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?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On Why What They Overhear Matters

"Your voice becomes your child's inner voice" are most definitely wise words to take to heart. I think the phrase should be modified slightly to "Your words directly to your child, what they overhear, and what you model in your life becomes their inner voice."

 It always happens to me at a gathering outside of my closest friends. A couple of women are talking, sometimes idle chatter or polite small talk, sometimes about something interesting. Then the conversation takes a sharp left turn into the newest diet/how much weight so and so lost/how fat someone feels/ those five pounds they gain. My eyes instantly glaze over. I don't think anything ruins a meal for me more than when someone talks the whole time about how much calories are in it and whether they "deserve" to eat it or not based on what else they've eaten that day.

I grew up around this chatter and learned it well. Something in my brain absorbed in my surroundings this constant talk of "right" food, talking about the losing ten pounds, opening conversation with how someone looks like they lost weight - are the ways women talk to other women.

It's imprisoned me for years, made me feel self conscious and worst of all, subconsciously sabotaged deeper conversations that I could be having.

Those of you who know me in person know that I'm overweight. It started as an antidote to the crazed, navel-gazing vanity that consumed my life for years and turned into a lifelong battle of wearing life's wounds on the outside of my body. I'm working on it. And by that, I mean the root problems, not just the calories.

Meanwhile, my daughters are learning what it means to be a woman from me and the other women that they see regularly - their grandmothers, aunts, my closest friends. Whether we all are willing to take on the task of being examples to emulate, it's ours anyway. And I don't want me daughters obsessing about five pounds and thigh gaps when they are nine years old. Or ever, really.

I have great friends now who rarely talk about size. Books on our reading lists, recipes, faith, our interior lives, marriage, community, our children - these are normal topics of conversation. Years and years of healing have brought me to these full, rich friendships. It's jarring for me to overhear other women's conversations and how the diet/exercise/personal appearance topic is in such high rotation.

Ladies, listen to me.

It's not unfeminine to be hungry.

It's not unwomanly to eat food to satisfaction.

It's not a mark of being female to be obsessive about food intake, thigh gaps, exercise, etc, etc.

I'm not saying I want my girls to be overweight. I'm saying I don't want them, at any weight, even their ideal weight, to struggle with the pathological thought that food and one's size must be obsessed and hyper analyzed until they are reduced to vain shells of who they used to be. Because I've been there. It's a terrible, hellish wasteland. 

Looking at the Christian faith, much points to the fact that the body is good. Christ came in human form. The death of the body. The resurrection of the body. Hundreds of years ago, heresies were refuted that said that the body was bad or inconsequential. The body is a great thing. It brings life. 

I recently got to see a dear college friend who is now a Carmelite sister. She was gushing over our girls and remarking how well we seemed to be doing. She kept repeating to me how good we seemed and how happy I seemed. I knew what she meant. I was kind of a mess and a not very peaceful person when we were friends. At one point in my life, I desperately longed for a vocation to religious life. But I can see my friend now and see why her vocation is right for her and mine is most definitely right for me. 

Marriage and motherhood has peeled back my ugliest layers of selfishness and pain. It has made my mind and body ripe for healing. Marriage and motherhood - completely giving my saggy, embarrassing, stretch-marked body to my family in every way that marriage requires -has redeemed it. Seeing my two amazing girls and knowing that my body grew their bodies, birthed their bodies, nourished their bodies has been my resurrection. I am grateful God knew me so intimately that He knew that the way I could heal and redeem the wounds of my body in such a specific, excruciating way could not be realized in religious life. I understand his big, clear NO when I asked him if He might call me to be a nun. Because for me, this is far more redeeming.

As for their views of their bodies, these spunky almost 2 and 3.5 year olds couldn't be prouder. Evie loves when her hair is down and flowing and crazy (she told me it makes her feel beautiful). She thinks the hair on her legs helps her breathe. Jo is proud of her climbing skills (and practices often) and rejoices over each body part as she learns to say its name. They're proud of their strength and flexibility. They have hearty appetites and love to pick vegetables straight from the garden into their mouths. 

And I have a lot to learn from them.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Comparison is the thief

One of my favorite quotes is by Theodore Roosevelt: "Comparison is the thief of joy." It's taken me too many wasted years to realize that comparison is also the thief of holiness.

From as far back as I can remember through the beginning of my married life, I have zeroed in on people, especially other females, who seemed to have that special "thing". I wasn't always sure what it was - peace, maybe? In tune with the Creator and their life's purpose? Whatever it was, it was beautiful and I wanted it. 

I have a few stories to share on this that might resonate with you. They are still embarrassing for me to recall, but also helpful for me to remember in trying to be more grounded in who I'm called to be.

I can remember as far back as being a young child in a children's prayer group. There was another young girl, about my age, who was a little homely and shy, but she seemed to have "it". As evidenced by the fact that I can only remember her as "homely" and was slightly jealous of that thing she had, I obviously was far from possessing whatever it was that made her that way.

The summer before college, my fervent prayer was for just one or two great friendships with other women. I knew I needed a support system incredibly badly. I was blessed with an entire community (so, like 20 or so more friendships than I prayed for, plus lots of inspiring acquaintances) of wonderful, genuine, unconditionally loving young women, many of whom I am still friends with today. The unconditional love towards me and the general living of their lives was healing, inspirational and motivating for me to grow in my emotional and spiritual lives. I took away many gems from their words and examples that have helped form the person I am today.

Yet, I still fell into the trap of trying to imitate the specific practices and traits of one of these fabulous ladies I perceived as having a close relationship with God. 

Susie seems like she has it spiritually together and she prayers the Liturgy of the Hours, so I'll try that.

Oh, Mary Beth, comes across so centered and wise with her composed face and soft spoken voice. If only I had a sweet voice and a sweeter disposition, maybe I can be holy.

If only I could go to daily Mass and smile at everyone after and approach everyone with the most sincere small talk, then I would be doing a small part of God's work by lifting people up.

I distinctly remember sitting behind this row of radiant nuns at daily Mass and noting their posture and general countenance. They sat incredibly straight and still and managed to never lean against the back part of the chair the entire Mass. I (a life long sloucher) tried to imitate this the entire Mass. I didn't hear a word the priest said or really even pay attention during the consecration, but I walked out of the Church after the final blessing feeling doomed to never be holy because I couldn't manage perfect sacrificial posture for 30 minutes even for JESUS.

Sometimes this came from a place of vainly wanting to appear holy (not cool, but occasionally true). Sometimes it came from a genuine desire for peace and union with the Creator. But I was still going about it in the wrong way.

I was not made with a sweet, soft voice. Small talk makes me nervous and itchy. I'm much better in small group settings where people like to talk about substantial things. If I smiled at everyone, it would surely come across as fake and/or creepy because I'm not a naturally sunny-all-the-time kind of person (and there's nothing wrong with that, fellow melacholics!) For the lay person, the rosary, Liturgy of the Hours, etc. are all optional devotions because the Church knows that it's made up of individuals who aren't all going to use the same tools from the giant toolbox the Church offers.

It took a long long time for me to learn these other people had "it" because they were on the path intended for them. "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you..." (Jeremiah 1:5) is not Before I formed you, and all other human clones exactly like you, in the womb, I knew you. Our paths to Creator are as individual as our personalities, temperaments, struggles and gifts. 

In The World's First Love, Fulton Sheen makes a beautiful analogy. He says that if we could imagine for every person there are two portraits - one is how they are perfectly created to be and one is how they are. Between everyone's two pictures are a minus sign with the exception of the blessed Mother, who perfectly matched who she was created to be.  

His point is that Mary is set apart from the rest of us in this respect. What I also find interesting is that our "perfect portrait" doesn't look like Mary's perfect portrait. We're called to look like our own self's perfect portrait.

This is why I think that comparison is also the thief of holiness. I feel that my own comparison robbed me of ever hopping on the right path. I wasted a lot of time dawdling around in the brush on the side of the road, watching other people run down their own paths. Comparison leads us astray.

Two tools that have helped me from continually falling in the comparison trap.

1) Knowing myself and asking God in prayer to reveal things about me that I am overlooking. 
Even things that I don't want to see and make me cringe. I also pray to not be overcome by the fear of dealing with my own issues or traits that seem insurmountable or too embarrassing to work through. Even just talking to my husband about who he perceives I am, since he knows me more intimately than anyone, is enlightening for me. I'm also a bit of Myers-Briggs junkie and I've found a lot of peace and direction in understanding my personality type and the gifts and flaws that come with it. (I'm in INFP, who are, surprise, massively introspective) A friend recently pointed me to some sources for Myers Briggs and spirituality matching, which I'm still exploring to help me have a pray life that feel more organic and less forced. 

2) Rejoicing in others.
The last few months I've been absolutely fixated on this beautiful prayer, The Litany of Humility.  It's a great way to scare away the comparison thief! (There's a beautiful sung version by Danielle Rose you can listen to here). It's an absolute antidote to a range of struggles, especially the one I mentioned earlier about being jealous or resentful of another's peace. Especially striking for me in this prayer is asking for the grace to desire "that others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should.
I'm practicing in little ways. Being genuinely happy that someone wiser than I explained something better that resonated with more people instead of feeling embarrassed or resentful of the person for one-upping me. Being happy for someone's growth and peace instead of wallowing in the valley and trying to imitate their actions to get out of my rut. 

Painful baby steps. But there is so much joy in finding out our own perfect portrait painted by the Creator!

Letters From Your Sanity and Happiness: Crafting Guilt

When the coffee or wine starts flowing and women feel safe, they stop talking in polite, socially pre-approved scripts and start talking from the deeper recesses of their minds. What I'm hearing in these talks is that we feel guilty. And crazy. And guilty that our kids have a crazy mother and our husband's have a crazy wife and we don't know how much longer we can trick everyone into believing we're balanced. Then sometimes we start to feel comfortable and confident with ourselves and the crazies quiet down and we hear other women talk about the things they feel guilty about and we feel guilty that we are not feeling guilty about these things that are so obviously vital and important since every other woman is worrying about them. 

All this guilt is crippling us. It's depriving our families and our communities of vibrant, peaceful, confident women. I don't want my girls to be crippled with needless guilt, so I'm not going to accidentally passively teach it to them. I'm going to actively squash it within me. I understand that other women need encouragement to do the same, which is prompting a series on my blog, Letters From Your Sanity and Happiness.

The first letter seems simplistic. Men may think this is insane. Crafting? Women have guilt about not crafting? I can't even tell you how often I hear this from other women. "Oh, but I can't craft at all, I guess I'm a bad mother." Seriously. Let's stop the madness.

Dear Mama,  

      You do not need to feel guilty for not doing Pinterest worthy crafts if that is not your skill set. Craft-making is not the mark of a good mother. Your children will survive (and maybe, gasp! thrive) with blank paper, a drawing implement, and their imaginations. You will strive to shun all other forms of contrived mom guilt perpetuated by photoshopped blogs, insecure mean girl moms, and your own crazy sleep deprived mind. 


Your Sanity and Happiness