Lent in Progress

As of this writing, it is the 4th week of Lent.

Last Sunday, Laetare Sunday, marked the halfway point of Lent. There is something about Lent that brings up the many lessons I have learned and reveals the many ways I have to learn them again.

Many will adopt a spiritual program for the season, often using devotional books, personal sacrifices, or additional prayers. My Lent began, unintentionally, with reading “Work in Progress”, a new book by Julia Marie Hogan Werner.

We are Works in Progress

As the title suggests, we are Works in Progress, a concept so simple and so helpful it’s unbelievable. The ideas, Werner presents are meaty, long-accepted and understood concepts in cognitive behavioral therapy. Werner opens with the question “Who Are You?” to introduce the issues often faced in the United States in reaching that elusive stage of adulthood, and having the life we desire, filled with authenticity and purpose. Most of us do not know who we are. We might have a sense of what we value, but all too often the circumstances of life overwhelm us. What we prioritize with our time gets determined either by a disordered sense of who we are or what is happening right now, rather than our values.

But, when our priorities are determined by our values and not just what’s happening right now, and we have a sense of who we are grounded in the truth rather than by the narratives we learned as children, false beliefs or expectations about ourselves, or trauma. Then we can begin to order our lives according to our true dignity and the values we hold. When we do this, our lives begin to take the shape of the life we envision for ourselves, the ones filled with meaning and purpose. And this is the key to happiness.

Stopping, looking and listening

The book has me examining and considering my approach to things of late, which is quite the goal of Lent, as well, to examine one’s conscience, place and progress in the spiritual journey.

According to Werner, there are two paths our thinking can take when we get together with some of the “false friends” Werner identifies: going with the flow and never really feeling in control or trying to control everything (the perfectionist falls into the latter).

And so the usual pattern for many a practitioner of Lenten disciplines is to see, first, the perfectionist in those first two weeks of Lent. Dedicated, focused, zealous in his commitments, he dives wholeheartedly into the process. But then the bite comes on after that time, the pleasure of change diminishes and the work becomes difficult.

Stages of Lent

Photo by Thays Orrico on Unsplash

In the third week, many a devotee begins to lag. This starts the opportunity to see one’s weaknesses and be reminded, “It is okay to be weak,” and see that suffering, weakness, and that lack of the strong-man within oneself, as a wake-up in humility, an opportunity to draw on the spiritual resources available during this time, to pray for grace, if you will.

And on comes Laetare Sunday, with the liturgical mandate “Rejoice!” Rejoice at what? There is so much darkness in the world, so many daily struggles, so many personal crises. Yet, the word, “Rejoice!” still sounds.

It means to spur us on. I am reminded of Werner’s book again. The author points out that disordered ways of thinking often stem from beliefs we hold, like lenses through which we perceive and understand our actions and the actions of others. Perfectionism stems from the belief that “I am not enough,” or “Failure is unacceptable.”

Werner offers the response.

There is nothing we can do to add to or diminish our dignity or worth as persons. We cannot earn it because it is inherent in our being. Perfectionism promotes the personal lie that worth must be earned. If we fail, if we are weak, we are not enough.

So Lent continues to work the heart through the stages of change. From the contemplation stage of realizing the things one must work on, we move to the preparation stage of committing oneself to the discipline of change. Then on to the action stage of carrying out one’s commitment, and finally, to the maintenance stage of keeping the work going. The stages are cyclical. We will fall back and need to realize these lessons once again.

Thus the strength of these six weeks, these forty days, to remind us and aid us in our understanding that, as Werner says, we are Works in Progress.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Build Your Community

From Merriam-Webster:

“Community is a unified body of individuals: such as the people with common interests living in a particular area, a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society, a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests.”

As a youth, I did the now-unthinkable thing of riding my bike up and down our country road, knocking on neighbors’ doors and spending time with them. So when my father needed something for his farm or neighbors’ needed something for their farm and he talked about farmers helping farmers, I understood what he meant. They were not strangers to me.

As a young adult, I served a year of missionary work with NET Ministries and traveled the country with a team of five men and five other women. We lived together, ate together, and worked together. There was support and effort made to maintain a positive relationships. Some relationships become deep and lasting. Others passed and that season of relationship has ended.

I moved to Minnesota to return to the opportunity to live in that kind of community of women through St. Paul’s Outreach, living together, eating together, praying together, with a shared faith. For a year, I lived in that household. The following year, I found a roommate, and we rented a house, sharing faith but also aesthetics, a Christmas tree, stories about the boyfriends we would go on to marry, and our vision of what life could or should be like as we moved forward to those new stages of marriage.

To the east coast and back, my husband and I traveled after marrying. We returned to California. My parent’s friend owned the first home we rented on the west coast.

We moved again, with the support of my parents. And again. And again. Each time, with gratitude we soaked up the wonder of amazing neighbors when we faced times of crisis.

After ten years, for the first time, it feels like we have found not just friends or neighbors, but community, two, in fact.

One came through the nature of this town. I interviewed a business owner, who told me she had just been on the phone with my husband to set up music lessons, whose husband did electrical work for us when we moved. The next week, I attended a play, directed by the man who, along with his wife and twenty other people, helped us move in because we called a local church to ask for help. Each time I come to town to share the stories of the people who live here, I meet people who read this column, or have known my parents for decades, or I’ve known through a Facebook moms’ group for years, or people I knew as kids running around the hall at a church dinner.

The other community comes from our parish. A group of homeschooling families, seeking a way to connect our children, looking for educational and social opportunities. We see each other weekly, visit after mass, and throughout the summer interact at co-op opportunities.

It comes with age. Moving past the desire to be best friends. Understanding friendships evolve and change. Understanding that no relationship can feed every need. If they serve a few facets, then it’s a boon.

If you’re suffering from a lack of community, consider this.

It takes visibility to form community.

People need to see your face. Put yourself out there. Find groups with common interests, whether volunteering at the Carnegie Art Center, Historical Society, or Lions Club. Or find subgroups or committees at work. Or find the local playdates or co-ops or library storytime.

It takes stability to form a community.

Make your attendance consistent and give it an important spot in your calendar.

It takes intentionality to form a community.

We live in a transitory world, show you’re invested where you’re at. Talk to people. Take an interest. Ask questions.

It is possible, even as people leave and the world keeps rushing around us. It takes time. It takes patience. And a little bit of trust that the people are out there until finally, we build a community.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Lenten Literary Book Club

Do you buy Lenten devotionals but find the process of following them too dry, too big, too small, or too boring?

Do you want to enliven your Lent with holy and literary thoughts?

Do you look into your soul and find a whole bunch of fiction?

If you answered yes, then this is the book club for you!

Several years ago, an acquaintance nearby started a book club and some literature-loving friends invited me along for the ride. We’ve continued to meet monthly, excepting holiday months, and moved from long form novels like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Kristin Lavarnsdatter to short stories and novellas.

The format works, and I want to bring it into the Lenten sphere with a handful of works that can deepen our hearts and minds and help us reflect on the things that matter most.

Lent begins March 2 on Ash Wednesday.

It ends April 14 on Holy Thursday.

Here’s the plan.

  • You read along.
  • I’ll write some thoughts.
  • You comment on the post with your thoughts on the website or Facebook and we can all respond to each other.
  • If you want keep thoughts to yourself, that works!
  • If you want to discuss it with other friends in real life rather than online, that works!
  • The field is open, so let’s have some fun and think some thoughts.

To participate, read these works by these days:

March 9

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Oldmansea.jpg

            Find it in print at your library or Bookshop or read the text online.

March 16

The Enduring Chill by Flannery O’Connor

Everything That Rises Must Converge: Stories (FSG Classics): O'Connor,  Flannery, Fitzgerald, Robert: 9780374504649: Amazon.com: Books

            Find it in Everything that Rises Must Converge in print at your library or Bookshop or read the text online.

March 23

The Gifts of the Christ Child by George Macdonald

            Find it in print at Cluny Media or read the text online.

March 30

The Death of Ivan Illych by Leo Tolstoy

The Death Of Ivan Ilyich - (bantam Classics) By Leo Tolstoy (paperback) :  Target

            Find it in print at your library or Bookshop or read the text online.

April 6

Death be not Proud by John Donne

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Read the text online or find it in many poetry anthologies

April 13

The Last Supper Discourses

TintorettoLast Supper, 1592–94, showing the Communion of the Apostles

Gospel of John, Chapter 14-17, read it in your own bible or online.

Naturally, you can find all these works on Amazon as well, but if you are not already familiar with Book Shop, it’s a great website that work to support small, local bookshops.

Now, the questions for each reading

  • How does the main character or characters encounter the transcendent or divine?
  • What is their reaction to it?

Except for the April 13 reading

  • In Holy Week we are invited to encounter the Crucified Christ. In this encounter, he comes into our story.
  • On top of considering others’ reactions to Christ, what is your response to the Last Supper Discourses?
  • How does it move you?
  • The best stories show rather than tell. Does it move you to action beyond reflection?

Each week I’ll post a reflection here and on Facebook and we’ll take it from there! Comment below or send me a message if you plan to join in!

It’s Advent! What do you have to wait for?

The season begins with its rich sounds, smells, flavors and traditions. Now comes the change, with stores and social media working overtime to sell us on the holiday spirit. Now comes the new flavor of excitement for children. Christmas excitement. Winter break excitement. The excitement of getting and hopefully, at least a little, the excitement of giving. Now comes the overloaded schedules, the to-do lists, the decades of collected recipes that make the familiar holiday meal what it is.

With the passing of Thanksgiving, we begin a season of anticipation and preparation. The almost-here but the not-quite-yet season.

And we call it Advent.

The word “Advent” means arrival or appearance. It is a season of waiting. They told me as a child, “it’s good for you to wait. Patience is a virtue.”

On the farm, expectation comes with the territory. Our little one-acre plot has flowers at one end. I plant the seed, wait for it to sprout, transplant and nurture the little seedling into full growth. What I did not know until this year is that it can take a full 25 days from when I first spied the dahlia bud for it to bloom. We wait.

At the other end of the farm are the birds. My husband came home in spring with a chirping cardboard box nestling five little chicken chicks and two turkey chicks. The turkeys grew and grew, waddling this way and that. The children introduce the turkeys to all our friends. This one is called “Thanksgiving” and this one is called “Christmas” indicating the holiday on which we would thank the Lord for their life and our bounty. Only the female remains now. The male, in its 39.2 lb glory met its Thanksgiving fate. We waited.

Three years ago we first parked our car beside this house and fell in love with its decorative trim and many buildings. We moved in three months later and got to work. A project here, a project there, some requiring expert assistance, others in the DIY realm. There are so many dreams and ideas, but we can tackle them just one at a time with minimal overlap. So we wait.

The expectant mother.

The parent at their child’s hospital bedside.

The quarantined relative.

We wait.

How full of waiting life is. How many times do we look ahead, full of excitement or full of dread, and allow that anticipation to rob us of the moment in front of us right now? Or how caught up we can be in the moment that we forget to wait at all. We grow anxious, impatient, and want it not now. Or we forget to look ahead at all. The big moments of life come and go, but our hearts are not stirred like they might have been. We did not wait. We merely went with the flow, unaffected, caught in the current.

Life is meant to be a gentle balance of attention to the present moment of anticipation, that is, hope, in what is to come. We wait well when we grow a little when we take a deep breath and stay calm. We wait well when we look ahead and allow ourselves the excitement that children live by.

But what have we to wait for?

What is Christmas but so much sadness when the ones you love are in the grave or far away or relationships are fractured and traditions reevaluated in light of so many changes?

Even if you have lost something this year or last year or the year before that, even if you are broken in heart and spirit, there is something worth waiting for. It may be the small, quiet moment of joy. It may be kindness from a stranger or the thoughtfulness of an old friend. It may be the cheerfulness of others less worn down by the storms of life. It might be the unadulterated happiness of a child. It might be heaven. It might be resurrection, coming to life again, a time when things will be healed and made new. It might be the gift that you are to others. It might be the friend you haven’t yet met, the conversation you haven’t yet had, the reconciliation you never thought would happen, the forgiveness you are not ready to give.

There is something worth waiting for.

And so we wait.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

In Silence This Advent

Quietly, I sneak out of bed in the dark hearing the drops of rain pitter upon our rooftop and the slosh of puddles divided by passing cars. It is five in the morning. Yesterday I told myself perhaps I would have to wake this early to find that elusive state I dreamt of, the one so key to a season like Advent: silence.

Quietly, I gather my laptop and phone and latch the door that separates the living spaces from the sleeping spaces, tightening my jaw in the prayer that the eager kitten outside does not begin meowing at the first sign of light from our living room lamps. In the dark, I plug in the Christmas tree. The soft glow of blue lights from our blue and silver Christmas tree decorations illuminates the room of comfy furniture and scattered books. Softly, I settle by the lamp that will give enough light to see and work.

All is quiet.

Success.

I sit down, laptop in hand, and open the day’s doings. It feels good to reconnect with work, with the calendar, with the to-do list after a week of family-focused hustle and holiday fare. It was a glorious holiday filled with a delicious menu, efficient planning, friends and new acquaintances. It was a time to stop pushing, stop worrying, and just be with the family, letting the pruned branches lay where they will as the water and mud expanded the earth of our backyard.

I catch my breath as I hear a stirring in the hallway. The moments are short; I must make the most of them.

Emily P. Freeman emailed her seasonal “What I Learned This…” feature for Fall.

What did I learn?

I learned my limitations. I learned how to work within my limitations. And then I learned my limitations again.

As Thanksgiving transitioned all too quickly to Advent, I am faced with the well-known reality that grief creeps up where it wills. Turning away will not help, we must face it, lean into it, and discover what there is here, what task of grief must be addressed this season, in order to find any peace. The horizons expand. I pen a presentation for St. Mary’s in Oakdale. In a Brooklinen tote, I gather my Advent resources. One should do it and yet I have five.

Resting at midday on the couch on Sunday, I comb through each one, looking for a connection, hoping for some justification for their numerous quantity. In these weeks leading up to Christmas, with most of the shopping done, I want to seek hope; I want to seek silence.

Christmas trees branches in darkness
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Perhaps I can commit to a little each day: a little reflection, a little reading, a little quiet.

I say to my children on the way to mass, “you want me to be a good mother right? To be a good mother I must be able to be quiet and pray.” My oldest is nine and still, I have not learned this lesson.

A resource by writer Sarah Damm

encourages me to reflect on my goals and priorities this season leading up to Christmas. What is most important to me? What do I hope to gain spiritually? What traditions bear repeating within my family?

And let go of the rest.

She offers a list.

Cards. I do not really want to write these, send them. A stack of thank-you cards sit on my desk from a month ago, penned by a nine and seven-year-old. They are still here only because I have failed to look up the addresses.

Yes, let’s forget about cards this year.

When we give ourselves permission to let go of it all, we find there are those things we want to hold onto. But instead of burying them in a pile of obligations, we can anticipate them, then savor them, then reflect on them as good things we did.

What are your goals these weeks leading up to Christmas?

What is it time to let go of, without guilt or regret, because it only robs the family of peace (even if Pinterest, family history, and the blogosphere tell you not to)?

What does your heart ache to see again, hold and rest in?

Let the rain and chill outside slow you down. Let the store ads sit neglected. Look to your heart and the hearts of those around you….and decide, in a moment silence, what to do this Advent.

Photo by Zoran Kokanovic on Unsplash

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch

Saints and Heroes – A review of Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty

Is Dorothy Day a saint?

Cover of Dorothy Day: The World Will be Saved by Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of my Grandmother by Kate Hennessy

Dorothy Day: The World Will be Saved by Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of my Grandmother” is the story of an influential woman told by her granddaughter. Kate Hennessey explores not only the biographical details but considers the controversy over how Day is presented historically to the public, the push for canonization (naming her a saint in the Catholic Church) and the complex relationship between Day and her daughter, Tamar Hennessey, the author’s mother. Hennessey paints a portrait no other author can, that of exploring the depths of this remarkable woman, seeking to discover her for who she is, beyond the black-and-white claims of the left or the right.

On the surface, Day was a journalist, a columnist, a social justice advocate, a founder of a publication called the “Catholic Worker” so named to stand in contrast from the Communist publication the “Daily Worker,” and founder of houses of hospitality and worker farms in which no souls seeking shelter were turned away. She was a Catholic convert with a past to rival St. Augustine of Hippo, the first of our spiritual memoirists. 

Many want Day declared a saint.

Others object. Hennessey, with an eye on the person of Day, is willing to look at her as a human being filled with good motivations and good work, some mistaken ideas, a clear vision and the energy to put it into place. 

The author does this with deft and skill at the written word, following in her grandmother’s footsteps. She offers details usually left out of such works such as the operas listened to or musicals watched on television, the type of drinks consumed, the variety of shells collected. These details paint the scene for the reader, drawing out the sense of time, place and personalities engaged at these moments in Day’s life. 

The book opens with a question of how far back one must go in order to begin to understand Day. One must go very far back, it turns out, to her family of origin.

Hennessey’s perspective of a searching granddaughter never wavers. She writes openly of peppering her mother with questions of their past, and as the book draws to a close, shows clearly those moments at the kitchen table when the conversations must needs also come to a close, there was nothing more to say.

Saint-social-justice-warrior or radically-minded failure?

Hennessey offers the evidence and leaves the reader with the lesson we all must learn, most of our heroes succeed in some areas and failed in others, but that does not diminish their heroic status. 

Like many a student in California, I learned the virtues of Martin Luther King Jr. And the vices of Christopher Columbus. 

In graduate school, I was stunned to learn of the instances of plagiarism in MLK’s life and his failure in faithfulness to his wife. 

During a radio program exploring Columbus’ legacy and diaries, I got a glimpse of the nuances in his life indicating there might be more to the story, more villains and more innocence, good but period-influenced intentions. 

What does it mean? 

There are heroes and there are saints and the two paths might not always cross. A saint, recognized by the Catholic Church is someone who achieved an extraordinary degree of holiness, conformity with the will of God, during his or her life. 

A hero, in contrast, is someone with a remarkable skill or ability needed in a particular time and place, who moved forward history in some significant way. It says little about the rest of his or her life. Just because one person sees the vision of a more perfect union or has a dream where children of any color can play together, does not mean that person was perfect. Few of us are. 

We want our heroes to be immaculate and without sin, and so the temptation, especially in this modern name-changing, statue-removing times is to erase their presence in history. We want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak, an archaic saying meaning to accidentally throw out the good when we try to discard the bad. 

A better way is to approach, as Hennessy did, is the exploration of a person’s life in search of understanding, to praise the good, acknowledge the bad, and know that we can love the sinner who may never be a saint. 

I hope we all can aim for a virtuous and moral life. I wish we all might seek the good and desire to find a way towards goodness and improvement. But I also understand that human weakness runs deep, the temptation is strong and just as we grow up to see our parents’ in a fuller light, more than just mom and dad, but people with flaws, good intentions and great failings, we can see our heroes similarly. 

They can still be heroes. 

And so can we.

The Feminine Genius in Art at Blessed is She

On a rainy May afternoon I ducked out of the drizzle through the double glass doors of the Mistlin Art Gallery in the city’s historic downtown to join an intimate gathering of local opera lovers. Patrons gathered around mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz, artist, performer, and remarkable stage presence for a solo recital titled, “Women & Matters of the HeART.” The theme allowed Printz the opportunity to select and perform those songs closest to her own heart.

 

What are Women’s Matters of the Heart?

 

 

molly-belle-a-xEUwYSPLw-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Molly Belle on Unsplash

 

 

Printz began with, “Neruda Songs,” a series of sonnets written by Pablo Neruda and set to music by Peter Lieberson.

Romantic love, its devotion and emptying out in self-gift comprised the sonnets’ core matter. Their haunting quality affirmed immediately the otherworldliness of love, taking us beyond time and space. Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote in Deus Caritas Est, “love promises infinity, eternity—a reality far greater and totally other than our everyday existence.” (Deus Caritas Est, 3)

Read the rest at the Blessed is She blog

Watch the recital by Nikola Printz for Opera Modesto

A Key Ingredient for a Phenomenal Advent

Advent begins tomorrow. Are you ready?

“I can see that we as a society are hungry for community and shared experiences,” the author writes. And what do you know? Catholics have hundreds of possibilities throughout the year for just such celebrations. But we are confused. After having looked so long at the parish for how to celebrate, with the parish turning inward as well to serve within its parish walls and not its parish boundaries, and a society that is increasingly less Catholic in practice and population, the question of how to allow the liturgical year to interrupt our daily life can leave the ponderer perplexed past the Advent wreath.

 

 

The Catholic All Year Compendium: Liturgical Living for Real Life by Kendra Tierney came out this past October, published by Ignatius Press, with enough time for me to read the 343 pages of ideas and inspiration, copy some down and implement in the Catholic New Year, Advent.

As a Catholic blogger and mother, Tierney introduces these are the ideas of what she does from which the reader can glean what he or she chooses and leave behind those of little interest. On topics for which Tierney holds a special passion (begin celebrating Christmas on December 25, use beeswax, abstain from meat on all Fridays) she makes her case convincingly. Tierney’s writing style is approachable and encouraging, written in a conversation, not commanding style. Her work readers like a blogger with experience.

She explains “It’s also, I hope, an accessible guide for beginners and experienced celebrators, for big and small families, for single folks, for teachers and catechists, for working and staying at home moms.”

The book is endorsed by Jennifer Fulwiler, author of One Beautiful Dream, and proponent of the idea of the blue flame. Certain activities are going to be life-giving for you, and others, are not. I thought of this concept as I read the many kitchen oriented ideas for feast days and consciously did not write those down on my list, because they won’t happen. Waffles for dinner, perhaps, but not Shepherds Pie. But hymns, special prayers, story sharing, decorations, and maybe, just maybe, some crafts, yes. That I can do.

I celebrate by the binder. In November I dig out the 1-inch binder titled “Thanksgiving.” Here are the tried and true recipes, the schedule of what to cook the day ahead and when to begin the bird. Decor ideas that I may or may not implement but when looked at inspire a festive mood. There is a binder for our homeschool day as well. It contains the hymn we’re learning, a prayer card, assignments, and a general schedule. I feel that, with this binder, I could thee celebrate, O Advent, O Lent, O time called Ordinary.

I began compiling the Advent and Christmas feasts and the ideas I thought we could try. I printed pages for those feasts. It can live at our dining table or near it throughout the season, or come out at school time, I do not know. I am not just excited, Tierney’s book actually makes me feel competent because the resources are so endless.

So here we go, feast days. If I fall short of the binder, Tierney says, again and again, there are seasons when it will work and seasons when it won’t, and that is okay. I’ll take her at her comforting word.

The book crowns a trio I’ve read of late. The Grace of Enough by Haley Stewart reminds us to put our heart into our home and local community. Building the Benedict Option inspires Catholic gatherings to build that community. The Catholic All Year Compendium contains the recipes and ingredients to fill those gatherings with Catholic flavor. If you want to build it where you live it instead of clicking away for the community, these will be indispensable resources on your shelf.

 

As a gift to you, I’m making the Advent booklet I made for my family, available to you when you sign up! I promise not to spam you or bug you. I do promise to send you this and similar works that I am using myself.

Click to Download “Advent Practices”

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We Can Grieve Together While Grieving Differently

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch

A Review of Grieving Together: A Couple’s Journey Through Miscarriage by Laura Kelly Fanucci and Franco David Fanucci

Grief.

The five stages of grief are shock, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance. The four tasks of grief are accepting the reality of your loss, processing your grief and pain, adjust to the world without your loved one in it, and finding a way to maintain a connection to the person who died while embarking on your own life.

How easily they are listed, how much more difficult they are to live.

"Grief is as unique as the soul of the child that you lost." Excerpt from Grieving Together.

When I was twenty weeks pregnant with my fifth child, an ultrasound revealed she had anencephaly. My body supported her growth in utero, but without a brain, she would die during or soon after birth. We learned this in the fall of 2016. I chose to carry her until she was full time and deliver near her due date, in early March.

How different that Thanksgiving was! We faced such loss that year.

How strange it was on Christmas to celebrate the birth of the Christ child, knowing what would happen to my child.

A counselor from the palliative care team spoke with me weekly to help me process my grief and pain. I knew of no reference books to help me. Instead Facebook groups kept me informed. Like my miscarriages from early in my marriage, we looked for resources where we could find them, and developed a helpful array of tools to keep in our spiritual backpack, so to speak.

Having found my answers from unexpected lines by C.S. Lewis and an unexpected Lutheran hymn set to a song about a planet and a pagan god, it is with awe and deep appreciation that I read a new publication called Grieving Together: A Couple’s Journey through Miscarriage, by Laura Kelly Fanucci and Franco David Fanucci.

book cover of Grieving Together.jpg

I thought I had all I needed.

I have grieved and life’s demands have helped propel me forward with a current focus of applying all those good things I learned to live at home.

Grieving Together had more to teach me. Never have I encountered a book that aims so high and hits so successfully grief from a spiritual perspective. The authors are Catholic and offer Catholic resources. But it is the material that is not directly Catholic that amazed me most.

The Fanuccis examine that physical process, known causes of miscarriage and the types of miscarriage. I cannot recall seeing a theoretical spiritual resource decide to go ahead and hold all the information you might need in one place.

In the second section, relying heavily on stories rather than drawing lines on theoretical gender differences, the Fanuccis explore the different ways mothers and father process their grief and how these differences can lay a strain on the relationship in an already difficult time. My husband and I grieved differently. He withdrew to play online video games with his best friend while I talked through my grief with women in my life and my counselor. His silence was not a sign of a lack of feeling, it was his process.

In the third part, the authors offer insightful understanding to the cliches many, if not most, in grief will hear, and presents some better and more on point alternatives to those cliches. Sometimes we unintentionally try to push a person past their grief to peace or happiness with sayings intended to comfort because the suffering makes us uncomfortable. There is beauty in staying put with your grief for as long as you need. To let the reality unfold, to let the process take its place, to let the presence of the loved one cement in the heart. Often those who grieve just need someone to walk alongside them, rather than try to fix the thing that is broken.

After a series of prayers, rituals and role models from the Catholic Church, the Fanuccis consider ways to memorialize the life of the infant the parents never had a chance to meet and encouragement for those seasons following the tragic event.

The entire book is written with such clarity, empathy and support, that, once again, I am daring to recommend it to you even though this is not a column focused on religion.

It has been almost seven years since my last miscarriage.

Reading this book, I found wounds dressed and questions answered. It is a remarkable little book.

"Be gentle with each other. Grief sometimes gets worse before it gets better." quote from Grieving Together.

P.S.

I wrote more about this wonderful book at Blessed is She.

Laura Kelly Fanucci writes at the blog, Mothering Spirit, where I found a great deal of hope leading up my daughter’s birth.

You can listen to Laura and David share more about their story here.

You can read an excerpt on that excellent section for those seeking to support someone in grief here.

Meet Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha

In honor of Native American Heritage Month and a reminder of the power of Christian unity, please allow me to introduce you to Kateri.

 

Image result for kateri tekakwitha

 

Written and presented to the Young Ladies Institute, Antoinette #193, a Catholic Women’s Organization

 

Called the “Lily of the Mohawks”, and the “Genevieve of New France” Kateri was a virgin of the Mohawk tribe, born around 1656, in the present state of New York, and died in Canada, south of Montreal, on April 17, 1680. Her mother was a Christian Algonquin, captured by the Iroquois, saved from captivity by the Mohawk chief, to whom she bore a daughter, Kateri, and a son. Kateri’s father, mother, and brother all died from smallpox when she was four years old. Before her death, Kateri’s mother prayed her daughter might grow up a Christian. Her uncle, also a Mohawk chief, and her aunts adopted her. Her uncle hated Christianity.

Smallpox marred Kateri’s face and impaired her eyesight. Her eyes became so sensitive to light that she covered her head with a blanket when she went out. Despite the disfiguration and her shy nature, her family was committed to arranging a marriage for her.

Jesuits missionaries first introduced Kateri to Christianity. It lodged itself within her heart, though she did not ask for baptism either because of her natural reserve or her uncle’s command not to. She followed a path of Christian virtue in a society that surrounded her with war, torture and debauchery. She, who was so timid and obedient, resisted all efforts to induce her to marry, though at great risk to herself. Indignant, her family heaped more chores upon her which she bore with patience. What role did a woman have outside of marriage? What value did a woman have without a husband?

Fr. Jacques de Lamberville arrived years later to take charge of the mission, which included the Turtle clan to which Kateri belonged. Kateri was 19, and she eagerly requested baptism. After a year of preparation, Kateri received the sacrament with all due solemnity befitting the daughter of a chief. She was named after Catherine of Siena, translated to Kateri. Christ would be her spouse. What other identity is there than to belong to God?

Kateri found her consolation in God though relatives mocked her devotions and twice daily trips to the chapel. They sent boys to throw stones at her, drunken men to threaten her.

The time came when her uncle would no longer protect her. Her life was in danger. One day, a young Indian man rushed upon her with a tomahawk. Her natural timidity and the strength of faith mingled in her heart. She bowed her head and sat motionless. Shocked at her peace, the man stopped. Spellbound, he dropped the tomahawk and crept away.

Worn out in loneliness and reproach, Kateri confided to the priest that she must leave. He interceded for her to an Iroquois Warrior Chief and Christian who agreed to help her to escape to the Saint Francis Xavier Mission in Caughnawaga, 200 miles away.

Safe in the mission, Kateri devoured the lessons of her faith and the practice of virtue. Her prayers deepened as she spent nights in prayer before the altar. Common to the times, Kateri exercised her zeal for the Lord through extreme asceticism and mortification. When she visited Montreal and witnessed the lives of sisters vowed to perpetual virginity, she committed herself to dedicate her life as a bride of Christ. Even in the environment of Christian fellowship, Kateri found herself at odds with those who counseled her to marry.

Listening to the Spirit, she allowed grace to become the force of her life and found the strength to resist the external force and values around her.

Kateri died four years after her baptism. Her last reported words are, “Jesus, I love you,” Fifteen minutes after her death, the priest at her side reported her disfigured face became miraculously beautiful and fair, a reflection of the state of her soul.

Devotion to her by her people began immediately after her death. She is the first Native American to be recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church, canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 21, 2012, and named the patroness of ecology and the environment, people in exile and Native Americans. John Paul II called her a “sweet, frail yet strong figure of a young woman,” reminding us that Christ’s death and resurrection turned our understanding of strength on its head. Christ’s strength is made perfect in weakness, and no physical deformity can stop a person from living a life of meaning, grace, and power.