Happy Father’s Day!

Sometimes, I think Joseph really drew the short stick when it comes to historic appreciation.

He chose to stay and helped to raise the very Son of God when he could have easily walked away from Mary and her unborn child. He took a leap of faith to protect them from Herod, who wanted to kill the newborn Jesus, by doing exactly as an angel of the Lord warned him to do – even when it meant moving his brand new family to a different country. He was with Mary as they anxiously searched for the lost twelve-year-old Jesus for three days, eventually finding him with the leaders of the temple.

And that’s the last we hear of Joseph. Joseph doesn’t even have a single speaking line in the Bible, and many assume he must have died before Jesus began his adult ministry.

But Joseph was a shining example what a great father is – he stepped up to the plate to be there for his family, leading by example with his faith and integrity. Like many fathers today, he did these things without much attention or fanfare.

I’m proud to know so many men who have embodied the true spirit of fatherhood, and on days like today, I’m honored to give them some fanfare. For all the times we minimized the role you have in our lives and the lives of our children, I am so sorry.

You are more than a helping hand to get through baths and bedtime. You’re more than the caricature of the incompetent goof dad we see on TV. You’re more than all you provide for us, which we take for granted all too often.

Your example, guidance, playfulness, discipline, provision, protection, love and support are helping to shape who our children will become and teaching them what it means to be a good man in this world. For us as mothers, you’re a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, a partner in this most important and difficult job of raising human beings.

This morning, our kids were uncharacteristically well behaved in church. We came home and had a giant Dads vs. Kids water fight with the neighbors. We dried off in the sunshine, sitting together as a family to share a picture-perfect picnic lunch. Later today, we’ll visit family and get to thank my own father for all he’s done for us and our kids.

In its simplicity, it’s been a truly idyllic Father’s Day.

To all the fathers out there, thanks for all you do. Thanks for being there for your families. Thanks for the spirit of love you show your children every time you play a game, fix a boo-boo, or teach a lesson. Thanks, especially, for the dad jokes.

We may not be the best at showing our appreciation, but I believe our lives are made better by the fathers who step up to the plate every single day. Here’s to you, dads! Xo

Advertisements

A Song About Love

sleeping watermark

My hum was low and gentle. I drew her closer to me in my arms, knowing the soothing vibrations of my voice would carry from my chest to hers. It was a familiar tune, the same song I’d sung to all my babies before they were even born and each day since. In fact, it’s the first song my husband and I danced to at our wedding. It’s a song about love.

As I rocked my littlest before her nap, softly humming and smiling down into her drowsy eyes, my four-year-old in the next room accidentally dropped his baseball into a bucket of Legos. Accidentally.

The crash was jarring, but I kept on humming. The pace didn’t change. The volume didn’t change. I didn’t even skip a beat.

Moments later, my three-year-old started calling out for a drink. “MOMMMAYYY!” Wait for it. “MOOOOOOOOOOM!” Wait for it. “MAAAAAAAAA!” Wait for it. Wait for it. And then, silence as she discovered the cup of water that is always on her night stand.

Through the calls, I kept humming. The pace didn’t change. The volume didn’t change. I didn’t even skip a beat.

It wasn’t long before I heard a lawn mower roar to a start across the street. When my firstborn was a baby, this scenario was a personal nightmare of mine: noise at naptime I could not control.

But instead, I just kept humming. The pace didn’t change. The volume didn’t change. I didn’t even skip a beat.

Since the time she was a newborn, I’ve wanted to show this baby that she could ignore the jarring distractions around her, that they were normal and that she could still fall asleep despite them. I hoped to show her that the sounds didn’t faze me, and they don’t have to faze her. And that although her room isn’t perfectly conducive to mid-day sleeping, she was still safe and loved and could feel secure enough to nod off.

Though certain rare circumstances beg for intervention, if I’d have jumped up out of the rocker at every loud disruption, inserted myself into whatever situation caused the ruckus and begged the world to quiet down, what would that teach her? And would she really be better off?

No, she had to learn how to thrive in a noisy world.

To master this skill, which is imperative in a house with three kids under five, she had to learn how to ignore the occasional clamor by focusing on the constant undertone of familiar love I was softly humming to her, and by holding firm to that sense of trust and security even after I had laid her down and walked out of her room.

Distractions will arise and the world can be scary and noisy, baby, but I am with you; try to focus on what we are doing here together, the hums seemed to say as I rocked her in my arms. Listen to my voice, feel it deep in your chest, and remember it even when you don’t see me.

I dedicated some time leading up to Easter to focusing on my faith. Each day, I’d distance myself from all the chatter and distractions in my life and dedicate an hour or two to listening, studying, and praying in a secluded corner of my house. It became my daily joy to work on my relationship with God, to reading and re-reading the scriptures, to be inspired by the writings of others who have been touched by God’s grace.

Now that Easter has come and gone, I’m realizing how difficult it is to maintain that level of prayer and devotion. I’ve got three kids with soccer and baseball and something called Farm Camp about to start for the summer, a husband who wants to go out on dates with me, parties to plan, road trips, and a calendar already full of commitments. The world I live in just isn’t always perfectly conducive to quiet, solitary prayer.

So what happens to my faith when I can’t regularly make time to quiet the noise in a hole in my house?

Well, it must learn to thrive in a noisy world.

When I realize I’ve gotten so busy with life that I’ve stopped seeking with my whole heart, or when I find myself being drawn to the beautiful lies of the wide and easy road, I listen for the hum. Distractions will arise, but try to focus on what we are doing here together.

When my daily news stream is saturated with stories of the violence, hatred and corruption around us, I listen for the hum. The world can be scary and noisy, but I am with you.

When people are cruel and insecurities bloom, or when the doubts and anxieties of motherhood creep in, I listen for the hum. The noise doesn’t faze me; it doesn’t have to faze you either.

When I recognize the worst of myself in my words and actions, having allowed myself to forget who I am and what’s important to me, I listen for the hum. Remember my voice even when you don’t see me.

It’s not so loud as to compete with the noise of the world, but it’s always there, I think. I hope. I believe it’s the song I’ve been hearing from before I was born. It’s a song about love.

The challenge, then, is to draw closer, recognize the low reverberations from that song deep in our chests, and feel secure enough to trust.

For more from Catherine, find us on Facebook.

 

Finding Peace in the Quiet

nook

One of my favorite professors once asked how many of us set aside time to exercise our minds. A room full of college students, many of whom had been up half the night studying for finals, raised their hands. He then asked how many of us regularly take time to work out our bodies. More hands raised; some were even carrying gym bags to hit Rec Hall after class. We all agreed it takes time and effort to improve ourselves.

“And how many of you regularly take time out of your day to work on your faith?” he asked. He was a theology professor, so we should have seen it coming. But most of us just awkwardly looked around the room, unsure how to answer. “Isn’t that as much a part of you as anything else?” he challenged.

That question has stuck with me in the years that followed. I’ve since graduated, married, and become a mother of three. Real life happened, and that life is busy. Making time to challenge my beliefs and strengthen my faith has only gotten harder.

Caught up in the whirlwind of a busy life — rife with meaningless distractions, anxieties and challenges too hard to muscle through alone —  I began to realize that this phase of my life, as a mother to young children, is one in which I should be leaning heavier on my faith for support, not leaving it in my carefree past. It was time for me to quiet the noise in my life and reconnect with the things that matter most to me.

I needed peace, and this season of Lent seemed like the perfect time to try.

***

There’s about an hour each afternoon — quiet time, we call it — when my kids are either napping or playing quietly alone in their rooms. I usually take this time to address my most pressing need. If we’re having company over that evening, for instance, I’ll take that time to clean up the house. More likely, however, I will address my need to unwind by falling down the rabbit hole of social media and Internet news. It became clear that my first step in “quieting the noise” should be setting down the phone and backing away slowly.

I knew I also wanted to use that time to work on a need I had long neglected: reconnecting with God. Whether that meant making it through a rosary without falling asleep (hi, I’m Catherine and I’m a lazy Catholic), reading through a gospel, or just talking things out with the Big Guy, I was determined to use this time to give my faith a workout.

So I snuck off to quiet corner of my house where no one would know to look for me and let my knees find the floor. From that first day in February, this has become my new happy place.

There are plenty of days when my mind wanders and I struggle to devote the focus it deserves, but it wasn’t long before I found my heart spilling out into that tiny corner. It’s where all my anxieties come out begging for guidance, where all my shame comes out begging for forgiveness, and where I go in thanksgiving to ask how best to go forward in serving. It’s where I go to remind myself of His suffering when I’m feeling at my worst, and where I pray for ways to help my friends lift the crosses they bear, too.

In the midst of a chaotic day, this time is both humbling and calming. It’s a daily reminder that I am small but I am loved, and that I can carry this love into all the relationships in my life.

Believing that someone is listening, though — especially in quiet solitude — can be a daunting leap. On one particularly challenging day, tears were drying on my cheeks as I prayed for guidance on my hard stuff. I began to question if prayer was ever enough, if even Lightsaber Jesus could help me.

lightsaber jesus

May the force be with you. And also with you.

Pulling up the blinds on a nearby window, I looked out, desperate for answers. I was struck at once by a great nothingness.

For the first time in weeks, the sky was clear and blue. The tops of the bare trees were still, no wind imploring them to dance or bow. I scanned the periphery again and again, waiting for something. The open sky felt like a void.

I slumped back against the wall, resigning myself to the sorrowful silence. What were you expecting? I chided myself. Did I think God was going to send a messenger hawk to my window? Did I think Jesus might descend on a cloud to tell a 29-year-old suburban housewife how to deal? Why were none of my bushes burning?

I glanced over at the baby monitor I had perched on a nearby shelf. It was quiet, the green light indicating my littlest was still sleeping in her crib. With the blinds open, there was now a glare against its screen.

That’s when I realized I, too, was now bathed in sunlight from the open window. I felt the warmth on my face and arms, the glare too bright to keep my eyes open when I gazed up into the blue.

Basking in the glow, my frustration fizzled. Of course. The clear sky wasn’t just an emptiness; it was an opening for the sunshine.

Here was the quiet I craved. Here was the connection I sought after, this ongoing conversation with Him. In some small way, this was even the sign I didn’t know I needed: a gentle reminder to be still and know.

Here was peace.

And so each day, I practice quieting the noise to hear Him. I practice being still to feel what moves me. I hide in a nook by myself to remember I’m not alone.

And each day, I practice carrying this peace into my roles as wife, mother, and friend.

I’m a work in progress, but I learned a long time ago that it takes time and practice to improve any part of myself. And this is as much a part of me as anything else.

Related: Jesus and Jellybeans: Talking Easter with Littles

In Defense of Kid-Craft Walls

For those of you following our story, I’m so excited to tell you that we have found our dream home. It’s everything we had hoped for, and we’re counting the days until we get to move in. We know the sellers, too, so it was only moderately embarrassing when our kids made themselves at home the first time we toured it by immediately throwing rocks off the deck. Hello, new neighbors! You’re going to love us!

We’re still two months from closing, so we have the luxury of packing at our own pace. This is both a blessing and a curse for someone like me because now I get to agonize over all the memories attached to the clutter we’ve stuffed into every nook and cranny these past three years — this single baby boy shoe that’s been lost for ages, the old sticker charts documenting new words spoken, homemade games that have been broken and lost pieces but still stir up nostalgia remembering the joyous 18 minutes we played with each.

Pulling me out of my sentimental haze is the anticipation of getting to decorate our new home. As years-long renters, we’ve never been able to choose paint colors or window treatments. Having married and gotten knocked up five minutes out of college, we’ve never had the extra money to spend on “nice” wall-hangings, furniture that isn’t hand-me-down, or upgrading out of the self-assembled Swedish fare. We’ve always told ourselves that it wasn’t worth the money to decorate a temporary space, but rather we should save up for the real thing since we had no way of knowing what style or space we’d be dealing with.

And so I have decorated our walls the only way I could. Rather, I let the kids do it:

Noodle art, puff balls, and enough paper plates to host 79 toddler birthday parties.

I realize this is neither soothing nor aesthetically pleasing to the untrained eye. But these walls have evolved over time, telling our family’s stories and charting our children’s growth.

For instance, guests may walk into our kitchen and see nothing but a piece of paper covered in jungle stickers; I see a hesitant 18-month-old boy passing time as his mommy nurses his brand new sister on their first day home from the hospital. It took far longer than either of us anticipated, and so the stickers began to overlap and diminish all the white space as time drew on. I see that picture and I feel his patience, feel the guilt that crept into my heart that day. I look at that picture and remind myself of the sweet beauty that came out of the apprehension and nerves that day. I see my baby growing into a boy, able for the first time to command the stickers in his clumsy fingers.

At some point, we graduated from single crafts to duplicates as Baby Sister earned her glue-and-sequins badge.

At some point, we graduated from single crafts to duplicates as Baby Sister earned her glue-and-marker rights.

Friends may see splotches of paint, where I see progress as little hands grew and the tools they used became more sophisticated — from crude finger swipes to a rubber duck whose head became a handle while its body became a makeshift stamp when dunked into paint. I see where we graduated from foam brushes swiping through a single color to the intricacy of having to rinse and dab a paintbrush before moving to a new well of color in a tray of many.

This looks like it came straight out of a Pottery Barn catalogue if you’re drunk enough.

There are handprints and footprints for every occasion, decorated as reindeer and ghosts and fishies and turkeys. They may all look the same to you, but I know which chubby little fingers belong to each child, and I remember the painstaking effort it took to dangle those tiny kicking feet above a canvas, trying to make a clean print. I see the smudges that inevitably encircle each and laugh at my naivety — the nerve of a rookie mother, thinking she can expect perfection.

Antlers are hard.

A friend recently introduced me to the teachings of famous de-clutterer Marie Kondo, and as I begin the great purge that precedes a move to a new house, I’ve found success in thanking every thing for its service before tossing it in the can. There’s something about these walls of crafts, though, that ping the little hoarder center of my brain. Perhaps a blog post in their honor is my own way of thanking them, and one day soon I’ll be able to recognize that my kitchen is not a preschool and it’s time to part ways.

Soon I will be living in 50 shades of Restoration Hardware gray, blissfully ensconced in the grown-up decor we’ve been dreaming of. And I know I can take photos and even pack these crafties up to take with us if I can’t get a grip and pitch it all if I’m so inclined. But for now, I’m content to sip my tepid coffee in a room that matches my state of mind: haphazard and busy, but full of love and color — and largely overwhelmed by the shmears of young children.

Like what you read? Find me on Facebook for more!

My Mother’s Day Story

Two days ago, my two-year-old suffered what we believe was an anaphylactic reaction to a dinner I made for our family. What began as a toddler’s panic-stricken expression escalated quickly into vomiting, gasping for breath, and our very first (and hopefully last) Epi-pen use.

I held down her tiny frame with my body as tears rolled down her cheeks and she struggled to find air to fill her little lungs. I then injected her with a shot of adrenaline, capping off the exact scene that’s been playing in my nightmares since she was first diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies at 12 months. This situation is the very source of my anxiety — the reason we don’t go to restaurants anymore, the reason I wince at birthday party invitations, the reason I hold my breath every time I introduce a new food to her.

And in a matter of minutes, my nightmare played out — unexpectedly, as is usually the case — in our own home.

As my husband and I held her down, I was struck by a dichotomy of both fear and calm in the air. I was terrified. She was terrified. My husband and son were terrified. Everyone knew what was happening. But there was also a force that emerged from within myself, one that never existed in my anxiety-fueled nightmares. It was a quiet strength.

I am the type of person to break out in a heart-pounding sweat just talking to her allergist about what could happen in these circumstances. I am the type of person to drop the AED kit in CPR class and forget the whole resuscitation process under the pressure of a very friendly instructor watching. I am an incredibly nervous person by nature, never the one anyone would call for help in an emergency. And here I was, in the moment I feared most, thinking of nothing but what had to be done.

I didn’t fumble with the Epi-pen. My panicked eyes didn’t glaze trying to hastily read the instructions, and my hands were shaking but controlled. I opened it. I braced her, warning her that what was about to happen would hurt, and told her I was so sorry. I prayed for God to be with us and to help me. And I did it.

I scooped her up, strapped her into the car, and sped to the hospital.

Losing a child is every parent’s worst fear. A few times over the course of the next few days, tears flowed as I allowed myself to crumble under the crushing realization of how close we came to this. My chest caves thinking about it, my own lungs gasping for air.

So it seems my Mother’s Day gifts came a few days early this year.

The first is a deeper sense of gratitude. Upon our middle-of-the-night return from the hospital, I laid my daughter in my bed and clutched her there until the sun came up. I kissed her endlessly, remembering my promises during that car ride when I said I would give her all the treats and jewels and cuddles she wanted if she would just stay calm and keep breathing. We are one of the lucky ones.

The second gift was more unexpected. The closest name I can find to describe it is empowerment.

Looking back on how the episode played out feels like an out-of-body experience. Watching myself — the fumbling, awkward, risk-averse mess that I am — stepping forward and taking action to save my child’s life feels like a new lease on my role as a mother. Who was that woman?

The nightmare still lurks in the back of my mind, knowing this can happen again. But knowing I had the strength inside myself to handle it lets me loosen my white-knuckled grip on the fears that once crippled me. We’ve now been there. We know what it feels like. And should this ever happen again, we will know: we got this. As horrifying as this experience was, and as much as I wish it never happened, what a bittersweet gift it’s proven to be.

Anaphylaxis may not be a part of your family’s story, but being a parent almost ensures you will have to face your greatest fear at some point. I like to believe, especially now, that there’s a strength that runs through all of us. Whether a spark of the divine or the most human part of us, it’s there — even if we don’t know it yet — lying dormant until the moment we need it.

So if and when you find yourself staring down your own personal nightmare — though I hope you never do — remember the lesson I learned this week: never doubt a mother’s strength — especially if that mother is you.

Happy Mother’s Day ❤️

Evie_dandylion

The Grief In Growing Up

Last night, I put my littlest baby girl in her own bed, in her own room, for the first time.

I should have been happy. Happy she’s growing up. Happy to have my own room back. Happy I don’t have to worry about my husband snoring her awake in the middle of the night. It marks the beginning of the end of so many sleepless nights and early mornings. In real life, this is where I’d insert a joke about how I haven’t slept through the night in five years, and how great this move will be because if I put Desitin on my toothbrush one more time during the hazy edges of the day, my mouth is going to suffer an identity crisis.

But as I laid her in her bed and walked away last night, all I could feel was a gripping sense of loss.

Continue reading

Moms: Why Your Online Voice (And the Way You Use It) Matters

There’s a conversation going on right now in our world — a beautiful, unprecedented, tapestry of a conversation. It crosses borders, ages, races and classes. It’s a conversation about motherhood, and it speaks with a breadth and richness that this world hasn’t seen before, thanks to the technology that invites almost everyone to join in.

The conversation is happening in the rising wave of voices we hear from blogs, online motherhood groups, message boards, and the comments sections in parenting articles. No longer confined to hushed tones at playgrounds or over kitchen tables, women everywhere are speaking to each other about their struggles, triumphs, and bodies with a level of open and public candor we’ve never enjoyed before.

The underlying theme of this conversation is that our likenesses as mothers outweigh our differences. We all love our children and want what’s best for them, even if our methods for achieving that look different. We all hurt sometimes, even if the pain presents itself in different ways. We all want to be loved and appreciated, even if we each bring different strengths to the table.

And when one of us is brave enough to tell her story, it opens the door for another woman to do the same. With every voice invited to this conversation, it gets a little more real — more honest, more raw, more revolutionary, more alive.

With that invitation, though, comes an unspoken call for responsibility. When you insert yourself into the conversation, are you positively contributing or are you detracting from its ultimate mission?

In one swipe through an online moms group this weekend, I saw women insisting their views were the only ones worth considering, women deleting other mothers’ comments because they presented a dissenting view, even a woman getting kicked out of the group for criticizing an admin’s perspective. I’ve seen thousands of women spewing hateful commentary at other mothers on social media for openly being in better shape or having a cleaner house or throwing a more Pinteresting birthday party. I’ve seen comments on my own pregnancy blog making fun of the size of my belly at nine months.

In a world where many of us are raising our children without the village, where the lines between work and home life are blurring, where raising kids is getting more expensive and more isolating — we need, more than ever, to support each other as women and as mothers.

So please — for the sake of all of us who have joined this conversation to improve ourselves, our understanding of each other, and our love for our children — strive to speak a language of integrity, progress, and love.

If you perceive a differing opinion as a personal attack on you or your beliefs, you may be doing it wrong.

If your need to be heard is more important than the message you are conveying, you may be doing it wrong.

If you feel the urge to shame another mother because she’s doing something better than you, you may be doing it wrong.

If you’re willing to try to silence another woman for being critical of your opinions, you may be doing it wrong.

If you think you can be cruel because you’re hiding behind a screen, you may be doing it wrong.

This conversation is happening for a reason. For the first time in history, women of all creeds and circumstances are able to speak to each other about how hard this all is, how sublime and hilarious it all is, and how unjust much of it has been, despite the beauty and grace motherhood brings to our lives. And for the first time, we’re able to combine our voices in the hope of bringing about real change that will benefit us all.

That change starts within each of us. It’s happening in the woman who just realized she’s not the only one to suffer debilitating depression after childbirth, but finds the courage to seek help knowing she’s not alone. It’s happening in the woman who’s always looked down at her post-baby body with tears in her eyes, but found a sense of pride in it after seeing the photos shared by another mother embracing her transformed body. It’s happening in the woman whose online mom group correctly suggested a life-altering diagnosis for her son that doctors had missed for years.

It extends beyond us in the women whose newfound voices are giving them the courage to petition for improved maternity leave policies, accessible and affordable postpartum care, and childcare in the workplace.

The sooner we stop hurting and silencing each other, the sooner we will step forward together. When we hold ourselves to a commitment of mutual respect and a heartfelt obligation to pull each other up out of the trenches, the conversation gets richer and more full or promise for both us and our daughters. So let’s talk.