Message Received

You all know that great writers are usually not great speakers. Those of you who know me personally recognize what a gift it is that, given time and inspiration, I can express myself coherently in the written word because I am awkward and forgetful and do this hand-wringing thing when I’m speaking in person. I get sweaty and kind of start to hyperventilate. Adorable!

But as you also know, if you’ve read my past few posts, I’m also trying hard to bring my faith to the forefront of my life. I’ve opened up to you about trying to quiet the noise in my life to truly listen to what God wants from me, and I’ve admitted my struggles in being able to hear His voice as much as I’d like.

Before Easter, when I was in at the height of my dedication to prayer and study, I would ask God for direction. What can I do? Where do you want me?

One Sunday as I sat in church with my family, I heard a call for volunteers to help with the children’s Liturgy of the Word. This is kind of a miracle in itself because sitting in a church service with my three kids isn’t the most conducive to, you know, hearing what’s being said at the pulpit. But I also felt this stirring in my heart, saying this is something I could DO! I already teach my kids about our faith – why couldn’t I teach other peoples’ kids? This is something I might be good at. Having committed to trying my best to listen closely and say yes to God (thanks Lysa TerKeurst!), I volunteered.

When they invited me to sit in on one of their services, my flight response kicked in. I realized I had no idea how this program worked. The children go with their families to church on Sunday, but after the opening prayer they are excused to participate in this special children’s service in a smaller chapel and return to their families in time for communion.  

I soon learned this  isn’t a church nursery. This isn’t Sunday school with crafts and snacks. This is a CHURCH SERVICE, created to mirror the same service the adults are participating in, only geared to inspire and make sense to children.

Realizing what I had gotten myself into, I wanted to run. I’m not qualified for this! I won’t be good at this! This is NOT something I can do! You guys, I CAN’T SING PSALMS.

But I noticed I was the only new volunteer who had showed up that day. The ladies who run the program were just so warm and welcoming. I felt like I had to at least try.

I’ve now been observing for a few weeks, and it’s finally my turn to lead today. That means I’ll be leading all the prayers, doing all the readings and songs, and even – EEK! – giving the equivalent of a homily about the gospel.

ME! I’m doing those things. Stop laughing and/or worrying about the children’s future.

So I just opened up the guide I was given, which outlines my week’s readings and some suggested activities, and saw this:

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The entire theme of this weeks’ readings, assigned to me weeks ago by very sweet church ladies who know almost nothing about me except that I’m not a convicted sex offender, is about is about LISTENING to God speaking to us through the scriptures, church community, and quiet prayer. It’s about how to hear and understand what the Holy Spirit is trying to teach us, and why it’s so important to say yes and obey.

They even suggested starting the service with a LISTENING GAME in which you quiet all the noise in the room and listen closely to identify sounds made by a person you can’t see. Is there a divine coincidence emoji I could insert here?

Weeks ago, I asked what I expected by fortifying my prayer life. Did I think God was just going to smack me in the face? Will I ever get a sign?

I opened this book a few days ago and saw these words, which were written for me to use in a role I’m in because for the first time, I listened and said yes when I felt the answer stirring in my  heart.

My bushes may not be burning, and I’ll probably be sweaty and hyperventilating this morning, but for the first time in a long time, I think I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.

Wish me luck!

A Song About Love

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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

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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.

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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

When Your Child Hides Your Keys

“You rifle through the junk drawer, the baby purses, the refrigerator, and that little hole on the side of the TV speakers – to no avail. Even the pantry, where you found a tiny Baby Jesus last spring, is full of only food and an errant container of Play-Doh.

Frustration builds as you begin to suspect these keys were not simply misplaced but hidden. Looking the children in the eyes and menacingly reminding them that this search is wasting their play time, you interrogate them under the searing light of Snowglobe Elsa. ‘WHERE ARE THE KEYS?’ Your furrowed brow is met with a shoulder shrug and … was that a smile? A SMILE?”

Inspired by maddeningly true events, I’m over on Scary Mommy tonight with a new post about that time I lost my keys for two hours.

This is why we drink, people. Happy Sunday, and remember: sharing is caring!

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5 Reasons House-Hunting Is Not For the Faint of Heart

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From the first time I toured the hot pink mansion with Barbie and Skipper, I’ve fantasized about what my own dream house would one day look like. Granted, I don’t expect to have an in-home elevator and my husband doesn’t (usually) wear teal mesh tank tops, but like Barbie, I long for a beautiful home for my family.

We’ve had our share of starter situations, some dumpier than others, and are now in a position to find what we hope will be our forever home, a concept both idyllic and fraught with dangerously high expectations. And though we’re still in the trenches of this agonizing pursuit, I have learned a thing or two along the path to our dream home — mostly, that it’s not easy:

1. Attention to detail is critical. The first apartment my husband and I shared didn’t have working drawers in the kitchen — just faux drawer fronts. It wasn’t something we thought we needed to check when touring for new digs, and it somehow slipped the realtor’s mind to mention. Want to test the strength of your marriage? Infuse the newlywed phase with pregnancy cravings that must be sated in a kitchen whose storage capacity rivals that of a Tic-Tac dispenser. (Shout-out to the restaurant next to our apartment building!) Now we know: try to imagine the weirdest and most inconvenient quirk they could be hiding from you before handing over your money. And always check the drawers.

2. There’s a reason you never see small children on HGTV. It’s not easy paying attention to detail when you’re chasing little ones off other peoples’ furniture and convincing them not to pee in all the potties. I feel compelled to bring them, thinking of course they should have a say in this monumental family decision. The problem is my kids base their opinions of a house on the quality of its bath toys and on the depth of its staircases when tumbling down them. Does the house have a sandbox? If so, they are ready to sign and will not want to leave for several hours. Our family even had to adopt a new rule: any toys left in someone else’s pantry are GONE FOREVER. Seriously. We mean it this time. Not turning around. Nope. Not doing it. Okay, last time.

3. You must do your homework. When I was pregnant with our third, we found a big, beautiful home for rent in an affluent suburb, at the end of a lovely cul-de-sac. It had been recently renovated, and to our surprise, was well within our budget. What luck — it didn’t even seem haunted! And then a simple Google search yielded an alarming result: The house was, and apparently had been for years, the headquarters for an adult escort service. It was an actual, illegal whore house, which (thankfully!) had several Yelp reviews — because God forbid you unwittingly hire a two-star suburban hooker. At the thought of my children running through the halls, tripping on sequins and broken dreams while sleazy websites continued to direct oblivious, ehr, clients to our home, we decided to stay put for another year.

4. It’s okay to get emotional. We’re house-hunting in a highly competitive seller’s market, with a wisp of savings and lots of big dreams. Houses sell in a day here, and we’ve lost bidding wars to people crazy enough to pay cash for one.  (Sidenote: Who ARE these people? And if they have so much cash laying around, why aren’t they using it to buy an even better house? Oooh, I have more dollars in my pocket than a suburban prostitute; I’m gonna go live DEBT-FREE. Whatever.) I’ve had my heart broken a few times over the loss of what I thought was our family’s forever home. I’ve cried into my fair share of cheesecakes after seeing house after house that we can’t afford or won’t fit us or smells like old people breath. It’s a big decision that will have a lasting impact on a family, and the most amount of money a person can reasonably expect to ever spend on anything. Go ahead and feel the feelings. Bring cheesecake.

5. The dream might not exist. This is a tough one for sentimental romantics like myself, especially when we place so much pressure on ourselves to find a house that will suit us until we’re old and gross. We hope that in the short window of time we have, our perfect home will become available and we can buy it and live happily ever after. What I’m chasing is a feeling, more than a bedroom count or proximity to a blue-ribbon school. Just like the cosmic click you’re supposed to feel when you meet your soul mate or first catch a glimpse of yourself in THE wedding dress,  I want to walk into a house and have it feel like home, feel like us. As our window of opportunity closes, though, we have to accept reality: that we may have to settle for walking down the aisle in polyester shoulder pads toward the smelly groom with a receding hairline. I think this happened to Barbie’s friend, Midge.

Maybe we’ll find it. Maybe we’ll create it in whatever space we find. Maybe a dream home only becomes just that when you fill it with your family’s love. The dream lives on in all of us who know we are lucky to be able to house-hunt at all.

To all the other first-time home-buyers out there, I wish you good luck in your searches. But know this, as the most important piece of advice I can bestow upon you: If you show up to my dream house with a mesh tank top and a wad of cash to buy it out from under me, I will cut you.

Happy house hunting!

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 ❤️

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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.

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