Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Chasing Grace


I sit on the bed and pull on my compression socks. The socks are a recent addition to my running routine as six pregnancies have caused the veins in my legs to forget how to clot.  The socks are uncomfortable and difficult to put on, but I do it anyway because dealing with the puffy, purple ankles is worse.

I search the bed for my phone, grab my ear buds and walk to the machine.  Taking a few deep breaths, I spend a moment in motivational self-talk before I hop on the treadmill, adjust the settings, and start to move.

The first mile is the worst.  I think only evil thoughts:  how my calves ache from the socks, how I would rather be devouring a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey, how the music pumping through my ear phones is doing nothing to mentally motivate me to continue with this ridiculous task. 

But I press on.  I try not to notice the trickles of sweat or the heaviness of my breath. 

After awhile, the first mile is complete and I realize I haven’t died.  This no death from running is a victory because I was sure a few minutes ago someone would find my mangled body at the foot of the machine.  And while I don’t want to romanticize this whole physical exercise business, I also can’t ignore the fact that not only has the running not killed me, I also have found something while my feet pound in rhythmic motion, something that feels like grace.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

It's Between Her And God

Mary Bernadette, my second grade daughter, and I were nestled in the church pew listening to the instructions on how to proceed so that all 150 children might receive their First Reconciliation in the most efficient and effective manner possible.  We were there for Mary, as she was one of the 150 children, and as I sat watching the setting sun dance across the walls of the church, the light colored a buttery yellow I found comforting, I couldn't believe we were here and now was her time.

"Do you remember what you say when you go?"  I whispered.

"Not really," she said, and shrugged her shoulders.

I immediately thought about my oldest two children, Patrick and Meaghan.  In the weeks prior to their First Reconciliation, I reviewed with them ad nauseum the proper Confessional techniques.

But Mary?

She's my middle child, and like a typical middle kid, my proper First Reconciliation prep work with her had slipped through the cracks.

I tried not to panic.

"What?  You really don't know?  Didn't your teacher review this?"  I asked.  "You've been studying the Act of Contrition.  You know that, right?"

She shrugged again, not at all daunted about the task before her.

"I know the prayer, but I don't know what I say when I go in.  Can you tell me?"

"Bless me Father for I have sinned.  This is my first Confession," I said in hushed tones.  "Can you remember that?  It's easy.  Bless me Father, for I have sinned."

She looked at me, nodded and turned her attention back to the altar.

"Are you nervous?" I asked, while the lady continued to give instructions.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Evangelization Is Not Just A Protestant Thing

Last spring, my husband and I signed up to take a nine-week class on financial management held at a local Protestant church.  We chose a class at this particular place because they offered babysitting for our five children, thereby removing the largest obstacle to our commitment.  Without the worry of what to do with our brood while we were off goal planning and budgeting, we could comfortably make the commitment to attend.

  At the end of the evening, the adults always thanked us for coming and encouraged us to come back next week.  They communicated in many different ways that they were glad we came.  

Each week, after we loaded everyone into the van and started the drive home, my husband, John, would comment about how well versed his Protestant brethren were at personal attention and hospitality.

“I would never leave the Catholic Church,” he said, “we have the fullness of the truth and there is no replacement for it, but those Catholics who don’t realize what the Eucharist actually is might find the warm welcome at the doors of the Protestant church very attractive.  The Protestants are really good at building community; at welcoming strangers and making them feel wanted.  They know how to evangelize.”

Read the rest here.

Friday, January 30, 2015

7 Quick Takes: What I'm Into

1.  I often read Modern Mrs. Darcy's blog because she offers solid book recommendations about at fast as I change diapers, which is to say...often! Anyway, one post she writes up that I particularly like is the What I'm Into review.  I thought I'd adopt her format (which she adapts from Leigh Kramer) and share a few things I'm liking lately.


I've read three so far this month and they are:

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer:  Rated as one of the best novels of 2014 and I can see why.  I thought the New York Times Reviewer William T. Vollman was a little harsh (even if he was accurate) when he made critiques about one under developed main characters and an unbelievable villain.  Still, Vollman admitted to staying up half the night reading the book, which I found myself doing.  This story is set during World War II and tells the story of Marie-Laure LeBlanc, who participates in the French resistance against Germany, and Werner Pfenning, a young boy who gets recruited by the Nazi's for his brilliant knowledge of building radios.  It's beautifully written and tragic and leaves the reader with pangs of heart sickness.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd:  a great historical novel about the real life Grimke sisters.  Their story is reason enough to read the book, especially if you've never heard of them (and I hadn't).

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor:  Wow.  As I told my husband and a friend, O'Connor is a literary genius and her training in the craft of writing is obvious.  It's also obvious she was brilliant.  The  imagery/symbolism she uses in her stores are powerful and deep and entire essays have been written just to dissect them.  I needed some of these essays as I read because I had trouble picking them out myself.

Of course, none of the characters she writes about are likable in this comic novel (with maybe the exception of Enoch Emery) and the landscape she depicts is terribly depressing. (I found this lecture by a Yale professor on both these topics particularly helpful and interesting.)

But...she does this on purpose.  Darkness with a purpose?  Yes, so we can see how much we need the light.

I think the works of Flannery O'Connor are mandatory reading for Catholics, even if you don't like her.  I don't, however, think you can read her fiction without reading her nonfiction as her nonfiction offers a type of lens with which to approach her other writings.  Her Catholic faith imbues everything and without an understanding of this, I think it's too easy to focus on her grotesque depictions, which she uses to illustrate the flawed human condition and our great need for a Savior. 

I feel like I need to read Wise Blood again just to uncover the depth. 

2.  I'm currently reading:

The Power And The Glory by Graham Greene.  I picked this one up because Notre Dame Magazine rated this one of the ten most Catholic novels of all time.  I didn't know what to expect, but so far, I love it.  It's about a whisky priest during the Mexican Cristeros war who is very flawed, but who cannot disconnect his deeply held Catholic worldview from his selfish desires and actions.

3.  On my to-read list:

This months Notre Dame Magazine had a list of the top ten Catholic novels of all time and I aim to read many of them them this year.  I have only read two (Brideshead Revisited and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad), but I want to check out these a well:

Billiards At Half-Past Nine by Heirich Boll
Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone
Diary of A Country Priest by George Bernanos
Silence by Shusaku Endo
The Woman of the Phairesses Fracois Mauriac
Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset (but I think I need a reading group for this one!  It's epic.)

Also for consideration:

Death Comes To The Archbishop by Willa Cather
Vipers' Tangle by Francois Mauriac 
The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor
The End Of The Affair by Graham Greene
Morte d'Urban by J.F. Powers

I'm not sure how I'll do; wish me luck.

As an aside, you should check out this essay by Lawrence Cunningham entitled On Books, Bookstores, and a Grumpy List from the same magazine.

He says in the intro:
Let me state a profound conviction that is also an adamantine prejudice: Barnes & Noble is not a bookstore, nor are any of its pale imitators. By my standard, the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore is not really a bookstore — it is a T-shirt joint that happens to sell books. A real bookstore sells new and used books; it has a certain indescribable odor of mustiness plus dust and a faint whiff of old leather. The employees look like they were bred to live among books — they must be pale, unfashionably dressed, bespectacled and somewhat ethereal in demeanor. Most of all, they must know books.

The whole thing is delightful!

4.  TV:

Is it terrible to admit John and I both like American Idol?  Because we do.  I have a long and not sordid love affair with pop music (go ahead, you can be shocked) and this show nurtures that deep affinity.  How is there so much talent in the world?

Also, I loved these two documentaries and you can find them on Netflix:

Undefeated: the true life story of a high school football coach and his inner city football team from Memphis, TN who want to win their first ever playoff game.  Moving and inspirational.  Reminded me of my Louisiana days where football is a religion and the coaches worship at the altar of talented players and championship games.

Short Game: this documentary follows some of the best golfers in the world as they strive to win the world championship title.  These players?  They happen to only be 7 years old.  Entertaining and amazing.

And least I forget, Unbroken.  I took Patrick to see it (we had both read the book) and we loved it.  

4.  Music:

Sam Smith's voice?  So good.  (See?  Told you.  Pop music.)

As an aside, Mary discovered several of my old Indigo Girls cds and she's obsessed.  You have no idea how this warms my wannabe guitar playing, angst filled creative heart.

5.  Podcasts:

My sister recommended Serial so while I was on the treadmill one day, I listened to the first episode.  Then, I spent the next several days of my life cleaning and exercising just so I would have an excuse to listen to the story.

The writing and the story-telling is so well done and so addicting.

I finished all twelve episodes and now I'm all, "WHAAAAAAT????" I have to wait for more!"

And (spoiler alert!!!):  I think Adnan is guilty, though I don't think he received a fair trial.  Sorry, Adnan supporters.

6.  Favorite photos of the week:

Y'all!  I asked the kids to walk into the field this week so I could get a photo of them in the snow covered tundra.  In the middle of the photo shoot, we had these unexpected visitors.  Six deer stole from the forest directly in front of us!  It was so amazing I still can't get over it.

Unrelated but because she's cute:

7.   Posts I've liked on the web:

 On Creativity, True Self, and Finding Inspiration

On Debt And Openness To Life

The Dos and Don'ts Of An Unequally Yoked Marriages

The Power Of The Message It Is Good You Exist

On Heavy Burdens And Negative Patterns

From last week on my own blog:

The Pope,  Rabbits, and Prudence

On Giving What I Can, Instead Of How I Want

And that's it.  This was fun.  If I'm organized, maybe I'll try this again.  Until then, go see Kelly for more quick takes and Modern Mrs. Darcy and Leigh Kramer to find out what they like.

Oh my gosh!  I almost forgot.  My friend, Rhonda, wrote an ebook.  She's a smart one, that girl.  No, really, she is.  If you are interested in the connection between Jane Austen and virtue, this is the book for you!  Go check it out.  I'm proud of you, Rhonda!

Friday, January 23, 2015

7 Quick Takes On The Pope, Rabbits, And Prudence

1.  The Pope kicked over a hornet's nest this week when he spoke off the cuff about issues of sex and marriage.  The Internet exploded with interpretations of what exactly he meant and why he said it.  I'm not sure I'm going to add any new insight to the conversation, but I can't stop myself from writing about it because this issue is one so relevant to my life.

  Here's an excerpt from the entire translated interview:

That example I mentioned shortly before about that woman who was expecting her eighth child and already had seven who were born with cesareans. That is a an irresponsibility.  That woman might say 'no, I trust in God.’ But, look, God gives you means to be responsible. Some think that -- excuse the language -- that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood. This is clear and that is why in the Church there are marriage groups, there are experts in this matter, there are pastors, one can search; and I know so many ways that are licit and that have helped this. You did well to ask me this.

2.   The pope calls to task a woman who is expecting her eight child and will undergo her eighth c-section when the baby is born.  When I read his example, I imagined this woman coming to Francis about the serious medical risk she will face when it's time for the c-section.  I pictured her crying out of concern for her family should something happen to her and I pictured Francis speaking with her at length, encouraging her to use prudence when discerning whether or not to add to her family.

But all of this is my educated guess...

In using this example, Francis has information we don't, information which make this woman's situation--I think--pertinent to the discussion of discernment and prudence. 

Some are offended by the use of such a specific example, but I think it's relevant to what it is to be a responsible parent.  Not all women who have multiple c-sections are warned by their doctors about the danger repeat procedures imposes, but some are.  Those whose doctors express concern about more kids, should heed the doctor's warning and discern carefully whether or not to have more children.

The health of the mother and whether or not she will be able to care for her kids is nothing to snub our noses at.  

Since Francis is a former pastor, my guess is this is not the first time he has seen an orthodox Catholic family, who has embraced the church's teachings on family planning, be imprudent with regard to their decision to have more kids.  The lack of prudence is not limited to a woman warned by her doctors that having multiple c-sections is dangerous.  Hang around in the groups I do and very quickly you might  observe a wife and husband who might adopt a "throw caution to the wind because we trust God" mentality, even though they are clearly struggling to keep their heads above water.

Instead of following the proper steps of discernment, these types of couples are really just making poor decisions. 

To be honest, at various points in our own marriage, John and I have been the imprudent parents Francis is talking about!   We haven't always carefully evaluated whether or not we were up to the task of welcoming additional children into the mix.  We haven't always discerned well our ability to emotionally and psychologically care for more kids, even though we behaved like we were OK with more.  

That's not to say we aren't happy about our "unplanned" children;  I'd be lost without each one of my kids.

What I am saying is that at various points in time, I haven't been jumping up and down when I saw the lines turn blue on a pregnancy test because...I behaved imprudently and didn't discern properly.

Monday, January 12, 2015

On Giving What I Can Instead of How I Want

Last Tuesday, a lackadaisical snow storm left us with a few inches of white powdery stuff on the ground.  It was pretty while it lasted but then the temperature dropped ridiculously low and all that snow went and froze into slick patches of ice.  A few days later, when the kids looked out the window and saw our neighbor's driveway still covered from the storm, Patrick and Mary begged me to go shovel it.

I told them no, but they insisted.

I'm not sure why, but they were dead set on shoveling the neighbor out.

"No one has cleared their driveway yet, Mom!  They need help.  Please, let us go over there?" Patrick said.

I thought of all the reasons they shouldn't:

*the neighbor might be working and they may annoy her,

*they might not do a nice job,

*they will get bored and quit mid attempt, and/or

*they will make more of a mess. 

I refused multiple times--convinced they would only hurt the situation and definitely not help it--but each time one of them countered my argument, showing a true desire to help someone else.  It dawned on me while we discussed the issue that I was squelching their desire to do a good thing. 

"If you want to go over there, you cannot disturb her," I said.  "You just shovel the driveway quietly and make sure you finish the job.  You may not take any money for the work.  If you want to do a good deed for someone, do it well."

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Simple Woman's Daybook: The Back From The Break Edition

Outside my window:  It's still black outside, but I can tell we had a snow dusting last night.  It wasn't much but it did stick and it's cold.  I am wrapped up in my new faux fur blanket John gave me for Christmas.  It's the softest, nicest blanket I've ever owned.

I am thankful:  for the wonderful Christmas break.  Even with the two weeks of the Bubonic plague we endured, we still had a great holiday.  John was off for a chunk of it and we spent time together eating and watching movies and lounging in our pajamas.  I'm not going to lie, it was hard to go back to the real world yesterday.

Christmas morning

Williamsburg "Vacation"

I am creating:  Lenten plans.  After focusing on a Christmas with less material things (overall a rousing success), I'm geared up to try the forty bags in forty days.

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