About Me, Catholic Spirituality, house reno, sin, temperaments

Radically detached and slightly unhinged

August 25, 2016

Maybe we should get a kitten.

We’ve been in our new house a week and a half now, and as the floors are slowly covered with clean, shining new surfaces to scratch and scuff and sully, I find myself sucking in pained breaths of First World air, agonizing over the new damage wrought almost immediately upon installation. I remember learning in earth science or some class that all of life is essentially in a constant state of decay, the microbes and bacteria at war with the material universe in a continual cycle of reclaim and recycle.

I could see that with mine own eyes as the kindergartener dragged a waylaid dresser across the new living room floor, gouging a cut in the surface my husband and sweated to perfect only 12 hours before. The walls are almost literally crumbling around us as we shift and juggle and apportion furniture to different rooms, scraping and arranging against new and unfamiliar walls.

A little to the left crash no let’s try that wall, scraaaaaaaaape, no maybe back there was perfect crunch.

I joked to my babysitter this morning that I would have made a terrible nun because material detachment is so painful for me, before I stopped and wondered aloud to her (bless her heart, she puts up with a lot between me and the kids) if actually, maybe motherhood is a little tougher for my personality type, at least, because the detachment is less of the bandaid-ripping surrender all your worldly goods and don this habit, and more of the for the rest of your days, you will see furniture destroyed, walls marked, and floors savaged. Prepare your heart to love the people more than the place. 

I am not a graceful detacher. I am more of a strangle-holding controller. My really lucky husband and my darling children are benefiting from a front row view of the disassembling of my fragile, Type-A psyche under the assault of motherhood and early childhood. This morning as we shoved my precious leather couch through the front door, my heart sinking as we punctuated the backside with a fresh laceration, I noticed a tag I’d previously overlooked: “Durablend: 17% real leather.”

That’s so nice, I thought, beads of sweat dripping onto the scratched laminate floors we did not install but have managed to really bring to rustic perfection in just over 1 short week. I’m glad it’s not real.

All this to say that I am as much a work much in progress, as is my slowly-beautifying and simultaneously-necrotizing house. For every wall I finish painting, stepping back in satisfaction to sigh and set paintbrush aside, 15 more improvement/repair projects pop up in the resultant vacuum.

I’m kind of like that too. For every layer of bad habit, pesky personal shortcoming and outright sin that I allow the Lord to peel back, I am rewarded not with a static, serene panorama of progress, but with a fresh jolt of “Look at all that garbage! man there’s still a lot of work to do.”

During this summer of shingles and signings and strips of packing tape being applied and removed, I have become more and more humbled by my utter incompetence to weather any actual stress, and by my husband’s incredible fortitude under pressure. I’ve marveled over my kid’s flexibility while marking my own fragility in wonderment, scarcely recognizing that the woman who scaled mountains in her twenties and now bursts into tears over first days of school and flooded basements.

I don’t feel like I’m going backwards though, not exactly. It’s more like the Lord is revealing, through the circumstances of my very ordinary life, my actual position in the universe: weakness.

And there seem to be two choices; either I allow the weakness to overwhelm me and I scramble to deny it, wrapping my fragile heart in material comforts and conveniences and surface-level stuff, or I embrace the weakness and transform it to receptivity, looking expectantly to God to make up for what is clearly lacking.

I have thought often enough this summer that if I just had more help or more money or more energy, everything would be fine. Which is a lie. Because it’s never enough. The human heart is an endless chasm of desire, and no amount of material striving will fill it.

In fact, some of the most memorable moments of providence have been from moments of abject need: friends rallying with meals and helping hands while I lied in bed, to sick to tend to the kids. My parents and in-laws swooping in with power tools and muscles and moving boxes to transplant us from one house to another while I cried paint-streaked tears of overwhelm and gratitude, huddled in a too-hot bathroom at 11pm with a roller brush and 3 opened cans of primer.

Every time I’ve shown Him my real weakness this summer, He has overwhelmed me with a blanket of grace, covering my metaphorical nakedness with such generous care that I could not help but acknowledge my littleness and His bigness. And that has always been a little hard for a choleric go-getter. I don’t like to need, I prefer to be needed. But He waits patiently, allowing me to follow my delusions of grandeur to their natural conclusion. And then He rescues. He delivers. And I am ashamed and relieved and resolved all over again.

And then I find another wall to paint.

Home renovation and holiness is the work of a lifetime. And that is why I suspect we should find ourselves a cat, to hurry along the progress of perfection.

(Dave, if you’re reading this, you know I want a little calico, and that the kids want to name him Peyton Manning.)

progress

 

About Me, motherhood, school

A letter to my firstborn on the first day of kindergarten

August 23, 2016

Dear son,

You made me a mama. You were, in fact, my first real introduction into the real world, the first person who demanded more of me than I asked of myself. You created in me an almost insatiable need for coffee, opening up chasm of love so fierce and exhaustion so deep that I still find it shocking and incomprehensible at times. Especially on those late nights when I stand in your room after bedtime, stroking sweaty blonde hairs away from your little head, marveling that sleep can can contain you – does contain you, night after night.

When you are awake, I am “on.” There is no off button for your joie de vivre.

Not that I want one, exactly, but I do marvel that you and I, the consummate extrovert and the perpetually solitude-seeking introvert, were cut from the same genetic cloth.

You have challenged me and refined me in a way that I find painful, at times breathtakingly so, and yet I am filled with gratitude for you. You are a gift, and life with you is an adventure.

Yesterday when I thought I was leaving you at school for your first full day in a big boy classroom, I was a fragile mess of tears ready to fall. Joke was on me though, because we got all dressed up and schlepped in for a 40 minute orientation and then early dismissal.

This morning, dress rehearsal firmly in the rearview mirror, you proceeded to lose my car keys and so, peeled out of the driveway in daddy’s car, 10 minutes late and nary a maternal tear shed.

Which is so typical for you.

You are, after all, the child who decided to make an impressive public display only 37 weeks into pregnancy. All the months of Bradley classes and books and calming scented candles fell by the wayside as you came screaming into the world after 19 hours of hard labor. Stunned, we looked at each other later in the recovery room and I realized you were not a child who could be scripted, that you would march to your own beat.

I love that about you.

And it’s also one of the hardest things about being your mom. Your passion and your energy drains me, and in that emptiness I have the opportunity day in and day out to beg God to fill in the empty spaces. He knew how much we would need each another.

You really wanted to bring leftovers in your lunchbox today, not a sandwich, so you could have a hot lunch “like daddy.” I think you would have carried a briefcase with a smartphone and a laptop in it, had I let you. Yesterday when you surveyed your classroom, stuffed to the brim with eager 5 and 6 year old faces, and you were nervous. But when you saw that your little chair had a seat-back pocket upholstered in a dinosaur-print fabric while most of the other diminutive chairs were decked in floral print, you were satisfied.

I stood in the back of the classroom and watched your teacher’s orientation slideshow with one eye, watching you with the other. You were unsure of your surroundings but you obediently dug into your pencil case for a crayon and started coloring the sheet she’d passed out. Periodically you twisted around in your tiny seat to scan the room, locking eyes with me in the back only for a second, no smile betraying that you’d seen your touchstone. But I know you did see me, and I could tell by the resolute straightening of your little shoulders as you swiveled back around that you were satisfied.

I hope that today is easy for you. I hope you don’t turn around to see if I’m still standing in the back of the room, but that if you do, you remember that your favorite cousin is in the room down the hall, that your best friend is waiting for you at home to share afternoon snack, that the little rows of desks filling your classroom are filled with friends you’ve known for years.

I promise, it will get easier for you to be there. What I suspect will not get easier, however, is the part where I leave you, urging you to step into a future that feels like it’s accelerating, smiling and waving encouragement as my heart breaks a little bit with the effort.

At the most fundamental level, I guess this is what motherhood is all about: pouring love in and then releasing, little by little, and standing back as shaky little legs grow stronger and more confident, moving further away with every step.

I didn’t want to ugly cry while writing this. So I’m sitting in a public coffee shop and propriety is mostly preventing that. But on the inside oh, my sweet boy, my heart is a little bit broken. Because today began the first chapter in a new life apart from our shared life together. Never again will we have our little domestic bubble of alltogetherallthetime. And there is relief in that to be sure, but there is a deep grieving too, and a profound gratitude that for a little while, God chose me to be your everything, and that He chooses me still to step back and help you launch.

I pray that the foundation we laid will have fashioned a worthy platform. And I know kindergarten is not Harvard, but I also know from the tearful stories at the grocery store this week and the knowing looks from the older moms in carpool line, that it’s not all that far off.

I am so proud of you my sweet boy. It is a privilege to be your mom.

And hey, nice work on losing those car keys this morning and diffusing mama’s waterworks so you could make a clean escape. You know me well.

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About Me, house reno, motherhood, Parenting, Uncategorized

Progress report + some back to school reflections

August 19, 2016

Cackle.

Because “progress” is a generous term when home renovations are concerned. Especially the zero budget kind done in the presence of 4 helpers who still sleep in Pull Ups.

So be gentle with the following photographic evidence, eh?

Without further ado, I give you Uebbing house smash 2016, phase 1.

First off we have our entryway/living/dining room combo. We put all our bang and most of our bucks here, because a friend who has been through the reno wringer (hi, Rebecca!) convinced me of the wisdom of “finishing” one room first, so that you’d have somewhere to retreat to during the ensuing chaos. I chose the front room because we need a sizable space to entertain our minions, and because it’s the first thing we see upon entering the house. A few coats of paint and a lot of torn up carpet and we are well on our way from this:

great room

dining room before To this:

20160813_104700

20160813_104717

And a couple differing angles. The paneling, now with another coat of paint, (1 coat of oil-based Kilz original + 2 coats of Sherwin Williams Marshmallow. Opposite walls are Sherwin Williams Passive.) looks amazing, honestly. #verticalshiplap

20160819_161143 20160819_161302

Dave is currently laying down floors (we went with this engineered hardwood) and thinks he can do them in a single day, so I’m camped out at my mom and dad’s with the kids until I get the green light to return.

We packed pajamas. (Not that I don’t trust his estimation.)

Last night we had back to school night, which involved me rummaging through boxes like a drunk raccoon and showing up at school with a torn grocery bag stuffed with 58% of the supply list. Which means either I gave up halfway through my parental responsibilities or that I’ve already lost everything. I tried to justify it to myself when arranging poor Joey’s paltry spread on his kindergarten! (sob) desk! by mentally chanting “tax dollars, tax dollars” before remembering that it’s Catholic school and there are no tax dollars. So I’ll be returning to the store.

While I stood in the stuffy cafeteria shooting the breeze with one of our beloved preschool teachers who, incidentally, will have one of my children every year for the next 3-5 years, I found myself choking back unexpected tears over my kindie-to-be. The wise and experienced Miss D put her arm on my shoulder and said “it’s always hardest on the parents” at which point I made an ugly choking noise through my nose and started snotting on her. Just for a moment.

I feel torn between the exuberance of a new stage (remember, I’m a mother sea turtle) and the sorrow of passing definitively out of babydom, with my precious first born now in the charge of another adult for more waking hours than not. Granted, I love and trust our teachers, so that makes it a little easier, but I’m still kinda weepy about the whole deal. I just weaned him from his pacifier, and I just got him to start sleeping through the night, and suddenly he’s all long legs and skinny arms and a new crew cut and a Spiderman lunchbox.

Oh gosh.

I’m going to stop before the snorting/choking thing starts again.

Veteran back to school mamas, tell me, does it hurt this much at every stage? I often find myself caught between waves of melancholy over the loss of what was and impatience over the future not yet realized. I need to learn to dwell in the present, and to accept the hard days and the good days all as par for the parenting course. I guess I’m just not that well adjusted yet.

Well, happy hour is almost upon us. I’ll be drinking mediocre red wine on the patio in my parent’s woods, looking out at my still-little-but-not-as-little-as-before guys playing “deer and hunter” in the same stand of pine trees that I used to roam through.

It’s a pretty beautiful life.

About Me, Catholic Spirituality, Evangelization, Family Life, liturgical living, Parenting

Do you have a family liturgy?

August 16, 2016

These past several days, trying to carve some semblance of tranquility amidst a million flattened boxes, carpets that smell like dogs and cottonwood seeds blowing so thickly that they’re being sucked into our new house by the box fans that adorn every window (no AC. Bye bye, luxury), I’ve been totally overwhelmed by the lack of order to our lives. Life with 4 kids is always a little on the chaotic end of the spectrum, but throw big life changes into the mix and it very much feels like the inmate are running the asylum, and they’re not even particularly well fed inmates.

I scooted away this afternoon for my 1000th trip to Lowe’s and some internet time and I left our babysitter the following items on the counter: 8 baby carrots, half a bag of corn tortillas, 2 oz of nacho cheese Doritos and a jar of peanut butter.

Good luck, family.

I was thinking today that part of why our days are so hectic, aside from the obvious physical chaos of a move and a new home, is because we lack a basic rhythm to our daily lives. I alluded to as much on Facebook last week when I let slip how eager I was for the routine of school to be upon us, because as deeply as I love my children and as sincerely as I respect my homeschooling friends, the reading, writing and ‘rithmetic are being unabashedly outsourced in this family.

But I can’t outsource it all. For sure we’re still responsible for forming little consciences and catechizing little hearts. I guess I’m just poking my head up out of survival mode after the longest summer on record and, with a newly-minted one year old still the reigning baby in the house (#Marquettemethodforthewin) I’m feeling ready to start implementing some smallish steps towards sanity.

So what do you guys do? What does your “family liturgy” look like? By this I mean the liturgical rhythm to your days and weeks, and I’m not talking Sacred heart of Jesus cupcakes or St. Juan Diego piñatas, but the regular Scripture study with your kids, the daily Mass attendance (or not), the family Rosary or decade, the morning offering, the recited litanies.

Do you start your day with family prayer? Dave and I pray an offering together and invoke our special patron saints, and we pray again a gratitude list and a protection prayer at night, but the in between parts are where I’m struggling to fill in the blanks.

I want us to be the ones who introduce our kids to personal prayer, who help them understand their fundamental identities as sons and daughters of the King. I want them to learn to spend time in Scripture every day, and to follow along with the liturgical cadence of the Church year, attuned to the seasons we celebrate as a Catholic family.

I want to raise Saints. But I am a decidedly unsaintly mother 98% of the time. I struggle with my temper, with patience, with wanting to steamroll them in the name of efficiency and productivity. And I am, quite frankly, usually d-o-n-e by bedtime, which is when our current daily prayer time takes place.

So, I humbly turn to you, dear readers, and I ask first and foremost for your prayers but also for your suggestions, your best practices, and I welcome your stories of solidarity. How do you “Catholic” in your house? What does it look like in practical terms, and what are some age-appropriate steps I can take with my crew, current ages nearly 6, 4.5, 2.5 and 1?

Thanks in advance. I have to go spackle something now.

pirate nun

The pirate nun wants *you* to raise ’em right

About Me

Move along

August 11, 2016

The blessed event is upon us, and finally I’m boxing up everything that made this little house our home the past 3 years. It’s bittersweet except no it’s not, I can’t wait to get into a house of our own. It’s been a great lesson in patience and being (mostly) satisfied with what you’ve got, but I am so excited to surrender the title of “renter.”

Also, #neverbeige. Ever again. I bought out the HGTV inspired line of grays and whites and charcoals at Lowe’s this morning in anticipation of a little DIY crash course after the keys are in hand tomorrow afternoon, but before the moving truck pulls up on Saturday morning. My poor husband has no idea what delusions of accomplishment I’m harboring for the 22 interim hours between closing and moving truck arrival.

It feels like the fitting end to a hard, hot summer marked by happy moments but mostly filled with a lot of hurrying-up-and-waiting. My kids are ready to get out of the land of stacked boxes and piled up furniture and back into the enchanted forest of a routine and, for my second born, his first real foray into the classroom.

And I’m excited about that too (which I had the audacity to say on Facebook, much to the consternation of mothers who do not crave separation from their offspring after a 14 week period marked by infectious diseases and real estate foibles.)

What can I say? If this were the animal kingdom, I’d be a mother sea turtle and my children would be autonomously hatching themselves on the beach. Other mothers are kangaroos. It takes an ecosystem.

All this to say, things might be lightish on the blog for the next week while internet is reinvented and reinstalled (y u no can flip magic wifi button remotely, service provider?) and while All The Things are painted. And I can’t wait to share pictures. Here’s a little teaser of our living/dining room space, a “before” shot if there ever was one:

great room

Can you even handle the wood paneling? My heart is quivering in Joanna Gaines-like anticipation.

Stay tuned.

Abortion, Bioethics, Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Culture of Death, euthanasia, Evangelization, Homosexuality, politics, Pro Life, reality check, relativism, sin, Suffering

The power of language and the witness of words

August 9, 2016

It is a curious time to be a Catholic Christian. (Is it ever not, though? I think maybe we all fall prey to a little good old fashioned chronological snobbery, whether or not we care to admit it.)

On the one hand, I live in America and for the most part, shuttered adoption agencies and defunct bakeries and cancelled after-school Bible clubs aside, the persecution that Christians face here is still on the lightish side. And many would shrug off the aforementioned incidences not as persecution at all, but as the rightful assertion of a collective morality over defiant and wrong-headed individual dissenters.

On the other hand, it is gravely concerning how very much the pace of things has accelerated, for society to embrace, wholesale, things that a decade and a half ago would have registered clearly on our collective consciences as “wrong.” There are now plenty of Christians who wouldn’t bat an eye at a 12-week abortion, embryonic stem cell research performed “for a good cause” to fight the horrors of ALS, of helping an elderly parent or terminal cancer patient end his or her life with a prescription written by the hand of their own physician.

In Colorado this last piece is coming to the ballot this November, under the tidy euphemism “physician-assisted suicide,” but more popularly nicknamed “death with dignity.” So as you exit your favorite natural grocery store you might be intercepted by a cheerful, clipboard-wielding volunteer in a neon green t-shirt earnestly inquiring into your concern that sick and elderly people have “dignified end of life choices.” Which is a whole lot harder to answer “no thanks” to than, say, “should Coloradans vote to let people who want to die kill themselves with a prescription written by a doctor?”

Language carries the day. As it always has. And it becomes essential for those of us who believe in a God Who is the Author of life to reclaim these conversations on a linguistic level.

It seems a small thing, a popular word or commonly-accepted term here, a turn of phrase there. Look how much traction gay “marriage” has gotten in a few short years.

When the phrase first came into existence, Christians and other people who recognized the impossibility of two same-sex individuals, however sincere their love, contracting what we all commonly understood to be marriage, had no problem throwing quotes around the term, because it was an imprecise and incorrect application of a recognized reality. But repeated loudly and often enough, we’ve now all but lost that point.

There’s no longer any room in the national conversation to point out “actually, marriage is a covenant contracted between two consenting opposite-sex adults, for the purpose of creating and raising a family and contributing to the development and continuation of civilization.”

I guarantee if you bust out that last sentence at the neighborhood block party, you’d either get a drink tossed in your face or find yourself with a semi-circle of bewildered acquaintances backing away from you in a hurry.

Because we’ve conceded that point on a linguist level and on a legal level. And now we must hide behind our “personal beliefs” or “chosen religious faith” when making the point, which, in a secular society governed almost exclusively by the court of public opinion, is a weak position to operate from indeed.

By forcing religious belief and morality into a corner, meant now to be tucked handily into one’s pocket and not revealed in polite company, the secular Left have employed a chillingly effective strategy, with hardly any real persecution necessary. We zip our own lips instead, avoiding tough topics with friends and coworkers, afraid of causing a scene, afraid of professional fallout, not looking to start a fight.

Guess what? That isn’t going to work much longer.

Every inch that Christians give over as a forgone conclusion: that children don’t deserve to be protected by their parents, that religious belief is a private matter that must be exorcised from the public square, that the government dictates morality to the people, and not vice versa…every one of these small skirmishes that we offer up in embarrassed silence, not wanting to muddy the waters, brings us closer and closer to a civilization in which we have no voice.

Because we stopped using our words.

Because we stopped having conversations at the only level that truly matters: personal, one-on-one, and rooted in trust and authentic relationship.

How on earth can we expect our gay neighbor to ever understand our position, however rooted in love and respect, if she does not hear it from our lips, but relies instead on Rachel Maddow’s punditry to inform her how we – Me! Her friend next door! – really see “them.”

How can our children defend their position on abortion to a school bus full of teammates if they’ve never participated in compassionate and nuanced conversations around the dinner table about human dignity and real feminism and authentic healthcare? 

How can we expect our leaders to legislate based on objective morality rather than creating morality based on subjective legislation if all of our voices fall silent, all at once, afraid to break the peace, afraid to ruffle feathers, afraid to look foolish.

It is time to look foolish.

It is past time.

It is time to answer truthfully to the question “do you plan to have more children?” Or “have you thought about scheduling a vasectomy” with His truth, not the truth of the day. It is time to explain to a curious coworker that no, you couldn’t vote for a woman who holds up abortion as a fundamental human right, no matter how compelling the circumstances might seem. To defend your position on the intrinsic evil of torture around the campfire at a guy’s fishing weekend. To explain to a friend with an aging parent that some things are worse than suffering, and that some choices are always wrong.

It is time to struggle with hard topics and harder choices out loud, in a way that is authentic and vulnerable and worthwhile, so that someone else who is searching for the truth might see a glimpse of it reflected in your life, however much you might be screwing it up and failing. 

Because that is what it means to be a Christian. It means to wrestle with God, accommodating ourselves to His reality, humbly admitting that we don’t understand, that we aren’t doing it perfectly,  and that we’ll get back up again and try – with His grace – to do better next time.

But it does not mean falling silent while evil is perpetrated all around us. It doesn’t mean (guilty here!) sliding into a comfortable, surface-level relationship devoid of authenticity with your neighbors so that nothing unpleasant ever comes up to muddy the waters.

We must use our voices while we still have them, because our words have power, power given to us by the One in whose image and likeness we are created.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Christians, it is time to speak up.

“The days of socially acceptable Christianity are over, the days of comfortable Catholicism are past…It is no longer easy to be a faithful Christian, a good Catholic, an authentic witness to the truths of the Gospel. A price is demanded and must be paid.”

– Professor Robert P. George, Princeton

love hate

 

motherhood, Parenting, PPD, pregnancy, self care

The motherly art of rest

August 4, 2016

Dear mothers of the world, lend me your ears: Motherhood, including-but-not-limited-to childbirth and recovery: we might be doing it wrong.

Actually, I’m almost positive we are. And my suspicions were confirmed a hundredfold a little less than a year ago after the birth of Luke, when I actually took my mom’s – and the rest of the developed/ing world’s – advice, and, wait for it, rested. Like I had just done something really hard.

I pretended that giving birth was a big deal, and then I acted like someone who’d just been through a big deal and took to my bed for a solid 10 days.

I mean, I got up and took showers and tried to load the dishwasher once or six times before talking myself down (and crawling back under the covers while silently chanting DO NOT CARE.)

Sounds revolutionary, no?

But it was. And remembering back to the long, hot summer where I was anxiously nesting and rearranging and logging 2 or 3 mile walks every afternoon trying to coax the little guy out, but was instead actually dooming myself to 3 weeks of nightly prodromal labor sessions to the tune of 3 or 4 hours, I cringe. Because my poor body was tired.

Imagine that. 4 babies in 5 years and I was tired.

And as it turned out, no amount of physical exertion was going to help me recover from being physically and emotionally and mentally overtaxed.

So not only did I not convince baby to come early, but I was actually so exhausted that once labor did start for good it was not a smooth ride. Contractions were disorganized and there were long stretches of inactivity that drove me and my nurses crazy because after you’ve been in the hospital for a day, all parties involved hope to have someone to show for it.

Finally, thanks to a mix of peanut ball positioning/Pitocin/prayers, Luke did come, and he was a happy little man with high Apgar scores and a winning newborn smile. But when I think back on last summer and how tired I was, how hard I pushed myself, and how exhausted my state of mind when I went into labor, I feel a little sorry for that poor mom.

Next time (presuming there may one day be a next time) I want to do things differently. I don’t want to fight my body. I don’t want to fling myself angrily at the last month of pregnancy like a raging mid-level manager with a sloppy staff and a year-end quota to meet. I don’t want to try to punish and cajole and trick and coax.

There is something to be said for resting, especially in a high-powered job like motherhood. There is a paradoxical and almost magical quality to the idea that you can advance your performance by dialing it down a notch. That taking a time out to regroup and to simply power down can actually make you more effective in your work.

I am still learning this lesson. I learn it anew every day when we reach 1pm, the little kids sleeping or resting and a pile of dishes lurking in the sink, toys scattered around the family room, food scraps under the table and melted popsicles littering the deck. The clutter competes for my attention, and I know that if I put my head down and get to work, I can bang it all out in 30 minutes or so.

But lately? I’m choosing more often not to. Even though I’m teetering on no-longer-technically-postpartum here at 11 months out, I’m easing myself back into a period of intentional rest. So I look at the filthy kitchen, I grit my teeth, and I surrender the mess, for the moment at least, heading to the couch with a rosary and my Kindle.

I need rest in order to be a good mom. I need rest in order to be a decent human being, period.

So much of the anger, the frustration, the short-temperedness and the exhaustion that have marked my greatest struggles in motherhood can be traced back to a basic lack of self care. And for me, sometimes I neglect self care to the tune of getting one more load of laundry done, or scrubbing the kitchen floor. Sad but true.

Sure, the baby does not sleep. The 4 year old wakes up at 3 am and stands 4 inches from my unconscious head, rasping for for ice water. There are last-minute deadlines to hit, there are documents the mortgage company needs, there are events I RSVP’d to that I forgot all about until my calendar dings a 30 minute alert.

But I can protect my rest.

And I must. Because nobody else – not my well-meaning husband who is gone all day, not my long-distance best friends, not my sisters – is going to protect it for me. They can’t. It’s my job. And it is critical that I perform it, because I am a wretched human being and a really disappointing mom when I don’t.

When I’m yelling at the kids about something that isn’t serious enough to merit a raised voice, when I’m weeping over something that normally wouldn’t raise my blood pressure, when I’m driving somewhere 5 minutes late, panic rising in my chest like a mounting thunder storm, 90% of the time it is because I am insufficiently rested.

And if the rest isn’t available in a solid, uninterrupted 8 hour chunk overnight, then I have to make it elsewhere.

I owe it to myself, to my family, and to the God who created me in His image, to work and to rest in proportion.

If God Himself needed an entire day off in the course of Creation, how can I expect to get by without quality down time?

Rest is built into our vocations, intrinsic to the work we are called to, and necessary to the daily rhythm of a successful and fruitful life.

How could I have gone so many years without realizing this?

Because we live in a culture that worships busyness. Because I’m “just” a stay at home mom with something to prove to herself and to the rest of the world, having internalized the message of “not enough” from a career-focused culture. Because I don’t use my rest well, and end up frittering away hours of time on the internet or folding laundry or Accomplishing Something Important, realizing in a belated panic that it’s closing in on midnight and the baby will be up in 6 hours and it’s going to be another coffee-fueled Tuesday.

That’s not good enough.

It’s not good enough for a mama who is easing back into life with her newest little one and trying to figure out life with 3 or 4 or 6 kids at home, and it’s not good enough for a mother with a brood of 4 little not-newborn kittens who have lots of energy and need lots of attention.

A wise woman once pointed out that coffee and wine will only get you so far. (And despite the hastily concocted and now permanently-stuck title of this blog, I do not wish to live in a manner that is only sustained by balancing caffeine and alcohol in an endless 12 hour cycle.)  Coffee and wine are great, but not as life-sustaining medicine. As celebratory indulgences. Italian style, not suburban-american-housewife-style.

Things are starting to ramble here, but the point I’m coming back around to is that there have been so many moments in my short journey down motherhood lane that have been excruciating in direct proportion to how little I’ve been resting. Yelling at my kids? I’m exhausted. Can’t lose weight? It’s because I’m using sugar and easy carbs to mimic energy to keep up with my life. Stressed as hell and no time for prayer? It’s because I watched 2 episodes of something on Netflix and went to bed at 11:40 because I deserved some “me time.” Which I will now pay for the in the form of longest afternoon of your entire life plus a side of flopping preschool banshee.

Rest is important. Take it from a recovered shingles sufferer with a perfectionist streak and a persistent need to Please and Impress All the People.

I’m still learning to rest. And to be okay with rest, and all it’s apparent lack of productivity. I have to remind myself that after all, some of the most important work God has done in me isn’t evident to the outside observer.

But I do hope the peace will become more evident as I learn to be a mom who rests, and who believes herself to be worthy of rest.

Aaaaaaaand I think I’ll just bookmark this to read back to myself about a week from now when we close on the house and commence a month-long period of squalor and chaos. (Future Jenny, it will not kill you to sleep in a yet-unpacked house. But it may come close if you burn all the midnight oil in order to get things to 110% by day 3.)

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An unrelated photo of an IKEA run with 4 kids. Because sarcasm is an art form. (Alternately titled: “DIY double cart.”)

About Me

State of the summer: a new house, baby mobility, and the longest gap between pregnancies ever

August 2, 2016

So far the summer of 2016 has been a mixed bag of highs and lows. And since it’s been a while since I waxed personal around these parts, I figured why not share some “roses and thorns” as we do at the dinner table most nights, with you fine people.

Rose: we’re buying a house, and we’re all set to close next Friday, August 12th. The final hurdle is appraisal, which happens this Thursday and which we are very much hoping contains no surprises whatsoever, because surprises are no longer fun or whimsical when they relate to matters of home ownership. As we learned during inspection.

St. Joseph came through like a baller though*, because we got an unprecedented number of objections favorably addressed by the seller, and we’re going to be able to do most of the new flooring and all of the painting our little 70’s dream boat requires right away.

*(and oh, by the way, if you’re buying or selling real estate in the metro Denver area, Brendan Moran is my new best friend and my heart leaps for joy a little when I have a new email from him, and as excited as I am to be in our new house, I will be a little bit sad when we aren’t regularly communicating about life, because he is my people. If you need a bulldog of a realtor who will fight for you and fight hard with a smile on his face, he is your man. With an Irish accent. You’re welcome.)

Thorn: I had shingles. Which was pretty much the worst. But which admittedly could have been so, so much worse. I’m officially one month out today, and I feel almost 90% my old self, which, according to my panicky late-night online research, is about the best recovery course one can hope for with adult chickenpox. Possible pro? My kids may now be extra immune to chicken pox. Or it might by lying in wait, hoping to pounce once the school year begins in earnest. Time will tell.

Rose: I’m almost completely packed for our big move, because I used part of my enforced downtime from all things work and internet related to assemble and fill cardboard boxes with all our worldly possessions. The kids were pretty helpful, much more so than in previous moves when the median age was much lower, and our house looks like we’re indoor camping for the next 9 days. And we’re not really missing anything we’ve packed so far. Which means that despite my best efforts towards minimalism, we still own 70% too many things. I am seriously considering dropping a considerable number of my tidy, packed boxes at Saver’s on our way across town. Will I really miss anything inside them, if I’m not missing it right now? Maybe the winter coats. But anything else? It’s like I capsule-wardrobed our entire life, and then promptly forgot about all of it.

Thorn: I still have 19 stubborn pounds of Luke-weight to lose, and he’s about to be one. And he is almost (sob) walking. He started crawling last month and now he’s doing that drunken sailor swagger where he lets go of furniture and flails his arms a bit before plopping down hard. Because gravity. Please recall that 2 year old Evie has only actually been walking for about a year herself (how can that possibly be, I wonder, as she sprints past the neighbor’s mailbox and heads for the stop sign at the end of the block, cackling as she evades me).

Rose: When he does turn one next week, we will have achieved our longest to-date spacing between any of our children, meaning I have a decent shot at losing the rest of the weight, should I be able to chill out and stop medicating my deep end-of-day packing and parenting angst with wine and salt and vinegar chips.

While catching up on a seriously backlogged blog feed last night, I came across Dwija’s post about Trim Healthy Mama and immediately launched into an hour of research and scrolling. Anyone else tried this and found it effective? Because daily trips to the gym and keeping My Fitness Pal happy at 1600 calories does not seem to be doing the trick entirely, this time around. It makes sense in an intellectual sense, but then again, I am the queen of starting off a Whole 30 with the intensity and terrible focus of a senior during finals week, only to peter out on day 14 with a margarita in hand, “because agave is a little bit Paleo, you know?”

Thorn: I am more exhausted than I have ever been in my entire life, which keeps confounding me when I hit 8:30 pm each night and seriously debate the merits of not going to bed yet. Then I remember shingles, the house-buying process, 4 young kids in varying states of a late-summer gastrointestinal illness, and a world that seems to be collapsing around my ears if one tunes in too closely to the news, and I figure that probably anyone in my shoes would be as tired. And while it is helpful to extend myself a little grace with that rationalization, it does not do as much to ameliorate the feelings of inadequacy and fatigue that I am imagining only the dawn of a new school year in 3 week will fully accomplish.

Rose: I’m done now.

Thorn: you just read it all.

Happy Tuesday y’all. Anyone hitting up “National Night Out” tonight? Our local police department is teaming up with our parish, and I’m looking forward to showing our officers a little love. Plus, they’re bringing a margarita cart.

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“I’m still the baby, adore me.”

Catholic Spirituality, Evangelization, Family Life, feast days, motherhood, Parenting

Back to school with the saints

August 1, 2016

It’s that confusing time of summer where the temperatures are still hitting triple digits some days, but the big box stores are rolling out mega packs of white socks, pencils, and $.25 cent bottles of glue amidst the s’more’s displays and fireworks stands.

While the kids are still mostly swimsuit clad during all daylight hours and sticky with high fructose corn syrup from popsicle lunches, there are visions of packed lunches and completed physician’s forms dancing in mommy’s head.

The end of this summer will mark the end of an era for me as a newish mom: all my kids home, all the time.

Come late-August, I’ll ship one to all-day Kindergarten and a little brother to 3 day a week full-day preschool, so life is going to shift radically. Which is hard to imagine when all 4 are tearing through the backyard in varying states of undress, flinging mud and Legos.

“Treasure this time,” I remind myself, picking a sodden swimsuit out of the dirt, giving it the sniff test, and then draping it to dry in the sun. And I am. But I’m also looking eagerly towards autumn. My babies are growing, and the oldest of the bunch is of an age where he’ll soon be spending more of his waking time in someone else’s care than in mine. It’s fantastic and terrifying all at once.

For one thing, trusting your child to someone else is a huge leap of faith. And it’s one that can be fraught with second-guessing, thanks in part to the roiling milieu of social media. Is it really the best choice for us to homeschool? Will my kids be safe in this public school? Can we afford the tuition or the drive to Catholic school?

I’ve found it helpful to throw it back a little further, and to examine some of the lives of the saints, observing the role education played in each of their lives, along with the wide variance among them. There are 3 I’ve been thinking of specifically as I prepare my heart (and my wallet) for this Fall:

St. Francis Xavier

The feisty sidekick of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Francis was a co-founder of the Society of Jesus and all-around top athlete and academic. The pair met at the University of Paris, an aristocratic party boy with endless ambition and a visionary saint with a calling from God.

After 3 years of patient investment into Francis Xavier’s life, Ignatius at last persuaded his ambitious friend “what profit is it to a man to gain the whole world if he lose his soul?” Francis became convinced, and he became not only an effective missionary and a saintly Jesuit, but is now a universal patron of missionaries. He gained the whole world – and his soul.

Moral of this story? Pray for your kid’s friends. Pray especially that they’ll make saintly friendships like this one that changed the course of history. Not just that they’ll “stay out of trouble,” but that they would encounter among their peers true matches made in heaven. Francis and Ignatius show us it’s possible.

St. John Bosco

This saint is perhaps a more natural fit for those parents who’s little darlings are walking on the wilder side. Or perhaps are less academically inclined and more mischievous. St. John Bosco not only knew what to do with “those kind of kids;” he actually preferred them.

Raised by a widowed single mother, John was gifted a scholarship at the age of 15 by a generous uncle, where he blew through high school in 3 years, graduating with high honors despite his lack of formal primary schooling. As he advanced through university studies and eventually seminary, John never outran his reputation for tutoring and mentoring underprivileged and unchurched street urchins. “His boys” would come to represent the great mission of his life’s work: the founding of the Salesian order.

Pray for your kids’ teachers, that they would be as zealous for souls as John Bosco, and as capable of seeing the good even in the tough cases. St. John Bosco was reported to have uttered, in his last days on earth, these final words: “tell my boys I’ll see them in heaven.”

St. Zelie Martin

St. Therese, aka “the Little Flower,” was her spirited youngest daughter, a child who’s fragile emotional state caused her mother no shortage of worry at the outset of her young life. Zelie was a work at home mom who ran a successful lace-making business with her husband Louis, who was also a canonized saint, (they together marked the first joint canonization of a married couple in 2015).

Despite not being able to breastfeed her daughters and having to outsource much of their babyhoods to wet nurses (talk about potential mom-guilt) and losing 4 children at birth or shortly thereafter, Zelie was a mother on fire with the love of Christ. Despite the many, many ideals of perfection she had to relinquish throughout the course of her motherhood, culminating finally with her life itself, she remained fixed on a single goal: get her family to heaven.

All her work inside and outside the home, and every choice she made for her family aligned with that goal. Everything else was secondary. And while she probably kept a beautiful home and her girl’s school uniforms were probably lovely enhanced with their mother’s needlework, she was ultimately aiming far higher than top-of-the PTA heap – and with one daughter canonized and recognized as a Doctor of the Church and another (Leonie) on her way to recognized sainthood, it’s safe to say that Zelie raised a successful brood. Pray for her intercession as you make eternal choices for your own kids.

So there you have it: three saints with wildly different backgrounds and stories, and three friends into whose ears you can whisper hopes and dreams for your kids this school year.

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Catholic Spirituality, Evangelization

Making disciples

July 28, 2016

“Youth Ministry, as traditionally organized, has also suffered the impact of social changes. Young people often fail to find responses to their concerns, needs, problems and hurts in the usual structures. As adults, we find it hard to listen patiently to them, to appreciate their concerns, demands, and to speak to them in a language they can understand.” – Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

A couple of months ago, back before my world compressed into a tunnel of moving boxes, copious handfuls of vitamins and lots of Netflix, I had a conversation with a friend who has created something that fascinates me.

Everett Fritz is a speaker, author, and fellow FUS grad who has worked most of his adult life in youth ministry. The past 5 years have been spent working with this particular model – both as a program developer for the Augustine Institute and in exercising best practices in small group discipleship in several parishes around Denver. And the model works; the stories from his students paint a clear picture.

As we chatted on the phone and he explained the vision he has for his new ministry – St. Andrew Missionaries – memories drifted back to me from my own experience in high school youth group. I was really involved as a teen, because ding ding ding, the boy I liked was a youth group regular, as was his popular older brother. So I went religiously. (Har har.)

Every pizza social, every lock-in, every service project. I was your girl.

I played all the games of chubby bunny, I drank all the root beer floats, and I snuck all the late night cigarettes on the roof of the cabin we’d been assigned to for the retreat weeken-wait, is that not the point of youth ministry?

My memory is of 99% fluff and maybe 1% content. I think we went into the church itself to listen to praise and worship once, the boom box blasting Twyla Tharp or Newsboys while we sat in a semicircle around the altar.

My faithful attendance every Sunday night at 7 pm did not, for all the boxes and boxes of pizza consumed and all the ice breakers performed, ensure a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. Did not, as best as I can remember, communicate a single meaningful thing to me about the faith. 

I did not learn how to pray. I did not prepare adequately to receive the sacrament of Confirmation. (I thought it was an opportunity to stand by the cute boy for the group photo with the bishop.) I did not make good Confessions. I don’t actually remember if we talked about the Sacrament of Reconciliation at all, come to think of it.

And now, 15 or so years removed from the experience, I know of 2 other former members of that youth group who are still practicing Catholics. Out of 35 of us.

That isn’t good enough.

Everett said this in a recent post on his own blog:

In order to meet the basic needs of our young people, we cannot continue to use the same failed paradigms that haven’t been working in our Church for the past several decades. Youth need mentors and examples in the faith – they don’t need silly games, empty teachings and stale pizza. Our Church has to learn to shift its approach with young people from youth groups and/or classrooms into discipleship based structures where every young person has a mentoring relationship.

That last piece is what saved me, is what brought me to my senses and brought me home, finally, coaxing me back through the church doors not just in a physical return, but a whole-hearted spiritual and emotional return.

It was a relationship with a mentor, a FOCUS missionary who invested in me and believed that I deserved to have a personal relationship with Jesus and with my faith. And who believed that it was the beauty and truth of Catholicism that would ultimately draw me in: not a conference (which can be amazing!) or a pizza party (which has a place in the grand scheme of things) or another ropes course (can be fun I’ve heard! Not very outdoorsy.)

That’s what Everett is trying to do, but with kids who are younger than I was. With high schoolers who’ve yet to abandon their churchgoing practices after flying the parental nest, who are still actively engaged in their faith, who want to go deeper.

It gets better though, because the way Everett is building up these small discipleship groups is with and through engagement with the parents. Working with the pastor and existing youth staff to identify key leaders in the parish youth scene, St. Andrew Missionaries then approaches the parents of the suggested teens directly, and invites them into the process, explaining the discipleship model and what kind of buy in is necessary on their part.

From there, from natural and existing relationships between the lead teen and his or her friends, the groups come together: intimate, focused, and centered on intentional growth in a maturing relationship with Christ.

Of course, he makes it sounds a little more fun than that. But the purpose of these discipleship groups is to make disciples. To make adult Christian whose core identities are rooted in Jesus and whose dispositions are focused outward on evangelization and mission.

Sounds pretty amazing, right?

That’s what I thought, too. Because while there are amazing things happening in Catholic youth ministry in some places, in many, many parishes the scene is almost identical to what I experienced in my youth.

The New Evangelization can do better than this. And must, if it is to succeed. This week all eyes are on Poland where Pope Francis is celebrating with a million youth from around the globe, walking in the pilgrim footsteps of that consummate apostle to youth, St. John Paul the Great. I thought it would be the perfect time to introduce you to St. Andrew Missionaries, and to invite you to learn more about Everett and his mission, which is devoted to a series of projects that will assist parishes in developing small group discipleship for high school youth and their families.

What makes this mission unique is that all training services and consulting will be offered to dioceses and parishes for next to nothing. The organization is able to do this because each of its staff members will be missionaries – raising their own salary through a mission support team (much like what FOCUS, Generation Life, and Adore Ministries do).

So what about you guys, what were your experiences of youth ministry like? Did you have a life-changing encounter with Jesus at a retreat, through a relationship with your youth minister? At a Steubenville youth conference or at World Youth Day?

Do you have a young person in your life who could benefit from something like St. Andrew Missionaries?

(To join Everett’s ministry support team, click here. The first project for St. Andrew Missionaries will launch in Fall 2016. Follow Everett on Facebook here.)

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