I could never do that!

I hear it so often.  It’s probably the most common response that I hear when people find out we’ve made what seems to be such a radical choice.  Admittedly, it was a hard call for me when I was discerning.  I was dead set against it for years because it terrified me; it seemed much too hard.  I felt I could never do it.

But I am.

That first ever First Day of School, while we watched her little friends walk to the bus stop, we walked to the dining room table.  With great anxiety and a stomach ache, I pulled out her books and we begun the greatest adventure together.  We’ve since added another student to our schooling and, in the fall, another one of my children will be seated around the table as we begin the school year.  For now, another year is so close to being done.  Books are finished or within pages of being completed.  Another homeschooling year is nearly, as they say, “in the books.”  And I will let out a joyful sigh that I did it. 

Since when did it become acceptable to tell ourselves that we cannot do the hard things simply because they are “too hard?”  Anyone can indeed homeschool; I am doing it.  Yes, I have some experience in education.  But, compared to some I know, it’s pretty minimal.  My undergraduate and graduate degrees are in English Literature, not education.  I have no teacher’s license.  But I am doing it.  Yes, there are hard days.  Yes–oh yes–there have been seasons where we were discerning traditional school because of health reasons or being unsure if it was the best fit anymore.  But, after many tears and much prayer, I still feel the call to the dining room table.

There was one year  that, due to months of bad behavior, one of my children very nearly started at the elementary school down the street.  After much apologizing and proving good behavior, we continued homeschooling.  To be fair, we had just had a baby, I was suffering from poor health, and my husband was in and out of town with the Army.  I made the call to keep her home and we changed some subjects around.  Pulled back.  Pulled in.  Around the dining room table.

It has been so hard sometimes.  There have been seasons that I have felt the strain of bringing my children everywhere with me, which can be exhausting.  I have felt the looks of others as I brought my children to functions (with the blessing of those hosting), brunches, fellowship meetings.  I was the only one with children.  And that sometimes did make it hard.  I was still corralling young children while the other mothers basked in the glory of hours alone.  I took my children to every bi-monthly  blood draw during my youngest’s pregnancy; it was a half hour of driving to get there and praying you arrived before the waiting room filled up (there were no appointments).  Every where that I went, they came with me.  It was sometimes hard.  It was sometimes draining.  It was a sacrifice that I made.  But I did it.  I chose that sacrifice because gathering each morning with my children was worth it.  Despite the hard, despite the sacrifice–no, because of the hard and the sacrifice, it was worth it.  The beauty was hard-fought for when we gathered around that dining room table.

We have all done the hard things.  We have all sucked in our breath, bent over, and begun.  Sometimes, the hard is unexpected.  Maybe in that way, it’s easier.  Because we don’t have the chance to say no.  But sometimes, even when it doesn’t make sense and it’s hard and different from what most everyone else does, the hard is so worth it.  Even in the days when you’re the only one home with your houseful of children, you’re the only one bringing your pack to the function, you’re the only one saying no–again–because you can’t find a sitter.  It’s worth it.  Because there is great joy and love around that dining room table.

Now, after four years of saying yes to the hard, I have such a special bond with my children.  I am proud when we go out together, even when it’s hard.  We travel in a pack, I say (I need a shirt that says this).  My crew, my people.  We live together, we eat together.  We pray together and laugh together.  We travel and go out.  Together.  We push through the hard together, even when we butt heads.  We learn–together!  We sit, each morning, around that blessed dining room table and be…together.

We can do the hard things.  Together.  Start believing it.

To My Sweet Son…

My sweet son,

Three years.  Three years already!  How can it be?

Your whole pregnancy, I was anxious. I remember your positive pregnancy test.  We were all sick, I was getting ready to take some Motrin and had an inkling.  But, I was so very afraid.  I took the test, threw it across the bathroom, and shut the door.  I took a long shower, stepped out, got dressed.  I opened the door, saw the test lying against the wall on the floor.  I gingerly stepped over to it.  Picked it up.  Read the digital message.

Pregnant. 2-4 weeks.

Everything within me rejoiced and feared at the same time.  Another sweet child growing within me.  But this pregnancy would be anything but joyful or easy.  Every appointment, every span of your stillness within me, I grew fearful.  I remember, halfway through the pregnancy when we hit the same week we lost your brother, I didn’t feel you for hours.  I fell into an anxious black hole and fell apart.  Your Aunt Molly talked me down and advised me to call my OB, who squeezed me in for a last second ultrasound.  The whole thirty minutes down to the Air Force base I mentally braced myself for another silent, still ultrasound; I started planning your burial.  But, as I lay on that table, I saw you sleeping and your heart beating away.

Your pregnancy was so hard.  We had unexpectedly lost your brother halfway through the prior pregnancy.  Afterwards, through a series of doctor’s appointments spread out between a military move, I found out I had a clotting disorder and severe endometriosis/adenomyosis.  My body had killed your brother.  Oh the bittersweet pill that was!  We had answers; it was preventable.  But my body had slowly committed the worst crime; it had betrayed my babies and me.  As a result, I was on massive doses of progesterone, baby aspirin, blood thinners, and folate. Every night before bed, I would grab a handful of stomach, insert a needle, and push in medicine all in a desperate attempt to keep you alive.  Still, said my maternal fetal medicine doctor, this all may not be enough….  Those words haunted me  the whole pregnancy.  But, so did the words I spoke the morning I found out you were growing within me:

I will walk on shards of glass everyday if that’s what it takes to keep this child alive…

I prayed so hard for you.  I said daily rosaries that we would bring you home.  I completed a 54 day rosary novena, a St. Gerard novena, and several novenas to St. Joseph begging for your health and survival.  In a silent whisper, I begged for a boy.  I felt selfish.  I should be happy with either.  And I truly would have been.  But I longed for a son.  A boy.  Healthy.  Alive.

All in your last month, you gave us so much drama.  Three weeks before your due date, I contracted every three minutes all night long.  The contractions grew stronger.  By ten am, we thought this was it.  On April first, as we walked through the doors of Labor and Delivery, the contractions stopped suddenly.  You little prankster; you kept me up all night.  A couple of weeks later, in the middle of the night, you were incredibly active.  All of a sudden, I felt the worst pain of movement I’d ever felt in any pregnancy.  The next morning, as I prepared for my routine OB appointment, it felt like a softball was just under my right ribs.  Come to find out, you had flipped completely, and we were now facing a C-section.  I did everything to flip you.  I was so stressed and so scared.  I needed things to go just right; I needed to hold you right after birth, to envelope you immediately.  I was grieving all of that. One afternoon, another painful movement.  I felt around and realized you had flipped back head down.  I did not sleep lying down until after you were born.

After that, we scheduled your induction for Sunday the 17th of April.  But, that morning, I awoke at 5 am to sharp sudden pains that were coming and going.  I woke out of deep sleep each time, wondering what in the world  was causing pain.  After thirty minutes of them, I realized…could this be…?  They didn’t stop.  I woke up.  I showered.  Still they persisted.  I pulled out Mass clothes and began getting ready for church.  By this point, I was holding on to the walls or furniture as the waves of pain hit.  Offering each one as a prayer for your sweet life.  Fortunately your father talked me out of Mass.  The pain grew.  I couldn’t sleep through it, though I tried.  My friend came, giving me Holy Communion.  She wept with me as I slowly let myself believe this might be you coming.  This is it, I think, she said.  She stayed a little longer, and we prayed together.

Your grandparents showed up, whisked off your sisters, and I retreated upstairs.  I packed, waiting a little longer, and then we left for the hospital.  As the nurses and doctors ushered me to a room, I lagged behind. When they walked inside, I stopped, frozen.  The last time I was in a delivery room….memories flooded back as I saw the machines, the isolette, the bed.  A nurse touched my arm.  She knew.  She’d seen my file.  It’s ok…come on…you can’t have a baby in the hallway…  We laughed and I climbed into the bed.  My body worked so hard to have you.  I prayed a rosary, finished your baby journal.

And then it was time.  

You came fast.  They told me to be gentle, take my time.  But, I wanted you in my arms.  Sadly, you were safer there than within me.  Finally, you arrived.  After nine months of worrying, weeping, wondering, you were laid on my chest.  I cried hard right along with you.  I didn’t dare move, didn’t dare do anything but hold onto you for an hour.  I kept asking your daddy to make sure you were indeed a boy–my boy.  I kept asking the doctors, he’s okay?  Are you sure he’s ok?  And you were.  Praise God, my son, my long-awaited little lamb, was finally here.

I love your sisters.  They light up my world just as much as you do.  But they have a soft spot for their daddy.  It is a sacred place I was never allowed inside, and I didn’t begrudge it.  All girls should have a soft spot for their daddies.  And oh, how they do.  But, I longed for my own little person who had a soft spot for me.  I missed my little boys, all gone too soon to our Lord.  But, how you love me!  You save your kisses, hugs, snuggles, all for me.  You still seek me out, beg me to hold you.  Only I am allowed to talk to you after you first wake in the morning; only I am allowed to take as many kisses as I want.  For the first time, I have a baby who adores to be rocked to sleep, even still.  As I grieved my father’s health and then his absence, you would hear me crying even from across the house.  You crying, Mommy?  You crying about Grampy? And you crawl into my lap and squeeze my neck.

You have broken open and helped heal a wound I never thought would heal.  It still throbs occasionally; it still aches deeply at the absence of my other sweet children.  But, God gave me all of my answered prayers.  The Easter prior, as my body and heart still struggled to recover from the stillbirth of your brother James, that priest placed his hand on my shoulder at Holy Communion.  As everything around him glowed, he said, “Jesus will bless your family again.  Jesus will bless your family again.”

And He did.

Not only did He bless me with my (sadly) final child, not only did He allow me one more sweet life before my body fell apart from fertility issues; He gave me a son.  He answered the deepest and selfish desires of my heart.  All those prayers, all that heartache.  All the anxiety.  All of the darkness.  I would walk through all of it again for you.

My love, you must never lose your faith.  Even in the darkest, most terrible moments, God redeems.  Even if there seems no logical, practical way out, God will open a tomb.  Light will pour forth inside, and He will help you out.  Even amidst the ashes of death and loss, God always resurrects.  Even as I buried and mourned our James, I repeated within my soul, “Weeping may tarry through the night…but joy comes in the morning.”  Weeping tarried, for me, for a long dark night.  But morning came.  In that Labor and Delivery room in Virginia a little after ten pm at night, morning came.  God swept light into my life, even if I didn’t deserve it, and laid a small boy on my chest.

Happy Birthday, my sweet boy.  This day, out of all the days of the year, reminds me to keep the faith.  To keep praying, even if our prayers are outlandish and seem too big.  To hope big, love big, believe big.

You have my heart sweet boy.  Thank you for loving your mommy so deep and hard.

And thank you, Jesus, for my sweet boy.  Thank you for answering my most desperate prayers.  Thank you for this long-awaited little lamb.


My Simons and Splinters

I don’t know why I bother planning my Lenten sacrifices.  Every year, I sit and think and pray for a long time leading up to Ash Wednesday.   Every year, even though I know it will go totally differently, I plan my Lenten fasts, almsgiving, and prayers.  Because, I think, maybe this will be the one year that the Lord doesn’t heave His own precious but heavy plan upon me.  And every year, within a week of Lent starting, I’m chuckling to myself again that I bothered planning.

Lent, almost always, has been an incredibly difficult time for me.  Nearly every year, some sort of life altering cross befalls me.  Usually, it’s a very isolating, lonely cross that I try to carry myself.  Deep shame and humiliation accompany those crosses, even though I bear them through no fault of my own.  There was the year that my husband deployed, I was unexpectedly pregnant, and scared to death I was going to miscarry a second time in a row; I was left home alone with just my young toddler to drown in my worries.  There was the year that I was pregnant only three months after giving birth to my first child; we were not at all planning a second baby so soon and I was already mired in severe postpartum depression.  Then there was the year that, right around Ash Wednesday, we found out our baby had gone to be with Jesus halfway through the pregnancy; I was admitted and induced in Labor and Delivery and spent the rest of Lent in deep, dark, isolating grief and shame.  There was the year that I unexpectedly and permanently lost my fertility and was thrown into long-term grief and soul-consuming shame.

This year is no exception.  I discerned my areas for improvement and set a plan for Lent, all while knowing that the Lord was going to create my Lent for me.  And, oh, did He deliver.  While still consumed with intense grief for my father, another huge cross has been thrown upon me.  The weight is unbearable most of the time, and I struggle daily with all of this to keep standing.  I have fallen a lot under the pressure of isolation and deep grief and darkness.

But the Lord calls us to step out with our crosses just before He sends our St. Simons.

My cross this year is deeply personal and private.  And also deeply painful.  (Nothing health related.)  I kept it to myself, eaten up with shame, for as long as I could.  But, one thing I tell my friends on this path of salvation when they apologize for “unloading” on me: “We are never meant to carry our crosses alone.  Even Jesus had the help of St. Simon.”  I’m always deeply grateful to relieve a friend of the pressure of their cross, even if for a few minutes.  What a blessing!

I must allow others to be that blessing to me.  And so I have.  I have been so blessed by a few people who have heard me fall and weep.  They have seen me in brokenness and shame.  They have climbed up under my dirty, bloody cross, placed their shoulder in the crook, and helped me lift it back up.  They have helped me rise, steady my gait, and carry on down the dirt road to my Calvary.  They have listened to the ugly details of my sufferings, without judgment, and prayed with me.  They have encouraged me and given me advice to keep my soul from crumbling. They have loved me.

God has asked great suffering of me the last few years.  I have spent more time in valleys than I have in green pastures.  For a long time, my soul thirsted for days of peace, now my soul lies in parched trust.

When I was a child, my dad would sit and do Catechism studies with us when we didn’t have access to formalized Catholic Catechism classes (CCD).  He would sit with us after Mass, a convert himself, and read chapters of the Baltimore Catechism.  I vividly remember him teaching us one day about Christ’s Passion. He said that all the suffering  of every person that has lived or will ever live  was contained within Christ’s suffering.  Every pain and struggle we will face was contained in Christ’s cross.  I was meditating on my dad’s lesson one afternoon years later.  All my sufferings, all my pains, all my losses and struggles, all of them are splinters in His precious Cross that He shouldered to Calvary.  All the pain brought about from my sin, all the pain that befalls me from living in a fallen world, all of those were grains of wood in that Cross.  As I shoulder those crosses, those splinters, I spiritually stand under the Cross with Jesus holding the wood where my all my splinters form my part of His cross.

When my dear friends come under my Cross with me, they are not just lightening my load.  They lighten Christ’s load.  We are then all walking with our sufferings and others’ sufferings, simultaneously lightening all of our loads and that of Christ’s on the way to Calvary.  Truly, the selfless love of prayer and encouragement outweigh the intense weight and ugliness of sin.  Love, then, truly begins to overcome suffering and sin even before Christ arrived at Calvary.

I struggle feeling like a burden accepting the help and love of others.  I feel immense guilt reaching out and leaning on their shoulders.  I feel panic when they climb under my dirty portion of wood to help me heave it back up.  But, we all shoulder some piece of the Cross.  In accepting the help and helping others, we allow ourselves and our friends to further progress down the road of salvation.

Thank you, Lord, for shouldering my pain at your Passion.  Thank you for allowing St. Simon to help you, God.  Thank you for heaving portions of your cross upon me during my life and allowing me to help you on your walk to Calvary.  And thank you for also giving me St Simons to help me walk further to my eternal Glory with you.


A Bookish Update–2019

Just prior to last New Year’s, I had joined Goodreads on the recommendation of a friend.  I really like the app and especially love that you can set your own reading challenge.  Last year, I chose to set my goal to a lofty twelve books (don’t laugh.  I hadn’t read a whole lot in awhile because of having babies in the house and working on my Master’s degree).  Low and behold, I doubled that goal by the end of last year, reading 24 books.  I was actually surprised I had read that many.  I had planned to up my goal to at least twenty for 2019, but when last year went dark on me at the end, I knew I should maybe pull that number back a little.  So, I set my goal to fifteen.  (There are several people I’m “friends” with on Goodreads that have reading goals of 45+ books!  I don’t know how a person does that with kids!  I am super impressed…and very curious.)

So, when January came, I tried to read.  I could not comprehend or retain anything I read. I experimented with several different genres.  Aside from one book that I struggled to get through in January, I could not read.  I knew it was the grief.  So, I shelved my books and stuck with crossword puzzles for awhile.  Once March hit, I guess my mind opened back up again.  I read four books.  April may see me beat that, as I just started my fourth book tonight.  Anyway, below are the books I’ve read this year and a quick synopsis on my thoughts.


I read Haley Stewart’s book in January.  I had been eyeing it for awhile, and when the Kindle version went on super sale I downloaded it.  I really enjoyed reading it.  This has where, I believe, God has been calling my family for awhile–to pare down in multiple facets of our family life and focus on what matters.  Her story fascinated me and I enjoyed reading about the huge leap of faith her family took.  I did think it was definitely geared towards Catholic families, as one of the last chapters talks in depth about using NFP (natural family planning) as opposed to birth control (which as a Catholic and a pro-life person, I totally support).  I really loved the messages and ideas in this book.




Okay, this book left me speechless.  Father Stinnissen’s book is so small, but so incredibly deep.  and I would recommend this highly to any Christian or Catholic.  He breaks down abandonment to God’s will into three steps or phases.  Each phase takes you further towards total abandonment to His will.  His descriptions and passages were so inspiring and beautifully written, I kept having to stop and just steep in it in my head.  I underlined so many passages and then lent it to a friend because everyone should read this book.  Absolutely amazing.




I really enjoy watching Chip and Joanna on television.  I was really sad when they decided to step back from their reality television series (even though I totally get their reasons).  So, the Christmas after his book came about (I believe it was 2017), I got this for my husband as a gift.  I had been meaning to read it and finally opened it in March.  I have to say, the first half was really good!  I read through it really fast.  But, the second half just dragged.  For me, I feel like Joanna is the story teller and Chip is the motivational speaker.  This was difficult for me to finish.




I actually blogged about Kristin Hannah’s book, so I will try not to rave endlessly about this book.  I started it in the fall of last year, when my dad got sick.  I spent a lot of time reading it next to his hospital bed while he was sedated or sleeping.  I was nearly done when I turned it back into the library in December.  I needed some time, but checked it back out and finished it in March.  This was a very stirring account of the atrocities of World War II.  It was dark and very intense at times, but it was such an incredible read.  I really struggled with it in the last few chapters but made myself finish it.  I cannot recommend this book enough and will be re-reading it at some point in the future.


img_3582This was on the new releases table at my library and my friend actually picked it up and handed it to me (my love of classic literature is no secret).  I read it in three days.  It’s an easy read about the life of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.  My only complaint at times is that the sentence structure and descriptions were very simple and that bugged me a little.  But the book itself was fascinating and I truly feel sorry for Shelley.  When I studied her in college, I remember my dad telling me that she lived with the poet Shelley for years while he was still married!  She really had a tough life, though she didn’t really make the best choices.  This was a fun, easy read.



My sister gave me this book back in 2011.  But, because I was working on my Master’s degree and pregnant with my second baby, I didn’t ever get to finish it.  While perusing my shelves after finishing my last book, I pulled this one off and decided to finally read the entire book.  I read it in two days.  What a sweet (and true) account of a couple’s lives during World War II.  The woman was a headstrong, determined person set on finishing her degree even if it meant not getting married for awhile; her eventual husband waited years for her, writing her letters to convince her to marry him.  Such a sweet read accounting their life story.


Anyone who knows me at all, knows I am a huge Flannery O’Connor fan.  I first read her in college and found her delightfully dark and beautifully spiritual.  Several years later, when I was preparing to write my Master’s thesis, I decided I wanted to do at least a chapter on her.  Hers ended up being my longest chapter.  While I was writing it, I ordered this book but never read the whole thing.  I just used a few chapters in my research.  I decided to read it cover to cover this week, and just loved it.  She was a deeply religious but hilarious person and learning more about the spiritual/religious side of her life was such a joy.  Last year, I read her Prayer Journal, so this just added to my knowledge regarding her spirituality.  I would highly recommend this book to any Southern Lit or Flannery O’Connor fan.

I’m looking forward to finishing some fun books on my To Be Read list.  I just started Anne Bogel’s book I’d Rather Be Reading, which I have been wanting to read since it was published.  Also, I am really excited for Mary Lenaburg’s book to be released in May.  I have had my copy on pre-order since she first announced it. Another goal is to read a few more historical books; I have really enjoyed delving further into World War II’s history over the last couple of years.  I am really enjoying checking out books from the library that are outside my comfort zone and learning to expand my reading breadth.  Here’s to reading more books and my next book-ish update!  Who knows? Maybe I’ll beat March’s record of four books.  Regardless, as I have read more, I have seen my children reading more.  And that is a beautiful thing to come from the love of books.


The Power of Hatred

I cannot watch people suffer.  I cannot watch movies with violence, I cannot read the news constantly full of people being attacked and murdered.  I cannot stand my Facebook feed, filled with posts about children dying of cancer or families who’s mother or father just were killed in a car accident, or people spewing insults arguing over issues.  It took every ounce of my self control at times to stand at my father’s bed side while terrible, deep physical, mental, and emotional suffering slowly deteriorated his body in what would be his last seven weeks.

I had no idea.  I read my history lessons as a child–so that’s what I based my understanding on.  The concentration camps, the rounding up of Jews and other “types” of people.  But how clean and under represented it was, I had no idea.  Of course it would be.  We were children.  Children cannot mentally process the true, deep sense of horror and violence that was World War II.  The physical and emotional suffering they endured.   The men.  The women.  And, oh, the children.

My little ones will have the sweetest of childhoods.  Yes, they have suffered loss.  Most of my children vividly remember losing their sweet brother halfway through the pregnancy.  My children were robbed of a lifetime of memories with my father.  My five year old will have fuzzy, abstract memories at best.  And my son–he will have no memories at all.  But overall?  They will have a beautiful, innocent clean childhood.

Last summer, I read The War That Saved My Life.  It was while reading that book that I first learned about Black Out curtains.  I now wince every time we close our children’s black out curtains in their room.  Oh what a different meaning!  It was in that book that I also learned that children were forcibly separated from their parents and sent to live with, in a sense, foster families in “safer” parts of the country.  Some of these children never saw their parents again.  This book is “young adult” novel, but I admit it was a slightly difficult read for me.

In a desire to learn more about World War II and after hearing so many people rave about it, I checked out The Nightingale from my library.  Ironically, it was that book that I read next to my father as he suffered so terribly in his last weeks.  I sped through the first half of the book.  It was addicting and fast-paced, an easy read; I grew terribly attached to the characters and the story played visually out in my head.  Then, the book turned dark.  More deeply and more raw than The War That Saved My Life, this book revealed more graphic, more awful details of World War II than I had ever known.  I had no idea the extent to which people suffered during that terrible war.  And I know–it’s because I have been sheltered and protected from the awful truth.

The more pages I turned, the worse it became.  As my own father’s health continued to decline, as more humiliating and terrible sufferings racked his body, the book became increasingly more violent and detailed.  I’d read a few pages, put it down, not sure I’d be able to finish the book.  I stood for hours one afternoon, as my father slept through sedation, my hand in his limp hand, as I read from the book that lay on his hospital bed.  My legs grew tired as I stood, not wanting to leave his side.  My back ached, my head spun as reality grew bleaker.  But I kept standing.  And I kept reading.

I have no right to continue to shelter myself from the atrocities of what people suffered during World War II.  Those who do not learn history, are doomed to repeat it.  My mother always said this to us, encouraging us to read as much as we could about history even with its raw and violent injustices.  So, I kept turning each page of The Nightingale, soaking in every horrific detail that people–children of God–suffered.  But it was not–is not–just the physical and emotional suffering that struck me.  We did this to each other.  Because of hate, because of pride, one group of arrogant people subjected other people–Jews, homosexuals, Catholics, the list goes on–to horrific suffering.  Families were separated, people suffered more than what should have been physically and mentally possible, millions of people were killed.  Slowly, with as much intended suffering as possible, nearly a generation of people were wiped out.

I took the book with me the night my mother called us home.  It was in my bag.  I took it out once, at my father’s bedside the night before we lost him.  I stared at the cover.  The blue-black with the blue and golden writing.  The rose bush and golden bird lighting onto the bush.  And I put it back in my bag.  I stood up, walked to my father’s bedside.

Dad.  Dad.  Daddy! 

He was so agitated.  It was so hard to watch.  Not even close to the giant of a man who had entered the hospital.  He was almost unrecognizable.  But those eyes.  I knew those eyes.


He looked at me, his eyes settling on mine one final time.  The flash of recognition.

It’s Addie–your Sprite!

That precious nod.

I love you.  You know that?  I love you so very much, Daddy!  

The last nod, his eyes lost connection with mine.  I watched the them grow distant, and he looked away. It was the last time his eyes would settle on mine in this life.  The next 24 hours were hell.  And had he not been my father, I’m not sure I could have stood and watched what I did.  Maybe we did, we seven people, because we took strength from one another.  I could feel myself taking strength from my brothers, my sisters, my mom.  We were holding each other up by being together.

Once I got home, the book went back to the library for awhile.  Not because I wasn’t going to finish it.  But, because every time I tried, the cover took me right back to the days where we hoped beyond reality that he would live.  The days spent sitting in a hospital chair for hours, looking often at his sweet face.  The days we prayed he’d be spared.  The nights I spent weeping next to my bedside with a candle lit, praying him through another complication, as his body suffered another physical blow that we were not sure he would survive.

Suffering.  Human suffering.  So universal.  So constant.  So inescapable.  So painful.  But, sometimes so intentional.  We shelter ourselves so much.  I had no idea what it looked like to watch a strong, giant of a man waste away so quickly.  What deep bodily and mental suffering looked like.  Everything is cleaned.  History books–cleaned.  Reality of war–cleaned.  Human injustice–cleaned.  Illness and death–cleaned.

I finished the book this morning.  It was so hard to turn each page by the end.  It took great force.  I had to force myself to finish a book about World War II.  How pathetic and shameful to admit.  People lived that.  And I struggle to finish a fictional book written about it.

As I shut the back cover, I can’t help but think.  The sheltering, the cleansing of history–what is it doing for us?  The sterilization of suffering and death–what is this accomplishing?  We are weaker than previous generations, our stomachs unable to handle the truth, our minds unable to process such atrocities.  Many of us struggler to witness and process true pain and loss.  But even more, we hide what hatred sown by human beings can do.  An army of men rose to power all over Europe and caused indescribably suffering and killed millions of people.

And I look at Facebook today, the news, my own corner of the world.  The hatred.  Oh, the hatred.  Mosques and Catholic Churches bombed, with so many lives lost.  Wars still fought, terrorists still mutilating and killing.  So much hatred, so much violence, so much death.  And people are the victims.  Precious souls from God.  But we can’t–won’t, maybe–comprehend that.  Because we are sheltered.  We see words, read numbers.  And that’s all they are.  Words and numbers.  Because most of us haven’t personally lived through the effects of this hatred.

My father was spared no suffering by the end.  What a tragedy it was for us.  To watch the pillar of our family fight so hard, spend his days in torture.  Never rising from that awful bed.  That book that I read page by page by his bedside, the same copy, sits next to me now.  I thumb the pages.  Page 129, he was still alive.  Page 273, still here.  Page 319, gone.  But, he was never alone.  He was never not watched over by someone who loved him deeply.  Because he taught us how to love.

All those people who suffered.  I had no idea how much.  Who struggled to stay alive in camps and bunkers and homes, only to die a horrible death.  To you–I am sorry.

Oh, what power hatred has.  But what greater power love has.  An entire generation whose lives were destroyed by hatred.  While I have been sheltered from the violence, the graphic details, I have realized this: In subsequent generations, those who were taught how to love, what real love looks like, that’s the undoing of the hatred.  My father loved until the end.  And he was loved until the end.  In his final weeks, he showed us what faithful, Godly loved looked like.  My mother showed us what sacrificial love was–even making the most difficult decision of her life.  Letting him go.

It is love–sacrificial, Christly love that will quench the hatred.  It is teaching each other, our children, our families and friends, what the opposite of that kind of hatred can do.  Not only learning about the historical periods of hatred, but the power of love, every small or large act of kindness, will spare us a repeat of that history.  Every time you have to slow down to hold open the door, smile at a stranger, leave a note for someone.  Every time we love those with whom we disagree, embrace those with different beliefs, welcome those of different color.  We undo and keep at bay the hatred.

Mother Teresa said it best:

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.

I promise to my children, the keepers of the future, that I will gradually teach them the effects of hatred but emphasize and live out the power of love.  Because love is infinitely more powerful than hate.

The Grace of Flexibility

I had plans this morning.  Definitive plans.  I was going to get up, get the kids ready, and drive to post to (finally) jump back into the women’s fellowship group at the Post Chapel. I had it all planned out in my head.  I knew we’d be rushing, I knew it would be tight.  Getting four kids out the door to make it twenty minutes away by nine is always tight.  But I had plans to do it.

They, however, had other plans.  They ate their breakfast slower than molasses in January and talked so much!  I kept reminding them to eat quickly, but it did no good.  Finally, after finishing, we ran (correction, I ran while they meandered) upstairs to get dressed.  I asked my oldest to do the five year old’s hair and the seven year old to put her hair in a pony tail.  After getting myself ready, I came out to find the five year old in lounge pants and shirt playing outside with her now soaked brother and the seven year old playing in the hallway…hair undone. “Mommy, I just really want you to do my hair.”    Their backpacks were not packed and the diaper bag still needed loading.  I felt my body tensing up and could hear my voice rising.  “Let’s go! We have to hurry up or we will be late.”  Still, crises kept occurring and kids kept slowing down.

And then I realized it.  I could yell and scream us out the door.  That would definitely have gotten everyone moving a lot faster.  Bags would have been packed, shoes finally put on, and hair done.  To the constant sound of Mommy yelling.  But we would have gotten to my fellowship group on time.  Or we could just change plans. Instead of yelling, I could simply accept that, while they were doing (mostly) they best they could, we just needed to shift gears.  I could just admit we were not going it to make it this week–and that’s ok. Maybe instead of rushing out the door, I thought, we simply need some quality time as a family.

I struggle with changing plans last minute.  I’m a person who thrives on consistency and routine.  I need something on the calendar ahead of time so I can mentally prepare.  I am not a spontaneous person with my schedule.  So this morning was really good for me; it taught me to bend a little.  Reminded me of the grace to be found in being flexible.

Instead of heading into the post, we drove to the library.  As my nine year old entertained the youngest two and the seven year old worked on schoolwork, I was able to slowly peruse the stacks for some books.  I came back with a handful.  We headed into the children’s area, where the kids settled into playing, reading, and searching for their own books.  My nine year old grabbed a stack of National Geographics and began reading; I love watching her interest in science and specifically oceanography deepen.  My five and seven year old started picking princess books.  I looked over to see my little dude making friends with a few other toddlers by the toys.

Unexpectedly, my friend showed up and joined us.  As the children mostly entertained themselves, we took turns picking out (more) books for ourselves and chatting.  It was so nice and so relaxing just sitting together.

And of course we couldn’t let the morning pass without a rite of passage.  In our house, it’s a huge deal to get your own library card.  My sweet Anne (the five year old) has been asking since we moved here to have her own card.  But, she wasn’t quite old enough.  This morning, while she was choosing her last few books to put in the bag, I decided it was time. I took her over to the Circulation desk and she got her very own library card.  She was thrilled!

img_3349We moved the party to Chik-fil-a for awhile and the kids played some more.  My friend and I continued to chat and sometimes just lapsed into silence.  And I had a thought.  You know you’ve got a great friend when the silence isn’t awkward;l, that it’s just nice to sit together and not feel the pressure to fill the void with forced words.

God taught me a good lesson today.  Find grace in flexibility and He will bless you abundantly.  In listening to four sweet voices, I realized we needed to slow down and just be together.  I need to just not feel the pressure to fill the void, and God will fill it with His blessings.  There’s always next Tuesday to try to jump back into other things.  Today, I just sat back and let Him lead.  And what a beautiful morning He gave me.





Four Years…

Four years.  Four years since I was growing new life, four years since my bump was growing and was obvious to everyone.  Four years since I could feel his kicks from the outside.  Four years since I felt his kicks getting weaker and weaker.  Four years since I was telling them that something was wrong.  Four years since they didn’t listen.  Four years since that dream where he was born and glowing, nursing then getting bigger and farther away, then he stopped and smiled at me…then he disappeared.  Four years since I woke up from that dream, and felt one last kick and knew he was gone.  Four years since I went into the OB clinic and they couldn’t find a heartbeat.  Again.  Four years since I clutched at my husband’s chest, sobbing loudly.  Four years since I lost my second son halfway through my pregnancy. Four years since my world crashed down.

Four years since I held my sleeping James.

Some years, it’s happier than it’s sad.  Some years, I hardly notice.  I’m noticing this year.  Maybe it’s because I just lost my father.  Maybe it’s because all the abortion talk floating all over social media, where people think it’s ok to kill unborn and just born children.  Maybe it’s because I should have a four year old running around and causing ruckus with his brother.  It’s likely all of these.

Whatever it is, it hurts this year.  So much.

Of all my pregnancies, that one felt so different.  It had an ethereal, divine sense to it.  And there was so much God in it.  The roses that inexplicably starting appearing everywhere on our wedding anniversary.  Hearing that still small voice the entire pregnancy.  Knowing he was a boy because I was more intertwined with him than I had been with any other baby, as though he started out already half saint.

The sitting in the hospital bed, fretting over a name.  Something that had to go well with John.  Because my first son now had a brother with him in heaven.  Opening my email that night and seeing the devotion from Blessed is She.

Then the mother of the sons of Zeb’edee came up to him, with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”

James.  James and John.  My sons of thunder.

The priest came in that night, while I labored, on the last night of my 54-day rosary novena, after I told God I wasn’t finishing it that night since my baby was gone.  The priest sat down and asked if he could pray with me.  I agreed.  He then sat next to me and prayed an entire rosary.  When a nurse came in later, I asked who the priest was.  She said there hadn’t been any priests on the ward that night and was confused.

The next morning when Father James came in to baptize my sleeping son, with his deep Irish accent, and he leaned over my bed.  “I heard he put up quite a fight.”  “Excuse me, Father?”  He leaned in closer.  “I heard he put up quite a fight.  But, God wanted him home.”  I wept.  Later I would learn that it was nothing short of a miracle our James held on so long…if he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have known about the clotting disorder and would not have our Joseph.

I held him so long.  I slept with him on my chest.  I didn’t want to let him go.  I didn’t want to walk out of that hospital room empty-handed and empty inside.  But we did.  And then a few days later, we laid his sweet body to rest.  My oldest daughter ran around, gathering up the rose petals that perfectly circled the burial shelter.  So many rose petals.

Four years since that dark and terrible Lent.  My stomach small, my heart shattered, my heart so empty.  Four years since I spent a dark Good Friday feeling acutely the pain of His passion and death.  Darkness enveloped me deeply, and I prayed for a glimpse of the resurrection on Easter.

Four years since that Easter Sunday when, during Holy Communion, a priest I’d never met put his hand on my shoulder as everything about him glowed.  “Jesus will bless your family again!”  I leaned in.  Again.  “Jesus will bless your family again!”  I thanked him after Mass, his glow gone, and he had no idea what I was talking about.  A year later, my Joseph was laid on my chest, screaming.  I wept for an hour, too scared to move.  Too scared to make sure he was a boy.  I kept asking my husband to make sure, kept asking the doctors if he was indeed healthy.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  

Darkness subdued by the light.  Grief overtaken by eternal joy.  Death overcome by life.  Suffering survivable by redemption.

Four years ago, I wept as my son flew to Heaven.  Today, he and his siblings rejoice with my father at the feet of Jesus.  Four years ago, death and suffering brought me to my knees and could have destroyed me.  But He reached down, took me by the hand, and walked me through it.  Four years ago, I held my sleeping son.  Two thousand years ago, He came to die for us so that death would not win.  Four years ago, I was crushed by death, but saw His the glory of His resurrection.

Four years ago, Heaven gained a saint, I lost my son, by my faith was strengthened.  Four years ago, I came closer to God, mourned my son, and rejoiced for eternal life.  For, he is not gone.  James, John, Josephine.  My father.  They are not gone.  Just gone from me.  They are Home.  God’s goodness always outweighs the suffering.  He redeemed all loss, all death.  I see it.  I saw it.

Rest in peace, my sweet sons of thunder.  Happy Heavenly birthday, James.  Hug my dad for me.

     Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.