Saturday, July 8, 2017

I'll Take Mercy for 500, Alex

I try to go to confession every Saturday. For two months, over the various parishes and priests I have visited, every single one has said a variation of the same message. "You need to focus on God's mercy."

My mind revolts at that message.

It seems such a screen to make excuses: excuses for my sinfulness, excuses for my committing the same sins again and again - and dammit, again. Like a smoke screen for moral laxity or a touchy-feely code word that wants to make everybody feel okay for daily refusing to take on the challenge to be a saint.

I want a priest to throw the book at me: I want to hear about hell, fear of the Lord, heroic virtue. I want confession to feel like purgatory - a burning away of the dross that prevents me from being pure gold.

Yet those men that God has put in my life to be Christ to me - these men have stood with one foot in Heaven and one on earth and the message they give me is different, again and again - and dammit, again.

They beg me to take up Christ's yoke of mercy.

Yet it seems so heavy, such a hard burden to bear, this mercy. My soul recoils, "what could mercy have to do with me?" Part of it is a misunderstanding of mercy - mercy does not excuse sin. Mercy does not say that sin is not sin; mercy is "love reaching down to lift people out of their physical and spiritual miseries." (see here) Mercy is God loving us so much, he provides us with a way out of our own sinfulness - through confession, through the life of virtue, through Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

The crux here is that, to receive God's mercy, I have to admit that I cannot make a path on my own. I cannot, by any amount of willpower, mental tricks, or new routine, make myself virtuous. I cannot save myself. For me, an American millennial young woman, that's so hard to accept. I pay lip service to this concept, but my actions do not bear it out. Every day, I wake up and instead of begging for the grace needed to be virtuous just for today - I resolve to just be better! My new self begins today! Today will be Day One of Martha 2.0, no mistakes, no more being my same crappy self. Haha, I will just resolve that and I'll be fine, I will power through, just like I have powered through hard things before. Hey, I graduated law school, okay. I'm smart and capable! I'll make a chart, buy a new planner, look up routines on Pinterest, get some inspiration from some peeps who seem to have it all together, and get going!

It lasts for two hours, if I'm lucky. Sometimes the jig is up in 30 minutes if my kids are really on point.

Mercy demands that I be humbled, that I come to Christ as what I truly am - a sinner in need of a savior. I cannot save myself - I'm such a mess, I can't even successfully pretend to save myself. I have to sit at his feet and say, "how do I do this?" I have to listen to him - in prayer, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in the words of the Church Fathers (and Mothers), in his saints and holy ones. When I listen to myself, to the messages of of this world, I'm just listening to an echo of nothingness - just 'sounding gongs' and 'clanging cymbals.' There is a path, an ancient path, to peace and joy, to Oneness with God. It is not an easy path! But it is the way of mercy and Jesus walked it before me, and walks it with me now. In fact, we are not even alone - there is a multitude, a great cloud of witnesses, that every moment cheers me and calls out how to go, warns of pitfalls, points back to the Way.

Dear Jesus, help me to accept your mercy every day: it will be enough, you will be enough, and united with you, even what little I am will be enough.

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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Beyond the South, Beyond Home

The second day we were here, my mom and I ran errands to the nearest Target. I was overwhelmed and shocked, and felt like I had a rock in my stomach every time I went outside. Everything was so unfamiliar, and it frightened me - like a refrain, I kept wondering "how can I raise a family in a place I don't know? What is true, when I don't even know the earth beneath my feet?"

It got better. Slowly. Summer helped.

The week we moved into our new house, Tom sat me on the couch after we got the kids in bed and said "I've been saving this song for you for when we had our house." I cried through the whole thing and I cry every time I listen to it.

This video gives me hope. It still doesn't feel like home here yet - it still feels so strange, and often lonely and hard. It's so easy to lose my moorings when I am living in a place where I have no history. I put my hands out to catch the wisdom of my ancestors and my hands grab nothing but empty air. No one that is kin to me has put their bones in this ground, or watched the seasons come and go for generations so that it is a rhythm that echoes in their blood. Southerners are so fiercely loyal - to place, to memory, to tradition, to our families. To be in a place with none of those things is like having amnesia and being homeless both at once.

But this song gives me great hope that it won't be like this forever - that after we put our work and our hearts into this new place, we'll look up and find it's become home.

We will call this place our home,
The dirt in which our roots may grow.
Though the storms will push and pull,
We will call this place our home.

We’ll tell our stories on these walls.
Every year, measure how tall.
And just like a work of art,
We’ll tell our stories on these walls.

Let the years we’re here be kind, be kind.
Let our hearts, like doors, open wide, open wide.
Settle our bones like wood over time, over time.
Give us bread, give us salt, give us wine.

A little broken, a little new.
We are the impact and the glue.
Capable of more than we know,
We call this fixer upper home.

With each year, our color fades.
Slowly, our paint chips away.
But we will find the strength
And the nerve it takes
To repaint and repaint and repaint every day.

Let the years we’re here be kind, be kind.
Let our hearts, like doors, open wide, open wide.
Settle our bones like wood over time, over time.
Give us bread, give us salt, give us wine.

Let the years we’re here be kind, be kind.
Let our hearts, like doors, open wide, open wide.
Settle our bones like wood over time, over time.
Give us bread, give us salt, give us wine.
Give us bread, give us salt, give us wine.

Smaller than dust on this map
Lies the greatest thing we have:
The dirt in which our roots may grow
And the right to call it home.

When I listen to this song, I'm reminded that my family did not always live in the South. We left our generational homes hundreds of years ago and came to this country. We clung to the family with brought with us and over the years, our English and Irish traditions changed and our homes became old and familiar. I recall that what makes home are the people we call into it to share the love we pour out. The song is part prayer, part mantra, part battlecry - moving me beyond the South and beyond my clinging thoughts of home.

Someday, by God's grace, and a great deal of hard work, we might have the right to call Michigan home.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bird Feeders & Winter Grace

It's not freezing, but it's cold and rainy - cold enough to need jackets, but not cold enough for snow! Zuzu keeps asking, "where's the snow mom?"

Using Sarah MacKenzie's January booklist as a guide, we picked up The Big Snow (among others) to read aloud this month. We read it today, to ease Davey from grumpy post-nap to the land of the living. It talks about feeding the animals who can't find food after the big snow.

Who could live with the idea of animals without food? Susannah certainly couldn't, so we got to work...

I remember making these as a child - do you? Luckily we're allergy-free in our house, so the old standards worked just fine. I've been asking my husband to save the cardboard tubes we use, so I was glad to have that stash for such a gloomy craft day as this. David was a non-participant, but he was glad to cheer us on from his perch in the highchair. 

This is also, as an aside, a great sensory activity. Zuzu really loves the big corn box (think sand box, but filled with dried corn) at our favorite farm, so I think this was reminiscent, on a small scale, of that. If I had thought ahead more (read: at all), I think I would have poured the bird seed into a big bin and let her pat it onto the peanut butter that way. Even our curved plates made this...a bit messy. Definitely glad I did this before floor cleaning day tomorrow! 

We had two bird feeders to fill in addition to our tubes, but I faced the question: with no low-hanging branches, how will we make the tubes stand up? Well, after rustling around in the garage for a bit, I found a broken undersink organizer that had been destined for Goodwill. Turn it upside down...voila. That's called upcycling, right? Very trendy I'm sure!

End result: happy girl, and hopefully happy birds once they realize we have much to offer. 

It was easy, before we moved here, to romanticize the cold. Hot chocolate! Cozy days reading by the fire! Making bird feeders for winter animals! But the truth is, just like my labor-intensive drives to the beach and the messy-side of summer popsicle eating, making a winter that is cozy and enjoyable is work. I make hot chocolate that my children instantly reject as too hot or not tasting enough like tea - they want to read the same d-u-m-b board book that I agreed to bring home from the library in a moment of weakness. Making bird feeders is very messy! I'm pretty sure I'll be finding peanut butter and/or bird seed in my kitchen for weeks.

That life is work is a universal condition, either in the land of perpetual summer or that of ice and snow. To enjoy this work and let it sanctify me is my choice, prompted by grace. Little by little, I work my way to holiness, one book, one bird feeder, one child at a time.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Little Longer, Be My Baby

I get the comments every week, when I'm out toting my golden haired boy.

Are you going to cut his hair? 

Are you tired of him being called a girl? 

Long hair - isn't that, y'know, girly? 

I know I have a different perspective. What can I say, it's those three years I spent at law school with all those cute boys with Bama bangs. I just love a man with a good head of hair and now I have the most darling little man with the most darling curls (and very impressive bangs too).
I really didn't face this question with Zuzu since she didn't even have any hair until she was 2. David had more hair when he was born than Zuzu did until 2.5! Now I admit, sometimes his mane gets a bit unruly...

...but I'm trying hard to wait until he is two to cut it. I know, I know that as soon as it's cut, the baby curls will be gone - and suddenly he will look much more like a little boy than a little baby. But he still feels like my baby - especially now that I have a big girl to compare him to, and I can fully appreciate the swift and fleeting nature of time. I don't want to let that go. If my tendency with Zuzu is to push her to be more mature because she is the oldest child I have, then perhaps I do have a tendency to baby David, as he is the youngest child I have. 

And perhaps many other moms with subfertility can relate to this: I'm constantly wondering if he's the last baby. Now, we've been deeply blessed to have two children - certainly we are far ahead of where my OB said we would be, six months before we were engaged. You'll never have children without serious help, and even then we can't count on anything. In fact, we've been so blessed to have gotten pregnant four times and be holding two healthy children in our arms, that at this point, we count on having more. We have started to think when, and not if

But in the back of my mother's mind is always that worry - what if he's our last? What if he never gets to have a brother, or Zuzu a sister? What if this is the last baby I get to hold at 18 months, the last one to nurse to sleep? There's a thought that all those "whens" might be wishful "ifs" instead and that years from now, I'll wish I had those damp post-nap curls to run my fingers through. That nagging thought means I'll be keeping him my baby, for just a little longer. 

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Beginning of the Best

Susannah is less 24 hours away from being four years old.

I don't think I ever imagined what it would be like to have a four year old. I was so focused on getting through my pregnancy, keeping her alive, nursing, figuring it all out. Oh I was so focused on that day-to-day, I couldn't look up - I couldn't imagine what was coming.

I remember her being born like it was yesterday. That labor was like a dream - my 6:30am wakeup call on a Friday, the long silence of Hypnobirthing labor, the hour and fifteen minutes of hard work pushing her out - pushing her out to Brandi Carlile's The Story (which I found from this birth video and story).

That first six weeks of her life is burned into my mind too. Such clarity of focus, such intense love and joy and praising: oh finally, finally! I had waited my whole life to become a mother and she christened me so kindly. I remember it all: the chocolate cake every day at 2:12pm, episodes of LOST always on, the sound of the chimes of my new washer/dryer as they ran ran ran constantly with new baby laundry, the cool air blowing in over Grandma Mary's vintage couch.

It's only gotten harder from there - and sometimes I get really scared when I think how much higher the stakes are going to get, how much more complicated the issues. I am afraid that I fail a great deal in being the mother I should be; I am, in fact, often stunned by the depths of my own failings. I am often shocked at you too - you, Susannah, natural heir to my occasional writings here.  You are You are yourself. You are not me - although for so long you were, you were just an extension, as natural as my arm or nose. You are now yourself and claiming that boldly. I'd be more proud if I could stop being so hurt by the growing pains.

It's hard. You're the oldest child I have on this earth, so naturally I expect so much of you - sometimes, too much. I often fumble, I am reaching out a hand to find my bearings, and before I catch myself I'm trampling on you in the process. I worry, oh I worry, and your dad and I spend so much time talking, praying, talking, praying - for you, for help, for guidance, for the ability to give you whatever you need, for you to be shielded from our foibles.

It's good too. I love getting to know you, I love showing you the parts of the world that I love, I love that you get as excited about books as you do about toys. I love seeing your imagination develop, seeing how you crave stories, make up worlds, live in them and believe in them deeply. I know these stories, this newfound independence, this self I am helping you discover will lead you into the deepest and greatest mystery: union with the Triune God, who is all that is Good and Beautiful and True.

Susannah, your birth was the beginning of the best part of my life and every day, even when I am frustrated, I am beyond thrilled to be your mother.

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