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.



Telling God "yes" when you really mean "no"

I bet you’ve been there before. Maybe you’re there now…staring down some big thing that’s being asked of you, feeling a gentle nudge in your spirit to step forward into something scary and unknown.

Or maybe God doesn’t do nudges with you. Maybe God repeatedly hits you over the head with things until you agree to them.

Either way, have you been in that place where you stand in front of the thing you don’t want to do, and you take a deep breath, and you fully intend to say “no, God, not this time…” but “yes” comes out instead?

Or have you gathered all of your courage up and faced the thing you want most to avoid, squared your shoulders, opened your mouth, and all you could manage was a tiny, squeaky “ok, I’ll try” ?

The thing is? There’s grace for those kinds of yesses, too. Not all of us are going to break into song after we get some angelic message notifying us of what’s ahead. Not all of us are going to confidently reply, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

But God knows that.

God can work through the shakiest yes. Even a tiny, hesitant whispered yes is enough for Him. He can take it and run with it and work mighty things through it. Through you. Because when you say “yes,” no matter how small a yes it is, you become His partner- His co-creator. You become part of the way God is working in the world.

We don’t have any guarantee that Mary’s voice was strong and clear as she gave her assent to the angel. Maybe her voice quavered. Maybe her knees shook. Maybe her hands felt sweaty or her head light. We don’t know how much she had to set aside to tell God yes. What we do know is that she did it.

And that’s what it comes down to. It isn’t about how we feel. We’re human, and we are not perfectly in tune with the will of God every day. But God knows that! Who knows it better than God? He created us, we let Him down, and He still gives us chances to be part of His story. He still welcomes our participation in showering love on the world. He still wants us to be in this with him.

All we need to say is “yes.”
Even if our voices shake.

grace of yes, overcommitment, yes

When yes is no and no is yes

I chronically overpromise.

Maybe it’s the dark side of being an optimist. I always hope to have more time, more energy, more resources than I actually end up having. I want to do more, be more, and create more. I feel I have a lot to give, so I want to give it. Then an opportunity comes up that seems perfect for me, I say “Yes, I’d love to!” and end up running around like the proverbial chicken trying to find my keys and one of my kids’ shoes and mittens that match for everyone on the coldest day of the year.

(I know, the chicken was looking for his head. The thing is, it’s a lot harder to find keys, mittens, etc. if you also can’t find your own head. And that’s how I felt today.)

Do you ever have days where the ordinary everyday stuff seems too much to handle? When deciding what to have for breakfast and getting it on the table is going to completely overtake you? Or when putting that load of laundry in and starting the washer is such a monumental task that you might just fall in the washer along with the clothes and end up drowning during the rinse cycle? I’m not sure what it was today…everything just seemed hard. During the throes of lunch and nap and accompanying tantrums from overtired kids, I realized I’d forgotten last night to soak the beans for our dinner tonight. The idea of having to do the “quick soak” method and set them on the stove to simmer before I could lie down for a rest was so overwhelming that I texted my husband and asked him to bring home frozen pizza for dinner.

Sometimes, I think overcommitment is almost expected of us. Our priest even talked about it this week in his homily. If you do well with the obligations you already have, people will ask you to do more things. You can sing in the choir? Great, we’ll ask you to be a lector. You used to teach preschool? Oh, wonderful, we’d love to have you be a scout troop leader! I look around and see I’m far from the only one doing so many things and being so overextended that I can barely scrape myself off the couch at the end of the night to go to bed.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we put so much into our lives that we exhaust ourselves trying to keep up? If we run ourselves completely ragged doing all these good and worthy and important tasks, do we even have room to remember the reason we’re doing these things in the first place?

Is there ever a time when saying “no” to commitments means saying “yes” to more space for God?

After I took a nap with the baby this afternoon, I still felt overwhelmed. Responsible Me said I should put Felix in his swing, turn on some music, and tackle the chores I hadn’t finished this morning. I was dragging myself and the baby swing into the kitchen when Nora appeared at my side, eyes big.

“Do you know what is a really good snack?” she said, a smile forming in the left-hand corner of her mouth. “Something flat and kind of soft but kind of crunchy. That involves oatmeal. And chocolate chips.”

“You’re asking me to make cookies?” I sighed.

She wrapped her arms around my leg and squeezed me. “No. I want to help you make some cookies.”

And you know what? I said Yes. Forget the chores. Forget the fact that I haven’t posted on my blog in a month and that the sidebar still excludes the existence of my now three and a half month old son. Forget the hats that haven’t been knitted even though it’s 24 degrees today and the meals that haven’t been planned and the floor that really needs to be mopped. Let’s go make some cookies.

So we did.

And while God wasn’t telling me explicitly to go bake cookies today, I think He’d be glad I did.

Let’s not get so busy with all the have-to-dos, even the really good, worthy, well-intentioned ones, that we forget to make room for the spontaneous encounters and experiences that really make life worth living.

Like warm cookies with chocolate chips eaten with smiling three-year-olds.

And licking the spoon…because I said “yes” to that, as well.

Today is the big release day for Lisa Hendey’s new book, The Grace of Yes. It’s all about cultivating the virtues that help us to say “yes” to God in our lives. I’m only halfway through the book, but I’m loving it so far. Lisa weaves her personal story with wise advice. Reading her book feels like having coffee and seeking counsel from a warm, faithful friend who shares from her own experience without telling me what to do. You can check out The Grace of Yes: Eight Virtues for Generous Living on…and be sure to look for all the stories people are sharing on social media  today with the hashtag #GraceofYesDay.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. A small portion of your purchase made through those links supports Surviving Our Blessings at no cost to you. Thanks for your support.

everyday adventures, parenting, yes

Looking for the Northern Lights

It’s not always as much fun being grown up as I thought it would be.

Actually, there are times when being a grownup is not fun at all. Grownups have to get up when we’d rather sleep, get dressed and go out when we’d rather stay home, talk to people we don’t really like, and do jobs that aren’t always interesting. Then there’s all the really unpleasant stuff, like doing our taxes and cleaning up vomit and watching our children get shots at the doctor’s office and (horrors) anything that involves the DMV.

Oh, and we are in charge.

Isn’t that a little scary? We aren’t all that different from the kids we are parenting. How did we get here? How are we The Deciders? We are planning dinner, setting bedtime and electing the President. Sometimes being the one to make all the decisions makes me feel like having a thirty-something tantrum.

Somewhere along the way, I have forgotten that being a grownup is all about choices. We are freer than we think, surrounded by chances to do things we only dreamed of as kids. We could seize these chances: to stay up late and watch movies and eat ice cream in our beds, to have pizza for breakfast, to wear our pajamas all day, to eat our dessert before we eat our green beans. Who would stop us?

We tell ourselves that we are stuck, that we have to do this or that, that we have no choices, but it’s a lie. We always have choices, even about all the less pleasant stuff. (If we make strings of bad choices, there will be consequences, of course…but the choices are still ours to make.)

Granted, most of the decisions we make are responsible and reasonable. We know the best things to do for ourselves and our families. Every now and then, though, we should throw our grownup caution aside to do something totally spontaneous and impractical…just because we can.

On Saturday night, we had just this kind of opportunity. There was a slim chance that the aurora borealis might be visible in our area due to a large amount of solar activity. There were lots of reasons not to go chasing after something we might not even be able to see: it doesn’t get dark until well after bedtime, we’d need to get up early for church on Sunday morning, dinner would have to be rushed (probably pizza) and we wouldn’t have time to get it all cleaned up before we needed to bathe everyone and head out to the car. It seemed like a lot of trouble.

It also seemed kind of awesome.
We decided to seize the moment.

Velociraptor, in his “nightgown,” ready to ride.

So given the chance, yes– you should definitely put your kids in their pajamas and pile them into the van and go in search of the aurora borealis. Even if there is only a slim chance that you might see them, you should still do it. The stars will be out, and you can look for Orion and talk about the 12 labors of Hercules and wonder if that bright planet-looking thing near the moon is actually Jupiter. You can stop at 7-11 on the way and get everybody a snack, even though you just had dinner and no one really needs to eat. You can see lots of deer from your windows as you drive up the mountain and wonder why some groups of animals are called flocks while others are called herds. You can listen to songs from the 1950s and talk about whether the Drifters were trying to cross over with “Under the Boardwalk.” You can talk about the differences between Velociraptor and Deinonychus and wonder which one would win in a race…and you can discuss whether either of them could outrun the fastest animal on earth today (and then debate what that animal might be). You can squint at the horizon and wonder whether the glow you see is moving, whether it is always that bright, whether you would be able to see the light pollution from Washington, D.C. out this far, whether it might just be the elusive aurora you’ve been seeking. You can find yourself in a complicated discussion of atonement theology with your precocious 4 year old, who wants to discuss how the stories of the Hebrew people are related (or not) to Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples and how God could be in a bush that is on fire without ever burning up and what kind of snake it was that Moses’ rod became when he threw it down on the ground. You can finally decide that the northern lights are just not going to be visible this far south and that (since it’s 3 hours past bedtime) it’s time to be a responsible grownup and take everyone home to bed.

So yes. You should go look for the northern lights, even if you’re not going to find them. You should go, because the adventure of looking for them is what you’re really after, anyway…and it’s what everyone will remember in the end. You should go because we all have choices to make. And making the choice to do something spontaneous, something silly, something fun should be as much a part of being a grownup as all the other boring, routine stuff we make choices about every day.

no, parenting, yes

The "Yes" of least resistance

I just did that thing where you stand in front of the open freezer with a carton of ice cream and a spoon, intending to just get one spoonful, but you either get greedy or the spoon is smaller than you thought and you scoop out too much and before you can grab it with your tongue some of it falls off and hits the kitchen floor.

And then you feel silly, because now the floor is sticky, and really, you’re a grownup, and why didn’t you just get a bowl?

The Old (Pre-Motherhood) Me did not sneak ice cream in front of the freezer. If she wanted ice cream, she just got some and ate it.

The Current (Good Mother) Me knows that if her preschooler sees her eating ice cream, he will want some, too, and this is not an appropriate time for him to eat ice cream.

There’s a Me that’s on the rise, though. One who wants to chill out a little bit. This Me-On-The-Rise kind of figures, “Who cares? Let him have ice cream. Then you can eat yours in peace. If he shouldn’t be eating it now, then neither should you!”

I’m not sure where she came from, but she makes more and more sense to me these days.

Upon reflection, I have a lot of arbitrary rules about things.

Does it actually hurt the couch cushions if you jump on them?
Why can’t he eat grass if he wants to see what it tastes like?
Would it be a crisis if he brought sticks inside?
Is it that big of a deal if he picks his nose and eats his boogers?

(If he’s still doing that when he starts dating, some girl will probably take care of that one, right?)

How many times a day am I really going to tell him “No, Stop, Don’t, That’s Enough” ?

I loved this “day in the life” post by Haley over at Carrots for Michaelmas. Just reading about how her days go makes me feel so much better, like I’m not alone in the universe struggling through the trials and tribulations of four-years-old-going-on-fourteen with my hands full of double baby, juggling multiple cups of coffee to make up for the sleep I’m not getting. Thanks, thanks, Haley, for sharing how little sleep you got that week. Somehow, it helps.
Maybe I have spent too much valuable time and energy trying to convince SuperSam that it would be better to change out of “jammies” for going out in public. One day recently, he went to the library in jammies, a superhero cape and rainboots. I was just too tired to argue that day.

I have since decided that it might not matter anyway.

I say “no” more than I really need to.

Anybody else ever feel that way? Does it matter if my kid wears a cape and rainboots? Pajamas, even? Do I care if anyone objects to that?

The Me-On-The-Rise says Probably Not. If no one is going to be hurt and it gets us out of the house more quickly, then it’s probably not worth arguing with him. There are plenty of actual things to say “no” to every day. I don’t need to list them for you if you have been reading this blog.

  • Going fishing in the aquarium? (Nope, not okay.)
  • Pretending to ride your baby sister like a horse? (No way.)
  • Putting that extension cord in your mouth because you’re pretending it’s your astronaut oxygen tank? (Absolutely not!) 
  • Stacking your dresser drawers on the bed, piling books on top of them and scaling the whole mountain in an attempt to duct tape yourself to the ceiling? (What?? NO!!)
  • Drawing on yourself with a magic marker and calling it a tattoo? (Um, okay. That’s fine.)

You might call this avoiding a tantrum. You might even call it something worse than that (though probably just under your breath, in that kind of quiet judgy way we have of talking about each other when we think we observe poor parenting).

I think it’s more like “I’m just not willing to die on that hill” parenting.

The Play at Home Moms have a collection of photos on their Facebook page called The Yes Album…a kind of chronicle of all these situations in which they could have said “no” to their children but said “yes” instead. Most of theirs are situations that some parents might consider off-limits or even dangerous. Of course, the Play at Home Moms aren’t putting their kids in danger…they just know that with proper supervision, children can do amazing things and have amazing experiences, and that sometimes it pays to say “yes” when you feel like saying “no.”

Sometimes, I think my “no” is more about convenience for me than about creating amazing experiences for my children.

You know what? That’s okay, too.

There are days I’m barely functional over here, up to my neck in four-and-under and looking for a way to get from point A to point B with the least possible resistance. On those days, I say my share of “no,” maybe even at times that I could really say “yes.”

I say “no” just to make life easier for me.

Honestly, if I can say “no” to make things easier on myself, can’t I say “yes” for the same reason?

Me-On-The-Rise says, “Yep.”

If you see us at Wal-mart and my kid is in pajamas and a space helmet at noon, you’ll know that this is exactly what happened.

And hey, there are dozens of people at Wal-mart dressed a lot worse than that.