Monday, November 26, 2012

My 28th Birthday

Last night, after we finished our nightly reading of Magnificat and said our prayers, Philip and I did our nightly check-in to see how the other was doing.  We both said that we were mostly feeling numb and that the sadness is starting to creep in.  Now that we're not consumed with my physical recovery or preparing for Thanksgiving, we have time to process everything that happened this month.  When it was my turn, I rattled off my emotions: 
  • I'm sad that we lost our baby, Thérèse.  
  • I'm happy that she's our beautiful saint in heaven who can intercede for our family and propel us to meet her there one day.  
  • I'm glad we are gathering our family to say the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary and have her buried in a Catholic cemetery. 
  • I feel strange just entering into the grief since most people have stopped asking about losing Thérèse, and I suppose I've allowed how other people are acting to determine how I'm feeling.  
  • I'm anxious to try to have another baby and impatient with our 3-month waiting period. 
  • I'm praying for the ability to be present now and find the graces in this waiting time.
  • I'm excited to celebrate Advent with our family.
After blabbering for a few minutes, I sighed and asked Philip to cheer me up.  We were laying on our tummies, facing each other, and he asked, "Want me to play with your hair and tell you sweet things?"  He said how happy he is that we added "God bless baby Thérèse in heaven" to our nighttime prayers so that the children will never remember not praying for her or asking for her intercession.  He said how neat it will be when they are old enough to understand that their sibling is a saint in heaven.  He said how excited he was to celebrate my birthday as a family the next day, and I could tell by his vague description of the day that he had a few surprises up his sleeve.  We gave each other a hug and a kiss and dozed off to sleep.

This morning, I woke up to the smell of coffee and heard the bedroom door open.  I heard Philip whisper, "Tell Mommy, 'Happy Birthday!'"  Little Janie climbed in bed next to me, and Philip stood over my bed, holding Walt.  Janie wished me a happy birthday and gave me a big kiss on the cheek.  

I didn't know it yet, but Philip, sly husband that he is, woke up early, got ready, went out to get donuts (my favorites--apple fritters and long johns), came back, got the kids up and dressed, and the three came in to get me for breakfast.  When I walked out to the kitchen, fresh coffee, milk, and donuts were on the counter next to birthday cards and presents.       

Philip told me to take a seat while he situated the kids and got them started on breakfast.  He handed me my birthday cards to open--one from the kids, and the other from him.  Of course, they both made me tear up!  

Next, Philip told me to open my presents.  I am so excited to announce that I am now the proud owner of a Scotch Thermal Laminator and a huge pack of thermal pouches!  YESSSSS!!!  Laugh all you want, but this mama is over the moon happy about this present.  My ABC 123 Pinterest board full of things to laminate for preschool-ish learning activities and games can now come to fruition!  I can't wait to make all of those fun things.  First on my list is a printable Nativity set to cut out and make into magnets for the fridge.    

Philip had to leave to go to work, so we exchanged hugs and kisses and wished each other a great day.  The kids and I got ready for my young mothers group that meets at our parish on Monday mornings.  As I hopped out of the shower, Janie came to the door to announce, "Mama!  It's SNOWING!"  

Don't mind the beer bottles or coolers.  Our fridge broke, and we're living out of coolers until our new fridge arrives on Thursday!
Sure enough, I walked out to the family room in my wrap towel to see beautiful white snowflakes coming down.  Almost instantly, I teared up.  I knew this little gift was a present from our Little Flower, Thérèse. 

Let me explain the connection...This summer, I started reading St. Thérèse of Lisieux's autobiography, Story of a Soul, on my Kindle Fire.  (By the way, it's a free ebook on Kindle in case you're interested.)  I know that reading her autobiography helped me to develop a fondness for the Little Flower.  

In her autobiography, St. Thérèse recounts the story of her clothing day (one of the steps on her way to entering Carmel and professing her vows as a Carmelite nun).  She writes to "dear Mother," her religious superior who asked her to pen the autobiography as a testament to her sanctity.  The part that instantly stood out in my mind as I watched the snowflakes fall on our deck this morning was the story of her prayer to Jesus, her Bridgegroom, for snow on her clothing day.
Do you remember my telling you, dear Mother, how fond I am of snow?  While I was still quite small, its whiteness entranced me.  Why had I such a fancy for snow?  Perhaps it was because, being a little winter flower, my eyes first saw the earth clad in its beautiful white mantle.  So, on my clothing day, I wished to see it decked, like myself, in spotless white.  The weather was so mild that it might have been spring, and I no longer dared hope for snow.  The morning of the feast brought no change and I gave up my childish desire, as impossible to be realized...
The instant I set foot in the enclosure (the courtyard outside of the Church) again my eyes fell on the statue of the Child Jesus smiling on me amid the flowers and lights; then, turning towards the quadrangle, I saw that, in spite of the mildness of the weather, it was covered with snow.  What a delicate attention on the part of Jesus!  Gratifying the least wish of His little Spouse, He even sent her this.  Where is the creature so mighty that he can make one flake of it fall to please his beloved?
The snowflakes this morning marked the first snow for this winter.  It has been uncharacteristically warm this fall, and the rest of this week looks to be warm as well.  When I saw the flakes falling this morning, tears poured out of my eyes, and I said a silent prayer, thanking God for the beautiful mantle of white to remind me in my sadness that my own Little Flower was still very much with me and interceding for me on my behalf from heaven.  

At the end of my young mothers meeting at church this morning, my dear friend, Nicole, gave me a card and an envelope, wishing me a happy birthday and saying that it was a small gift she knew was meant for me.  We were busy bundling up our kids so she stuck it in my diaper bag and we didn't have a chance to have a real goodbye, but she's the kind of friend who doesn't need a proper goodbye to know that I love her.  

As we walked through the church narthex, I asked the kids if they wanted to "say 'hi' to Jesus in the castle" (Janie's name for the adoration chapel where the consecrated hosts are stored in an ornate tablernacle that looks like a gilded fortress).  We peeked through the glass doors since someone was praying silently inside.  Janie whispered, "Hi, Jesus!" and said she wanted to see "Boy Jesus" (the Child Jesus statue in the church courtyard).  We opened the church doors to reveal a snow-covered courtyard.  Just like on St. Thérèse's clothing day, our own parish statue of the Child Jesus was smiling on us amid the snow-covered flowers.   

When I got home, I opened the beautiful card from my friend that included "a little story" about my present:
I love to vintage shop and was searching on my favorite seller on Etsy.  They listed a vintage Italian Rosary and got me interested right away!  I then see that it has St. Thérèse on it and immediately thought it might be something nice for you.  I order it, and then get this "strange" feeling.  I look up on Google, what is the Emerald the birthstone for (the stones used in the vintage Rosary) and find out MAY!  (Thérèse was due in May.)  I said a prayer of thanks as I truly felt your little angel saying that "This is something my momma needs!"  I hope you can use this during times of sorrow, joy, peace and growth to remember your blessing of Thérèse in prayer.  Love you!

I know I will be praying the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary with my family in honor of Thérèse with this beautiful gift. 

The most important lesson I learned this year is that God is Love and that He knows better than I ever will what is best for me or my loved ones.  Good Father that He is, He won't always give me what I ask for, and if He does, it won't necessarily be on my timeline.  Nonetheless, I am learning to place my trust in His will for me and my family.  The simple prayer, "Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in You," got me through losing Thérèse, and I know it will get me through the rest of my life. 

Much like the anonymous Confederate soldier who wrote "A Soldier's Prayer," I feel "almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. I am among all men most richly blessed."

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey....
I asked for health, that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things....
I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise....
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God....
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things....
I got nothing that I asked for -
but everything that I had hoped for,
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.

Thank you to my dear friends and family for lifting me up and bringing my life countless blessings.  You were the Body of Christ to me this last month--His lips in your sweet words of truth, His feet when you came to visit, His arms in your embraces, His hands in your preparation of meals or care for our children.  I pray that I may somehow reveal the Body of Christ to you in my 28th year and beyond.    

Sunday, November 25, 2012


We spent Thanksgiving day with Philip's family.  It was a wonderful, relaxing day full of great conversation and fantastic food.  Unfortunately, we forgot our camera at home, so we don't have any pictures to share.  Many thanks to Philip's wonderful family for hosting us and for a delicious meal.  I always knew I loved Philip's family, but with each year, I feel like I am truly a part of their family as an adoptive daughter, and I love them.  

On Saturday, Philip and I hosted my side of the family at our home for Thanksgiving round two.  We opted for the traditional fare.  I wish I took more pictures of all of the beautiful food!  It was a feast to remember.  With nearly five years of marriage under our belts, Philip and I are getting the hang of hosting family events.  We made a great team getting the house and food ready for the big day.  

Our contributions in the food/drink department included Honeycrisp Apple Sangria, Turkey (combo of Martha Stewart and Pioneer Woman strategies), Green Bean Casserole, and Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie.  

Straining the Honeycrisp Apple Sangria.  Yummmmm!

This photo is from Nutmeg Nanny, the blog where I found the recipe for Honeycrisp Apple Sangria.  I forgot to take a picture of the glasses with the cinnamon/sugar rims.  Delish!

Philip totally dominated our 19-pound turkey.  He brined it overnight, basted the heck out of it, and used a cheesecloth.
Chocolate bourbon pecan pie, photo from Southern Living.  This and pumpkin pie are in a dead tie in my book.
The Paula Deen green bean casserole used fresh green beans and mushrooms.  I'm never going back to the canned version again!

The rest of our family brought beer, wine (hooray for a bar-owning brother!), appetizers (my sister-in-law could have fed the entire army with her smorgasboard of delicious nibbles!), rolls, gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, and birthday cake.

Instead of going completely formal or informal, I opted for somewhere in between.  As host and hostess, we insisted that everyone wear jeans and be comfy.  We had ten adults, but we wouldn't all fit around our dining room table, so Philip and I moved the furniture around.  We moved the dining room table out to the front living room and added on a small table to the end.  I said to heck with cloth napkins and opted for paper.

For centerpieces, we went simple but elegant.  I used my grandmother's old lace tablecloth on the dining table, bought a new ivory one for the side table to complement it, and ran a cranberry-colored table runner down the middle.  We got some new taper candles and filled mason jars with greenery from our backyard bushes, cranberries, and floaty candles.

We moved the loveseat that usually sits in the front living room into the dining room.  The five older cousins sat at a card table in the dining room next to the buffet.

The "babies" sat at the kitchen table in their boosters, above the linoleum floor, and away from the carpet.  Barney had to join them.
Unfortunately, our fridge died on us an hour before my family arrived.  The good news was that it was a chilly afternoon/evening, so we were able to keep the foods that needed to be refrigerated cool on the deck in coolers or on top of our patio furniture.  Classy, right?

Had our fridge died on us a year or two ago, I probably would have cried or panicked.  Recent events helped us to keep things in perspective and remember that we're blessed to even have a Thanksgiving feast at all. 

To conclude our feast, we sang happy birthday to the November birthdays (myself included) and had some dessert and coffee.  

 Walt loved the birthday cake in his jammes!  I think he looks like the Gerber baby in this shot.

After dessert, we drew names for our annual Christmas book/gift exchange.  The grandchildren draw names and exchange a book.  The adults draw names and exchange a present with an agreed upon price limit.  

We took a little time to digest and rinse off a few dishes before moving on to my favorite portion of the evening--game time.  The grandkids cuddled up on the couch and watched movies in the family room while the adults played Catch Phrase and Guesstures around the table.  I am pleased to report that the ladies handily beat the boys at both games.  

The dudes.  I think Philip is stiff-arming a nephew to keep him out of the shot...

Fuzzy but cute group shot of most of the group.  My ten-year-old nephew is a good photographer!
What a fun and blessed holiday weekend!  I hope you and your family had an equally fun time celebrating with your loved ones.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Bernie, our Catholic Elf on the Shelf

Do you know about the Elf On The Shelf?

Year after year, children and adults alike are baffled by the mystery of how Santa really knows who’s been naughty or nice. After much urging by the elves and Mrs. Claus, Santa has allowed his biggest secret to be revealed in The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition. At the start of each Christmas season, the elf appears to serve as Santa's eyes and ears, traveling back to the North Pole each and every night to make a detailed report of the day’s activities. This keepsake gift set includes a light skin, blue eyed boy North Pole pixie scout elf and a hardbound watercolor picture book. Children can register their elf online to receive an official adoption certificate and a special letter from Santa. 

We ordered our Elf on the Shelf last week, and he arrived yesterday afternoon during naptime.  Many families' elves make their appearances on Thanksgiving.  Our elf, Bernie, made his appearance on top of the refrigerator Wednesday night after dinner.   

Janie immediately spotted him.  "What's THAT?!"

We explained that he is one of Santa's elves and that his name is Bernie.  He will come everyday to watch Janie and Walt, and he will leave at the end of each day to report their behavior to Santa--good and bad.  When the kids wake up each day until Christmas, they will find Bernie in a new spot throughout the house.  (They'll find him tomorrow morning perched on top of the family room television.) 

If parents are feeling really creative, they can find some fun ways to pose their elves throughout the house with a simple Google search.

After Christmas, Bernie returns to the North Pole to work at Santa's workshop until the next year.  However, depending on how the year goes until next Thanksgiving, I envision Bernie making surprise appearances to remind our children that their behavior (good and bad) matters outside of the Christmas season. 

Philip and I keep revisiting the conversation of how we will balance the secular and religious as Christmas approaches.  We decided there was no harm in bringing Santa to our home, having fun with an elf named Bernie that encourages good behavior, and watching our children's anticipation of Christmas build.  

Nonetheless, we decided we didn't want them to think of Bernie the elf merely as a behavior monitor and the means of receiving gifts from Santa.  We thought we'd add to Bernie's responsibilities by making him the messenger of the meaning of Christmas.  When we introduced the kids to Bernie tonight, we explained that Christmas is an exciting time to prepare for baby Jesus' birthday and that Bernie will help us to learn about Jesus and His family.  Bernie works for Santa, and Santa loves Jesus.  That is the vision of Santa we hope to build for our children.  We want them to think of Santa as a kind old man who adores the Christ Child and blesses good children who love the Lord.  Bernie the elf might work for Santa, but Santa works for Jesus.

Statue from
To help teach Janie and Walt about Christmas, Bernie will present the children with a Little People's nativity scene on Sunday morning.  

We are buying our Little People nativity scene this Saturday during Small Business Saturday at our participating area Catholic bookstore.  We want the children to be able to touch and play with the "big players" present at Christ's birth so that they can better understand the story, and Bernie will introduce them to the children.

To help our children learn more about what Christmas is all about, Bernie the elf will deliver the ornaments for our Jesse Tree, the star for the top of our Christmas tree, and the Christ Child from the nativity scene.  Bernie will join us to light the Advent Wreath, read Scripture, and pray at the dinner table.  He will sit with us as we gather around the Nativity scene to sing Christmas carols.  He will bring us invitations to go to special Christmas events such as a local parish's living Nativity scene (complete with live animals).  He will put out the ingredients to make the Christ Child a birthday cake to eat on Christmas Eve.  (Maybe he'll even make a snow angel in the flour on the countertop!) 

We look forward to incorporating the Elf on the Shelf into our Christmas season in a fun, unique way for our family.  We're committed to keeping the excitement and fun a factor for our children, but we want to balance it with the reason we are celebrating Christmas--Christ Himself. 

What is your family doing during the Christmas season?  Do you have any special or unique traditions that you would like to share?  How do you balance the secular and the religious in your home? 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rethinking My To-Do List

When I was in teachers college, several of my professors told me, "Good teachers borrow, and great teachers steal."  Now that I'm at home,  I'm learning that women far wiser and far ________er (fill in the blank with several other adjectives), have been perfecting the art of homemaking before I came on the scene.  Instead of reinventing the wheel, I'm learning to steal from the best and adapt their advice for our family.

I'm currently reading Graced and Gifted: Biblical Wisdom for the Homemaker's Heart by Kimberly Hahn.  It's a great nuts and bolts book on living out the vocation of motherhood with the work ethic of Martha and the loving heart of Mary. 

While getting back into our "regular" routine around here, I'm learning to rethink how I go about my day.  I am a notorious list maker, and I loved making my "daily do-it list."  The trouble was, I rarely accomplished most items on the list for the day, and by lunchtime, I was so frustrated by my inability to accomplish that day's goals.  My inability to check off most items boiled down to poor planning, poor time management, and unrealistic expectations.  

Here's how I used to make my daily do-it lists:  I separated the items into AM and PM and ranked them in the order I hoped to accomplish them.  If I didn't complete the AM items by lunch time, I tried working on them in the PM, but I became so discouraged by naptime that I either (1) didn't allow myself a break and trudged on through to dinnertime, or (2) gave myself a "break" that often turned into an hour-long Pinterest session.  On the days when I trudged on through to dinnertime, I was irritable and impatient.  On the days when I indulged on a ridiculously long "break" during naptime, I felt even worse afterward.

Fortunately, wise women like Kimberly Hahn are able to help young mamas like myself get back on track and figure out how to order our days in a practical way.  She has some fantastic tips in a chapter on time management in Graced and Gifted that I encourage you to read on your own.  I'll summarize the main points that are helping me to order my days.

Start Your Day in Prayer
Kimberly recommends rising before your family to start your day in prayer.  Rise before the children so that you are able to collect your thoughts, greet our Lord in prayer, and gain insight into what His will is for your day.  When we wake with our children, we are in fire-drill mode, putting out fires at every turn.  Rising before the children and beginning the day in prayer changes the start of the day for the entire family.  

Starting the day with prayer is essential.  Kimberly Hahn says,
Placing our trust in the Lord at the outset of the day helps us to set the plans for the day and yet allow for flexibility.  We can start the day on Plan A and feel as if we are on Plan E by breakfast!  I remind myself daily, There is all the time I need today to do God's will today.  Prayer is an essential part of that reminder.  We are not coming to God and telling him our agenda: rather we are coming to share our hearts and hear his.
As mothers, we live in what Kimberly Hahn calls an "apostolate of interruption."  It's a humbling vocation when we realize that we aren't able to get everything accomplished that we want to everyday precisely because of these interruptions.  When she encounters these interruptions, Kimberly Hahn tries to think of Christ himself asking her to perform whatever favor being asked.  After all, our lives as wives and mothers uniquely allows us to build up the Body of Christ in our ability to serve others.  We might as well start viewing those in our sphere as Christ himself to embolden us to live out this mission. 

Plan for the Week Ahead

Set aside some time Sunday night to look at the calendar, plan for upcoming events, and assign tasks to different days.  Philip and I adopted this practice Sunday night and had a mini "family meeting."  We pulled out the calendar, made sure we had everything written down, discussed tasks we would like the other to complete, troubleshooted scheduling problems, and looked ahead to the following weeks to see if there were any events (i.e., hosting Thanksgiving) that we needed to start preparing for.  

Plan for Each Day
Since our "family meeting" Sunday night, I spend about 15 minutes each evening creating the following day's to-do list.  I gather the calendar (which we are in the process of putting exclusively onto the computer and syncing with our phones), my small tablet notebook, a pen, and my journal.  I tear off the previous day's list and add items that I did not complete, delegate, or eliminate.  I adopted Kimberly Hahn's practice she learned in spiritual direction with Father Michael Scanlan.  I list each item that I would like to complete.  Across the top of the page, I write the following:
A means Act today; B means Best if I could do it today; C means Could do it this week if possible; D means Delegate it to someone else; and E means Eliminate it.
I review my list and assign each task a letter, A-E, to the left of the margin.  If I have more than one item with the same letter, I assign numbers after the letter (i.e., A1, A2).  If I assign a task to delegate to Philip, I mention it to him and ask him which day he will be working on that item.  This helps me to stop thinking about the task because I delegated it, Philip chooses a day to work on it, and I know that he will be working on that item when he comes home from work, so I can adjust accordingly to give him the time he needs in the evening. 

I started using this system Sunday night, and it is working so well for me.  I am much more practical about what I am able to accomplish each day, I am better at delegating tasks when necessary, and I am spending much more time playing with the children than doing things around the house.  I feel more energized, my housekeeping schedule helps to maintain order, and all members of the family are happy in the balance of an ordered home.   

Bring Your To-Do List to Prayer
During your prayer time, review your to-do list.  Ask God to reveal what His will is for your day and to help you eliminate, delegate, and better prioritize the items on your list.  I quoted this line from Kimberly Hahn already above, and I'm going to quote it again because I need to tattoo it to my forehead:  "I remind myself daily, There is all the time I need today to do God's will today."  By taking my to-do list to prayer, God gives me greater insight into what I really need to be doing with the gift of time that he gives me and what I should be doing with it.  I may not be checking off as many items these days, but my time is much better spent doing God's will than mine.  

Adjust for "Changes in the Seasons of Life"
In full disclosure, I'm not rising before the children--yet.  I hope to be there in a few more weeks once I am back to 100% physically and the kids are waking up a little later after they (in theory) adjust to Daylight Savings Time.  Philip is on a more flexible rotation this month, so he's been able to get the children changed and fed before he leaves for work, and after he leaves, I make myself some breakfast and spend 10-15 minutes in quiet prayer with my to-do list while the children play quietly in the family room.  It's not a perfect system, but it's working for now, and I'm letting myself off the hook since this is what Kimberly Hahn calls a "change in the seasons of life."

It seems like such a no-brainer, but I had to triple-star the margin of the book when Kimberly Hahn reminded me that it's an impossible task to finish everything every night.  To emphasize this point, she reminded me that even "Jesus yielded his will to his Father.  He accepted the limitations of his human body, which needed food and sleep.  He trusted his Father's timing, and so must we."

How Do You Order Your Day?

That's what's working for this mama these days.  I'd love to hear what works for you!  Please share in the comment box.  

How's your prayer life?  Are you starting your days in prayer?  What materials (if any) do you bring to your prayer time?  What tools do you use to keep order in your home?  Do you have an electronic calendar or planner with special software?  Do you have a housekeeping schedule?   

Monday, November 12, 2012

"It is Right and Just"

Philip's parents generously offered to take the kids Saturday afternoon and bring them home Sunday afternoon so that we could have some much-needed time together.  For the first time in a long time, we went to Mass without our children on a Sunday morning.  Perhaps it was because we didn't have our children around, or perhaps it was because I needed to hear God Sunday morning, but I felt like every single word of the Mass was meant for me today.

We arrived uncharacteristically early and had plenty of time to focus our minds in prayer before Mass began.  I prayed for God to open my ears to hear His Word and to receive the message intended for me.  I told God that I was anxious about the start of a new week.  Sunday marked one week from my visit to the ER for severe blood loss that resulted in an emergency D&C.  I prayed for God to help me to find patience, strength, and compassion toward others, especially Philip, our children, other family members, and our dear friends as we get back into our regular routine without Thérèse.  I told God that I will need Him to help me to give to others in love even when I am hurting.  I asked God to shoulder my worries that are either too big for me to handle or I am unable to do anything about.  

As I sat back in our pew, waiting for Mass to begin, I found myself staring at the crucifix above the altar.  I normally don't pay much attention to the figures at Our Lord's feet, but Sunday morning, I kept focusing on the faces of the Blessed Mother and the Apostle John.  For whatever reason, their faces struck me.  I kept thinking, "This must be the moment of greatest sorrow in their lives, but instead of looking into their hands or at the ground, they keep looking right at Him."   

Photo of our Church sanctuary
As warm tears started to spill uncontrollably out of my eyes, I imitated the Blessed Mother and the Apostle John at Jesus' feet.  I kept my gaze on our crucified Lord.  Philip handed me a stack of tissues that he fetched when he saw me tearing up, and people filled in all around us.  I tried not to break focus through the tears.  I prayed as I gazed into his sorrowful face.  "Please, help me to love--even when it hurts." 

The choir leader asked us to open our hymnals to "Here I am, Lord."  I tend to get emotional during certain hymns at Mass anyway, but hearing the words in this song so soon after losing Thérèse overwhelmed me.  
I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin
My hand will save.
I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.  

I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have borne my people's pain.
I have wept for love of them.
They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
Give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak my Word to them.
Whom shall I send?
As we sang, I thought, "I want to do Your will, but I need You to keep leading me.  I am sorry for the times that I have turned away from You and caused You pain.  Please break this heart of stone, and keep breaking this heart of stone until I have a 'heart for love alone.'"    

The Liturgy of the Word began, and I asked God to open my ears to hear His Word.  In the First Reading (1 Kings 17:10-16), we heard about a poor widow and her son that were starving to the point of death.  The prophet Elijah approached her, asking for a morsel of bread.  She responded that she was going home to prepare their last meal and die.  Elijah says to her, "Fear not; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make for yourself and your son."  At this point, I had to re-read the passage to make sure I heard it correctly.  This poor widow told Elijah that she was going home to prepare a last meal for herself and her son before they died, and Elijah responded by asking her to bring him "a little cake" before going on home to die?!  Nonetheless, we hear that the woman goes home and does exactly that, and "she, and he, and her household ate for many days."  Talk about faithfulness!

In the Psalm (Psalm 146: 7-10), we heard that the Lord executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets prisoners free, opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down, loves the righteous, etc. and that He will reign forever for all generations.    

In the Second Reading (Hebrews 9:24-28), we heard about Christ being "offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him."  At this point in the Mass, I realized that Christ's face will be the first that Thérèse will see.  Blessed be God forever!

In the Gospel Reading (Mark 12:38-44), we heard that Christ sat down opposite the treasury and invited His disciples to observe the wealthy and the poor put in their contributions.  He pointed out a widow putting in two copper coins, and said to His disciples, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living."

I tried to piece the message together for myself, but the priest saying Mass gave a homily that I hope will stay with me forever.  "It's easy to give when we're happy and things are going well.  If I win a million dollars, maybe I'll give ten thousand dollars to a charity, and maybe I'll feel really good about myself.  If I'm having a good day, it's easy to be patient with my children.  Those of you who are parents know that it's a lot more difficult to be patient and loving toward your children when you're having a bad day.  Or, wives and husbands, employees and bosses, etc."  At this point, I thought the priest was talking directly to me.  I was anxious about my ability to be loving and patient to others as I started a "back to normal" week without Thérèse.  I knew I'd be hurting but that I'd need to go on doing my job as a wife and mother.

The priest turned to the readings and seamlessly strung them together.  He said that the poor widow on the First Reading (1 Kings 17:10-16) and the Gospel (Mark 12:38-44) both "gave in their want."  They gave until it hurt.  They gave in pain, in loving obedience, and in complete trust that the Lord would reward them.  

He said when we're hurting and we're having a bad day, we won't have the strength to love in this way unless we pray for the ability to do it.  He said it's "going into overdrive.  You have to shift the gears in your car when you're going up a mountain, and you have to shift into overdrive when you're going up your own personal mountains."  Bring on the tears!  Here I was, going up my biggest personal mountain yet.  "It's easy to give in times of surplus, but it's when we give in our want that God really rewards us."  God knew I needed to give to my family in this time of want and that I needed Him to help me shift into overdrive.  

The Mass continued, and I felt an overwhelming peace come over me.  The Liturgy of the Eucharist began, and we prayed the Eucharistic preface.
Priest:     The Lord be with you.
People:   And with your spirit.
Priest:     Lift up your hearts.
People:   We lift them up to the Lord.
Priest:     Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People:   It is right and just.     (emphasis mine)

Since we started using the new translation last Advent, I've been struck by the response "It is right and just."  Until last Sunday's readings and Father's homily, I hadn't internalized what the words "right and just" really meant or why we would say those words in preparation for receiving the Eucharist.  

Then it hit me.  I started a little internal monologue.

Of course it's "right" to give thanks to God and lift up our hearts to Him, but why are we talking about it being "just"?  

Well, what's the virtue justice mean anyway?  

Justice is giving to others what is due to them.   

If God is our Creator and Love itself, then of course it's just to worship Him.   

So, why emphasize that it's "right and just" to "give thanks to the Lord our God"?

If God is our all-knowing Creator and Love itself, then of course He knows what is best for us--even when it doesn't make sense to our tiny little brains.

God loves Thérèse even more than I do, and my heart aches that I can't have the life I envisioned with her, but God knows that this hurt is for a greater good.  I might not understand it all now, and that's okay, but in the meantime, it is "right and just" for me to "give thanks to the Lord our God" in my want.  Like the widows in the readings, I need to "give (thanks) in my want" and remember that it is "right and just" to "give thanks to the Lord our God."   

How appropriate that I pieced the meaning of this prayer in preparation for the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith, which interestingly enough, actually means "thanksgiving."  Approaching that summit, I envisioned myself in that car "shifting into overdrive" like Father talked about in his homily.  As I approached Christ in the Eucharist Sunday, I gave to Him in my want.  I cried tears for our baby Thérèse, and I prayed, "God, in my want, accept our sweet Thérèse into Your heavenly kingdom.  Help me to give thanks to You in my want, and help me to make my own life an offering to you."  

With that thought in mind, the choir director asked the congregation to open their hymnals to "The Cry of the Poor" for the Communion Hymn.

The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Blessed be the Lord.

I will bless the Lord at all times.
With praise every in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the Lord.
Who will hear the cry of the poor.

This time, I cried tears of joy in the knowledge that our loving God heard the cry of this poor servant.   


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Physically Losing Thérèse

St. Thérèse, pray for us!
Since sharing the news on Sunday that baby #3, Thérèse, died and that I would be miscarrying at home, we received an overwhelming amount of support.  We are so very grateful for your prayers, phone calls, e-mails, meals, help with Janie and Walt, and all of the other ways that you are helping.  Since Friday, we prayed to God that He would spare us the agony of having to wait very long for me to miscarry Thérèse at home.  It didn't happen how we thought it would, but God certainly answered our prayers.

I must warn any readers that I am about to share the story of how I lost dear Baby Thérèse and that I'm including every possible detail I can remember--even the graphic ones.  I know this might seem like a strange way of handling the death of our child, but I'm doing it for a few reasons.  

I know Philip and I will start to forget the details of these days as time goes on, and I never want to forget.  I want to remember every little detail of our child's short life as well as her death.  I want to preserve these details so that as I start to wrap my mind around the reality of losing our baby, I have it all written out for me to relive and face emotionally.  I was so focused on physically enduring losing Thérèse that I want to have the details recorded when I'm emotionally ready to face them. 

I'm also writing about the actual physical part of losing Thérèse because of the multitude of women who have reached out to me.  Since sharing my blog post on Sunday, nearly two dozen women have thanked me for sharing my story.  For some, I am the first person they told that they lost a baby or a sibling.  I am hoping that opening up about my story and how we have begun the grieving process will somehow be helpful or healing for them.  I hope by my opening up about losing Thérèse that other women who have experienced the death of a child will be able to seek the help they need--whether it be calling a friend, making an appointment with a counselor, or just spending time crying in a chapel during adoration.

So, as you read, I apologize if the story becomes too graphic and you can't read on.  Nonetheless, please respect that Thérèse is our baby and that this is our way of celebrating her life and grieving her death.  Thank you for allowing us to choose to grieve the death of Thérèse as we wish.

I thought that miscarrying Thérèse would be like a painful period with some heavy bleeding.  At least that was what my brain took away from how my OB described the process on Friday.  I anticipated that it would all play out like the plot of a story--the pain and bleeding would slowly build to a painful climax, I would endure the agony of delivering Thérèse, and the bleeding and cramps would slowly come to an end a few days later.

Sunday night, Philip and I were still emotionally numb.  After we put Janie and Walt to bed, we decided to take a break from talking or thinking about Thérèse and just watch a few shows.  At 7:30, I started having painful cramps and the spotting turned into moderate bleeding.  

A few hours later, the bleeding and the pain intensified, and I thought that surely I was going to deliver Thérèse any moment.  The emotional pain would be terrible, but I thought that at least the physical part would be over soon.  I was bleeding so heavily that I had to go to the restroom, and Philip was with me every step of the way.  

The most grizzly part of all was having to take that small sterile container that my doctor had given me to the bathroom.  I was to preserve as much of our baby as possible so that the tissues could be sent in for medical testing.  

At this point, the bleeding turned to uncontrollable gushing, and I started to pass blood clots the size of my fist or larger.  I knew that there would be a lot of heavy bleeding and probably some large clots like there was during labor and delivery, but Philip and I started to think that this was not how it was supposed to happen.  I started to pass clots and blood at such a rapid pace that I asked Philip to collect them in plastic cups to examine for tissue to collect in the sterile container.  I didn't want to somehow lose our baby. 

We knew something was wrong as we couldn't keep up with the pace of my blood loss.  I started to lose consciousness and told Philip to help me to lay on the bedroom floor.  At this point, I was unable to speak, was still bleeding uncontrollably, and I had lost all color.  Within minutes of laying down, I slowly regained my blood pressure and the blood flow slowed to a manageable rate.  

We called my doctor's office after hours emergency line, and the nurse told us to go to the ER if I continued to bleed heavily or if after laying down for awhile I was dizzy and lightheaded.  After getting off the phone with the nurse, we called my mom to be "on call" in case we needed her to stay with the kids while we went to the ER.  I stayed laying down on our bedroom floor with towels underneath me.  I was so cold from the blood loss that I asked Philip to cover me in a blanket and to bring the heating pad to help with the pain from the cramps.  Philip continued to push me to drink as much water as possible, and I was able to eat a small snack.

Forty-five minutes later, I felt ready to try standing up again.  The moment I stood up, I passed half a dozen clots the size of my fist, and I started to get dizzy, so I laid back down.  We decided it was time to go to the ER, so Philip called my mom.  

I laid on the floor as he packed us a bag for the hospital.  My mom arrived shortly thereafter.  I was nervous about bleeding through during the car ride, so Philip helped me to double up and put one pair of underwear with a heavy duty pad on top of another.  I crawled from our bedroom to the stairs to limit the blood loss, and I put a towel on the seat and reclined during the ride to the hospital.  By the time we arrived ten minutes later, I was already bleeding through the towel, and I was extremely light-headed.  Fortunately, there was no one waiting in the ER waiting room at midnight, and I ended up being the only patient admitted overnight.  

I got checked in right away, and immediately got hooked up to IV fluids.  The nurses were incredibly sweet and serious about getting me efficient care all while being sensitive to the fact that we were there because our baby had died and I was miscarrying.  Soon, the ER doctor was performing an internal exam, and I felt all kinds of movement and heard strange sounds.  Philip explained that he was removing the clots and any remaining tissue to stop the bleeding.  (So long as a woman is retaining clots and tissue, her uterus won't clamp down to stop the bleeding.)  After he was done, the bleeding seemed to stop, and Philip and I dozed for a few minutes here and there as the nurses came in and out of my room to check my vitals and change the bed pad.  

By 4 a.m., my blood pressure was at a safe level, and the bleeding seemed to be done, so the doctor said I could go home.  Philip and the nurses helped me back into my clothes and into a wheelchair so that I could use the restroom before leaving.  Philip went to get the car as the nurse wheeled me to the restroom down the hall.  She waited outside for me.  

Immediately, I knew something was wrong.  I felt the blood rush out of me, and I passed half a dozen clots the size of my fist.  I was able to wash my hands, call in the nurse to show her my blood loss, and she walked me back to the wheelchair.  She said she'd go and tell the doctor about the clots but that I seemed to be doing okay.  The clots were probably just from the blood pooling up as I laid in bed, she said.  

As I sat in the wheelchair in the hallway, I started to lose consciousness.  I heard another nurse approach me and said that I didn't look well.  When she asked me how I felt, all I could do was shake my head.  I heard Philip's voice, and they wheeled me back to my room.  I couldn't say anything, and I thought I was dying.  If I could have talked, I would have asked Philip to call our priest.  The nurses had to lift me out of the chair and back into bed.  When they got me hooked back up to the monitor, my blood pressure was extremely low.  The nurses helped me back into a hospital gown, and I'll never forget the look on my nurse's face as she checked my bleeding.  She raised her eyebrows and said, "Yes, you'll need to stay with us.  We're calling your OB right away."  

At this point, I was terrified.  I had thought everything was under control, that I had delivered our baby, and that I was going to have some light bleeding at home for a few more days.  Now, they didn't know why I was still bleeding, and my OB was being called in.  At this point, I was on my fifth bag of IV fluids, and my hemoglobin was getting low enough that they were considering a blood transfusion.  I was given some medicine rectally to stop the bleeding, and an IV had to be inserted into my left arm since my veins in my right arm were shot from the first IV.  

Soon, an anesthesiologist was talking to me about surgery, and his nurse was prepping me.  My OB arrived at 5 a.m. and explained to us (but mostly to Philip because I was so out of it) that I would need an emergency D&C to stop the bleeding.  I would receive anesthesia through my IV, and my OB would dilate my cervix enough to use a vacuum catheter to remove the lining of my uterus and any remaining tissue.  I dreaded the thought of having to have a D&C to vacuum out any remaining parts of our baby.  It was too barbaric to even think about, but I didn't have a choice anymore, and I didn't have enough strength to say anything other than "okay."  

Minutes later, I had to sign a few consent forms.  One form asked us what we wanted to happen to Thérèse's remains after pathology performed all of the necessary tests.  I am so glad that Philip and I had prepared for this question and had discussed our plans ahead of time.  Processing that question while being nearly unconscious and prepping for a D&C would have been horrific.  We said that we wanted Thérèse's remains to be returned to our care so that we could arrange for a proper burial and some kind of a prayer service.  

Soon after, the anesthesiologist's nurse put oxygen tubes into my nose and a cap on my head.  Philip took my glasses and rings, and they whisked me off across the building to the surgical wing.  Philip gave me a quick kiss and told me he loved me.  I didn't even have the strength to tell him that I loved him back, and I cried that I couldn't tell him those words.  

They opened the doors to the operating room and helped me to scoot over to the operating table.  I don't remember a countdown or a warning that they were knocking me out.  I just remember waking up in a recovery room bed with a sweet nurse sitting at a computer next to me.  She said, "Your husband is in the waiting room, and you'll be able to see him soon."  She wheeled me to a strange room with a reclining chair and gave me a Diet Sierra Mist and some stale graham crackers while she went to get Philip.  

I was still very much out of it, but I was so happy to see him.  He came in and gave me a hug, and the nurse gave us a few minutes while she got my clothes, our checkout instructions, and my prescriptions for pain medicine.  Philip helped me back into my clothes while he gave me the report from our OB on how the surgery went.  My OB had to leave for a delivery after my D&C, so he wasn't able to wait for me to come out of recovery.  Philip said that my OB told him the D&C went well, he was able to remove all of the clots and remaining tissue, and that my uterus was able to clamp down to stop the bleeding.  Everything went as it was supposed to in surgery, and I was to schedule a follow-up exam with him in two weeks.  We both asked each other how the other person was doing, and I think we knew we weren't ready to really talk yet, so we both said that we were going to be alright.  

The nurse came back shortly thereafter to pass along my prescriptions for pain and nausea as well as all of my post-op instructions:  Have someone with you for at least another 24 hours in case you get lightheaded and lose consciousness.  No driving, no alcohol, no signing documents or making important decisions, no showering for 24 hours, no lifting anything heavier than 10 pounds for 1 week, no sexual intercourse for 2 weeks.  Rest, wear the compression stockings for another 24 hours, and call if you have any of the terrifying symptoms rattled off to me on a sheet of paper.  As part of the routine, the nurse gave me a pamphlet on miscarriage with a fake white rose.  I couldn't help but feel terrible for the sweet nurse as she had to give me the rose and the pamphlet and say that she was very sorry.  She suggested that Philip pull up the car while she got me a wheelchair and said that we'd meet at the front.  

When Philip and I got into the car, we said that we loved each other and that we were going to be alright, but we spent most of the ride in silence, processing everything that we had gone through in the last 24 hours.  Philip went in to Walgreen's to get my prescriptions filled.  It took a little more than half an hour.  To pass the time, I sent family and friends text message updates to let them know that I had to go to the ER but that I was okay physically after my emergency surgery.         

Since coming home from the hospital Monday morning, I feel like I've been living in a haze.  I know a lot of that's the strong medicine that I'm on, but I know more of it is my mind and heart struggling to catch up with what my body has been through.  That, and the reality that Thérèse is gone.  Our amazing family and friends have been helping to take care of Janie and Walt since I've needed rest and haven't been able to do it on my own yet.  Hopefully I'll be ready by Monday if not sooner.  In the meantime, Philip is cutting back on his hours, and he's going to work until dinnertime instead of staying overnight for his scheduled 28-hour shifts.  He'll have this weekend off, so hopefully we can use that time to begin processing what happened this past week.

I will be spending tomorrow at the hospital getting a blood transfusion.  I am still very weak and get lightheaded when I spend any time on my feet.  My doctor hopes that the blood transfusion will help me to get my strength back.  Philip is taking the day off to be at home with the kids after I get checked in.  I'm actually looking forward to have an entire day to be alone with my thoughts, read some books about miscarriage, and pray.  It will be nice to have some much-needed silence.             

Last night, Philip and I promised each other that whether we feel like it or not, we'll set aside some time before bed to check in with one another and talk about whatever we're thinking.  Our thoughts might be incomplete, painful to hear, or slowly choked out between sobs, but we'll need to share them.  I keep telling Philip that it's okay for us to process things differently and that we were forced to live out that night in the hospital individually, but that we need to share that experience with each other so that we can heal. 

Sunday night was excruciatingly painful physically and emotionally, but I am so grateful for all of the ways that we were spared more pain, all of the graces that are coming from Thérèse's life, and all of the graces that are coming after her death.  I thank God that our children were asleep and that Philip was home as I started to deliver Thérèse.  We needed to go through that experience together, and it's special that it was able to happen in the quiet and solitude of a lonely ER in the middle of the night.  I thank God for not allowing the physical process to drag on for weeks.  I thank God that our children are not old enough to grieve for Thérèse but that they can join us in praying for her.  I continue to find peace in the knowledge that Thérèse is a saint in heaven who can intercede for us, helping to reach our goal of joining her in heaven with our entire family.  I find comfort and strength in the prayers of our friends and family.

I heal a little more each time I talk about Thérèse. The best gifts that my friends and family are giving me is their ability to listen, let me cry, and tell me that it's okay to feel however I'm feeling.  There aren't any special words that take the pain away.  I know that miscarriage can be such a taboo topic because people just don't know what to say or do, and some women never even share when they endure losing their babies.  Some people will stay away from me for fear of saying the wrong thing or just not knowing how to be around me.  Some people will unintentionally hurt me by saying something meant to help.  To those who have risked those awkward conversations and have courageously said that they don't know what to say but that they are praying for me and thinking about me, thank you.  You will never know what your courage and compassion are doing for me.  For those who are staying away, please know that I know you're just struggling to get through this tragedy in your own way.  I know we'll make our way back to each other, and I hope it happens soon.  

Each mother has to find her own way to grieve and heal.  For me, writing, talking, crying, and sharing as I feel the entire gamut of emotions reminds me that our sweet baby Thérèse is real, that her life deserved to be celebrated, and that her family deserves to mourn her death.  Thank you for allowing me to share her story with you.

Please continue to pray for us in the days ahead.