Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Check out my new blog!

Just wanted to point out that my new blog is up and running!  Check out a bit of my conversion story, some daily (mis)adventures that are too funny not to share, and some of my survival strategies (particularly with feeding all the little ones!) at Unexpected Joy. 
http://kimsunexpectedjoy.blogspot.com/

For the time being, I will likely be posting most of my thoughts at Unexpected Joy, since that blog reflects my current lifestyle the best.  Of course, I have no doubt that there will be a time when Catholic Working Mama is filling up with posts again!  Thanks for visiting!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Change is in the air...

It has been too long since my last post, and I have to confess, I was feeling a little stuck with this whole blog thing.  When I first started, I was inspired to write about my comically frustrating daily struggle of being a full-time working mom of twin infants.  WELL, things have changed quickly (and for the better!).  First off, I became pregnant again, which made my decision to leave my full-time teaching job pretty much a no-brainer (but admittedly, still bittersweet).  And the new little bundle really forced my husband and I to analyze our budget and consider some options in order for us to live comfortably with a bigger family on only one salary.  So my husband found a new job, our family moved 8 hours away , I am officially a stay-at-home mom, and we are feeling very blessed and grateful at how God has provided.  His Grace amazes me daily.

And as a sort of confirmation of this beautiful vocation, I found out that I am expecting AGAIN.  Come March, that will make 4 children under the age of 4.  Yikes and hooray at the same time!  So I suppose my original intent for "Catholic Working Mama" has completely done a 180 degree turn.  I've been pondering changing the name of the blog too.  I mean, I am still a Catholic Working Mama (my hours are longer now and my salary has taken a significant cut), but the purpose of my blog needs a new title.  I would like to share more of my conversion story, and some of the crazy stories that come with being an unexpecte supermom of a busy little brood.  My intent is to encourage other mothers out there, particularly those who never imagined themselves in this wonderfully exhausting calling, as well as to provide a little laughter.  So stay tuned for the new title and link!  I hope you will continue to read my posts!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Morning Prayer Snuggles

Tuesday was rough.  Between the twins' squabbles over toys, potty training mishaps, Cheerios crunching under my feet from breakfast, and the random toys lurking in every corner, it all got to me.  I found myself getting so angry at my kids' such slight misbehaviors.  I started lecturing loudly about how they are supposed to listen and obey instantaneously.  I blamed them for our being late (even though we were just a few minutes behind schedule) and ignored their innocent questions while I drove the car fuming.   

By naptime I was DONE. I retreated to my computer after I had tucked them in, and I was still so worked up I couldn't even look at their picture that is on the background of my laptop screen. It wasn't that I was still mad at them, I was mostly angry with myself.  I was too ashamed to see their beautiful bright faces grinning broadly back at me.  I had lashed out on this innocent, lively pair, and had allowed their little brother to hear and see it all take place.  Surely they had made some mistakes that had called for necessary parental intervention and instruction, but nothing had warranted such extreme moodiness and frankly, immaturity, on my part.  I have little doubt that my increasingly frequent outbursts and their dramatic squabbles with each other are related. 

So I started to brood in what I call my Dark Nest, a.k.a my husband's oversized armchair. Even though I knew it was not an uplifting activity, I resorted to Facebook. I snidely rolled my eyes at certain happy posts, and I quickly skimmed over darling pictures of happy families. I dismissed the smiles and became even just the slightest bit jealous, even though I knew that most people post pictures of the good times and rarely post updates of the crummy ones.  Looking at Facebook allowed me to enter a state of jadedness; it was my virtual escape. But being in a constant state of "whatever" is not the same as a healthy habit of learning to sweat the small stuff.... I felt like a complete failure, and the longer I brooded, the longer I remained frustrated with my inability to handle the stress.

I laid down on the couch for a nap, but I was too wound up to fall asleep.  Needless to say, I did not feel rejuvinated when everyone woke up.

By bedtime I was running on fumes.  The finish line was in sight: just one book, one half-hearted prayer, and lights out (cross your fingers they stay in bed).  Elisabeth came back from the bookshelf with her book choice and I sighed deeply.  She had chosen a children's book, written in German, based on folklore from my father's small hometown village in Switzerland.  Normally I would have delighted in sharing a piece of our family's heritage with her, but tonight I just wanted a short and quick story.  This particular story was on the longer side, and I usually read it to them in German, giving a brief summary after every page in English, which meant an even longer story.  I debated just summarizing each page in English, but I knew they would not allow me to get away with short-cutting it.

So I propped up a pillow behind my back, took a deep breath, and started to read.  They cuddled on either side of me with their legs curled up and leaning on my belly.  Elisabeth had her two middle fingers in her mouth, a habit she has had since she was born.  Even though I read in German, they listened intently, and I felt them relax against my body.  Perhaps it was the artful illustrations, perhaps it was the cadence of my voice, or perhaps it was simply the end of a trying day and they were beginning to let sleepiness overtake them....or perhaps they started to relax as they felt me relax, as my angry and sarcastic words had to take a backseat to the clever words of the text.  It was the most peaceful part of the day.

In the morning Elisabeth came into my bed to snuggle, as she does every morning.  She climbed over me and buried herself deep in the blankets next to me, sucking on those same two fingers, her forehead nestled close to mine.  Sometimes she narrates all the thoughts in her head, abruptly ending the morning slumber, but today she just lay there.  I dozed back to sleep listening to her breath and finger sucking, the softness of her skin a gentle reminder of her presence.  The only way I can interpret her action is that it was the softest and sweetest act of forgiveness, one of the most perfect acts a childlike faith can execute. 

In that moment I started to pray.  I didn't run down the list of things I need to do, should probably do, might do.....and add prayer to it.  There are some days that I have the mental focus to order my day first thing in the morning, and on those days fitting in prayer is pretty easy, and my day goes well.  But this particular morning I was still feeling overtired, upset, and with Elisabeth gently breathing next to me, undeserving.  I was in no place to organize tasks in my head.  I finally realized that despite the emotional and mental chaos, I can, and MUST, incorporate prayer into the day.  And even though it may not fit perfectly on my agenda, prayer can be done amidst the dirty kitchen, unmade bed, and unfolded laundry.  And yes, even during a morning snuggle.  Especially during a morning snuggle.

Before kids, I used to get up with my alarm, sit with my hot cup of coffee (programmed from the night before), and pray through a running list of things in my head. I made sure everything was covered. With little ones I have opted for catching as much sleep as possible in the mornings, and therefore the set-time prayer schedule has been hard to pin down. Even though I know in my head prayer can happen whenever and however, it has admittedly been difficult for me to fully comprehend the power of unplanned prayer.  I am beginning to realize that my day goes better when prayer is on my to-do list, because I am in control of my agenda.  And yet, on the days when I feel hopelessly out of control, the desperate prayers at the random times get me through the day with so much more grace because it is my ultimate confession that God is in control. 

So I prayed in the moment without any structure, without any memorized morning offering, without any mental list of the types of things I should pray for.  I simply begged God for patience for the day, at least more patience than I had the day before.  I told Him how grateful I am for this little body snuggled up close to mine, and even though she's here before the sun is up, I know that someday I will miss these moments.  I asked St. Francois de Sales to pray for me, to pray that I would go through the day with a spirit of gentleness. 

For the rest of the day, I was so much calmer .  We went to the preschool story hour at the town library and they girls were wonderful.  I didn't even bark at them when we arrived 10 minutes late.  They let me help them with the craft activity without demanding they do it their way.  They sat with the other kids and sang songs with big smiles.  They politely ate their snack, and even cleaned up on their own, even though I was preoccupied with their little brother.  Lunchtime went smoothly, and even that blasted transition from lunch to naptime was a breeze.  I believe they sensed a calmer, more relaxed mom, and thus didn't have the need to push back or engage in a preschool power struggle.  They knew they had my undivided attention (as opposed to my preoccupied, worrisome, overwhelmed attention), and therefore did not have to resort to getting my attention through bad behavior.  Naptime was long and peaceful.  I did not feel worn out, but had enough energy to pop in an exercise DVD.  The house was just as messy, the disorderly piles of random clothes and toys still taunted me, but I let it go, because I had admitted that I can't do everything.....and I allowed God to take care of the rest. 

The beauty of prayer is that any and every activity can be consecrated to God, whether it be changing a poopy diaper, picking up broken crayons, and all the other mundane tasks that are a part of the day.  It doesn't have to be a perfectly quiet and uninterrupted period of time.  I am beginning to learn that there is much peace and even holiness in the daily chaos of motherhood.  I like to think that God is more pleased with the desperate, I-can-only-get-through-the-day-by-your-grace prayers than the regimented I've-got-the-day-already-ordered-and-God-happens-to-be-the-first-thing-on-the-list-prayers. 

Being a wife and mom has been the most unstructured, messy, and unpredictable chapter of my life, and it has been the greatest, most sanctifying blessing I could have ever been given.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Lord of the Ring

As it is about a week before our wedding anniversary, I thought it would be fitting to share the story of how my husband lost his wedding ring at the bottom of a lake. 

This was not the first time the ring had slipped off my husband's finger. It happened another time while he was mowing the lawn at my mother-in-law's house. As he was clearing the grass clippings from the lawnmower it literally flew off his finger and landed in a pile of leafy debris. It took two days, a metal detector, and a determined couple to find it.
 
This time caused us to lose hope more quickly, because the circumstances were much more challenging. We had decided to beat the summer heat by spending a day at a lake near my parents' house.  My husband was playing in the water with our twin daughters, when suddenly he looked up at me sitting on the sand and called my name. "Hey Kim." I knew right away something was wrong.  It wasn't a panicked tone that might be shouted if the kids had harmed themselves, but it was urgent nonetheless. He spoke firmly and seriously. "My wedding ring just fell off my finger." I got up and calmly walked to the water's edge. The girls continued to splash around. I expected Greg to pop up from his crouched position and announce nonchalantly, "Never mind, I got it," but after a few minutes I got that same sinking feeling as the lawnmower instance. Together we crouched down and felt the soft lake bottom.  There were lots of pebbles, but nothing perfectly round. The sun's reflection on the water drew my attention to certain shiny little objects, but upon closer inspection they were merely more rocks and pebbles, and perhaps a few empty freshwater mussel shells. We took turns diving, but without goggles the murky bottom was too foggy to spot such a small object. Our determination waned as time went on. When we noticed some thunderstorm clouds moving in, and the beginnings of sunburn on the kids' backs, we called it quits. 

There was a breadth of emotion that ran through my head as we retreated, defeated, to the minivan.  Intense frustration that we couldn't find it.  Disappointment that we had given up.  A little bit of incredulity that the ring had disappeared so quickly and easily and yet its retrieval had proven to be maddeningly elusive.  And even a little shame that we had spent so much of our time, as well as our children's time, searching for an object.  After all, a ring is nothing more than shiny metal object, a mere symbol....right?

The next day (Wednesday) was overcast and cool.  We returned to the lake with our secret weapon: two roofing magnets from a local hardware store.  The kids were happy to be back at the lake despite the weather, and in a hopeful mood, we took turns watching them and using the magnets.  My dad came along too.  I brought along a snorkel and searched underwater while Greg and my dad swept the lake bottom with the magnets.  I could see a lot better with the snorkel, but unfortunately the magnets did not pick up anything.  The girls were getting cold, so we left, defeated again.  During the kids' nap time we made phone calls to rent a metal detector, as we knew from experience how useful it was.  Surprisingly, they are not that easy to find, and we finally found a store that rented them two towns away. 

Day 2.  Metal detector in hand.  My dad came along again.  We knew it had worked when we had lost the ring in the grass clippings, but we were a bit skeptical that the detector would function properly in waist-deep water.  This time I sat in the car with the kids, hoping the metal detector would beep crazily within the first 10 minutes of the search.  I said a rosary with fervor.  Thank goodness for the DVD feature in the minivan, and the Curious George series, which kept the twins occupied while baby Gregory napped.  When we had exhausted the DVD, and little Gregory awoke restlessly I allowed the kids to get out and we all ran to the sand.  Any hopes of finding the ring were dashed when I observed Greg and my dad hitting the box on the metal detector.  The thing must have short-circuited in the water.  "Just try it again with this coin on the sand," I offered.  It beeped as Greg passed it over the coin, but when he held the detector straight up in the air and it beeped incessantly at the sticky, humid air, I admitted that it was wasting our time.  The thing was busted, and it was back to making phone calls to find another metal detector.  My dad tried to be encouraging.  "It will be found, eventually, it has to show up..." but before he could finish Greg interrupted and announced, "OH, it WILL be found.  If I have to spend all day in the lake tomorrow, I WILL find that ring."

Day 3.  Greg finally found a metal detector at a different rental shop 30 minutes away.  That meant an hour driving before even venturing into the lake.  The weather had deteriorated with each passing day, just as our hopes of finding the ring faded in the thickening fog.  Since the temperature was significantly cooler, I had made lunch plans, and I would bring the kids with me.  Greg was at a point where he wanted to go by himself and battle the difficult conditions and get that darned ring once and for all.  Perhaps it was a bit of brooding, perhaps a type of self-imposed penance, but he expressed his "no-MY-do-it" attitude enough that my father and I knew to leave him alone.*  I think Greg was ready to drain the lake, if he could. 

Greg equipped himself for battle.  He bought duct tape and some Ziploc bags to cover the electronics of the metal detector and prevent water damage.  He bought an entire sand toy deluxe set, complete with plastic buckets, shovels, sifters, and scoopers.  Before he drove off to the lake, I gave him a hopeful hug and good-luck kiss befitting a knight off to slay a dragon.  He gave me a knowing nod.  This will be the day.

I nervously fidgeted all morning.  I watched the fog grow thicker, and my heart sank when I heard raindrops outside.  It was a cold day to be in the water.  After a few hours I dismissed the no-MY-do-it decree and decided to drive to the lake.  The drama of the situation had led me to believe that my husband must be suffering from hypothermia.  I simply HAD to go see him, and bring him some Dunkin' Donuts hot chocolate and dry clothes.  I got in the car, and had just put it in reverse, when the cell phone rang.  I took a deep gulp.  This is it.  It's either good news or bad news. 

"Hello?" 
"Hab's gefunden."  (German for FOUND IT.) 

Oh, the wave of relief!

Greg gave a quick synopsis of the find: he had walked into the lake with the metal detector, and almost immediately it had started beeping.  With a ridiculous plastic sand scooper toy, shaped like a lobster, he scooped up a handful of sand and the ring was right there, laying in the middle of the plastic claws.  The search had lasted a whole 45 seconds.  Thank God!

So now that the ring is found, I am stuck with my initial question: should we have spent so much time and effort to find it?  Is it merely a symbol?  Some might roll their eyes at this story and its level of absurdity.  And yet, if the ring is simply a symbol, what does it say if we were to give up our search early and simply buy a replacement?  We live in such a consumerist culture that dictates to quickly replace a lost or damaged item.  Isn't that mentality of "just-buy-a-new-one" the very reason why marriage in today's culture is so plagued? 

Greg's ring is made of titanium with gold in the middle to match my gold wedding band.  We chose titanium for him not only because of its masculine look but also its durability (and if you know my husband, this quality in a metal is a worthy consideration).  A handsome-looking ring that's rugged; poetic and practical.  I placed this ring on my husband's finger while pledging my lifelong fidelity to him in front of a crowd of family and friends.  It was there when we went snorkeling in the Florida Keys for our honeymoon.  It was there when we signed the papers to buy our first house...and when we sold it.  It was there when I cried in my husband's arms after not getting a particular job offer.  It was there lifting heavy furniture when we moved three times....to three different states.  It was there when all three of our children were born.  And the big moments of our marriage aside, it has also been there for all the happy holidays, the angry arguments, and the mundane, routine days in between.  The tenacity and determination of my husband to find this inanimate object symbolizes to me the stubbornness and ferocity married couples, including ourselves, must express in order to protect and guard their marriage.  And I also consider that stupid made-in-China plastic sand toy, the ultimate tool of ring retrieval, as a symbol of the goofy, seemingly insignificant moments that have become the dearest memories to no one else but us.  Because those endearing memories remind us of the true value of our marriage, no matter how murky the waters we sometimes find ourselves.   

Happy anniversary, babe.  Now let's go get that ring re-sized.


*"No, MY do it" is a classic Margaret quote.  Her budding independence is exciting to watch, but also requires a large amount of patience when, say, trying to get her shoes on when we need to get in the car and we are already late.  She WILL stiff-arm you if you try to step in and help. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Why I don't regret growing up in a fundamentalist tradition (but love the Catholic one!)

Recently I went to a Protestant church service with a friend whom I was visiting.  (No, I am not second-guessing my conversion to Catholicism, and yes, I did make it to a High Mass before I attended the other service.)  As we found our seats and the music began to play, it occurred to me that this was the first Protestant service I had been to since my conversion.  And although the format of the service was not much different than my old church from my childhood, it was still weird.  Some thoughts:

The song/worship service was nice, and the musicians talented, but the whole time I was waiting for a real encounter with Jesus.  A song service, no matter how contemporary or sensual, is no different than the entrance hymn for the Catholic Mass.  It's pretty, and it can prepare our hearts to receive Jesus (in a physical sense for Catholics, and a spiritual or intellectual sense for Protestants), but I felt a lack of depth and profundity that a liturgical celebration of the Most Holy Body and Blood holds. 

The testimonies of speakers became too self-absorbed too quickly.  Many of the speakers described how Jesus had saved them from a sinful lifestyle, or hopelessness, or some other significant struggle.  And I most certainly rejoice!  In my own conversion story I was battling depression and searching desperately for my identity in Christ, and God answered my prayers in a way I never would have suspected, by leading my back to the Catholic Church.  God is the author of redemption stories, and I love to hear them.  Nevertheless, I have admired the focus of Catholic teachings, and words spoken by Pope Francis I in particular, to serve the poor and less fortunate.  Love God and love others.  It is the simplest of teachings in a most complicated world.  I don't deny that this particular church has programs in place to serve others, but it is easy to overlook the importance of serving others when there is so much emphasis on what God has done for ME. 

Most of the attendees were "transplants": they had not grown up in that particular church. It was hard to sense a long history of family tradition and heritage in that particular church. There were some young families, but not many, and very few elderly people. This made me conclude two things: 1) Many attendees were probably new Christians or dissatisfied with their former church, and 2) a great danger lies in a possible a "fizzling out" for many attendees when the music is over. Somewhere along the way the stimulation is not enough, resulting in less attendance among the older generations. Perhaps I am too quick to judge, or perhaps there is another reason to explain the demographics, but there is undeniably a similar pattern in many other Protestant churches I have attended.

To summarize in a sentence, the service was certainly inspiring and uplifting, but lacking in divine purpose.  If the church service is merely singing, some prayer, and an inspirational teaching, then what is the purpose of coming to church, if not for the social interaction and support of our spiritual journey?  If that's all it is, then I can stay at home, watch a televangelist, and pray with a friend over the phone.  Attendance at a Catholic Mass, contrarily, has a much deeper purpose: the partaking of the Eucharist.  That is the most real encounter with Jesus, and much more spiritual than becoming lost in the music of a young guitarist.

All that being said, I reminded myself that Protestants and Catholics belong to the same Christian family.  At the same time, I had to applaud this church for supporting new Christians who had recently made a decision to follow Christ.  The atmosphere was contagiously encouraging to remain close to God.  What is it about that spiritual music, and friendly (albeit perhaps overexagerrated) greetings that draw in so many new Christians?  And what is it about the Catholic service that feels so distant to someone who has never experienced it?  Have we become so much a culture of sensationalism that we need this sophisticated music with fancy equipment to get us to a state of worship?  Are we that much in need of stimulation that a tradition reverently adhering to the command "Be still and know that I am God" is mistaken for a boring, or even a dead church? 

I often wonder why God allowed the Reformation to happen, and why He allowed so many Catholic vs. Protestants battles to ensue, not just between countries, but also between individual families.  The divisional effects between countrymen and family members result in the same heartache.  God knows it has caused great pain in my own personal life.  I wonder, though, if Protestant Christianity is at least serving as the first intervention between God and sinner in this modern world of emotional spirituality.  Atheistic and modern thinking has lead to a collective rejection of religion all too easily.  Perhaps the sensationalist approach is at least getting people talking to God.  Perhaps my own experience in a very fundamentalist, Bible-believing, fire and brimstone style Protestant church shocked my system so much that my Christian faith became a priority because it was tied so closely to my emotions.  I honestly don't know if going to a watered-down CCD class once a week would have encouraged me to seek God daily.  That's right, all you Catholics reading this, I can't say that I would have implemented personal habits like daily Bible readings and fervent pour-out-my-heart-to Jesus-prayers-at-the-foot-of-the-altar without that fiery and constant force in my life.  I could never fathom being a "lukewarm" Christian or never reading the Bible, and unfortunately, the example of too many Catholics leading such a life scared me too much from examining the Church's history and teaching.  I may sound too harsh, but too many Catholics need to wake up and get fired up about the immense treasure we have in our faith.

Don't get me wrong: there are devoted and noteworthy institutions within the Catholic Church that do a tremendous job in faith formation.  I worked at such an institution, Montrose School.  It was my experience at Montrose and the non-judgmental way the faithful (and even charismatic) Catholics there included me in daily Mass that led me to question my own Protestant prejudices against the Catholic Church and her teachings.  The thing that attracted me to the Catholic Church while I was at Montrose was the depth of the teachings, the rich and long history (both written and oral), and the universality of the faithful throughout the world despite cultural and generational differences.  Scott Hahn describes Protestants looking into a restaurant from a big glass window, watching the Catholics enjoying the feast.  At least the Protestant church has shown non-believers that the restaurant exists.  The problem is, they may not realize how nourishing and essential the real feast truly is, because they are too busy hugging each other and singing about where they used to be.  To any Protestant reading this, I challenge you to come inside the restaurant and experience a true, physical and spiritual encounter with the Holy of Holies.  It will take you closer to God than even the most beautifully written and performed lyrics. 

I left that particular Protestant service relieved to know that my Catholic conversion stood the test: I was just as confident in my faith leaving the building as when I had walked in.  I was also relieved that I was not angered or offended by anything that had happened in the service.  The people I met were nice, and I would feel comfortable asking them to pray for me.  Undoubtedly they are my Christian brothers and sisters.  Nevertheless, I did leave a little diappointed that the service lacked the spiritual depth and thought that I had experienced at the Mass earlier in the day.  I don't want to use the word "shallow", because that word infers the people in the church were disingenious.  But let's face it, 2000 years of thought and history has a greater profundity than a tradition that only dates back to Martin Luther.  I won't claim Protestantism as wrong, just incomplete.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Giants meet St. Michael

I never fully appreciated the gift of sacred images and icons until I had kids.  The purpose of oral tradition and visual depictions of sacred history was certainly downplayed in the Evangelical tradition of my own childhood.  In many fundamentalist, "Bible-believing" churches, including the one I attended, a Christian's knowledge of God and faith life come directly from the Bible.  The Bible is the authority.  Unfortunately, this limits the profundity of the Christian faith ultimately to only the literate and so-called educated.  Certainly children of Evangelical parents become introduced to Christianity through the re-telling of Bible stories and pictures they see in Sunday School, but the centuries of thought, philosophy, and Church history are lost when one solely relies on simply reading the Bible; Christian tradition is then grossly incomplete.  That being said, I do not mean to say that the Bible is incomplete, for it is the most complete and sacred Book ever written.  Nevertheless, simple Bible-stories only tell of the faithful heroes who lived in the small window of history recorded and canonized.  What about the scores of saints who lived and died in the faith, and who continue to intercede for us? 

I have aimed to tell my twin girls about Jesus and God as early as they could understand.  Whatever interest they show when we are in Mass, my husband and I try to explain.  Most of what they ask is about what they see: stain-glass windows, the images of fish and loaves embroidered on the altar cloth, the statues of Mary and Joseph, and even the Crucifix.  Margaret can recite (as best as a 2-year-old can) the Lord's Prayer, and Elisabeth can say the Hail Mary.  They understand that Jesus can help them with the challenges of being 2 (sharing, learning to use the potty, and listening to Mom are some of their big prayer requests).  They also know that Jesus heals our boo-boos.  Oral tradition at its best!

But all our explanations about Jesus and His love for us were too difficult for them to apply to their first encounter with a new emotion: fear.  As quickly as their little imaginations had started to develop and invent fun games of pretend princess tea parties, the nighttime imaginations also emerged.  This created an epic bedtime battle (Ironically, it was a Bible story that started it all....I would not recommend reading about David and Goliath before bedtime). I was at my wit's end trying ways to comfort my girls without dragging out a lengthy bedtime routine.  We tried monster spray, a nightlight, we checked under the beds and in the closets.  Unfortunately, despite my theatrics and pleas, a little girl always seemed to end up in our bed at night.  To my disappointment, no matter how much I explained to them that Jesus was watching over them, it didn't sink in.  It was too abstract. 

Then an unexpected break.  Another mom from church passed on to us a packet of some pro-life literature.  She also included for the girls a small envelope with 4 saint "baseball cards": each card had an image of a saint on the front and a simple history written on the back.  The images resembled cartoons more than sacred historic icons, but it was exactly their juvenile quality that caught the girls' attention.  The four saints were St. Michael, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Gianna Molla, and of course, St. Mary.  They listened intently to their stories, but grew especially attached to St. Michael, perhaps because I explained to them that St. Michael chases away the "bad angels".  That night I stuck all four cards on their dresser, exchanged our good-night kisses....and enjoyed an entire night in my bed sans enfant.  The next morning Margaret went directly to St. Michael's card and joyfully announced,  "Mama, St. Michael watching over me!" 

Learning about prayer to the saints was one of the prickly points of my conversion.  I was skeptical that prayer to a saint would distract me from my personal relationship with God, or even become an idol in itself.  In my research and discussions with other Catholics, however, I began to understand that prayer to the saints is simply asking them to pray for us, just as I would ask that mother from church to pray that the girls would sleep through the night.  To any skeptical Protestant reading this, let me affirm that God is above all the saints.  Nevertheless, knowing that the saints watch over us and pray for us has increased my understanding of the love God has for His people: not that we would be blessed by only the small number of people who live in the small moment of time as we, but that we would have a team, a cloud of witnesses, so large that it would span generations and cultures.  Saints were ordinary people who struggled with the same sufferings as we do, who overcame, and who speak with Jesus now in Heaven.  How much love does God have for us, that He would give us a family not limited to the living?

The baseball card saints serve as a reminder to the girls that they are not alone at night.  To a two-year-old, Goliath is no match to the image of St. Michael holding his sword high and smiling a goofy, cartoonish grin.  To anyone cognitively limited and/or illiterate (and that pretty much means anyone younger than age 5), icons, artwork, and stories are the window of understanding of God's immense love.  Catholics and Protestants can agree that Christianity is not meant for only those who have the ability to read a Bible.  Stories and images give children and the mentally handicapped access to a holy life.  My girls are learning about how God protects them from all the monsters at night through the images that watch over them.  The images themselves do not protect the girls, but serve as a comforting reminder that they are never alone in the dark.  And that's pretty comforting for the literate Mommy's and Daddy's too.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

So now that the ominous cloud of the working-mom-conflict that hung over my head had burst and poured out the most liberating of rains, we had to tackle the next hurdle to preparing for baby-to-be: we would be needing more room, all while going down to one salary.  I may not be a math teacher, but I know that doesn't add up.  Time to think outside-of-the-box.  Fortunately we had some time over the school break at Christmas to sit down and work out all the options.  Here's what we came up with:
1.  Greg keeps his job, with the potential of landing a significant promotion. 
2.  Greg goes into business for himself as an educational consultant (based on a plan that had been rolling around in his head for a while). 
3.  I would resign from my teaching position, but offer home day-care services to my current place of employment.
4.  (The "if-everything-else-fails" plan): Give our resumes to a teacher-placement-agency seeking a suitable boarding school and see where we land on the map.  .

Then we got to work.  We calculated potential budgets, and imagined the best and worst case outcomes for each option.  We contacted real estate agents, and even visited some houses.  Buying, renting, all options were on the table.  I spoke with the head of school regarding a home day care, and she gave me the thumbs-up to start planning.  I organized a small committee of young working moms who might benefit from the service.  Greg continued to develop his business plan and was one step away from naming it as an LLC.  We were praying and working hard in order to give our family a decent home.  Certainly God would reward our efforts...

And then the first amazing thing happened: all our plans fell flat.  We finally admitted that even if Greg stayed at his current place of employment and earned a promotion, there would be no way we could afford a bigger place on his salary alone. The day-care plans started to fizzle when we had trouble finding a large enough place, and slowly my colleagues with kids started to announce plans that eliminated their need for a home day care.  Greg's business idea began to grow, but with it we started to realize just how much time it would take for it to be profitable, and certainly a highly stressful situation with three little ones.  And with all options, all the doors to a bigger place were bolted shut.  The houses and apartments we saw were too expensive, too small, too much work....and the whole process was becoming too frustrating.

I struggled to find comfort and peace in our predicament.  If we were open to life, why would God not help us find adequate housing for that new life?  Why was it so hard financially to live according to God's Will and Church teachings?  Perhaps God was trying to show me to be grateful for the apartment we had, to live simply and to realize that happiness is not found in stuff, but that only led me to feel guilty that I had been coveting a larger home.  I also began to experience deep bitterness at homeowners in general.  It didn't matter if they had saved for many years or had simply won the lottery and were easily able to buy a new mansion.  I resented them all.

The small ray of hope remained with the teacher-placement agency.  Greg already had had an interview with one boarding school in the western part of the state, and I was invited to the second interview with him.  We liked meeting the students and faculty, and I could envision our family living on campus.  It wasn't exactly what I had imagined for us, but it would give us space and we could afford it.

About a month later the second amazing thing happened: an unexpected phone call from a second boarding school in south central Pennsylvania.  The administrator who called Greg warmly described the institution and the Latin teacher opening.  Greg's interest in the school grew as the conversation continued, and by the time he hung up he had an invitation for an interview...for the next week.  The school paid for his travels, put him up in a historic bed and breakfast, and planned a day-long interview so he could meet other teachers, coaches, and administrators.  When he arrived home from the trip, he told me he had never wanted a job more badly. 

Less than a week later the head of school called him and offered him a job.

The decision to accept the offer was more difficult than it may seem.  Although it was certainly an exciting offer, it meant we would have to leave the current jobs which we loved, and move our family over 8 hours away to a part of the country we had never been.  It was truly a bittersweet decision. 

God answers our prayers in ways we least expect.  A year ago I had no idea where to find Mercersburg, PA on a map, but this move has nevertheless answered countless prayers, and the housing is only the beginning.  Admittedly, there are days when I feel the dull ache of homesickness, but I can't deny that our family is thriving.  All of our ideas and potential solutions paled in comparison to what God had in store for us all along. 

My greatest and most inventive idea is completely limited compared to the infinite wisdom and love God has for His children. 

(As a remarkable little side note, the week Greg travelled to Mercersburg for his interview was the 18th week of my pregnancy, the same week I was scheduled to have an ultrasound and find out the gender of baby #3.  And 10 minutes before he was scheduled to meet an administrator for his interview, he was parked on the side of the road, fixing his tie and talking on the cell phone to his wife....who was describing the ultrasound pictures from the screen in front of her.  It makes for a good interview when you've just found out you will be having a son!  Now that's a pretty good story....perhaps for a later post...)