A Life Preserver.

These words are basically my life preserver.

I have been spending every day increasingly irritable, living life hopping from nap time to bed time. Today nap time didn’t happen as planned. I spent it helping my toddler poop in the correct receptacle (the potty) instead of the wrong receptacle (the pull up). By the time that was over and one with baby Cara started coughing and woke herself up. After 30 minutes.

In my irritation I looked down at myself. I hadn’t showered in days, hadn’t had much time alone, hadn’t brushed my teeth or fixed my hair into anything other than a messy bun. Hadn’t had the opportunity to be creative. I realized that I hadn’t cared for myself, and now the lapse was turning to desperation and transforming me into some gruff ogre of a mother who was holding on for dear life until naptime.

I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in almost a year.

I let baby cry for 10 minutes while I took a shower. God was in those droplets.

I scooped baby out of her temporary bed and brought her to the kitchen where I plopped her down and searched desperately for flour, sugar, anything to bake. We were out of flour. Next I grabbed a random skein of Red Heart and feverishly knit 40 stitches, joined them in the round and ripped them out again, feverishly trying to make something. Anything.

Clearly creativity needs to become a priority in my life again.

It seems like every time I make one thing a priority, something falls off the edge. Really, there must be a way to make room for all the things, but in proper proportion.

I oughta make baby a red gnome hat.

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The relic of a grasshopper

“It’s due to her Catholic upbringing. It’s essentially become the relic of a grasshopper.”

Things I probably shouldn’t say out loud at the park.

Yesterday at the playground Lillian miraculously caught a grasshopper. Well. She was able to catch it after I caught it first and accidentally ripped one of its legs off so its mobility was extremely hampered. She proceeded to drop it and catch it again repeatedly, only occasionally allowing her small cousin’s foot to make contact and remove some of the poor creature’s innards. She came to me with it over and over again saying, “look, mama! Grasshopper!”, to which I repeatedly replied, “Go put it in the grass. He lives in the grass.”

Poor creature.

HOW to wash the dishes.

howtowashthedishesOkay. So you know I prefer washing dishes by hand because I think it’s good for my soul. In case you needed further proof that I overthink daily tasks past the point of normalcy, here is a short explanation of how to wash the dishes.

When I was growing up at my parents’ house we had a dishwasher that I was assigned to load every day. I became great at dishwasher Tetris and through the years have become preoccupied with the efficiency of how to properly load the dishwasher. But washing by hand? For years I endured huffy grandmother stares as I pretended not to see piles of dishes rather than having to admit that I don’t even know how to wash the dishes by hand. I never had to do that whatsoever until I was in college and reluctantly washed my plate and cup in the dorm sink. It took years for me to hammer out an efficient plan for washing dishes by hand.

My current method consists of:

  • Pile the silverware into a dirty measuring cup (2 cup or 4 cup size), or other medium size bowl. Set aside.
  • Wash the plates with dish brush, putting soap on one at a time and rinsing one at a time.
  • Do the same with cups, scrubbing with a bottle brush until clean and then transferring soapy liquid into the next cup.
  • Wash pots or cutting boards.
  • Wash silverware. Wash the container silverware was resting in.

Stop when the dish drainer becomes full and do the rest later when space is freed up.

My genius discovery of late has been to place an overturned dustpan underneath the far end of the dish drainer and allowing 3 inches of the drainer to hang over the sink. This allows water to properly drain off the edge and into the sink instead of pooling in the bottom of the drainer to create a brown, hard water funk that has be cleaned. Because I shouldn’t have to bear the indignity of cleaning an instrument of cleanliness.

I have also discovered that a cutting board dripping with raw chicken juice can transform me into a fretting lunatic. To feel comfortable hand washing such a thing I wait until the water is very hot and then slather the board with Dawn and antibacterial hand soap. Scrub as needed, dry as needed.

Why I Wash Dishes By Hand

whyiwashI spent yesterday morning absorbed in conversation with some other moms as we watched our children chew on wood shavings and dump sand into each other’s hair. I mentioned that recently as I unloaded the dishwasher I went to put some dishes away and returned to find a baby sitting fat and happy on the dishwasher door. My companions lamented that they didn’t have dishwashers. I stayed silent, suddenly trying to remember the reason that although I have a dishwasher, I wash the dishes by hand more often than not. File this one in the bulging, “things I don’t say out loud because they’re weird” folder.

I wash my dishes by hand because I think it’s good for my soul.

If I remove myself from the anchor of good, physical work I stay too much in my head. My vocation consists in loving God through service to my family. It comes down to a simple fact of faith: we are body and soul, not separate but together. As Meg Hunter-Kilmer says, God made us out of stuff and uses stuff to reach our hearts.

And so I wash the dishes by hand. The scrubbing makes me thankful for the dishes that we have and the food that we ate and the family that I am working for. While I wash I slow down and pray. Suddenly, I am simple again. I like the smell of dish soap and watching the bubbles slide down teal or yellow ceramic, seeing a mountain of mess dwindle down to a fresh sink.

I noticed this week that I was losing control over the dish situation, leaving food to crust onto plates and roughly loading things into the dishwasher.

I cycle into the mindset that these tasks are meaningless, and let’s finish as fast as I can to get to the really important things. Like reading A Clash of Kings. Or browsing Facebook on my phone while ignoring sippy cup re-fill requests as long as possible. I can go through the motions for days until God reminds me. Again. That he is found among the pots and pans. When I forget myself and serve Him through them. I am not made to live life inside my head, but pouring myself outward in service. My children are not impediments to a clean house and completed to-do list, they are my mission.

Jesus himself cooked fish.

I love and need the reminders of the physical in my Catholic faith. My favorites are the San Damiano crucifix and the Anima Christi prayer. Can you imagine? When he died they wrapped him in linen and carried him through a garden and laid him in a tomb. He rose again in a physical body with wounded hands and feet that St. Thomas could put his finger into. It’s a truly humbling and magnificent thing!

Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from Christ’s side, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints

and with Thy angels
Forever and ever
Amen

He Did or He Didn’t

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I use this same graphic for everything, but really, this is what it boils down to for me.

Last week I received the news like a punch in the gut: a relative and his wife are divorcing. It was shocking partly because the marriage never seemed troubled and partly because an hour or so before I had prayed with the day’s gospel reading in which Jesus says, “they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

While I was thinking about the coincidence, my dad plunged into one of his new-but-becoming-habitual condemnations of Catholicism, holding up in turn each of my mother’s siblings who were married in the Church but subsequently divorced. “Look at all those Catholics! They say they don’t believe in divorce, but now look at them. Your mom and I were married in front of a judge. We didn’t want any of that wedding crap, and look at us! Thirty-seven years!”

I am grateful for my parents’ marriage, of course, but I also thought that in terms of spiritual warfare it isn’t too shocking that the Sacramental marriages would face more obstacles than a civil marriage. I digress. There is so much suffering and heartbreak. I can so understand when people leave their marriages to pursue happiness elsewhere when their gaze settles only on the happiness that the world can provide. My own marriage has not exactly been a tiptoe through the tulips, and I have experienced a lot of ups and downs. I do believe that Jesus meant what he said about the indissolubility of marriage and I do believe holding things together is worth making some significant sacrifices for.

Looking at my life, sometimes I see the long road ahead of me and doubt my ability to persevere to the end in faith. Not just in marriage, but in every difficult detail. Jesus talks in the parable of the sower why someone would abandon the faith. Even when I try my best to follow Him there will be times when I’m rendered a hypocrite. We’re a church of sinners needing medicine. Shocker. I so hope to avoid being the seed that fell among the thorns, and I pray for perseverance often.

Flannery O’Connor says it best through the Misfit in A Good Man is Hard to Find shortly before he murders an old woman:

“Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead,” The Misfit continued, “and He shouldn’t have done it. He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can–by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness,” he said and his voice had become almost a snarl.

Either He did or He didn’t. The Misfit, in his deplorable violence, was at least intellectually honest. If Christ didn’t raise the dead, then what’s keeping us from doing whatever would make us most happy here in this world regardless of its cost to other people? I think He did, and now I owe Him everything. He told me that following Him comes with a cross. Would that I could be honest, too, and embrace my sufferings for love of Him.

“I pray you, good Jesus, that as you have given me the grace to drink in with joy the words of your knowledge, so in your loving kindness you will also grant me to come at length to yourself, the source of all wisdom, to stand forever before your face. Amen.” – Venerable Bede

A Secular Sacrament

asecularsacramentI have been in a huge cooking rut lately. I am tired of everything that I know how to make, and my Pinterest recipe explorations have sometimes been met with sighs and groans from the family. When I first started working at a library several years ago I was a little shocked that cookbooks were some of the most popular items that we loaned out. That was pre-husband and pre-kids. It turns out that these people have to eat every day.

So food has been on my mind of late. I listened to Father Leo Patalinghug on the Journey Home podcast a few days ago as I was shamefully making a McDonald’s run. He painted this idyllic image of a family carefully cooking and eating together with gentle gratitude for the food being served. My family does eat together every day, but often it’s hurried and fractured by infant screams.

I’m so intrigued by the French way of eating. The careful attention to the food and a table hung with linen and fine dishes and cutlery. Apparently people eat like that over there. I’ve read multiple books about French culinary culture over the years. The entire idea of two-hour lunches with multiple courses strikes me as exhausting, but I would like to introduce some new meals and vegetables into our rotation.

frenchThis book came home with me during my latest library trip. I am hoping to get some pointers about how to get my two year old to eat new foods. It’s turning into quite a fascinating read actually, because on top of the various food rules the author (Canadian) talks about her year in France with her French husband and two picky eaters.

There is one scene in which the author is playfully arguing with some French friends about the merits of France’s food culture. As an explanation one of the friends tossed out that the country’s traditions springs from religion, “Catholic countries have always been more interested in food. French gastronomie is like a secular communion, like a sacrament or a ceremony.”

This strikes me as true and important. Also intriguing. I think about the way Oliver and I are divided over the issue of religion, and I may never share any sacrament with him other than our daily meals taken together. That alone is good reason to take a lot more care about what we eat together as a family. I don’t know whether or not Jesus was a great cook, but he certainly seemed to enjoy eating!

Feeling inspired, I just placed a few cookbooks on hold at the library to hopefully get some new recipes and ideas! A library book and a copy machine is a powerful thing.

Grace in Pink Blossoms

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This year after a tremendous amount of rainfall, the Texas landscape has managed to remain green all the way into the month of July. And not just green, either. Pink and yellow and fiery orange. Around every corner I spot crepe myrtles absolutely brimming with blossoms.

I call to mind the winds and rains, torrential flooding. Wet, black soil full of nutrients and kisses of sunshine, meetings with earthworms in the dark. The tree accepted all that it was given and burst forth into exuberant, abundant blossoms as if to proclaim the glory of God. It produces its flowers in a single specialized color and style. Even if it could elude its own nature and squeeze out flowers of a different color by sheer force of will and gargantuan effort, nothing would be more beautiful than those which it was created to effortlessly produce.

I keep trying to think of my life in terms of crepe myrtle. What’s my pink blossom? When I receive all as if straight from the hand of the Father, how to I proclaim his glory and my joy? What should be my focus?

In true melancholic fashion, I have been considering this question for over a month and I don’t have a solid answer. I am possibly overthinking the question, also in true melancholic fashion.

”Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” – St. Catherine of Siena