I was out the other day and came across a family of quail. I fell in love.
My girls finished classes mid-June for the summer break. I’ve been enjoying just hanging out with them, and I'm fully on board the pack-no-more-lunches train. They are currently devouring books for the library’s summer reading program. I also started Clare on reading Harry Potter aloud to me. It has been magical and fun to share together.
I’ve discovered something that isn’t really all that remarkable, but it has been habit changing for me. The Kindle app on my phone. I have a Kindle, but it isn’t as though I carry the thing around with me everywhere I go. But you know what I do carry? Yeah, you get the idea.
With this discovery, I have been spending loads more time with my nose between the pages. I’ve already surpassed my year-set ambitions to read 25 books and it is July. July!
Here are my favorite titles that I’ve really enjoyed thus far:
These are my favorite fiction of the year.
Nix’s world is split in 2, half being similar to ours with technology and regular living, the other half subject to magic and fantasy. In the magical portion, the dead can be raised for bidding by evil necromancers, but it is the job of the Abhorsen to prevent it. The series has beautiful writing, fascinating characters, and an intriguing story line. I found I simply jumped from one to the next, hardly taking a breath between novels. They were so, so fun.
This year has zipped by so far. I blinked and we passed the year mark of moving to California. I love living here. It is beautiful, the weather is ideal, and Edward has actual time with us. It is a serious relief after Germany, where I rarely saw the man. We eat dinner together every night, have guests, feel like real people. We even strung up lights in the backyard so we can drink wine and hear the seals barking in the evening.
Is this what it's like to be a civilian?
This time in California is charmed, and a consolation.
The drive ended up being far longer because of construction.
After sitting at a standstill for 45 minutes, Edward turns to me.
E: I spy with my little eye, something that is brown.
Me: (looks around) That UPS truck?
I laughed until I cried. Goodness that man is funny.
Places where people are actually healed and abandoned crutches paint the walls; saints whose bodies do not decompose; Eucharistic hosts that have bled or even transformed into a piece of heart flesh.
How is that not cool?
Weird, but really cool.
The Shroud of Turin? Oh my word. The science alone is boggling.
I am only more recently realizing that most people think these things are nutty or even macabre, but yes, I totally love it. It reminds me that the veil between heaven and earth is not as great as it seems.
Needless to say, I could talk your ear off about pilgrimages.
There aren’t many opportunities to go visit such things in America, yet on occasion, a relic (holy thing) will go on tour. A pilgrimage on wheels, if you will.
Recently, the incorrupt heart of St. Jean Vianney came through California.
He was a French priest who died in 1859. The heart does not decay.
“Why is it black?” was the first question I got from Therese.
I appreciate her reaction. It is childlike, honest, curious, and even a little skeptical.
Because truly, the whole thing is a bit weird.
Biblically, objects have been shown as instruments of healing. Handkerchiefs of Paul touching those who were sick or possessed and healing them (Acts 9), the corpse of a man meeting the prophet Elisha's bones and coming back to life (2 Kings 13), the hemorrhaging woman being cured by reaching out to Jesus' cloak (Matthew 9). These things worked as a channel for something profound.
Catholics are strict about respecting the dead, and especially in keeping them buried. It seems more than odd that as soon as a person is canonized we throw it all out the window. Yet, as bizarre as it is, I have only witnessed honor and respect for these parts. They are displayed for hope, for healing, for conversion. And in a riveting way continue to be signs pointing to Christ.
My own experience during the visit was quiet. It was fascinating to see a human heart, ordinary and preserved on a divine whim. It was a simple moment. I was reminded of His love, that I am good, that I am His. I left refreshed, grateful.
And this is truly why I go, why pilgrimages touch me. I absolutely need to be reminded of love. It helps me to continue on with the basic things: diaper changing, driving to appointments, kissing booboos, facing my own weak humanness. I need this reminder that heaven is close, that Christ is real, and that the manner in which I live and love right now matters.
Bernadette: National Geographic https://www.natgeotv.com/asia/sleeping-beauties---the-incorrupt
Shroud of Turin: Dianelos Georgoudis, wikipedia
"How do you do it? How do you get through it all?"
I, somehow, am frequently met with this question. Usually it is in regard to a spouse being away, but it also pops up for long seasons of misery. At first, it seemed a bit absurd for anyone to ask me, let alone expect an answer packed with wisdom. Yes, I have encountered some nasty times, some impossible periods…but could I mete out advice on the matter?
Maybe, maybe not.
Death, deployments, illness, moves, depression, anxiety, living abroad, chronic injury, single parenting… yet I feel like we could all make these kinds of lists. We all are a wreck and trying to make it through this crazy life.
I perceive all of this. I know I am not an expert. I don’t have every answer. But I have pushed through some madness. I have endured and learned ways to cope.
That is something.
So with that, take what helps and ignore the rest. I merely offer you the small truths that I have benefited from, hoping that something can also help you.
1. Gentleness to Self
I expect insane amounts from myself, and I push myself doggedly to achieve it all. Then… well, then when I inevitably fail, I name myself as a failure. And swim in shame.
It is a really fun cycle.
But I’ve started, during difficult periods, to try to look at my life from the outside.
I try to offer myself the same amount of understanding I would grant to another in my shoes. Sometimes I ask myself, “How would I treat my sister if she were in the middle of this mess that I am?” Then, I can breathe a bit more.. Because I would never expect perfection from a mother of three children, husband usually away on work, moving to a new city and friendless every two years. I wouldn’t get on her case because her house is a mess and her kids are eating lunch meat and toast for dinner. I would offer her compassion. I would offer her help. I would make her cookies and tell her she is rocking life.
2. The daily 20 minute Whatever-Makes-Me-Feel-Human
To some, this is as simple as a daily shower, to another it is a coffee with a book, to yet another, it is a walk. The important thing is that it rejuvenates, or at least grants a breath in the chaos.
I am not Susie Workout, but there is certainly something about getting my body moving. I can't run anymore after a foot injury, but I've found that even a 20 minute walk can turn my whole day right.
5. Say No
When I am having a difficult season, the last thing I need is busyness and extra work. There is a time for volunteering for a class field trip. There is a time for signing up to host the neighborhood for Christmas festivities at your house. There is a time to be the secretary of the golf club. It ain’t now, at least if it is going to leave me strained and not able to focus on my own family.
There is an element of helping others that can center a person, but if it is just adding more to an already heaping plate? Nope, shut it down.
7. The Basics
Water, sleep, food.
Dehydration, too much caffeine, eating junk, burning the candle at both ends—all of these things make me feel like a monster. I’ve found that simple self-care is huge, and can be the deciding point for if I'm winning or the Out-To-Get-Me-Universe is.
Sometimes it doesn’t seem like there could possibly be a silver lining to a suffering. A father’s death, depression, chronic health problems. These don’t scream balloons and butterflies, yet often looking for the good helps me. During my miscarriage, I was grateful for all the love and support of my neighborhood, for getting closer to my friends Lisa and Rebecca, for the gentleness of my sweet Clare helping me while I labored. It doesn’t take away the suffering, but it does help my heart to accept the moment with greater patience.
There is a strange societal stigma with seeing a counselor. I think it's bunk. I wouldn’t refuse to see a medical doctor if I needed antibiotics. It is equally as silly to avoid a therapist when I have death/depression/whatever to work through. I've seen a handful over the last fifteen years for varying reasons. Each has been transforming.
About three years ago, a friend mentioned that her entire family changed when her mother decided to start seeing a counselor. There was suddenly joy, peace, health.
At the time I was in a terrible rut of depression, and this snapped me awake. I took a deep breath, pulled on my big girl panties, and began counseling. I continued for about 6 months. It was difficult, but the best choice for me—and my family. Taking care of my stuff helped me to be a better mother, friend, sister, you name it.
I typically get one sheet and try to fill it front and back, shredding it afterwards. It astonishes me how much I can finally let go of things once I do this. I told a friend once it was 'cursing for closure.' It takes time, but at least I can live after I've done it.
I hope that something here has given you help or consolation, even if it is just a reminder of how awesome Calvin & Hobbes is.
If you have any other suggestions, please share! I am always ready to learn new ways to make it to the other side.
And if you are suffering right now, I'm sending a good thought your way.
If it means anything, I am thankful for every single season of suffering. I am more joyful and alive now because of them. They've deepened me. They've matured me. Suffering, strangely, has made me more human. And I don't believe that this is a circumstance limited only to myself
I have been silent.
I have lacked words.
Because words fall short when facing evil.
I grew up Catholic, but was fairly indifferent to the whole affair until young adulthood. Then I experienced truth and love and healing and transformation. I experienced Christ. I fell in love with Him, with the Bible, with the Eucharist, with the Catholic faith. Now I live every day with the firm belief and understanding that God exists. I have seen Him at work and I have felt His Hand. I have witnessed miracles. I know in my bones and blood that the Church is my home. I’m not leaving for anything.
I have been nauseous recently. I imagine you all know why.
Leaders of my beautiful Church, my home, have abused their power. They have preyed on the weak, they have taken advantage of the vulnerable, they have hidden dark and atrocious secrets. All under the guise of godliness.
Yes, it is nauseating.
It doesn’t matter if a person wears clerics; predators belong in prison.
There is nothing holy in lying and stealing innocence.
I am not perfect, and know that we are all broken and hypocritical to a degree, but this is not an instance of ordinary human sinfulness. This is the willful and repeated harming of others.
Goodness. And now those victims have a lifetime of work to find healing and peace. It isn’t fair. Where is the restitution? The justice?
I am sickened. I am angry. I am aghast.
I am now floored that it likely goes up to the very top.
I do want to reiterate though: The Church is my home. It is the place of truth. Some men decided to be predators, but that does not change Christ. He never once would have hidden their darkness. Christ had no qualms in calling anyone out—especially priests—and would have.
Molesting and manipulating are from hell, not Him.
This is why I have been mulling through emotions and words. I have not really known how to go about writing my position. It is a complex matter expressing my love for the Church and the simultaneous horror at the humanity within it. Because not once does my love give a free pass to the latter.
I will keep going to the Sacraments and living as a Catholic because I have no choice. It is my home. It is where I have known Truth. It is where I have found Life.
I did not choose the Church because of sickos. I am not going to leave because of them either.
But I also will not hide their darkness if and when I ever cross it.
It is well overdue for things to be brought to the light.
I asked my husband once why he wanted to be in the military. His words have resounded through the years, the moves, the trials.
“I do it so that Greg doesn’t have to. So that Jeff and Mark and others don’t have to. Because it is a good thing to do.”
I’m writing this right now to remind myself. I need to carry that truth in this moment, because I am weary. Moving is my kryptonite, and a continental move is proving to be a whole new kind of carnival. I’m exhausted, lonely, and ready to be done.
We are going on 2+ months of ‘simple living.’ We only have the items we carried with us in our packs like tinkers (clothes, toiletries, chocolate that has since been consumed) and anything we have purchased post-arrival.
Do you see the trouble yet?
Attempting to run a household without anything in it (cleaning, making meals, entertaining children) is like trying to start a fire by rubbing together two old sticks. It might happen if you’re lucky, but most of us are just going to get a blister. And freeze.
But let me share the most ridiculous piece of joy in this mess. And I know this is a bizarre turn in this blog, but love and generosity can do so much to help a crazy displaced lady.
Edward bought me a vacuum.
A billion years ago, when we hardly were making enough money to pay the bills every month, my husband bought me a Roomba for an anniversary gift. For those who don’t know, it’s a vacuuming robot that goes around and cleans my house while I sip on a drink with an umbrella in it. It was fabulous, and more extravagant than I would have done for myself.
It was the best anniversary gift in the world.
We are now approaching our ten year anniversary in August.
I, half-joking as I perused Prime Day deals, said I wanted the Dyson V8 as my 10 year gift.
“Yeah? Let me see.”
He looked at the listing.
“Ok. Order it.”
Hadn't he seen the price tag, even with the discount?
It came in three days (which still seems insanely fast after ordering things in Germany) and I have been dancing around with my vacuum ever since. It is light and easy and oh, so glorious. The chore potential for my children is positively heart-warming.
I know it seems lame that a vacuum cheers me, but is the nature of my life right now. It makes my tasks lighter. Plus I can vacuum AND hold my giant baby at the same time. It is brilliant.
So this Tuesday, I may still be feeding my 7 month old in my lap, and my kids are sleeping on air mattresses, but gosh, my house is well-vacuumed.
Small joys, right?
I go through a good number of books in a year, and a significant number of them audio. I wouldn’t be able to buy groceries while supporting this habit if I hadn’t stumbled upon the e-lending option at the public library. As I also recently discovered two avid reader friends were ignorant of this service, I want to dedicate a post to the process. It is both easy and wonderful.
Now you can make wish lists, put ebooks and audiobooks on hold, and read/listen to your heart’s content. You can even request items to be purchased that aren’t available. I typically have my phone on hand, so listening to a book while I clean or drive is cake.
I use Overdrive for my family too. My husband usually reads boring (translation: non-fiction) books, but he is currently on a fiction kick with the Master and Commander series. Edward was both buying and tearing through them until I mentioned how I could get them for free. He doesn’t even have to do anything. I just check them out and, as I use Amazon, I choose which device in which to send the loan.
No e-reader? One can still get the Kindle app on any smart phone and read right there. I’ve burned through books that way. I prefer a bigger screen, but as I’ve said before—I carry my phone with me. So it’s an easy way to read at the doctor’s office instead of throwing my time to the birds by scrolling through Facebook.
Gosh, I love the public library.
And as my step-dad says, “If it's free, it’s for me.”
“What was it like living in Germany for 4 years?”
“Are you glad to be back?”
I have no simple answer for these questions. Traveling with my husband was glorious. Having my girls learn to speak a second language was fascinating. I loved the slower pace of the European culture, the Sunday family time, the gorgeous churches, the festivals for the varied seasons. Life was enjoyable, lived.
But there is a piece of Germany that has left me a motley of emotions, and I am still brewing and sorting through them. Because grief and growth are complicated. They are treasures, but tender ones. Ones that are difficult to even whisper. But I will try.
In Germany, I felt small. I was criticized regularly for not knowing the language. I often did not understand the cultural context for basic things (grocery shopping, parking, schools, eating out, how one dresses, body language, conversation) and so I felt uncomfortable and unsure. Others were irritated at me. I was a bother, a terrible inconvenience. I was seen as unintelligent because I couldn’t speak well and my grammar was painful. I embarrassed myself and looked the fool in front of the mechanic, at the mall, at the park, at church, at school meetings. I felt the part of the alien over and over.
Now do not get me wrong, I had some people be truly lovely to me. Several parents took pains to help me, I had a German language teacher go above and beyond in attempting to teach me (I did do some study), and many, especially the younger generations, did not make me feel their efforts in speaking English. They did it simply to show kindness.
But the reason why I bring up my discomfort is because I had never before been the outsider. I grew up middle class, Christian. I am a white woman who has known privilege and been relatively protected. In Germany though, I suddenly knew the experience of being ‘other.’ And it was harder than I would have ever imagined. It was sobering.
And it has filled me with regret over my previous attitude toward aliens.
The Hispanic kids who banded together, rattling Spanish to each other as we all attended public schools. They were different from me, right? Why would I seek them out to be friends? Or the countless times I judged the immigrants who moved to the States, not knowing English. Because if you move here you should learn it, right? It’s our national language. Other languages are unimportant anyway.
Yes, I blush at my insensitivity.
I had 4 years to learn a language. I didn’t have to work outside of the home, and for much of the time both of my kids were in school. But the judging eyes didn’t see my battle with depression, didn’t know my husband was gone more than he was home, didn’t see the pain of a miscarriage, didn’t see how little I had to give emotionally.
Why then, should I assume anyone else could manage an easy shift into a new culture? Why then should I expect others to not have the same soft weaknesses in their lives? To not need tenderness?
Why was I blind to the need for mercy? To the reality that I, most assuredly, am part of this wreck of broken humanity?
The funny thing is, the times when someone would actually show me kindness would be when I would weep the most. I needed gentleness so desperately, to not have every encounter met with criticism.
Mercy had a beautiful way of healing those hard parts of my heart, and it showed me the way I want to be, and the love I want to give.
I’m not talking about huge things. I’m talking about quiet, small acts of kindness. Saying hello, a touch of reassurance, a smile, an understanding glance, being the voice that speaks for the small. I’m just one, little person—but an attitude of respect for the ‘other’ does affect.
I felt both its lack and presence acutely.
I’m certain I have hundreds of other ways in which I fail to love. But I am thankful for the reminder of how blind I am, and how crucial it is to walk through life seeing others—for their sake, and for mine.
For those interested in birthing overseas…
Carrying a baby in Germany was roughly the same ordeal as it was in the States. I was exhausted, got dizzy when I bent over, and still needed to roll in order to evacuate my bed. Prenatal care was similar, but there were a few interesting pieces that varied:
Each mama is given a laboring room. Mine was spacious and boasted of a hot tub sized laboring pool, a bed with a noose-like contraption above it for gripping, a private bathroom, a ball, mats, chairs.
I was assigned a midwife to help me and shook hands with the doctor briefly when she popped in to introduce herself. The midwife checked in regularly, but I think sweet Ingeborg read my need-for-privacy cues and made herself scarce. Translation: I rage against the person who messes with me while said baby-who-is-too-giant is catapulting through my body.
Shortly after arrival, assuming the baby isn’t shooting out, they administer a stress test. And then again once you are nearing the end. I may have voiced a calm and level-headed comment of feedback regarding said test shortly before pushing out Daniel.
Germans are not big on epidurals, but when things grew intense, the midwife offered me laughing gas. I’d heard about this and had been looking forward to laughing my way gleefully through contractions. But the gas only infuriated me. Remember, a Giant was coming, and between contractions was the only time to recover and think. The gas did nothing for the pain, but instead made me feel loopy during that brief breath of respite. I did not throw the tank against the wall, even if I may have felt the inclination.
I am told that Germans immediately give the babe to the mom after birth, goo and all, and let them both hang out for an hour, chest to chest. Daniel had some breathing issues so I didn’t get to see him for a bit, but I love when other moms tell me about this. It seems like such a special bonding time after the insanity of birth.
Lastly, I was instructed to sign up for group pelvic floor gymnastic classes…
I opted to look up my own exercises on Google.