An Honest Answer to an Honest Question

Goosie was cuddled up to me yesterday.  She looked over my shoulder and saw on my screen a picture of a young boy, probably only a year or two old, who was suffering from severe malnutrition.  I could see her looking at the screen, and I could see her eyes trying to make sense of it.

Finally, she asked me, “what is that?”  When I responded that it was a child, she asked me if he was real.  It was an honest question.  The boy’s features were so contorted from dehydration that it made his features appear slightly off from human.

Then she asked me why he didn’t have enough food.

I could have told her that people in some parts of the world don’t have access to food.

I could have told her that droughts and other natural disasters can wipe out food supplies.

I could have told her that wars displace people from their homes and their ready access to nutrition.

But all of those answers sounded paltry when she could look over and see my bowl of leftovers.  When she could recall what she had eaten that day and she couldn’t recall any time in her life when she had been truly hungry.  When she can clearly see that while we don’t have it all, we sure have an awful lot, especially when compared to those with the least.

She could have asked me, why do we have when others have not?

And I guess I never could have actually answered that question because I don’t have the answer myself.  That’s a big question and involves a lot more than a single person or small group of people could control.

But there’s another question that we are all accountable to.  That question is, “what are we doing about it?’

This question feels like an indictment to me.  After all, I like thinking that I’m a good person.  I help people.  I teach my children what I believe they need to know.  I pray.  I don’t steal or kill or act violently towards people.

But what am I doing for the least of these?  The lost?  The forgotten?  The left behind?

Don’t get me wrong.  I do some, and I do enough to make me feel like I’m doing something.  But am I doing enough?  Am I doing enough to stand in front of that question and confidently give my answer?

No I’m not.

That question will be asked of me again when I come to the other end of this life.  I have the rest of my days to compose a better answer.  I have the rest of my days to live an answer that won’t embarrass me in front of my girls.

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Post Trauma Fun

So it has been just over two months since TJ was admitted to the hospital.

Two months since I saw him lying on the floor after collapsing at Urgent Care.  Two months since I followed the ambulance wondering what was taking them so long to leave – worrying that he had had a stroke or a heart attack in the ambulance.

It’s been two months since I heard the phrase, “septic shock” and spent an entire night staring at monitors willing his blood pressure up.  Two months since I first saw the inside of an ICU.  Two months since I heard “guarded condition” and “not stabilized” and “central line,” and “your husband is really, really sick.”

It’s been over two months since that evening I paced the hospital in the middle of the night praying “Hail Mary” after “Hail Mary” asking Mary to intercede for him and for God to do what I simply could not.  Two months since I worried about having to shatter the worlds of my girls should the worst happen.  Two months since I called our priest for Anointing of the Sick.  Just in case…

Two months is a long time.  You would think by now the things would be back to normal.  Even though he isn’t completely healed, you would think that the psychological wounds that we incurred while he was battling his physical wounds would have healed.

After all, shouldn’t a spirit be easier to heal than a leg?  Especially one that has been that wounded?

Well I don’t know about normal, but for me, two months isn’t enough.

TJ made it up the stairs last night to sleep for the first night since the night before his hospitalization.  He told me he was going to try to make it up there, and my heart started to pound.  I wasn’t worried about him going up there; I was remembering back to that night in January.  The night when everything was perfectly fine… right before it wasn’t.

Last week I passed the hospital he was at – a hospital I pass many times a week.  But the time of day and the blinking yellow lights and perhaps something about the traffic pattern brought me back to those nights when I would race to the hospital after giving the girls dinner.  The memories made it difficult to breathe as I felt the fear that would overwhelm me as I would pull into the hospital in anticipation of the ICU nurse’s report.

Then there was the day I saw all of the ambulance’s flashing lights approaching the Urgent Care where he was picked up.  I had to push those thoughts out of my head in order to feel safe enough in the world to drop my children off at school, to let them out of my sight.

And I have dreams.  Last week, I had a dream that I heard a thud coming from the kitchen, and even in the dream I didn’t need to wonder what it was.  I heard the sound, and I knew that it was TJ having passed out again.  In the dream though, it was the worst case scenario that happened, and I didn’t even need to look to confirm it.  Luckily I was able to will myself awake and back to reality.  But reality didn’t seem a whole lot safer.

But it’s not all bad.  Wounds can leave behind strength when they heal.

These days when I see an ambulance race by, I say a prayer and I feel a kinship with those involved.  I know what it’s like to face down one of your worst nightmares.  I know the loneliness that washes over you as you wake up in uncertainty and go to bed in a world where your one and only partner isn’t totally present.

I don’t want to know those things.  I don’t want to feel those kinships.  But I do, and so I’m given an opportunity to make the best of that.  Any time we understand people better and feelings better, we can be a stronger force for companionship in this world.

I’m not asking for help here.  I’m not saying my world is falling apart.  Words are just the only way I know how to make sense of the world.  And the last couple of months haven’t made much sense to me at all.

One day I pray it will again.  One day I hope I will feel safe.  One day I won’t feel a hare’s breath from disaster.

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The Worlds Kids Open for Us

I used to live in a fairly large world.  I lived in a couple of large cities.  I went to college and grad school.  I worked for one of the major advertising firms in the world.  I volunteered and had friends.  I read a lot and I taught at multiple different colleges.

It seemed as if all of the possibilities in all of the world were open for me.  The world, as they say, was my oyster.

Now I stay home with my four girls.  I write, but I don’t have a formal, full time job.  All my volunteer work is done for organizations that my girls are a part of.  I still read frequently but not nearly as much as I used to.  I live in a tiny suburb far away from the nearest city, and most all of my driving is done between my home and three different locations.

My world, looking at it, is pretty small.  I have a lot of responsibilities that tie me to my current situation and prohibit me from exploring too far outside of my family.

That’s on the outside.  That’s what the world sees.

But for me, my life has never seemed richer, and my world has never seemed so large.

My oldest, Magoo, just started gymnastics a few months ago.  She loves it.  (And by loves it, I mean she would probably choose it over me if given the ultimatum.)  She has her first showcase today.  She was so excited, and she was so nervous.  And we spent two hours in the gym watching her and her closest four or five dozen friends do cartwheels and round offs and swing around on the bar.

When it was over and she had received her participation ribbon, she came and sat by me.  Her eyes were shining.  Her legs wouldn’t stop kicking back and forth.  Her smile was as wide as they come.

She gave me the smile she reserves for only me during big events in her life.  The one that’s almost a secret code between the two of us.  The one that is our inside story.

She told me she had been so nervous during the first two events.  She wasn’t used to so many eyes on her.  She said she relaxed after that.  She told me it was the most fun she had had in ages.  She loved that it was at night.  She loved that it was looooong.  She loved that people were watching.  And she loved her new leotard.

And I can’t help but sit back and look at this glorious gift that this life and these girls are.  That parenthood is in general.

The glory in parenting is about seeing the world open for your child.  It’s about watching them step a toe out into the world and realizing that it is fun and safe and that they can stand out in that world on their own two feet.  It’s about watching them realize that there doesn’t always need to be a line between them and us, that sometimes we can become a part of something great if we want to.  That we don’t need to be afraid.

It’s about the way our hearts break in the best of ways when we see the innocence in our children meet up in a harsh world and realize that sometimes the innocence wins and the world stays safe and their smiles are guarded for the time being.

My world might seem smaller now than it used to.  The me of twenty years ago might have actually thought that days like this would be boring.

She doesn’t know a lot though.

My world has never been larger or more beautiful.

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To Be a Woman

So it is International Women’s Day.  I don’t think I ever previously knew such a day existed, but considering the planned Day Without a Woman, it has been on my mind a lot today.

I didn’t participate in the Day Without a Woman.  There are multiple reasons for this, the least of which is that I couldn’t exactly tell my nursing babe that I was going on strike for the day.  But honestly, it never even got to that level because I don’t feel my politics make me welcome and faith make me a candidate for such an event.

But like I said, the day has caused me to think.  A lot.  And regardless of any other outcomes, that’s good.  I think we all need to think about the role of women in our society, and if we are women (which I assume possibly everyone reading this is) then we need to think about it for ourselves and determine what this label means to us.

What does it mean to be a woman?

This question causes me some anxiety because I am raising four future women.  When I think about my girls, there are some things that I feel confident about.

I feel confident that I can give them a good moral foundation.

I feel confident that I can help them succeed academically.

I feel confident that I can help them learn how to be a good friend and a good person.

But giving them a model of womanhood… that feels more daunting because at 39 years old, it’s not something I quite have a handle on.

But if forced to come up with an answer (as, indeed, we all are) I would have to say that for me, I think being a woman is about living for other people.  It’s about recognizing our gifts, developing our gifts, and then it’s about giving them away for the service of others.

I think it’s about bolstering other people up, being the foundation from which others can rise.

It’s about finding what we excel at, and it’s about excelling at it.  Not just because it’s fun or because it feeds our ego, but also (and more importantly) because it moves the world further along a path to fulfillment and development and equality.

I think being a woman is about finding the vulnerable in the people around us, and it’s about using our strengths to fill in those gaps.  It’s about plugging holes and reinforcing weak spots.

Being a woman is about noticing where we are vulnerable, and it’s about embracing that vulnerability.  Not because it’s easy but because it helps us be open to the pain in the world around us.

Being a woman is about using our hurt and our pain and our suffering and letting it soften our edges and open our hearts to the suffering.

And it’s about being loud or quiet, gentle or rough, weak or strong, funny or serious.  All those things – the external things – those are ours to make of it as we will.

There is no single definition to womanhood because no two woman are alike.  We are free to take the calling and do with it what we will.  We are given the opportunity to blossom and thrive where we are as we are, and as we do, each of us adds a little bit to the definition and makes it so much more vibrant and alive than it could have ever been without us.

Many people might disagree with different aspects of my definition.  That’s great.  Surely I’m not the authority to decide what it is that a woman should be.

But that’s what it means to me.

And twenty some years from now, there will be four more little women walking the streets of the world, and I’ll look to see how they have defined womanhood.  I’m excited to spend the next couple of decades watching them figure it all out.

And that’s where I find my strength – knowing that the lessons I learn today will help provide an example for them to follow tomorrow.

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Raising Little Women


If you would have told me ten years ago that I would be raising four little girls one day, I probably would have thrown up. When I’m reminded these days that I’m raising four little girls, the panic sets in.

It’s not that I don’t like being a girl mama. Being entrusted with the raising of these four little souls is the honor of my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

No, what gets the cortisol flowing is the realization that children learn how to be adults by watching the closest adults in their lives. And little girls learn how to be women and learn what it means to be a woman by watching one lady in particular – their mom. And if there’s any job I feel is beyond me, it’s the modeling of healthy womanhood.

But let’s say I have a moment of confidence and clarity, and I decide that maybe I can teach them at least the important things…

Then I turn on the television, and I see the objectification of women.

And I open the news, and I read about the rape of women.

And I look at advertisements, and I see the exploitation of women.

And I look around the world, and I see even with all of that, by almost any measure, we are the lucky women.

I would be lying if I said that I see all of this, and it makes me honestly search out remote mountain homes where we can live in peace. I’d also be lying if I said it didn’t make me sort of consider it.

I see all of this, and it’s overwhelming and it’s panic inducing, and I don’t know where to turn. So I look inside and I see panic and confusion, and I realize that I can barely lead myself, so how can I lead them.

But then I think of these words, “she is clothed in dignity and respect.” They have become a bit of a mantra to me. I play them over and over in my head, and as of yesterday, I decide to adorn a wall in my house with them.

Because what I realized is that this world gives us a false binary – either we can love ourselves above all others and look out for number one, or we can sacrifice everything and count ourselves among the invisible.  

There’s either self-aggrandizement or self-depreciation. Very rarely do we see anything in between.

But these words… that’s our in between.

They don’t say we are better or we deserve everything. But they also don’t say we deserve nothing and we fail.

No. They say we are loved. We are treasured. We are prized. And we are worth so very much that the God of the universe died for us.

And for you. And for them. And for us all.

We are worth so very much and no human being has the power to diminish that.

So I’m going to hang these words up and I’m going to read them daily and I’m going to try to live them.

And maybe with this one small step, we will be able to stand up in the face of all that wishes to tear us down.

Stand with me, won’t you? Our little girls are watching.

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The Politics of Listening

I don’t shut up well. I’m horrible at it. I think I might have been born without the physical structure that stops our mouths from moving or our hands from writing when the situation warrants it.

I spent years voicing my political opinions, and I spent a couple of years sharing my political opinions on Facebook.
I don’t regret this, and I’m not ashamed of it. I felt strongly, and I will always insist that those of us with a voice serve the world best by sharing that voice. (And if you are a literate middle class American you have more of a voice than the majority of people in this world.)
Lately though I’ve tried to hold myself back from some of these discussions. And the reason is that they often feel like a bunch of people standing around in a circle screaming at each other. The only difference is that in a real life shouting match people are a bit less likely to blatantly question and insult the integrity of each other.
I haven’t had skin thick enough to partake, and so I have sat back and listened. And by observing these conversations, I have noticed one glaring thing —
No one is listening. Nearly no one.
People are reading the words alright, but they are only reading them to find new ways to argue. It seems as if no one is joining these conversations to learn or discover new points of view. People just want to convert the other. Which is never going to happen because the other just wants to convert them.
And to be honest, part of the reason I have abstained from commenting is because I start to fear that arguing is even no longer as much about winning as it is about making oneself feel better about our own values and willingness to stand up for them. It’s starting to feel self-righteous.
And this is not an indictment against others. I am at least as guilty as anyone else if not more. (The rush of standing up for injustice can feel really, really good.)
But self-righteous looks horrible on me. More horrible even than it does on other people.
And so I’m left with what to do. These are important issues and they matter. To not speak feels negligent. But to speak feels futile and damaging and self-aggrandizing.
So I’ve decided that there’s one revolutionary thing i can do. One thing I’m not seeing done elsewhere.
I can listen.  
And when I say I can listen, I mean I can radically listen. I can listen and read the viewpoints from all sides. I can try to understand the underlying values of all parties. I can try to discern the priorities and fears and virtues and dreams and prejudices being brought forth. In the midst of a million arguments clamoring for attention, I can try to pay that attention.
And I’m trying to figure out if this is a cop out. But I don’t think it is. Because right now, most people are firmly entrenched on one side. The lines are clearly drawn. And the two sides aren’t going to come together. It’s going to take people standing in the middle to bridge those gaps.
I’ll probably fail sometimes, but my intention for the forseable future is to just stop. I’ll stop posting about politics or commenting or sharing or liking. I’ll take it in and absorb it. Hopefully one day I can then help bridge gaps. But even if that time never comes, at least I’ll know that I can understand both sides. I will know that I have been edified by listening to the values of the competing parties. I will know that I sought to understand before I sought to be understood.
So who is with me? Who wants to spend a month or two months or a year just listening radically? Who wants to remain open enough to hear inconvenient or unappetizing opinions? Who wants to become a repository rather than a dispensary?
Please join me.
(And to those few who I speak politics with in person, I’m still hoping to continue our conversations. A girl can only hold back so much!)

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Insecurity

I went to Best Buy today to buy a new band for my Apple Watch.  It was a birthday present from my parents, and I had been looking forward to getting it for awhile.

I got over to the appropriate aisle, and I was pleased to find that there were more options available than I had anticipated, and I really liked some.

So I looked.  And I looked some more.  And then I looked some more.  I compared them, and I contrasted them.  I felt them.  I turned them upside down.  And I tried to imagine what they would look like attached to my watch which I had inconveniently forgotten at home.

And for the life of me, I could not make up my mind. 

I kept trying to figure out what statement each would make.  What would it say about me?  

Ultimately a saleswoman came over, and I finally decided to just purchase the one she liked best because I couldn’t figure out another way to make this decision.

I brought them home.  I tried them on.  And I promptly decided to return them.

And let me tell you, this is absolutely and completely not me.  I’m not indecisive.  In fact, I’m way too impulsive.  Ask anyone who has tried to go car or house shopping with me. I purchase based on feeling, and my feelings come instantaneously.

And I’ve found myself frustrated by this recent development.  And I realized that it’s appearing in other areas of my life.

I’ve been a mother for over eight years now.  I’m pretty darn imperfect at it.  But I’m also pretty aware of where my strengths and my weaknesses are.  This is nice as it leads to a bit of stability in my perception of myself.

But lately that’s been gone.  It’s been like day one again where I question everything and berate myself for every misstep.  The good things get lost as the more I focus on the bad, the more it grows.

And it’s been there in my interactions with the culture.  I see all of the philosophical battles raging.  And all for but one issue, my opinions have been pretty consistent since childhood.  In fact, I recently found an essay I wrote in sixth grade and I realized that my philosophies may have become more fine tuned and sophisticated, but my leanings have barely budged.

And I’ve never been ashamed of my opinions.  They’ve been based on my values, and I believe my values are solid even though I often fail to live up to them.

So why lately have I been ashamed of my opinions?  I’m not talking about political party or candidate.  I’m talking about specific positions on specific issues.  

I’m not questioning these positions.  I’m just no longer confident sharing them.  I might post something and then I’ll take it down, insecure about what reactions may come.  And the reactions aren’t from one specific group – I’m afraid of both ththe liberal and conservative.

And I’m 39 years old.  Shouldn’t this be past me?  Shouldn’t I finally have earned some sense of security in who I am?  At the very least, shouldn’t I be able to pick out a watch without worrying about what others may think?

My hope is that this is short lived.  

In the past when I would get really depressed, I would wake up from that depression feeling like the worst kind of blank slate.  It was as if everything I had known about myself had been destroyed in the tumult and I had to start again.

I haven’t been depressed, but I’ve had the roughest couple of weeks of my life.  Perhaps this is all just the fallout from that.

What do you think?  Do you ever experience seasons of insecurity? How do you bounce back?

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Grateful For Us

It’s kind of been a rough couple of weeks.  I had just finished running some errands for TH and had finished dropping everyone where they needed to go, and I was in the car with Tessie on my way to drag myself into the doctor to see if this illness I’ve had for I don’t know how long now could be strep or bronchitis or if it’s just the blessings of 8 or so days breathing in dry hospital air.

I was thinking how rough things had been when it hit me.

Rough?

The only reason things are rough is because I have so many blessings to minister to.

I have the most amazing four little girls.

I have one who woke up every morning TJ was in the hospital and made lunches for everyone.  She would see me overwhelmed and ask me what I needed.  She helped her sisters.  And now that TJ is home and I’m not running to the hospital at all hours, I told her she could go back to being the kid, and I could take care of her.  That girl has a servant’s heart of pure gold.  She’s sweet and holy and oh so good.

And I have a Goosie who is struggling.  She’s so exquisitely sensitive under it all.  That sensitivity will break her heart at times, but it will also allow her to build monuments.  Monuments of love and compassion and truth and light and gentleness.  And those monuments will help her build bridges and build a life, and it’s so beautiful to watch.

And I have a Mae who is a little wrecking ball.  At this stage, she’s all will, but luckily for us, most of that passion is dedicated to making people smile and laugh.  She is remarkably empathetic.  She can pick up on other people’s emotions as well as someone three times her age.  It makes her a little upset when she senses anger or frustration, but it also makes her kind and loving and sweet and oh so social.

And there’s my little Tessie.  Right now, for an almost unbelievably short amount of time, she is all mine.  She adores her sisters and her daddy, but she’d spend her life laying on my lap, eating, cuddling, and being read to.  She’s quickly developing into her own person, but for now I am being selfish and I’m hoarding the moments where she is content to just be with me.  When she’s happy to just let the world go by and spend the heartbeats in my arms.

And then there’s TJ.  Last week he  was lying in an ICU hospital room.  He could barely talk to me.  It was dark and quiet and there were so many doctors and nurses.  And there were even more tubes and monitors and needles.  There were ice packs and alarms and wound dressings.  And all I wanted him to do was to translate to me all of the medical speak and tell me that everything would be okay.  But he couldn’t.  But as I sat there and watched him fight, I saw everything else of the last seventeen years slip away and all that was left was him.  The person who was chosen for me.  The person wh built a life for me.  And the person who fights so very hard for our family.  And I knew that at that moment he  was fighting for us.

And I guess in the end, I’m also grateful for what I learned about myself.  That I learned that I could do hard things.  (Thanks Glennon Melton!). That I could survive.  That I have the strength.  And that when push comes to shove, I can take care of my people.

And then there are all the the others – the people we couldn’t have survived this without.  But that’s for another day and a different post.  

Sorry for any and all typos – I just wrote this on my phone in the Fox’s parking lot, and I have to go in and feed Tessie quickly.!

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Bring On 2017!

Every year on New Years, we hear “new year, new you!” It sounds so enticing. After all, a new year is a new start. What could be better than to start off the year as a brand new person… a person who has overcome all your weaknesses and sore spots.
I don’t like thinking that way anymore. After all, who wants to be new? Newness denotes a lack of experience, freedom from trials, cleanliness, purity.
And we aren’t those things. We are worn in, smoothed over, roughened up. We’ve been challenged and inspired and torn apart and built back up.
We are all that has come before us, and we bring it all into the new year.  
And that’s not sad. That’s not depressing. That’s inspiring. That’s wisdom. That’s age. And that’s experience.
So as we start 2017, don’t look to create a new you. Take the beautiful you that already exists and give her some new goals. Believe in her. Tell her she is already enough… but still she can be more.
Happy New Years my friends. Thank you to all who have visited me on the web this year. Thank you to all who have commented or emailed me. And thank you to all who have shared your own struggles with me.
2016 was pretty good for me. Let’s do 2017 even better!

And sorry if my text shows up wonky. I’m posting this from my phone.

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Being a Wife

Catholics believe in vocations, and the most common vocation is that of marriage.  It happens to be the one I was chosen to and that I chose.  And please let me tell you that I suck at it.  I’m not a very good wife.

I try to be.  I think most of us do.  But I think a lot of us also tend to focus our attention on other endeavors and callings and trust that our primary one will sit peacefully on the back burner.  I think we believe that since we feel the love we promised on our wedding day that we don’t have to worry about doing the love we vowed on that day.

And perhaps it all stems from that messed up notion of love — the notion that says that it’s all about flowers and fluttery feelings and positive sentiment.  Or maybe the more mature married notion is that it’s about comfort and home.  Honestly, I think we’re taught by the world around us that love is about what we get from it, not what we give.  It’s about satisfying our needs rather than the needs of the other.  It’s about, first and foremost, our happiness.

And we only have to look to our children to see how that doesn’t work.

I think we all know that we can’t emotionally love our children but neglect them.  We can’t feel positive regard for them but let their needs slip by the wayside.  We can’t keep those feelings locked up inside and expect an occasional “I love you” or hug to be sufficient.

No.  We know with children that our love needs feet and it needs to be expressed through our hands and our mouths and our ears.  It needs to become a force in the world and in our lives.  Love needs to be acted.

And then it comes to our spouses, and we are just so darn tired.

Often we have spent the day taking care of the needs of everyone around us.  We have put out fires and built monuments and cleaned it all up by day’s end, and so when it comes to our spouse, we just let it out and trust that the feelings of love will suffice for the loose tongues or the tired eyes or the lapse into selfish thinking.

But it doesn’t work that way.

And so I think that I, at least, need to change.  I need to remember that the relationship that matters the most to me needs to be the one that I feed the most.  I need to remember that being in love with your partner makes both loving and partnering more difficult, but it also is what makes it all worthwhile.  And I need to remember that when I feel I have nothing left to give, that I still need to find a way to give more.

Because we can sit back and let the emotions do the hard work of marriage.  And we can sit back and let ourselves receive rather than give.  And we can then wonder why we are left feeling even more drained and tired.

Or we can step up and remember that it is in self donation that we receive.  When we give ourselves away, we build up something so much greater than ourselves.  We build something worthwhile and strong and beautiful.

And I am going to try better.  Because I suck at this, and I’m really sick of that.

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