Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Real Experiment

I've done it. I've gone off the deep end. I'm officially a weird brain-washed religious zealot nutjob. I did something so counter-cultural that even other Catholics might be a bit concerned for my mental stability... I bought a dumb phone. Not only did I buy one, I also intend on using it as a replacement for my iPhone. Completely. Shock and awe.

All kidding aside, this is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Like 90-100% of my peers, my phone is rather important to me. As the mother of two young children who grow faster than a bunch of weeds, I want to capture precious fleeting moments. Obviously the iPhone has the best camera and quickest spontaneous-moment-capturing capabilities. Regardless, I'm letting it go, only to be taken out during actual events like birthdays, Christmas, Easter, etc.

No, I don't think technology is intrinsically evil. I also don't think everyone who has smartphones is wasting their lives or ruining their childrens'. To make things clear, my decision concerns only my own situation, and is not meant to be a sweeping generalization concerning the detriment of "smartphone usage" (although a few of those kinds of thoughts will come later on).

All I know is that I'm too weak to have a smartphone. I do not have the willpower to use it only on certain occasions. If I have WiFi, you better believe I'll be looking for something to do. My favorite time-wasters: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and - if I want to be really annoyed or to check and see if a tornado is about to hit me - Twitter.

Worse, if none of those platforms have anything going on, I go on Trulia to look at houses for sale. Yeah no, we aren't looking to buy anytime soon... You get my jist now. I have a problem. It's called smartphone addiction.

Being so connected to my phone, I have begun to lose a taste for the fresh reality of living in the moment.
Rather than playing with my children, I'm concerned with capturing photos of them playing. I'm so obsessed with recording memories that I'm missing out on their actual lives.

Reality smacks you in the face when your
two year old says "I want to see me!"
One day I asked myself, "What if I lost all those photos?". AHHHHH was my immediate reaction. But then I thought, "Wait a minute. The generation before me wasn't taking photos 24/7 and they're not crying about it." I realized that my obsession with taking pictures of my children runs deep. It is an idolatry, of sorts, in that I seem to view their youth and innocence as something sacred that I will one day "lose" when they are grown. It is a subconscious yet nonetheless incorrect fear that I have been clinging to. I've recognized the problem... now it is time to prune the garden of my soul

I predict that in the coming years, more and more people my age will become disenchanted with social media and smartphones. I don't even need to describe the ways in which we are constantly bombarded with information and tidbits and news flashes. If you would step away from all sources of media and news (including newspapers!) for a whole day, I promise you it would feel like a breath of fresh air. We are suffocating under the burden of knowledge of things that are passing. Do you even remember what the news headlines were two days ago?

After having given up my phone already in fits and starts, I can confirm that I am much happier on days that I "lose" my phone and don't go looking for it. The emptiness that social media creates is gaping. Folks want to feel connected to others whom they might not have a chance to be in touch with because of various life circumstances, but that connection is actually an illusion. They see what's going on in their friend's life without the actual human interaction part. It leaves us thirsty for more. As humans made in the image and likeness of God, we are meant to be in communion with one another so that one day our love will be perfected through Christ and bring us into communion with the Source of all that is good - the Trinity. Social media is a step back rather than a step forward. We might have more personal information about more people, but our interactions are shallow.
Social media can be used for good, of course, such as planning events and getting people involved. It's certainly handy for that! Pretty much every event I attend is organized on Facebook. That's why I'm not leaving entirely, just reducing my time on these platforms.

Getting rid of my smartphone is one step towards reconnecting with reality. I am not doing it so much for myself as I am for my children. No daughter should grow up with a mommy who stares at her phone more than at her. No son should have to grow up vying with a screen for attention. It hurts to admit that my children have already been subjected to this sort of thing. It's completely unfair to them. They have been forced to endure it because mommy wanted an "escape" from the often mind-numbing reality of being a stay-at-home parent.

Well all of that is over for now. I may use my phone after the children are in bed, but not while they are in my presence. Their dignity and value requires that I be present to them always. In heaven, perhaps I will be able to relive each and every joyful moment I've had with them without any of the burdens and concerns of everyday life. How wonderful that will be!
In the meantime, I hope to be more intentional with all of our time together. My children deserve a patient, attentive mommy and that's my new goal - to become more conscious and deliberate in all that I say and do around my children. So, next step: Holy Communion, because I truly need God's grace. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Suffering

The year 2017 has been a doozy. It's only April, you say. Well let me tell you, this has been the most challenging year of my life, to date. Many unfortunate things have happened in mine and my husband's life. Some of these events have been small and trivial trials, while others have been life-changing events that will have a lasting impact on our closest relationships. In the matter of less than one year, God has completely changed my perspective of suffering and perseverance. He put me in the trenches, whereas before my view of suffering had (more or less) been from the lofty tower of theoretical knowledge. I hope that by sharing some of my thoughts and inspirations from our recent experiences, the Holy Spirit can draw you closer to our Almighty Creator.

The Flower of Carmel
stained glass - Aylesford Priory

Recently, I began wearing my Brown Scapular again. For those unaware of this devotion, the Brown Scapular consists of two pieces of wool cloth that are connected by a cord and worn around the neck. It signifies a special devotion to the powerful intercession of the Mother of God. In a vision, Our Blessed Lady promised St. Simon Stock, to whom she gave the first one, that "This shall be a privilege for you and all Carmelites, that anyone dying in this habit shall not suffer eternal fire."
Essentially, one must be invested into the confraternity and pray certain prayers with devotion every day in order for this promise to be fulfilled (wearing the scapular alone does not suffice for salvation - we aren't superstitious!). For those interested, more information can be found at the Sisters of Carmel website.

Once I began wearing the scapular with devotion once again, my deep sufferings began. I am convinced that the means by which Our Lady draws us closer to her Divine Son is through suffering. At least, that has been the case for me. I have never experienced so many blows of suffering and pain, and yet I have never been closer to Jesus before in my entire life. There is a sweetness in the darkness of suffering. As St. Teresa of Calcutta once said "Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus - a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you."
Crucifixion by Matthias Grunewald
Soon after my son was born, he struggled with colic. I remember one poignant evening when my husband was gone for whatever reason and I was left on my own, in bed, in the dark, while Peter screamed and screamed and there was nothing I could do to soothe him. I remember crying with him, sobbing, wishing I could do something to make his pain stop. I remembered Mary. I entered into some aspect of the phrase "and you yourself a sword will pierce" (Luke 2:35). I could imagine her overwhelming grief at the sight of her perfect, innocent son being tortured and made to endure the weight of the world's sins. It was very real to me as my innocent baby shrieked in agony while I held him and rocked him, powerless to effect any change. It was only a minuscule foretaste of the all the suffering one can endure in this life. This post is not about the details of my trials, however. It is about the meaning behind the universal experience of suffering.

The lightest cross I've ever carried!
Me on left, my friend Hilary on right
American society is obsessed with comfort and happiness. There are seemingly infinite products, programs, and tools that have the end goal of helping their customer find happiness. I'm thinking of self-help programs, diet plans, fitness trackers, coffee machines, dish washers, stand mixers, and the like. If you really stop and consider the man-made things around you, you come to realize that much of it is ultimately geared towards making life more efficient. Generally, the end goal is to maximize our enjoyment of life while minimizing the physical work involved to reach that end. Not only that, but American culture is addicted to improving oneself. We have become products. How many people spend thousands of dollars to get a graduate degree to make themselves more "marketable"? How many people waste endless hours in the gym trying to burn a few inches off their waist to be more "beautiful"? How many people obsessively checks their fitbits to see if they've done enough today to be more "healthy"? We are sadly a product of our consumerist culture. They sell us products so that we can sell ourselves to others, because it's not enough that we have been made in the image and likeness of God. What a deplorable state of affairs.

In the culturally-conditioned pursuit of comfort, leisure, and happiness, even the most well-intentioned, devout Christians can miss out on the beauty of one of the greatest gifts we have been given on this earth: suffering. Here is yet another paradox. Suffering brings great joy. I can proclaim this from firsthand experience. I have been tested in fire this Lent - nearly all of it God's way rather than my own.

Tonight is Holy Thursday. My husband and I were lying in bed discussing our thoughts and meditations. He pondered that, although those involved in Christ's Passion and death could have made it less horrific for him, they did not. His disciples fell asleep whilst he endured his agony in the garden. If only they had stayed awake with him, would it not have lightened the burden of the prospect of his imminent trials and torture? My husband mused that there must be a way for us to enter into that today and be there for Jesus, so to speak.

Immediately I knew the answer. The Holy Spirit inspired me in a profound way - there is no other way I could have reached the following conclusion on my own. We can stay awake with Jesus every single time we suffer by uniting that pain with his. We can make his cross lighter by joining our agonies with his. When we realize our absolute weakness and nothingness, we give the Son of God the great honor of being our savior. I believe this is what St. Paul means when he says, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church..." (Col 1:24). The sacrifice of Jesus is perfect. The Lamb paid the price demanded of Holy Justice and he paid it in full. There was only one thing that could not be forced: the disciples were not forced to stay awake in the garden of Gethsemane. Peter denied even knowing Jesus, thereby avoiding being scourged and crucified along with his Lord. All but John fled to the upper room to escape persecution. Will we flee too? Or will we stand firm and accept the cross that inevitably rests upon our shoulders in this life? 

Christ bore his Passion on his own; he does not need us. However, when we participate with him it is sweetness to him. It is particularly pleasing and efficacious when we offer up all of our suffering for the good of others. In that way, our pain becomes redemptive rather than futile and pointless. Suffering is awful! But when we unite it to the cross for the intentions of our family, friends, and enemies, we are loving in the most Christ-like way possible. This type of love is true charity. It's the love that hurts, that cleanses, that brings genuine freedom. "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Christ promised us that following him would bring trials and that the way to everlasting life is narrow. The surest way to gauge your actions is by their conformity to Christ's sacrifice. When I am not sure if I am being loving, I always ask myself if I am sacrificing some part of myself for the person in question. Raising children has brought me to a more acute understanding of self-sacrifice - the sharp agony of childbirth to the annoyance of having to reheat my coffee for the 1,233rd time. It's no wonder the vast majority of people are called to sanctity through marriage and family life. Living with other humans that are dependent on you sucks you out of yourself slowly and steadily! I've said it before: us parents have the opportunity to perform most of the corporal works of mercy multiple times per day. Whatever you did for the least of these, Jesus says, you did for me.

Here's some wonderful news, though, which you may or may not already realize: life is short! I studied anthropology in college - I got used to talking about time in terms of millions and thousands of years. Knowing a half-decent amount about stuff that happened that far back really puts things in perspective! Before college, I thought AD 1700 was a long time ago. Now I consider that basically modern times. It underscores just how brief our journey on earth is. Billions of souls have lived and died, the memory of the vast majority lost soon after their death.
Just a friendly reminder of your mortality, brought to you by the Norwich skeleton, Thomas Gooding:
All you that do this place pass bye
Remember death for you shall dye
As you are now even so was I
And as I am so shall you be





Let me tell you this: suffering sucks, but you will not be able to do it once you make it to heaven. If you go to purgatory, you will suffer, but in the grand scheme of eternity even the suffering there will seem laughably finite. Praise Jesus! When I am in heaven, I want to gaze upon the most holy face of Jesus and look him straight in the eyes and say to him that I did not fall asleep, I did not run away, I did not cower in fear. Instead, I took on whatever sufferings that reality in a fallen world bestowed on me and offered them for the conversion of the ones I love (and don't love). Suffering sucks - but it ends, and if we do it right we can help Jesus bring souls to eternal peace and joy, devoid of pain for all of eternity. 

Those who have given birth understand. The weeks leading up to baby's first breath can be agonizing. It was that way with my son. I woke up almost every single morning around 2am with contractions that would increase in intensity, also getting closer together. I knew it was prodromal labor, but I was always unsure when it would really kick into high gear. Also, starting at about 37 weeks, my little boy obtained herculean strength and would toss and turn in my already-too-small torso and would cause excruciating pain in places you don't want know. Excruciating pain. Worst-pain-of-my-life pain. I spent hours in the bathtub begging him to go to sleep or be still. My only thread of light during those moments was the prospect that he would eventually be born and all that pain would be a distant bittersweet memory. This was in late September, before I knew anything at all about redemptive suffering. Lo and behold, he was born and has enriched my family's love greatly. My pregnancy gave me an important experiential understanding of suffering. It always ends. Even in the last moments, when we are dying, the suffering is going to end. Just as a mother will enjoy her child for all of her life, if we've suffered well we will enjoy everlasting glory!

Sadly, not all suffering comes in the form of a tiny little adorable baby. One night, I endured back-to-back debilitating panic attacks. Anyone who has experienced it knows what it's like. You genuinely feel as if you are going to die. I laid in the dark against my husband as my consciousness wavered and envisioned Jesus on the cross. In that moment I could see the blood and water gushing from his side and onto my own head. I meditated upon this sign of love and I realized my utter wretchedness. I was graced with a super quick flashback over the past months and years of my life and realized just how little I had done for Christ when there were infinite opportunities to serve him throughout even one single day! I am not sure how to describe the vision I had. I guess you could think of it like this: imagine each good deed as a luminescent gem. The memories were as if they were in black and white, which each good deed standing out brightly in contrast. This is how I realized that there was so much wasted, dull time where there could be bright gems of self-sacrifice for the glory of my King! 

Recalling this brings to mind yet again my dear St. Therese's little way. I had "filled" minutes and even hours with empty thoughts and idle scrolling on my phone. I had been getting by doing the bare minimum of 1) not committing mortal sins and 2) doing my duty as a wife and mother and 3) doing an act of kindness here or there and 4) praying for a little bit before bed. I arbitrarily thought that was enough, so I was "all good". And yet, Christ gave all for me. Not a single drop of blood was spared. He gave freely and completely, every aspect of himself, to save me. This shocked me on a profound level. I realized that every single moment of every single day can be made fruitful. I don't need to have a reason to pray for anyone. If I see someone walking down the road, I can say a prayer for him. I can offer up every single moment, every single tiny niggle and discomfort of my day can be transformed by God's power into love. No suffering is too small to be united to the cross of Christ. For will a mustard seed not become a great towering tree with the right nourishment? I am already nothing compared to God. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

St. Paul looking totally epic.
"I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance."
Mother Angelica 1923-2016
Requiescat In Pace
The day after Lazarus was resurrected in the Sunday Gospel readings, Jesus brought me out of the tomb of my anxiety. I begged him to, trusting that he meant it when he said that whatever we ask in His name will be granted. He delivered. Therefore I also believe that He will make me a Saint one day. I trust, because it is not only my greatest desire - it is His too! It hurts though. Everyone says that the path to sanctity is difficult, and you can nod your head with your eyes wide and say "yeeess I know!" ...but you don't really know until you know. Now I know, and hopefully I will be better prepared for the next challenges that the Lord will allow in my life.

One last thought before I end this post. Throughout all the struggles of the past 7 months or so, there has been a sweetness found outside of my faith and in going to Church. Well I suppose it's not completely outside of my faith - the Mystical Body of Christ... that is to say, the relief has been bestowed by my good friends! One friend offered his home and all that was his for my family in our time of dire need. Another friend lent me her ear (on at least 3 occasions) while the rest of the world was asleep and brought solace to me from 9k miles away. Still other friends visit me at home when I'm lonely and do me favors without my having to ask. When they are so good to me, they are being so good to Christ. When I am kind to them (which is not nearly often enough), I am being kind to Christ too. We learn to love Him by loving our neighbors. I shall beg our Blessed Mother to implore her Son to bestow many graces upon the friends of mine who stepped up to the plate when I was beaten down. I love you guys, you know who you are!

If you don't believe that suffering has to be a part of the life of a Christian, you need to read your Bible. And go to Church. Go on! Git!
Also, every single Saint in existence has something fun to say about suffering. Here's something to try instead of scrolling through Instagram and Facebook: Google your favorite Saint followed by the word "suffering" and see what epic ageless wisdom they have to add to my sad, weakling rambles.

Never fear! Everlasting joy is the promise of our crucified Christ! So gird your loins and light your lamps to be prepared for the coming of the King!

The Resurrection of Christ by Tintoretto

Friday, December 23, 2016

Motherhood: The Paradox of Love

Having fun in an air ambulance!
This summer I got to work in a large hospital in Tulsa. I helped with the labor and delivery of at least ten beautiful babies. I watched a woman have a transient ischemic attack (a mini-stroke) right before my eyes. I helped restore electrolytes and administered medications to several individuals who were near death. I watched a man undergo a cardioversion (where they briefly stop the heart to restore it to a better rate and rhythm). I watched the trauma team work on a man who had been in a car accident, and I watched them try to stabilize a man who got struck on his motorcycle. I assisted a doctor in sewing the scalp back onto a little old lady’s skull.  I started IVs,  inserted catheters,  gave injections, and  fetched the “crash cart”. All of this while I was in the second trimester of pregnancy with my second born,  my son. My sight was set on being an emergency room nurse.

Now here I am. The most excitement I see in a day is when I tell my daughter to say “bye-bye!” as we flush her poop down the toilet. 

Oh, motherhood! This word means as many different things as there are women in the world. Right now, to me it means breastfeeding, burp cloths,  diapers, never-ending meal preparation, saying “get out of there” and “don’t touch that”, dishes, laundry, parks, toys, coffee and Netflix (in that order).

Yesterday someone made a comment suggesting that - unlike me - they didn't love motherhood. My gut reaction – which unfortunately made its way out of my mouth before I thought it through – was to exclaim “But I don't love being a mom!” A third onlooker, someone who is a close relation to me, looked at me as if I had lost my mind.  
What I meant by that comment is that I am not like some mothers, who thrive on the role of “stay-at-home mom”. The logistics of keeping the house somewhat livable, keeping food in the fridge and on the table, making sure everyone has clean clothes, and fighting the impossible battle to ensure everyone leaves the house with everything they need -this really isn’t my thing… but I bear it because that is now my state in life and, most importantly, because I love my family! 

I recognize the transitory nature of parenthood, unlike many people my age. In the throes of motherhood, it seems as if it will never end. When all of your friends on social media are your age, and all of them are raising families just like you are, it's hard to realize that one day every single one of us will no longer have our own babies to hold in our arms. Hopefully we'll just be busy spoiling grandchildren! One day, my youngest baby will be an adult and will move out of the house, and my husband and I will be left looking at each other saying “wow what just happened and why do you have grey hair?” 

I will not be a stay-at-home mom for the rest of my life. 

Yes, I have noticed that now I have two children the weeks are flying by. My son is already nearly three  months old! My daughter didn't become three months old nearly that quickly. 
Sometimes people look at me and ask if I’m planning to have more children. They don't understand the conflict I’ve endured in my mind and soul when I look at them so mildly and say “If it’s God’s will”. I can imagine that some think I am a mindless backwards dunce, stuck in the dark ages with no knowledge of how things work. They don't know how I’ve agonized over this question. 

I became a little bit anxious and obsessed about my predicament. I had been toodling along, not worried about another baby, when the possibility of becoming pregnant returned. The issue at that time was that I still had a year and a half of nursing school left. For a week or two, my husband and I agonized over what would be right for our family. I remember clearly the night we agreed to not even try to use NFP and to be entirely open to the will of God. After all, when I started the nursing program it had been with the condition of seeing "how it goes”. What a relief to get that weight off of my shoulders! I felt so much love and joy in feeling safe to trust the Lord. As it went, I became pregnant and my son was to be due during Fall midterms. Thank the Lord I didn't go back, because his jaundice alone kept him and I completely confined to the house for nearly two weeks straight after his birth. 

 Anytime I have a particularly stressful time with my baby and/or toddler, I shout at my husband “I’m done! I’m not having any more kids, forget it!” Yet sometimes I look at my precious little son, who is only now beginning to coo and giggle and show his happy little personality, and I yearn for another child who will bring such joy to our family.
I am, in the terms of Pascal, an "incomprehensible monster"; I am at once capable of extraordinary gestures of love, and alternatively, animalistic, irascible reactions. 

From what I’ve gathered from various online communities, the first reaction many people have when they come across a large family is often bewilderment and surprise. Many moms report having to respond to the “why so many?” question. As if they have an obligation to justify their normal human fertility. 
In a perfect world, there would be much rejoicing and happiness when a couple is blessed with numerous children.  We have been given the capacity to give the gift of existence to immortal beings. How is this not a treasure?
 
Next time somebody asks me how many children I plan on having, perhaps I will respond “As many as humanly possible”. I love my husband so much, and he loves me, and we both love babies and children – so why should I not give myself to him as a co-creator of life? We have already trusted
St. Gianna and her babies
God to this point, so why not give ourselves with reckless abandon from now on? He has never given us more than we can handle, despite how it feels sometimes. He always provides, and when he does it often comes with much joy even in suffering.

As it has probably been since Cain and Abel, the role of the mother is greatly undervalued. The mother’s primary task is to raise her children up in all aspects of their lives. She must first of all nourish their bodies, and as they grow she must educate them (or at least entrust the children to others for that end), and instill virtue and a strong morality into their psyches. Mothers – and fathers - are forming the next generation.   

The world, also known as secular society, also known as pretty much everybody, says that women ought to work just as men do. They ought to “go get em”, and pursue their own dreams. They ought not rely on a man for anything, and if they do they had better have some sort of useful skill as back up. Because, you know, men are highly unreliable and always leave and yours surely isn't any different. Oh, but if he is, then you need that skill anyway, “just in case”. 
Women who long to stay home with their children are pressured into pursuing some outside endeavor, and wind up torn between worlds. It has been demonstrated and studied: if you try to do too much at once, you often wind up with worse results for both endeavors. 

I have experienced this type of pressure myself. I’ve heard it from family and well-intentioned friends. I have even heard it from my nursing school instructors. Admittedly, there is a part of me that feels as though I’m throwing away my talents by no longer studying to receive my nursing degree. There is another part of me that feels as though not continuing the degree is the greatest gift I could give to my children. The thing that people do not realize is that I still have invaluable knowledge from making it this far into nursing school. The things I have learned will always be a tool that I can use in case my family or friends need it. Sure, I don't have an official qualification but I have at least 6 large nursing books at my disposal and a rough idea of how to read them!
St. John Paul II was hipster before it was cool
One day something may happen to my husband, who is to be our family's main provider. It's true, tragic things happen in life. If something like this were to occur, I would have to start working hard for strangers instead of my own flesh and blood. At this point in time, I am willing to take this risk in order to give my children as much time with their mother as possible. If I am required to take the reins, as it were, and become the breadwinner of our home, then so be it; I will do everything required to provide. We might not have enough money to give our children everything, but a lesson I learned when I was very young is that the gift of highest value is my heart. I should be, first and foremost, present to my children. They ought to be confident that no matter what happens in their lives, their mother will always be there to listen to them and help them in whatever way I possibly can. In addition, I want them to know their heavenly Mother and to trust that she makes up for all of my weaknesses and faults and is even more available to them than I am. Her prayers and love are perfected in her Christ-son and she is the Mediatrix, our intercessor, and we can never love her more than Jesus does. 
If my children live this truth, then they will never be lacking for anything.  

In raising people of virtue, I hope that prayers will be answered. Often it is our gift of self that changes people's lives, in my experience. My children will be there to offer some other child a shoulder to cry on. My children will be there to cheer a broken heart, to bring joy to the afflicted, and help the hurt to love again. My children will be an answer to prayers. That is what I wish.  

In a culture where marriage and family life is undervalued, hearts that were made in the image and likeness of God are used and broken. We are commodities in a materialistic world. This is the opposite of how God intended it to be! 
I say this because I have been through it, too, in previous relationships. I was used by boys, just as most other women my age have been. It took me a long time to trust again, to believe in what my husband was offering to me in our relationship before we got engaged. He offered me unconditional forgiveness for my past life, and he offered to love me – to truly truly love me, in the self-sacrificial sense of the word. This sort of vulnerable attitude in a relationship is a rare thing indeed, but it should not be! This is the bare minimum that Christ requires of his followers! Forgiveness even when it hurts is required. Love, especially when it hurts, is what makes us Christian. My children will know this, if only by the example of their father and I. In that way, they will learn to give themselves to others in a like manner and leave the world a softer  and more beautiful place. God willing, so be it. 

This is what being a mother means to me. 
This is the paradox of motherhood, which mirrors the many paradoxes of Christianity: the  more I give myself, the richer I become. The more I am confined to caregiving, the freer I am. 
The family is the Domestic Church, where love is born and perfected - if God is allowed to reign in each heart. 
St. Teresa of Calcutta

Now, finally, I feel fulfilled. All those years, I studied to earn a degree I may never use professionally. Really, let’s face it – it was just filler to keep me busy until I was ready spiritually and emotionally to become a wife and mother. I am grateful for my education. I believe that my perspective of life is richer because of many of the classes I took in college! Some of my favorites were about Native American philosophy, Islamic theology, Arthurian romance literature, and Italian literature and culture. Oh and let’s not forget the World of Dante – my favorite class of all! Yes I enjoy learning for the sake of learning. Hopefully I can pass this passion on to my children.
I feel as though my college years were not genuinely, truly  "me". Having become a mother, I have undergone a complete metamorphosis. I am the same, yet more completely who I was always meant to be.
The younger me was grasping for something. Looking back I think I wanted to show the world that I am smart because for so long I thought I was stupid. In high school I messed around and got poor grades. I needed to prove that, not only am I “smart”, but I am also smarter than all the other people I graduated with. See look, I went to a large well-known public university and got mostly As! Although I do love the process of college and  I enjoy learning new things, I was also seeking recognition and praise for my good grades. I realize now just how arrogant, prideful and ignorant I really was.  
When John the Baptist was asked who he was, he did not give a list of all his accomplishments and successes. He essentially responded "I am not God." When I tried to take that stance as a single woman, it was very difficult. Everything about our culture makes it tempting to say "Look at ME! I am special and unique, look what I have done! Look what I have! Look where I am and where I've been!" We're all trying not to drown in everyone else's glory... But the truth is, not a single one of us is God. Our efforts are in vain. I don't think contentment can be found until we are at peace with our smallness, recognizing that God's love for us is greater than any accomplishment we could ever achieve on our own. What better way to recognize our smallness than to be a mother? For our days are filled with countless tiny acts of love for our family. 

 Now that I am a mother, I can’t go out whenever I want. Sometimes I don’t leave our tiny house for a couple of days in a row. Our budget is measly since we have no income, so we can’t go eat out at restaurants like we did before we got married and when I was still working. It’s okay though! All those things are fleeting and although it was difficult to let them go at first, I no longer miss the luxuries of being “just me”. I find now that five minutes alone in the bathroom is too quiet and lonely! 

When I watch my daughter kiss my son’s soft baby hair and then delicately place his hat back on his head, I am filled with insurmountable gratitude. I know that I am blessed to have them in my life. I am honored to be the only person on earth to spend all of my days with them in the earliest days of their lives. I pity everyone else! I am so happy. I am the only mother to my children, no one else can ever take my place. How blessed I am! 

The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the love of a Mother

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Mystical Rosebud: For Sinners and Saints

      Most Catholics who read my blog will recognize the title, "Mystical Rosebud" as a reference to Mary. One of her venerable titles is the "Mystical Rose". I will be honest... I was not entirely sure what this title meant when I created my blog, but I have since done my due diligence to become educated about its significance. Rather than attempt to explain it all myself, I will share some of the more poignant pieces that I read (link here for full article) and then explain why I chose this title for my blog.

"Mary is the immaculate virgin and mother, mother of God, and of all mankind. She is the most noble and perfect of all mothers. Like a magnificent rose she shines in the splendor of her virtues, and is the perfect example for all mothers. Because her heart is fired with love for God and man, she is...likened to the flaming red rose."


 "The rose obtains its life through the stem, to which it is closely united. A rose broken from the stem will soon wither. So Mary received all her graces from Jesus, with whom she was united throughout he liveliest faith and ardent love."

St. Brigid's words stand out to me more than anything:
"The Virgin may suitably be called a blooming rose. Just as the gentle rose is placed among thorns, So this gentle Virgin was surrounded by sorrow."

By naming my blog "A Mystical Rosebud", there are several things I wish to convey to my readership.

First of all, I want people to realize that I - and everyone else for that matter - are on a journey while on this earth. All of us are meant to participate in the glory of God. That is what we were ultimately created for: to choose goodness and Love for ourselves and all individuals we encounter.

My state in life as a married woman is God's way of helping me learn how to love properly. In marriage, there are endless ways for me to improve my love and self-sacrifice for my husband. By learning to die to self out of love for him, I am both serving my husband and my Lord, as well as increasing my own spiritual growth. The Blessed Mother Mary is my greatest advocate and role model. She was without sin, and her "fiat" (her "be it done", her "yes") brought life and redemption to the world through her son Jesus.

In a similar way, married people can bring life to the world when they serve as conduits of the love of God in service to one another and their children. My goal is to become better and better at saying yes to God as best I can, like Mary did.
This relevant passage (from the previously linked article) helps illustrate my point:

(Bouquet from my own wedding)
"The open, blooming rose is an emblem of pure motherhood. Like the opened radiant rose the Christian mother is in the full vigor of life; her heart open with true love for her husband and children; and she unfolds her soul to heaven, so that through prayer she may receive the needed assistance for herself and hers. Through her good example in Christian virtues she spreads around her the fragrance of a God-pleasing life, and encourages those who associate with her to imitate her virtues."

   By using the article "A" in the title, I hope you are spurred to think about your own potential. I am not the only mystical rosebud. There are millions of people in this world who try their best to do good every single day. There are billions of saints in the making. You are one of them! You, yes you, are meant to have a personal relationship with the One, eternal unchanging God of Love. He is subtle. He will not force himself on you. You must open your heart to Him before change will happen in your life.

God has promised crowns of glory for those who follow him to the cross.

“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those who love him,”
-1 Corinthians 2:9
With a bit of perseverance, we can become fully blossomed roses, in the name of Christ!

"Mystical" is a reminder of the spiritual side of life, the supernatural ("above nature") aspect of the human experience. Too often we find ourselves swept up in everyday life and it is difficult, if not impossible, to lift our gazes above the here-and-now to contemplate the eternal.

My blog is, for me, a way to develop my musings for my own spiritual growth. I've made it public because I recognize that perhaps others may benefit from the little gifts of insight that are inspired in me.
I am not so smart. I just try to be open to whatever it is that God wants me to understand. If truth benefits me, then surely I should share it so that it might benefit my readers too.

Let me tell you about a funny coincidence theme-thingy in my life (or for a better term, a "God-incidence", since I believe everything happens for a reason). 

The first church I attended after years of absence is a diocesan shrine to St. Thérèse of Lisieux. The church itself and the grounds which it is situated on are absolutely lovely - the hidden gem of the small town of Collinsville, Oklahoma. The place is fitting for the Saint of the Little Way. It is quiet and unassuming, yet beautiful and poetic just like St. Thérèse. This is ultimately the place I would like to be laid to rest.

During my formation in the faith, I found myself at this church almost daily. Even in the midst of going to school and work full time, I was never too overwhelmed or exhausted to find myself there on a weekday after a long shift as a certified nursing assistant. 

For all my love of St. Thérèse, I did not know anything about her apart from a few quotes. I had not yet read her autobiography, "Story of a Soul". And still, I know she interceded on my behalf.
I was supposed to be working only part time or PRN at the assisted living community. However, due to a shortage of staff I often found myself covering lots of shifts and even working overtime occasionally.

I asked God, "how can I make it through this?" I was exhausted and often angry, being called in to work at the last minute when I had a lot of homework or an exam to study for. Even so, I knew it was an opportunity for me to take up my cross. I was acutely aware of my own mortality and of the importance of daily choices. I prayed about how to handle my situation. I knew I could either let the devil take me down and harbor resentment while just ticking the boxes at work... Or I could offer up my suffering for the souls in purgatory or for some other intention that I felt needed prayer.

 I realized that I don't have to be the best in order to show the Love of God to the world. I don't have to go on mission trips, or be a nun, or anything extreme like that. I simply have to live according to the law of Love. Working as a CNA, I saw that the value of my job resided in its capacity to allow me to show that type of love to my under-appreciated elderly residents. A smile is enough for them! How lazy I am! But still, this is the work of Christ. 

No good deed is too small. Little did I know, St. Thérèse already came up with the "little way". 
She has undoubtedly been praying for me from her esteemed place in heaven! After all, she did say before she died that she would, "...spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses."

Another whisper from heaven came to me and my husband on our honeymoon.
We were travelling back to San Antonio from Six Flags and on the way we saw a sign that said "The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower". Having a devotion to St. Thérèse, of course it was a divergence we were more than willing to take. 
We were stunned at the beauty of the cathedral. It was so quiet and unassuming, but the interior was magnificent and awe-inspiring. 
To the left of the altar, in a side chapel, was a glorious memorial to St. Thérèse. I had seen pictures of it before - who would have guessed that we happened upon it!
Here is my own picture:
    

We prayed for awhile, and we were actually there in time for Mass! 
Afterwards, a nice man approached us and told us that they even had a relic of St. Thérèse that we could view. He insisted that if we each were to touch our wedding rings to her bone relic, that our marriage would be graced with many blessings. 
Therefore, we followed his suggestion by praying for the intercession of the Little Flower. We touched our rings to the relic and kissed it, thanking God for his great love.

Following that moving experience, we were also permitted to view an original painting, created by St. Thérèse's sister, Celine (Sr. Genevieve of the Holy Face). 


I have always interpreted that funny honeymoon happenstance to be a sign from beyond that I am being looked after, prayed for, and guided.
Right now I am only a rosebud. I trust, however, that the grace of Christ will help lead me to live a more holy life and one day, after I die I will be a Saint.

It's a bold claim in this age, but I believe that is due to the misconception that Saints were only made "back in the day". As if it is some sort of medieval honor that was granted only to people who would not burn (St. Lucy, St. Agnes, St. Lawrence) , or who levitated during prayer (St. Joseph of Cupertino, St. Gerard Majella, St. Gemma Galgani).
This is not the case. Saints are people who have died and entered heaven. There are more Saints than the Church could ever keep tabs on, because most people endure the cleansing fires of Purgatory before entering heaven, which means they were not perfect on earth but the mercy of Christ purified them after death. If you don't understand Purgatory or you're skeptical about it, I suggest you have a read through this article.

God can make Saints out of the worst sorts. St. Augustine comes to mind. "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet" he famously stated in his Confessions.

Another "Blessed" (someone who is on the path to official Sainthood but not quite there yet) who comes to mind is Bl. Bartolo Longo. He was an Italian lawyer and former Satanic priest. His story is inspiring, his past and conversion not altogether very different from my own, and you can read a summary of it here.

I trust in the mercy of God to make Saints of anyone who does good deeds with Love, in the name of Christ.