of those little "capitas" are toothless and toddling).  Women's blogs are split between those who champion traditional (and perfect) homemaking skills - and those who insist that it doesn't matter - your true friends love you even if your house is a mess.  While I'm sure that's true, it is nevertheless an act of service and consideration towards family and friends to offer a comfortable, clean, attractive place for eating, relaxing and recreating. Good stewardship of our material blessings means, in part, keeping them in a condition that makes it pleasant for others to use them. No matter how many times the rebellious modern insistence resounds, there is something in most of us that inherently loves a clean, orderly home. No one enjoys sticking to the kitchen floor. No one likes to find cat hair in the freezer. No one delights in stepping on a Lego in the dark. I think it's got something to do with the human attraction to the Transcendentals: Truth, Goodness and Beauty. We live in a beautiful, well-ordered universe and something of that is inscribed in the heart's desire regarding indoor living spaces as well. Except the hearts of two year olds. I think it's something that must grow in later, like wisdom teeth.

How I like the library books to be arranged.

How Joseph likes the library books to be arranged.

I find in myself two principals at war:

On the one hand, there is a neurotic impulse towards perfection - an uptight or even resentful attitude of heart that places things above people. I can become impatient with my kids because I want the house to look just so and they ruin it! Or I can be tense and controlling simply because of the way they are interacting (or might interact) with things. That unhospitable determination to keep a nice, pleasant home can instead make it really unpleasant  to live in my home. Rather than using things to make people comfortable, I can sometimes make people uncomfortable on account of things. That's exactly the opposite of good stewardship, good hospitality, good homemaking and good motherhood.

On the other hand....I'm busy. Too busy with more important things to waste my life mopping a floor that will need to be mopped again in approximately 32 minutes. Or I'm tempted at times to write myself a pass for the next - oh, ten years - because I've got a lot of little kids! No one could keep a neat house with four little kids! 

Keeping up with this particular area is a losing battle.

These trucks have a wicker basket "home" but my boys prefer to park them around
(and on top of....and inside of) the fish tank.

Virtue, being the middle of two extremes, finds a balance. Kelly, being in need of a Plan, found Fly Lady. I liked the idea of Fly Lady - you don't try to clean the whole house on one set day; instead she sends you an email every day giving you marching orders for the day's housework. Housework is broken up in little pieces that follow a repeating cycle. I tried it in New Zealand, but her system did not work in my house, for many reasons. So I created a baby version - Maggot Lady, if you will.

I wrote out my normal weekly routines (grocery day, tutoring day, errands day, etc....) and distinguished between days that tended to be less demanding versus those that tend to be more demanding.  On the "easier" days, I assigned myself housekeeping tasks that would be more involved. On the busier days, I assigned fewer, faster or more flexible tasks.  The result: a manageable weekly routine that allows me to keep the house liveable with minimal effort.

Monday:  dust, sweep, mop & vacuum - entire house
                 1 hour maximum

Tuesday: deep clean kitchen
                 30-45 minutes

Wednesday: tidy up a "random area"
                (alternates between car, garage,
                  basement, mudroom/laundry area)
                 15-30 minutes

Thursday: pay bills & sort paperwork.                      
                  5-20 minutes                      
Friday: declutter. tackle piles and put things where they really belong.
            throw out stuff and add stuff to the give-away bags.
            also, organize something (a closet, a shelf, a room)
               15 - 60 minutes

Saturday: deep clean bathrooms, change bedlinens & towels
                 45 - 60 minutes

Sunday: Sabbath rest
                24 hours

8 am, right after breakfast
Two years later, the house is pretty consistently "good enough". There are days and weeks when it is really bad, but most of the time, it's just a matter of keeping on top of the daily crisis areas, the things that spiral completely out of control without daily attention: laundry, dishes, toys and crumbs. These tasks add about another 60 minutes of work per day, but it's spread evenly throughout the day in small bits - and these tasks are also very generously shared with the little people who help create the need for them:)

Less than two hours later....
I have a strong daily routine for when to cook dinner, when to read to the kids, when to pray, and when to brush my teeth (the important things!) and a much looser weekly schedule for my evenings - one night is for grading papers, one is for a Holy Hour, one is a "date night" with Richard, one is "family board games", etc.... Basically, I've realized that if something is important to me, I need to schedule it or it may not happen. Life is busy and the urgent, the immediate (and the internet) will swallow all my time unless I have already dedicated portions of it to what I value or what will contribute most to the sense of well-being in my life. Disciplining myself to follow a routine that I have created is not nearly as hard as living with chaos and the crushing sense that I'm not following through on the things I value.

I share this post not because I have it all together, but because I do not, and I have found the concept of routines to be a great tool for creating order out of the chaos. For me, one of the most stubborn areas of "not growing much"  in my vocation is finding balance -for example, between being extravagantly present to my children during the day while also attending to the tasks that need to be done to foster a sense of order, well-being and peace in the home. Slowly establishing routines has been an immense help in growing in discipline, in making sure that certain goals are met and in making sure that other goals do not completely take over.  And that's something that anyone can benefit from, regardless of gender or vocation.

Monday, 25 November 2013

my army is complete

The wee folk are finished! I stayed up way too late two nights in a row and loved every minute of this project!  I finally decided that (as much as I wanted a "young St. Patrick") he was just just going to look so much more "right" if he had white hair.....

At first, my white-haired, bearded St Patricks looked like Ninjas. I was near despair. 

Then I found an online tutorial about painting faces and facial hair on peg dolls. Phew. 

The final product looked mostly like this. None of them have their high-gloss spray yet, so they are not as shiny as they will be, but they are otherwise done. Unless....I figure out some way to incorporate some sort of "breastplate" into the doll. But they are probably done.

Maria wanted to take a picture of me with my completed army and crazy morning hair.
And she wanted the picture included on the blog..... 

And now I'm in need of a new project.
 Which is why I placed my order yesterday for some more plain wooden pegs.  
For this:

Actually for this, times two. One set for my kids and one set for my sister's kids. 

Maria really really wanted to help with the St Patricks - and I did not let her - so I am going to let her 
paint some angels and shepherds for this project. I thought we'd do a couple of pieces together each week of Advent and have a complete set by Christmas. Right now I'm thinking big:  Mary, Joseph, Jesus, a HOST of angels, a BUNCH of shepherds, shepherdesses and shepherd children, 3 wise men, a drummer boy. I already own several small plastic sheep and a donkey from a Fisher Price nativity play set that my kids used to love to play with so much that I was never allowed to put it away during the non-Christmas seasons of the year. (They ended up losing two kings, the camel, Mary and Joseph in New Zealand, but we still have the animals.) 

Ok, before I end up with more Vaseline on the sofa, or something worse.... Happy Thanksgiving to all! 

(pegs ordered from Casey's Wood Products)

Friday, 22 November 2013

st patrick, ad nauseum

I spent this afternoon painting a Saint Patrick "peg" doll - twenty one times (well, I got started on this massive project anyway). Twenty other women in town will spend the next few weeks doing almost the same thing, only their pegs will be painted into the likes of twenty one Padre Pios, St Agneses and John Paul IIs. Before Christmas there will be peg-painting party and a peg swap. On Christmas morning, there will be a collection under the Christmas tree in twenty one homes. 

This is a fun and inexpensive gift idea, so I thought I'd share it.  I've seen superhero pegs, Little House on the Prairie pegs, Old Testament pegs and more.  They remind me of my old school Little People (but fraught with far more possibility...)  

How does Kelly have time for projects like this?! you may be wondering. Fair enough. I was perched at the kitchen island. My eldest was assisting me by sorting paintbrushes and lining up unpainted dolls. My baby was playing quite merrily inside the island, clanging muffin tins together.

 We have what I believe is called an "open plan" kitchen (though I would have no clue, really) - basically, my kitchen and family room sort of flow together as one large room. My two middle children (ages 2 and 4) were in the family room where I could both see and hear them as they played quietly together. I could only see the tops of their heads over the back of a sofa, but clearly they were happy getting along and not doing anything remotely dangerous. The house was super tidy. Dinner bubbled in the crockpot. A scented candle glowed in the midst of all.  I felt so good about the domestic harmony and peace abounding in my home. 

Suddenly, it all struck me as too good. Far too good.  My Spidey-senses started tingling. I knew that I had to see what the heck those two quiet kids were DOING as they huddled together in the family room. 

They were smearing Vaseline and water all over the seat of the new couch. 

I nearly lost my mind.

St Patrick, pray for them......

Anyway, back on a happier note......I'm trying to decide whether to give St Patrick a beard or not. I think he might end up looking like Jesus if I do give him one. I originally wanted to give him a tonsure but Richard didn't think the tonsure had been invented yet (so in lieu of that 'do, I bestowed the halo). When he's all done, he'll get a spray of high-gloss coating that renders him nearly indestructible to toddler boys. If my boys like these as much as my girls love the fabric saint pegs I made in New Zealand, it will be a very Merry Christmas  - if that Vaseline comes out of the sofa.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

fig leaves

My kids had a lot of friends over this week. It was just that kind of week. On the last day of our playdate marathon, two sisters came over to visit. Both are very young, totally innocent, impeccably polite and super sweet. As their mother shepherded them into the house, the eight year old beamed up at me with a radiant smile and chirped with darling sincerity, "Oh! I like your jeans! I really want tight pants like those." I wanted to crawl under a rock in shame.  Sadly, I had no rock immediately available to me.

Skinny jeans. Christian homeschooling moms. Are these two trends able to harmoniously co-exist? In the "homeschooling Catholic mom" milieu, the skinny jean is not the norm - neither amongst moms, nor amongst their daughters (even the teenage daughters). When skinny jeans first materialized, I was certain I would never own a pair. I thought they looked cheap and desperate.  After years of bootcut jeans, bell-bottoms and flares, they struck me as a bit....ridiculous. And that was before I ever imagined I would be seeing them on males. But after Joseph was born, I needed a pair of jeans for that awkward postpartum period in which your maternity pants are too big and your college jeans laugh at you. We were in New Zealand at the time, where leggings and skinny jeans were so uniformly worn that it was difficult to find anything else. I had to choose between skinny jeans and "mom jeans" (you know) and so I bought my first pair of skinny jeans. Initially, I wore them only with long linen shirts and thought very little about it. 

But I have been thinking more about it lately. And by it, I mean modesty. And by modesty, I mean something bigger than and other than "modesty". I mean dignity and femininity and fashion and beauty and goodness. I'm also considering the heavy reality of being a role model (consciously and unconsciously). And I am confused. 

Many days, my husband is the only adult who sees me all day. Most days, he is the only man who does so. He likes my skinny jeans. When I told him (after my sweet tiny guest broke my heart) that I was considering getting rid of them, he was sad. He doesn't want to come home to a frump, nor do I want to look dowdy to him. I know there is a (wide) middle ground between skinny jean and frump, but from the guidelines and example of many champions of modesty, one might not be aware of this truth.

Giving example is another important consideration to me, hence my distress at having a child want to wear tight jeans just like me. One the one hand, I don't want to be involved with any child wishing to wear something more sexy than the innocuous fashions appropriate to little girls. On the other hand, my daughters already are counting down the days until they can wear all kinds of women's undergarments - and I'm certainly not about to stop wearing those simply because they are too grown-up for my girls. I read a great book a few years ago that mentioned that daughters are not going to listen to their mother's fashion advice if they consider her totally out of sync with what is fashionable. I want to look appealing (and fashionable) to my daughters. Furthermore, I want to look lovely to my sons as well. I am sort of "base neutral woman" for my boys - how I dress will have some influence on their idea of what is pretty and normal and appropriate for women to wear.  So I guess the perfect balance is to wear clothing that delights my husband, attracts my daughters' admiration and would not alarm me to see on the girlfriends of my sons as they enter the dating years of their lives. Good grief. 

But there is more. I really believe that a woman's clothing should be inherently beautiful, echoing her own beauty and dignity. Even the most modest women I know rarely wear things that I consider up to this ideal, although I have known a few exceptions. Our contemporary fashions fly in the face of these ideals to the point that it is nearly impossible to find anything both beautiful and dignified for everyday wear. I love pretty skirts and dresses. They are not too hard to find in stores. But I spend all day on the floor with really small children. I literally have to wrestle James into and out of his diapers and change him with my hands while pinning him down by the shoulders with my feet. Every time. True story. And that is just not a graceful moment for the skirt-wearing woman. I'm scrubbing floors on my hands and knees. I'm driving the car. I'm scooping up tantruming toddlers.  I'm sitting cross-legged on the couch so that my lap is wide enough to accommodate the three children to whom I spend hours reading and a nursing babe in arms. I can't do my normal daily activities modestly in a skirt, however long or short it might be. I know because I have been around other mothers trying to do these things in skirts and I have seen undies. A lot of undies. "Undies" are pretty much the opposite of "dignity". 

So although I really feel strongly that skirts and dresses are hands-down the most dignified, beautiful choices for women, most days they are not a practical choice for me. That makes me sad, because when I do wear a dress, my Joseph will stop everything he is doing, drop his mouth open and stare at me with unfeigned wonder. Then - very slowly - he'll smile and tell me "Mama! You wook so boo-tee-fuh!" (Sometimes, to change it up, he'll tell me I look "cool".) When your two year old boy looks at you with awe and tells you sincerely that you are beautiful (or cool)... you are. I don't think any man can ever make a woman feel as flawlessly gorgeous as a two year old boy can. For that reason alone I am sad about skirts!

Jeans (and pants in general) are either too flattering to a woman's bottom or horribly, horribly unflattering (aka "frumpy" - and detracting mightily from her dignity). Plus there is the ubiquitously pesky issue of peek-y butt cleavage. This is a widespread issue even for Christian butts, mothers or no, homeschooling or not. The only solution to these pants issues is long, long shirts. And that brings us back to the skinny jean: once you have on a long, long top, I wonder if there is any difference between the skinny jean and the bell-bottom? I fail to find any substantial difference, other than how snugly the material fits against the calf. The calf is often covered by enormous boots over the skinny jean. The calf is often exposed or encased in tights when skirts are worn. At this point I become frustrated and disgusted with the entire modesty debate. It begins to seem like a very small, ridiculous, petty, hairsplitting concern when contrasted with the larger issues in the world and with my own sins against charity. 

I'm not saying that modesty is a small, petty issue. It deserves attention. Some attention. When it gets too much attention, it becomes a source of vanity, pride and uncharitable judgments. Modest dress is a tricky thing to balance in our fashion culture. We don't have beautiful universal standards as in the days of graceful hoopskirts and dainty shifts. We must assume that the Christian women we know are doing the best they can given their awareness and their resources for clothing themselves. I recently overheard some young Christian women bewail the immodest dress of teenage girls, although I notice that they themselves habitually wear sloppy sweatpants and shapeless tees that do no more to enhance their feminine dignity and beauty than the fashions they condemn. The world thinks that "modesty" is equivalent to the denim jumper, the awkward skirt, the shapeless anything. In this light, "modesty" is all that the teen girl least wants to be. We need to challenge that prejudice. Modest clothing enables a woman to present herself as a person both beautiful and dignified. It should set a desirable example - in other words, a modest ensemble ideally ought to attract happy exclamations from young girls and teens, "Oh, I like that! I might like to wear something like that!"  To my shame, when I attracted those exact compliments this week, I was not wearing something that I considered suitable for a child's admiration.

Now my challenge is figuring out what to aim for. I can't quite catch a vision of a wardrobe that would be practical, pretty and dignified. I have neither time nor money to burn until I have a concrete idea of what to purchase. When this subject comes up among my friends, I find that either they are wrestling with the same questions I am or they have found an answer and I do not fully agree. Eve had to settle for fig leaves and animal skins. Elizabeth Bennet got to wear bonnets and velvet. In every age, woman and fashion collide. I have no conclusion tonight. It's weighing heavily on my heart to weave together some kind of style that works well for me. In the meantime, I am grateful that whenever I do leave the house, I generally have the most modest, dignified, beautiful covering to which a woman can aspire: such a thick orbit of children clustered around my person that in all probability neither an inch of my flesh nor a stitch of my own clothing is visible to anyone. My accessories are slightly less constricting than the corset, as beautiful as the most gorgeous costumes I've seen on Lady Mary Crawley, and bestow more dignity than either. Très chic!

Monday, 21 October 2013


After finally deciding that I was not actually being called to the type of pro-life ministry that I had been feeling drawn to for so many months, the Lord got the last laugh. An "in-town" friend called a few weeks ago. She knew of a pregnant teenage girl who needed housing STAT and my friend was wondering if we would be willing to give this girl a room in our home.

Before the question was even out of my friend's mouth, I interrupted breathlessly...."Yes!" It was only a few minutes later that I realized that I should probably consult my husband about a decision this big. So I did. He was open to the idea. We checked with our daughters. They both loved the idea. (It turned out that they thought we would be adopting Maggie and that she would share our last name, be their forever big sister and live with them always. They were a wee bit crestfallen when these misunderstandings were cleared.)

Maggie was originally planning to move in with us last Thursday. At the last minute, some of the details of her situation changed and the need for housing was not as urgent, so she simply came over for a visit instead. She visited again today. She may need to come stay with us starting at the beginning of next month, or after Christmas, or not at all. There's a lot that is still up in the air. But what she does need is a listening ear. Support. Friendship. In other words.... what she needs is everything that I felt the Lord was placing on my heart in giving me the vision of the "Servants of Dignity".  I thought I had tasted so much of the Lord's power and providence that it would never surprise me so much again. I was wrong. I'm floored.

I am having a bit of a laugh at my pride for thinking the Lord was urging me to start a movement of Servants - when all He was preparing me for was to be a Servant. No wonder I was not feeling peaceful! So that's good for humility. And good to know in the future as I discern other calls.

I don't intend to write about Maggie - not much at least. But I did want to share the conclusion (?) of so many interconnected posts on the theme of the Servants. I think this relationship is going to stretch me in new ways. I said "YES!" quickly and eagerly, but I know that there will be challenges ahead. It began the first night we met Maggie. I knew Maggie was not showing yet and I (for some stupid reason) did not realize she would talk so openly about the baby in front of my kids. After she left, Maria asked three questions in rapid succession:
1. Is Maggie going to have a baby?  (Yes, dear!)
2. Is Maggie married?  (Well, no. No, she is not.)
3. can you have a baby if you are not married?   (

Although Maria is crystal clear on how a baby gets out of a mommy's tummy, her understanding of how it got in there in the first place has been along these lines:  When a man and woman really love each other, they get married and then .... they pray really really hard and God gives them a baby. 

Taadaa! And actually, for a 6 year old, I think that is a dandy explanation. But not if Maria and Maggie are in relationship. Because of that relationship, Maria needed some upgrade in her information about the birds and the bees. On the spot, I had to think of something that was true, that clearly maintained the proper ordering of God's plan, that preserved Maria's age-appropriate innocence and that respected Maggie in her entirety.  Because, if you have ever met a six year old, you know that whatever I said was going to be repeated to Maggie - verbatim (and soon). I know the Holy Spirit is deeply invested in this whole situation because I was instantly inspired with an answer that I considered perfect. Maria was satisfied with it as well and I'm perfectly comfortable with the idea of her sharing it with Maggie, or the old lady next door, or the cashier at the grocery store, or all of the above. Which....she will.

So this is the fruit of all that time of preparation. Maggie. And I could not be more grateful for a chance to walk with this young girl through pregnancy and beyond. It's the "beyond" that I feel is especially important. Maybe other Maggies will cross my path as well, but if nothing else, I'm learning to "think small" and be humble. May that lesson stick!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

a short, muddled post before James loses patience with his mama

Of all the endless things to love about Pope Francis, one of my favorites is that the man speaks plain English (in Italian, of course). I don't need to reread every sentence multiple times, consulting amateur philosophers, just to check that I am ticking the boxes of basic reading comprehension. In his homilies and his interviews, his words are so simple and so true.  The observations he makes strike me as plainly obvious - even though many of them are either brand-new thoughts to me or things I only vaguely grasped but never fully understood. Pope Francis has a clear and sometimes surprising grasp on what is  really important. And what is more important. And what is most important.  

Below are some condensed quotes I love from his homily this morning (with some points I plan to use for personal reflection). Pope Francis was preaching about how easily a Christian can slip from "having faith" to "having an ideology" - and how there is a massive difference between following Jesus and being a Christian.  These words are like daggers to my heart. I love them. 

"...Ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. At every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought…" 
-Is my witness to Christ beckoning people? Who? (if anyone) 
-Who, if anyone, has it failed to beckon? Could a lack of tenderness, love or meekness on my part explain the failure?
-Where in my faith am I rigid? Where was Jesus himself rigid? Do these two answers align?
-In witnessing to others, is the uppermost goal of my heart to move them to behave in a more "Christian"
 manner OR is it to help them to truly know Jesus and His mercy, love and goodness?

“...Ideology frightens. Ideology chases away the people. It creates distances between people and it distances the Church from the people. But it is a serious illness, this ideology in Christians.....But why is it that a Christian can become like this? Just one thing: this Christian does not pray." 
-Can I remember times where the religious or political ideology of others has repelled me? Other than the possibility that I simply did not agree, was there something else repugnant about mere ideology? What was it?
-What symptoms of the illness of "Christian ideology" do I exhibit? (If I do not know the answer to this question, why don't I know it? And how can I learn the answer?)

“When a Christian does not pray, this happens. And his witness is an arrogant witness. He who does not pray is arrogant, is proud, is sure of himself. He is not humble.” 
“It is one thing to pray, and another thing to say prayers.”  
-Am I praying
-Am I praying to the heart of Jesus? Am I reading Scripture daily in a way that truly helps me to know His heart?
-Do I know the pitfalls in the way I personally witness to others? 
-Am I more focused on what others (Jesus, the Pope, mentors) are teaching me about authentically following Christ or am I more preoccupied with how I can explicitly teach/correct others?  
-Am I asking Jesus to show me the ways in which I drive others away from Him? Am I receptive when other people hint about or tell me this information themselves? 

I think this is important stuff to reflect on. The Pope is basically working with those of us who think we are The Religious Ones and telling us, "Look, your intentions are good but your execution stinks." So far he's put a good deal of his time and energy into teaching us how to be more effective, more genuine disciples. His major points are deceptively simple:  Comfort is the enemy - we need to accept our share of suffering; Don't get so lost in the "issues" that the Church is up against - remember the persons whom she is not "against"; Face up to your own materialism - and get rid of it;  etc...

I started thinking through the answers to some of those reflection questions above as I was writing them; I'll sit with the rest later tonight.....and the not-so-humble part of me is SUPER glad that I won't be putting the fruit of all that reflection up on a blog for all to see!   :)

Saturday, 21 September 2013


I have exceptionally noisy children. Or so, at least, they seem to me. Time was when I'd hop in the car and start fiddling with the stereo before the key was even in the ignition. I had all my favorite stations preset and would flip through them as compulsively as any man with a TV remote. Now I just want silence. If I have a rare opportunity to drive somewhere alone, I do so in profound and utter silence. No babies bawling, no sisters squabbling, no monologues by Maria and certainly no Raffi. Silence. Blessed, blissful, beautiful silence.

So I'm not sure why I turned on the radio tonight as I drove home from Adoration. Usually an entire hour of holy silence only whets my appetite for more silence. But I turned it on as I pulled out of the church parking lot and pressed "scan" a few times until I heard an old Bush song that brought back all the emotion and psychology of my teenage self. Something very, very deep within me lunged almost wildly towards the music. I turned the volume up until my ears hurt and tried to lose myself in whatever strange feeling was taking over. At the same time I was trying to figure out why half of me wanted to pull over and cry my eyes out.

It wasn't until the song was over and the spell was broken that I identified a reason for the intensity of my response to that angst-y piece of music. It was the abrupt juxtaposition of all that had made up the stuff of my recent hour of prayer against all that had filled my life twenty years ago. And that there were already almost twenty years between me and that Kelly.

There's so much responsibility now. The day-in, day-out care of four very young children is heavy, but it is almost nothing compared to the deeper fears, worries and goals associated with raising four human beings in this world as it now stands. There are so many gaps and pinches in our budget that I don't know how we hold it together at all. There are so many appointments - and things to remember - and papers to keep track of. There are Oreo crumbs that need to be unstuck from the toilet bowl (other people have this problem too....right?) and autumn clothes to swap out for six people. There's so much laundry...all the time. My inbox is full of essays I need to look over for the students I am tutoring. My mind is obsessing about the manipulative warnings of the crooked dentist who informed me last week that if I don't do the thousands of dollars of dental work he prescribed, my teeth will all rot out of my head before I turn forty. My conscience is full of all my faults and failings as a Christian, mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend and member of the wealthy Western world. My heart is wrestling with the idea of another child. There is not one yet, but for the first time in many, many months that possibility is again before me and must be again discerned. I want more babies. I am worn out and overwhelmed.

But two decades ago, I was not. When that song came out I was 16, maybe 17. Responsibility meant getting an A. Working at a bakery on the weekends. Getting my college applications in on time. And I was really, really good at responsibility. Those things were very easy. Those things were fun. I had few responsibilities, light responsibilities, responsibilities I found only enjoyable and effortless. I could get in my dad's 1987 Pathfinder carefree and turn up the radio and sing mediocre pop songs at the top of my youthful lungs every single day. And I did.

And I was miserable. In the midst of all that fun, I was deeply unhappy. Utterly self-centered, lonely, filled with longings for things I could barely even name, insecure, angry, unfulfilled and virtually ignorant of all the most important truths about God and His Church....

Today I am nearly crushed by responsibility and the much-ness of life, but I am so, so deeply happy. I was never this happy at seventeen. I wanted too painfully everything I have now - without even knowing it.

Gavin Rossdale's voice overpowered me with the difference that all these years have made. I'm always forgetting I'm not seventeen or nineteen or twenty-one. That's all that I feel like on the inside - a girl. Just a girl. Never a woman. Just a girl trying to shoulder all the responsibilities of a woman. But when I fleetingly slipped back into being a "real" girl again tonight, I realized profoundly that I am so different from her. More importantly, I realized that I would not want to take back any part of her life. I want everything I have now, right down to the Oreos on the toilet. I am blessed.

The cookie crumbs on the toilet, the unending noise, the impossibly small budget - these are the things that have made me who I am now - and are continuing to take me further and further away from that self-absorbed, frustrated person I was years ago. May they take me still further.

Humble Pope Benedict XVI told us that the world entices us with a mirage of comfort. "But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness." And in his interview this week, our beautiful Pope Francis said, “I see holiness in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread....This is for me the common sanctity. I often associate sanctity with patience:....taking charge of the events and circumstances of life, but also as a constancy in going forward, day by day." 

I find his words so unbelievably encouraging. I feel like I'm barely hanging on, but Pope Francis sees real, exemplary holiness in the woman (or girl!) who shows constancy in going forward day by day raising children, scraping Oreos off the toilet, doing piles of laundry, settling sibling squabbles, cleaning up spit-up from the carpet, shouldering financial anxiety and flossing obsessively. And Pope Benedict calls it not merely holiness, but greatness. And Gavin? I Googled the lyrics to his song tonight.... he has nothing to say that holds a candle to either pope. That's the whole point.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

serving dignity...differently

A few months ago James started "slugging" (army crawling). At that point my life-with-four-children-ages-six-and-under kicked into a whole new gear. Now they are all mobile and at least half of them are awake from 5am until 8pm. I have not found any time to keep a blog. Or respond to email. Or eat breakfast.

I have desperately tried to maintain some semblance of a prayer life, though only in bits and snatches many days. One of the recurring topics between the Lord and I has been that idea about single mothers. I'd really come to a place of almost perfect certainty that not only was He calling for action on it, but that He was calling for action right now. So I tried. I made phone calls and had meetings. The response was great. Things were moving. I was....nervous. Overwhelmed. Stressed. Unsure. Not quite at peace. For me, that's never really a great sign. The Lord speaks to me in peace. That's the only voice I recognize as His. So I had to hit the pause button and pray through it all again.

What I finally came to realize was that the "Servants of Dignity" was a great idea. It was needed. It was an inspiration from God. And it was not my project. At least not any more.

I think He wanted me simply to write about it and communicate it to someone else. I don't think He meant for me to go further with it than that. I felt a teeny bit sad about that - and a LOT relieved.

Recently I read my daughters a children's book by Max Lucado, Your Special Gift. (The book is not nearly as touchy-feely as the title.....) In a series of colorful pages some trippy little puppets try to help a poor family get through hard times, but each puppet tries to meet the need that seems most pressing, rather than trying to meet the need that he or she is best equipped to meet. For example, the town baker tries to fix the family's broken vehicle, instead of supplying them with food. The theme of the book is "use your best gift most". 

Starting up a ministry is not my best gift. I wouldn't have a clue what I was doing. I have a huge place in my heart for the unborn and for women in/after crisis pregnancies....but I have absolutely no practical experience in helping either other than offering prayer and material goods.

After praying about my real gifts, I concluded that one of the most fruitful ways I have served the Lord is through close interpersonal ministry with youth, particularly high school and college-aged girls. That area was my first love and it has been the stuff of every job and ministry in which I've been involved for the past thirteen years.  I had literally no sooner finished discerning this "refocusing" of my energies when I was asked (out of the blue) to be involved with the youth ministry program at my parish. Specifically, I've been invited to get involved with the girls' group. He astonishes me.

In short, Jesus has redirected me to the common denominator of all of what I have loved best over the past thirteen years, whether leading retreats for all-girls high schools, teaching theology in an all-girls high school, or running my beloved "girls group" in New Zealand. Ministry To Girls. That's my best gift. I'm supposed to use it most.

But there was one other little reminder He whispered in my ear. He hinted that I should get back to writing. I tried to offer Him some fantastic excuses: my four boisterous children, my tutoring, the demands of homeschooling my daughters, the frequent shame and embarrassment I feel when rereading (or just remembering) things I've written for public consumption, and so forth. But over and again He presses into my heart that Christians are losing this culture largely because of the victories hell is winning in the written word. The culture of death (and of darkness, despair and depravity) thrives and grows almost solely off the written word: because of the books written, political speeches made, songs sung, movie scripts brought to life, news stories reported - all of these avenues are essentially the same: ideas put into words so as to shape hearts, thoughts and behavior. By the written word this culture is slipping fast from our fingers and by the written word only shall we reclaim it. The Word redeemed the world and our words must fight alongside His. We pray desperately in the face of this cultural free fall and He responds by inspiring ordinary people to ordinary actions. No matter how pathetic and awkward our efforts, He's asking each of us to contribute our humble gift to the battle. It's a battle for the dignity of every single human person. God, help us.

Jesus, I trust in You!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

real presence

Tonight, while reading something about the Real Presence, I realized that the hardest thing about praying (for me) is being really. present.

For five years I have been praying for the grace of gentleness. I thought that once I became a consistently gentle mother, I would be pretty much ready for canonization. A half-decade of grace (plus the devouring of a practical "how-to" manual in the form of that Popcak book) and here I am...more gentle than I ever dreamed I could be and still not ready for the Perfect Mom Award. Alas! A few weeks ago I decided that my next half decade is going to have be dedicated to growing in the ability to be "really present". John Paul the Great - a man who knew how to be really, totally, recklessly present to others- talked often about presence as a necessary prerequisite for being able to receive the gift of the person. I have the gift of five beautiful persons under this roof and I'm not receiving those gifts to the full. I'm also not giving the full gift of myself to any of them.

 I can't count the number of times a day that I realize that baby James has been staring adoringly up at me, grinning with rapt attention and love, while I have been oblivious. This is not a problem that stems from having four children. I remember when all the others were babies, being stopped by older women in grocery stores, department stores and libraries so many times, and being told by these total strangers, "Your baby has been staring up at you with the most beautiful love for the past ten minutes. We've just been watching that baby stare at you." But I had not noticed. I might have been talking absently to the baby, perhaps I handed over a toy or disengaged my hair from tiny's even possible that I nursed that baby - all without making direct eye contact or really noticing the tiny person strapped to my chest. Whenever these wonderful old ladies call me out of my stupid stupor, my eyes lock with the baby's eyes and....oh, the smile. The little face lights up with delight, joy! I can't help but feel the same - instantly - love for love, delight for delight, joy for joy. Only, my joy is tainted with a little nagging guilt and regret for being so unaware of all that love and perfect presence directed at me.

I don't work outside the home. I homeschool. So....I'm always "with" my children .... but relatively rarely am I truly with them. I often read books to children cuddled under my arm and pulled close on my lap while my mind stretches far away from them, reminding myself what to do in ten minutes or remembering events from ten years ago. I often listen to their stories with ears that do not hear and admire their artwork with eyes that do not see. I'm so often waiting for them to find something to engage their bodies so that I can slip off into my mind, remaining physically present while my thoughts steal me away.

I never remember why my husband is coming home late because I'm never listening when he tells me. I'm thinking about the fascinating article I just read or the (equally fascinating) one I'm about to write. I don't really always hear what my friends tell me because I'm regretting the stupid thing I said a few minutes back or reselecting the brilliant thing I plan to say next.  And I certainly struggle to hear anything the Lord might want to tell me because there's just so much else going on inside my head. The God of the Universe, King of Glory,  Maker of Heaven and Earth - the One who created me, gave me every good I possess, died for me and will serve as my final judge - THAT PERSON is really present to me and I am distracted. By. Such. Stupid. Nothings.

Did people struggle with this issue as much in ages past - before there was such a daily bombardment of media - all this internet and information and images to fill our heads and rob our souls? I don't know. Did people struggle with this issue as much in ages past - before there was so much busy-ness and rush and scheduling? I don't know. I do know that both of those factor in for me, (along with the problem of having very little practical experience in disciplining the mind). But I also know that "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." That tried-and-proven knowledge gives me perfect confidence that I can and will grow in the ability to be really, fully, soul-fully present to my kids. And my husband. And my God. It's just probably going to take at least five years - or more. In the meantime, what a beautiful thing to practice: looking more often into the eyes of the people I love; shaking off my thoughts - which really means my selfish, self-absorbed little world - to listen to the thoughts of the people I love and enter the wonderful world of "them".

It makes sense to me that the more I practice the habit of being really present to my children, the easier it will become to be fully present to God as well. If I can't practice the presence of Maria, I'll never be able to practice the presence of the Lord (He's a little more subtle than any of my offspring).  I can imagine at the end of my life, the angels coming, nudging me, calling my undivided attention to the KING OF GLORY and saying, "Your God and Savior has been staring at you with the most beautiful love for the past 76 years. We've just been watching Him stare at you." He is just as close as these babes in arms. Nay, closer. And I don't want to wait that long to be shaken out of my stupor. My babies have taught me that.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

the vision

Getting this "Support-A-Mom"/Servants of Dignity project off the ground is taking a little longer than I had expected, so I'm just going to share where I'm hoping that it may be headed.

After contacting a lot of agencies that I thought might be somehow involved in the life of women and children who are in a stage of life that comes a few years after the crisis pregnancy has been "resolved" (at least in the eyes of the pro-life movement), I was not really any closer to finding a way to connect with said women. I got the furthest with a shelter for victims of domestic violence. We even had a great face-to-face meeting and bounced ideas back and forth. Although ultimately it came to nothing (more on that in a moment), the conversation was actually really fruitful for me in refining this vision and setting both scope and boundaries for it. I learned that some women will not take their children and leave an abusive man because pets are not welcome at domestic violence shelters and many women are afraid of how a violent partner might visit his rage upon their pet. Although I found that astounding, I was intrigued by the need the shelter coordinators had for temporary pet foster homes. Another very simple need they have is for someone to meet the children of an abused woman for a few hours in a public place (let's say a park or a children's museum) and supervise them while mom goes to court to sort out restraining orders, etc... I was also surprised by how emphatically the shelter coordinators did NOT want regular free childcare offered to the women they help. They had many good and persuasive reasons for this stipulation and I was fully convinced of their wisdom. However, in a practical sense, it all came to nothing for this reason: any involvement in this particular ministry meant real potential danger to the children of any women helpers involved. The shelter directors were concerned about my children and the children of any who might join me in this ministry. They themselves live in real and constant threat of danger from violent men who seek retaliation. By the end of the meeting, it was apparent that this might not be the best angle to pursue.

I felt frustrated and at a loss of where to go from there. Having no other ideas at all, I did the least imaginative thing I could think of: I called the local crisis pregnancy center. Afterwards, I could not recall why that had not been the very first thing I thought of doing. I delivered my spiel to the woman who answered the phone. She was really receptive. She promised to have someone higher up in the pecking order call me soon, but told me it might take a week or more. After I'd nearly given up on hearing back, I did get a phone call. This woman was even more excited than the first woman, but said that the director would have to be involved in something this huge. Naturally, the director was not going to be in the office for some time. So I'm waiting. In the meantime, I'm praying a lot and trying to get a more concrete idea of what it is that I even want to try to communicate.

At this point, my (still foggy) goal is to match up ONE woman interested in the ministry with ONE mother in need of support. To keep things clear, I will refer to the supporting woman as the "Servant" (of Dignity) and the mother in need as the "Mom". So my hope is that the Servant will make a real and long-term commitment in her heart to the persons in this relationship: the Mom and her child/children. Since I'd like this "Adopt a Mom" project to foster long term and authentic friendships, I'd like the pairing up process to be as natural and attractive as possible for both the Servant and the Mom (thereby increasing the chance that the relationship "works" and thrives in the long-term). I'm wondering if we could do sort of a little soiree where potential Servants and potential Moms mingle freely for an hour or two, getting to know each other. At the end, the Moms could possibly indicate on a slip of paper the Servant(s) with whom they felt most comfortable. From there, one Servant and one Mom would be connected. Prior to the "Pairing Up Soiree", there would need to be some kind of presentation made to the interested Moms, sharing about what this project is about and what the scope and boundaries of the relationship would be. I've heard no end of warnings about the essential importance of setting clear and firm boundaries right from the start. The Servants would also attend gatherings (more than one) for formation and direction in this new kind of ministry.  Once the pair was arranged, the possibilities are wide and varied. Because the goal is a real friendship, I think the Mom and the Servant would aim to check in via internet/text/phone once or twice a month and get together for a face-to-face hang out maybe once a month. Perhaps the Servant could accompany Mom and her young ones to a park and the adults could chat while the kids play. If Mom just has a young baby, perhaps Mom and the Servant could go for coffee. As the Servant gets to know Mom and what her unique needs are, the Servant could find small practical ways to be of genuine help: Pray for and/or with Mom. Be a listening ear. Give her an occasional child-free break. Pass on some clothing, books or toys (either gently used or out of the superabundance of brand-new stock many kids receive regularly for birthdays and Christmas). Maybe give a special annual birthday gift to the baby bravely borne. I can't really make a great list of possibilities because each Mom's needs will be different and each Servant's abilities and circumstances will vary greatly. I do see the Servant needing ongoing support and formation in this ministry (because it could get really messy or confusing!), but I really feel hope that there is tremendous potential here as well.

Most crisis pregnancy centers only help out with the practical things (like clothes and diapers) for the first 2 years of the baby's life. In my parenting experience, age 2 is just where the need for practical help begins in earnest! So I'm hoping that this idea can step in to a woman's life just when the pregnancy centers are stepping out. I mean no criticism of the pregnancy centers - they aim to meet a woman's needs for a specific period (the pregnancy and infancy years) and they do so very well!!!  Many babies and women have been dramatically blessed by these ministries. I bet so many more could be if there were other ministries that specifically existed for the post-pregnancy/infancy stages.

I keep praying about this - and praying that if the whole idea is stupid that the Lord will just smash it to bits. But the idea isn't "going away" despite the agonizingly slow pace at which the process drags along. I appreciate prayers - and, if any feel so moved to attempt to contact their own local crisis pregnancy centers with a similar pitch - my desire is for this to be a widespread movement and I'd love to hear from others!