Where is my help to come from?

From Psalm 121:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains; where is my help to come from?

The LORD will guard you from all evil;
he will guard your life.
The LORD will guard your coming and your going,
both now and forever.

You must keep to what you have been taught and know to be true (2 Tim 3:14)

We returned Saturday. I cannot write when I am home…too busy living.

God protects us. We know him to be love, to be good, to be faithful.

Instead of asking “God why are you doing this?” I can take out the question, and in the running dialogue, replace it with “We don’t know why this is happening.”

As a reminder that we cannot always find the reason why we experience the suffering we do. Why do I have three perfectly healthy children, and then Peter, who will have many many problems with his health as his electrolytes become easily unbalanced? We do not know.

Why the timing of all these things?

Why did my husband break his foot?

It there some cosmic book written, dictating these things, “it was meant to be” or is it chance, the chaos of a fallen world? Did he really just step off the ladder wrong?

We cannot know. We know God permits things to happen. We know God works all things for good for those who love him. We know God is love.

I knew I could marry my husband because I could see in his love for me the way God loved me. Now I find I am learning how to love God through crisis by my love for my husband. When we fight, the thing that always cools the heat is the reminder that we are on the same side. It is not me against my husband.

So it is with God. God wants good things for us. He just knows more about how to bring it about.

If I start there, then I can begin to see all the incredible ways God is helping us. The confluence of events that actually work to make things easier, not harder. The passes for the Academy of Sciences at Family House, the occurrence of the 6-year old’s birthday on a Monday when my husband does not work, the assignment of the nurse I am most open with to take care of Peter, the ache of the night nurse who loves Peter when something bad happened, the amazing coffee machine someone surprised us that makes me feel so fine, the ease I feel driving in the city when I must drive because my husband’s foot is broken, and the list goes on and on and on.

At a different time I would have heard these readings with bitterness towards God. It would be the great, “yeah, right” that echoes in the heart of so many grieving and suffering when they hear of God’s goodness. I feel I have rediscovered the God of my youth, the God I knew and stayed devoted to but felt far from during these years of marriage.

I do not know what Thursday will bring, or the month or next year or life. I just know Boston will be a good place to vacation because there are experts there on TPN in case anything happens to Peter during a vacation. I look out my window and see St. Ignatius Church on the horizon, across the city, and I feel hope. It was my pilgrimage site during young adulthood, and the little Carmelite convent across from it.

I am not without fear. I’m terribly afraid. But I am still standing. I might crumble inside in a few days. but for now I am standing. We can keep moving forward.

Evening Reflection: at home

And we did go home. We nearly did. We nearly stayed one more night. One more night was nothing to them, but to me, it was everything.

And here we are. We came home Thursday and it has been a whirlwind ever since. How strange the pace of home from the pace of hospital. It is quiet and methodical in the hospital, strict practice so where we put the diaper after and how to order dinner. I call into a schedule because it gives a predictable course to the day. It makes it feel like a day, rather than an endless series of nothing.

And how the reflection and the mood changes. From loneliness and keeping depression at bay, to impatience and anxiety. In San Francisco I carefully watched my son’s health and communicated to the team. Here, we are the team. My communication is no longer business but personal and I must re-learn how to speak to my spouse and my children. We have to learn how to live together again.

I gather information. I have not been here. I do know the current practices or current reactions. My job was ever to notice the patterns in behavior, report and give my professional motherly opinion on the best course of action.

It feels a little more like drowning, in the chaotic movie sort of way. Not the way drowning actually looks. No, that is how San Francisco feels, when your head just bobs below the water and above the water. Here it’s a panic and a fret and a frenzy. There is just quietly happens and the only way we notice is because I have to keep going and then I start crying. Here I just explode. Here i feel the anger. Here I ask, why God?

An injury in the family, a health concern for myself and then he will not eat orally. When will it ever end?

My two-year old is taking in life with mother. We have to build back our relationship. My four-year old is overly sensitive. My six-year old is desperate for alone time with me, and my approval. My body demands rest. My life demands activity.

Where is quiet and prayer and self-care? I know so well how to take care of myself in San Francisco where there is nothing to think about other than how to take care of myself. Prayer, exercise, writing, art and friendship. These are the powerful tools that keep me going (sprinkled with some shopping).

Prayer. I cannot even imagine. My mind flits from thing to thing here at home. It is so difficult to find the interior quiet. I could go to the adoration chapel. I could bike to the adoration chapel and kill two birds with one stone. But I am so tired. And it is so hard to leave the house unless it is absolutely necessary and I already have to leave for so many things.

Exercise. The tiredness, oh the tiredness. If I could only get on top of that, then maybe I would exercise.

Writing. Here I am. Bully for me.

Art. My home is my canvas. Here it is easier to create than there.

Friendship. We just need to make the plans to make it happen. It can happen here. Because they are here and I am here and that overcomes two obstacles.

Will I just run in circles or actually grow this time?

Time will tell. Let it unfold. The house, interior house, need not get clean in one day. We can go just a room at a time. For now, let us work on the family and living together again. And see some friends. Yes, I much desire to see some friends.

Reaching out to Hope

Each time this night comes, I take the long walk back to Family House and ponder in my mind, “is it real?” It hardly seems possible that the day I have waited for will come tomorrow. Preparations have been made, prescriptions and supplies ordered. We have learned to have things shipped to our house rather than the hospital so we can leave. There are the words. We are leaving.

Can it be? I am afraid to hope. I prepare myself that something may happen over night to prevent our leaving. It is always a planned discharge, never a for sure discharge.

But there is it. It will gradually soak in. Maybe more slowly this time because he must stay hydrated tonight and not vomit, or at least, not vomit too much. He is still a baby. Plans have been made to protect him: increase the TPN, give more breast milk with the formula.

Then there is the ethanol lock. A little alcohol at the end of his central catheter to help protect him from those things that find their way into his blood. Could this mean we do not come back for some time?

In the beginning, the likelihood of infection was not great…possible, but more likely to be a normal fever that all kids get. Yet my children have not been sick, not once all summer…only Peter.

Soon infections seemed very likely for him. This is his third. They mean two-week hospital stays. Coupled with other events, we have been here five weeks. Five weeks, that is the length of the “big hospitalization,” the one in the beginning. But that one was five weeks without interruption. Here we had six days at home…six perfect, too short days.

What will fall bring us? How many holidays will we spend here? Or will we turn a corner and have more time home than hospital? I counted the weeks. We have spent four months in the hospital. He is eight-months old. But one day it is going to change.

I reach out and consider grasping at the hope that lies before us. Yet it is a fearful hope. I must accept this as part of life. I can hope to be home. I can dream of being home an entire month. I can dream of being a family again. God, how I would love to be together again.

We were meant for each other. My husband and I need each other. We are the romantic-style marriage. It was written in the stars. I do not believe marriage must be destiny to be successful. Yet, I would be lying if I said I did not think God planned for us to be together since the beginning.

So we must be together…and detached. That is the lesson. Those were the welcoming words Fr. R and I spoke in the hallway of the PICU. “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). But not hate, I told Fr. R, you can love it…just be detached. He laughed heartily and granted me my point. He experiences his own desert away from home.

Detachment. The first spiritual book I ever read was Abandonment to Divine Providence. My early days were spent reading the Carmelites, Therese and her night of nothingness, John of the Cross and the Dark Night of the Soul. I understood little of it then. How could I? I had never suffered.

God protected St. Therese. She felt he protected some souls in a special way, bringing them up close to him, because they would not be strong enough to endure the path otherwise. I knew I was one of those souls. But we all must come to it eventually. We all must face the Cross. Then he makes us strong.

I have to explore what the Cross is and what hope is. I cannot fall into superstition: that if i pray in this way, he will not go back to the hospital. But it must be trust. It must be personal. It has to contain some notion of Heaven as our home. With a home and family so wonderful, I could love this world so much so I would not want to lose it. I remember thinking that when I held my oldest daughter.

We are on a journey. We must remember that. I am holding the thought. The excitement for tomorrow grows.

20160901_174651

A reading from the book of Lamentations

My soul is deprived of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is; I tell myself my future is lost, all that I hoped for from the Lord.

The thought of my homeless poverty is wormwood and gall; Remembering it over and over leaves my soul downcast within me.

But I will call this to mind, as my reason to have hope: The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent;

They are renewed each morning, so great is his faithfulness. My portion is the Lord, says my soul; therefore will I hope in him.

Good is the Lord to one who waits for him, to the soul that seeks him; It is good to hope in silence for the saving help of the Lord.

The Cross

The Cross is our hope

Through the Cross we earn salvation

Salvation is a gift

Because of the Cross of Christ

We have to be come worthy of it

It is a free gift not a free ride

Suffering

All people suffer

A pilgrim verses a tourist

A pilgrim knows his destination

A tourist wanders and seeks pleasure along the way

The journey is the destination for the tourist

Not the pilgrim, there are delights, but they are inconsequential compared to the destination

If the delights on the journey do not delight the tourist, the trip was a failure

Not so the pilgrim

Today is the Exaltation of the Cross

How can I exalt the Cross? I feel a great emptiness around me, grasping for relationship. I am alone.

I was raised in the Church but not raised in suffering. So for me Paul says, “How could you be so stupid? After beginning in the spirit, are you now to end in the flesh? Have you had such remarkable experiences all to no purpose—if indeed they were to no purpose?”

We are in exile. I am without a home. I am estranged.

Why minimize the suffering? Let us just say it for what it is.

When I was so young, God worked amazing things in my heart. He brought amazing people into my life. He delighted me with his love.

Now, I am not even old. I am still young, and I shutter to think that I have so many more decades to live. I hope they will not be like this past year.

But he did not draw me out for nothing. He did not woo my heart for nothing. Would I have union with God apart from suffering? In all that consolation, it felt like it. And then I married. And my spouse was my consolation. And my children were my consolation.

Sunday I saw the beauty of my life and my home and my children and my capability. Monday I saw the beauty of my marriage and delighted in my spouse. I saw why I married him. I did not need to write because I did not need courage. Tuesday I saw the delight of the little things and saw past small disappointments. Tuesday afternoon, the disappointments began to grow and it felt heavier on my back. Tuesday evening, I knew something was wrong. “It will never end,” I say inside my heart. “When will it end?” I ask the Lord.

That is something in itself. I pray the traffic will clear. I pray it will end. I pray for the future. There is something much much deeper in my prayers than ever before.

I try to make sense of this and try to find some courage. And our Lady at the Cross is there. Seven years ago this night I miscarried. It was 3am. Since then it has always felt this feast day was for me. I finally have the current volume of the Breviary with me and went online to see the week in Ordinary Time. And there were the readings for the day: The Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Christ showed us the way.

I do not understand it. I will keep trying.

I laughed last night…heartily and with a friend. God does give consolations. What more can I say? I must not run from contemplating the cross.

Morning Reflection: For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses…and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

“Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (Corinthians 12:8-10)

My high school youth minister told us, that as God is a Father, he knows his children very very well. My youth minister could put roast chicken and macaroni & cheese in front of his young son and know he will pick the chicken because he hates macaroni & cheese. Just because he knew this when he gave the option did not mean he chose for his son. So it is with God the Father.

In my house, we are very tricky parents. Perhaps I would prefer the kids not to have dessert. We frequently require them to finish particular parts of their meal (the protein) before eating the parts they love (the fruit). I could add an extra vegetable there and require them to eat the vegetable before they can have dessert. The eldest makes it through, as she fancies the taste of vegetables. The littler ones, with their sweet teeth, do not. I shape their actions.

So God knows us. So he knows me. Just when our finances get tight, friends make incredible offers of generosity. Maybe God inspired me to write or say the words that move them; maybe God used some external inspiration. Nevertheless, the timing is very helpful.

It is meant to be.

God made this good thing happen.

God so inspired and shaped the events precipitating the choice that here we are, with blessings we cannot fully comprehend.

So goes my life now, with the future veiled in mystery.

He says, “I can work wonders in you and it will draw others to me.”

I know a mother whose son has a genetic condition that greatly impacts her life. She radiates peace, and patience, and warmth, and compassion, and understanding. I think perhaps everyone who meets her stands in awe of her.

I know another mother whose son was born with a life-threatening condition; whose son underwent surgeries and difficulties; whose family underwent separation during his care. In her, I see boldness, courage and a tough trust in the Lord.

I see that I am different than before. There are worries in life that matter very little now. I feel this unspeakable strength. And yet, then there are those days, those dark days, those gone days, when I am reduced to ruin and helplessness. Mysteriously, we pick up again and keep going. And I feel increased gratitude, perspective, and compassion for myself for the times when I feel very, very weak. Gradually God reveals himself and enlightens my mind to the gravity of my son’s condition. If those chromosomes had come together any different, he would not have SPINT2, but he would also not be Peter.

“God meant for you to have this baby…God meant for you to have Peter,” Dr. P said to me.

If we are open to the challenges before us, and rather than cling to the life of security and comfort, throw ourselves into the will and wonder of God, he will do amazing things. He will work in us with his power in a way that feels so thrilling and incredible and painful. You would have to keep riding roller coasters without him to get such a thrill. That gets expensive. In the very smallest way, it is like how good it feels to trust a friend or a spouse, when you experience that moment of freedom and synchrony with the other person. Only this feels a little more like flying.

20160901_174651Other days it feels a little more like being dragged through the mud. Thus, I see the benefit of morning reflections: keeping perspective.

 

THE PRINCESS

Portrait of Two Women 1914

The king spoke to the girl, “I want you to take care of my daughter. Show her where you live and your life, but help her to prepare for what I am asking of her. She has spent many years on the battlefield, now I would like to take her to rest. I want you to take care of her.”

The moment the two girls were placed in a room together the girl knew the friendship would be deep. The king had given them many things in common and he loved them both. She was honored to care for his daughter, to be escorting a princess around her home and escort her to the halls of the palace.   The king always walked with the princess alone once she arrived, but he still invited both girls both in, showing them pieces of what he had planned for his princess.

To the princess the girl was only a girl—little in light compared, but a joy to share a friendship with. The princess knew the king very well, loved him well, followed him well with dignity and stature. At times the princess fought with the king, as any daughter would. Her love was simple as a rose: beautiful with some thorns. It was as awe-inspiring to the girl as a rose with water drops, to one who had never left the desert.

The girl could look at the princess and already envision the crown. How lovely it was on her fair skin and how it brought out the love in her eyes.

Ah princess! The girl shared with her the dusty home inside the walls but neither were of that place. In their conversations it was like they were in an oasis, everything was bright and new and blessed by their good king. The girl loved her, cared for her, served her and stood by as king prepared his princess for the throne.

“Please, take care of her,” the king recommended ways for the girl to do this. “Do what you can to take care of her. Offer to care for her. Live to serve her if you must. If you do this, it will be a great favor to me. I asked you to do this, no one else. You have helped, but you are the one I chose to care for my princess.”

It was an honor and also a delight. The girl liked the princess. When they talked, they laughed and joked and enjoyed each others’ company. They loved each other and leaned on each other in a deeper way than a normal friendship. It made sense. They had been entrusted to each other, after all. The girl learned from this princess the ways of royalty. She learned to be royal one must be persistent, humble, daring, loving, and gentle. She must be soft-spoken, almost afraid to feel love because the magnitude of real love was so pure that it strains the walls that contain it. It makes itself attentive to the individuals nearby.

She sat with her king one evening. The princess was talking to her guardian who directed and guided her. The king and the girl sat alone, in the stars, with the night air blowing, the light dimly lit, and much peace. “I had a hard day today, my king, but I did one thing good.”

“What did you do?”

“I met someone you sent to the battlefield. I remembered what that felt like and I asked him if he thought he should write what the battlefield looked like before going back into the garden, so he would remember, because…you know, I have forgotten so much.”

He king responded, “I know him of whom you speak. Thank you for sharing. It is good to remember. You have done well.”

“But I started to lose you and I wanted to cry.”

“Then what did you do?” The king asked.

“I spent some time with your princess, taking care of her as you asked.”

“Do you feel better?”

“When I don’t think about that feeling, I feel better. It makes me become sick again, very easily.” That feeling…it oppressed her.

“I know. Continue to fight it. Some days you will be stronger; some days you will be weaker. You won’t die from it, I promise.”

“Thank you. You are such a good king.”

“Yes, but you didn’t spend much time with me today.”

“I wanted to, I tried to,” she said.

“We were together this afternoon and you hardly talked to me,” he pointed out.

“I’m sorry.”

“I want to spend that time talking to you, with you. We have so many moments just being together, that time is for talking. Silence…yes, it is good, but I tell you that so that you can listen better, be distracted less. We should be talking.”

“What should I do?” she asked.

“Darling, don’t be afraid to be natural, to just be with me, where your heart is.”

“I love you,” she told him. He smiled. Ah, how he warmed her heart.

“Remember the princess; she’s in your care. You will do beautifully.”

‘Thank you for bringing her to me.”

“You are both in a special situation. You both are grateful for many things. I am helping you, because this is not the test, it is full of gifts. She is preparing for something very great, and it seems very large to her because she is so small. You haven’t experienced that before, but I am helping you understand by explaining it to you. I will explain these things to you, because you’re still too young to understand. This way you will not be confused or misunderstand or envious because I am not preparing you as I am her.”

“I am not confused or misunderstanding or envious. My heart is all yours.” In the good moments she could say that. He knew in the difficult moments the seeds of those feelings grew.

Though he knew her weakness, the king acknowledged that she made a gift of her heart in the imperfect way she could. He kissed her on the side of her temple and drew away from her. “Now, say good night to my princess and rest. You may meet some struggles tomorrow. Rest for them.”

 

With the Princess busy at the palace, the king led the girl inside the walls and showed her the work he desired. And she thought she did not need patience! She saw better after she began the job he set her to. The girl was sympathetic of others’ struggles, but had no excuses for herself. She felt so frustrated. By the end of her shift, her head her because of all the moments when she did not know, did not understand, could not answer. She was supposed to serve the knights, but she was failing. How much she needed patience then.

The princess’s presence made her reflect on her own possible entry into the palace. Her hear was moved seeing  the example of the princess’s heart. She desired that marriage much deeper. She even felt she had been made for only the king and his marriage alone.

Those in the village around her thought the girl had changed her mind, that she would not marry the king after all. She still did not like them to mention it. No, she would never change her mind. She loved him. Her heart felt made for him, only sometimes she got distracted by other men while she waited. Her little friend from the palace explained to her that she must continue to prepare her wedding garment for that wedding day.

She understood a lot. She understood that on-edge feeling of her friend; she remembered the “yes” from the king “all things to your heart…yes.” She understood the sadness of those soldiers being transferred to other places; she understood the eagerness of that soldier leaving the battlefield for the garden. She encouraged him to remember the battlefield lest he forget the fight while the garden was being tended.

How sad she grew after working. How little her heart could handle and how awful her heart hurt. But then, she looked over and saw her king beside her, watching her, loving her. His presence made her heart warm. All the frustrations, the not-knowing, it was all there, but it would all be okay. It would be okay. He was there, that would be enough. And she loved it. She would love it because he had asked her to. And she loved him.

“Stay with me, king,” she said, “you are all I have. I can learn nothing without you standing right there.”

He stayed in her heart.

He would not leave.

“You’ll have your heart’s desire,” he promised.

 

Yesterday and the day before, she cried. The day had been so hard and as she said goodbye to him, she gave him that pain, kissed the fabric of his robe and left to pick up the princess. Before she left he gave her a beautiful painting filled with pink and light. He met her there at the palace, only a moment later. Her heart was worn down, and in his presence, in his love, with his caring eyes and face that made all her heart let go—she began to cry in front of everybody.

She stood by him and a knight placed their hands together and very firmly pressed the king’s hand into hers. She could feel the compassion of the knights and ladies-in-waiting. She was comforted and she was near her king, still worn down—but having cleansed her heart of the roughness, she knew she could go on and face it again. Why was she so depressed?

The king stayed with her.

PEACE IN THIS PLACE

They sat side by side, looking out from the palace, taking in the sight of the kingdom below. One could see everything from that balcony in the palace. The bustling crowds, the marketplace, the homes. Further out, the farms, the cottages, the greater estates with their large homes. Yet farther still, the hills and battlefields, the arena full of glory. The king caught the girl sighing as she looked down at the crowds. It seemed so colorful, so delightful, so full of new and exciting things.

As a child she longed to live a life fully alive, experience it, savor it, not watching it from a distance. She listened, with rapt attention to stories of what people had found and done amidst those crowds. It fueled her imagination. When she met the king, she began to learn about genuine love, integrity, honor and family in ways completely new and whole. Now were the days when he asked the two parts of her imagination to meet, for the good, true and beautiful to overcome the fantasy. She knew he was asking her to let go, to move on, to accept. She struggled to do so.

“Do not go near the crowds anymore,” the king said very clearly.

“But why?” the girl asked.

“Just please, do not go near the crowds anymore.” He lightly touched her beautiful veil with his hand.

She looked back at that world. “I don’t love it like I used to, not anymore.”

“I am very pleased.”

“I want to run away when I start to get near it. It’s ugly to me.”

“Yes,” he understood.

“It doesn’t have anything like you or the palace. It is all plain and gilded; it isn’t real. But it looks real and people believe it; they’re entertained by it. But when I touch it now, my fingers burn, the gold dust comes off on my hand.”

“Do you think I am asking too much?”

“No. After all I told you before I would no longer go there. I would only go nearer the palace, and not away from it.”

“Yet your heart looks at the sacrifice you’ll have to make.” The king knew there was still a trace of longing for worldly adventure.

She wrapped her arms around his neck. “Yes, king, I look at it, because it is there. But I’ll make it. I won’t go near the crowds anymore. I love you. I know that should I ever need anything from the market, you will part the crowds and I will find you there in the center, ready to hand me what I need. I will never have to stay long.” Her little heart was eager to please.

“Yes, that is true.”

“Thank you, my little king,” she said affectionately.

She knew that he was the greatest and most glorious king. Yet he made himself mystically little as if he could fit inside her heart, a heart so small. And she must be very little too, if she could pass through the crowd and hide herself in the corner of his heart, a heart so great. She was his little girl because she was naive and inexperienced in love and life, but she was learning. She would always be his little girl because her heart would always be little.

The Queen Mother also fit inside her heart, as did her friends, the loved ones, those knights whom she loved. So many things fit inside her heart, a heart so small; and she loved them. It was something magical the king did. It was wonderful to behold when she looked inside her heart at all the people fit snugly inside, the king the largest of all. And yet, in all the people taking up space there in her little heart, she saw the face of her king in their eyes and in their hearts, even those who lived far away and worked far away from the palace. She saw him in them and that was yet another way that he very mystically fit, in such a little way so large, inside her heart, a heart so small.

“I brought you some dirt from the arena,” he handed a small glass cylinder filled with dust. She grasped it up in her hands and held it close to her heart.

“Oh my king!” she cried. Tears came to her eyes. How she missed her fellow soldiers! In her hands burned the memories and the blood they shed, and the love that grew between them. “This is for me! I don’t…I don’t understand…or I don’t deserve it…I thought it was done with.” It felt like an invitation to look back, to dwell a little on the past.

The king said, “you thought I would ask you to leave, to move on and not hold on or not touch it again because it was over with?”

“Yes, I did,” she admitted

The king reassured her, “you are wrong again, princess. Not all fight in the arena. It is not more glorious than the battlefield, it may be less than many battlefields, but it does affect the heart very deeply. Do not forget. You have my permission to hold on it, because I know that you are willing to live and fight wherever I ask you.”

“I am? I love you, my king!” She hugged him and kissed his cheek in excitement, not only for the dirt but also for his words. She had struggled so much to love where she now lived inside the walls. The girl thought she was supposed to move on and never look back. But loves knows better. That she can accept the future and cherish the past. She thought to be heroic she would have to let it go entirely. With love and age, she continued to learn.

 

A NIGHT IN THE PALACE

That evening the queen asked the girl to stay the night in the palace. She went, not thinking or considering what this invitation could mean. When she entered she could feel that evening was different than all other evenings.

She was honored to stay specifically at the lady’s request, specifically at the king’s request. She was in awe of the magnitude of this invitation as she walked through those large wooden doors. It was five years ago when she stayed last. She knew so little then. She felt young and scared. The girl was not so scared now. This time the girl had been asked to stay. That request touched her heart.

The girl knew the king better too. It was rare the king should open these inner doors. He invited several to stay to share this audience in the middle of the night. The setting is intimate, private and sacred.

These days the girl saw her king everyday, during the day. To stay longer in the palace in his presence was altogether different. It would be surrounded by the darkness outside and the shining stars, the deep quiet around them and the whispers between them as they talked, candles flickering at his sides.

She could remember.

Because of her memories she dared to return.

What beautiful moments they had! When she saw him the next day, she could see a difference. He was always a king, always noble, always glorious. But during their audience in the night, he was vulnerable, because his love was very simple, very calm, and very strong. He asked little of her in that time. It was her time to come to him with special needs or just to be near him. He welcomed her. She was tired. Her mind wandered over and over again. The hour felt long though it passed by quickly.

If the girl married him the audience would be every night because he would have taken her to live with him. But she she did not go that night thinking of marriage. She was more patient than before. No, she went, honored by the invitation. She went to learn and love.

He listened attentively as she spoke. He spoke intentionally, his words intense and great. The girl rattled off her thoughts, got distacted. He caught her attention, smiled and said hello, called her back to him. He did this several times. Each time she stopped dead in her thoughts and responded, “hi. You’re wonderful” or he would say the same words to her, “you’re wonderful.” That was the time they began to use the word wonderful for each other. The two delighted in their company.

Whatever it had been or for whatever reason this was her invitation. Perhaps the girl could have made more of it. She nearly jumped at the end of the hour, ready to go, ready for sleep. In the morning, the girl felt her place. Still tired, her mind wandered while he spoke. She was a terrible listener.

Oh love! His love and her desire for it would never be satiated. It was a love she knew she could never have enough of. Her heart knew it as well and it breathed, swollen and filled with that living water of his love. Yes, she loved. No matter what, she would follow him in this love.

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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DEDICATION

For two weeks, they fought two separate battles side by side. They were wonderfully victorious. Now the girl was home again, inside the walls. The king asked her for a new commitment. In the presence of his court, she committed herself to him and his service. Marriage or no, she would always belong to him. Everything in her life would be dedicated in service to her king. Although a woman, a small frail figure, she became a knight. The sun was already set; the stars shined bright. A fellow servant said to her, “you ask for a star and he gives you the milky way.”

The billions of little lights shined in her now. All her mistakes in the past were wiped away. There lay only the future. She was in his service. It was no longer just a child’s promise, but a knight’s vow. The girl belonged to her king. If she should fall, or stray, or be distracted, or fall in love with another, he had her word that she would return quickly to him. With the help of the court, and a promise of aid from the Queen, she signed her commitment and gave her heart to him. She loved him. Now, not only her heart, but her life, wherever he would lead it, was in his hands.

The girl was not afraid to ask him questions about him, his kingdom or his plans for her. She understood he would guide her in those plans: first arrange it for her, place her near it, then move her gently into it step by step. The king’s gentleness with the girl was a sign to her that he loved her. The girl trusted he had plans for her and that she would not need to ask. He might surprise her, or he might tell her. She had to trust him. This confidence made her feel closer to him.

But people did ask. She could not stay inside the walls and just stand there—she would need something to do. So the girl waited. As she stood outside her home, pedestrians stopped and asked what she was doing. She should have said, “waiting” but instead she speculated as to what he would give her to do. Many things seemed right. She was confident things around her were taking shape.

Once the girl began speculating, she started assuming. Soon she claimed the king had already told her his plans. She could have sworn he had. In her assumptions she grew in joy and as if plans were already underway. Word reached the king. He called her attention to the truth. The girl assumed too much.

“Oh,” she said slowly. She felt small, ashamed by her actions and words.

“Please,” he asked, “wait.” Hardly any time at all passed before he placed the job before her. He came to her and said “take this.” She nodded in gratitude.

After that the girl grew afraid. She distrusted herself. She felt she ought not to have asked him so many questions. Could she trust her mind or her memory? Was she only fooling herself to believe in him as she had? She had no secret relationship with him. Perhaps she was a fool for thinking she had a privileged spot with the king. For so many years, she thought she knew his plans, then he asked her to wait.

She confided to her neighbor. Her neighbor responding simply: ask the king.

It seemed too much. “I can’t ask him,” she thought. The phrase alarmed her. The very idea that she could not do something regarding love of the king, was a sign something was wrong and needed to change.

She called on him, came near him and asked. Distracted again, she failed to listen to his answer. She apologized once more and repeated her question, “What is your will?”

“No” was all he said. She heard his voice. She really heard his voice. Everything he said after that was hard to listen to, her mind and thoughts too distracted. What did she mean when she asked? Did she mean, “do you will me to be with you, do you will me to marry you, do you want me for you bride?” His “no” echoed in the confusion of her heart.

But that was his answer. She was grateful for the answer, though it was hardly the answer she looked for.

That evening she went to her room in the palace. Some nights she stayed here. There were nights of pain and nights of joy spent in that little room. Tonight it hurt. She leaned in near to fix a candle and the shelf began to fall. A picture of her Queen Mother fell to the ground. Was it damaged? It was a beautiful picture of the Queen Mother and her son when he was only a boy.

Looking at the picture in her hands, her heart heaved sighs and tears. She could not feel her heart open to her king. She was so distracted when he spoke. Her good friend from the court came in, following the Queen. They spent time together, and sang beautiful little songs about love. Then they talked. The Queen comforted her and her friend told her of her own experiences when the prince had courted her. “That little thief,” her friend said, “he stole my heart.” It seemed good to be lighthearted about the things that usually weighed heavy on her heart.

When the girl retired, she lay her head down and found her Queen Mother taking a seat beside her. This mother stayed close by. Whenever she turned, she felt the warmth of that good, gentle woman. She was comforted. The girl asked the queen to teach her how to love. As the night went on, she woke and heard the queen whispering to her what it meant to love. In the morning, with the Queen still present, the girl felt her heart opened. She could try again today.