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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Am I empty?

Today, I received an email from the editor of an upcoming book that I contributed to. The email contained the title of the book: Empty. I hadn't known the title until then.

I bristled.

It's an appropriate title for a book of Christian reflections on infertility and miscarriage, I'm sure.

Rejected as a mother, by God.
I felt 24 again.  The same self-talk and shame rolled back into my being.  Empty.  Of course, my reaction to the title was not really about the title.  It's a spectacularly appropriate and effective title. In truth, my reaction was about my own experiences and interpretations of my situation.  This project has not been an easy one for me.  Participation has required me to pry open wounds that I have covered over and attempted to forget.

I ignored the email for a few hours.  There were meetings to be held that saved me from dealing with the word -- educational plan meetings with mothers overflowing with children...6 children to be exact, and then 8, respectively.  Meetings with worthy women.  Women who measured up.  Women with mother-approval from God.  I realized as I pondered this, that I still feel like I got away with something by conceiving a child.  I realized that I still feel like I am going to get caught, and that, then, she will be taken from me.

Each mother was tired.  As the first struggled with her blessed horde, I wondered if she knew.  Did she know how others yearn for a child as they endure the aching pain of a hollow womb?  Probably not, but even if she did, she wasn't thinking of it then.  She was too busy trying to get her oldest to stop kicking the principal's cherry wood file cabinet.  The littlest one threw a fuzzy, pink, stuffed heart at her head. He had good aim. Empty is difficult, but full is a challenge too.

Returning to my office when the meetings were completed, I was confronted by my phone, still blinking. Empty.

Empty.  It needs to be said.  Infertility and miscarriage leave one empty.  There is pain.  There is loss. Someone is missing. That needs to be acknowledged. Years later, there are scars.  I felt it then; I feel them now.  I contemplated the starkness of the word, the label.  My label.  My label?

Am I empty?
Perhaps I have been.
Emptiness leaves room for filling though, store-room for potential bounty.  Space to suffuse with life, one way or another.

If I had already been filled, would I have been able to love others that I have not birthed quite so much? Would I have been able to fully appreciate the short years spent with a loved one who left this life early, had I not known the experience of emptiness prior to his arrival, and after? Perhaps. Perhaps not. When babies don't come easily, one learns, perhaps, to appreciate life in a particularly special way when it does occur.

In any event, as I consider my state, I see that I am no longer empty.  I've been blessed with a miracle child who has filled our hearts and home, and who has brought others into our lives that we have loved. I don't think we love her more than others love their children, but we might love her differently. We understand the joy born of the filling of a space that had previously stood many years barren.  Like the feast after a fast - sweeter for us than it might have been if the bounty had not trailed on the heels of scarcity. Cherished, how she is cherished.

I cannot know God's ways.  I can only feel joy and sorrow, and sometimes contentment, -and then trust that He knows what I need of each.  Because he has loved and schooled and blessed, I am no longer empty.  Because I have lived and cried and longed for those lost, and those never born, ...because I have kissed sweet baby fingers and have been privileged to witness life, I am full.
Today, I am full.

Pax Christi dear ones,

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Monday, January 5, 2015

Why Women Make Blankets...and Prayer of the Hands

I usually have work in my hands when I'm listening to speakers. I suspect that at least a few co-attendees  think this is inappropriate. Busying one's hands can free up the mind to listen, though, and to pray. The repetitive rhythm of handwork has always been a conduit of prayer and of connection for me. You see, rosaries and prayer ropes are wonderful, but crochet works too!  I always listen more attentively, and pray more deeply, when my hands are not calling me for something to do.  Much better to pour one's prayer into a physical product of the experience.  The prayer becomes the work, and the work becomes the prayer; you see?

Some twenty years ago, I spent the many hours of a five day autism conference with a crochet hook and silky yarn in my hands.  A substantial portion of an afghan materialized as I took in what was then cutting edge training on serving the needs of children on the Autism spectrum. I did this sitting next to my boss.

He did not question the fact that I had a crochet hook, rather than a note taking pen, in my hand.  He knew me. His question was different than that.  "Why would you spend hours upon hours making a blanket, when I can walk into a store and buy one in minutes?"  "Because there'd be no love in it," I replied.  I could have added, "or prayer," but didn't; that would have been beyond him. He looked at me incredulously, or perhaps he was just confused. At any rate, he didn't get it. I distinctly remember him shaking his head. There was probably an eye roll in there too.

Women who make things with their hands understand though. It's the reason they send handmade blankets to children's hospitals and to orphanages and to friends who have recently lost loved ones. It's the reason that wrapped and ribbon-clad boxes at baby showers are filled with the things.

For women of faith, the work of our hands is full of intention born of the heart. It is physical prayer and permeated by love. I'm quite certain that the sensation of love can be tangibly perceived.  It feels like dupioni silk and wool and quilting cotton. It feels like Chantilly lace, too. It's in there, amongst the fibers, saturating physical objects spun with it. It's how we bundle those we love in our care and protection and prayer. It's how we wrap people in our arms, and surround them with a comforting bulwark of love, when we cannot be there in person.

And that's why women make blankets.

“He should first show them in deeds rather than words all that is good and holy.”
~Bendict of Nursia, The Rule of Saint Benedict

Pax Christi dear ones, May your loved ones be always ensconced in a rampart of prayer, and may you always feel bundled in love.

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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Always There is Advent

The rhythm of our family life has been turned on its head since we've begun this multifaceted journey into Orthodoxy.  Most of the holy days and seasons that we used to order our lives by have changed in focus or date, or have even faded into the background to accommodate the Byzantine rite and its calendar.  I'm not sure what to make of this Advent period in my new ecclesiastical home. The focus seems to fall most strongly on the Nativity fast and its corresponding self examination and confession.   Not so different really, but no Advent wreath flickers in our parish church.  The O Antiphons do not echo there.

 My daughter tells me she would prefer to be married in a Byzantine style church.  This daughter that I had always pictured kneeling at the altar rail of a high church Western parish in the glow of stained glass and aumbry light.  No bells will peel for my girl and her beloved.  We have entered a new country - one that, although unfamiliar, we have chosen gratefully and peacefully.

Still, the darkness grows long in the California mountains.  Broom and dustpan beckon us to clean our home and our souls.  Eerie night hangs low and ominously questions -- are we ready?  It is Advent still.

Are we ready for the birth of a king?  Are we prepared for him to enter our lives full force and dwell in clean swept quarters?  Are we ready for his return?  And so, in the midst of new rhythms and of family growth and change, we fall into old habits cast in new light.  Nights are spent cleaning and praying, examining our lives and waiting hopefully upon approaching light.

Change is coming.  I can feel it around the edges of our lives.  And so this year, as every year in Advent, I wonder: Have we prepared adequately?  have we taught and learned what was needful?  Have we stored up skills and wisdom and sufficient strength of character to bear the challenge?  Have we done it justice?, of course we haven't.  There is always more that is needful, much that was neglected.  I am sorely inadequate.  I can hardly manage my own life, much less pass the skills of life and home management on to another.  And yet the wheel turns, and gray hairs come, and daughters grow more wise and ready. Ready to embark on a life that she is not fully prepared for.  I have not done her justice.

Still, it is Advent.  Time to prepare. Time to examine and correct.  Time to light flames of hope that accumulate to form a great light as time progresses.  Each year, there is Advent.  Perhaps the greatest lesson is self appraisal and renewal.  Perhaps the greatest lesson is the lighting of flickering hope for a future of continual growth and progress.

So then, she is ready, because each year of her life she has lit candles of purple and pink and whispered into ominous darkness: O Come O Come Emmanuel. Come and bring us true hope.

Pax Christi dear ones,
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
And Ransom Captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Courtship: What I Have Learned (Too Late)

Roses - gift from Sir Merton Russell-Cotes,
1921 by Matha Mutrie from Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum;
via The Public Catalogue Foundation
1. It really doesn't matter what you call it. In spite of the current fervor in Christian circles over the "courtship vs. dating" phenomenon, you don't particularly have to define it. You simply need to teach principles that you deem right. Even if you entertain some regrets over potential downsides of your chosen approach, your child is still going to absorb what you believe and value; and then she's going to live it.

2. Adverse effects of your parenting mistakes are a given. Your well-loved child is smarter than you know. She'll adjust accordingly. Let it go; you've got bread to bake and laundry to do,- there isn't time for self flagellation.

3.  At some point, you are finished.  All that time spent exercising concern over how to best guide the process may be a bit excessive.  You don't really need to guide the process much at all; you've already taught her what to look for and how to honor it when she finds it.  You can't get any of that worry-wasted time back, but you can save time now by getting out of the way.  You've raised an adult; allow her to become one.

4. There are actually stellar and God-fearing young men whom you would happily hand your daughter over to.  All that wretched anxiety was misspent.

5.  In spite of your decades long and deeply held intention to welcome said stellar young man into your family embrace with love, you can best accomplish that by respecting his independence and leaving him alone. He has a mother and doesn't require another.  The granting of autonomy does not equal rejection.  Who knew? Life is chock full of unanticipated realities.

Pax Christi dear ones,
You'll make a terrible lot of mistakes; there isn't value in dwelling on them,

Wondering where we started from? 
This is part 7 of a series.
Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Part 3 is here.
Part 4 is here.
Part 5 is here.

Part 6 is here.
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Monday, October 20, 2014

Men and Women and Tires

My husband knelt on the dirt alongside a farmer's field to change our daughter's tire last night. I sat in our Jeep watching him finish the job in the glare of headlights. Under cover of darkness, I realized again how profoundly grateful I am for him.

All these years together, as I have fretted and planned, worried and analyzed, evaluated and adjusted our life together, he has simply stood calmly and quietly by. He has stepped in only when he needs to, in order to keep me from tipping the boat with my agitation. He mostly lets me wear myself out until I throw my hands up and rest.

I sometimes wish I could be like that- level, uniform, resilient. For all my building and fashioning of family, it would all collapse if he were not the bedrock on which it all rests. I can plan all the routes - and I do a lot of that - but it would be fruitless if he didn't keep me calmly reassured and step in to change the tires when they need changing.

While he was changing that tire, I watched my daughter. I could see it in her expression and posture: She was running over the incident in her mind, using "if-only" as a mantra, worrying about the expense of replacing the damaged wheel, questioning her decision to buy the wheels in the first place - churning in disquietude. She has her mother in her - poor girl. Her father, though, just kept changing the tire and then got into her car to drive it home, in case there was a problem with the spare. I love men.

I think that we, as the daughters of several waves of feminism, rarely give men their due. Yet, as bullets fly in movie theaters, men step in and risk their own safety to protect women that they do not know. For thousands of years, men have gone to war to protect women and children. Ordinary men get up each morning to go to work and then come home without complaint.  They ride out the emotional cycles of the women that they love. They kneel on dirt and asphalt to change tires for stranded women. It's a marvel really.

Still, men are curious creatures to a woman's mind. They're physical; we're emotional. They are hands-on while we live in our hearts and minds. How the twain ever meet is a mystery.

Millennia of experiences on the part of our foremothers have written on our DNA the need for caution. A man can physically harm a woman, or he can shield her from injury and abuse. He can provide protection, support, and leadership for a woman and her children; or he can abandon her and leave them in danger. He can be a partner to her, or he can demean and control her. He can be faithful, or he can emotionally destroy her.

While both are made vulnerable, I think that it's not quite such a huge risk for a man to enter into a relationship with a woman. He is relatively safe without her. She is unsafe without him, but she could be harmed by him. She must trust him to provide for her and her children. She must trust him to choose not to expose them to harm. Regardless of the advances women may have made in recent decades, I believe that these cautions are woven into our makeup and that they influence the steps that we take.

So, while physical intimacy- no matter how innocent -may be his natural means of communication and union, she must know him - really know him - first. She must fret and analyze, plan and consider. She must hear what he thinks, values, plans, and hopes for. She must know the priorities and beliefs upon which he bases his decisions, before she can submit to those decisions. She has to know where he is headed, and how he will decide changes in course, before she can follow. She must hear his words before she can be open to the vulnerability in which she receives his touch, no matter how much that touch is wanted.

It must baffle them.  We must baffle them. Yet, generation after generation, somehow, together we vanquish these obstacles and pair bonds remarkably form and endure.  Men learn to buttress women and stand by them. They learn to fill our needs, even when they don't understand them. They show kindness and patience. Then, they transform into fathers who change tires in the dirt on the edge of farmers' night-black fields, and they hug daughters who are unnerved. They send daughters to ride home with their mothers for talking. They take the keys and drive home on spare tires to shield wives and daughters from harm.

Pax Christi dear ones,

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Seven Quick Takes ~ Onset of Fall 2014

--- 1 ---

It feels like a woodstove sort of weekend.  I think it might actually get cold enough to make a fire. Fingers crossed; we shall see.  I have visions of hot chocolate, popcorn, and movie viewing in front of a glowing stove.  My efforts to include young people in these plans seem not to be panning out; nonetheless, I am looking forward to it.  My anticipation of embracing a Fall evening, and the likelihood that Papa and I will be doing it alone this year, both serve as reminders that the seasons change quickly, and each ought be savored.

--- 2 ---

I am learning that it is awfully difficult to stop being a mother.  Even when one knows that her child is old enough to become a mother herself.  Now I know why my mother still asks me, even though I'm 47, if I "have to go potty" before we leave the house on a roadtrip.

--- 3 ---

First progress reports of the school year were due today.  For some reason, this annual milestone starts me thinking about our annual family reunion.  We're looking forward to it, as always.  I find myself musing on the way that the generations cycle through these gatherings.

--- 4 ---

Elyse has been driving eight to ten hours, and spending two nights away from home, most weeks of late. I have four hours a week of drive time on her, but, I'm more accustomed to it than she is. I see it wearing on her.  She's tired.  I have my reservations about whether she should be doing the full measure of this driving, but that is not really a topic for a blog post.  It inspires reflection on all the driving we have done in our years of family life.  We seem to be drawn to small towns and wilderness, which does not facilitate short commutes to work or church.

--- 5 ---

My author copies of  Let Us Keep The Feast: Living the Church Year at Home (Complete Collection) arrived in my mailbox.  Nice to have a project finished and move on to the next!

--- 6 ---

I'm a bit surprised by Elyse's maturity level lately.  I'm not sure why I'm surprised.  She's always been sensible and wise beyond her years.  Somehow, though, I didn't anticipate the fact that I wouldn't really need to worry about her much, because it turns out that she has actually been listening all these years.  Who knew?

At any rate, she seems to be exhibiting one of her frequent resurgences of interest in producing cakes. This is always a bad omen for my waistline.  It is my ardent intention to encourage her current plans to send some of these cakes south of here.  This seems a marvelous plan to both me and my bathroom scale.

--- 7 ---

I got nothin' for number seven, which is really a fantastic phenomenon.  I guess everything is mostly okay at the moment.  

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Friday, October 10, 2014


My husband was having a conversation with a good friend the other day.  Something about life and home and family and the stresses that inevitably come. After some talk of his own experiences, this friend turned to my husband and said, "Well, we can't all be lucky like you."

My husband came home that evening and told me about it.  My first reaction was the same as his had been: "lucky?!". We were mildly irked, in spite of our mutual fondness for this fine person, because his comment had, I suppose, invalidated our story. Still, we both put it aside as something that, "doesn't matter."

Boutonniere-whitesuitCC BY 2.5view termsDavid Ball - Own work
For days though, it has niggled at me. Why, I have wondered, does it bother me?  What does it matter? With a day off of work and lace in my hands, my thoughts are always more clear.  I now know why it matters.  Here is why:

I hope you don't think we're lucky.

I'm sure it might look that way.  With the marital harmony and financial security of middle life, things must look smooth and easy, like a gift that we didn't have to unwrap.  But, I do hope that you don't misunderstand.

I hope you don't think that we are lucky, while you are young and are wondering, as we both did at times, whether you have made the right choice of a spouse, -because you will wonder.  I hope that when you're sitting on the ground at the top of the hill at two in the morning , as I once did, and listening to the horses scrape and wuffle in the dark with tears in your eyes because you aren't happy - that you don't think I am lucky. I hope that when the stack of bills is tall and the money is low, as it has been for us at times over the years, you don't think that we are lucky. I hope that when you wish you hadn't married this person -(because you will have those times)- you don't think that we are lucky.  Because marriage is bigger than me and you.  Marriage is about vocation and commitment and family.  Marriage is about blessing society and the Church. Marriage is about making a choice and sticking to it.  Marriage is about holding fast during the rocky times, because you will find the smooth stretches.  Marriage isn't to make you happy.  Marriage is about being married.  The really amazing gift is that in the process of being committed to marriage and family, together you sort out the living and then contentment settles in on you and engulfs you in a deeper joy than simple happiness could ever provide.

I hope you don't think we are lucky, because if you do, you may think that you are not.  You may think that and then walk away from one of the only earthly things that can truly bring you joy.  You might give up before you've had a chance to really learn to live.

Hochzeitsfotograf-Wedding-RingCC BY 3.0SebCon - Own work
We are not lucky.  We are stubborn and committed.  We believe in marriage and family.  We believe in holding fast when the waves are crashing and the ship seems unstable.  We believe in battening down the hatches and staying aboard until the ship can be righted. That's all.

Stay the course.  As long as you are not in danger or dealing with someone so psychologically unhealthy that things cannot possibly be made right, stay the course.  You will find peace and harmony and contentment.  You will find your way together, and throughout the journey, you will look beside you and see the same person that you began it with.  Holding steady.  Being true.  Toward the end, youth will have faded and children will move on, but that person will still be there, breathing in the dark while you sit on the bed at two in the morning, listening with tears in your eyes, because you are happy and because you are not alone and because you cannot imagine anyone else lying beside you.  Stay the course, because you're not going to be lucky, but, friends, luck has nothing to do with it.

Pax Christi dear ones,

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