(15:1) Mater Dolorosa

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A new acquaintance of my husband’s recently suggested that he take 15 minutes every night to write. I took this suggestion to heart as I have missed writing but always feel like I don’t know what to say. While I don’t plan to share every evening’s thoughts, I thought I might share some. I am one to often start projects or have grand aspirations and then never follow through, but this is one that I hope (desperately plan) to keep. You are welcome to hold me to that!

Sunday, July 16
John Henry is sick with a high fever today. He spent the whole day sleeping on me, resting on me, whining on me. It is days like these that I am struck by the sheer uniqueness of motherhood—there is truly nothing else like it in all the world. My child is part of me: began in me, lived in me, even now grows from me. So much of him is me. He takes, and I give. He lives, and I slowly die. I feel his pains and his sadness and his discomfort in a way no one else does, for so much of him is me.

All of these moments as a mother make me think of Christ’s mother. Of course she felt as I do when Jesus was sick. She held him, and rocked him, and knew she would do anything to take away his pain. There is a special position, then, for women, for mothers. We can identify with Mary in a way no one else can. We have shared the love we feel for a child, the joy of their smiles, the heartache of their tears. And although we don’t know it fully, we can know in a distinct way the sorrows of this mother at the cross. Standing at its foot with the Mater Dolorosa, we can feel—although only a taste of the depth of her experience—the nails driving in, the spear bringing water and blood, the agony of her Son crying from a cross of wood. Such horror and such grief. Yet such a gift.

Be it done unto me according to Your word.

Throughout her life, Mary assumed an attitude of not mere acceptance, but gift. She does not just passively receive what comes; she presents herself—her womb, her breasts, her maternal heart—as offerings to the Lord. She gives to Him all that she is, she offers herself as a living sacrifice to God. And while she receives the greatest of sufferings, she also receives the greatest of rewards.

Oh, that I might be more like this Blessed Mother. That I might not simply receive what is given as if I am only a passive object of God’s will, but that I might open my heart and open my hands and offer all that I am for the sake of Christ, embracing His will as a small part of His great plan of salvation.

Speak, Lord, your servant is listening. Not my will, but Yours be done.

Mothering in secret

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Real life.

(Lately words have been slow in coming. I hope you will forgive a half-baked, incomplete piece. Perhaps this is more of a conversation. Me to you, whoever you are who might need to remember this as much as I do.)

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6)

Lately my thoughts about this exhausting season of life are less-than pretty. But most of them center around this one question that I find myself asking again and again: Where is my recognition?

It is a human feeling, right? The desire to be seen, the desire to have our hard work noticed.

For me, motherhood brings this question to the surface especially often, since a mother’s daily labors seem fruitless and trivial. In a world where titles and job descriptions and accomplishments bring praise and recognition, the role of mother sounds underwhelming and invisible. Even those closest to me don’t see most of what I do day-in and day-out.

Most of motherhood is entirely hidden. The 12 a.m. and then 2 a.m. and then 5 a.m. wakings; the patient word uttered to a toddler in the midst of a meltdown; the nap time spent chopping herbs and boiling vegetables to prepare for dinner. Most of these moments go entirely unnoticed.

I am not here to discount the encouragement that a word of recognition can bring. I am not here to ask for praise.

I am here to remind myself, and hopefully another mother or two who might also need to hear it:

The things we do in secret are often the most important—and the most sanctifying—ones.

I have been thinking often on Christ’s instructions to His disciples in Matthew 6. Let your giving be in secret. Shut your door and pray to the Father in secret. Keep your fasting secret. These are some of the most fundamental practices in the Christian life, and we are exhorted to practice secrecy in all of them.

And with each of these practices, there comes a promise: And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

How humbling and beautiful to read those words. I am reminded again that it matters not what man thinks of me. I am seen and known by a Heavenly Father who accepts my small offerings of sacrifice. What is the praise of man compared to the reward of God?

Motherhood is a practice in “letting no opportunity go by for serving others in love,” its sacrifices “a bouquet of insignificant little blossoms that are daily placed before the Almighty—a silent, life-long martyrdom.” (St. Edith Stein)

I am asked only to be faithful in the tasks I am given, to look not for the praise of man, but to work and wait and pray that one day I may hear the only praise that matters:

Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest.

Two Years

_SMO5473 copy copy(HERE are my thoughts on year one.)

“In God’s new kingdom, the role of the human couple has changed; it has become a relationship of mother and son. The Son of God is the Son of Man through his mother but not through a human father… does it not indicate the nobility of motherhood as the purest and most elevated union of human beings?” (St. Edith Stein)

“What was it like when you saw her face for the first time?”
“Like I’d been missing her all my life.”
(Call the Midwife)

My baby girl is two tomorrow.

It is remarkable to me how a child’s birthday is just as much about memory as it is about anticipation. It is a child’s and a whole family’s celebration of what has been and anticipation of what is to come: all of the learning and growing and developing. But a birthday is also about memory; often silent memory, memories treasured in a mother’s deepest heart, quietly recalled and reflected upon in between diapers and meals and bedtimes.

These last few days hold so many memories for me. While I know that in the immediate, these moments weren’t as magical and beautiful as they seem now, memory almost reveals to us the deep sweetness in the moments that feel impossible, overwhelming, even terrifying at times. It seems that memory returns those moments to us so that we might see within them the meaning and the wonder that they held. Here are some of those memories, given to me now, as moments of deep grace.

No sleep for three days. My mom not being able to keep up with me on our walks because I was so determined to move this baby along. Blooming aliums in the gardens. Going to the midwife, going home again, going to the midwife, going home again, discouraged, not progressing. Pleading with my mom to help me make the petocin decision. The anticipation of finals still to take hanging over Travis’ head. A night of contractions, breathing, walking, Christmas lights, Audrey Assad on repeat. Pushing, and wanting to cry, and sleeping for a few seconds here and there, water, blood, fear, pain, encouragement, pain, relief, victory, sunshine.

Our windows faced east and she came with the sunrise. The dream ended, and mercy met us with the morning. The magic in that was unmistakable.

Two years later, she is everything we thought she would be. Hilarious, passionate, energetic, demanding, smart as a whip, and a live production every moment. We go to bed every night laughing about something she said, wondering at her newest trick or her recent excitements.

Of course with every new baby, the magic is new again. But there is something about first firsts that I’m not sure I will ever quite get over. She was my first pregnancy, my first labor, my first delivery, my first baby, my first time breastfeeding, my first 2 a.m. alarm clock, my first everything.

She is the first to teach me that “love is the stuff of life.” (Call the Midwife again.. I kind of love it.) Love creates life, and love gives life, and love sustains life. I am certain there is no love like this mothering love on this side of heaven. It is hard, and inconvenient, and exhausting and it demands a lot of me. But it is invigorating and profound and tenacious and delighting.

And it is love that comes to me and reminds me that I am loved even more than I love my children. My children are loved even more than I love them. Oh love divine!

That morning in our hospital room, when I saw her little fingers and her sweet nose and the day dawned, this love came and met us and filled us. And I discovered what I didn’t even know I was missing.

The way to happiness

Processed with VSCO with a7 presetThe recent silence on this little space can be attributed to the survival mode I feel like I have been operating in these last few weeks. It’s funny—as an adult, I think we tend to say that being a child is so easy. You don’t have to worry about anything, you get to play all day, you get to nap every day, etc. But from what I have seen of my sweet little girl’s last few months especially, growing and developing and discovering must be quite hard as well. Skipped naps and swollen gums and emotions that are not yet realized and understood have all brought us a rather difficult winter. Most days, I feel like I am just trying to make it to bedtime again, and then feel guilty that this is my mindset. I don’t know how to help my days feel any different, really, but I was reminded yesterday of what this season is offering to me if I have the courage and grace to accept it: happiness.

One of my husband’s colleagues who is becoming a wonderful friend to us reminded me yesterday that the life of Christ is a life of service, and it is in living the life that Christ lived that we find happiness. Being united more and more to Him means living more and more as He did. And I can see, although dimly, that the diapers, the cleaning, the neediness, the laundry, the midnight wakings, the meals, the bathtimes, are all moments of Christ offering His life to me. And in that life, there is happiness.

Humiliation and glorification

img_20170215_133308_394“The specifically Christian humility is learned in no other way than by formal and repeated humiliations.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, To the Heart of the Mystery of Redemption)

It was in that moment—as the priest lifted the host high above his head so that it was in front of the crucifix on the back wall—that I saw it.

I saw that this crucified Lord, this humiliated Lord, hanging bloody and bowed on a cross of wood, is the same Lord who comes to us in the broken bread and the blood-red wine. He comes to us, again and again, humiliated, offering Himself to those who do not deserve Him. Yet He also comes glorified. He offers His glory to those who will join in His humiliation.

It is all too beautiful to comprehend, but let us try.

The cross is a scene of intense humiliation. The dictionary defines “to humiliate” as “to cause (a person) a painful loss of pride, self-respect, or dignity; mortify.” It is hard to think of Christ as being humiliated. Certainly He did not have any pride to lose as He suffered at Calvary. But He lost, and even gave up of his own will, all of His dignity. He hung on the cross—naked, cursed, despised, rejected. God Himself was humiliated before mankind.

So too, in a smaller way, the humiliated Lord comes to us in the the Holy Sacrament. He deigns to come to us through earthly substances; He condescends and gives up His dignity and allows His very being to be communicated through grain and the fruit of the vine. Even more humiliating, He enters people who do not deserve the purity and the majesty of the Lord. We hardly deserve to sit in His presence, let alone literally ingest Him and take His being into our very being.

Yet the beauty of Christ’s humiliation is that it is the source of His glorification. The humiliated Lord was glorified by the Father and is now sitting in glory among the angels and the saints. So, too, we praise Him daily for His humiliation. We glorify Him for His lowliness. Because He was cast-down, He is raised up.

Perhaps, in the same way, then, our moments of humiliation are those moments that are most pregnant with the chances for our own glorification. Changing dirty diapers, messing up at work, suffering ridicule for the sake of our beliefs, realizing again and again just how dark our hearts truly are. These are the things of humiliation. And so, too, they are the things of glorification, if we allow them to be.

Hans Urs von Balthasar writes of how Mary is often humiliated by Christ: when Jesus calls her “woman,” when He says His mother is those who hear God’s word, when He removes His sonship from her upon the cross (“Woman, behold your son!”). These humiliations, as Balthasar writes, are “constant training in the naked faith Mary will need under the Cross.” This training makes her able to say “yes” again and again to all that being the mother of the Lord means. “He himself is the first one to wield the sword that must pierce her. But how else would she have become ready to stand by the Cross, where not only her Son’s earthly failure, but also his abandonment by the God who sends him is revealed.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mary, the Church at the Source)

Christ’s dealings with Mary, in a sense, seem utterly backwards. Yet they are His greatest love. For she suffers the deepest humiliations, culminating in the very death of her own son, yet she now knows the highest of glorifications. She lives with her son, in glory, the Queen of Heaven, Star of the Sea, Seat of Wisdom, Mystical Rose, Help of Christians. The humiliations that Mary suffered made her ready for glory.

So, too, do our humiliations. We must stand by the cross with Mary, and with her offer our “yes” to every humiliation that the Lord offers us as we know that He is inviting us, ever so generously, to glory.

When things are hard

img_4456-copy-copyWhen I sit at the top of the stairs, listening to two children talking or crying (respectively) in their beds with this sinking feeling in my stomach that there will not be any sleep this afternoon.

When the baby needs a new diaper and the toddler who has a penchant for standing in her high chair is in the middle of a meal and I have to decide whether to interrupt her scrambled eggs or to risk stains all over the baby swing.

When our sweet little girl is cutting something like eight teeth at a time and wants nothing more than to be held.

When the littlest member of the family, too, wants nothing more than to be held.

This is so hard, I think.

When I can see the layer of dust on my piano.

When I walk in bare feet across the house and feel all of the dirt and crumbs and pieces of dry pasta that are accumulating because I haven’t gotten the vacuum out in days.

When the third dirty diaper of the day means yet another load of laundry and I have to carry the three loads I did yesterday up the stairs to remain, possibly folded (but not likely!), in the hall until I remember to put them away.

This is so hard, I think.

I am learning to allow myself to accept that this stage of life is hard because hard does not mean bad. “Love is always sacrifice,” a dear friend wrote in a letter to me this week. And sacrifice is never easy. It is the best thing we can do. It is what makes us happiest in this life. It makes us more fully ourselves. But it is always hard.

My daily litany of diapers, meals, naps, playtime, kisses, dishes, laundry, diapers, meals, baths, bedtimes is hard in the way that running a marathon is hard. It is hard in the way that learning a new subject is hard. It is exhausting: mentally, emotionally, physically. It is a constant balancing act of many needs, all of them feeling immediate and many of them feeling impossible to fully meet. (Not to mention that all the mothering I have done in my life has been either in the post-partum stage or while pregnant—not the most emotionally and hormonally stable periods of one’s life!) It is all so hard, and that is okay.

But I also want to remember that all of this is so hard precisely because it is so good. Because this hard that I am feeling is the call I am given to lay down my life for another. This hard is the joyful duty of loving another person in incredibly physical, tangible ways. This hard is the burning away of those things in me that are ugly and tainted so that my true humanity may more firmly take root, so that the Lord Himself might make me one with Him.

This hard is the best thing that I have ever done.

And when someone asks me what it’s like to be a mom, or when I think of my days and my weeks, I want to think of more words than just hard.

When Edith watches Finding Dory and out of the blue says “Octopus holding cup.”

This is amazing.

When Edith gets the biggest grin on her face over a scoop of ice cream.

This is magical.

When John Henry clearly gets excited over our bedtime routine and can’t stop grinning at me and kicking his little legs.

This is the best.

When Edith suddenly takes an interest in her little brother and tries to give him a toy to hold.

This is good.

When I hear giggles coming from down the hall because Edith and her dad have a blast during bath time.

This is beautiful.

When Edith says “Mommy,” when John Henry watches me so that he can flash me a huge smile, when Edith says “Thank you,” when I look at these babes and my dirty floors and my piles of laundry and my sleepy eyes, yet all I can think is just how amazing these two little people are.

This is love.

Choosing my wants

Processed with VSCO with a9 presetI wonder how many of us feel like life simply happens to us. Like we didn’t have a choice in how we got here, and we certainly don’t have a choice now.

To be honest, that feeling of not having a choice in my life is what really bothered me last semester. I watched my hard-working, PhD student husband leave the house for the day to study and get a cup of coffee with a friend and go to class and begrudged him that. My life currently doesn’t give me that sort of freedom. My hours and days are dictated by two little human beings—by their diapers and naptimes and mealtimes, by their joys and their sorrows and their needs. I don’t have much of a choice with how I spend my time, and so—it feels—little choice in how I spend my life.

He gets to do what he wants. I don’t.

Those words are ugly. I know. They are selfish. I know.

But I would guess I am not the only one who finds myself thinking that.

They have __________. They get to do what they want.

Fill in the blank. Money, friends, support, freedom, ambition, adventure, time.

I don’t have a choice. I don’t get to do what I want.

When I find myself thinking those words, I am learning to stop. When I stop to collect my thoughts and feelings, I find just how wrong I am. I get to be a mother to these precious babies. I get to spend my time loving and nurturing and teaching them about beauty, truth, and goodness. Of course that is what I want. It’s not always easy, but I must constantly train and orient my words and my heart in that way. I must choose to want this life, and these days.

And so I think we all must learn to choose to live the life we are given. Because we can so easily walk through days and weeks and years feeling like the circumstances of our life are imposed upon us, like we don’t have much of a say in the matter. Our jobs, our homes, our health, our finances, our family. We truly don’t have complete control over those things. And so the choice lies not usually in what we have, but in how we live in what we have.

This year I want to choose what I have been given. I want to want what I have. This means that I don’t see my days of meals and mothering as ones that are imposed upon me, but as gifts that are given to me because the Lord knows what I need. This means that I look around me and rejoice in what I see because I need these things. I need this exhausting and sometimes lonely graduate school life. I need this poor-sleeping baby and this energetic toddler. I need this day-in and day-out life that I am living.

I need them because they are what the Lord gives me. And what the Lord gives me is always and only for my holiness. Those things that I feel I don’t have a choice in are exactly those things that He is using to show me His face. My choice lies not in how I spend most of my time, but in how I embrace the time that I am given.

I want to live with humility and hope, with purpose and prayer, with sacrifice and service, with gentleness and grace. I want to love this life I have been given because—if I allow it—it will only bring me ever closer to the love of my Savior. I want to inhabit each present moment, looking for all that Christ is offering me through it, embracing it fully as His love for me. I want to want this life because it is the greatest and the grandest gift I have ever been given.

May the Lord make this more and more true—of me, and of you.