Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Midnight Clear

This is a re-print from my other (dormant) blog, Catholic Working Mama.  It's one of my favorite memories of the time leading up to my conversion.  Merry Christmas!

Until I was about 10, I had attended a Catholic parish with my family, attended CCD classes, even had experienced my first Communion and first Confession.  When my father started attending a different church, my family attended fewer Masses until we stopped going altogether.  It was a completely different type of service, as it had a very Evangelical (and I daresay a very anti-Catholic) tradition.  My 10-year-old brain at the time could not comprehend the difference in theology, and all I knew was that a charismatic service trumped a solemn one.  The teaching at my father’s church became my new religion.  
Fast forward to adulthood: about 3 years after we had married, my husband Greg converted to Catholicism, which to me was the worst denomination any true Bible-believer could be a part of.  I was stuck in a dark place, overcome with confusion, anger, and growing resentment towards my husband and his faith.  For at least a year we tried to awkwardly avoid confrontation, but I sought opportunities to fire all my misinformed theological gunfire in an attempt to catch Greg in a trap.  I mistakenly believed that if Greg had rejected aspects of my faith, which is a significant aspect of my identity, he was ultimately rejecting me.  Consequently I had little respect or patience for his newfound faith, and I found myself constantly on the defensive.
But with God all things are possible, even the softening of a Grinch-y heart like mine.  
Two years ago, as we had done in years past, we drove to my parents’ home to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.  The route to snowy New Hampshire passed through quaint New England towns, antique homes adorned with Christmas wreaths, garlands, and white lights.  Greg was visibly uneasy.  He slowed down considerably as we passed through each town, eyeing each church.  I know what he was doing, but neither one of us said anything.  He was looking for a Christmas Eve vigil Mass that he could attend, and thus minimize an awkward interruption of our Christmas morning (and considering my dad’s harsh view of the Catholic Church, this was a sensitive move on Greg’s part).  Each church we passed had a Mass that either started much later than our trip allowed, or had already happened.  I was growing impatient to get to my parents’ home.  And yet, in some sort of Christmas miracle, I sympathized.  I realized that he was trying to discreetly find a Mass and celebrate one of the most important days of his faith without offending my (albeit rather ridiculous) belief system.  As he was having no luck finding a Mass on our way, he said he would go to a midnight Mass in my parents’ town after everyone had gone to bed.
Christmas Eve with my family was cozy and festive.  The fire roared in the fireplace.  My mother’s decorations and my father’s cooking created an inviting atmosphere and a pleasant yuletide aroma.  We ate until we were stuffed, watched some football, and started dozing off while watching a cheesy TV special.  Slowly we each retired to bed.  Greg and I were the last ones watching the TV.  I started to feel bad that Greg would have to wait by himself for another 2 hours until it was time for Mass, and I also started to worry that he would get lost either to or from the church.  I offered to stay awake and go with him.  
At 11:30 we bundled up and snuck out.  It was a cold and clear December night.  Millions of stars sparkled bright and their reflection glistened on the crusty frozen snow.  All was still on the way into town of Jaffrey.  An ice-covered swamp bordered by tall, snow covered pine trees dazzled under the moon’s light.  We didn’t see one car until we approached the church.  The light from inside the building poured out onto the street and revealed a long line of cars parked at the curb.  Families walked close together to stay warm, and greeted others with a strong handshake as they entered.
We were able to find a seat, but there were few remaining.  An usher wearing Carhartt pants, work boots, and a flannel shirt led us up to a pew.  I gulped; it was the second pew from the front.  As much as I had boldly argued the pitfalls of Catholicism with Greg at home, walking up that aisle made me feel meek and timid.  The family already sitting in the pew squished together to make room for us, and greeted us with warm smiles and a kindhearted “Merry Christmas”.  Although they did not know me or my bitterness, their welcoming faces seemed to demonstrate forgiveness.
Each progression of the Mass weakened my presumptions of Catholic Masses as dull and empty; it intrigued me.  Parishioners sung loud, the homily was profound and fiery, and the sign of peace was heartfelt and full of hugs.  Most touching, however, was the serving of Communion.  People of all shapes and sizes, all manners of dress, all ages, and all states of health made their way up front.  The line seemed unending.  Such a genuine display of faith!  I was amazed to see that the priest seemed to know most of people he served, as he gave a knowing smile to young and old.  Not at one point did I feel excluded or unwelcome because I was not Catholic.  On the contrary, the strangers around me shared their joy that I could celebrate the birth of our Lord with them.  
Finally, as we sang the final hymn and we all filed out, a strange and amazing mini-miracle occurred.  I held Greg’s hand so as not to get separated in the crowd, and for the first time in many months I felt connected to my husband.  The months after his conversion had made me feel inferior and confused, but this night I felt united with him.  We continued to hold hands as we walked our way to the car.  The cold air was abrupt yet refreshing, and the clarity of the stars reminded me of the simplicity of the night’s celebration:  on such a starry night the brilliance of the angels flooded the vast shepherd’s fields, and lit the manger where the Holy Family made their shelter.  No theological rants, no complicated relationships, just pure love and adoration.  The midnight clear drove out the darkness that had cloaked my soul for too long.  
The softening of my heart was irreversible at this point.  The moment was too romantic, the stars were too bright, the night was too clear to deny my newfound openness towards my husband’s faith.  
For the next couple weeks, I did my research.  I read books written by Catholic converts, looked up many informative sites on the internet, and found material that directly confronted my skepticism.  Three weeks after that Christmas Mass I sought out the chaplain at the school where I work, and he led me through my first Confession in about 20 years.  Later that morning I had my first Communion at our school’s daily Mass.  When I texted Greg about the monumental decision I had made, he sent me a message back saying he had been in Confession at the same time.  
And a few weeks after that we found out we were expecting.   (We wouldn’t find out I was having twins until several months later… that is, a few weeks after my Confirmation.)

There is a lot more to my conversion story than just that one Christmas night.  I know it was the result of many people praying, and most certainly by God’s mercy and grace.  Our Lord came to the world to bring peace, and that on that Christmas two years ago, He most certainly did: peace to a rocky marriage, peace to a wounded heart, and peace to a family united in Christ.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Sweet idea: a fun way to get your family to pray the Rosary together

It’s been a while since my last post.  The fall months hit us hard, for several reasons, but basically it went like this: the twins had a birthday, there were visits from all the grandparents, I took an online course, and then 5 out of 6 Lynches played virus volleyball with a nasty cold (the husband was spared at least).   

Of course, the other big fall event was Halloween.  Between the town trick-or-treating and parade, a costume party play date, preschool parade, and trick-or-treating in the student dorms (yet another perk of being a faculty kid), it was the never-ending holiday. 

So…candy.  Halloween only starts the quarterly onslaught of sugar inundation for the next six months: Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter.  Fortunately I have learned to utilize it all as bribery incentive for good behavior.  Last year the Halloween candy went towards Operation Twin Potty Training.  This year I figured out how to use it for a more spiritual purpose: praying the Rosary together. 

Based on fun suggestion from Catholic All Year, I amended the method slightly.  After each decade, all prayerful participants may eat one piece of candy.  A participant is free to leave at any point during the series of prayers, but then they forfeit the candy.  BOOM.  We got through the entire Rosary without any wiggly children or exhausted parents.  AND there was even at least one child who asked if we could do the same thing tomorrow.

Now before you blame me for having contributed to the childhood obesity problem in this country, let me confess something: I have no idea how to get three littles to sit down (I’m not counting the baby because he is not mobile yet) and recite a series of Hail Mary’s while maintaining some kind of peaceful family harmony.  I don’t see offering one Milk Dud after sitting still and praying ten Hail Mary’s an artificial way to trick my kids into blind religious practice.  On the contrary: this is a way to demonstrate that family prayer time should be a joyful activity, a small yet significant tradition that we do together with great love in our hearts.  

A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down. 

And let’s not overlook the fact that my whole family is willfully praying together.  Can I get an Amen?  Before each decade we go around and announce our intentions, and let me tell ya, each one of them is precious.  For the record, the grandparents are getting a lot of prayers on their behalf.... 

Even the most secular educator will give a nod to teaching kids delayed gratification.  To wait patiently, to endure, and to finally receive.  Ever hear of the marshmallow test?  Walter Mischel's study shows that children who can learn impulse control grow up to have better life outcomes. So yeah, I’m OK with offering a few Skittles for the sake of teaching my kids how to prayerfully wait in joyful hope.

My kids are now the ones who ask if we can recite a Rosary together.  Sure, they may just want some of their Halloween candy (and we’ll refill the bucket soon enough…Christmas is just around the corner), but I truly believe that they experience peace and joy when we pray.  Perhaps that’s why they named it the Sweet Rosary.

P.S. The kids came up with the name on their own.  :)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Make It Right": how my preschooler helped me understand forgiveness and penance

I cringed when I saw her wiggling in her chair in the restaurant.  “Hey,” I whispered, “Do you need to go to the bathroom?”  She wrinkled up her nose, as I knew she would.  “I already go-ed.”  I tried to subdue the growing frustration in my head.  I bit my lip and sternly and coolly said, “Let’s go to the potty….right now.”  Cue the dramatic crying, the stomping, the protesting.  She knew she did something wrong, and I probably embarrassed her.  Of course, a four-year-old can’t really process those emotions that well.  Thus, tears.

Back in the car, I buckled her baby brother first.  The lateness of the day was made apparent by his tired whining.  Let’s just get everyone home and in bed as soon as possible, I thought.  By the time I had coaxed little baby’s flailing arms through the straps of his car seat, she still had not buckled herself.  “You have to the count of three to buckle yourself, and then I will do it for you.”  The annoyance from her “accident” was quite evident in my voice.  Finally my impatience, coupled with her grand frustration, bubbled over.  I tugged at the car seat straps while she swatted my hands and wiggled her legs, trying to prevent me from reaching the buckle.  I gritted my teeth, trying not to completely lose it.  I put my face right into hers, holding her wrist, all the while repeating, “Stop it, stop it, stop it.”  Customers in the parking lot witnessed everything.  I was so embarrassed.  

Somehow, she gave up the fight.  I finished buckling her and drove home, fuming.  I was mad at her for causing a scene, and at myself for not being able to handle it.

No one said a word, whether it was out of the tension, exasperation, maybe even mere tiredness, or a combination of the three.  Nevertheless, the car ride gave us each some time to calm down.  When we got home, I unbuckled her and mustered up a much warmer and approachable voice, “Look.  You made two mistakes tonight.  Now is your chance to make them right.  Your first mistake was not using the bathroom when you should have.  We can make that right with a quick tubby.  The second mistake was to scream and hit me when I tried to buckle you in.  You can make that right by saying sorry.  So what do you say?”  She had her tear-smeared face down while I gave my explanation, but when I put the question out there, she seemed a little surprised and perked up a bit, as if she realized that a simple apology was all there was to fixing a wrong.  “Sorry,” she mumbled and sobbed.  I helped her out of the car after a great bear hug and encouraged her to head upstairs for the bath. 

The rest of the night she was quick to respond to the bedtime routine and more than happy to help with her baby brother.  Forgiveness had released her and she beamed in her freedom.  And her willingness to help and take care of her bedtime obligations was her affirmation to me that she had forgiven me for my impatience and shortness.

Kids need to know that they are loved, and demonstrating forgiveness confirms that love.  Without a forgiving hug, a child will wallow in their own self-pity until they start to believe that somehow, they became “a bad kid”.  Forgiveness gives a child closure.  I doubt her misbehavior would have magically ended had I maintained the stern face and cold demeanor.  

Give kids a way to make it right, because the freedom of forgiveness is incomplete without it.  A punishment alone teaches a child that the mistake is bad.  But no consequence at all dismisses the misbehavior and eliminates the responsibility.  The “making it right” strategy gave my daughter an exit for the shame of her mistake.  It channeled her stubborn independence so that she could take care of what she could control.  In short, she knew she was forgiven, and she was able to move on.

Getting a kid to say “I’m sorry” is not all that difficult, but having them appreciate the meaning behind the words is the tricky part.  For them to fully comprehend their responsibility and take control of the mistake, they have to know forgiveness.  Where there is love, they will be more willing and eager to “make it right”.

Do you know you are forgiven, or do you still hold on to your guilt, like the child who continues to commit the same misbehaviors?  Do you assume responsibility for your actions, or do you avoid thinking about it, uttering a meaningless “sorry” as a jaded and aloof kid? 

In our own grappling with sin, let us never forget, the battle has been won.  Our sins were nailed to a cross.  Let us serve Him then, and “make it right”, not because His sacrifice was insufficient, but because our  love and gratitude for Him is abundant.  For when we start to comprehend the immense love and forgiveness of Christ, the “make it right” desire bubbles over, and we beam like a preschooler eager to show her mom how well she brushed her teeth.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A former Evangelical's perspective on the "Hell-o-vision"

I've recently started an online class through Holy Apostles Seminary, as part the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) program.  It does not count for a grade, but it has been an intellectual exercise to keep my mommy brain alive and kicking, and a way to meet other (highly intelligent), passionate Catholics.  Oh, and the best part is that it is FREE.  So because I have so much free time being a SAHM (that was sarcasm), I decided to do it.  The course explore's the Vatican's take on media, and more specifically social media.  Here are some thoughts I've pondered in doing my reading and writing my discussion responses on the discussion board:

I was raised in a very conservative, right-wing Evangelical church (I converted to Catholicism in 2010) and any reference to “media” was predominantly negative.  “The liberal media” was a frequent moniker.  Unfortunately, these opinions on mainstream media demonstrate an incomplete perspective because 1) the name branding is primarily based on American political “culture wars”, and 2) they highlight only the dangers of mass media.  Conversely, what I understand from Pope Paul VI's Inter Mirifica is that there is potential for good in the use of social communication, whether it be television, movies, or radio.  Information can be used so that “all can contribute more effectively to the common good and more readily promote and advance the welfare of the entire civil society.” Even the portrayal of a moral evil, if done with moral restraint, can be used to serve a greater understanding of humanity and goodness.  One movie that comes to my mind is the recent rendition of Les Miserables with Hugh Jackman.  There are some troubling images of poverty, hopelessness, and even violence, but the themes that override the scenes of misery are redemption, selflessness, courage, and above all, the resiliency of the human spirit.

Viewers (or listeners) have the responsibility of choosing a media source that upholds their spiritual well-being.  In other words, one must be discerning of where there information is from, and that they are filling their minds with that which is noble and good.  That does not mean one has to throw out the television or refuse to turn on the radio for fear of hearing inappropriate language, for example.  Nevertheless, with the freedom to choose a certain media comes the responsibility to discern its spiritual worth. 

Freedom in Christ does not mean a list of "thou shalt not"'s, in a legalistic checklist.  And it doesn't mean the freedom to do whatever in the name of love.  It is about self-restraint and choice, choosing what God wants for us, which ultimately will give us the greatest freedom from the burden of sin.

Do what God commands, not out of guilt or out of force, but simply out of love for Him.  The Truth will set you free.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

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, October 2, 2014

7 Quick Takes: Thank you, forgive me, help me more!

Saturday marked the beatification of Don Alvaro del Portillo in Madrid.  Don Alvaro was the successor of St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei.  To be honest, I don't know much about Don Alvaro, but I have some very dear friends who are part of The Work, and who were able to be in Madrid for the exciting day.  In his letter to Bishop Javier Echevarria, Prelate of Opus Dei, Pope Francis recalls Don Alvaro's frequent prayers: Thank you; forgive me; help me more!  This prayer is so appropriate for today's crazed busyness (I think of myself as I scurry about chasing after the littles and trying keep some sort of order in my head).  No matter how flabbergasted I get during the course of the day, I've been trying to remember to utter this short supplication, because it has been a sort of lifeline this week.

Pre-school for the twins continues to be a hit.  And I'll admit: Mama enjoys having that two hour breathing room too.  I can go food shopping, for example, with two children as opposed to four.  This is huge!  Speaking of food shopping, a new BJ's is open in our area.  Not only can you save a lot of money buying wholesale, but BJ's has shopping carts with four seats!  ....for crazy families like us, of course.

Maybe it's pre-school, maybe it's because this is the 3rd year I've been doing the stay-at-home gig, and like many professional teachers will tell you, things start to come together the third year....but our weeks seem to actually have a little structure and schedule to them.  That is, I don't feel like I have to invent a brand-new plan for each day.  And no, I am NOT over-scheduling the little ones.  I'm talking a very basic weekly schedule: Tuesday's and Thursday's are pre-school for the twins, and Wednesday's are story hour at the town library for all four kiddos.  Other days are open for play dates or just hanging out at home.  Our town library, by the way, totally rocks.  They even schedule field trips!  Here are some pics of us visiting a local farm.

(The kid in the Red Sox jacket?  Yep, mine.) 

The calves were only a day old.  Precious. 

I finally figured out a solution to the daily negotiating of screen time in our home.  I actually sat down with the girls and wrote out a contract.  They even signed it.

If you can't read the terms beneath the scribbles, it basically states:
1.  No screens in the morning (morning is play time!).
2.  TV choices are 2 shows, or 1 short movie.
3.  Mom's Kindle: 30 minutes for apps, but reading books is unlimited.
4.  If we fight over Mom's Kindle, no one gets it!
5.  Giraffes are nice.

I know everyone has their own opinion about the amount and content of screen time.  I am not sharing this to say my plan is the best, but it has been working for us.  I am happy to report that since we have implemented the screen time contract, there have been no tantrums when the TV goes off, no begging for one more show, and I feel less guilty when they do watch TV or use my Kindle because I I've already agreed to a reasonable time limit.

Even though I feel a little more confident in my momming job, I still have moments when I loose my cool, because, well, there are many kids under the age of four living here.  I'm not excusing the times when I bark at the kids, but I do admit it does happen.  And just to rub it in, Gregory, who has been piecing together full sentences lately, has been asking me quite deliberately, "You happy?"  He usually asks this at times when my answer is a resounding NO! and it makes me feel like such a failure.  I have got to work on keeping it together.

To be clear, I am happy in this vocation, but perhaps I could be doing a better job showing the joy that I have in my heart.  Thank you, Lord, for revealing this truth through my son.  Forgive me, Gregory, for letting my emotions get the best of me.  Jesus, help me more!

Monday was the Feast of the Archangels and Thursday was the Feast of the Guardian Angels.  We didn't make whiskey-glazed carrots or anything extraordinarily celebratory.  I had every intention to making an angel craft, but we all somehow got distracted.  Nevertheless, pondering the angels and God's plan for them in our lives brought great peace to me on both days.  Thank you, Lord, for giving us angels; forgive me for not making these liturgical feasts more of a priority in our family's lifestyle; Guardian Angel, help me more!

I think I've become slightly addicted to blogging.  I am find and reading so many good ones!  I've also been playing around with the layout and look to my own space in the internet.  I'd love to hear what you think!  Check out la Joie on Facebook.  It would make my day :)

Thanks to Jennifer Fulwiler for hosting 7 Quick Takes!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Conversion Story part 2: the lure of the daily Mass

In 2009 I landed a position as the French teacher for an all-girls' independent Catholic school. Previously I had been teaching in a small public school in a rougher part of the greater Boston area, and was fighting an ever growing problem with depression.  The numerous dead-end interviews with other schools over the course of two years only added to my depreciating self-worth.  Landing this job was more than a career move; it gave me back my confidence as a teacher and dignity as a professional.

The details of my hiring were marked with odd coincidences.  In short, it was as if God was shining the spotlight on this "funny little school", as the dear chaplain fondly described it. I could not deny that God's hand had opened the doors wide open for me to enter.  Upon my first visit, I found the school quite charming, and the teachers and staff members full of class and grace, so unlike the sarcastic and oppressing negativity that pervaded the faculty morale at my old school.  I was asked to prepare and teach a lesson to a French 4 class, and the girls were simply a delight to teach.  They were engaged, eager, and demonstrated an intellectual curiosity that fuels a rigorous education.  Whereas I had been to other interviews with the feeling of something-just-didn't-go-quite-right, I left this little school doing a fist pump and chattering excitedly to my husband when I got home.

Nevertheless, I had some misgivings of this school, primarily because it had a strong Catholic ethos.  I was unsure and uncomfortable at how this would affect my role as an employee.  My denomination of faith had never come up in the hiring process, but my insecurities made me question if there would be an underlying prejudice among my colleagues if and when they found out I was not Catholic.

The first week of faculty orientation was both practical and inspirational.  Not only did we discuss helpful teaching strategies for the upcoming school year, but we also analyzed a Rembrandt painting and discussed Plato's Cave Allegory all in relation to teaching the student as a whole person. It was refreshing to be a part of these discussions, and I thanked God all the more for enabling me to be a part of the community.

There was, however, one small detail listed on the orientation schedule that made me feel downright uncomfortable: an optional daily Mass for those who wished to attend.  Do I refuse to go and reveal to my colleagues my non-Catholic convictions?  Do I go despite the major theological disagreements I have with Catholicism?   In the end I decided to go....I was not ready to reveal my identity as a Protestant, so I quietly ducked in the back of the chapel and tried to follow what the other attendees were doing.  I was so nervous.  Certainly my hesitancy to stand or kneel at the proper times would make it a dead giveaway that I did not know what I was doing.....

But no one seemed to notice, of course.  The half dozen people who had decided to attend focused only on the altar at the front of the chapel.  There was no music (which threw me off at first), and everyone knew the order of the Mass without the aid of a missalette (I clumsily leafed through one trying to find the prayers being recited).  At the end of Mass the lector read a prayer to St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei.  I remember from my childhood days at Mass that people were itching to get out.  But not here.  People lingered.  It actually felt awkward that no one got up to leave right away.  And then I realized: everyone in the chapel was praying.  This was a completely new, and yet riveting discovery for me, especially coming from 6 years of teaching in the public schools, where even the mention of God and faith would cause raised eyebrows.

The peacefulness of sitting in that chapel after Mass quieted my anxiousness.  I may not have known when to sit or stand or kneel, but I knew how to pray.  The women in this chapel may have had very different opinions of theology than I, but I was struck at how seriously everyone took this prayer time.  It was exciting and energizing to know that I was part of such a faithful faculty.

Once the school year got underway, attending daily Mass became much less intimidating.  I realized that I had more in common with my Catholic colleagues than not.  Because I was so grateful to be working in a place that actually set aside 35 minutes of every workday to worship and pray to God, I attended out of my own volition.  Even if I did not agree with everything that happened, I could
sing to God,
pray to God,
listen to His Word being read,
and linger in His presence.

I knew I was not obligated to attend Mass, and there were certainly some days that I did not, but hearing the a cappella voices of all the girls and teachers one floor above my desk was a reminder that a sacred meeting was happening.  Correcting papers at my desk and "getting work done" seemed grossly irreverent.  And yet, I wanted to maintain my proud stance that I was NOT a Catholic.  One morning I told myself I would take the time out of my day to pray at my desk, instead of participating in Mass.  I read from the Bible, I prayed quietly....and I actually found it very isolating.  Instead of reaffirming my Protestant views, I felt my confidence in my theology waning.  It highlighted my lack of confidence in my own faith, and underlined an anger for Catholicism instead of a love for God.  The protest in my own heart was distracting me from the ultimate purpose of the Mass: getting closer to God.

And so I began attending as often as I could.  It started to become a peaceful break and respite to the bustling and busy teaching days.  There was something attractive in the daily Mass that I could not resist.  Even though I was not taking Communion, the power of prayer and His Physical Presence broke down the stony walls in my heart and completely disarmed the anger and defensiveness I had been harboring.

God was preparing the soil for the seed to be planted.

Stay tuned for part 3....

Monday, September 29, 2014

Feeding Four Under Four: Homemade Baby Food

Fiery maple leaves, bright blue skies, crisp mornings....yep, it's fall.  Today's highlight was making homemade applesauce with my girls (read on further for those details).  But it also marks 6 months since our baby Joseph has joined us, and with that age usually comes solid foods.  So I thought I would share some encouraging advice for anyone thinking about making homemade baby food.

I've done the store-bought food, and yes, it is very convenient, but consider how long those containers have been on the shelf....maybe longer than your baby has been alive?  And I've also found the store-bought foods a bit watery.  And quality aside, those individual containers are expensive and create a lot of unnecessary rubbish.

It really does not take that much time to create a stash of pureed foods, but there are a few helpful tips that make the process easier.

I do not have a food processor, but everything I have made so far has been just fine in a regular blender.  As for storage, I have been using milk storage bags for mothers who choose to pump their breastmilk.  They are just the right size, and most brands are BPA free.  You can freeze them, and then easily take them with baby when you go out.

Before you just throw whatever fruits or vegetables you want in the blender, consider the skins.  Even pureed in a blender, some skins might be tough to puree.  I've made baby food from pears, peaches, and apples, and I have peeled them all in order to make the consistency smoother.

Secondly, consider the hardness of the fruit or vegetable.  Throwing raw carrots in a blender will take a while before turning smooth.  Some foods are soft enough that they could be mashed with a fork (think bananas and avocados).  Most raw fruits and vegetables are easier to puree if they are steamed first.

Here is a quick review of what Joseph has tried so far:
pears- a strong flavor, but good!
bananas- sweet and delicious!
green beans- not so much
apples- yum!

And now for homemade applesauce!
Don't be intimidated by the title.  It's really just steamed apples churned in a food grinder.  (My mother-in-law gave me this contraption a few years ago, and I finally pulled it out of the back of a cabinet to try it with my girls.  Otherwise I would have just thrown the apples in the blender.)

Super easy applesauce:
1.  Peel, core, slice the apples.
2.  Drizzle a little lemon juice to keep the color.
3. Put the apple slices in a saucepan, add some water.  Bring the water to a boil and then simmer until the apples are soft (about 15 minutes).
4.  Throw everything in a blender, or churn them in an applesauce grinder.

You can also add sugar, cinnamon, etc. but I wanted to keep things pure and simple.  Our batch didn't need the extra sweetener, but a dash of cinnamon made my girls give it a double thumbs up!

Bon appetit!

Friday, September 19, 2014

7 Quick Takes: When the husband is away...

So this week the hubby chaperoned a student field trip to a play in Washington, and he has weekend duty in the student dormitories, which means at least three nights of mom-running-solo dinner and bedtime.  7QT's on how one of those nights played out...

Late afternoon: Joseph had woken up from his nap and was making some noises in his pack n play.  I realized that he may be hungry, so I sat down to nurse him while the other kids were still sleeping. So peaceful.  Then I realized that he was gagging and I sat him up so he could cough.  Deep coughing ensued, followed by projectile vomit all over my favorite chair.  Nice.

I decided to make a cheese pizza with the kids for dinner.  It is really important to me that my children see where their food comes from, and understand the labor of love that is required to get it on the table.  They love to help in the kitchen, so let's go with it!  

Of course, preparing dinner with children takes beaucoup de patience.  There was bickering at whose turn it was to help with the pizza dough kneading, there was the multiple-explanation of instruction, there was the ignoring of the extra mess from uncoordinated hands....but the finished product came out fantastic, and they were quite proud of themselves.  Bravo!

Unfortunately, the time it took me to monitor the pizza making was the same time little Joseph was falling into a dark category of tiredness.  I knew he was probably hungry after throwing up everything in his little belly, but because I was occupied with the little chefs in the kitchen, he had to wait for Mom's attention.  By now he was extra hungry and fussy.  Translation: solid food, even though it would probably fill him up more than a liquid dinner, was not going to be even tolerated.  I finally got the pizza in the oven so I could nurse him.  Oh, he was mad.  The plight of the fourth child...

Whiling I was nursing my grumpy infant, my little pizza makers (they had now switched gears and were pretending to be a family of cats...I think) announced that one of the neighbor's cats had found her way upstairs.  This cat has recently been just wandering into our house and making herself at home in whatever room she fancies.  One time I saw her emerging from under our bed.  So here I am now with a (finally) calm baby who is (finally) allowed to have his dinner, and as I would prefer not to remove him from my lap, I encourage the kids to see if they can chase the cat outside.  I hear three little voices roaring at the cat, and then Elisabeth explaining to me that their "powers" were unable to chase out said kitty.  I would have laughed out loud had I not been thoroughly irritated by the cat, and too comfortable with the calm baby.  Finally I was able to finish with Joseph and chase the cat out (and close the door) at the same time as the oven buzzer was going off.  Elisabeth excitedly praised my "powers" for being stronger than hers.  

Fast forward through tubby time (it was truly uneventful...thank God!) to when they are clean and in their pajama's looking through the library books we had picked up earlier today.  Gregory climbs on the chair next to his big sister Margaret and in his best baby speech, complete with long pauses and mispronunciations, asks "Geggy wead wif you?"  And of course Margaret easily made room for him and didn't even bat an eye that she had to share her space.  

I took a mental picture and wanted to frame it in the depths of my heart.  The image of Margaret with her rumpled up wet hair, wearing one of my husband's t-shirts (she insists on wearing them as nightgowns), cuddled up next to her little brother in blue-striped footy pajama's.  How is this stage so intensely extreme?  It is either the point of ripping my hair out amid the loud and chaotic behavior, or it is the sweetest and purest expression of contentment.  

I've been pondering 1 Corinthians 13 as it was in the daily Readings this week, and reflecting especially on verse 5:  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;

How often have I felt irritable or resentful towards my kids?  How often have I engaged in a power struggle with a little child over something so minute, but I had to demand it be done according to my attempt to control the situation?  Not feeling too great about this. 

And then I read the latter part of the chapter.  Verse 7: It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Sure, having little kids is hard work and it demands an unimaginable level of patience at times.  It means little sleep and a messy house, etc.  I get all that.  But as I look at them reading and snuggling together, I have hope for their future, and a refill of grace needed to endure the daily home life.  

God is love.  I am merely a reflection of God's love, so in this present life I can not expect to fully comply with all the qualities of love that St. Paul describes.  I have hope, however, because as verse 12 states: At present I know partially; then I shall now fully, as I am fully known.  

Thanks to Jennifer Fulwiler for hosting 7 Quick Takes Friday!

Friday, September 5, 2014

7 Quick Takes: Preschool, Grad School, and Bug Bites

There has been a lot of news chez Lynch this week! 

The big news chez Lynch: The hubby has finished all his coursework for his online Master’s degree from Holy Apostles Seminary!  The last step is to pass the comprehensive exams.  Then he will be DONE!  We were able to celebrated at home during our final week of summer, and I am pleased to say that the hubby is much more relaxed.  Wait, don’t teachers get the summers off?  Don’t go there.


Our twins started preschool this week, and they were beaming on the first day.  That is, until I came to pick them up.  Elisabeth burst into tears, and had a mini-tantrum: “I want to staaaaay!”  I am so pleased they enjoy school, however short and infrequent it may be. 

They have preschool from 9-11:30 twice a week, which may not seem like a lot at first glance, but it has brought me enough time to think.  I have the freedom of going to the supermarket with only two kids.  I can go to the school track and let Gregory play in the grass while Joseph naps in the infant carrier.  The other day I did just that, and I actually got in 3 miles.  It felt fabulous. 

And then it hit me: ever since I made the decision to be a full-time, stay-at-home parent, I have never had less than 3 kids at home. When the twins were babies I was working full-time, and I worked up until Gregory was born.  This would probably explain why I have so much trouble getting up in the mornings.

All that being said, I can’t help but feel the small pinch of bittersweet reality: the girls’ baby stage is over.  And as much as I am excited for them, I’m not sure I like it.

This weekend Gregory had some kind of allergic reaction to a bug bit.  It must of happened on Friday evening when we were all out at the playground after dinner.  By Saturday morning he had a goose egg on his forehead that looked as if he had bonked his head.  Ice didn’t really help.  In fact, it got bigger, as in, it spread out. 

Being teachers, Greg and I have been to enough allergic reaction talks led by our respective schools’ nurses to mildly freak out.

We called the pediatrician who assured us it was probably just a bug bite, and not to worry if the swelling moved down to his eye area.  Well, it did.  Poor guy looked like he was on the losing end of a bar fight. 
It has since cleared up, and perhaps I am overreacting, but it has made me turn to mama bear mode whenever a bee flies by.  Has anyone else had a child that experienced such swelling from a bug bite? 

The students are back on campus at our boarding school.  Their presence certainly brings a certain buzz to the campus.  Unfortunately, that means that the hubby has certain night duties and school meetings in the evenings.  Like right after dinner until after bedtime is over.  I put four littles to bed all by myself for two nights in a row.  Awesome.  Can we all have a collective sigh that summer is over? 

Now this was the exciting news for me this week: I was featured on another blog!  A blog with a significant number of readers!  You can check it out on Blissful and Domestic.  It was so encouraging to receive such positive feedback.  Yay!
Danielle has an ongoing series, “A Day in the Life of Her”, an effort to showcase the real lives of women and to de-bunk the myth that the perfect woman exists.  Check it out! 

I am definitely hooked on this blogging thing, and in my following of certain mommy-Catholic blogs I stumbled upon this new project, Blessed is She.  The site will give you the Scripture readings for the day as well as a short devotional written by some very talented bloggers.  I was actually lamenting the fact that since becoming a Catholic, my daily Bible reading habit has admittedly become a less urgent part of my spiritual game plan.  (Sidenote: not long after I rejoined the Church, the twins were born.  That might have something to do with it too.)  But no excuses anymore: I am inspired daily by the Word and encouraged by these devotions.  Hey, Catholics need to know their Bible too! 

I will end on a lighter note with some pictures from this weekend at a local farm pig roast.  There were plenty activities for the kids (hay rides, a petting zoo, even a bouncy house), and even some for the, ahem, big kids.  My husband wanted the whole family to experience the thrill of corn launching using a compressed air gun.  Have you ever seen the show “Punkin’ Chunkin’” on the Discovery Channel?  It was a bit like that, only with corn.  Welcome to ‘Murica, folks.

Read more 7 Quick Takes from Jennifer Fulwiler and others at www.conversiondiary.com!

You can now find La Joie Inattendue on Facebook!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Day in the Life of Her

Just wanted to let you all know that I am over at Blissful and Domestic today!  I'm so excited to be part of Danielle's work.  Enjoy!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Feeding Four Under Four: Dinner in 5

A mother of 8 recently sent out a Facebook request for quick and easy dinner recipes for those nights when schedules are hectic and you have to magically create something to be consumed in less than ten minutes.  Here are a couple of my favorites!

Bean and Cheese Quesadillas
Do you own a Foreman Grill?  I am not one who likes a lot of appliances in her kitchen, but this is one of my essentials.  It looks like a type of panini maker, and we use it to grill up meats, burgers, and quesadillas.  It takes about 5 minutes to heat up, the fat from the meat flows right into a dishwasher-safe drip tray, and the non-stick surface is easy to clean.  

You can fill your quesadillas with whatever you like, as long as there is cheese in it.  We sometimes cook  up some ground turkey, but if time is really short, we make them vegetarian and just use black beans.  

4 Easy Steps:
1.  Lay a whole wheat tortilla on the grill.
2.  Spoon on your fillings and cheese.
3.  Lay a second tortilla on top.
4.  Close the grill for a few minutes until the quesadilla turns crispy! 

Depending on the size of your grill or panini maker, you can only make one tortilla at a time, but the advantage to this is while everyone is munching on a quesadilla wedge, you can put together another whole and serve it before they have even finished the first one.  They are not super gooey either, so they can be taken into the car if you have to jet.

Parmesean Crusted Chicken
OK, so this is a dish I shamelessly stole from the website for Hellman's mayonaise. It takes a little longer than the quesadillas, but it is so tasty it will eliminate the those cursed food negotiations with picky eaters
that delay a quick eat-and-run.  While the chicken is in the oven, you can cook up some vegetables or another side.

4 Easy Steps:
1.  Preheat oven to 425.
2.  While the oven is preheating, prepare the chicken breasts.
3.  Cook chicken for 20 minutes.
4.  While the chicken is in the oven, prepare your sides.

Et voila!  Bon appetit!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

daily (mis)adventures vol. 2

I am writing a guest post for the blog Blissful and Domestic, and I'm realizing that I have too much material for a concise submission, so I have decided to share the spillover here.  Danielle from Blissful and Domestic is hosting a series called "A Day in the Life of Her" and she asked bloggers to simply document their day with pictures and share the ups and downs of the daily routine.  I guess I went a little crazy with the documenting, hence the spillover.  Nevertheless, there are plenty of humorous moments to share!

July 21, 2014

Mornings are early at our house, but this particular day was painfully early.  I had just snuggled the baby back to sleep at 5:00AM when I hear Gregory in his crib crying “Bus!” in between sobs.  This boy loves his toy cars.  He has named them his “Vrooms”, and he sleeps with them at night.  The missing bus is a special one he found all by himself at a gift shop at the Cape Cod Children’s Museum.  I go into his room (because I know he will not stop whining until we solve this bus issue), hand him the bus that had slipped through the slats of the crib and fallen onto the floor, and pick him up to snuggle in my bed.  I was hoping that he would fall asleep again, for at least another hour.

He was calm and quiet, and I felt myself dozing off.  Until 5:40, when the husband wakes up and gathers his things for an early morning swim.  Sigh.
I do manage to doze off briefly nestled in between my two sons until 6:30.  By this time Gregory is pulling my hand and saying “’Mon!” (Translation: Come on!)  He is pointing to his mouth, which means he has to eat!  Now!  Before I head to the kitchen, I take a moment to pause in front of the crucifix in our bedroom and pray a prayer of Morning Offering.  This prayer has become necessity for me to start the day.  No matter what this day will throw at me, good or bad, I am already offering it up to Our Lord.  In my most frustrated moments as well as my most peaceful, I remind myself of this Offering and acknowledge the moment as one that is already consecrated to God. 

Gregory and I enjoy breakfast together while I bounce Joseph on my leg and wait for the coffee to finish brewing.  I am most definitely both a coffee addict and a coffee snob.  I have discovered a fantastic product through Equal Exchange, and we buy the whole beans.  I highly recommend it.  Living by faith and good coffee!

Even though I wish it was not so early, I do appreciate any moment where I can have one-on-one time with one of my children.  They don’t get that too often.  Gregory is sweetly eating his “Cha-cho’s” (Cheerios) and naming some of the objects on the table with a darling baby accent and a hint of a lisp.  Such a cutie!

I hear something from the baby monitor and go upstairs to find Elisabeth in my bed.  She smiles even though she still has her two middle fingers in her mouth.  She has sucked those two fingers since the day she was born. 

My mother-in-law calls at 7:20 (she is driving to work) to remind us that we had left some clothes at her place when we were visiting…over 2 weeks ago.  We are still unpacking, and I haven’t noticed the missing clothes yet. 

By 8:00 Margaret is finally awake and comes down the stairs with a very cute sky blue dress and a light shrug sweater.  I praise her for getting dressed on her own and choosing such a lovely outfit, but she and I exchange a look that shows we both know the truth: she had an accident in her bed and she has soaked her pajama’s .  I make a mental note to change her sheets.

By 8:15 Joseph is already ready for his morning snooze.  It always amazes me how some babies can sleep through anything.  Joseph is comfortably resting in his swing while Gregory is imitating a dinosaur by roaring and  running back and forth from the kitchen to the living room.  The girls are loudly demanding orange juice, and pointing out that Gregory is a “si-yee” (i.e. silly) boy.  Somewhere in this craziness a child managed to sneak Baby Jaguar into Joseph's swing.  

Fortunately my husband returns from his swim and provides a very welcome distraction.  I sneak upstairs to change Margaret’s sheets and load them in the washer.  I come back down to the kitchen and observe this:

They are watching German children’s songs on YouTube with the I-Pad.  This is what you get for having two language teachers as parents!

Since the baby is napping, and the hubby seems to have things under control with the other three children, I take advantage of the time to go to his school’s track for a short workout.  Getting to exercise by myself doesn't happen all that often, so I am very grateful for the opportunity. 

By the time I head out for my workout, it is only 9:30.  Do you see what I mean when I said that I may have too much material?  

Danielle will be featuring my story (the complete day!) on her blog on August 31st.  It is an honor to be a part of her series, and I encourage you to visit her site for great homemaking tips!

Friday, August 15, 2014

A few thoughts on honoring Mary as a part of our Sacred Tradition

As this is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, I thought I would share how I came to understand and accept the Church’s teachings of the Mother of God’s role in our faith.  Honoring and praying to the Saints was probably the biggest jump for me crossing the stepping stones to get to Catholicism.  If Christ was central to our faith, then why does praying to Mary matter?  And would praying to Mary detract from Christ being our number one?  I am not a theologian, nor am I attempting to write anything that hasn’t been stated or explained before.  I am simply explaining how this stubborn Protestant finally wrapped her head around this concept of revering the Mother of God.  It may be short and basic to the learned theologian, but it is nonetheless personal.  For cradle Catholics, hopefully I can shed some light as to why Protestants balk at this aspect of faith.  As for non-Catholics, perhaps my explanation will, in the very least, point to a window that leads to a whole other dimension of Christianity. 

The first obstacle I had to negotiate was terminology.  I had to understand the meaning of “praying to Mary”, and that prayer does not equal worship.  As with praying to any of the Saints, we are ultimately asking Mary to pray for us, as opposed to presuming she is a divine being.  The Hail Mary, for example, concludes with “pray for us”.  Whereas Christ was both human and divine in nature, Mary is only human in nature.  I’ve heard some Protestants scoff, “Mary never proclaimed herself to be a goddess.”  I agree 100%, and she would too.  Remember the wedding at Cana?  All she said to the servants was "Do whatever He tells you."  

We ask for Mary to pray for us because we believe she is alive.  If we believe that God saves His people after their life on this earth is over, than surely Mary is alive in heaven.  In asking for her prayers, I am essentially asking a trusted friend to intercede on my behalf.  And since she is in heaven with Christ, I can assume that she is closer to Him in both the spiritual and physical sense.  I can still pray directly to Christ, and asking Mary to pray does not detract at all from Him being the essence of my being.  Quite the contrary: praying to someone whom I believe to be alive with Him confirms my belief that Christ rose from the dead.  He conquered death not only for Himself, but for us all.

The Assumption of Mary and the Immaculate Conception are two traditions that were not as simple for me to unpack, but to understand one I had to grapple with the other.  At first glance it would seem that Mary being conceived without original sin, and then to skip death altogether put her into a category of divinity.  In a different perspective, however, the profundity of both the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption supports more fully the divinity of Christ. 

The Incarnation was a mysterious combination of natural and supernatural forces, because Christ was fully man and fully God.  Catholics and Protestants agree that Mary was a Virgin when she bore Christ; both sides of the Reformation agree that this was miraculous.  God created Mary for the purpose of bearing His only Son.  He formed her knowing that she would be the Mother of the Savior of the World.  Mary was the pure vessel in which Christ was carried and nurtured.  Just as a mother can pass both nutrients and toxins to an unborn baby, Mary had to have been created without original sin so as not to pass anything on to her son.  She was “full of grace”, not just "a really good person".   (As a Francophile, I have to point out that the French translation of the Hail Mary is pleine de grace, and the word pleine can mean  both “full” as well as “pregnant”.  The language nerd in me found that thoroughly fascinating.) 

Christ was born of a woman (natural), but the woman was without original sin (supernatural).  If Mary was indeed without original sin, then her manner of death would also be different than the rest of mankind, for Adam and Eve’s original sin (passed down to us) brought natural death.  The history of Christianity supports this tradition.  Eastern Orthodox Christians, for example, believe Mary fell asleep.  It was only post-Reformation, i.e. after 1500 years of Christianity, that Christians abandoned the idea.      

I will admit that having a prayerful relationship to Mary was awkward at first.  I could not fully appreciate why devotion to her was important, or even necessary.  I am slowly learning that this beautifully humble and gracious soul is the very reflection of Christ himself, like the moon is to the sun.  She is not the source of light and energy, but reflects the radiance of the Son.  Since she is closer to Him than any human to have walked this earth, it would be wise to walk close to her, in order that I may get closer to Christ Himself.  Ad Jesum per Mariam.  To Christ through Mary. 

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

7 Quick Takes: On Being Grateful for Dinosaurs and Bunk Beds

Have I mentioned that the hubby is enrolled in a Master’s degree program online?  He has been steadily working towards a theology degree from Holy Apostles Seminary.  This summer he is finishing up the work for his final three courses (yay!) and in a few weeks he will be taking his exams.  Please pray for him!  Considering the intensity of his teaching duties during the regular school year, the amount of reading and writing required for his graduate classes, and oh yes, the craziness of our home with four under four….life has been a tad busy for us.  But the end is in sight!  Prayers are greatly appreciated.  Thanks!

Swim lesson update (short version): Elisabeth went in the water on her own this week, and no screaming!  I was so relieved/proud/happy for her.  No child in that pool had a bigger smile.  I am not sure where her sudden courage came from, but thank God! 
Here is the longer version: Elisabeth has a plastic dinosaur that she received from the town library during one of the weekly story hours, and she had asked if she could take it along to the pool.  She wanted to show her dinosaur how she can kick, since her dinosaur is apparently a terrific swimmer.  Anyway, there I sat on the bleachers at the pool, plastic dinosaur in hand, while Elisabeth splashed with her classmates, practiced her flutter kicks at the wall, and even floated on her back for a few seconds.  She often checked in to make sure the dinosaur was watching, and of course she had to remind me more than a couple times that the dinosaur is a she, Mama.  Hey, whatever works to get her comfortable in the water.  Mrs. T Rex, I salute you.

Even though my husband is completely stressed out diligently plugging away at his grad school work, he has taken some time to add on to our homemade swing set. 

He has really proven himself as a skilled handyman and carpenter the past couple of years.  Where did he learn?  Many years in the Boy Scouts, but also YouTube.  There are plenty of tutorials there, folks.

Can I take a minute to complain about bunk beds?  More precisely, changing the sheets on bunk beds?  The twins have one in their room (it’s actually the same one my sister had when we were kids), and it has been great for them.  When our boys are big enough, we will most likely have a similar set-up in their room.  The problem is, the twins occasionally have accidents at night (part of the learning process, I know), which means beaucoup de laundry for moi, and a crazy balancing maneuver to get the fitted sheet over that darn mattress on the top bunk.   Total pain in the neck.  And of course, I usually remember that the mattress is bare right in the middle of our bedtime routine. 
Then I read this little gem this week: Give Me Gratitude or Give Me Debt
 It was a great reminder to simply be grateful that all my kids have beds and sheets to sleep in. 

Our son Gregory’s (just turned 2) vocabulary is exploding.  His mispronunciations and the effort he puts forth in forming a multi-syllabic word is so precious.  There are times, however, when I wish I had a toddler interpreter. 
Tonight, for example.  I had just put him in his crib despite his protests, when he started sobbing “Taxi, bus.”  I should point out that Gregory sleeps with matchbox cars.  No soft, cuddly teddy bear for him.  Nope, he prefers small, metallic models of anything that has wheels.  In any case, I went searching for his little yellow taxi and  a school bus.  When I brought the items to him, he waved his hand at me and protested even louder, “NOOO!  BUS!!!!!”  as I confusedly stared at the yellow school bus in my hand.  Eventually I figured out that “BUS” did not refer to the big yellow school bus, but the blue airport shuttle bus.  I mean, that’s obvious, right?

Our homebrewing hobby is back in action.  We got a batch of pale ale fermenting.  This is our first attempt at something other than Hefeweizen.  We’ll have to see how it turns out in a few weeks.  Fortunately, beer brewing is relatively foolproof.  This is where we acquired our supplies and the ingredients, if anyone is interested:  http://homebrew4less.com

On a serious note, the persecution of our brothers and sisters in Iraq has been in the forefront of my mind this week.  A former colleague of mine posted this startling video on Facebook of Iraqis being rescued from Mt. Sinjar, and the images of young families scrambling onto the helicopter constantly interrupts my petty worries and frustrations.
My husband interviewed Mother Olga, a nun originally from Ninevah and now serving in the Boston area for his own blog post at Dead Philosophers' Society.  Take some time to read it.  She is a beautiful person whom I have had the pleasure of hearing speak, and her story is captivating. 

Keep praying.  Keep raising awareness.  Shove it in everyone’s face.  And keep praying.

Thanks to Jennifer Fulwiler for hosting 7 Quick Takes at conversiondiary.com

Friday, August 8, 2014

7 Quick Takes: Culinary Experiments, Swim Lessons, and Fighting Potions

My kids recently acquired a whole bunch of sidewalk chalk.  Earlier this week they scurried outside after breakfast and got busy (still in their pajama’s, mind you).  I cleaned up the breakfast dishes and then peeked out.  A small puddle from last night’s rain had crept into their artwork, and now they were experimenting with the mixture.  It seemed pretty harmless.  I went back inside to do whatever it is I was doing, and not two minutes pass by when I witnessed this:

Go directly to the tub.  Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.  Cute and terrifying at the same time.

After a couple of spats and consequent time-outs, my daughter Elisabeth announced she had created a “fighting potion”, which according to her is a vaccine against squabbles with her twin sister Margaret.  Apparently it is purple…no, pink and purple, she says….and she’s made a reserve of it in the freezer.  I think she should sell it on Amazon to married couples everywhere.

In our area of Pennsylvania the corn is high, high, high right now.  A local farmer is selling some of his sweet corn for a good price, and it is deeelicious.  So I got the bright idea to buy a whole bunch, as in 50 ears.  Fresh produce + locally grown = hero mama.  I excitedly said to myself, “Yay!  I can cut the kernels off the cobs, and store them in the freezer.  This is what 50 ears looks like in my small kitchen:

And then I said, “Oh my goodness, I have to cut the kernels off the cobs, and store them in the freezer.”  Because I have so much time during my day to tediously collect kernels from 50 ears of corn.  I’ll do that in between hosing off the chalk/water paste off my kids.

Culinary adventures at the Lynch household:
1) Kale chips.  Yes, kale!  They were crispy, salty, with only a hint of leafy green vegetable flavor.  And they are SO easy to make.  Not convinced?  One of the twins ate half the bowl.   
2) Homemade cheese.  We have a cheese making kit, but I’ve only used it once before.  It is a bit of a process (for when I am not cutting corn from 50 cobs or washing chalky paste from my kids), so I hesitated to do it again (the instructions say 30 minutes, but it’s a flat out lie).  But one of my girls REALLY wanted to help Mama in the kitchen.  So I pulled out the kit, and we started together.  By the second step she was already off and playing with her toys, leaving me to change my curds and whey into mozzarella.  I’d say the presentation was a bit off (it looked like silly putty), but it actually tasted pretty good.  I mixed it with some fresh garden tomatoes and a little bit of olive oil and vinegar, and the silly putty glop was actually presentable.  I probably won’t be making any cheese anytime soon, though.

The twins have been taking swim lessons for a few weeks now.  Margaret has been progressing really well, but Elisabeth has yet to let go of her death grip on the pool wall.  It’s been frustrating to say the least, and mostly for Elisabeth.  She knows what she has to do, but she is paralyzed by her own fear.  As we pulled into the parking lot for her most recent lesson, I sent up a quick prayer through the intercession of St. Sebastian, patron saint of athletes, that she would have the courage to make it into the water and let go of the wall.  Well, she ended up screaming for 15 minutes straight, and I’m pretty sure most of the parents were secretly judging.  And then suddenly in the last 5 minutes of the lesson, it was as if someone had flipped the switch.  She joined her class and with a big smile, and announced “I’m going to jump in!”  And she did (with a little help from the instructor)!  Twice!!  We’ve got four more lessons left, so if you could offer up a prayer for the little darling, we would all appreciate it…

I’m going to go ahead and brag about my kids for a minute.  As a true New Englander, I’ll say my kids are wicked smaaaht.  I’ve started to read the Chronicles of Narnia to the twins while their younger brothers are napping in the afternoons, and they are really getting into it.  A chapter book, as in no pictures!  At first I was just proud that they had the attention span to sit and listen, and I was tickled that at the end of a chapter they would say “Keep reading!”  But what really made me beam with pride was the immediate connection that Elisabeth made between Aslan and Jesus Christ. 
E: “Is Aslan good?”
Me: Yes.
E: Does he know everything?
Me: Yes.
E: Like Jesus?
Me: (Totally impressed) YES!!!! 
Of course, as my husband pointed out, perhaps Elisabeth’s connection says more about the simplicity of the Gospel than it does her intellect.  (She’s still wicked smaaht though.)

The twins are starting preschool this year.  Even though it will only be for two days a week, they are pumped.  We got the welcome packet in the mail today with the orientation schedule and arrival procedures, and then it hit me: school starts in three weeks.  The start of school means seeing much less of my teacher husband, and our game of 2 on 4 will change to 1 on 4.  Gulp. 

Thanks to Jen for hosting 7 Quick Takes at conversiondiary.com!