Transition

The other night one of my kids was acting weird. She just wasn’t herself and I could tell that something was bothering her. When I prodded a little, she completely and theatrically melted down. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” she kept repeating. “I don’t KNOW what’s wrong with me. I don’t KNOW what I’m feeling, if I’m happy or if I’m sad. I don’t know what to FEEL. My life isn’t turning out the way I wanted. Like, who am I even??!?”

Did I mention we have a flair for the dramatic?

I tried to cover my grin as I calmed her down. Poor kid was just so frustrated with so many things and having such a difficult time articulating her emotions, so I leaned back onto something that I’ve used with the kids for a long time now. It’s just a quick check in that reminds them of their identity and consists of three simple questions: Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you? Being reminded that she was created by a loving God who made her and made her good was enough to settle my girl for the night.

And the whole situation seemed hysterical to me until I was having an identical breakdown like two days later.

I’m feeling rather adrift if I’m honest, having a difficult time finding my place in things. Without Easter to look forward to or Lent to keep me disciplined and no solid end in sight for the stay at home order, I’m having a hard time coping. It’s like the “day after” feeling I always get after holidays, but amped up a few hundred notches.

Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you?

Today’s Gospel reading from John (20:11-18) shows us Mary Magdalene encountering Jesus and mistaking him for the gardener. When she fully recognizes Him, it’s obviously a moment, but eventually Jesus says, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. but go to my brothers and tell them…” and gives Mary that incredible job of being the Apostle to the Apostles.

In today’s Blessed is She devotion, Kendra Tierney writes:

She can’t hold on to Him as her friend and teacher. She needs to let go of Him as a Man so she can embrace Him as God. She can’t get caught up in her expectations for the moment and for her life, because Jesus has a new and different love for her to experience. And an important job for her to do.

Kendra Tierney, Blessed is She, 04/14/20

“She can’t get caught up in her expectations.” Man, that gutted me. I think that much of the reason I’m struggling to cope these days is that I’ve been caught up so tightly in what I expect my life to be like. I have a vision for how I think things ought to be, what Lent should look like, how I want Easter to be celebrated, how frequently I think I should be able to receive Holy Communion.

“…Jesus has a new and different love for her to experience. And an important job for her to do.” I think it’s only human nature to cling to what we know, especially in difficult times of transition.

I’m a birth doula, so I often see the world through the lens of childbirth. I always say that life is like labor, transition is the hardest part. Transition is the part in childbirth that seems to take the longest, when a mother’s body is completing its final preparations to deliver her baby, it’s an eternity of seemingly unstoppable intensity. This is the point when mothers frequently begin to doubt themselves, when they say they can’t go on any longer, beg for it to be over, many times searching frantically for any “out” they can find. Alas, the only way out is through, as we all know. In order to get through transition in childbirth, a mother must push through the intensity so that she can push in a more literal sense to bring her child into the world.

And as I’ve seen time and time again in childbirth, the women who cope with labor the best are the ones who submit themselves to the experience. They don’t try to control or manipulate the situation, but surrender themselves to the waves. Laboring women who do fight their bodies get panicky, tension making the pain more intense. Labor oftentimes takes longer and is more of an ordeal that they survived than an event they took part in.

We’re in transition right now. Just like the experience of a laboring woman, it feels that there’s no end in sight. Our current reality feels like some sort of endless in-between where we’re promised something good on the other side, but it feels like we’ll never ever get there.

The only way out is through. The only way to cope is to refocus our lives on the One who is calling us to a new and different experience of His love. In order to progress, we must let go of our expectations, lay down the ideals we’ve been clinging to, the preconceived notions of what “normal” is or what our lives “should” look like, and submit ourselves to the experience, however difficult it may be. It is only in surrendering to labor that a pregnant woman comes to deliver her child. It is only in surrendering ourselves to our present circumstances that we will encounter new ways to experience the Risen Christ and, like Mary Magdalene, receive a deeper sense of what we are called to as His disciples.

Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you?

The Delagrange School for Wayward Children Salon and Day Spa, Inc.

Since last I wrote, I’m happy to report that my life has seriously increased in the glamour department.

When the initial stay at home order began, I had great aspirations of what I was going to accomplish with all my “free time.”

Y’all, we have established the fact that I am a liar, but let us also make it clear that I am not smart.

I have been a parent for ten years now, so I have no excuse as to why I foolishly thought that this time of intense social distancing would be the magic moment I’ve been waiting for to get my shit together. I have no other explanation than to say that clearly I was either in denial or delusional or both when I energetically and optimistically told my husband that, “The house is going to be spotless! I’m going to deep clean the kitchen! There will be purging! It’ll be cleaner than ever!” Incidentally, I also told him that my goal was to be skinnier at the end of the mandated social distancing than at the beginning, but based on the fact that I’m super dedicated into the Quarantine Carb Diet of 2020, the odds of that happening are decidedly not in my favor. Cest la vie.

Obv, we know that my house has never been grubbier. ‘Grubbier’ is a euphemism for “looks like a crap hole.” Y’all, there are sprinkles on my kitchen counter that were spilled in a freak cabinet avalanche over a week ago. I have no intention of cleaning them up. That’s just beyond my skill set at this point. I may, however, create a tiny memorial wreath to place upon the sprinkle pile to honor those sparkly bits of sugar lost in the accident, may they shine on in eternity. That seems prudent.

The other day, I did reach the point of cabin fever in which I rearranged the entire living room by myself and all of the electronics are still in working order, so I’ve got that going for me. But, suffice it to say, things around here have been…tenuous. I seem to vacillate between being on top of the laundry and using it to barricade the front door. I mean, why fold clean clothes and put them away when you can block any would be visitors from entry? It seems like a logical next step in social distancing to me and as my husband said, probably also filters all the air coming in through the gaps in the door, so win-win!

Aaanyway, since it’s Holy Week and since the kids have a bit of a break from school work, they’ve been exercising their imaginations and have been very resourceful in their play. That, combined with the fact that I clearly have lost all reason and gave them free rein of the nail polish allows me to happily inform you that the Delagrange School for Wayward Children now hosts its own Salon and Day Spa.

We. Are. Fancy.

Yesterday, I was able to visit the gym (aka, work out in peace while the kids painted their nails/the table) and then I received a full spa treatment that really upped my relaxation game. Please, feast your eyes:

“Get ready to feel relaxed.” Or “relayed.” Either way, get ready.

When I entered the spacious spa facility I was greeted by three attendants, one of whom was a dog, another who was an overzealous intern, and the last of whom was highly tolerant of her co-workers. She’s gonna get a shout out on Yelp, for sure.

I was treated to a nice warm water fingertip soak and a facial treatment that included a soaking wet towel that I was assured was warm at some point, but was decidedly chilled when it reached my pores. ‘Twas quite refreshing. I then enjoyed a lovely massage and hair brushing experience that was both unique and effective. What can I say? I’m a new woman now.

We followed up our spa treatment with a trip out of doors to enjoy the fine weather and go “Honking” which means we walk to the overpass near our house and try to get all the trucks to honk at us. It works best if you fight over which truck is “yours” while simultaneously screaming, “HONK!!! HONK!!! HOOOONNNKKKKK!!!!!!!” at the top of your lungs. (In case anyone is wondering, my smart watch did in fact give me a warning about my loud environment potentially damaging my hearing. That ship has sailed, dear watch.)

So, yeah. That’s our current situation. Day spa-ing it up, honking all the trucks, and we also had our own small Tenebrae service last night, which was genuinely really lovely. Because after all of the bickering and messes and tense emotions of the day, seeing your babes bathed in candlelight and reading the Old Testament is really a beautiful way to end the day.

I hope you’re finding ways to keep adapting and smile as you make your way through Holy Week, my friends. There is so much good to be seen, so much we’ve been given. You are loved!

Mary Susan

Note: At the time of publication, there is actual snow falling from the sky. And so the Lentiest Lent that ever Lented continues to get Lentier. But there is a pair of cardinals visiting our fairy garden in the snow, so life can’t be all that bad. Stay well, dear friends…Peace and perseverance in all things!

Additional postscript: A concerned reader just reached out to check on my tweezer situation. I am relieved to report that my saintly mother mailed me a pair of tweezers, so the facial hair dilemma has finally been resolved. Thank you for your support and understanding during this difficult time. I will update you in the future if we ever return to that perilous state.

Here I Raise My Ebenezer

He reached down from on high and seized me; drew me out of the deep waters. He rescued me from my mighty enemy, from foes too powerful for me. they attacked me on my day of distress, but the Lord was my support. He set me free in the open; he rescued me because he loves me.

Psalm 18: 17-20
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing is my all time favorite hymn. I sung it to all of my babies and still sing it when they (or I) need a little extra comforting. The entire song is just so good, but my particular favorite phrase is in the second verse: “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come; and I hope by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.”

Many sermons have been preached on the meaning of the word “Ebenezer” so I won’t try to do it justice here, but it comes from 1 Samuel chapter 7. The Israelites are about to do battle against the Philistines, things were looking bad and the Israelites beg Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, to save us from the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:8) and so Samuel offers prayer and sacrifice to the Lord. In turn, God “thunders loudly” which throws the Philistines into confusion, allowing the Israelites to have the upper hand and win the day. And then here comes the Ebenezer:

Samuel then took a stone and placed it between Mizpah and Jeshanah; he named it Ebenezer, explaining, “As far as this place the Lord has been our help.”

1 Samuel 7:12

I love that this tiny little snippet of scripture finds its way into my favorite song, because it’s so remarkable, right? Samuel takes the time to build a monument to God, a physical reminder that in that specific place, God showed His faithfulness to the Israelites. He did not leave them abandoned. He heard them and He rescued them. Moving forward, they could look back at that place, see the huge rock that Samuel placed there, even touch it with their hands and remember that particular instance of God’s presence and grace.

If you look for them, these Ebenezers are all over scripture. There are many monuments built to glorify God and the Psalms particularly serve as reminders. Skimming through, we can hear the voices saying, “Remember when God was faithful to us? Remember when he showed up? Remember that specific time He answered our prayers?”

I often tell my doula clients (and friends, and kids, and myself, and anyone who will listen) that in times of trouble, anxiety, or worry, it is imperative that we remember what’s true. Part of that is remembering who we are. It is imperative that we, like the Israelites, have a strong sense of identity. It is so important that we really own and take on the knowledge that we are the chosen children of God, beloved before all creation, created in His image, out of love, for love. The other part of remembering truth is that we must remember who He is. We need to revisit our own Ebenezers.

When I take the time to look back, to recount God’s work in my life, like the Israelites, it is clear that I have been rescued over and over and over again. God has constantly met me in my loneliness and my uncertainty and given me sure footing. He has redeemed countless desperate situations and dismal mistakes, and revealed Himself to me in undeniable ways. He has been present, a comforter and faithful guide. He has met me in my sorrow, my misunderstanding, my frustration, and my fear. He has steadily loved me for my entire life, slowly revealing Himself to me in a myriad of quiet little ways, gently leading my heart to His.

I know without doubt, that God will redeem our present suffering, that He is working it all for the good of the world and the glory of His name. In this moment, we are like Martha and Mary, wrecked because our brother is dying and wondering why the Lord isn’t moving in the ways we expect Him to move. But I truly believe that, just like Martha and Mary, we will see God’s glory in much bigger ways than we could ever imagine. Tombs will be emptied, we will be pulled out of our graves; new life is coming.

If we take the time to revisit our own Ebenezers we’ll find hope to keep moving forward on to the next battle, hope to sustain us in the war to come. Soon this present suffering will become for us a new Ebenezer, a place where we will erect an even bigger monument, continuing to point heavenward, saying, “Remember that time? Remember God’s grace?”

Ask Ms. Gail

Found yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place with the kiddos? Or perhaps you’ve found yourself stuck in a weird nook in the clubhouse you’ve been told repeatedly that you really won’t fit in?

If you’re anything like me, we’re almost two weeks in and still struggling a bit with our new normal. Social distancing, shelter in place, watching the numbers of confirmed cases rise, counting celebrity diagnoses, juggling school work, vying for attention and computer time are all contributing to the fact that errabody at our house is getting a liiiittle bit twitchy. And maybe a little stabby. At the very least we’ve got cabin fever and a very short fuse.

With that in mind, I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Ms. Gail! I have this weird ability to collect very useful friends and right now, Ms. Gail might be the most usefullest of all. She’s a teacher at my kids’ preschool, happens to go to our church, and is an all around kind and decent human. She also has a Bachelors in Child Development and Family Studies, a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction, and PhD in Urban Studies with a specialization in Learning and Development. Boom.

Ms. Gail has personally helped our family navigate some weird behavior issues (kid issues and parent issues, let’s be honest) and she is such a good teacher. When our kids started showing some signs of stress and I felt my parenting slipping into reactionary anger mode, I reached out to see if she had some advice I could share on Ye Olde Blaaagh. Happily, she obliged, and I’ve got some great info for you all. I’m going to split these up into a few posts, but for right now I want to leave you with these words from Gail:

 First of all, many children have been home for going on two weeks. The newness, excitement of not having to go to school, and being able to stay home is probably wearing off or long gone. Children are feeling stressed at this time. No matter how much we try and protect them from the news all children realize something is happening.

If adults haven’t already, they should have an age appropriate conversation about what is happening. Not scary but why we all need to stay home. Also, limit how much news and conversations about what is happening around children. Children hear everything, even if you think they are busy and not listening they are! 

I have said many times, “It’s hard for me to wrap my head around what is happening,” and I, as an adult, have the ability to understand. Children do not have the cognitive or emotional abilities to fully understand what is happening, so they will make sense of what they hear in their own way and it will likely be much scarier than we can imagine. They are missing their friends and teachers and they are getting sick of their siblings and adults in the house!

Above anything else, let patience and kindness guide you. There is no best way of handling this situation. Don’t compare yourself to any other parent/family. Do what you and your children need.

I told you she was good.

I was going to split this up into a bunch of different posts, but decided to lump it all together into one resource. Here’s the table of contents:

  • “Reading” Kids’ Behavior: How Children Communicate Stress and How We Can Help – p. 2
  • Guidelines for Talking About Current Events With Children – p. 3
  • How to Manage Anger and Cabin Fever – p. 4
  • Navigating the Transition From Traditional School to Home – p. 5

Truth and Trust

Well, the good news is I think I hit my stride with the whole home school thing. The bad news is I still have my new chin hair. I tried real hard to find my tweezers, desperately ransacked the bathroom cabinets where they’re *supposed* to be before I remembered that I had to throw the tweezers away the other day because a kid was using them to fish for turds in the toilet. Not lying. Wish I was, but I’m not.

So, the next time you see me I’ll probably look like I’m auditioning for Duck Dynasty, but I’mma go with it and embrace the new normal. (It has yet to be determined if my husband will want to embrace this new normal. However, he is a wise, intelligent man, so I think he’ll take what he can get chin hairs not excluded.)

As I settle into this new schedule, new facial hair and all, it’s been amazing to me to look back and see how God has been preparing me for this time. I’m part of a ministry team that leads a women’s retreat every year at our church. This year’s speaker, Amber VanVickle, spoke about suffering and trust. She told us about how she did a challenge once in which she didn’t ask God for anything for an entire month. And the second she said it, my stomach dropped. I instantly knew I had to, needed to try it, and I thought, “Well… shit. I’m going to have to do that.” (Sometimes my response to the Lord tugging at my heart is less than stellar, y’all.)

So that’s what I did for Advent this year. I did not ask the Lord for anything in prayer. There were no requests, no supplication, no demands, nothing. Just me and Jesus and lots of time…because incidentally this was around the same time that I thought I was signing up to do a holy hour in the Adoration and somehow got signed up for a holy two hours. This was also before I had come to terms with the idea that silence before the Lord is an integral part of prayer. I had the blessing of hearing Meg Hunter Kilmer speak at my parish and when asked about how to pray, Meg said, “Silence. You need to sit in silence with God for at least 15 minutes a day.” My response, again, was, “Well, shit.”

Clearly Jesus had work to do on my heart.

What followed was an intense, challenging, beautiful time of me being frustrated with my own distraction and struggling to maintain focus while also trying not to fall asleep in Adoration. And at the same time, I was fighting every urge to ask, ask, ask in prayer.

Important side note: obviously, God wants us to ask things of him. Very specifically in scripture he tells us to knock, seek, ask. But so many times in our asking, we’re not surrendering. In our requesting, we’re actually trying to control or manipulate the situation. At least for me, my prayer life had become more about what I thought was the best solution to the problem and less about fiat and Thy will be done. Letting go of asking meant letting go of control.

When you take away the ability to ask and request, you’re left with only the ability to state and to profess. So my prayer life quickly became statements of trust and truth rather than begging to have my desires fulfilled. My journal entries during this time became less lists of demands and morphed into litanies of truth and surrender:

Jesus, you know my heart. You know my weaknesses and my failings. You know my addictions and sins. Lord, you know the depths of my hurt and all of the spots, the deep places I need healing. Jesus, I know that you are faithful, that you are before all time, and transcend all knowledge and understanding. You are unchangeably good. I believe you are pursuing me, healing me, drawing me out of the walls I’ve put up.

God, I believe you are faithful and you have a plan for me. Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that no prayer is ever wasted, no moment unproductive if spent with you. I trust that your will would be done and that you are holding me securely in your hands. Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that I will meet you in faithful silence every when it is hard for me. You are real, you are moving, transforming, dwelling, and guiding. You are love. Jesus, I trust in you.

Dec. 1, 2019

God, I don’t know what our future holds, sometimes I’m tempted to listen to fear and the idea that we haven’t suffered any real tragedy so it’s coming, that our future is somehow shadowed and shaky. But I’m reminded of your truth, that even in hardship and worry and storm and draught, you are present. You never change. Your love is constant and so is your mercy. So, whatever the future holds, I know you are holding us. Whatever the tides may bring, I will say yes to the call, your call to me within them.

Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that whatever you’re calling me to, you will equip me and provide for me within that call. Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that your ways are not our ways and that is good. Jesus, I trust in you. Trust that you are guiding, protecting, leading, and shepherding all of us. Even when you seem distant, you are there. Even when I’m confused, threatened, and afraid you are there. Jesus, I trust in you. Whatever the next days, the next year bring, I know I am covered in your mercy.

Dec. 15, 2019

I find myself compelled to return to these entries because once again I’m in need of peace. When my heart is troubled, when I’m grasping too much, attempting to control too much the answer, at least for me, is to trust. Trust and truth can do much in the face of fear and anxiety.

The truth is that God has not changed. He is real, He is moving, He is intimately in love with us, and He can redeem all things. All things.

The truth is that sometimes we have to get uncomfortable to really see how Christ pursues our hearts, how he wants to sneak in past our messy, disordered affections and addictions to show us what real satisfaction can be. There is truth and peace resting in his Sacred Heart and he longs for us to make our way there.

The truth is that when I let my dog out early this morning, the birds were still singing. Up before dawn, perched in a dying tree in my back yard, they were singing their hearts out to herald the coming day. They’re still singing and I think there’s a lot to trust in just in that.

Hard Reset or The One Where I'm a Big Fat Liar

Welp, we hit a wall yesterday. We hit. a. wall.

I didn’t sleep well, tossed and turned all night, then woke up to nerves because I was asked to do a (very short, not spectacular, I was only asked because I was probably the first one to pick up my phone) Skype interview with a cable news station about my doula work. 

Obv the computer camera wouldn’t connect to Skype. I had to do a hard reset and it finally connected, I’m happy to say I handled it maturely like the adult I am. PS. I’m a liar.

Obv I bribed the kids with candy bars and popsicles (yes, both) to be quiet while I talked to the news lady.

Obv they were only kind of quiet.

Obv I gave them candy bars and popsicles anyway because I’m all about mercy right now and you can only expect so much out of 4 and 6 year old boys, ammirite?

I was crabby all morning, but decided we’d turn it around! We’d take a neighborhood walk! We could do this! We got our shoes and jackets on and headed out!

At which point it started POURING rain.

Never to be deterred, with our great attitudes in hand (lying again), we just got our umbrellas and decided to embrace the mess. This was the high point of our day.

After baths and new clothes and starting some laundry, I settled in to digitally submit a week’s worth of school work for three children. It was a delight. It was quick and easy and required no critical thinking. I am a lying liar who lies.

Then whole afternoon just spiraled. To buy myself time to submit the school papers, I let them have screen time. But when I announced that screen time was over, the littlest bub among us lost his ever-loving miiiiiiind and literally screamed for 15 minutes straight because he couldn’t play Mario anymore. 

I responded with compassion, patience, and grace. I am a lying liar who lies. I lie a lot of lies.

Once the cherub was finally settled and I had broken up about forty-seven fights over topics ranging from the proximity of a chewing child to his or her cohorts, the volume of the chewing thereof, disputed ownership of a balloon, and the nature of squatter’s rights in regard to television viewing seats, I started to cook dinner. 

I had had a brilliant idea earlier in the day that I ought to try my hand at homemade focaccia bread. Because I’m good at picking the right day to try something new.

The particular recipe I used called for a steam bath as the bread is baking. “Cool, no problem,” I thought. “I’ll just toss this pyrex dish in the oven while it preheats to four hundred degrees and then I’ll pour the water in!” 

Now, obviously this is the time of the day that I *should have* remembered Mrs. Jackson’s seventh grade science class in which a hot beaker was filled with cold water and it broke everywhere and probably no one got detention because Mrs. Jackson is nice. But, alas and alack, I forgot Mrs. Jackson’s class (please forgive me, Kathie, I love you). At this point in the day, I lost all ability to employ common sense, so as you can guess I exploded a glass dish in my oven.

It didn’t really phase me. (Lying. Obv. Also, remind me to digitally submit my kids’ dissertation in a couple of weeks. It’ll be titled, “Swearing for Beginners: Fun and Fanciful Words I Learned On My School Break.”)

The child who spent his afternoon screaming his face off while demanding to be held (and also peed on me a little during the exchange) saw it all happen. He very casually informed me that he, “didn’t like that” and then asked for a snack. 

While I was cleaning up the mess, the eldest stood by observing and commented, “Mom, you’re allowed to make mistakes. It’s okay,” which would’ve been received better if her tone hadn’t been so condescendingly patronizing. 

We finally ate dinner, during which we go around the table and share two things we’re thankful for, one bummer from the day, and mention someone we’re praying for. Four out of four kids’ bummer was that, “Mom yelled a lot today.” Don’t fret. My husband and I had a big talk about how they’re growing up to be the most horrible little liars.

All of this to say, there’s still probably glass shards in my oven and I woke up this morning to find a new chin hair and pepper inexplicably stuck in my teeth. 

I’m sure there’s a metaphor of some sort in here, but I just really need y’all to know that it’s okay for this to suck and for you to hit a wall. (Literally? Figuratively? Only time will tell!)

(PS. I totally forgot about the part of the day in which I let the kids eat sprinkles so I could clean up glass and then they obviously dumped them on the floor. But I’m raising them to contribute around the house, so I tasked them with cleaning that one up…)

St. Joseph

Photo by @seb on Pexels.com

Today is the feast of St. Joseph and I can’t think of a better example for our current situation. Before last year, I dismissed St. Joseph as someone who was rather boring. I mean, he’s important, but I never found him particularly exciting…until he started stalking me.

A year ago, St. Joseph kept showing up everywhere in my life. He turned up in books, in conversation, in emailed devotionals, and internet ads. I ended up getting to know him better and I’ve developed a deep devotion to this quiet, humble, holy man. I completed this consecration to Jesus through St. Joseph right before Christmas and it rocked my understanding of this incredible saint.

The thing I want to touch on today regarding St. Joseph is the idea that humble submission to God’s will is radically transformative.

I found St. Joseph to be boring partially because he never says anything in scripture. But that’s the point. Joseph doesn’t say anything because he is listening. God reveals himself to Joseph through Mary and through dreams. Joseph listens and obeys.

That’s obviously overly simplified. Digging deeper, we can understand that St. Joseph was handed a situation that he never predicted. Mary’s surprise pregnancy was never his radar. It was inconvenient, hard to understand, and difficult to accept. But instead of railing against the situation, instead of fighting, turning to bitterness or resentment, or even just opting out, St. Joseph put himself at the service of the problem. He made the conscious decision to partner with God, to willingly take on the role of protector for the Virgin Mary with all that in entailed, and in doing so his life was radically transformed.

I think it’s important for us to notice that St. Joseph took time to listen to God. It’s so easy to want quick resolutions, to want to hurry up the confusion and rush to a conclusion. But if we slow down and lean into the discomfort, we open ourselves up to hear God speak to our hearts.

Once he discerned God’s will, St. Joseph was all in. He took Mary into his home and embraced a situation that others wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. At the potential cost of his reputation, risking being completely misunderstood and mocked by his contemporaries, Joseph chose God’s will for his life and never turned back.

This partnering with the problem allowed St. Joseph to become co-creator with God and Mary. It allowed him to receive the Son of God into the world in a way that no one in human history can duplicate all because he listened, because he approached his discomfort and confusion with humility and trust of the Father.

When we find ourselves in similar situations, in places or events that are uncomfortable or difficult to understand, may we approach them in the spirit of St. Joseph. May we take time to listen, to slow down, to understand that even when things don’t unfold the way we want them to, it is usually because the Lord has a grander plan for our lives. God’s plan is certain to push us and draw us out of our narrow minded view of things. God’s plan isn’t necessarily safe in the way we’d describe safety in human terms (after all, Joseph fled a murdering king and lived the life of refugee in order to protect the Christ Child), but God’s plan is good.

A good plan from a good God is one that draws us into further holiness, into deeper communion with Him. Jesus promised us suffering, it can’t be denied. But how we live out that suffering is up to us. Will we partner with God in our suffering and allow the discomfort and difficulty to transform our lives? Or will we let the suffering harden us and lead us into submission to fear and anger?

The choice is ours to make.

St. Joseph, terror of demons, pray for us!

Pandemic Survival Guide: Throw All the Advice in the Garbage

Sometimes I feel like my life’s work can be boiled down to two messages: “you are incredibly loved” and “you’re allowed to feel your feelings.” Admittedly those aren’t very original messages, but that’s usually what’s on my heart. So, here goes for today.

Mamas practicing quarantine and social distancing, listen unto me: This time with our children is a gift and you are allowed to use it as you see fit.

If you want to focus on academics and stretch those homeschooling muscles, you’re allowed!

If you want to snuggle on the couch and watch 8,000 movies a day, you’re allowed!

If you want to tackle all the project ideas you’ve ever pinned on your Pinterest board and learn to make homemade bread and read all the read alouds and journal all the nature journals and perfect all the math skills, you’re allowed!

If you want to park the kids in front of the computer and let the kind souls of the internet entertain and educate them while you eat chocolate chips in the pantry, you’re allowed!

If you want to try elaborate baking projects and let the kids help, you’re allowed!

If you want to throw a family sized bag of Lucky Charms out in the middle of the floor like you’re feeding chickens, you’re allowed! (Let’s be honest, it’ll all end up on the floor anyway.)

If you want to construct elaborate mazes and obstacle courses through your house, you’re allowed!

Repeat after me: There is no right way to parent in a quarantine.

People are doing such good things for our kids in all this. Zoos, museums, children’s book authors, celebrities are all pitching in to help entertain us while we’re stuck at home. What a gift! Teachers, neighbors, friends, and internet celebrities are furiously sharing actual tons of phenomenal resources and information to help our kids learn and be engaged while coronavirus does its thing.

But what I fear might be happening is that you moms are hearing a subtle message in this flurry of sharing. I have a sneaking suspicion that in the midst of the links and the videos and the educational games, you’re hearing a voice that whispers in your ear, “You’re not good enough if your kids aren’t doing fill in the blank.” I worry that you’re feeling pressured to achieve certain standards, to make the “most” of this time at home whether that consists of drilling them on multiplication tables or making perfect memories. I suspect that you might be feeling “less than” because you’re not doing all of the things.

If that’s how you’re feeling, you just drop that right now. Put it down and don’t pick it back up. Mama, if you’re making sure your kids know they’re loved, you’re doing enough. This is just like when you brought them home from the hospital and everybody and their grandma had an opinion on every move you made as a new parent. Friend, everyone has opinions on how to best navigate this unprecedented time at home, but no one knows your family like you do.

I wouldn’t call myself a Pinterest mom, per se, but I do love an elaborate theme party, and face paint on a Tuesday, and creative cooking, and science experiments. I’ve toyed with homeschooling. I’ve been reprimanded by my husband for using glitter in the kitchen…on multiple occasions. I used to lead a popular family story time at a public library. I’m also a former Disney cast member. Entertaining kids is kinda my jam. But even I am a bit overwhelmed with the amount of resources streaming in from various sources. Not gonna lie, the internet is making me feel a little pressured to make everything a Magical Moment (registered trademark) and I’m not sure I have that in me right now. As a side note I think it’s important to consider the mental and emotional toll social distancing is taking on us. Sometimes you can’t stay sane and do all of the internet story times even if it is Mo Willems performing them.

There’s no way to do it all. There’s no expectation for this or for you. If you are a “Pinterest mom” or you’re the opposite, you are enough just as you are. And for your children, you just being you is more than enough. We’re not getting a grade for how much we accomplished during the quarantine. As Teddy Roosevelt so famously said, comparison is the thief of surviving global pandemic and quarantine.

The only way to win or lose at this goes as follows.

You will be losing if:

  • …you spend the entire time ignoring your children with your face stuck in a phone obsessing over news you can’t control.
  • ..you spend the entire time ignoring yourself and your own emotional/mental needs. We gotta self-care the heck out of this, friends.
  • …you kill yourself and make everyone miserable trying to be something you’re not.
  • …you let fear control you.

You will be winning if:

  • …you find some sort of balance. As Olaf says, “all good things, all good things.” All these resources and websites and projects are great, but even with all the time in the world there’s not enough time to do it all.
  • …you make certain every single day that your children know how precious they are to you.
  • …you look in their faces and listen to them when they speak.
  • …you cut yourself some slack and give everyone some grace. Sometimes grace looks like extra screen time that isn’t remotely educational and sometimes it’s taking the time to say a family rosary together.
  • …you prioritize prayer and quiet. For everyone.

At the end of the day, you are the exact mama your babies need. Dig in and love, love, love them whatever that looks like for your particular situation. No one can do it all, but you can do small things with great love.

And for the record, yesterday we had a dance party with balloons. As usual it ended in fisticuffs and tears. However, no blood was shed so we’re calling it a win.

Peace and perseverance in all things,

Mary Susan

True Connection: Hiddenness, Solitude, Truth and You

In a world that predisposes us to yearn for social connection, hidden seems horrible. We’re surrounded by promptings to share our lives, compulsions to photograph our food, document our days. Pinging phones remind us that people are waiting, posting, moving, doing and if we don’t check in, we’re missing out. 

Now obviously there is so much merit to the community found on social media. Now more than ever, the ability to socialize via the internet can 100% be a lifeline for those weathering tough seasons of life. We’re in a unique time when many of us are literally unable to socialize in any way other than social media. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. These are all the connecting threads binding us together in a bizarre time when we need each other. And that’s good. What a gift it is to communicate and connect.

But the other side of this connection is the compulsion to share, to be relevant, to create content. We’ve seen it before when tumultuous headlines light up our Facebook feeds: there’s also the compulsion to panic, vent, share our unfiltered opinion, comment on every post that irks us. I can only speak for myself, but I have frequently felt the urge to chime in with something in order to feel…important, valuable, noticed, preferred, validated. I want to be noticed and social media is my stage. If I get enough comments, enough validation through likes, then I’m not hidden.

But, y’all, hidden doesn’t mean forgotten. Read that again: Hidden does not mean forgotten. Hidden doesn’t mean unloved or unloveable. Hidden doesn’t mean irrelevant or unimportant.

We have been drawn into a time of hiddenness against our will. None of us has chosen this pandemic, none of us desired this time of separation. This is hard and it’s scary and it’s lonely to be hidden away like this, to suffer in this strange way.

I’ve written before that the Lord has spent the last year and a half or so leading me into solitude and silence. It has taken (and still takes) extreme focus and discipline for me to settle down into silent prayer, to be still when I’m with the Lord in Adoration, or to quiet my thoughts just to be with Him.

Henri Nouwen said the following and I think it’s so beautiful and true:

Every time we enter into solitude we withdraw from our windy, earthquaking, fiery lives and open ourselves to the great encounter. The first thing we often discover in solitude is our own restlessness, our drivenness, and compulsiveness, our urge to act quickly, to make an impact, and to have influence; and often we find it very hard to withstand the temptation to return as quickly as possible to the world of “relevance.” But when we persevere with the help of a gentle discipline, we slowly come to hear the still, small voice and to feel the gentle breeze, and so come to know the Lord of our heart, soul, and mind, the Lord who makes us see who we really are.

Henri Nouwen

We Americans are really terrible at slowing down. We value productivity, measurable achievements, checked off to-do lists, profits. We have bought into the lie that we’re only worth as much as we produce whether that be in the currency of dollars or follows. We have to make, do, create, impact, influence in certain ways in order to be “worthy.” For us to be forced to stop, for us to be isolated, unable to do is unthinkable. Our society has enslaved itself so intimately to this lie that we literally have people licking airplane toilet seats during a pandemic in order to be noticed. How deep must our addiction for notoriety and attention be if we are willing to prostitute ourselves to these ideals so easily.

Y’all, I call bullshit. I’ve spent the last year and a half learning over and over and over again that it isn’t what I produce that makes me valuable. My identity as created human being, Beloved of the Father is what makes me valuable. Period. This is such a difficult lesson to learn and I’ll keep learning it until the day I die. The lies are loud, but the Truth is deep: I will be just as valuable if no one comments on this blog post as I’ll be if it gets shared across the entirety of the internet. I will be just as valuable if I impact people with my words as I’ll be if I’m ignored.

This deep desire for acceptance, validation, recognition is what spurred me to give up social media for Lent. If I’m honest with you, every time I publish a post, I stalk it. I check back minute by minute (not exaggerating) to see if anyone liked it or commented. Because if you like my writing then you like me. If I get lots of attention from a post, then I get a dopamine hit and I feel worthy. Perhaps I’m less dramatic than the girl licking toilet seats, but I’m just as much as slave to the lie as she is.

Now is a time when we’ve all been put in an uncomfortable place and we get to choose how we respond. Will we fight and rail and scroll, scroll, scroll, starving for connection that won’t truly satisfy? Or will we use social media as a tool for connection, mindfully utilizing it to feed our hearts and minds with content that leads us closer to Truth? Will we use this time to connect with the people who have been gifted to us: our partners, parents, children, roommates, friends? If we’re alone, will we call and check in rather than letting Twitter updates do our talking for us? Regardless of our station, will we take time to do the hard work of silence and solitude, allowing it to transform us?

Solitude is hard, uncomfortable, and pushes us to a place where we’d rather not be. It’s up to us to decide if we will put ourselves at the service of the problem. My prayer for us all is that we would suffer well, that our interactions, whether online or via some other medium, would be truly connecting in meaningful and helpful ways. My prayer is that we would not be slaves to the internet, but rather let our solitude transform us and, after connection to Christ through this time set apart, that social media might serve us and be the medium through which we communicate the Belovedness of others.

Hidden is not forgotten. He will not leave us orphan. Christ is present, He is moving, He is real, and He adores you. Go be a light and walk in the truth that you are incredibly, indescribably loved just as you are, no matter where you are.

Peace and perseverance in all things,

Mary Susan

Note: Take a listen to the Abiding Together podcast to hear more about this idea of hiddenness and our identity as Beloved. They’re discussing Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen for Lent and there is so much good truth being shared there.

Captain’s Log: Day 2 of Coro-Oh No! Virapocolypse

Welp. What a time to be alive. I honestly don’t think that a regularly scheduled day off ought to count as the beginning of our social distancing stint away from the rest of the world, but when the cherubim awaken at 6:00 am for the second day in a row and are chomping at the bit to polish their recorder skillz, I think it warrants a write up. For my own sanity, of course.

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An extreme close up of me enjoying Baa Baa Black Sheep. In A Minor. On the recorder.

This is such a weird time and I find myself teetering on the edge of calm and paranoia. I think I may need a good cry soon, just to break the tension created by operating at such a high level of ongoing stress for the last few weeks. Sheesh.

I think everyone is adapting and processing the unfolding events in their own way these days. It’s very important to remind everyone that, as Mr. Rogers always said, you’re allowed to feel your feelings. I also think it’s important to allow others to feel their feelings. Belittling others for being afraid isn’t helpful. Publicly obsessing and oversharing every. single. headline. is also not helpful. The truth is somewhere in the middle, but it is up to each of us to make peace with our emotions in the best way we know how.

Even though we’re in social isolation, we don’t live in a vacuum. We have a responsibility to others, to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. So just as we have a responsibility to wash our hands and stay home when we’re sick, we also have a responsibility to use our online voice in a constructive way. This is not the time for fear mongering or shaming. This most certainly is the time for encouragement, funny memes, and kindness. Come to think of it, I can’t think of a time when these rules don’t apply. Perhaps the biggest lesson I’m learning from this pandemic business is that of heightened reality. These truths have always been a true, have always been present, it’s just that we’re more sensitive to the gravity of them at the moment.

So far our plan of attack for the 3+ weeks of social distancing centers around awesome coloring books. Luckily I found a few gems that I was squirreling away for Easter baskets. However, some dang kid found my hiding spot and we’re stuck at home, so I figured we may as well break them out.

Y’all. Go find this coloring book on Amazon or wherever. I don’t have affiliate links or anything, I just want you to revel in the glory like we are. I bought it at Wal-Mart and I die laughing every time a kid brings me a new picture they’ve colored.

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I mean… look at this! Every single animal in this coloring book looks startled, offended, and/or ashamed just as all well-dressed pets ought to look. I looooove it!

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Please also enjoy this inexplicably amazing coloring page that was found in a coloring book called, “#SquadGoals.” I’m tempted to frame it, but the artist requests that it be sent to his Granny in Texas. Le sigh.

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Ok, that’s it for me today. Sending so much love to you all…I hope you know how loved you are, how important you are in creating a world that is loving and gentle in the face of fear and worry. It’s up to us to help and serve one another, my friends.

xoxo,

Mary Susan