Faith, Family, Motherhood

The Heart of Life is Good

This is one of my favorite photos. Sure, I have others that better capture my children’s faces and smiles. This one, though, captures life.

Some things have me thinking hard on the matter of life. It started with the suicide bomber cruelly choosing the concert in Manchester as his target and killing twenty-two adults, teens, and children. It continued with the news of the twenty-eight adults and children violently martyred in Egypt when they refused to deny their belief in Christ. Numerous others were injured in these attacks. Countless more were directly affected and traumatized.

And so, I think about life. Life as it is now, in this world in which my husband and I are raising our little children.

In the midst of this thinking, I came across that photo. It’s a recent one, taken at my kids’ first time at a major league baseball game. All I have to do is look at it and I relive that night.

We bought the tickets on a whim when we saw a low cost deal for some upcoming games. I was excited, as I always am when I attend a baseball game, but I was also worried. Would the kids enjoy themselves or be overwhelmed by the size and the noise of the place? Would they get bored and whine? Would they complain about having to stay in their seats for too long? Would they be too tired the next day? Typical motherhood worries.

My worry was silenced by their wonder: the wonder on their small faces when we entered the stadium; when the crowd stood clapping for the first time; when the fireworks were lit to celebrate each home run; when my son kept his eyes on the pitcher and batter as I explained a little of the game and he was rewarded with witnessing a hit to the outfield; when the racing sausages and the 7th inning stretch brought everyone to their feet in unity. The pair of them enjoyed every minute.

They were thrilled at being part of something so much bigger than themselves.

So many things could have gone wrong. They didn’t, but they could have. I think of the dozens of concerts my friends and I have attended from the time we were teenagers to the present without a doubt that we’d arrive back home safely. Or the pilgrimages we’ve made to churches and retreats without the looming threat of being attacked for our beliefs. I think of the number of people in that baseball stadium with no thought of whether or not someone might make us a target.

So many things could go wrong.

If the fears and worries win, we must withdraw from what is bigger than ourselves. That’s what it comes down to, I suppose. Being part of what is bigger than ourselves is at the heart of life, and life cannot be sustained without the heart.

There’s things you need to hear
So turn off your tears and listen
Pain throws your heart to the ground
Love turns the whole thing around
No it won’t all go the way it should
But I know the heart of life is good
John Mayer
Fiction, Flash Fiction, Marriage, Motherhood, Writing Prompt

Blue

Writing Prompt: She had a cocktail in her hand and confetti in her hair.
Writing Time: 30 minutes

 


Over the bobbing heads of the dance floor crowd, I stare at the woman in the blue dress. She has a cocktail in her hand and confetti in her hair. Her lips are parted in laughter, the sound lost in the noise of the music. My fingers curl into fists against my stomach, mimicking the tightness of the air in my lungs.

Jealousy. It is nested in my chest.

It is not that I wish her to be otherwise. The night is better for the glow in her eyes. I do not wish it gone. I only wish to know it; to know the release of that laughter and the pleasure of my limbs swaying to the song.

“What are you thinking about?” my husband asks, his face close to my ear so I can hear him.

“Do you see her?” I point my chin in the direction of the woman. “In the blue dress.”

He cranes his neck to see. The silver hairs at his temple catch the light of the dimmed sconces behind our table on the perimeter of the dance floor. For a moment I’m transfixed by his profile, then he turns and catches my gaze. He is confused.

“Was I ever like her?” The question is spoken before I can filter it. I expect more confusion. Instead his face is transformed by a broad smile.

He leans in close again. “Even better.”

I rest my forehead against his cheek. His stubble is soft; a comforting texture on my skin.

“You still are,” I hear him add at the pause between songs.

When I close my eyes, a memory plays like a film projection. My roommate and I walking past the fountain at the center of the university campus. A small congregation of other students, strangers, with a radio blasting and an impromptu dance party coming to life. One of the guys pulling me into the group. Dancing with them until the song ends; laughing through every second.

My husband speaks now and I am startled to realize he is reliving the same memory.

“I’ll never forget watching you dance the night before we met. Sitting on the edge of that fountain, seeing you approach. You started singing along to the music. I hoped you’d stop and you did. I hoped you’d dance and you did. I hoped you’d keep laughing and you did.”

I finish the familiar commentary. “You hoped I’d sit down to rest on the edge of the fountain and I didn’t.” I require a deep breath to keep the tears behind the border of my eyelashes.

“You were transcendent.”

A sigh falls from my lips. “That girl is a stranger now.”

“Not to me.” He lifts my chin with his fingertips. “I still see her every day.”

Baby blues. Such a trite, pretty name for the darkness I dwell in presently.

“You’re still her. You are her and more.”

I tuck his words into the deepest corners of my mind, where they are needed. Then I watch the confetti scatter from the hair of the woman in the blue dress.

Catholicism, Faith, Family, Gratitude, Holiness, Intentionality, Jesus, Love, Motherhood, Saints

Apostles of Joy

Yesterday, I witnessed the appearance of pure joy on the rosy cheeked face of my daughter. Again and again, her expression lit up like she was standing in the path of a sunbeam. Her smile flashed as wide as she could make it. Her laughter burst forth contagiously until I was giggling in unison.
St. Teresa of Calcutta stated that “joy is a net of love by which we catch souls.”
“Man cannot live without joy,” according to St. Thomas Aquinas.
Pope Francis advised that all Christians ought to be “apostles of joy.”
What brought on my daughter’s supreme display of joy? Bubbles. That’s all. To her two year old mind, they were wondrous works of art, wrought by magic and created expressly for her. I sat in a chair on our little deck outside the living room blowing bubbles. Even when she was ready to move on to other activities, I kept going. I didn’t want it to end. I needed to witness her joy.
In the hours since, I’ve contemplated both her joy and my reaction to it. That sort of joy arises when something unexpected and incredible appears before us. It’s easy to see why it exists in children as young as my daughter: everything is still new and unexpected at that age. Young children are easily impressed and easily pleased.
 
I am already sad for the days when I begin to recognize in my children a departure from this manner of encountering the world. It will happen though. Fewer and fewer things will feel unexpected or incredible. Must it be that way though? Could I, at 35 years old, experience that uninhibited, simple joy more often? Could joyful become one of my trademark attributes?
 
It’s worth finding out the answer to those questions. Joy adds vigor and spirit to daily living. It inspires gratitude, hope, and contentment – as well as arises from the same. It spreads from person to person, improving the quality of life further and further down the chain of people with whom we are each linked. Rediscovering a way of joy is worth the effort.
 
How do we become characterized by joyfulness in a manner that harkens back to that abundant childhood joy?
  1. Realize every earthly beauty was made for you but you have not earned any of it. Do you realize the world didn’t have to be made beautiful? God could design creation however he pleased. Purely functional might have been the only standard. Beautiful, enjoyable, fun, wondrous, exciting, incredible – God gave creation these aspects for our edification and, most importantly, for us to know Him through creation. He did it for you. He made the colors, textures, scents, and sounds for you. He gave you comprehension of these realities so that you might share in His nature. This He did entirely out of love for you. Encountering your world with this perspective can cast it all in a light that leads to joy.
  2. Engage now and do so without self-consciousness. We are trained to multi-task; to be efficient and productive. We plan. We prep. We do, do, do. We miss so much. Engage in the present moment as thoroughly as you can manage. My husband has been working on teaching me this for years now. Be present and don’t apologize for doing so. A reaction of joy can feel embarrassing, and what a sad statement that is about our accepted mentality! Lose the shame over experiencing joyful wonder at the bits of beauty and goodness that are taken for granted by many people.
  3. Believe your joy is a gift to others. They need it. Your family, friends, coworkers; the person sitting in the church pew with you; the cashier at the grocery store; the elderly man hobbling past you on the sidewalk; the tired parent handling the kids at the park. All of them need your joy. Your children need you to derive joy from their silliness. Your spouse needs to laugh with you and perhaps be reminded of the beauty shadowed by the daily grind. Your friends need a voice that replaces cynicism with joy. It is no surprise we become numb to the goodness available to us in life. Our senses are battered by harshness at every turn and joy is a healing balm.

An apostle of joy is a person who allows joy to be a defining theme of their life and who will carry that joy into the presence of anyone within their influence. If you don’t know where to begin, start with gratitude. Gratitude begets joy. And when you need an extra boost, watch a the face of a child chasing bubbles. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

    Family, Motherhood, Pro Life

    Not Damaged – A Note to Moms

    Today, I came across an online article about a mother who photographed her torso after the birth of her second child. She took a photo at 24 hours post-birth, then a new one at 1 week, 4 weeks, 10 weeks, 14 weeks, and so on. As opposed to yet another “look at me, I look amazing in only a short period of time” sort of social media post, this mom wanted to show the public a realistic, normal transformation post birth. When I clicked on the article to read it, I felt proud of this woman. I was glad that by her brave choice to share those photos, more people might understand the reality of a woman’s body.

    While I was proud of the woman and her intention though, I was disappointed in the author of the article. Not only disappointed, I was angered. The brief paragraphs written to accompany each successive photo were filled with the same language that I see in every article about a mother’s post-partum body.

    Damaged. Fix. Ruin. Recover.

    The word choices in this and other articles make clear the accepted perspective that a woman’s body has been damaged by pregnancy. Her body is flawed now and needs to be fixed. The appearance of her physical form was good before pregnancy and bad now. I have even seen it stated as strongly as saying her body has been ruined. Every bit of body advice post-partum is geared toward recovering your pre-pregnancy form.

    It took until my second pregnancy before I fully realized the error of this way of thinking. It bothered me before that, needling at my brain that there was something off. Somewhere along the way my second time around though, it clicked. Plain and simple, if you’ll allow me to say so, it’s bullshit.

    Pregnancy did not damage your body; pregnancy changed your body. You don’t need to be fixed. Your physical form is not ruined. Lastly, now that you’ve had a child (or two or four), nothing else in your life will ever be the same as it was pre-pregnancy, so why, oh why, are you told your body should be the exception?

    Your body was specially designed to accomplish pregnancy, to carry and deliver a child. Many women are unable to do this since there are many factors that contribute to it occurring, so please, when you are blessed to be one who can and does accomplish this great feat, do not fall into the trap of believing you’ve ruined your body in the process! Our culture claims that we must teach girls to accept their bodies as they are, to be proud of their figures and not succumb to the pressure of airbrushed supermodel expectations. How can we ever instill in our girls a genuine, lasting respect for their bodies while perpetuating the current attitude toward the changes caused by pregnancy? Pregnancy and birth, while far from the only incredible abilities of a woman’s body, are the pinnacle of the unique, amazing design of a woman.

    Stop comparing yourself to other mothers whom you think have ‘recovered’ better than you have after pregnancy. Scoff at those who would label your stretch marks as flaws. Tune out those who wonder why you haven’t fixed your abs yet. And please, please, correct those who refer to the physical effects of pregnancy as damage. Aim for health and strength, but do so with your eyes open to the reality that having a child has changed your body just as it changes everything else in life.

    Family, Motherhood, Scripture, Worthy

    To Annabelle, Now and Every Tomorrow

    Dear Annabelle,
    Look at you. Football jersey, princess slippers, can’t-sleep-without-them animals, and a smile brighter than a sunbeam. Lunging at me in jubilation. Certain I will embrace you. Certain I will laugh with you.

    You didn’t see it but last night as I laid you in your crib, relaxed and content after our mutual favorite lullaby, there were tears in my eyes. You didn’t notice the catch in my voice as I said goodnight.

    Something in the sight of you at that moment clarified reality. You are finishing up being my baby. You are ready to be my little girl instead. My little girl who will grow into my big girl and my young lady.

    The realization filled my chest with a wave of panic. The wave passed, swept out into the ocean of mixed emotions in a mother’s heart as she watches her child change right before her eyes. There’s no stopping you and so there are some things I must say before my voice isn’t the one you’re most eager to hear every morning, noon, and night.

    Your face in this photo, along with a million instances of the privilege I have to see your smile, gives me a flash into the future. I am convinced you will be a woman who is “clothed in strength and dignity, and laughs at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:25). Please don’t lose that light that fills your features.

    Keep your hair out of your gorgeous eyes, so you can see clearly but also so you may better be seen. You ought to be seen.

    When you feel the kick of an urge to smile at someone across the room, the way you do for me, don’t resist it. You have no idea the kindness it is to offer that smile to another.

    And the way you never doubt that I and your Daddy will hear your calls? Have that confidence in your heavenly Father and the days to come won’t be able to silence your laughter.

    The time will come when you doubt this so I’ll try to remind you of it often: you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Your soul, your mind, your body. Every aspect of the whole Annabelle is a wondrous gift from God. Do not belittle any part of that gift, nor listen to those who would try to tell you otherwise. Know that you deserve what is true and beautiful and good, then seek it out fervently.

    Among my greatest hopes for you is that you become a woman who, like the very breath and wisdom of God, “is more precious than rubies, and nothing [anyone might] desire can compare to her” (Proverbs 3:15).

    Your character is a wellspring of untold worth. The potential for generosity and kindness, humor and boldness, passion and earnestness, understanding and creativity – unearth that treasure, my girl. Every person you touch will be better for it and you will pass your years living instead of waiting to live.
    Be the princess you are, Annabelle, and be that only in the truest sense of the title. Be a daughter of the King. There is “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4), Annabelle. Rather than sacrifice it for anyone, be a reason they look for theirs too. Seek the good of every soul that crosses your path. Know your worth and convince others of theirs.

    I love you.
    Mama
    Motherhood, Photography, Pictures & Words Challenge, Writing Prompt

    Pictures & Words Day 5: Sweetness to the Senses

    Day 5 Photo/Writing Prompt: Sweet

    My daughter was full of protests, tantrums, and screaming toddler attitude tonight. There was no patience and no use of the bits of sign language we’ve been practicing. When I laid her in her crib, she reached around for her lamb who has long been her source of extra comfort when she’s tired. That lamb has been missing for a couple days, sadly, and as her disappointment brought tears I felt the guilt creep in. I chided myself for not looking harder for it today. Nevermind that I’d spent a considerable amount of time combing through every room in the house the day before. Forget the fact that she would undoubtedly sleep just fine once she relaxed despite the absence of her favorite little stuffed animal. There was the mom guilt ready to climb on my back.

    A couple hours later I snuck into her room. She stirred a little then stilled. I stood at her crib, a shaft of light from the hallway allowing me the sight of her back rising and falling as she breathed. My eyes fell on her mouth, so tiny and pink. Where earlier there was the high pitched crying of a one year old who wants her dinner right now, there was only quiet. Steady inhales and exhales. My own breathing slowed as I listened. I caressed her soft cheek and let go of the guilt; the “I didn’t play with you enough today” and “I forgot to read books with you before bedtime” and “I shouldn’t have lost my patience with you” guilt. She was resting well, in all her inherent sweetness, and tomorrow I would try again.

    Motherhood

    After Twelve Weeks

    The last time I posted, I was pregnant. Pregnant and proclaiming that I was back to the blogging world. Ha. I am now the happy mama of a 2 1/2 month old boy. Timothy Michael was born on September 27th after a blessedly simple labor. He came home with us on my 32nd birthday and I have enjoyed almost 12 weeks of glorious time with him.

    A friend reminded me, shortly after Timothy was born, of a blog post I’d written a few years ago. It was when Matt and I were first getting serious and I was adapting to being involved in (my stepson) Nethanial’s life. I shared how, compared to my closest friends and plenty of other girls I knew, my desire to be a parent was weak. I didn’t have a strong urge or longing for it. I feared it wouldn’t come naturally, that I wouldn’t be able to do it wholeheartedly as it should be done. I couldn’t help smiling to myself when she brought that up. God be praised, I can honestly say that nothing has felt more natural to me than being Timothy’s mom. Nothing. Being Matt’s wife is an extremely close second but otherwise, I can’t think of anything that didn’t feel forced or awkward or unsuited to me in at least one way or aspect.
    Twelve weeks of cuddling, rocking, diapering, breastfeeding, learning, laundry, dishes, house cleaning, cooking, singing to sleep, cooing, marveling, and praying. Praying I’ll do it right. Praying it all doesn’t go too fast for me to handle.
    But it has gone too fast. I return to work this Thursday. Only part time; 3 days a week instead of 5, for which I’m so thankful. For the last few weeks, it is everyone’s first question: “When do you have to go back to work?” Usually followed by “who will be watching him?” and “are you ready?” Day after day, I answer each of them with a calm manner and as much of a smile as I can manage. Then I sneak to another room or get in the car or hang up the phone, and I cry. I cry and I hug my boy. I cry and I talk to him. I cry and I snuggle him to my chest and feed him. I give myself a few precious minutes to stare at him and caress him without thinking about the laundry to be folded or the dinner to be planned.
    I’ve never had my heart broken. Not truly. I had one boyfriend before Matt, and that was a simple junior high/high school relationship. Matt and I never broke up along the way, despite some extremely difficult times. I have not lost one of my parents or a sibling or a best friend. I’ve been disappointed, wounded, hurt, yes, but never has my heart been broken. I don’t know if I’ll be able to say the same come Thursday.
    Mothers have been doing this for years, many of them for far more hours per week than what I’ll be doing. It’s necessary. There’s no way around it. I’ve found a great situation for him as far as care while I’m at work. There is every logical reason for it all to be fine. I am so far from being unique in this necessity and difficulty. Even my pain over it feels shameful at times as I know so many women have gone through it (and survived it) before me. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any less gut-wrenching.
    With each day that brings me closer to leaving him in someone else’s care, I feel a desperate, unanswerable need to apologize to him. To explain and reassure. There’s no release from it as there’s no way to actually do this. All I’ll be able to do is count the hours until I bring him home, wrap him in my arms and tell him I love him.