Posted in musings, quotes

on being weak

My energy levels have been quite low yesterday and today because I took my last thyroid hormone pill on Friday morning and didn’t pick up the refill from the pharmacy until Monday night – so I missed three of my daily doses. I don’t normally think about it, but the rapidity with which my hypothyroid symptoms returned made me realize how dependent I really am on those little green tablets.

There’s a part of me that’s almost angrily frustrated about my need to take daily medication. I have this strong internal desire to be independent, self-sufficient, and essentially perfect, and here I have a daily reminder that on a basic physical level I’m rather more dependent and less self-sufficient than the average person: that a part of my body is incurably broken and I’ll be stuck treating the symptoms for the rest of my life. Every now and then I wonder if I could go off the medicine and miraculously have my thyroid kick back into gear, but every time I try I’m catapulted right back into the medley of incredible fatigue, poor memory, lack of concentration, and cold that define my hypothyroid experience. So dependent I am.

The silver lining is that I can see a few ways in which God might be using this defect in my body to bring about a greater good in my own life. I don’t think He caused it, because I don’t think He’s the author of disease and disorder, but I think He’s incorporating it into His redemptive work. At least, I hope He is, because I hope that He’s doing exactly that with every evil and broken thing in this world!

Maybe He’s using my physical weakness to teach me humility – because my intelligence, academic success, and mental quickness have left me prone to arrogance and pride, and this tangible flaw in my body (not just its appearance but its function, in some very crucial areas) serves as a reminder that my strengths and gifts are not of my own making, and that so much of who I am and what happens to me is outside of my control.

Maybe He’s using my physical need and dependency to teach me gentle patience – because it is so easy to become frustrated with my body, and that same part of me that reacts with frustration and impatience to my own needs is the part of me that responds to the needs and slowness of others with that same irritated reaction. If I could learn to treat my own body with grace and patience, taking its weaknesses into account and meeting its needs with kindness, it might be the first step toward treating my children with patience and kindness when they have inexplicable, irrational needs, or toward giving my coworkers time to process at their own pace instead of snapping at them for not understanding instantly.

Maybe He’s using my daily medicine to teach me daily gratitude – because life would be so radically different for me if I didn’t live in a time and a place where synthetic thyroid hormone replacement was readily available, or if I didn’t have the money to fill my prescriptions or visit my doctor. The chances are slim that I would have been able to become pregnant or carry pregnancies to term, and my impaired functionality would have hurt my career prospects and relationships as well. If I remembered that every morning when I swallowed that small pill – how everything I love and live for I could have missed out on without it, and how others who need it aren’t able to obtain it – it would make it hard to approach my life with resentment or indifference. The aura of genuine gratitude would suffuse it with beauty.

Without this physical brokenness (and this is probably even more true of the depression I struggled with off and on through high school, college, and especially during the first couple years of my marriage), it would be easy for me to rely solely on my intellectual strengths and never develop a heart of compassion or an attitude of tenderness toward the weak and needy. I can see the power of that temptation for me, and I’m glad for the events in my life that have showed me that it is a temptation, and not a good path to take. I’m reminded of a quote from the end of the book The Chosen, by Chaim Potok (and I don’t have the book myself so I had to find it on the internet, so hopefully it is correct!):

“‘I went away and cried to the Master of the Universe, “What have you done to me? A mind like this I need for a son? A heart I need for a son, a soul I need for a son, compassion I want from my son, righteousness, mercy, strength to suffer and carry pain, that I want from my son, not a mind without a soul!”‘”

If I’m going to be formed in the image of Christ, and carry on the task that He left us of reconciling the world to God, then like Him I’m going to need to live with compassion, righteousness, mercy – and most importantly, strength to suffer and carry pain. If I’m going to be loving people like Jesus loved them, then I’ll have to enter into their pain and their suffering and carry it for them as much as we can. How can I gain that ability unless I learn to meet my own suffering with humility and patience? I hope and pray that even though my suffering has been quite small in the greater sphere of things, it would still work to shape me in this way.

Funny how much can come from thinking about just one small daily pill 🙂

Posted in family life

when dinner plans and personalities collide

Does anyone else struggle with making daily dinners because you just get so tired of making the same things over and over again?

I’ve made so many good recipes in the past – recipes that were healthy, frugal, filling, and family-approved – but after making them every couple weeks for a few months, I get tired of them and want to move on. It’s really hard for me to repeat recipes unless they’re both easy and amazing…

Fortunately, I don’t usually have trouble being creative and improvising in the kitchen! That is one of my favorite things about cooking – taking some random ingredients and assembling them into a unified meal. I’ve had my flops but overall the meals turn out well and my family is happy, which is what counts!

The problem is that sometimes I just don’t have any ideas, and because I planned on creating and improvising instead of making a set schedule of tried-and-true recipes, I don’t always have ingredients on hand to make one of those “fall-back” recipes. Or, on the other hand, the thought of one of those meals just seems so boring and repetitive because I’ve made it so many times before (even if it’s been years since I actually made it). We have some pretty strange dinners when I’m stuck in a rut like this, or we eat up the odds and ends of leftover soups and pizzas in the freezer…

Anyway, this way of winging it is working now with only a toddler and baby but it won’t work forever! Any tips on how to combine my love of kitchen improvisation with the need for a schedule that I can grocery shop for and follow through on?

Posted in musings

what I learned from a catholic mom

It was an offhand comment.

“It’s just so hard to find time to pray.”

I was bouncing a baby on my hip and she was swinging a needy toddler up into her arms. We’d been talking about the general busyness of life, like most moms of littles, and about the struggle to establish routines, accomplish everything that needs to be done, and find time for things that mattered to us pre-kids. With a third baby on the way, she was wondering how she would be able to manage everything and still find time for what was most important to her.

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I thought the mint had died, but under the surface the roots must have held on, and now new life is coming up.

I’d had similar conversations with new moms in the past, when I was college and the staff women in my Christian student group all seemed to be having babies. But their phrasing was slightly different:

“It’s so hard to find time to read the Word”

They would describe their tips and techniques for making sure they read and meditated on Scripture daily, and worked it into the fabric of their home life. I drank it up. I am still thankful today for the wisdom I gleaned listening to their conversations. But I never heard any of them talk about how to pray as a busy mom – how to pray alone, how to pray with your husband, how to pray with your children. Either they all had awesome prayer lives and took it for granted, or it just wasn’t as central to their faith as reading the Word.

It sounds like the old argument – Catholics don’t care about the Bible, they don’t take the time to read from it, and their faith isn’t formed by the truth of it. And there may be something to that. I deeply love and value the reverence my fellow Protestants have for the Word of God, and it does seem like Catholicism doesn’t put nearly as much of an emphasis on personal Bible study.

On the other hand, the Protestantism I’m familiar with doesn’t put nearly the same emphasis on prayer. We struggle with prayer. We don’t know what to say, or how to say it, or what our attitude and motivation should be. We follow the guides and programs in the prayer-help books but give up because it feels too stifled, impersonal, or rote. We try to pray from the heart, in our own words, but sometimes our emotions dry us up and even the “Dear God” at the beginning is an effort. As a result, we feel guilty, and we talk about our time in the Word instead, because that is territory in which we have confidence and experience.

Catholic prayer, and I think high-church Protestant prayer, is different. People memorize and pray prayers that have been passed down through the centuries, in addition to their own personal thoughts and thanks and requests. I think those pre-written prayers can act as a springboard for the soul, a key to entering into more personal and intimate communion in prayer, and I think that is why it was prayer, not Bible study, that came to mind first for this woman.

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My mother-in-law made this heart for my garden! I love the imagery of beauty, virtue, and life (symbolized by the white rose) in the core of the heart.

“It’s just so hard to find time to pray”

What hit me with a flash when I heard those words was the centrality and importance of prayer to this mom. Prayer was the thing she desperately craved, the essential aspect of her faith that she didn’t want to let slip away. And why? Because prayer is our direct communication with God, where there is both giving and taking, talking and listening, unburdening our anxieties and sins and receiving His forgiveness and grace. Reading can become an intellectual exercise, whereas prayer is relational by definition. In addition, as I’ve discovered some of the traditional written prayers more commonly used in Catholicism than Protestantism, I’ve realized the power of having words to pray when my own words seem stilted and unwilling: it allows me to overcome my emotions or my self-consciousness and simply come before God to worship, to thank, or to petition. I don’t ever want to lose my love for the Bible, but I think it would be good to learn from this Catholic mom how to love prayer as well, and make it more central to my life and my walk with God.

Posted in family life, musings

remembering grace

When you tried a new recipe for dinner and were excited about it and it totally flopped –

When your husband is too tired to give you a smile when he gets home from class –

When you’ve yelled at the toddler over (literal) spilled milk and lost patience with the baby –

When you realize you made a mistake with a project at work that means half the week and hundreds of dollars were wasted –

When you’re moving from attachment to RIE principles of parenting and beginning sleep training (of a sort) and the toddler is crying upstairs with anger –

When the floor is dirty and the table is dirty and the dishes are dirty and the one bright spot of the afternoon was the 15 minutes stolen away to clean the bathroom –

When all you want to do is cry (or maybe sleep) –

Then it is good to remember that you are not alone.

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Looking up from our tiny townhome backyard into a glorious expanse.

It is good to remember that there is grace. To open oneself up to the grace that God freely offers. To give thanks for that grace. To find rest in that grace, and then move forward to set things right in the strength of that grace. Setting things right in the power of His grace – that is our mission of redemption in the world, is it not? So often I am the one messing things up and introducing sin into my family and community, but He still gives me grace and extends the opportunity to work with Him, in His grace, to redeem what is broken and rescue what is lost.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, now is, and ever shall be, world without end.

Amen.

Posted in family life, phfr

{pretty, happy, funny, real} – enjoying the end of summer

The garden is starting to take off! I think this is one of my favorite times of year, when I get to watch the new life springing up out of the ground. We’ll see if they make it to an actual harvest though 🙂 I don’t have the greenest thumb in the world!

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{happy}

And of course it is still warm enough here to play at the splash pad in the afternoons (and probably in the mornings too, to be honest – our highs are just beginning to flirt with the 90’s when storm fronts come through, and then they jump back up to triple digits). Rather than mourn the lack of any significant autumnal season, we’re choosing to enjoy the summer fun as long as we can. Honestly, too, those late summer storms make this one of my favorite times of year: the nights are sometimes cool enough to leave the windows open, the mornings are fresh and clean-feeling, the days are softly warm and perfect for water play, and in the evenings the great dark clouds roll in with thunder and pouring rain.

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{funny}

Rondel’s developing his own will, figuring out how social dynamics work, and beginning to test some boundaries (not much, though – he’s a pretty compliant child). I’m actually really enjoying seeing his own preferences and opinions grow, and watching him learn how to express them in appropriate ways! A funny side effect of it is this little fake pouty face that he makes when he wants someone to do something in a very specific way, and he knows that it’s a kind of ridiculous want, so he tries to pout when he doesn’t get it but can’t quite keep a straight face.

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{real}

When do babies normally start holding their own bottles? Limerick can’t seem to coordinate his. Sometimes he’ll try to pick it up by the nipple and then stuff the nipple in his mouth (sort of in the same way that he’d pick up a bit of food and stuff it in his mouth), and a couple times he’s managed to get his hands around the bottle part and lift it up, but then he doesn’t seem quite sure how to get the right part into his mouth. So in the meantime we hold it for him when he gets thirsty.

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(That’s my hand holding the bottle… his are passively at his side. Sigh.)

I hope all of you in other parts of the country are enjoying your beautiful fall weather! Join me at the LMLD link up today!

”round

Posted in links, musings

junipero serra

Today Pope Francis will canonize Junipero Serra – the first saint ever to be canonized on American soil, and one of only a relatively few American saints. I’ll be honest that I hadn’t heard of Serra before this year, and that I don’t know much about him yet. I’ve begun reading about him, though, and I’m impressed that this is the kind of man the Catholic Church would declare to be a saint. I’d always thought that the saints were essentially perfect people: maybe they had a rough beginning, like the Apostle Paul or Saint Augustine, but then following their conversion lived out their faith without fault and without controversy. Looking at Serra’s life, though, that seems to be a simplistic and naive idea, because his story is nothing if not complex.

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Serra came to the Americas on the tide of Spanish imperialism – a brutal, unjust, and oppressive moment of history. Many (probably most) of the Spanish soldiers and colonizers considered the native peoples to be savages, less than fully human, and ripe for exploitation, similar to how other European colonizers viewed the African people. And Serra came here with those soldiers, on the wings of colonial power, and worked with them, and labored under their protection. Was he not in some way complicit in their crimes? Was his desire to bring his faith to the native people just a subtler form of imperialism, a way to dominate them more completely by erasing their traditional beliefs and culture?

To a post-modern observer, it can easily look that way. If all cultures and beliefs are equally valid, then Serra certainly had no right to try to push his religion on the native people at the expense of their own traditions, especially since his presence and faith were backed by the ominous and fearful shadow of a conquering army.

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From Serra’s perspective, though (and from the perspective of the Church today, I think), it looked somewhat different, simply because he believed his religion to be the fullness of the truth – the source of meaning, fulfillment, and joy in this life and for all eternity, and the only way for humanity to draw near to God. Deeply in love with God and with the Church, the desire of his heart was to share the message of that God and that Church with these people who had never had the chance to hear, who had never been able to receive the grace of the Sacraments or hear the clear truth of God’s Word. The imperial conquest of the Spanish wasn’t something he evaluated from a 21st-century perspective on the clash of cultures, but something he saw as a historically unparalleled opportunity for the proclamation of truth and grace.

(Incidentally, he was prepared to sacrifice quite a lot for the sake of this proclamation, and over the course of his life he did indeed do so – family, career, home, comfort, and health. He was willing to suffer greatly if through his sufferings more souls might come to know God.)

While he took advantage of the opportunity presented by the Spanish colonization, then, he didn’t come here with the same motivations or attitudes. He wasn’t looking for riches and power, but for a chance to serve and bring life. We might still not approve of everything he did, looking back over the centuries at his life from a modern perspective, but knowing his intentions adds a layer of complexity to the black-and-white picture of imperial injustice sometimes presented as the whole story.

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Looking at the details of Serra’s interactions with the native people of Mexico and California adds still more layers to the story. There are the troubling accounts of flogging and other corporal punishment used on the converted natives, and the fact that the mission compounds kept the converted people in a sort of indentured servitude. But there is also the consideration that the missions offered protection from the brutality of the Spanish soldiers, preventing the rapes and killings that would otherwise have been perpetrated. There is the enormous effort Serra undertook to remove a particular commander from his position following his rape of a native woman, and his ability to see the beauty in their culture at a time when most Europeans saw differences to be instances of sin.

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By canonizing Junipero Serra, the Church does not claim that every choice he made was the right one (how could any person or institution make that kind of claim anyhow?), nor does it place a seal of approval on the culture he came from and lived in. Rather, it acknowledges that in an incredibly complex time and place, fraught with new and confusing situations and ethical considerations, Serra consistently sought to live his life for the glory of God to the temporal and eternal benefit of the native people he encountered. Though a man of his own times in many ways, he rose above most of the societal and systemic sins of his own time and culture by striving to live for and in emulation of Christ.

In our own complex historical era, maybe we can learn from Junipero Serra. Maybe, like him, we ought to labor practically for the good of our neighbors at home and to the ends of the earth, to the best of our ability, out of love for God, in union with the Church and the saints that have gone before us, without worrying what accolades or condemnation we might receive because of our choices. It is better to act, if action is undertaken in such a way, than to remain in inaction because we’re unsure of the best or perfect course to take. Our actions, though imperfect, will most likely help someone in some way, while our inaction will at best merely do no harm.

Pray for us, Junipero Serra, as we experience a clash of cultures in the globalization of our times, that we may truly love those who are different from us, that we may see the beauty in their difference, labor for their healing and their good where they are broken and in need, willingly suffer on their behalf, and courageously bear witness to the truth.


(All the pictures are from a trip to the Grand Canyon several summers ago – they were the closest thing I had to California and Mexico pictures. But I thought at least the juniper berries were fitting.)

(One relatively informative site about Serra is the official site for his canonization, although it doesn’t have as many primary source documents as I would like. It does, however, link to a lot of articles that provide a balance for the rather negative picture painted by CNN and the New York Times, several of which are really quite good, and it gives information about why the Church has decided to canonize him and how the process works.)

Posted in musings

in the garden

Gardening, like parenting, is a gestational activity.

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We understand that for a time our plants are going to be small and weak, in need of frequent watering and special care. We acknowledge that we’ll have to put in quite a bit of effort (more or less depending on the particular plant) before we get much back in return, and we don’t expect there to be a harvest right away. So we make choices with that longer vision, that bigger picture, in mind.

I don’t say, oh, a few days of drought will make my baby beets toughen up and be better prepared to deal with bad weather in the future. On the contrary, I worry that if they’re forgotten about for a few days that they’ll be permanently stunted or weakened, so that future difficulties that I can’t prevent might spell disaster.

And I persevere in this gentle care, attentive to the immediate and present needs of the plants with a mind to the long-term goal of a productive garden, and in time the harvest comes.

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(the basils, being transplants, have a bit of a head start over the beets)

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Can I give my children this same gentle and attentive care?

Can I meet their present and immediate needs, keeping in mind the long-term goal for their lives, instead of demanding them to produce a harvest now, before they’ve had the time to grow and mature?

It’s not fair to expect a two-year-old to express his emotions and meet disappointment with calm grace and rational acceptance in the way that an emotionally mature adult would be able to, and even less fair to punish that two-year-old for his “defiance” or failure to comply instantly with parental demands. That would be a horrible misunderstanding of his current abilities and stage of growth, and it would make it more difficult for him to learn to cope with strong emotions or deep disappointments in a mature way in the future – it would merely teach him that those emotions are bad things that need to be hidden and ignored.

In a way, it would be like demanding my little beet sprouts to have large, red, juicy beets hiding under the soil already, instead of waiting the full two months for them to grow, and then being disappointed in or upset with the plants for failing to meet my totally unrealistic expectations.

Gentle parenting means walking with my children through the ages and stage of growth, as they deepen and mature, as their needs and abilities change, giving them the support and tools they need to grow instead of expecting them to act with skills and wisdom beyond their years. Sometimes this looks like holding my two-year-old in my arms as he sobs out his disappointed protests, letting him know that I hear and understand his feelings, that it is indeed sad and frustrating to have to do something you don’t want to do, and for the fun day of play to come to an end, instead of simply dragging him to the car and telling him to deal with it. An adult has the emotional maturity to deal with it; a two-year-old does not. But maybe my patience and understanding with his immaturity will model for him the coping skills and emotional understanding that he’ll need to gain that maturity.

With my children, like with garden, I’m making decisions moment by moment with a long-term vision in mind. The work may be silent and the fruit invisible for a long time yet, but like a baby grows in the secret places of her mother, or like a beet rounds out into fullness in the hidden darkness beneath the surface of the soil, so I trust that my children are growing into fruitful and mature adults in the nurturing and loving context of our family and home.