France, the second day

It was another gorgeous day in the south of France, not as hot as before, a beautiful breeze, clear skies, and lots of food to eat and classic French scenes to see.

On our way to the weekly market in the center of the city, we stopped at the Montpellier zoo for an hour. It is simple to do, as the zoo is free. Sadly the morning began with two skinned knees on Edith which colored the rest of her day. I can’t blame her, as she fell onto those rocks with great gusto.

The Montpellier market is at the base of a Roman aqueduct that runs through the city. It is quite a striking place, and again, a detail that must be barely noticed by the locals. Imagine living somewhere that this is normal!

The market itself, as one can imagine, was full of beautiful fruits, vegetables, cheeses, breads, meats, olives, and flowers. The children enjoyed some perfect brioche, tearing off large chunks of it as we strolled. I love that experience: buying a loaf of bread and tearing off portions.

Axelle got some delicious paella for lunch, one of those dishes that will forever remind me of my grandmother and my own mother.

We ate like royalty at lunch, although somehow this was a normal sort of meal in France. Paella, four different kinds of cheese from the market, baguette, fresh fruit, and a magical lemon tart.

After naptime, the children thoroughly enjoyed time in the pool, so much so that Edith never wanted to get out.

This evening, the neighborhood was having their “block party,” which mostly consisted of a lot of food and French karaoke. As well as a boccee tournament where I got a kick out of watching the men get out the tape measure every time.

Again, we had such simple but beautiful food, finished, of course, with cheese and fresh fruit and then an amazing tiramisu. I have had a few good laughs thinking about and explaining to our friends what the block party on our street in South Bend is like every summer, compared to theirs. Burgers, macaroni and cheese, beans, bouncy houses, a “band” in the middle of the street… As I sat tonight, sipping wine and eating Brie, I was struck by how different but how beautifully similar the two parties really are. They are both neighbors, trying to build friendship, establish a connection, and enjoy the good things of life together. I wish that one day we could have a merger of these two block parties.

France, the first day

The kiddos and I left Munich early yesterday morning (accompanied by a very kind husband to carry bags and push a stroller up to security) for a week in the south of France with old friends of my family. The last time I was here was with my sister, when we were 16. It doesn’t feel like it’s been 11 years, as so much of the landscape and the place is quite familiar. The children have been troopers with yet another change imposed upon them and although it has proven a bit of a challenge the last few days to keep spirits up, children sleeping, and to do it all on my own without Travis, I couldn’t be happier to be here and to see my children get to know these people and this place.

The children were lovely travelers for me and they are becoming quite used to the routines of trains and security lines and airports.

We arrived easily in France, napped, and enjoyed the backyard at our friends’. It is a lovely little backyard, and I enjoyed sitting and soaking in the sun and blue skies while the children explored.

In the evening, we headed into the town center of tiny little Grabels, their village, for Alina’s orchestra recital. The evening of music was put on by the local public and music schools and was held in the courtyard of a very-old looking building. I laugh to myself when I realize that I sit at an event like that and think about how not typical that is for people like me, and just how typical it is for the French that they probably don’t even think twice about the venue.

The beauty here is just so quintissential and striking, and I have found it particularly special to realize the many happy memories and connections I have to my family in this country, thanks to the trips we’ve taken before and the food that I grew up eating. France is truly my favorite place not just because I’m a snob (according to my husband, at least) and like good food, but because it holds connections to my family and my past that I am sure I will rediscover every time I am here.

Fear and the cross

Processed with VSCO with s2 preset“He will provide the way and the means, such as you could never have imagined. Leave it all to Him, let go of yourself, lose yourself on the cross, and you will find yourself entirely.” (St. Catherine of Siena)

I count the children in the pew a few rows up. Seven. Wait, the mother is wearing one too. That makes eight. A few rows ahead, six. I watch another mother chase her son to the back of the church only to realize he has, somehow, already made a full circle back to the front and is dashing across the room in sight of the whole congregation.

My own toddler walks and falls, walks and falls, in the back of the church. She leans against the windows of the cry room and bumps her head on the glass—purposely—again and again. We go out into the lobby instead where she inevitably finds the staircase hidden away in a dark corner. The baby in my womb kicks and somersaults and suddenly I can hardly breathe, let alone lift a protesting, back-arching fifteen month old because I just can’t imagine chasing her up the stairs. A mom herds three children out of the doors and settles onto a bench. I feel exhausted just looking at her.

Is this my foreseeable future? I am so tired, and I only have one. Is this where I am asked to attend the Supper of the Lamb for the next countless years of my life, on the other side of heavy doors, listening to the words of consecration through lobby speakers?

Lamb of God, have mercy on us.

I kneel and feel dread sink into my heart. I love my babies. I love this one that I know, and this one that I have yet to come to know. But I am afraid. Afraid of what will be asked of me in the future. Afraid of more kids, and then even more kids. Afraid that my life will be full of herding children in and out of mass, the grocery store, the (large) van, the bathroom, the house, the park. I know there is beauty in all of that, I do. I know that life enlarges love, and with each new life, there is only more love; but sometimes it is hard to remember.

Is this really what you are going to ask of me, Lord?

I lift my eyes, and there is the Lord, hanging on a cross. This is what He asks of me. Sacrifice. Self-gift. Suffering. Love. It does not matter, and I need not fear, the means by which he brings me to the cross with Him. I fear the means that He will use to bring me to Himself. How silly that sounds when I realize it. In the end we are all asked to join Him in this act of dying, each in different ways, all of them painful and hard but ultimately life-giving. And these little ones are not keeping me from praying. They are prayer. They are the Lord bringing me to Himself; not in silence and contemplation, but in sacrifice and in an offering of my life for theirs.

He desires only union with me. Communion. Oneness. Love. Divine life. Sonship. And He offers me the means to that end. I need not fear them.

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

Daily (I)

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Now that I have a home with sunlight and space, my succulent aspirations—and slight gardening aspirations—are emerging. I have a big pot of herbs on my front porch and little succulents are making their way around different spaces in our home. Edith especially enjoyed helping me pick out a few.

Edith continues to grow and change very quickly. She is attempting to say new words every day. Her repertoire includes “kaka” (water), “rafe” (giraffe), “duck,” “kack” (quack), “chee” (cheese), “ba” (ball), “bubba” (bubbles), and “hi!” (said very enthusiastically). She has the sign language for please down and is often seen vigorously rubbing her chest. Many times we don’t know what she’s asking for and if we ask her what she wants she will just do the sign even more intently. She just began nodding her head “yes” and understands when we ask her if she wants to go outside, upstairs, or for a ride. Often she has no idea what she is saying yes or no to, but it is quite cute. She also just started trying to sing along with us, so I have been trying to pull out those rusty children’s songs. Thankfully Jesus Loves Me is still firmly in my mind, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember This Little Light of Mine besides that one line.

We also have a water baby on our hands. She loved a brief stop at the campus beach along one of the lakes. She arrived in her little outfit from the morning (we had plans just to look), but as soon as she saw the “kaka!” her enthusiasm was too much and before long she was crawling and splashing in the water. She left with nothing on.

We are loving the Michigan cherries—there were never cherries in Durham, so it is awfully hard to turn them down whenever I see them. There are daily stained outfits thanks to the juice, but I almost relish the chance to simply run to the basement and pop in a load of wash. The cherries also remind me of home.

The lion’s tears

I felt a strong urge to write when Edith came, but so far I only have words here and there; fragmented parts of things sitting in different documents, none of them actually becoming a cohesive piece of words and thoughts. I have always found letter writing to be an easier way for me to use words, so I took to writing letters to Edith. Here is number two.

“But please, please—won’t you—can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?” Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at his face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.
(The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis)

d55825622573dc21cdfaaca849453ebcDear Edith,

This is probably the seventh or eighth time this year that I have read or heard The Magician’s Nephew. Your dad and I always listen to it on long car rides and my fourth graders and I are reading through it now. Every time I read it, there is something new to discover. Remember that. The best books are the ones that seem new to you every time you read them.

This passage almost made me cry when I read it last week. Aslan has asked Digory to go on an important journey that will preserve the future of Narnia. Digory’s mother is back in our world, near death, and Digory thinks that Aslan is the last chance for help. His despair is growing, and all this time he is looking down at the lion’s paws and the huge claws on them.

Sometimes life’s circumstances feel fierce and sharp and unrelenting. Often these moments can make us feel as if God is a God with claws and sharp teeth and that life hurts; that He hurts. It is true, of course, that the pain will always yield a good outcome for those who believe. It is true, of course, that your suffering is not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed. But it is one thing to hear and understand those words and another to believe them and find there solace and comfort. It can—and must—be done. But there is something more that He gives you in those painful times.

His face with tears in His eyes.

Digory feels the sting and the pain of the lion’s great claws, but when he looks up, he sees there that Aslan cares deeply. That he feels something for Digory, something for his mother. That he is not just a powerful creature with authority and strength. He sympathizes and he feels and he weeps with his children. Keep your heart soft always so that you can see His tears and believe that He shares in your pain.

The suffering is for your good, yes. It is preparing you for a greater vision of the Lord Himself, and it will be better that you suffer than not. But in the moments when those sound like nice phrases that you know you ought to believe more than you do, look up at his face and allow Him to weep with you.

“My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know.”