The KonMari Method and Me: Book lover and graduated graduate student

I’m on my technical Day 4 of the KonMari Method. Mother of three, expectant of one, this is not the sort of addiction I should be getting into. But here we are. I shutter to tell my husband of the physical toll. So if you’re pregnant, just hold onto that book till the baby’s born and you actually can’t move. Pain is your body’s way of telling you to stop. Dopamine is your brain’s way of saying, don’t ever stop.

I have seven garbage bags of clothes for the future yard sale. My husband has consented to storing them in the attic. Four are my clothes, one is boy clothes, two are girl clothes. Since I started reading the book, I waited in anticipation of Category #2: books.

Books have ever been a problem. My father cherished books. I never saw him read them for leisure, but he taught me that sense that books are precious. They made sure I had many books. I recall exploring the Bible for the first time as it had always sat my shelves. I giggled at a leather bound antique book on the human body in my father’s collection. He and I took trips to the local used bookstore. He delighted in buying me books and I delighted in the escape they provided during adolescence.

Thus I owned many books. Naturally they had to go with me. It’s cute in Rory’s room on the Gilmore Girls but not so quite when your husband has to carry them in boxes at least every two years. Here are some storage solutions over time.

IMG_1592In Virginia, using a Target bookshelf and a plastic one from home, stacked on a filing cabinet since there was too much furniture.

IMG_1597Moving to the country in California, we used my father’s double sided bookcase as a room divider to create an office for my husband. It was nearly full.

IMG_3676Before we moved again, I purged and discarded a substantial number of books.

We could not fit the double sided bookshelf in our new and current home so they books were spread all over the house. In our office remodel we created a library wall using brackets and reclaimed wood. A dream come true but some times it seemed so very full, I wondered how attractive it really was.

We created a pallet bookshelf for in-use books in the kid’s room.

IMG_6512I’ve thought about book organization much more than clothing organization, thus my excitement. Kondo directs the reader to, like everything else, only keep that which gives you a thrill. To be grateful for the books that have lived out their time in your life and send them on their way. Because I believe in the value of books, this resonates with me. She tells us to get realistic, if we haven’t read it, we won’t read it again. I keep books for reference and that has been useful, but some of them I have not referenced in years. I can let them go.

To fully follow the KonMari Method, you bring all your books to the floor. I am unwilling to do this. So I stood on a comfortable step ladder and held each book, asking if it sparks joy. I was surprised at the result. Oliver Twist, no. Great Expectations, yes (really?). A Tale of Two Cities, yes (that surprises me). I thought I’d discard all my Jane Austen books but Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park and Persuasion tickled my joy. I accepted that if I ever teach courses in psychology, I can just find a new textbook because most Ethics textbooks for psychology are the same. I left my husband’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Zelda books alone because they give him joy. I still need to ask him about his Calligraphy book.

We recycled children’s books that were torn up and I put into the discard box the books I deeply disliked. So on and so on. My eldest daughter helped me. My son whined and tried to occupy himself otherwise. My youngest (a year and a half)  attached to John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism the rest of the day, which was pretty funny. As long as it’s bringing pleasure and not harming anyone, I guess that’s okay.

IMG_7701  One overflowing, too heavy to carry box of books filled and the shelves now have breathing room. They look neater, more beautiful to me.

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I will take the box to the used book store and see what money we can get (for birthdays and Christmas presents) and then take the rest to the library. That last step makes it very easy for me to let them go. I know exactly where I can get them if I ever have the urge to read them again!

I have a few more to go through. I haven’t managed to bring everything to one place. There are some stray books in my room. And I didn’t realize she included magazines. I usually sort through those and take clippings, so that falls to the “papers” category.

Luckily, I can conquer that sitting down. Until then!

The KonMari Method and Me: KonMari my kiddos

So far we’ve had a day of reflection and a day to tackle my own clothes. Day 2 and Day 3 I went after the kids’ clothes.

Day 2: The boy Clothes

We have three born children, first a girl, then a boy, then a girl. The boxes of girl clothes have swelled. They are, however, better sorted than the boy clothes. Those never required another thought other than fitting it into a box for moving.

I spent an hour simply sorting all the boy clothes into sizes. With my first child I attempted to store clothing based on its relative sizes because, if you have children, you know not every 6-9 months is exactly as it is says it is. This method was foolish and made it very difficult to find the things that fit when Girl #2 was ready for a new size.

Welcome KonMari Method. I don’t know that I followed this exactly. What to keep for children is part practical and part about joy. I immediately see that I get more joy in looking at girl clothes than boy clothes. Yet I feel joy when I think of how happy he was to wear those t-shirts. I throw into the discard pile, nearly a full garbage bag. There are items never worn, items given that were faded, items too badly stained to bother with. It’s a simple process yet I still manage to overwork myself.

Baby shower gifts should include this book by Marie Kondo. It’s a double-edged sword. It will bring immense delight to the nesting mother, and immense tiredness. After some heart palpitations, I decide I should sit more often as I work on this.

Still, when I finish, there is another bag with the bunch. My gold star for a day’s work.

Thinking of Kondo’s advice, I use what I have on hand to make my storage efficient. I tear off cardboard box sides and make dividers for the plastic storage boxes. Previously I would have had one size on bottom and one on top, but as she points out, this makes no sense. It only makes a mess when you are looking for something specific. So the boxes are divided, left and right, with two separate sizes in each box. I manage to fit nb/0-3 month clothing all the way to 2T in three boxes. Since we’re embarking on adventures in boyland again in January, I focused on keeping more and discarding less.

 

Day 3: The girl clothes

IMG_7665I made it: the third day. While my husband was at work, I brought in the boxes of girl clothes from the closet, 7 ½ boxes. While my sick kiddos watched The Wizard of Oz, I made my way through the piles. The process was no emotional for me. Many items gave me joy, some more than others, and it was easy to toss those that did not. It may be that so many were purchased for us, or were purchased at the thrift store. Several times, however, I thought of my mom helping with our yard sale or asking her to help with some of the stained items and worried about how she might react if she saw all the clothes I was discarding. But I would just tell her the numbers.

I started with 7 ½ and now have 4 ½. Three will go to the attic. One is the next size up for the younger and the last, not totally full, is winter clothing for my eldest. With the changing season, it’s appropriate.

So no major revelations during the day three of the process. I’m excited to tackle books now. I admit, I’m tempted to fold my husband’s clothes, but I will try to resist and focus only on that which falls under my jurisdiction.

The KonMari Method and Me: a mother of three tackles all her clothing

To read about my first encounter with the KonMari Method, see the first part of this series, here.

Day 1: KonMari my clothes

My ambition: sort through all the clothes in the house except my husband’s. Kondo recommends a special way of folding and I have doubts I could ever entice him to do that, so I’ll leave his stuff alone. That leaves, all my clothes from pre-pregnancy (which I thought I might wear ago) to maternity to the largest size, immediate postpartum clothing, plus the clothing of three children.

Kondo advises that all your clothes be store in one place after you have discarded. So that is my goal. No more storage boxes of clothes that I will forget about when whichever stage comes along. All my clothes in one place…where I can see them…in my closet. Oy vay.

Kondo recommends that most clothing be folded. We have limited drawer space because for so long I have believed in hanging everything. Yet she preaches that clothing takes significantly less space folded rather than hung. Because of her worldview, she speaks about certain items of clothing being “happier” than others. While I don’t attribute emotion to clothing, I can see when these items are better treated, so I get her meaning.

I ask my husband to bring every box of clothing from the attic and garage he can find into our bedroom for me to work. Kondo directs me to put all the clothes in one place, every scrap. You cannot accurately gauge how much you own until it’s in one place. Once I bring out all my clothes, I tell him to stop because my pile is high (remember, we’re spanning five sizes plus maternity because of the babies and my penchant for shopping).

I get to work. It’s a little emotional, in that, it’s a lot of emotion to being paying attention to. Does this give me joy? Again and again. I get discourage that I’m keeping so much. I’m working to finish just so I can take a nap on the bed.

I remember two more boxes under my bed. I take a look: in one box my extreme maternity/postpartum and the other box is the exciting size I reached before finding out I was pregnant again. I feel so discouraged. How can I go through more? Where will I put it all. It is one thing to sort this through stuff and make piles, but rearranging, folding, storing. It feels daunting. I doubt I will manage the goals I didn’t even realize I had. They were an unspoken vision, I guess.

I get the bed cleared and finish all but those two discovery boxes. I don’t feel excited. I try to show my husband all I accomplished thinking it will help it sink in. Obviously I accomplished something. I mean, there is a huge pile of clothes to be discarded on the ground and no more boxes that will return to the garage. It doesn’t work and I still feel kind of down. I definitely feel tired.

I can’t sleep. I’m thinking I’m not sure KonMari is for women in my stage. We just cannot realistically downsize that much. It does not make sense to continue to purchase maternity clothes, etc, when you think there is a fair chance you might have another child in the not too distant future.

I lay down for forty minutes. I can’t sleep so I decide to read more of her book. Maybe it’s not working for me because I didn’t read all of the book before beginning. I read some more, but she is talking more about storage now than discarding, as she says to do all your discarding first. I have to store my clothes because it will be two weeks before the next workday.

When I get up from resting, I feel a sense that I can tackle at least one box. There is plenty of room in closet for the pants at least. After folding and storing in the drawers, I’m only using about half the hanging space.

I finished that box. That wasn’t so bad. I’m sure I can find room for these last five shirts.

You know, I bet I can tackle that last box.

And using an open storage box I had on hand, I have a place for even those clothes on the shelf in my closet.

IMG_7656I did it.  IMG_7659   I grew up with my parents remodeling their barn to use it for storage. There were four wardrobes in the upstairs for clothes. There were boxes everywhere upstairs, downstairs. Now they have even more storage space. I grew up with a perspective of storing what you don’t use in case you need it later. It often pays off.

IMG_7661But I wasn’t happy having boxes and boxes, never knowing where things are. Finding something by accident and thinking how much I wished I had that a week ago.

IMG_7662So it feels really good that I reached my goal. I only got through my clothes, but all work days must come to an end and the dishes must be done.

IMG_7663I don’t have any clothes outside my closet, aside from large jackets in the coat closet and costumes in the nursery closet. It feels really good. It is not just a goal reached, but a certain peace of mind that it is all in place, I can see it all, nothing hiding, no questions about where things are. It’s order.

IMG_7651Maybe I’ll try to tackle kid clothing before the next workday. That one shouldn’t be quite so difficult, at least emotionally. Until next time…

The KonMari Method and Me: the experience of a mom of three attempting to simplify life

When I first read about Marie Kondo and the KonMari Method through a “suggested for you” article online, I was struck. As I way of coping with stress, I love organization. Clutter gives me anxiety. It’s visual noise and I hate to have it around. So I have loved reading the endless articles out there on organization, cutting clutter, downsizing possessions and the like. Spurred by some desire to be more Franciscan and a scrupulous fear of being materialistic, seeing all my possessions together in a U-haul or a POD made me sick to my stomach. I hated that I owned so much, yet could see no way around it.

I made some peace after reading the advice to discard what you have not used in a year. Rotating from pregnant to not pregnant, I made two years my measure and discarded several large bags of clothes when it was apparent I had too many possessions for our little one bedroom apartment in metropolitan Virginia.

We moved from Virginia to California, from a small apartment to a large home in the country and our possessions grew. Oy vay, sick to my stomach we had no where to put our things when we moved to a normal size home in town. So boxed and other items were stored at my parents. So much so that when we moved again, there are things of which we still do not know the whereabouts.

I’ve sought to cut clutter, so have everything neatly stored away in boxes, in cupboards, in the attic, in the garage. But it’s not enough. If I could get rid of more, I would. But how to do it? I use what I have. I just use a lot of things throughout the year.

In walks Marie Kondo. I read about her book. The next day I went out and bought her book. The key in discarding possessions, is not to ask have I used this in the last year, but rather to ask, does this bring me joy. Well!

I have clothes that I purchased in my last pregnancy and last postpartum period that I was a little sad to put away. They brought me such joy. I have antiques in my home or items I created that I delight in when I look at them. We’re not purely spiritual beings, things that affect our senses move us.

So perhaps you will end up with a lot less, but you will love to use what you have. When a thing’s time has passed and it no longer gives you joy, you take a moment of gratitude for it’s time or memory or use and let it go. How interesting!

I began to look eagerly around my home.

But wait, Kondo does not recommend working little by little. Rather she says you must do this in one fell swoop, so that the energy you gain from your success spurs you on to the next. Rather than taking a room by room approach, you work at categories. First clothes, then books, then papers, then miscellaneous items and lastly, sentimental items. The earlier categories are meant to have the least emotional attachment. She declares you will grow in the skill of discerning the joy of an item as you progress, so by the time you reach old photographs, you can tell more definitively what gives you joy, and keep or discard accordingly.

I spoke with my mother and scheduled some workdays, as we had in the summer. My husband can work on whatever projects he likes and I will tackle what I can each work day with my kids running amok for want of attention.

So let the games begin!

Antoinette Moms – Under the patronage of powerful ladies

I wrote previously the vision for Antoinette Moms, the mother’s group I am beginning here in my home town, through the Young Ladies Institute. With the goals of prayer, fellowship and formation, it did not take long for me to consider who would be amazing patronesses for this ministry.

St. Gianna Molla

St. Gianna Molla (1922-1962) was an Italian wife, family doctor and mother of four children. Deeply in love with her husband, she loved fashion and traveling, particularly skiing. She died following the birth of her fourth child after opting to save her child’s life and risk her own with surgery, rather than end the life of her unborn child through an abortion and hysterectomy. Along with being a caring doctor, Gianna also served her community as a child and young adult through her participation in Catholic Action, a movement whose aim was to mobilize the Catholic laity to live a more intense spiritual life.

She is a model for those women who feel called or compelled to work, who have particular professional gifts, who must make particularly heroic choices to serve their families and who seek to inspire girls and other young women in the faith.

Blessed Zelie Martin

Blessed Zelie Martin (1831-1877), the wife of Louie Martin, and mother of nine children (five daughters survived childhood), including St. Therese of Liseiux, Doctor of the Church. Zelie lived an intensely devout Catholic life and raised her daughters to do the same. She operated a small business from her home, making lace. Zelie died of breast cancer at age 45. She and her husband will be the first married couple to be canonized as a couple this September.

She is a model for those faithful women who have suffered miscarriage and the death of their children, who themselves suffer from ongoing health issues, who teach their children at home, and who use their talents to earn extra income for their families.

 

There are more non-married (priests or consecrated life) saints recognized in the Church than married saints. For those heroic men and women who said little but did much, there is perhaps little record. This is not unlike Saint Joseph, one of our greatest saints. What we know of him is based on a few biblical passages of action without words, of total obedience to God, and tradition.

So we entrust this group to Zelie and Gianna, women who were exemplars of the dignity of their vocation, who fulfilled their vocation in different ways, whose legacy is a testament of the beauty of marriage and motherhood. Inspired by their example, we move forward with hope, asking God to bless this endeavor.

 

You can find us on facebook at Antoinette Moms, send a request to join the group and you’ll be able to see updates on the happenings of Antoinette Moms.

The I-Thou and Freudian Faith: A Reflection for Mother’s Day

In therapy there is an understanding that when a therapeutic relationship has been established, the client will likely experience transference during which the therapist unconsciously emotionally represents some other individual in the client’s life. The therapist can use this occasion to teach healthy interpersonal dynamics, such as how to express a need or confront when conflict arises. As the therapist grows in care for the client, the therapist may experience counter-transference. This experience of emotionally considering the client as the therapist considers someone else in his or her life is to be guarded against, as it brings the therapist’s personal feelings onto the stage rather than being totally present and open to the client’s own story.

This idea, that the relating which takes place in a relationship and the transferring of those feelings to another object goes beyond Freud’s couch. Richard John Neuhaus relates the classical explanation of it, called the I-you relationship, by Martin Buber: “the I-you relationship between persons carries within it the hint of the I-Thou relationship to the mysterious, to the Divine, to the strange glory.”

In Death on a Friday Afternoon, Neuhaus’ third meditation on the last words of Christ brings the reader to consider Buber’s proposition in light of the magnificent role of mother.

“Of course the child does not come into the world asking questions such as, Why is there something rather than nothing? Or, Why am I rather than someone else where I am? Balthasar writes: “And yet the child is aware, in the first opening of its mind’s eyes. Its ‘I’ awakens in the experience of a ‘Thou’: in its mother’s smile through which it learns that it is contained, affirmed, and loved in a relationship which is incomprehensibly encompassing, already actual, sheltering and nourishing.”

There are those who would like to dismiss psychodynamic theory Freud’s because of Freud’s over-emphasis on sex. Freud saw a dynamic life and key developmental points at the early stages of infancy. As one neo-Freudian psychologist relates more clearly, the infant at first does not distinguish itself from its mother. In time, the child learns to see itself as a self, and mother as and other. Whether he identifies with his mother or determines his sense of self as a contrast to mother, this comes later.

Of greatest importance here is the strange glory of parenthood which can lead a child to its later conception of God and the child’s sense of worth. Neuhaus explains

 “Everything is all right,” says the mother to the child crying in the night, and in that “Everything is all right” the child intuits a grand metaphysical statement about the nature of reality. In trusting the mother’s assurance, the child trusts that the universe is home, that he or she belongs here.”

So if the child is able to be free and secure in its mother’s love, this serves as a model for the later call of faith, to be like a child.

“Truly, I say to You, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus would later say. That turning is conversion, and it is in part a turning back. It is a retrieval of that first awakening to a world when all was miracle and all was play, when all was well in the security of a mother’s love.”

We’re called to experience that same security in God, that all will be well. Yet it is not regression, but rather “a matter of deciding, and deciding again and again.”

There are a thousand other moments between mother and child that serve as model for that child to one day call God Father. The faithfulness of the parents lay the foundation of understanding. As with any foundation, should there be some alien dust specks in the materials, the foundation can still be strong. So we ought not to worry too terribly that we are not perfect, that we fail, time and again, to be the parents we desire to be. In the end, all have fallen short of the glory of God, and parenthood is only a model, only a physical sign of a spiritual reality, that God is the perfect Father, complete in Triune unity, total self-gift.

So while the typical adolescent will wrestle with all the ways his typical parents are no longer a totally secure base but human, full of baggage and full of flaws, this can open the young adult to the reality of God who fills all things. This can help make peace with the absence of the parent, or the flaws of the parent, and aid the forgiveness and healing of broken relationships.

And if that was possibly not enough, for those whose mothers were absent, Our Lady of Guadalupe says, “Do not let anything afflict you and be not afraid of illness or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

IMG_4670Happy Mother’s Day (almost).

 

Lessons from Motherhood

Let go.

Don’t worry about the plan.

IMG_6552Reinforced the lesson to take it one day at a time.

What I want doesn’t matter, but my husband will work really hard to try to give it to me.

IMG_6045Cuddling is the most wonderful thing in the world.

They get better as they get older, but how squishy they are in the beginning is the absolutely best.

IMG_5809I will forever be grateful I could nurse them.

It’s true, the late nights, long nursing in the newborn stage turned out to become special memories.

My husband is the most incredible man in the world.

I’m weaker than I’ve ever been.

I’m stronger than I’ve ever been.

I don’t have control.

IMG_6227I have the ability to impact how these little people will one day understand God.

Vodka is good.

Everything feels better when they play together.

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A solution to the toddler-book-decor dilemma: bookshelf reveal!

If you have young children and a yen to decorate you know how young children push you to adapt. I have been in search of a way to store my children’s books. I tried a traditional bookshelf a few years ago. That ended quickly. You’d be amazed how difficult it is for a two year old to re-shelve books. We used baskets. The book collection grew. We settled on using the bottom drawer of a dresser and that worked very well. That is, until we moved the children into the same room and needed every drawer of the dresser. Next we stuck the books into their play IKEA kitchen they never use. It was okay, but…new two-year old, same problem. The books ended up all over the floor. I invented a library system (perhaps not a totally original idea). We stored the books in our room and allowed the children to pick out three books each week. That lasted until Saturday (a week and a half into the system) when the kids were driving each other crazy and I let them loose in the “library” to occupy themselves. So here we are!

I liked this bookcase from The Land of Nod.

But at $200 it just wouldn’t work for us. I don’t believe transitional furniture should cost so much. Then I came across this diy tutorial.

Fabulous. As I’ve looked out of my kids’ window, since we moved here, I have enjoyed the view of the aged pallet the previous owners left behind. Let’s do it.

Clip, clip here. Clip, clip there.

We cut the pallet, which was missing some boards, into three usable sections. Here is a photo of the last one left.

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Follow that with a white wash in Annie Sloans’ Chalk Paint, pure white.

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I love how it turned out to a feathered soft gray. The walls in the kids’ room are gray, so I knew it would be the perfect complement.

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By the goodwill of my gracious, wonderful, tired of looking for drywall screws husband to hang them, two shelves went on the wall. Recently, we had yet another incident of important things falling off walls (my fault it wasn’t hung with proper screws), so let me just say, drywall screws are important!

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IMG_6200Add a book…

IMG_6201Add some seating…

IMG_6206And a child…

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And voila! DIY pallet bookshelves for the kids’ room. My daughter has already staked out the top shelf as “hers” a pronoun we don’t often use here, so there may be some battles. Nevertheless, I’m pleased with how they turned out!

What methods have you used to solve the toddler-book-decor dilemma?

Reflections on Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Ch 3

When the Christmas break first began there was an explosion of time and thought. Then came Christmas and New Year’s and with it all the tiredness that naturally comes with such things. Thus I have been delayed posting these reflections. I completed the book prior to Christmas, an accomplishment I am quite proud of. Yet little time has there been for computer-based reflections. So without further ado, here we go.

From the moment of his birth, he belongs outside the realm of what is important and powerful in worldly terms. Yet it is this unimportant and powerless child that proves to be the truly powerful one, the one on whom ultimately everything depends. So one aspect of becoming a Christian is having to leave behind what everyone else thinks and wants, the prevailing standards, in order to enter the light of the truth of our being, and aided by that light to find the right path.

 I read in The Privilege of Being a Woman by Alice von Hildebrand that in the fall we became deluded into believing that strength is better than weakness. This delusion leads to the belief that men are better than women or the denial that women are, in fact, physically weaker than men. The belief that to be strong is better than to be weak is such a part of our perception of life and the world, it is seems impossible to think of it in any other way. It is like the falsehood that to be tall is better than to be short. If you say to someone “you are tall” it sounds like a compliment. If you say “you are short” it sounds like an insult. They are merely observations. Strength and weakness should be mere observations. We have to leave behind our old way of looking at things. God really doesn’t care if we are rich. In fact, to be more accurate, he delights in our weakness, our poverty because it puts in us in a position where we must trust him, we need him. It is a good thing not to hold onto riches. That statement flies in the face of everything I was ever taught about money. This does not mean I will go out and spend our rainy day fund on a lavish feast, but I can worry less about our position in the social stratosphere.  Worry less and enjoy more. The $20 I saved two years ago isn’t actually helping me now. Not that I should be irresponsible. Two competing voices. The moral of the story is, do not worry, or worry less.

But Christianity has always understood that the speech of angels is actually song, in which all the glory of the great joy that they proclaimed becomes tangibly present. And so, from that moment, the angels’ song of praise has never gone silent.

 This quote stood out to me. It stood out to me like a sound in a quiet place, a light in a dark room. What he illustrates here is a thought I little think about it but it imbues our whole existence. The angels speak in song. Isn’t all good music a shadow of what their song must sound like? And couldn’t good music lift our hearts to the song of the angels? I think and write about the transcendent quality of the arts. I rarely have an image of what we are transcending to. God is so mysterious, so high. This is one step down, a big, big step, but something just a bit closer to us here in the mud. The speech of angels is actually song. It is a song that from that moment has not gone silent. In our heart, in the exterior silence is when we can hear that song. Do we surround ourselves with songs or sounds that will remind us of the angel’s song, or lead us to put the ear of our hearts to heaven’s door to hear it? Imagine your guardian angel who whispers to you to do the right. He speaks in song. This is an image that can alter my day-to-day life, taking me once more out of the mud to see better what God has made me for.

Peace to men of good will – so men “with whom he is pleased” are those who share the attitude of the Son—those who are conformed to Christ.

How many Christians make haste today, where the things of God are concerned? Surely if anything merits haste—so the evangelist is discreetly telling us—then it is the things of God.

We all know what extent Christ remains a sign of contradiction today, a contradiction that in the final analysis is directed at God. God himself is constantly regarded as a limitation placed on our freedom, that must be set aside if man is ever to be completely himself. God, with his truth, stands in opposition to man’s manifold lies, his self-seeking and his pride. God is love. But love can also be hated with it challenges us to transcend ourselves. It is not a romantic “good feeling.” Redemption is not “wellness,” it is not about basking in self-indulgence; on the contrary it is a liberation from imprisonment in self-absorption. This liberation comes at a price: the anguish of the Cross.

Isn’t it so true? My wild, wild children are pushing me to my limits. There in my limits, in my utter weakness, the tears come, I turn off the facet, put the dishes aside, rush to my room and cry out to God. I shake, I tremble. My heart twists in knots as the cries and fits of my little brats before bedtime ratchet up my nerves and anxiety. I am called to this life and at times it is so, so good. When I see myself losing my grip, I try to talk myself out it, calm myself down. Walk down the hallway, prepare myself, then I walk into a recently cleaned room and see a thousand little pieces of torn paper, or I see the four-year old, shoeless and sockless, without a care in the world, while I wanted to leave home fifteen minutes ago. I lose control. I yell. I scold. Her expression collapses in the shock of what her buddy just said, not what her buddy said but how it was said. “You’re making me sad, Mommy.” Am I a failure?

No, I am not. I am living these moments of the cross. My children are not the cross, but my tight-gripped anxious heart is the thing that must die in order for me to be free from this natural-born prison of self-absorption. How do I know I am not failing? It isn’t high self-esteem, I can tell you that. As I entered the nursery to put my infant to sleep, I saw the dolls in the dollhouse. The mommy was in the rocking chair, with the little girl sitting on her lap. That is how she sees me. I’m doing something right, and it buoys me on.

 

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Merry Christmas!

I hope you all are having an amazing holiday. I’m taking these moments before nap time to reflect on what has taken place today and yesterday. We decided early on we would attend Christmas Eve mass. I desired a concrete beginning of Christmas for the children. Following Catholic traditions which follow Jewish tradition, feasts days begin at sundown the evening before. My husband and I, in our eagerness to celebrate have ever followed this tradition as a couple. A concrete beginning. We did not plan to attend mass at our regular parish, as it was a bilingual mass, which I assume is only pleasant for those who speak both English and Spanish. Or perhaps it is less pleasant for them since it is so very repetitive.

We went to mass and since our children have early bedtimes and are accustomed to morning mass, mass was a wild blend of gymnastics and scolding. It was difficult but a couple I remembered from 15 years ago sat behind us and they enjoyed the children and affirmed us after mass for how well we’re doing with them. If you ever sit next to a wild family, these words are a special blessing to a tired parent’s ears.

After mass we went for dinner at my parent’s house. A small gathering, it consisted of our family of five, my parents and my grandmother. She is a Chinese woman, raised in a British boarding school, married to an American of Greek-German heritage, who we call Yia Yia, which is Greek for grandmother. The gatherings are simple. I’ve stopped planning menus for my mother, as we have our own menus and events to plan. I observe her patiently waiting to see what will take place each holiday while we settle our plans. What we can and cannot do continues to evolve. Our life is growing fuller and the life of my parents’ grows quieter. They are grateful for our children, for the new life and new energy. My dad shows a special affection for time spent with the kiddos.

My husband intoned the Christmas Proclamation at the midnight mass. We saw this as a great honor. He laid down for an hour. I fell asleep. He sneaked out at 10:30 as I nursed the baby, intoned successfully and came back by 11:30 in time to sooth his crying boy, inconsolable without his father.

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This morning my 4-year old woke up, stood in her doorway and said sadly, “Santa didn’t come.” I imagine she thought he would come to her room or that she would hear him or see him. She went with great rejoicing as she saw the cookies eaten, milk drunk and stockings filled. The morning was one delight after another for this child as she filled her “fancy bun” with bows and wore her Christmas dress all morning.

Upon rising I saw what a mess our house was and developed anxiety about the approaching brunch with my family. I thought it would be easier to host a brunch since we would not have to pack up the children. But when you neglect cleaning, forget to buy groceries and have three small children, nothing is as you plan. It all came together with a delicious meal of Toad in the Hole (recipe by Williams-Sonoma), sliced apple, and my husband’s version of saved-after-proofing-too-much brioche.

Now he assembles a toy work bench from IKEA, the children will sleep soon and in the afternoon we’ll attend my husband’s family gathering. I’ve learned to appreciate his family, their authenticity, relaxed expectations, and nonjudgmental love.

Last night I wished for a moment of reflection. The trite um-pah-pah music hurt my head. We turned up the volume on Silent Night sung by the Benedictines of Mary and sat silently taking it in. No more complaining, no stress. Now in the quiet moment of my husband assembling a toy and Christmas music in the background, my heart is quieted, my soul opens up in gratitude for the gifts we have, the gifts we are able to give each other, and the gift of Christ himself, who gave himself without reserve, and calls us to do the same.

So a Merry Christmas to all! I pray you have more than one moment of reflection today. God bless you.

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