March Drabness

If you’re all about brackets, you might want to skip this post.

I grew up in Raleigh, NC, home of North Carolina State University (aka State, aka NC State) which makes up one point of the Research Triangle Park with the University of North Carolina located in Chapel Hill (aka Carolina, aka North Carolina) and Duke University in Durham (no akas, it’s just Duke) making up the other two. In addition to the insane number of engineers, doctors, scientists and attorneys (not to mention teachers, veterinarians, politicians, artists and whatever else) who are in the area that come from these schools, these schools also produce some of the best college basketball players in the NCAA. And rivalries.

We moved to Raleigh in 1983, when I was four-years-old. Back then we used to get out of school for the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) tournament and NCAA…if a local team was playing. And living there, you HAD to pick a team. There was no such thing as being neutral. I settled on Duke, eventually. It took a few years of trying on the other teams. Now when people ask, I’m hard-core ABC (Anyone but Carolina). And I’m still partial to Duke, mostly because of Grant Hill and Coach K. Oh yeah, and my mom works for Duke (full disclosure here people). But my years away from the Triangle area, (seventeen of those now compared to the fourteen I lived there), have left me with a severe case of what I call March Drabness.

The last bracket I filled out for the NCAA tournament was in 2009 when I was heavily pregnant with William. For whatever reason, Jeff asked me to fill out a bracket for him and I did pretty darn well as I remember. I know a lot about college basketball after the years of living in the land of it, but the joy was gone. I happen to know that Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State and Wisconsin are in the Final Four. I also know that unlike some years, these are four teams that are not Cinderellas and, based on their stats, “deserve” to be there. And I could not care less. Seriously, it is not possible for me to care less. I won’t watch the games on Saturday. And on Easter Monday, I’ll most likely be working during the game, which is fine by me. Jeff threatens that if Duke is in the final (despite being a State fan) he will go to Durham and paint himself blue (and being bald, he would be inducted into the Blue Man Group. Duke Blue isn’t that exact color but it’s pretty darn close.). And me…meh.

I just can’t get excited about college basketball. College football I’m all about, but basketball has fallen off, way off. Jeff says it’s because I’m not an NBA fan like I am an NFL fan. But if that holds, why am I not super into the Frozen Four of college hockey because I’m insanely NHL addicted. I think, for me, it’s not absence making the heart grow fonder, it’s out of sight, out of mind. And March is almost over…bring on the Yankees!

Getting to Know Me and How I Pray

After reading Melanie Bettinelli (of The Wine Dark Sea) ‘s answers on Thomas McDonald’s blog God and the Machine, I realized these “How I pray questions” are great questions to introduce new readers to their blogger. So I’m borrowing them for those new to the blog especially those who found me through facebook.
Who are you?
A wife and mother of three. I work part-time outside of the home so I consider myself a stay-at-home mom. I was born in New Jersey, but my father’s job brought us to NC (the Research Triangle Park) when I was four and I grew up in the Raleigh area and moved to the coast (where I live now) for college. I live in the land of few Catholics, but it was much fewer when I was a kid. Thanks to retirees from up north and the Hispanic population, Catholicism is on the rise in NC and so I don’t feel as much the oddity anymore! I have a very lucrative fine arts degree in Creative Writing, which I do on this blog. Sort of. ;) I love music and sleep and prefer the radio to television. My oldest child was diagnosed at age 2 with autism spectrum disorder, so I am a passionate advocate for her and autism acceptance.

What is your vocation?
Primarily to please God as His child (I am a recovering people pleaser).  My other vocations include wife to Jeff, mother to Shelby, Joseph and William, and sometimes-writer.
What is your prayer routine for an average day?
Since it is Lent, I have developed some new routines. I get up, almost every day before the sun and before my kids, which is key. Now my youngest is going to be six in May so there is a reason that is possible! I begin each day in Lauds (Morning Prayer) from the Divine Office. Right now I am also completing the 33 Days to Morning Glory Marian Consecrations, so I usually follow Lauds with the reflection for that day. Then start my Marian Prayers. Although I have not completed the retreat, I still say the four consecration prayers (Morning Glory, St Louis de Montfort, St Maximilian Kolbe, and Consoler Consecration to Mary). Then I say the Hail Mary, Sub Tum Praesidium (in English), The Memorare, Hail Holy Queen, Alma Redemptoris, Ave Maris Stella, Litany of Loreto, and two Fatima prayers. If I hit six AM in my routine, I offer an Angelus. Then I say the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows followed by the traditional Rosary in which I say that day’s Mysteries plus the Sorrowful Mysteries since we are in Lent (in Easter it’s Glorious, Ordinary Time it’s Luminous, Advent-Michaelmas Joyful). On Tuesdays and Fridays I say the entire 20 decades. Sometimes not all at once. I also try to fit in the Blessed is She Devotions and my daily devotion from Father Robert Barron in at this time. Each morning I also say with my boys Morning Offering, Guardian Angel prayer, Prayer to St Michael for protection, St Patrick’s Breastplate, Anima Christi, Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be and Apostles Creed (they both have difficulty in memorization, so that’s a lot of our prayer together). Later in the day I will say Matins (Office of Readings) from the Divine Office). If I’m not working I aim for the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3 pm (although sometimes I fit it in elsewhere). In the evenings I say Vespers and I also try for the Compline at night. I am for at least one Angelus daily, sometimes even silently while at work (which I know defeats the purpose, but I work at a grocery store, so , there is that!). At night I say with the boys the Act of Contrition, Guardian Angel prayer, Now I Lay Me and we’re adding the Memorare and Hail Holy Queen (Joseph also likes the Glory Be, so we often add it in). I also enjoy praying my Rosaries in front of the Blessed Sacrament which I do online through an Irish parish that has a live webcam. I don’t always get all of this done, except the morning prayers, and some days even those slip past me, so I say a lot of “I’m sorry, I’ll do better” prayers. Moms of lots of littles and homeschooling moms, you do not have have my prayer routine (which I realize looks really, really over the top), when my littles were really little, I was lucky to remember to say grace before meals somedays! I know often my prayers were simply “Help!” and “Thanks!” in those more hectic days and I became very fond of the prayer of St Philip Neri: God, help me get through today and I will not fear tomorrow.

Do you have a devotion that is particularly important to you or effective?
I have come to love the Divine Office and praying the Psalms. After the election of Pope Francis and his installation, Cardinal Gracias of India revealed he was praying Psalms in between ballots and I just love how I can pray with the entire church this way. I’ve also become quite the Marian prayer person which surprises no one more than me. I’ve seen a true difference in my life this Lent as a result of my Marian prayers.

Do you have a place, habit, or way of praying?
There is no wrong way or place, I’ve learned! Any and everywhere! When I grew up, aside from grace, we rarely prayed as a family aside from grace before meals so I viewed prayer as a more solitary thing. I never learned the Rosary or Divine Office as a child, although my mother prayed them regularly (not a criticism, Mom and Dad!) but I was also a natural memorizer because I am an auditory learner so very young I knew the responses in Mass, the Nicene Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. Some of the other prayers were harder to learn on my own later in life because I wasn’t “hearing them” as I was reading them. I do tend to pray “out loud” as a result. My boys are not auditory learners nor are they natural memorizers. Joseph is visual and William is kinesthetic so Joseph has either his Prayers by Heart from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston or Amy Welborn’s The Word’s We Pray out (he uses Magnifikid during Mass). William usually has a Rosary in his hands to help him get through our prayers. Also, as a result of them not being great at memorization, we tend toward committing to memory the “basic” prayers.
Do you use any tools or sacramentals?
I use the iBreviary app on my laptop quite often. When our iPad worked I also used iRosary. And we use our books The Words We Pray by Amy Welborn and Prayers by Heart by the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston for the kids to read along.

What is your relationship with the Rosary?
Much more robust than it used to be! I find a lot of focus now in the repetition. Since I usually pray it in front of the Blessed Sacrament online, I’ve found myself offering it quite often for Navan Parish and the people there praying before the Blessed Sacrament. I used to only really “like” the Joyful Mysteries, but through the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows, I’ve come to embrace the Sorrowful ones and since my relationship with the Holy Spirit has grown so much in the past few years, the Glorious Mysteries became special as well. The Luminous Mysteries were hard for a very long time until I studied the Gospel of Matthew in BSF last year and now they are probably my favorite.

Are there any books or spiritual works that are important to your devotional life?
The Bible, the Breviary and Father Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory are very important right now. Particularly the second readings in Matins in the Breviary. Immaculee Ilibigaza’s Our Lady of Kibeho is one of my favorites to go back to and it taught me about the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows. For may years I also used Amy Welborn’s A Catholic Woman’s Book of Days which is a short Bible verse, a brief reflection and a prayer.

What is your most recent spiritual or devotional reading?
Aside from Morning Glory (which I’m still in the midst of), I’m also re-reading Scott Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper.

Are there saints or other figures who inspire your prayer life or act as patrons?
I love the saints. Right now I have extra-special devotion to my patron for 2015, St Peter. Also to my children’s patron saints, St Clare of Assisi, St Joseph, St Patrick, Blessed William of Ireland and St Christopher. Also, she is not canonized (yet!), but Courtney Lenaburg (the late beautiful daughter of Mary of Passionate Perseverance) I have special devotion to as without her Mary could not have been the amazing mentor she has been to me as the mother of a special needs daughter and I believe she is already looking out for my Shelby. I had a dream once, about 2 or 3 years ago, that we took Shelby to a doctor and the doctor walked in and it was Courtney. She WALKED and SPOKE in my dream and how I wish I could hear that voice again! I know I will someday! I believe Courtney is very busy in heaven right now interceding for so many of us! Oh, and St Raphael…I’ll get to that in a minute.

Have you had any unusual or even miraculous experiences as a result of your prayer life?

When I was pregnant with William, I was at one of my many ultrasounds (I have a genetic blood clotting disorder, so I am high risk during pregnancy). It happened to be on the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The doctor had me go back in for a second round because they believed William had a heart defect where one side of his heart was not growing properly and he had chorionic cysts on his brain. As I waited for an imaging room to open up, I begged Our Lady of Guadalupe to please intercede and let my son (I had just found out he was a boy) as I had come to this appointment alone and did not know how I would tell my husband something could be wrong. We went back in and the cysts were small (they were gone the following month), he opened and closed his fists and he had just been in a bad position to see his heart. He was fine. As I left the office that day, I heard something say, “You DID name him a “strong-willed, Christ-bearer” (the meanings of his name, William Christopher). And I knew then.

Also related to William and the above reference to St Raphael are recounted here. The irony of William having a deep desire to be a physician now is NOT lost on me.

I would like to see __________________ answer these questions.

Tracy of A Slice of Smith Life, Katherine of Having Left the Altar and Maurisa of  Half a Dozen and More Productions (of course no one has to…just something fun to do)!

Thanks to Thomas McDonald for coming up with these great questions and hosting so many great bloggers.

Not the Enemy

I’ve read a lot of posts various places lately about facebook. How it robs us of real connections. And then there are the ones that claim facebook “lies” about their lives because of the pictures they choose to post? And then I read this one on Patheos. And boy does he get to the heart of the matter for so many of us. Facebook isn’t the enemy, how we use it is. And in that respect, he gives us some guidelines. All of them are excellent but let me pull a couple of favorites:

4. Manage the timeline. I have some family and friends who I love dearly, but in real life we don’t talk politics. So why do I allow myself to read their political rants on Facebook? All it does is make my blood boil, and there’s no point arguing back — the few times I’ve tried, it always just escalates. Facebook allows you to remain a friend with someone but to disallow their posts from showing up on your timeline. Obviously, if you want to stay in touch with someone this might not be an ideal option, but it can be a great way to keep loved ones in your FB circle while also protecting your blood pressure.

I have had this exact conversation with other bloggers who have tried to have everyone in one place. Sometimes, it’s not the best decision. People I love very much sometimes say very stupid things either out of ignorance or temporary insanity or because they have no tact or any other number of things. When I realize that I am constantly having to tell myself to take a breath…I unfollow. This allows me to keep in touch but on my terms. Just as you have a choice not to answer the phone when you see a particular number on your caller id…you have a choice not to see every person’s every post.

5. Make use of Facebook’s “Friends List” feature. Some people are close friends. Others, just acquaintances. Facebook allows us to invisibly mark each connection accordingly (we can also tag family members and set up custom lists). Then, when we post something, we can decide if the general public sees it, or just friends/acquaintances, or just close friends. It’s a good way to manage who gets to see pictures of the new kitten and who gets to read about our deepest hopes and fears.

After having one too many fights break out in comments on my statuses, it became apparent some people did not need to see others’ comments on particular subjects. Or, for that matter, see my posts on those subjects as well. The friends list is the answer to all of that in your privacy features. Our lives are complicated and not everyone needs to know every detail despite the demands of social media. Do yourself a favor and create friends lists and use them!

9. Be Silent. I’m still working this one out, but it’s becoming obvious to me that silence needs to be an ingredient in my social media engagement. I need time off from Facebook, whether that means a Sabbath day when the computer never gets turned on, or a “Great Silence” period of eight hours or so each evening/night to give it a rest. Just as important, silence needs to be an element of how I am present online: this is a corollary to #6 above, where I can choose to respond to inflammatory or triggering posts with the generosity of silence rather than the intensity of debate.

To me, this last one is key. In fact, I chose to announce yesterday that it has become clear that I need to take a big ol break. Like, from now til Pentecost break. On my personal page. As usual no one thing triggered this, but prayer and discernment led me there. Everyone gives up Facebook for lent, I give it up for Holy Week and Easter seasons plus a few days, go figure. Because there is information there that I truly cannot get elsewhere, I am going to have to make a drive-by every few days but it will be for only a few minutes to only check on the information I am seeking and then in radio silence. These next several weeks are going to be crazy for our family, I need to be there for the four other people in my home and not be quite so worried about everyone else…remember my word for 2015 “shepherd?” I plan on doing just that.

One last item this author did not address, posts by friends on our personal timelines. Mine are blocked so that none of my other friends could see them. This was put into place when a friend posted something and another friend who has nothing in common with this first friend except me responded. Before I even had a chance to see the post. To say it went badly would be putting it rather lightly. It was all-out Chernobyl with all-caps and name calling and profanity of all kinds. I was done and ready to de-friend both of them and block them for the behavior that occurred before I could delete this post (which in and of itself was not bad or offensive but to just the right person…) So, no more of that. I have three children, if I want to see that kind of behavior, I will refer to them.

I encourage everyone using social media (but particularly Facebook) to refer to this post I’ve linked to. We don’t need to hate social media or refer to it as an enemy. We simply need to set boundaries. AND STICK TO THEM!

Too Final

I have been down-sizing/consolidating in the face of our big re-carpeting and putting the house back on the market. Today, I went through and condensed my dresser and chest of drawers into just a chest of drawers again. I also worked on my side of the walk-in closet.

And I was forced to confront them again. The baby and maternity clothes. We’ve gotten rid of all our carseats, strollers, baby baths, baby jungle gyms, but we’ve held onto the clothes. The ones I wanted to possibly use again. The ones I couldn’t bear to give away.

I realize with this move, I will probably have to donate all of them. And it hurts. Because it feels too final. I realize God’s will may be that no more babies will ever be part of our life. So, why, then can’t I just give all these clothes away. Why can’t I submit  and just give these up?

I know why. It’s because deep down, we still want, and I still want, one more baby. And I’ve read over and over again that God doesn’t create such deep-seated desires without the intention of fulfilling them and I want to believe that. Despite knowing couples unable to conceive or adopt despite their deep-seated desire for a child to love. Despite knowing our own struggles. Somedays this cross is incredibly difficult to bear. Days like today when I beg God to either allow me to let go or to allow us another child.

I’ve thought about other children, other mothers, who could use these things. And still I hold on. I’ve tried to remember that sometimes we just have to be like Mary, and say yes. And still I hold on. I chastise myself for lack of faith in God’s plan and I tell myself, I’m not bearing this cross joyfully. And still I hold on.

I am afraid. Afraid of not following God’s will and afraid of following it. So I’m paralyzed by this fear that I pray for relief from. Hope, I can do. Resolution/finality, I can do it. But the fear trap I am stuck in…

I guess I have to do fear now for a while. Eventually, those clothes, something will have to happen but at this moment, it feels too final.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” (John 8:11)

Today’s Gospel is, for me, perhaps the most powerful I hear every time I hear it. John 8:1-11, the woman caught in adultery, sentenced to death by Mosaic law and brought before Jesus for Him to condemn as well. And when the Pharisees bring her forward, Jesus does this strange thing. He begins writing in the sand. While nowhere in history is recorded exactly what He was writing, many Biblical scholars have a strong idea. In the middle of writing, He stops, and He asks the accusers this question: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then, He goes back to writing. One by one the accusers drop their stones, and walk away. Jesus then absolves the woman of her sins and sends her to go and sin no more. What was He writing? Many Biblical scholars have surmised He was writing the sins of those who brought the woman before Him. Only when He stops writing and asks them the question, do they look down and see their sin laid out before them. Sins they had kept locked deep in the recesses of their hearts and told no one. Perhaps some of them came to the realization that this could ONLY be God and had a conversion. Others, may simply have been ashamed and run away. And Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law, does not judge the woman, He shows mercy, forgives and sends her to sin no more. In our fallen human state, we easily become the Pharisees. We want JUSTICE!!! against all who are wrong and who have hurt us. We want to believe that we are different from “those people” because our sin is different. But Jesus shows all of us mercy, compassion and forgiveness. And here’s the thing: sometimes we don’t deserve it. But He gives it freely. Years ago, at the sentencing in Washington State of Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, Ridgway sat stoically, emotionless as one after another of his victims’ family members, in their righteous anger denounced him, swore at him and wished him death. Finally, a man with a long white beard in overall’s the father of one of his victims, came up and quietly said that Ridgway challenged his core beliefs as a Christian, but that he had to follow what he believed and as such, he forgave Ridgway. At this, Ridgway broke down and began sobbing. Mercy and forgiveness has broken through his demeanor and heart, not hatred and judgment. The Psalmist writes, “In the Lord, there is mercy and fullness of redemption. (Psalm 130)” We will always bring others to Christ through mercy, not judgment. And we ought to remember His mercy toward us, even when, and especially when, it is more convenient for us to judge others.

Moving vs Moving as a Special Needs Parent

With this impending move (to where, we still don’t know) looming, I’ve been reflecting on how different our experience is from some of our friends and family.

When my husband goes for an interview anywhere, we all tag along. Because he’s not just getting interviewed for a job…we’re interviewing the schools and community. Could be the greatest job in the world but if it doesn’t come with what we need school and community-wise? It’s a no-go.

When most people move and schools are a consideration, they are looking at the report cards the school gets from the state and federal government. They, for the most part, find all they need to know from a piece of paper. Not so if you have a special needs child. You have to physically go to the school. Meet the principal. See the potential classrooms, meet teachers and therapists and make sure the school is capable of accommodating your child’s need. Your child is dependent on sign language for a hearing or language impairment…the teacher better know sign language. Your child has a physical disability? You have to see exactly how he or she will maneuver around the school. And despite IDEA and the ADA all schools are not equal in their capability of providing necessary services. And if you’re moving to an area where school choice is limited, you don’t want to get caught in a bind.

The community also makes a huge difference. If your child has a specialized diet for health reasons (ie gluten free for celiacs or dairy free for allergies) are you able to get what you need at local stores, or will you have to drive a couple of hours every week to get most of your staples. That’s no small consideration. And even with online retailers, it can still be a huge hassle. Not everyone may carry all that you need and is delivery a huge issue in your area. People may be kind, but are they accepting? Visit local businesses with your child, visit potential churches, and local parks. Do people avoid you? Do they seem overwhelmed by your presence even if your child is well-behaved? You may think those things don’t matter, but they could be the difference in isolation and loneliness when the chips are down. A good friend recently took a lower paying job in her hometown where people knew her and her child because she couldn’t handle the hostile stares when her son would “sing” or “hum” to himself in the supermarket in the small town she was living in and God forbid he had an actual meltdown. She not only got zero support, she was derided and even had the police called on her in an incident where her child was doing no more than wailing loudly because of a sensory issue (her husband video-taped it, it was not pleasant).

No, for special needs parents, there are a whole host of things you have to consider before accepting a job for career advancement or more money. It goes well beyond what most can imagine and we are in the thick of it.

What this day is REALLY about…

Did your kids want to wear green this morning? Are you cooking corned beef and cabbage? Did you get some Guinness? Nothing wrong with any of those things.

Today is the feast day of one my most favorite-est saints. Saint Patrick. A Roman boy kidnapped and sold into slavery, he later became a priest and bishop and brought Christianity to Ireland and taught of the Threeness of Persons in One God through the shamrock. I’ve always felt a special connection to Saint Patrick despite not being Irish at all. As a child I thought, “what genius to use something familiar to the people to simply teach a very hard to understand truth!” As an adult I think, “what genius to use something familiar to the people to simply teach a very hard to understand truth!”

Over the years I’ve heard an argument, from fellow Catholics, sometimes faintly, sometimes more loud that goes like this, “I’m not Irish, so I don’t celebrate St Patrick’s Day.” I first heard it from a Russian Catholic woman living in the US. The reasons people say this are varied but generally boil down to one of two things: they have a strong ethnic or national identity to one land or place and so feel a special attachment to the patron of that land (this is especially true of European Catholics) or they associate St Patrick and all celebrations with the drunken bawdiness of what we call a celebration here in the US.

First of all, while St Patrick is the patron of Ireland and the Irish, I see no reason why he isn’t for all of Christianity. His missionary spirit and teachings benefit all of us equally. It just so happens he was among the first in Ireland. And secondly, you don’t have to wear green, put shamrocks in your hair, eat corned beef or get drunk to enjoy the day. Because did you know, shamrocks aren’t all that popular in Ireland, the tradition of corned beef was started by Irish immigrants in the US and the whole getting drunk thing is based on ugly stereotypes and xenophobia? So, what’s a person of non-Irish heritage who dislikes traditional secular American celebration to do?

Well, you can start by reading about St Patrick. If you have children, or are just interested yourself, there are a variety of resources available at a relatively new website called Saintnook. And they’ve got a whole list of them. You can also try to commit to memory or at least read St Patrick’s breastplate:

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ in breadth, Christ in length,
Christ in height,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Chist in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.
Amen

My boys and I say this prayer daily and they have already memorized most of it. It is a beautiful reminder to see Christ in all and remember He is with us always and also of Trinity.

And you know what, if you like corned beef (guilty!) or a Guinness…that’s okay too. As long as we remember the reasons we are celebrating this day as Catholics, there is no reason not to enjoy a special meal or enjoy the beauty of shamrocks or (for those who are like me and are not) pretend we are Irish (okay, I consider myself IBM–Irish by Marriage). A blessed St Patrick’s Day to all!