Wednesday, July 5, 2017

On waddling and receiving

I am pregnant. Like, so so pregnant.

My giant baby has dropped this week. If you don't know what that means, imagine you are walking with a watermelon partially in your body crushing all of your internal organs, but also partially dangling out of your body, you also still can't breathe, and you feel like your hips are about to explode from the internal pressure.

(If  you are one of these magical women that this doesn't happen to, then please feel free to continue doing your deep squats and speed walking until the day you give birth in lieu of commenting. I'll be over here trying to retain my dignity while asking people to please help me put my shoes on so I can conspicuously waddle to my next location.)

Pregnancy and postpartum is wonderful for some. The growing new life part and the anticipation of another sweet little milky baby in the house is indeed wonderful for me.

However, compartmentalization is a learned and not natural task for me personally, and this challenge unfortunately still applies to all of the complicated feelings and sensations that come with growing and birthing a baby while still trying to be a competent, semi-pleasant human being.

Physical discomfort, prolonged "morning" sickness (surely named by someone hilarious), HORMONES, and pregnancy hypoglycemia have all made it a Herculean effort to control my mood and sometimes to simply function. I have long wrestled with guilt over this aspect of my being. I have a keener empathy for my toddlers and preschoolers who are hangry or tired and simply aren't entirely responsibly for their behavior because their brains are flooded with all the things.

I saw this on a marriage facebook page several different times this week

 and keep reading it as "Ask God to give your spouse a heart for enduring a marriage with you." Which seems more accurate as I'm not the easiest person to live with, especially recently.

As I mentioned in my last post, the idea of service and being a brother's keeper have been weighing on my heart. In actuality, this concept has been plaguing me with guilt this pregnancy. My lack of control over my physical world since December (and even my faculties at many times) have made it difficult to help others when I see a need. I want to offer to drop off homemade meals or run errands for friends who could also use relief, or to be able to give counsel or a listening ear at will like I used to when I was a non-pregnant, functioning human being.

In reality, this would only be possible by neglecting my own self and my family, who are lucky if they get scrambled eggs on a paper plate for dinner and calm words (sans tears) from me. Contrary to belief, we cannot do it all and something always has to give. To do those things now would be a serious breech of priorities in many cases.

This weekend when my family and I went to Costco, I could barely walk. I threw my hip out of place and badly concealed how miserable I was and how difficult it was to shuffle one swollen foot in front of the other. I was almost crying at the front entrance after the painful waddle from the car.

We joked about how wonderful an adult stroller would be...when suddenly there one was! My husband insisted he push me around the store. Flooded with guilt and embarrassment, I tried to protest, but ended up in the wheelchair/cart thing anyway.

A few minutes later all of the resistance at receiving this sort of help and service faded away. My husband happily pushed me through the store, periodically leaning over to kiss my forehead. His joyful, no strings attached service started to transform me. I stopped annoyingly apologizing every six seconds and realized that by taking some of my burden, he was freeing me. I was free to not be so preoccupied with my own discomfort that I could more cheerfully convey our list to the rest of the family instead of muttering pained responses of "cheese" and "toilet paper". We were all smiling.

I have pridefully turned away much needed help or only received it guiltily the last several months because I forgot that serving only works when there is a receiver. I am always trying to impress upon others that there is no shame in receiving when they are in time of need, but I have been finding this difficult to apply to myself. There can be a pride and even an identity tied to being a helper that it can be disorienting to suddenly be a receiver. It has been for me, especially when it has been months and months of being in this position.

In reality, authentic service is just as much about knowing how to receive these things graciously as it is to give them. If I am only giving and serving and helping but not receiving, is my love of serving just really another platform for me to show that I have it all together, or one more thing for me to falsely wrap my identity in? Yikes.

Have you ever tried to dress a young toddler? They can't dress themselves completely, so it's a necessary service. It's extremely difficult to dress them when they insist on putting their own little stubby arms in the holes of the shirt unassisted. After watching them scream and flail and kick you in the shins while they try to figure out how to put their arm in the hole when the sleeve is tucked in is time consuming. After I finally convince the child to let me help (or wrestle them in the sleeve if we are running late), we both fall into a sweaty, red faced, grumpy mess after the whole ordeal, which likely took 10 minutes instead of the required 10 seconds.

If you've never dressed a toddler or done anything similar, like try to give a wild animal a pedicure, I'm sure you can conjure up a time it was annoying to do something for someone because of their resistance to the vulnerability of receiving either no strings attached assistance or even hospitality. It's a joy sucker.

Reluctant receiving, involving unnecessary apologies and extreme awkwardness, blocks gratitude and joyful reciprocity between people. Let's skip the resistance and the looming subtext of guilt and foolish pride. It's more gratifying for both the giver and the receiver.

Sometimes I will be the one to help someone find the armhole of their shirt.
When I'm old and senile, I will be the one receiving help finding the armhole of my shirt.
See? I'm already anticipating being a gracious receiver.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Blinding bird poop

It's been almost three years since I graced this little spot.

If I really wanted people to know my thoughts, I guess I could send a text message to the five people who read this blog and tell them my thoughts. I am sure my friends wouldn't mind a break from the regular messages of
So tired, please send coffee 
I need queso in my life 
How do I apply mascara without getting it all over my eyelids? 
and other equally compelling thoughts I send them throughout the day.

But I really no longer want to be heard, I just need to write. Even if it's to just look back on what I wrote and realize how silly and small I am.


I struggle sometimes with the Scriptures feeling relevant. I struggle all of the time. I try to do the readings for the day most days, but sometimes I am a heathen and skip right ahead to the reflection because I want instant inspiration. (I usually read the daily devotions over at Blessed is She.)

That's right, I just said in my small mindedness that the Scriptures aren't inspirational. It's not a Scripture problem, it's a personal problem.

This morning I entered the morning reading differently. After I made a cup of coffee with an embarrassing amount of half in half, I sat down like I was praying and not just gearing up to read a much dreaded homework assignment. I asked God to speak to my silly little deaf ears through the Scripture and sort of thought maybe He might give it a try if He felt like talking. (I've got faith that can move mountains I tell ya.)

I read the first reading 1 Tobit 2: 2-9. I am not a Scripture scholar. I know the basics on the background about the four Gospels, the Old Testament, the Letters of Paul. When I saw Tobit, wedding-ish readings vaguely rang a bell, that was the extent of my knowledge.

On the night of Pentecost, after I had buried the dead,
I, Tobit, went into my courtyard 
to sleep next to the courtyard wall. 
My face was uncovered because of the heat. 

Maybe God is speaking to me already...I'm 7.5 months pregnant in Louisiana. Tobit is wearing less because he's hot. I'm always hot. You're connecting with me already, God.

I did not know there were birds perched on the wall above me, 
till their warm droppings settled in my eyes, causing cataracts. 

Connection lost. 

But now I'm propelled forward through the reading because of my morbid interest in what happens when one gets toxic bird poop in their eyes.

I went to see some doctors for a cure
but the more they anointed my eyes with various salves, 
the worse the cataracts became, 
until I could see no more. 
For four years I was deprived of eyesight, and 
all my kinsmen were grieved at my condition. 
Ahiqar, however, took care of me for two years, 
until he left for Elymais.

At that time, my wife Anna worked for hire 
at weaving cloth, the kind of work women do. 
When she sent back the goods to their owners, they would pay her. 
Late in winter on the seventh of Dystrus, 
she finished the cloth and sent it back to the owners. 
They paid her the full salary
and also gave her a young goat for the table. 
On entering my house the goat began to bleat. 

I called to my wife and said: "Where did this goat come from? 
Perhaps it was stolen! Give it back to its owners; 
we have no right to eat stolen food!"
She said to me, "It was given to me as a bonus over and above my wages.
Yet I would not believe her, 
and told her to give it back to its owners.
I became very angry with her over this. 
So she retorted: "Where are your charitable deeds now?
Where are your virtuous acts? 
See! Your true character is finally showing itself!"

By the end of the reading I am laughing out loud by myself in the living room because what could be more relevant than Scripture showcasing a marital squabble? 

When I am upset in an argument, I will sometimes google things that are, in hindsight, telling of what stage of processing a disagreement I am in. 

When tempers are still high and I'm trying to cool off, hoping for affirmation that my perspective is correct, I google things like "how to deal with unreasonable people."  The responses show me that other people have truly horrific spouses and toxic people in their life. This helps me feel less like a victim and I chill out significantly when I realize that my situation is not as critical as the poor other googling people.

As I start to cool down and just want peace but am looking for ways to be mature when I'm not feeling mature at all, I google phrases such as "how to settle a fight amicably" or "how to maintain respect in a relationship". Now I've got some concrete tools that I will 95% of the time fail in applying because after 30 seconds I'm all like 

When I am ready to move myself out of the way even a little bit to ask God for wisdom on a situation, He speaks. He probably has been speaking over my google searches the whole time. Although I imagine he is shaking his head at my pride and vanity, He's likely just patiently waiting for me to come around. Probably a benefit of existing outside of time in eternity is that you're cool with being patient.

He tells me things through (surprise!) those boring, uninspirational Scriptures. Depending on which party I am in the disagreement, He tells me to either recognize that I have toxic bird poop in my eyes that is blinding my senses before I am quick to assert the rightness of my perspective. Or to recognize that the other party in the disagreement is letting some ugly part of their character that they struggle with show through and that I have to suck it up and love them anyway while they work it out.

I'm tempted in arguments to get hung up on which party I am: the blind bird poopy one or the one struggling to love someone unconditionally when they show their flaws? The truth is, it doesn't really matter which one I am for two reasons:

1) In almost all situations, I am an unflattering mixture of both the blind and unloving/impatient person. Although I want to think that being the non-poopy person would be the higher position, what is admirable about being "right" if it's really just that my personal boundaries are too poor to let the other person just be imperfect without micromanaging them and pointing out their flaws without restraint? Sounds like I come out smelling like poop either way.

2) I am not called to correctness. I am sure my family and friends get a bad taste in their mouths when I accidentally sacrifice our relationship on the altar of my need to be right. As for with my spouse, I certainly did not say in my marriage vows, I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life as long as I always perceive myself as right. Although this type of conditional love would be easier if I am being honest with myself.

I have had stuck in my head all week the lyrics to The Servant's Song:

Brother let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant too
We are pilgrims on the journey
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load
I will hold the Christ light for you
In the night time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the the peace you long to hear.
I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through.
When we sing to God in heaven
We shall find such harmony
Born to all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony
I have read these lyrics over and over. If I were saying these words to my spouse or close family and friends, would they be laughable because I'm so bad at it? (Probably.) 

This concept of being a Brother's Keeper applies to any state in life: religious, laity, single, married. It just seems most applicable for me to marriage and family life because that is what is staring me in the face everyday as my own personal primary calling. 

It's hard. 

It requires a deep humility I do not possess instead of indignant righteousness that seems much easier to come by. I do not know how to apply it in my daily life except for clumsy attempts. Next time I get in a frustrating squabble, I will probably still google only slightly more dignified things like "how to overcome anger when I'm really right but know I need to get over myself anyway" before I exhaust all possibilities and end up in prayer again. 
And then most likely in prayer God will tell me that I have both toxic poop in my eyes and a humility/impatience combo problem. 
And then I will blindly fumble on how to implement these lofty concepts of servitude without being a doormat or a bulldozer and fail miserably.
And then I will google something. 

Rinse and repeat.

That is why this place is "the business of becoming" instead of "the business of having everything all figured out."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

How St. Maximilian Kolbe convinced me of the communion of saints

Recently in an online catholic women's group, we got on the discussion about the intercession of the saints. I shared this story about St. Maximilian Kolbe. I've never shared it publicly before, but it seems fitting to do so on his feast day.

If you don't know anything about St. Maximilian Kolbe, you can read his story here. In high school, I heard his story and felt immediately drawn towards this person who willingly gave his life for another in that horrible Auschwitz concentration camp. 

I started fervently asking for his intercession. I was in a time in my life where I felt like I was drowning all of the time, and I really just needed a buddy in heaven. So, I prayed and asked him to pray for me when I felt like I couldn't pray.

After about a year, I stopped and kind of just gave up on the intercession of the saints. I felt alone in my personal life, my prayer life. If the saints in heaven can even hear our prayers, why would this holy priest be praying for a silly high school girl?

During my junior year, I was feeling great anxiety about a few things in my life and needed some serious prayer. I emailed a group of cloistered nuns whose core ministry is to receive prayer requests and bring them to prayer for you. How cool to have a whole group of nuns praying for your intentions?! I emailed them a short email about my prayer request with no other personal information except that I was a high school student.

I few months later, I receive an incredible email that about knocked me off of my chair. I had received an email back from the nuns with some words and images they had gotten while praying for me. One of the things in the email was "St. Maximilian Kolbe has been a great intercessor for you."

I think all of the hair on my arms stood on end for about an hour.

And that is how a bunch of nuns who lived thousands of miles away helped convince me that the intercession of the saints is REAL. Or maybe it was St. Maximilian himself sending me a message on behalf of the communion of saints. 

And maybe there was a reason I was drawn to him. Maybe we would have, in the words of the great Anne Shirley, been kindred spirits in this world. Maybe, just because I asked, an old dead priest who had seen more horror than I probably ever will, prayed for that silly high school student out of love for a member of the body of Christ who just needed help from someone.  

In the words of the man Maximilian Kolbe saved, "“[he] is the patron saint of anyone in need . . . the patron saint of anyone that needs help.”

Happy Feast of Maximilian Kolbe!

What I'm Reading Wednesday - Except it's Thursday, and I'm sharing blog posts

I decided to go to bed at 9-glorious-30 last night instead of posting my new Wednesday discipline on the books I'm reading that week.

Instead, I'm going to share on this Not As Tired As Usual Thursday some things I've been reading around the Internet. Happy Reading!

the depressed Christian: why the dark night is no measure of your soul - by Megan at SortaCrunchy

This is amazing, inspiring, and crazy. And I kind of want to be her.

10 Ways to Nurture Positive Body Image for Your Daughter - from Carrots for Michaelmas

Why Free Play Is the Best Summer School

The gray hair, it's growing on me by Tsh at Art of Simple

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

depression and suicide: joy is not the antidote

Unless you've sworn off all media, you know that the beloved comedian Robin Williams died on Monday by apparent suicide. Social media has exploded with sadness and support. 

I took the news very hard, not just because Williams' films were a part of my childhood, but because the topic of deep depression hits painfully close to home. I immediately decided I would post nothing on social media or the blog on the topic and processed my thoughts privately with my husband. 

And then this morning, I read this bizarre post by a widely circulated and polarizing Christian blogger. MW, if you know to whom I'm referring. I don't want to link and send any more traffic to this post, but I feel a deep need to respond to someone who misspeaks with self-given authority on such weighty issues. 

Reading his entire piece on suicide and depression, I kept getting the feeling that I get with all of his posts: a sense of half rightness. I often find myself nodding to his writing right before my stomach starts churning, a sign I've identified as my conscience in my brain sending a visceral message to my stomach that all is not right with these words.

MW's posts are usually centered around responding to the often extreme views of the person-less "they", but he responds with such equal extremeness that he often misses the mark of truth that lies somewhere in between.

I found myself writing a book in response, but plenty of bloggers have written heartfelt counterpoints, posted their outrage on social media, and explained very well the Church's teaching on suicide.

His proposed treatment - joy - is confusing. When you are depressed, joy is out of reach. Off the table. The one thing you can't attain is the antidote?

The problem is that joy is not the opposite of depression. Sadness, sorrow - these are opposites of joy. 

What's the opposite of depression? Is there a word for "no longer having the crushing mental anguish of having a thousand boulders weighing on your being"? The closest I can come is "vitality", but that still doesn't seem to be accurate.

Then there's the line, that I thought was meant to be inflammatory and draw the reader in, but seems to be the actually "absolute truth" behind MW's post: "Robins Williams didn't die from a disease, he died from his choice." 


A family publicly grieving, and someone writes junk like this before the man is even buried.

I have edited this post about 40 times. Not to correct grammar mistakes, though there may be many, but to constantly delete the sentences I have written that have attacked the character of this blogger instead of addressing the fallacy of his words. 

It's been a lesson in intense self control.

Yes, a depressed person who takes his own life technically chooses suicide, but not in the same way that I, with all of my faculties intact and balanced, choose to buy a car or move to Switzerland. 

Suicide at the end of depression is seen as the last choice, the only choice. It's no longer seen by the person with the disease of mental illness as a choice, it's the inevitable end. It's like you've been treading water in a vast, dark sea, for weeks, months, years and after never seeing a life boat, gave into the oppressive ocean. This doesn't justify it. But it does put in perspective that this "choice" involves a compromised sense of free will. 

Depression, severe clinical depression, is not something that can prayed away or shaken off. Of course, unpack in prayer any trauma in your life that may be intensifying depression. But God also made psychiatrists and Paxil and using these things isn't a sign of weakness or less spirituality. 

If you need help, please call  1-800-273-8255.

Friday, August 8, 2014

7 Quick Takes on This Week's Parenting Tools

I'm going to try to link up every Friday with 7 Quick Takes, hosted by Jen at Conversion Diary. It's a great way to find other great blogs where we all share 7 quick things about whatever the heck we want and a great way to make m yself write more than once every 3 months. Check out Jen's post from today and you can check out all of the link ups at the bottom if you want to peruse some other blogs. 

I'd like to think as a parent, I'm always in the mode of loving and teaching my children. This leads me to sometimes to mistakenly believe that when one of my children does something upsetting, my reaction is completely born out of the loving goodness of wanting to teach them the right path. When I step back and examine it, I find pride and vanity lurking in my parenting as well. (Especially in a situation of blatant disobedience or a sassy response). When I am angry with someone close to me or frustrated with the kiddos, I've been listening and praying to the Litany of Humility. It's showing me my own unflattering ugliness, but it's good. So good. Danielle Rose's rendition is my favorite.

Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood: Practical Parenting From Birth to Six Years. This book has kept me sane with minimal voice raising. It's not the parenting method for everyone, but it works for our family. I'm so grateful Erin from Humble Handmaid pointed me towards this book when my oldest was tiny. I've read it and the one directed at older children more than once and refer to them often.

--- 3 ---
When things get a little hairy and someone's painting on the carpet with something they artfully created all by themselves in their diaper:

And carpet cleaner. Lots of carpet cleaner.

A Magnificat subscription. I've tried to to do the Mass readings, or the Liturgy of the Hours, or the saint of the day, but I found it was cumbersome and far too sacrificial to take out each of the individual books I have that already give me these things. With Magnificat, I have all of these things in one, wonderful, lazy place. It's made morning prayer possible for this whiny mama. And I am forever grateful.

My toddler is rambunctious and daring and pretty set on testing the strength of my heart when she pushes a stool in front of the stove so she can play with the hood vent switch. But two sweet words will pull her immediately from her important task of dumping all of the cat's food into her water bowl: Little Bear. My little brother used to watch this sweet show when he was very young. 

Friends, if you think I'm busy all of the time so you don't want to call me to get together, I'm most likely just hanging out with these super cool guys.

--- 6 ---

Spending time with other families. Our Family Dinner group that meets weekly at our house is a blessing. Guys, if you're reading this, I love having you and your loud kids over ;) because it means the sweet, invaluable community of other families is at my house. Spending time with other families has been like holding up a mirror to my own and has helped us grow and tend to our family and ways we couldn't if we didn't have a community of other families.

This is what happiness tastes like after a long, hard week
When my husband and I were newlyweds and we had an exhausting week, we'd head to the pizza place down the street from our little apartment and split a pizza and some beers. I used to feel crazy drunk after a half of a beer, which we thought was hysterical at the time, but found out a few years later that I just have a sensitivity to wheat (which is far less hilarious). Hard cider rules in our house now and this pear one is superb. 

I may or may not be drinking one now. Excuse any typos.

*To be clear, that last one is not a parenting tool I use. That's chamomile tea in their nighttime sippy cups, I promise. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What I'm Reading Wednesday

Whenever someone asks what I've been up to, I often respond, "oh, not much" and give a trite smile. Sometimes I feel the tiniest bit embarrassed that kid wrangling and continuous cleaning up after everyone are the only actual activities I have to report for days at a time.

The truth is, that although I spend a lot of time washing ridiculous amounts of laundry and playing pretend with my girls, I still feel that my life is very rich. I do a lot of reading, which makes me almost feel as if I've been visiting grand places and having soul stirring conversations. When someone asks what I've been doing, I brighten because I think of my book-friends (please tell me other people have book-friends...), but then I realize if I shared, no one would have a frame of reference for what lovely characters and places I'm speaking about.

I know many avid readers are saying, all hail the e-reader, but I love my faithful old paperbacks. Reading, for me, is a sensual (like, engaging the senses, not sexual) experience - the turning of the pages, the smell of the paper, the cup of tea by my side, and my cozy blanket tucked around my legs. Online reading happens more than it used to, because reading others blogs helps me feel connected and supported and it's shorter than a chapter of a book. 

But I still do A LOT of book reading.  I scrap together my pennies and buy books from the book store. Sometimes my sweet husband will buy a brand new book in hard cover (luxury!) that he knows I've been dying to read. Mostly I read books from our vast personal library, borrow from a friend, or from the great public library we are blessed to have just a mile walk from our house.

I'll be sharing on Wednesdays what I've been reading that week. I'd love to hear back what you've been reading too! My stack of books to read can never be too high :)

Also, a weird quirk about me is I read cookbooks like they're novels, so you'll occasionally see one on my book lists. 

If I haven't scared you away with my book-friends and sensual reading experiences, here is my book list for this week. The current list is short because I just finished a ton of books and am about to cycle to another set.

Currently reading:

The Authentic Catholic Woman by Genevieve Kineke
  - This book more than scratches the surface about the theology of women in the Catholic faith. It's so rich, I've been underlining and dog-earing and reading it slowly so I can digest all it's depth. I'm sure I'll be quoting this book in future posts.

Just finished:

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell -a YA lit book which will remind you of growing up in the 80's and your first love. Anne over at Modern Mrs. Darcy recommended this book so many times I couldn't not read it. It's got some language and some heavy themes wrapped up in all the teen angst and emotion, but so well written and nostalgic. I've never seen language describe so well that first love. Skip if you're sensitive, but indulge if you can pass over the language and want a book you can't help but binge read.

Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan - another YA book (I will never stop loving those!) that I grabbed on a whim from the young readers section at the library. So good. I got myself all folded up in the plot and the beauty of Africa. It spoke to the younger version of me that had to navigate the world with good and bad people while trying to figure out my authentic self.

Joy the Baker Cookbook: 100 Simple and Comforting Recipes by Joy Wilson - Do any of you follow the Joy the Baker blog? She's a blogger I've followed for awhile and also listen to her podcast on the Homefries. I like the blog and the podcast and I think her first book was a good effort. It was like a love note to butter, sugar, and flour. In true Nicole fashion, I read this cookbook like a novel and then returned it to the library without baking anything from it. We have some intense food allergies and sensitivities in our family, so I wouldn't have been able to make most of the recipes as written. 

Against All Grain: Delectable Paleo Recipes to Eat Well & Feel Great by Danielle Walker - the aforementioned food allergies led me to pick up this book in Barnes and Noble (Barns and Ovals to my 3 year old). I've followed Danielle's blog for awhile. Her story is amazing and her recipes always looked so delicious, but I had always been afraid that, like most allergy friendly books, the food would taste weird and cost a fortune. I devoured this cookbook in one sitting and have gone over it several times since. The pictures are beautiful, the recipes are outstanding. It's allergy friendly food that I could serve to normal people without them thinking it was weird. And that's saying something. If you have autoimmune issues or problems with grains, dairy, or refined sugar, you will fall in love with this cookbook and want to make alllll the things.

 I'm going to start incorporating some affiliate links on the blog so that I can contribute a little extra to my family's budget. I also totally support borrowing these books from a friend or library or finding them used somewhere. If you buy new, please considering purchasing through my links. Thanks!

What are you reading this week?