How We Easter {Alleluia!}

Full disclosure about our Easter: If you're looking for perfection in liturgical living inspiration, there are far better resources out there. If you're looking for a blogger you probably exceed in that department but who is trying her hardest to keep up... well, maybe you've found the right blog!

I love to share my successes but my failures are copious. And that is what is so marvelous about Easter...

It's all about Him. He is risen as He said. And His grace covers all. Alleluia! 

Come Easter Monday, regardless of how well I have managed to pull together the celebratory details of our earthly Easter, He is always victorious. Thanks be to God! 

For your enjoyment or curiosity (and for my own pleasure), here's a little bit of our Easter....

EGGS

Last year was the first year of my mothering life that we didn't color eggs. It was my fault... I just didn't have an ounce of energy left in me. So this year I was bound and determined to get it done. Chess nerds, artists, and toddlers represented. The pretty egg wrappers are one of my favorite easy ways to decorate and can be found on Amazon. (affiliate link) 

GIVING

I have a crafting habit that I just can't seem to shake and like to augment the Easter table with pretty little gifts for each attendee. Some years that means elaborate, time-consuming items and other years it means candy in cellophane. This year, we managed to put together some faith-oriented items including St. Benedict tenner cord rosaries (pictured above) and Miraculous Medal bookmarks (thank you, Andrea Singarella!) packaged with little rice krispee nests.

Examples from past years:

  • Individual baskets made out of chocolate cookie dough and filled with treats
  • Fabric covered gratitude booklets filled with personalized notes from all the children
  • Blown eggs painted and personalized for each attendee... and stuffed with a Scripture quote chosen for each
  • Large decorated sugar cookies with guest names
  • Dyed cord rosaries
  • Blown eggs sanitized, painted, and filled with M & M's

LITURGY...

Barring major illness, you can always find us at the Easter Vigil Mass. It is not an easy endeavor but always worth it. From the Paschal Fire to the new Catholics and party afterward, we manage to not only survive but to ignite. For the kids, it is always one of the big highlights of the year. There is nothing like the feeling of falling exhausted into bed with an Alleluia on the lips and the smell of incense in your hair!

CLOTHING...

Because of the Vigil Mass and certain limitations of large family life, you won't find us super put-together-matchy-matchy like we sometimes pulled off when the kids were younger. For the most part, we are just trying to get to church on time! We generally drive separately to provide for schola members, altar servers, and toddler needs. And I can't recall the last time we were able to get a family picture of all of the living, dynamic, joyful beauty of the night that soon becomes morning. But those memories are emblazoned in our minds and hearts. It is sufficient.

I didn't get any church pics this year but I snapped the one above of the party afterward in the church basement and my oldest dressed to the nines in his tux. Why the tails? Because it's Easter! He can't think of a better reason. :)

When the kids were younger, I enjoyed sewing dresses for the girls or ordering special matching outfits. (My last Easter sewing project was in 2011.) I would certainly enjoy doing those things again but am forced to be more frugal with time and resources. In the end, I have found that I miss certain sensual aspects of creating and coordinating, but that no joy is lost when the heart is properly oriented.

EASTER MORNING...

Sleeping in. (Super late)

Easter music. (Always including the Easter Song... Original by Keith Green and beautiful cover by Glad... plus all the alleluia music we couldn't listen to during Lent)

Slow and happy breakfast. (Sometimes elaborate, sometimes simple, always orange juice)

Divine Office. (Led by Dad)

Baskets. (These vary greatly in size and content according to means each year)

The full truth about Easter morning this year is that everyone was tired and no one wanted a photo taken. So I snuck this one behind the flowers (above). Four of my people are represented... pretty much only recognizable to me. 

Okay... well almost no one wanted their picture taken...

FOOD...

Dietary needs are a stinker on feast days. Can't go around it... gotta go through it! We are very blessed to have family members who are considerate of the needs of adults and children. The day before Easter this year, my toddler had a significant flare-up of painful symptoms that are greatly compounded by sugar. The Chief and I knew that we had to find a way to keep her away from one of the sources of childhood Easter delight... Easter candy.

It was tough... especially when the age of awareness does not correspond to the age of reason! But again, we are blessed to have a strong support system and people who love her enough to help us soften the hard things. 

For the rest of us, it's business as usual. Sticking to the basics but also splurging and regretting it. ;)

SPIRITUAL RENEWAL... 

There are so many little "New Years" within the context of Catholic life, New Year's Day being the least of them. The most significant for me is Easter Sunday, when the opportunity for new life and regeneration seems optimal and the soil of the soul so fertile.

Today (Easter Tuesday), I will begin a renewal of Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary. I have done it before and it was life-changing. This one will be timed to end on May 1st, the Feast of the Queen of Heaven and the beginning of my due date week. I cannot think of a more fitting way to prepare for the birth of my son. 

If you are interested in doing a Consecration, I recommend the book Totus Tuus: A Contemplative Approach to Total Consecration to Jesus Through Mary by Fr. Nathan Cromley. It can be purchased on the Eagle Eye Ministries website where you can also find supplemental materials and video. 

To all of my readers.... A very blessed and happy Easter to you! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia!

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Posted on March 29, 2016 and filed under Family Life, Liturgical Year, Easter.

How the Love of Another Man Pushed Me Into My Husband's Arms

  Photo courtesy of the beautiful Jeannette Ayoob-Urban

Photo courtesy of the beautiful Jeannette Ayoob-Urban

The man stood alone among over 50 women, speaking to them about their own womanhood...

Imagine a weekend retreat with all those women women attending with only that one man, a priest, to dilute the beautiful conflagration of estrogen. I was there and it was awesome. The positive feminine energy was a wonderful balm for my soul. So many "little mothers" to nurture and support!  And oh yes, the healing tears flowed.

Yet as much as I acknowledge the unique role that women play for each other in life (indispensable, really), I also returned home with a renewed appreciation for the role of men in how we come to see ourselves as women... and how we learn to draw closer to Christ through their steady witness.

It doesn't seem like it should have worked out well at all; a lone man speaking about womanhood and motherhood to a bunch of women (mostly mothers) who have 100% more life experience as females than he! But Father's words were more powerful for me than those of any woman I have ever heard speak. They challenged and pierced and illuminated the treasure of my femininity in a new way. And there's a growing part of me (not the former strident feminist part) that marvels and wonders what it is about a man that has the unique power to do just that. 

This experience of masculine speaking to feminine about the feminine was marvelous and unlike some male Catholic speakers who try to understand the "feminine genius" through their masculine lens and misapplication of JPII's marvelous Theology of the Body

I have taken the whole experience apart in my mind a dozen times since I've been home. Without analyzing too much, here are a few points I've been pondering... 

  • The complementarity of man and woman goes well beyond the sexual and does not even need a sexual context or metaphor to be true and powerful. We have been given to each other in service by God and we have been made for each other. The sexual context is singular to the married vocation. I am only married to one man... and yet that complementarity with all other men still exists in a completely beautiful and non-sexual context. I am a bride. I am also physical and spiritual daughter, sister, and mother to many.
  • The priest is consecrated and celibate but still fully male. His masculine gifts put him in a position to lead woman but also to be upheld by her. It is why we kneel for a blessing before him and why he clings to Mary and is upheld by the Spiritual Motherhood which is so honored by the Church.

  • The authentic words of affirmation and confidence given by a man have a powerful impact on a woman... perhaps even more so than another woman can give. As Pope Saint John Paul II said so perfectly:

    "God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman." 

Father's priestly counsel pierced my feminine heart all weekend. I was impacted not only by his words through his priestly office, but also by who he was as a person.  And my appreciation grew, not as a fangirl but as a spiritual daughter/sister being led to greatness in Christ. When he looked at us women and told us that we were beautiful in who we are and within the context of our vocation, I believed him; but instead of being drawn to his side, my desire for home steadily ignited. 

  Fr. Nathan Cromley {Photo courtesy of  Jayme Orn Photography }

Fr. Nathan Cromley {Photo courtesy of Jayme Orn Photography}

That is what every man should do for every woman... Point her to vocation, to her greatness, to her spouse, to her Lord. That is what every woman should do for every man... Show him his capacity for greatness in Christ at home and in the world.

The nearer Father led us to Christ, the stronger that desire grew until it was a flame that became a blazing fire. I was enjoying the retreat and yet I longed to see my husband. To serve him. To be held by him. And a repeated daydream (that also became a dream during sleep) took hold of me there...

I imagined that my husband and I were holding hands and walking up the center aisle of the chapel toward our Eucharistic Lord exposed in the monstrance. And when we arrived in front of Jesus, we knelt together and received His blessing.

It was a physical longing and gripped me so tightly that it surprised me. 

Each time I heard my spiritual Father speak, that desire for my both my husband and my God increased. One man leading me closer to another man, my spouse... through Christ.

Many words have been written about the need in our Church for manly priests; men who not only understand their priestly identity but who understand it in the context of their masculine nature. It is not just an exercise in pastoral speculation... But a true need.

I not only reject the idea of women priests from a theological standpoint but also from a natural one. We need these men, these soul lovers who have taken up the cross of service for our salvation. We need not just what they do but who they are. Their masculinity is a gift that we cannot set aside as some random assignment of biological pieces. 

A woman needs men who will look into her eyes with their strong, confident, gentle love... and communicate to her the matter of her dignity. It is often said that culture will be restored by the heart, the woman. But...

Woman needs man to lead and to teach her through his words and love about her own dignity.
Man needs woman to support him as he carries his cross in the world.
He finds his own dignity and home in the heart of the feminine.
She finds her fortress and fire in the masculine.

It is my fervent prayer that the men of the Church will learn the significance of that role and take it up. Oh, how they could change the world! They are inclined to take it by might and sheer effort but do not know their own potential as soul-lovers.

I left the retreat a little early and went home late Saturday night, missing the two remaining hours on Sunday morning. I wanted to stay and continue to drink deeply from the retreat experience but I also wanted to be able to go to Mass with my family, to be able to sleep a little more deeply (even a quiet retreat stretched my physical limits during this pregnancy), and to hold my littlest girl who was missing her mommy. But mostly...

I wanted to see my husband.

He texted me a response to my invitation saying: "Whatever you want to do is fine. Stay as long as you like. If you want me to come early, I will." I replied:

"Come and get me!"

... and I felt like a school girl while I waited. I also felt a little like a young bride waiting to see my groom before our our nuptial Mass. My eyes filled with tears when he walked through the door. He got bonus points for the roses that he brought me (husbands, take note!) but I would have rejoiced regardless.

After we arrived home, we imprudently but joyfully stayed up with the children until 1:00 am just being together before family prayers. My toddler fell asleep curled up on my lap and I fell asleep on the couch so quickly that I didn't even kiss my spouse goodnight.

It's not a story of glamorous romance. We are messy, we are weak, and we are broken... And we fall asleep when we don't mean to.

But the more attentive I am to my Lord, the more my heart is drawn to my home. And sometimes, it takes another man to remind me that to be fully who I am in Christ means to draw closer, not to the activity of my vocation, but to the souls with whom I have been entrusted.

The last time I went on retreat (over 11 years ago), I came home ready to change my husband... to form him more perfectly to my (stunted) vision of holy. That was partially (or largely) my immaturity and partially the questionable direction from the priest who essentially told me that my apostolic work was more important than the heart of my husband. And... it was kind of a disaster. I disrespected the treasure that my faithful, prayerful, hard-working, generous, amazing man that my husband always has been. I don't know if he was nervous about my return home this time (he was nothing but encouraging) but he would certainly have been justified! This time however, Father said something (among many things of value) that helped me correct that former error:

Jesus doesn't need new ministries, He needs lovers.

Instead of coming home with an agenda, I came home with a gentle fire. Instead of coming home to make changes to my family members, I came home to love them. Instead of coming home with a list and a massive plan, I came home with the courage to just begin again in steady charity. I also came home with a dozen red roses and a renewed appreciation for the irreplaceable role of the masculine presence in the feminine life. 

To any men reading...

Please lead the women in your life to Christ. Love them, give them courage by your own example, forgive them, make sure they have what they need to be well, and help them see their own beauty and dignity. 

To the women...

Let them. And then serve them with faithfulness, confidence, mercy, and joy. For those who suffer in that holy work, I share a few more of Father's words:

“When your heart is pierced, when your tears flow... Blessed be God! There aren’t enough tears in the world.”

To my husband...

I have no words for the gift that you have always been and continue to be in my life. You married a bratty teenager and you've loved and nurtured her into the woman that I am. Full of weakness and holes and sinfulness, yes... but also so happy. You have poured yourself out to give me life, hope, joy, and Jesus. You have tempered my wayward estrogen with the gentle strength. You have served even when there was no obvious return on the investment. Twenty years ago, you were the one who answered my questions about Christ and then set about to show me... and you are still leading. What all that means to me is inexpressible and touches an intimate part of my soul that knows no adequate expression. But I thank you. And I renew my commitment to our Christ-centered eternal love. 

Thanks be to God!

“Allow yourselves to hunger... Fall in love with Jesus.” {Fr. Nathan Cromly}
 We are fast approaching our 20th wedding anniversary. May Blessed Mother continue to lead us united to her Son.

We are fast approaching our 20th wedding anniversary. May Blessed Mother continue to lead us united to her Son.

 Retreat jewelry craft led by artist  Andrea Singarella . Roses from my husband. Name tag from the  Arise retreat.

Retreat jewelry craft led by artist Andrea Singarella. Roses from my husband. Name tag from the Arise retreat.

 Photo of the attendees of the Arise Retreat. Over 50 amazing women... and one Fr. Nathan. { Photo courtesy of  Jayme Orn Photography } My deepest gratitude to  Brooke Taylor  for running with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to make this event happen and to every woman there who said yes to that same Spirit by attending. 

Photo of the attendees of the Arise Retreat. Over 50 amazing women... and one Fr. Nathan. {Photo courtesy of Jayme Orn Photography} My deepest gratitude to Brooke Taylor for running with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to make this event happen and to every woman there who said yes to that same Spirit by attending. 

  Photo of our walking Rosary courtesy of  Jayme Orn Photography

Photo of our walking Rosary courtesy of Jayme Orn Photography

Posted on March 16, 2016 and filed under Faith, Marriage, Spiritual Life, Womanhood.

Go Activist or Go Home: Why I Came Back to Blogging

                                They are both taller than I, but I changed their diapers.

                               They are both taller than I, but I changed their diapers.

I wrote this almost 2 years ago (Summer 2014) after taking an extended blogging break to just live and to discern. I revisit my purpose here from time to time and have done so recently... and find that it all remains true. For those of you who are relatively new here... welcome! This is why I blog. This is why I occasionally quit. And this is why I keep coming back.


I'm supposed to be on long sabbatical. But I changed my mind. I came back for Lena, and to share life-changing books, and for fellowship. But I stayed because I have teenagers. Teenagers really change everything...

I used to have a family with several adorable little people. I was a Catholic mom; open to life and living in our little domestic church where nothing could touch us.

And then they grew up. It happened so quickly that we almost got blown off course. One day, Professor was taking swimming lessons at the local Y, and the next he was swimming every day of the week and breaking records. Another day, we decided to have the kids play CYO volleyball (just for fun) and pretty soon after that we were making hotel reservations for national tournaments. One day, I  was reading Dr. Seuss all. day. long. and the next, I was crying in a natatorium (that's fancy for "big pool room" for all you sporting neophytes) because swim moms are mean.

And remember the kid next door whose parents gave him booze at parties when he was three? Yeah, well, now he's driving and he thinks your daughter is hot. Good morning, mama... Drink your coffee black. The battle used to be in the streets but now it is on your driveway, your front porch, and in your home.

I woke up one figurative morning and had a loud thought that I was just tired of being a Catholic always fighting the world on the world's terms. So we left enemy territory for a while and returned home to strengthen our small army. We quit a bunch of stuff and patched up our wounds. We returned to our cloister to regroup and we emerged as something slightly different than we were before.

We came face-to-face with silence again. With ourselves. With God. I wouldn't say it was the most comfortable time but it was fruitful. We learned a lot about who we really were as individuals and as a family...

My son was an athlete. Then he was more. My daughter was talented. Then she was more. My little ones were gym/pool rats. Then they were more. 

And me? I'm a princess. A mommy. A wifey. A dreamer. A talker with a keyboard. And more.

And...

I'm an activist.

A Catholic activist. I'm a traditionalist-charismatic-vernacular-liking-Latin-loving-praise-and-worship-singing-Holy-Spirit-petitioning kind of Catholic activist.  I don't wear a mantilla but my teenage daughter has... because she wants to. I don't kneel to receive Jesus when there's no altar rail, but my kids often do. They just got it into their heads that God is awesome and showed me a thing or two about love. I do wear bathing suits to swim and a miraculous medal everywhere except the pool (until the babies break the chain... They always do.) I don't eat fish during Lent (or ever) but I like to make a mean grain-free chocolate chip cookie for feast days. 

I have a soft spot for priests and bishops but I don't love when they peddle pablum and compromise on the Church's moral teachings. I worship God, not men. I follow truth, not silver tongues. I tell my discerning sons that if they grow up to become that kind of priest that I will haunt them after I die. And my rather literal firstborn frowns at me and tells me that's impossible.

Which is impossible? I ask. Both. I laugh out loud but he does not... because he just doesn't think it's funny.

My kids are growing up and our cloister is... well... it's different now. Those first magical years are really gone for good, we averted some heavy storms, and now we stand at the door together and face the giant world. 

My kid once started a pro-life youth organization because he was tired of just speaking love of life instead of doing. They are killing babies, Mom. Yes they are. We need to speak up and stop it. Yes, we do. We need to pray and work for justice for these little ones. Let's go then. I'll follow you.

I wrote in my last post about scandal in the Church and how good people are looking the other way while evil happens. I know why this happens... It happens because pro-life is HARD. Harder than repeating a few slogans. Harder than holding a sign. Harder than going to a nice pro-life dinner or giving a pro-life keynote or writing a pro-life blog post.

The pro-life message IS the Gospel message. And it says...

"Don't you even think about hurting any of My precious little ones. Ever. And don't you let it happen either."

The real scandal of the whole Catholic Relief Services fiasco is not that people pretending to love the Church are doing evil things. The real scandal is that believing Catholics are doing NOTHING to stop it. I would have come back to this blog just to say that. If we are comfortable pro-life Gospel-livers, then we are doing it wrong.

So I'm here writing because I have teenagers to raise into men and women of God. And I want them to know that love means activism. Even a cloistered nun is an activist. She gives everything for the cause of Love and perpetually petitions the highest Authority for justice. 

Because I want my children to know how to speak their love with confidence, I must speak when I lack confidence. They know my limitations but I think they also know my passion. I have obligations at home that keep me from being out there... But I can come back here to be a witness.

It is my testimony to God's blessing in my life and it is what I owe Him.

I have a platform and I'm using it so long as it is consistent with God's will for my life.

I have made a spectacle of myself in some ways over issues that many people don't even care about. But I'm a Catholic activist. I am fighting and advocating for Love. For those babies who are never born because of our bishops' foreign aid program. For my own babies. For the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For the dignity of all human persons. For Catholic culture.

For many years, I thought it was enough to have a large family. Isn't that pro-life enough? But while we are busy with our littles, the enemies of life are active. They are activists. They are changing laws and cultural tides and overcoming the weak. And they are waiting for the day when your children are older and take their first steps outside your cloister. Don't just teach your kids how to live, show them how to do it. 

So here I am. A bumbling activist. With a good looking husband, a few great recipes, and an affinity for my wonderful children, fitness and nutrition, pretty things, reading, homeschooling, and blogging. And Pinterest. Can't forget about Pinterest. Welcome to my digital domicile... and to my life of blossoming joy.

Posted on March 9, 2016 and filed under Family Life, parenting, pro-life, Womanhood.