Winner of Mornings with Saint Thérèse

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Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway! I also wanted to wish my Catholic readers a blessed feast of Our Lady of the Rosary today! Our Lady fights our battles for us! This feast day is like a huge BAM! 💥👊🏼

The winner is first commenter, Katie Andrews. Please contact me via my contact page, Katie, and I will send your book out early next week. 

My goal is to start posting to the ol' blog here with more frequency, maybe once a week to begin with. Wouldn't that be fun? Let's hope I can stick with this goal! It's hard to think of things to post after such a long break, but I intend to give it a try. See you soon!

hello? is this thing on?

Not quite six months since I last logged in here.  I wasn't sure if I would come back, or what. I won't make apologies or explanations, or excuses. As has been said in countless places, blogging is kind of a dying phenomenon, although I still think there is so much that is valuable to be found and said in this medium. I was scrolling through my archives today and found I missed it, at least a little. At least enough to pop back in. I am pretty sure no one is reading at this point, and that's ok. 

My husband is working again, full-time, as a teacher. It was a rather circuitous route for him to find his way back into teaching after two years, but he is teaching general music and choir in a Catholic grade school and it's really wonderful in so many ways. Finances are still quite rough as he makes approximately half of what he would in a public school (which would still not be a lot of money by today's standards). As I'm typing this, I'm remembering the first time I ever wrote about his job woes on my blog; it was my blog's previous incarnation and it was in April of 2007. It seems that job stability is just not part of the game for this guy of mine. But I love him and we work it out somehow. 

These two years have been so very hard. I'm not sure I have the words to describe what it's been like. There has been so much ordinary goodness and just living life in there, that it's very hard to explain the feeling of loss and grief and dread that was always in the back of my mind, just all the time. And how even now, it's hard to recover. It feels like trying to jump onto something that's already moving. Disorienting and weird and scary. Closing the door on two years of unemployment, fear, and depression is very hard. One year ago was probably the lowest time for me; I really thought we were about to be homeless. And it's hard to process the fact that now we're not, and it's only a year on, and will the rug be yanked out from under us again? And do we deserve this period of relative peace? Hard stuff, even harder to find the words.

I'm trying to put some of this down, though, because it explains a little of where my head has been. Having four children has been a great gift during this time, because I was able to focus on them and their world. Keeping things stable for them was my full-time existence. I did not feel like making or doing other things. I have yarn here for sweaters for all four of my children, for a sweater for me, a granny square blanket barely begun. When I was in the hospital with baby John after my c-section and during his unexpected long NICU stay, my sister told my mom to find my knitting and bring it to me. But I found I couldn't knit. I couldn't make myself pick it up. It might have been good for me to do it. I know it's meditative and calming and overall a healthy thing to do. But that time in the hospital when I couldn't knit was the beginning of two years of not wanting to pick up any projects. I did knit a few stitches here and there; I completed one baby sweater for John, a couple of gifts for a new nephew and one or two friends' babies. But mostly, I had too much to process for even knitting to help. 

Today I wound a skein of the yarn I have had set aside for a sweater for myself. John, who at nearly two-and-a-half is not really "BabyJohn" anymore, but instead a delightful curly-haired imp of a toddler, squealed with glee as the swift spun jauntily on the table. I realized that he has never seen me wind yarn before. In his two short years of life, he has had a very different mama than the one his older siblings have known. It was surprising to me. Not sad, just surprising. 

Anyway, I don't know if I will get this sweater knit with any speed. I am not sure I'll even cast it on for another month or two. But I'm reminded of things that have mattered to me in the past, and things that matter to me still, if I listen quietly to my heart. Creating beautiful things is an important part of me. Maybe a part that's been resting quietly while the rest of me has been doing battle. But it's in there still. 

 

13

 Newborn

Newborn

 First birthday

First birthday

 Age 1

Age 1

 Second birthday  

Second birthday  

 Age 4

Age 4

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 Age 5

Age 5

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 6th birthday

6th birthday

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 Age 7

Age 7

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 8th birthday

8th birthday

 First Holy Communion

First Holy Communion

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 California

California

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 9th birthday

9th birthday

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 Age 10

Age 10

 Arwen costume

Arwen costume

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 11th birthday

11th birthday

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 Bobby soxer

Bobby soxer

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 12th birthday

12th birthday

 At Camp W. 

At Camp W. 

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 Recital

Recital

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 First in her heat at state (red cap & black shortjohn suit)

First in her heat at state (red cap & black shortjohn suit)

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 13th birthday, with a bad head cold

13th birthday, with a bad head cold

Today our wonderful, amazing Elisabeth Grace is 13 years old. it hardly seems possible, and yet we are so ready, too. 

I think a lot about the ways I have fallen short and, yes, failed as a parent over the last 13 years. I worry about the ways my own baggage has come to rest on the shoulders of my daughter at times—when I see my perfectionism, anxiety, or hot temper flare up in her. I grieve over the ways our hopes and dreams for our family, when we were so much younger and just starting fresh with our first adored child, have failed to come to pass. 

But then I spent a few hours today looking through pictures of her—these, and so very many more—and I see the evidence of a joyful childhood, of a happy little girl coming into her own, developing interests and passions. I see a girl who is a leader, who is caring, compassionate, kind, funny, and brilliant. She is both very innocent and very, very wise. A few weeks ago, she told me that she thinks people rush through their lives and make risky decisions because they are afraid of facing the idea of death. I thought this was so profound, something I hadn't really thought about before. 

She is generous, often spending her own money on things for her siblings. For example, she recently bought a scooter for Fiona so that Fiona could ride on her own scooter with the older kids.  

She is responsible and so helpful around the house. She is wonderful with John, which is such a gift when I need to take care of other things.  

It's incredible to imagine that the sweet, silly baby that she once was is now this thoughtful, mature young lady—and all the amazing things she was in all the years in between. Creative, imaginative, stubborn. An extraordinary child, an extraordinary teen.  

As my girl now stands in adolescence, ever so gently closing the door on the large part of her childhood, I know that it was a beautiful childhood that we made together—Elisabeth, her father, and I.  

The mistakes don't matter so much as I think. I am so grateful for the gift of this incredible, beautiful human being.  To know her is a privilege, to be her mother is a true gift.  

I love you so much, my Elisabeth. 

catching up a little

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Our computer broke about a month ago. It ended up being a repair we couldn't afford, and replacing it is out of the question right now, so we've been without a computer now for weeks. A friend may have an older one she can give us, so we're keeping our fingers crossed. In the meantime, I hadn't thought of posting here via phone, but of course, there's an app for that!

Things have been mostly chugging along in a very ordinary way. I have started exercising daily. There's not much to say about that, because it feels very personal to me, but I like it more than I thought I would. So that's all I'll say about it.  

I have hardly had a moment to work on the many knitting projects I have planned, and have felt really discouraged about my knitting in general. Things not coming out in the right sizes despite careful swatching and attentive pattern-following. Things turning out differently than I'd hoped. Not enough time to finish some baby gifts I'd had planned for several months. Just discouraging. 

Parenting has been requiring a lot. It seems to be a season in our family's life. My husband is working nearly non-stop cobbling together various income streams so we can sort of keep afloat. He's frustrated as the amount of work he's doing is still not bringing in the amount of money we really need, and of course he's almost never home, so nearly all the parenting is falling squarely on me. In a way, I'm used to that as he always had to work very long hours when he was a teacher. In another way, it's more difficult now than it ever was: there are more children, they're busier, the older ones are coming into newer, more challenging phases. It's hard and lonely work, and I'm often dead tired. 

February is my birthday month and I've always loved it. But this year, I'm longing for spring and summer in a way I usually don't. I keep hoping that the next season will bring with it a turn for the better for our family. I can't give up that hope even though the last two years (and really, the two years before that, too, in many ways) have been so financially and emotionally trying in so many ways. 

Anyway, I remain here, hanging on and trying to maintain hopefulness. Wishing you all a lovely week.  

in which i realize i am george bailey

It's a Wonderful Life has been my favorite Christmas movie since I was nine years old. Always sensitive, always concerned with suffering and justice, this film has always revealed something very true to me. George Bailey doesn't "do his duty" and put others before himself with some giddy sense that it's fun to do it. He does it because it's the right thing, even though it's hard. He never wanted to run his father's business or stay in his small town or protect his alcoholic uncle or see his wife and children live in an old dumpy house. But he did those things anyway, because he loved people—his family, his community—and he couldn't walk away from them even when it would have been convenient to do so. And of course, in the end, the people in his life rallied around him when he needed them.

Now, I'm not saying that I've sacrificed myself in any way near to what George Bailey did. But I will say that my community has rallied around me in the most blessed of ways this month. There was a day a couple of weeks ago when we received in the mail several gift cards from friends far and near, including a very generous anonymous one. With tears, I sat down and looked at the abundance with which we have been showered by so many people, and I looked at my husband and just said, "I'm George Bailey—we're George Bailey."  

We have been so richly blessed, so cared for by so many people. We couldn't have provided a magical Christmas for our children this year, and others stepped forward and did it for us. My gratitude is almost inexpressible. So, if you are one of the many, many people who have helped us this year, thank you so very, very much. And if you are one of the many more people who have been cheering for us and holding us in prayer, thank you as well.

This Advent was amazingly blessed. We were able to keep it in the most prayerful and anticipatory way yet, and I was really excited about that. And Christmas is a blessing that just keeps giving. 

A few people have asked me about how we celebrated this year. It was pretty simple and quiet and I loved it. We attended Christmas Eve mass in the evening, forgoing the loud, hot, overstimulating "children's mass" and pageant, and were so glad we did. Quiet carols and candlelight were a more peaceful way to end the season of Advent that we'd just observed. There were a few handmade gifts for some of our extended family members. We hosted Christmas Day brunch for my family at our house, which was really wonderful and simple. It was only the second time in 15 years that we haven't dashed out on Christmas Day, and it made for a lovely change of pace, one I wouldn't mind repeating! I like to host things even though it's a lot of work and I'm rather high strung. Snow on Christmas Day and lots of board games and books in the days since have rounded out what has been one of my favorite Christmases ever. I have never felt so blessed. 

Christ is born!

on "suffering well"

We have all heard the stories. The cancer patient with a smile on her face. The family who makes up for their lack of money with abundant love. The parents who survive an illness or death of a child with grace. The stories of people who suffer well.

I have not felt I have been suffering well. I have told my mom and my sisters and my friends, in jagged, desperate text messages and emails, that poverty is not making me holier. Reality has often consisted of my numbly scrolling through pages of social media sites with tangled hair, barking at my children, ignoring the state of my house. I have not felt holy. I have not felt like a saint of poverty.

Because, of course, we have examples of saints. Mother Teresa gave up everything not just to serve the poor, but to be one of them. I am not Mother Teresa. I have been fighting my circumstances, not graciously accepting them, and especially not embracing them. I have been envious. I have been ugly.

I have not been suffering well.

Or so I thought.

Christmas is coming, and suddenly we have had offers of help with gifts. People have gone out of their way to tell me that I have inspired them or helped them through their own hard times—not just in the past, but right now. Right now, while I think I am failing.

I sat down today to read Soul Gardening Journal (which, as an aside, you should subscribe to! It's free! And amazing!), and opened it right away to a beautiful piece called "Your Children Are Your Prayer" by Caitlyn Bootsma. Reading it, I realized that "suffering well" doesn't mean what I think it means, just as "praying well" doesn't always mean what we think it does. I have something to offer. An occasional word here, or photo on Instagram. An occasional glimpse through my eyes of good life, being lived, even when things are so hard and so depressing and so desperate. Those things may be a strange juxtaposition, but it's real. Some days I don't feel like getting out of bed, and on the same day, snow is falling and my daughter is playing "Let It Snow" on the piano and I'm reading to my little ones and drinking tea, and on the same day I'm wildly texting my mom that things can't get any worse (and they can't, they truly can't), and at the same time, they can't get any better. Does that make sense? The worst day can also be the best day. 

You guys, it is Love that is holding me up. Love of this little family, love of our broader family and community, love of strangers. Their love for me. My love for them. It's the Love of our Good God.

It should not be such a surprise that suffering is so hard. Because, oh my goodness, it is really, really hard. And I realized that, even in the moments that I do not think I am up to the challenge, that I cannot put one foot in front of the other even one more time, that I am doing it. 

I am not failing as much as I thought.