liturgical year, reflection, yes

on the Annunciation

Artwork from pen&paint via Catholic Family Crate. Icon from the inimitable Nancy O (emmanuel_studio on Instagram)

There’s a certain sameness to days right now that has me constantly checking the calendar or my phone or my watch to remind myself what day it is. I’ve been as much as two days off, even during the same day…the proverbial woman/mom/grad student who checks the calendar for the date and immediately forgets what day it is.

(If there’s not a proverb about that person, there should be.)

I’ve written so many words here about the ordinariness of my life and the beauty I see in it. Sometimes I have to look really hard into the corners to find that beauty, but I can always find it if I look hard enough. Lately, though, things seem to be spreading out into a shallow grey puddle…the kind of grey that reflects a grey sky and becomes even more grey because of it. The things that made Thursday, Thursday or Sunday, Sunday are no longer there. It all feels like the same day to me.

This isn’t necessarily alarming yet, although it could be if it goes on for too long. So I’m doing the things I know will help me keep moving forward. I’m going to bed on time. I’m getting up on time. I’m praying the Liturgy of the Hours (which helps some with distinguishing the days, since I have to find the right pages). I’m upping my water intake. I’m taking a walk outside once a day, no matter the weather. I’m listening to lots of music. I’m trying to focus on what I have, on the people in front of me, instead of what I’ve lost and the people I can’t see right now.

The irony of becoming a stay-at-home online student of theology again after having moved across the country to study in person is probably worth its own blog post. In a short time, I’ve found a little community of kindred spirits at the School of Theology, lingering over lunch and having Big Conversations about Important Things, delighting in shared discovery and mutual growth and the thrill of accompanying each other as we brush up against the mysteries of the universe.

Now, my communicating with these same amazing people has collapsed to text-length phrases punctuated by emojis, and I can’t find the exact circular yellow facial expression I need to convey how I feel about it. After half a semester of feeling more like myself than I have in a long time (maybe ever), I’m back to typing out responses in boxes to online discussion posts at my kitchen table while my kids throw their opposing armies at each other in a RISK-related squabble over whether that die was a three or a six when it landed.

It could feel like a huge mistake. What was I thinking, moving everyone out here away from our families and support system, away from our community and our friends and “my” organ and the familiar mountains and running trails I loved? No, I couldn’t have predicted a pandemic. But what kind of responsible adult changes everything about her life to pursue a long-deferred dream over a thousand miles from home?

This one does, apparently.

But how can I complain about this? This is my kitchen table, and we have a window-filled kitchen to sit in. I’m still studying the thing that makes my heart beat faster. George is working from home, which he couldn’t have done before. This house even has a downstairs, so the fallout from the RISK-related conflict is more contained than it would have been in Virginia.

I’m not here because I made One Spectacularly Bad Decision. I’m here because we said “yes,” not one time or three times, but hundreds of little times that led us down this path.

During Lent, George and I have been reading a Psalm each day and using it for lectio divina, a contemplative practice of praying with the text by reading the words slowly and intentionally to see what emerges. Today, my Psalm was the twenty-third. I actually rolled my eyes. Blah, blah, blah – still waters, cup runneth over, we’ve heard all of this before.

The thing about the Psalms, though, is that they are a living conversation with the Divine. The Psalmist speaks to God, and God speaks back. And when I read those Psalms from my heart, I make their words my own, and God speaks back to me, too.

Today, the twenty-third Psalm is all about right paths for me.

Today, I’m choosing to see that all those little yeses of the last ten or twenty years that led to the bigger yeses of the last year and a half were not a mistake. God is leading me in right paths. He has brought us this far. He will not abandon us.

That’s the miracle of the Incarnation at work in my little life today. God entered the world––a world that was not less messed up than our own, a world full of suffering and struggle and boredom and hunger and injustice and sorrow. God showed up there in human skin––not to wave a magic wand and make all the problems go away, but to be there with us in the middle of them.

This is the God we believe in––the One who occupies the same space we do just because He wants to be with us. The One who is here whether we choose to acknowledge that presence or not. Not one who is aloof, or judging our behavior, or standing to the side waiting to see what we’re going to do with this mess we’re in…but one who waded down into it on purpose to be where we are.

It’s like the opposite of social distancing, really.

So as we figure out how to be community for each other in this complicated and confusing time when we can’t sit around the same table and ponder the mysteries of the universe, I’m feeling thankful for this one Big Mystery made known in the angel’s message to Mary so long ago.

God is with us. And we really need Him right now.

I can’t be anything but grateful.


grief, quilts of valor, reflection

Stitching in honor of sacrifice

This may not have been the best week to decide to do a blog post every day, since it is also the week I am stitching for my life to finish my square for the Quilts of Valor project.

Last month, Jenna from Call Her Happy posted a vlog all about hand embroidery. It started a wave of interest with other bloggers. In my typical “sure, I’d love to take on something else” style, I thought, “Hey, that looks fun! I’d like a cool gallon-size ziplock bag full of needles and thread to call my own. And why don’t I know how to embroider? I should learn.” Then Cari from Clan Donaldson took things a step further by introducing the embroidery-along Quilts of Valor project. In no time, a group of bloggers and otherwise crafty people had joined together to embroider squares for a quilt for this worthy organization. Cari’s mom will put the quilt together, and we will send it off with gratitude for one veteran’s service and sacrifices on our behalf.
When I think about how each veteran has a story- a home, a family, a background full of childhood memories, it isn’t hard to imagine what he or she might have given up to serve in the defense of our country. I wish it was harder for me to imagine. My father, a pilot in the US Air Force, made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty 29 years ago this past Tuesday. It’s hard to believe it has been that long. I can still remember the way his flight suit smelled and the creased black leather of his boots as he polished them.

This year, marking the anniversary of his death has been especially tough for me. I was five when he died, and my own son is five now. When I look at Sam and think what it would mean now for him to lose a parent, my sadness for five-year-old me hits me hard. My dad gave up the chance to see us grow up, to walk us down the aisle at our weddings, to meet his grandchildren this side of heaven.

The rest of us gave up him. 

Mostly, I wish he hadn’t done it. I admire his courage, his ideals and his willingness to serve, but I’d still rather have him here.

My sister and I try every year to do something to observe the anniversary. Usually I plant something or start seeds for the garden. This week, my Tuesday was busy caring for my three little ones, and I decided to put off the official act of remembering until the weekend coming up. 
It didn’t hit me until tonight that my last-minute embroidery sessions were a perfect act of memory already.
Being able to work on this square for Quilts of Valor this week feels especially appropriate. Even though I haven’t embroidered before, I feel glad to be able to offer this small gesture on behalf of one of our country’s heroes…and in memory of my one of my own heroes.
May God be with the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to serve in our country’s military, and may God be especially close to their families. We know your sacrifices, and we don’t take them for granted.
reflection, rejoice, word of the year

I got smacked in the face by a word.

I was completely determined NOT to follow the crowd this year and choose a Word of the Year.

Instead of making new year’s resolutions, All The Cool People were choosing a word of the year. Sometimes they even prayed about their word, asking God to lead them to just the right one. They shared their words on their blogs, often with lovely photos of their word written artistically on a chalkboard or carefully lettered on a canvas. They were generally positive, encouraging and inspiring about the whole process.

Somehow, I just wasn’t feeling inspired.

I did it last year. I had a word. I even wrote about it for someone else’s blog. I know it’s a thing. I see the benefits.

This year, though, I just couldn’t get into it.

Sometimes, getting through the day-to-day, nitty-gritty details of life like cleaning toilets and planning meals takes enough energy. Who has time to choose a word?

(I know. Lots of you did. I just kind of opted out.)

Last weekend, I found myself without my children, alone with my husband, walking slowly through Carytown in Richmond and going into vintage shops. It felt unhurried, relaxed, and amazingly easy. I couldn’t believe how much joy I felt simply from being able to look at things without hurrying, without someone tugging on my clothes or calling my name or crying that he or she had been hit in the head.

While waiting for a call that our table was ready for lunch at a restaurant up the street, we wandered into an antique shop that specializes in jewelry. George had bought me an antique rosary there many years ago, and I’d always wanted to go visit the shop myself. We browsed around a while and came to a case with a bowl full of old silver charms.

I still have (and wear) my old silver charm bracelet. My grandmother gave it to me for Christmas when I was in sixth grade. At the time, it had a snowman and a tiny piano dangling from it. I’ve continued to add charms to it. Every time we take a trip or hit a major milestone, I put something on the bracelet. My mom gave me a tiny silver wedding cake when I got married. I added a little turtle when we visited Hawaii, a pair of baby shoes after each of my children was born, a running shoe after my first marathon. I often wear the bracelet to Mass, because it’s the perfect thing to keep a small child quietly entertained in a pinch. They all love to turn it slowly around and look for their favorites: the dinosaur, the double-decker bus, the Squirrel Nutkin.

Other people’s charms fascinate me. They’re like tiny windows into people’s lives, and I love looking at them. Staring through the glass case at the pile of antique charms, I saw the state of Iowa, a boy’s silhouette with the name “Thane” on it, a tiny baby rattle. Then I noticed a flat, silver disk with a single word engraved on it:


Let us rejoice.

George is the Latin scholar in our home, but from SuperSam’s jump into studying Latin this year, I’ve grown to really appreciate the way that endings shape the words’ meanings in that language. It didn’t say “Gaude!” or “Gaudete!” – either of which would have made more liturgical sense, either of which would have been more commanding.


Let us rejoice.

It felt gentler, somehow, a call to something forgotten, a reminder that we do, in fact, rejoice. Sometimes, when things are rough and we’re distracted and overwhelmed and struggling, we forget…but somewhere, deep down, the desire is there. The impulse, rooted in our very being, is to rejoice, even when we can’t think of a single good reason to do it.


Let us rejoice.

We wandered to the back of the store, where we snickered at some porcelain Kewpie dolls and exchanged glances about an icon of the Infant Jesus of Prague that was the very definition of kitsch. We saw some lovely jeweled pins and an entire case of clip-on earrings like my Nana always used to wear. In my mind, though, I kept on seeing the simple engraved text, and I knew I needed the charm on my bracelet and the word in my heart.


Let us rejoice.

When I forget there is a way forward, I’ll remember the word. On the days when I have to reheat my coffee five times before I get to drink it, I’ll remember the word. At times when it seems like nothing is going right and it’s never going to get any better, this is the word that will come to mind.


Let us rejoice, even the most stubborn among us, because we’re made to do just that.

(Sometimes it just takes a while to realize it.)

This is Day 2 of the 7 Posts in 7 Days challenge hosted by Jen at Conversion Diary. To see the other blogs participating, go here. You might find some new favorites.

hand me downs, parenting, reflection

Thoughts on hand-me-downs and the passing of time

This weekend, my twin girls will be two years old. Not two years old adjusted for their arrival date, which was about three and a half weeks early, but two years old…with all the glories and frustrations that come along with that milestone.

They talk in sentences now, copying each other, trying to outdo each other with their words just as they do with their climbing, their swinging, their jumping. They try to be the first to make their brother laugh. They fight with teeth and nails over the dinosaur plate at dinner and the whale bib at snack time. Identical toys don’t pacify them- they both want the same one at the same time. Tears and screams and pushes and shoves dominate our days.

A few weeks from now, their big brother will turn five. Five years old…a big kid. He’s no toddler any more. He’s the one refereeing his sisters, setting the timer on the microwave to help them with their disputes over toys. He reads to them and pours his own milk from a small glass pitcher. He washes his hands now without being told.

This is the part where I’m supposed to say that it’s going by so fast, that I can’t believe they are this old, that I don’t know how it happened so quickly…but I’m not going to say that.

I don’t think it is going by fast.

It seems to be taking exactly the right amount of time.

Some days are longer than others, of course, but I always knew I’d be the kind of parent who would have more and more fun as the days and months and years went on. I enjoyed my children as babies, but they just get more interesting as they grow. They can play games. They can make jokes. They can sing and request songs they like (over and over and over again). They can say, “I love you, Mama.” They can express empathy to each other and help unload the dishwasher. They can sit unsupported in the bathtub.

SuperSam, in particular, is amazing to me. He dresses himself and reads his own books and leads his sisters in long games of pretending they are baby otters trying to save the universe from flying crocodiles. He thinks critically about things and asks big questions, some of which I defer to his dad with his degree in philosophy. He’s fascinating and sometimes maddening.

It’s getting better all the time.

No, it doesn’t seem to me that I blinked and suddenly they were nearly two and nearly five. It seems to me that we laid the bricks of the path that brought us here paintstakingly, one by one, bending low over our work, making our way an inch at a time until our backs ached and our fingers were raw from scraping over the rough parts. Parenting little kids is difficult, messy work. When people tell me it flies by or that I should appreciate every single blessed little moment, I think they’ve forgotten what it really feels like. 

What it feels like is a long, slow, uphill climb, where you only get tiny glimpses of the summit every now and then. Most of the time, I feel like we can’t see the mountain for the trees.

I can, however, see the mountain of hand-me-downs, because it is always in front of me.

We are one of the younger families in our circle, so we are at the end of the hand-me-down line. I’ve been so grateful for the big bags of clothing that show up periodically, things I sort through and repair and put into bins for the future. We stack them in the shed out back: Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015…and then the ones I can barely imagine them wearing, put away in the bins marked Big Kid Clothes and Shoes to be saved for some far-off time.

When I look at the stacks of clothes SuperSam will wear next year, the year after, even the one after that…the size 7 jeans and size 8-10 coat and size 9 bathing suits, I can’t believe he will ever be that big. The pant legs are so long…the arms that will fill those sleeves seem double his current wingspan. How will his feet ever take up enough space to occupy those shoes?

This has always been true for me, even back at the very beginning, with the piles of brand new, tags-still-on baby clothes that I lovingly stacked in empty drawers as we waited for Sam’s arrival. Even the newborn sizes seemed hard to imagine on an actual baby (was he really going to be that big just after birth?), and when I held up the 6 month or 12-18 month sleepers, I couldn’t comprehend how he’d ever be large enough to wear them.

When I sort his outgrown things to pass them down, it’s different. I don’t feel especially awed at how big he is now or at how much he’s grown. Somehow, he still seems to be the size he once was. I hold up onesies, little footed jammies, tiny socks, and I clearly remember his squishiness, his scrunched up face laughing, the way he fit perfectly into the curve of my left arm when I balanced him on my hip. He was mine then- I knew him. I pressed my nose into the side of his cheek and made a buzzing sound that always made him giggle. 

He has always been the right size, in the right time.

Now, he somehow seems to be all of his former sizes at once.

The side of his cheek still feels the same against my nose. The top of his leg is still the most reliably ticklish place on his whole body, and squeezing it still sends him into fits of giggles and squeals, just as it always has. Yellow is still his favorite color, and he still always chooses the most wildly patterned socks available.

But he’s even more himself now than he has ever been. He accompanies his perpetual ping-pong-ball motion with beatbox-style drumbeats as he bounces through life. He notices every detail of everything, yet forgets to answer when we ask him a question if he’s lost in thought about something else. He always, always has a book (or three) in his bed or in his car seat. He loves puns, outer space, dinosaurs, undersea creatures, math and science and music and poetry and knowledge for its own sake. He’s endlessly curious, exhilarating and exhausting.

I know him still, even better than I did back when he was a squishable gigglebox in a onesie…and the best part is that there is always more to know. With every year that passes, he’s more complex, more fascinating, and more infuriating.

It’s not going too fast. It is unfolding at precisely the rate it is meant to unfold, and I’m along for the ride.

I’m just running out of room to keep the clothes. And it is hard to get rid of them, because they still seem to be his things. They fit a version of him that’s been swallowed up inside the increasingly long-legged, soccer-playing, violin-toting, pencil-chewing almost five-year-old. Every previous version of him is still in there someplace.

So as I sort the big clothes for Future SuperSam, I’m hanging onto a few of his smaller things. Maybe I’m not big on the overly sentimental practice of talking about how fast time is flying by, but looking at the tiny overalls he once wore does bring a certain amount of perspective…and that’s almost always a good thing.