I really can’t believe that the baby will be here Monday. It’s now becoming clear that I’m not even going to be able to accomplish a small percentage of my “things to do before the baby gets here” list.
Those of you with the nesting gene might be picturing that that list is composed of lovely but nonessential homemaking tasks like “apply a fresh coat of paint to brighten up the baby’s room” or “lay out coordinating outfits to take a family portrait at the hospital.” No, my list is more like, “put sheets on the crib” and “find newborn clothes.” Oh well, it’ll all work out.
A funny kid story: my four-year-old and two-year-old are absolutely, unwaveringly adamant that the baby’s name is “Joy,” even though that is nothing close to the name my husband and I picked out. Every time we refer to her by the name that will be on her birth certificate, they immediately correct us with, “No, it’s baby JOY!” They refuse to call her by anything else.
I’m not sure where they got the name Joy. Maybe from the new section of our pre-school homeschooling curriculum where I’m prayerfully teaching them the 12 Fruits of the Holy Spirit as part of our hour-long morning catechesis lessons?
(Totally kidding. I just wanted to see what it would be like to type that, as if I have my act together enough to have started homeschooling already. I think it’s from a baby on the cartoon SuperWhy that I sometimes turn on to numb their minds while I lie on the couch.)
The only major thing I’m
concerned about for next week is the breastfeeding issue. With every baby I have experienced two weeks of mind-bending, indescribable, unreal breastfeeding pain. I’ve worked on it extensively with four different lactation consultants and nothing seems to help. There’s no cracking or bleeding or infection or latch issues, it just seems to be an issue of deep bruising or something, and it eventually subsides after my body toughens up. (Long-time readers may remember that we discussed it a lot after the last baby here. If you’d like to offer thoughts you may want to do so on that post so that other people looking for answers can find them in one place.) dreading with every fiber of my being
Hoping for some wisdom or at least camaraderie, I decided to Google extreme breastfeeding pain this afternoon. Guess who’s the #1 result. Not exactly what I was hoping to find.
Last Friday I was talking about how extremely politically correct my city is (#6 here). Another example that I just remembered: last Christmas I was at a grocery store and saw some delicious-looking gingerbread man cookies. I saw, however, that they were careful to label them “Gingerbread People.”
Is anyone else seriously concerned about what’s going on in Mexico?
Our families have a lot of ties to Mexico, and over the past couple of months we’re starting to see more and more emails flying around from our Mexican friends talking about how the situation down there is degenerating. For example:
- The daughter of a co-worker of my dad’s who is from Mexico was out with her daughter, husband and his brother. When they stopped at a light some gunmen came and shot the husband and brother. She threw herself on her daughter. They put a gun to her head but decided to let her and child go.
- Juarez, which borders the U.S., is basically an open war zone. Friends we know who have ties to the police force there say that the police are under strict orders to wait 45 minutes before responding to gunshot calls since the cartels kill all the witnesses, police included, when they murder someone. There have been 200 murders so far in Juarez this month.
- Speaking of Juarez, evidently the cartels released a list on Monday of people they planned to kill, and have effectively worked down the list so far. They also have announced that they’re going to behead the mayor and his family.
- We have other friends who live in various parts of Mexico, and almost all who can afford it have had to hire security guards for their families and don’t drive alone anymore. Those who can’t just try to keep their heads down and stay safe.
Has anyone else who has Mexican friends or family noticed that the concern about the rampant crime has really picked up over the past couple of months?
On a somewhat-related topic, it seems like more and more people are becoming interesting in self-sufficiency, taking themselves “off the grid” to live simple lives away from society. Anne Marie’s troubling post from Tuesday is a good example of what I’ve heard a lot of people express.
Even though I’m not terribly concerned about the long-term future of the economy (yet), I too am drawn to the idea of becoming more self-sufficient and living a more rural life. I even know some people who are seriously talking about going in together to get some large patches of land and have all their families move out there together.
Anyone else thinking about stuff like this?
Having a baby during Lent definitely prevents me from planning to do too much in terms of giving up or adding things — I think I’ll have plenty of opportunities to die to self and detach from my controlling ways with three toddlers and a newborn.
I’ve been tempted to get frustrated that I can’t make Lenten sacrifices on my terms, but I’m starting to realize that this might be even better. I need to remember the lessons I learned from Lent 2007: I had all these great plans of what I was going to for spiritual growth for this very important season leading up to my entering the Catholic Church at Easter, and was exasperated when it all fell apart because I got really sick. In the end, though, I saw that having my own plans for spiritual growth derailed was the best thing that could have happened to me.
I look forward to reading your posts!
photo by ToniVC
One of the many reasons I so eagerly look forward to all my meetings with my spiritual director is that we meet on the grounds of a local maternity home that she helped to found. Next door to the house where the moms live is a Daughters of the Mother of Mercy convent, and they kindly let my spiritual director and me use their chapel for our meetings.
There is a palpable sense peace that pervades the whole area, noticeable as soon as you step out of your car, that undoubtedly emanates from the selfless love that is woven throughout everything the moms and staff do there. To set the scene, let me offer a brief summary of what goes on at the maternity home, written by a friend who recently visited:
The maternity home is incredible. Young pregnant women, including teenagers, with no place to go and no one to help them are welcomed into the home, given schooling for their GED if they haven’t graduated from high school yet, live in community with one another learning life skills, caring for their babies, cooking, cleaning, etc., spend time with the Nigerian nuns who live on the premises and offer friendship, spiritual guidance and encouragement, and prayers for them, have their babies taken care of during the part day when they attend school, and can live in the home for up to 2 years after their baby is born so that they are ready to live independently in the world with their children. The cost to the girls: $0.
Undoubtedly one of the reasons they’re able to offer all of these services at no cost is that the nuns who make up part of the staff have taken vows of poverty and therefore receive little to no compensation for their labor. Before I ever met any of them I marveled at the beauty of their lives, thinking of how much it enriches the world to have people like that who vow to have nothing of their own and are therefore free to fully give themselves the community around them.
The first time I actually met one of the sisters, I was almost taken aback by her greeting. As soon as she saw me her face immediately softened with humble joy, and when I offered to shake her hand she gave me a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek instead. She gently took my hand and welcomed me into the convent’s living room, asking me in broken English what she could get me to eat or drink, taking a great interest in me as if I were some kind of royalty.
Because I am an idiot and not used to accepting such kindness from people I don’t know, I jokingly thought to myself, “Does she owe me money or something?”
The warmth of her reaction to my presence was like nothing I’d ever encountered from a stranger. Even though I was just sitting in her living room waiting for my spiritual director to arrive, it was as if my presence on her couch was the exactly what she hoped would happen that day. I can’t put my finger on any one thing she did to make me feel so loved and special — was it the way she stopped what she’d been doing and gave me her undivided attention, even though she was busy? her fearlessness in reaching out to take my hand to lead me inside? the way she smiled warmly as if my self-conscious, stammering smalltalk was spoken with a golden tongue? — I’m not sure. All I know is that in that moment I knew exactly what it meant to show someone the love of Christ. I could feel it as if it were a physical element.
Since then I’ve met the other sisters in the little convent and, amazingly, they’re all like that. It is clear when you receive the soul-quenching love they exude that it comes from some deep, pure source that lies beyond this world; their actions are permeated with an unnaturally acute awareness that every single person they encounter has been hurt by the world more than they let on, that we all could really use some tender treatment and love.
I was so intrigued by these sisters that I looked up the website of their Order to find out more about their lives. As I read up on their vows and their beautiful philosophy of life, one thing in particular jumped off the page at me. I saw that one of the five objectives for the Order’s sisters is that each of them “make their very lives a sign of God’s love for a sinful world, and an eloquent sermon to all around.”
“An eloquent sermon to all around.” I loved that choice of words. Truly, I learned more about God’s love for a fallen world in five minutes of sitting in the sisters’ living room and seeing the work they do at the maternity home than I could have from five weeks of reading theological tomes on the topic. They radiate such a beautiful light that I have to think that anyone — even a nonbeliever — would have a natural draw to be near them, and a great desire to also posses whatever it is that shines such a light in their hearts.
I’ve been thinking about those sisters a lot today as a new season of Lent begins. When I think back on what it’s like to interact with them, I realize: this is one of the reasons I love Lent. As painful as it is to make sacrifices, to put such focus into detaching myself from all those worldly pleasures I love way too much, I see through the sisters’ examples just how earth-shaking it is when people really let go of selfishness and conform themselves to Christ. If even 2% of those of us who call ourselves Christians showered everyone around us with the love of Christ on the level that these women do, it would turn the world upside down. And even though some of us have a very long way to go, it’s inspiring to think that every Lent we get a tiny step closer to making our lives one eloquent sermon on the love of God.
“We thought about having another, but the sleepless nights, the diapers, the pregnancy and birth — ugh! Aren’t you just so ready to be done with all that?” a neighbor asked at the playground last week.
“I do not envy you,” a lady at the grocery store said solemnly as I passed by with a cart full of three kids under five and a hugely pregnant belly.
Whenever people say things like this, I have this odd reaction of simultaneously having no idea what they’re talking about and knowing exactly what they’re talking about. My life seems so completely normal to me that I can’t imagine it any other way; yet just a few years ago I would have been horrified by the idea of having so many kids so close together and would have thought it unthinkable not to use at least five different forms of contraception to make sure that no others came along any time soon.
Up until my mid-20′s I was firm in my belief that I never wanted to have kids. A combination of events made me reconsider the issue, and by the time we got married I was open to the idea of having some pre-set, small number of kids and had begun thinking about the precise timetables on which I would have them.
Even after my husband and I came to an intellectual agreement with Catholic thought on contraception and agreed to do Natural Family Planning, I viewed my future with trepidation. I’d see women at Mass or on blogs who were pregnant and had lots of kids, or I’d hear about a Catholic couple mis-estimating their fertile period and ending up with a surprise pregnancy, and I’d think, “Ugh. That is not the life I want!”
It is surprising, then, to find that even though our combination of high fertility and high ineptitude at NFP makes me well on the way to being “one of those women,” my life is actually much better than it was before. It would have been inconceivable to me to imagine that constantly having my plans derailed by pregnancies and not even having any idea when I’d be done changing diapers would be an improvement over my fully controlled, well-ordered life, but it has been.
Lately I’ve been imagining what I would say to 2003 Jen if I could go back in time and give her a crystal ball to show her what her future would be like. I’ve been trying to imagine how I would talk her down from the balcony ledge after the crystal ball got to the “four kids in five years — and doing NFP!” part, how I could possibly convince her that this life is not only not a recipe for misery, but the true fulfillment of everything she thought she wanted.
I would love to tell you that I’d simply be able to explain that each child is such a joy and a blessing, but that would not have resonated with Old Jen; I might have agreed, but ultimately I would have said that those joys and blessing are just too much hard work. “I just don’t see how that kind of life could be anything but miserable for someone like me,” I would have said.
Here is what I would say in response, based on five key things I didn’t understand then that I understand now through the wisdom of Christian teaching:
1. Each of us is called to a vocation, and we’ll never find peace until we find it and throw ourselves into it.
I’ve talked before about how understanding the concept of vocation revolutionized the way I saw my life. Until I understood this concept, that God has called me to the married life and that therefore my primary purpose on this earth is to be a wife and a mother, I kept thinking that there was something “out there” in the world that was going to bring be fulfillment and joy. I was stuck in the mindset that I needed to hurry up and get these challenging diaper and temper-tantrum years out of the way so that I could get back to living my “real” life, i.e. immersing myself in worldly pursuits in search of fulfillment.
What I could not have imagined is that when I surrendered to the idea that I am a wife and a mother first, that all my other hobbies and interests are important but secondary to that primary calling, it opened the floodgates for a waves of peace and grace to wash over me.
2. The world has nothing to offer us.
At the same time I began to understand my true vocation and attempt to fully embrace it, I also began to really get the Christian concept of, to paraphrase the great theologian Yaya, “WHAT YOU THINK IS OUT THERE AIN’T OUT THERE!” I realized that all of these excellent and important things I was going to do with my life after I was out of that difficult diaper phase were nothing more than all the things I’d been doing with my life before that had just left me restless and endlessly searching for the next big thing.
Slowly I began to realize that the only thing that was ever going to bring me lasting happiness was to discern what God’s will was for my life, and to abandon myself to it.
3. “It’s not what you do, it’s whom you serve.”
A product of secular society, I’d fallen into the common notion that the way to find true happiness is to focus on yourself more and other people less. It makes perfect sense, after all: doing pleasurable things for me is fun, sacrifice and hard work are not fun; ergo, the secret to happiness must be to live for myself as much as possible. Right?
How shocked I was to discover that I was wrong — dead wrong. Part of fully understanding the concept of vocation was understanding that a vocation is not to be thought of as “what you do” as much as it is “whom you serve.” It was nothing short of revolutionary to hear the concept that God has called every one of us to serve others, that living for yourself is not a valid option; that the key to deep fulfillment, to finding your very purpose in life, is as simple as finding out the specific way in which you’re called to serve. Do that, and you will find peace.
It sounded not only too simple to be true, but too difficult. As a spoiled only child the idea of living to serve sounded terrible. But once I actually took a leap of faith and tried it, I had no doubt that this was truth.
4. When you see something as temporary, you don’t optimize.
On a practical level, I realized something that should have been more obvious to me given my business background: when you see a situation as temporary, you don’t optimize.
Back when I saw pregnancy and birth and babies and diapers and the terrible two’s as just a brief phase of life, my mentality was to simply grit my teeth and get through it. I had the luxury of belaboring every inconvenience because I knew in the back of my mind that it would all soon pass.
But once I changed my view to see new life as an inherent part of marriage and made no more long-term plans about exactly when we’d be done having kids, I was forced to confront the difficulties of the baby/toddler years in a new way. Now I was motivated to really get creative and brainstorm with my husband about how we could overcome some of the difficulties of these years and make things run more smoothly. And, due to some combination of natural psychological mechanisms and the grace of God, all those things about having little ones that had seemed like such a big deal just weren’t that much of a big deal anymore once I saw it all as a lifestyle instead of a brief phase of life.
5. Life is better when you don’t try to control everything.
One of the most frightening things about this lifestyle change — taking the decision about whether or not to have more kids month by month, seeing openness to life as the default, not using contraception even though we’re bad at NFP — was the lack of control.
“But what about my plans?!” I’d think. “What about those lists of things I want to accomplish in the next five, ten, twenty years? How can I make progress on that if I don’t even know how many kids I’ll have and when I’ll have them?!”
As I’ve said before, after a few years of living this way I’ve come to the shocking conclusion that my plans weren’t actually that great. I’ve seen over and over again that just taking it day by day, discerning what God wants me to do here and now and not worrying about the long-term, is a far more fulfilling way to live.
What I was ultimately searching for with all those grand plans was a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of making a difference, a life of excitement, joy, peace and happiness. Little did I know that children would never get in the way of any of that, because those things are not the result of well-crafted goals spreadsheets and to-do lists; they are only found in God.
And then, of course, there’s this:
…the “result” of my first surprise pregnancy, snuggling with her grandfather. Children are only burdens when they’re theoretical. Once they’re here, you don’t need any further analysis to know that they are priceless gifts from God, that whatever you had to sacrifice for them to exist was a small price to pay.
Can you believe that Ash Wednesday is already this week? I don’t have much time to write today but I wanted to throw out some Lenten reading suggestions based on some of my favorite books:
He Leadeth Me by Walter Ciszek
This stunning autobiographical account of Fr. Ciszek’s wrongful imprisonment in Russia is one of the most life-changing books I’ve ever read. I read it more than a year ago and yet I still find myself thinking about it almost daily.
What was most surprising to me was how applicable the lessons he learned are to modern American life. His insights about everything from suffering to discerning God’s will to trusting God in all things — which he learned the hard way during five years of brutal solitary confinement and fifteen years in a Siberian death camp — are amazingly inspiring, whether you’re experiencing great suffering or just feeling numbed by the daily grind. I particularly loved his thoughts on how to maintain a lively spiritual life even when life feels mundane or boring. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Posts that were inspired by this book:
- The finger of God is here
- Living God’s will: Do all situations come from God?
- Would you kids be quiet?! I’m trying to seek God’s will here!
- Building a house of cards
Journey to Easter by Pope Benedict XVI
Based on a Lenten retreat he gave for John Paul II in the 1980′s (hosting a retreat to help John Paul II grow in faith — how’s that for pressure?!), Pope Benedict XVI walks us through a series of meditations based on Scripture readings for Lent. I admit that there were two or three chapters that were just kind of over my head, but the rest of the book offered powerful insights on everything from prayer to the Paschal mystery to conversion to the Church. I find myself going back to this book over and over again for inspiration. An excellent read for Lent.
Posts that were inspired by this book:
Introduction to the Devout Life by Francis de Sales
When I first read the 17th century classic Introduction to the Devout Life, I didn’t feel like I got that much out of it. When I reached the last chapter I felt like I’d enjoyed reading it but couldn’t point to anything specific I’d taken away from it. Then I picked it up off my desk one day and, as I flipped through and re-read the various passages I’d starred and highlighted, I realized just how much I really had taken away from this book.
Now that I’ve gone through it again, I count it among the best books I’ve ever read. It’s the ultimate how-to manual for conforming yourself to Christ. Also, perhaps because the books is based on de Sales’ letters of spiritual direction to his sister and other women who wanted to grow in faith, I find that his advice perfectly fits the things I struggle with on a day to day basis as a wife and mother. Just know that you may have to read it more than once to have the lessons really sink in.
Posts that were inspired by this book:
- If only!
- Temper control
- Anger, anxiety and trusting God
- We’re always victorious as long as we’re willing to fight
Finding God’s Will for You by Francis de Sales
How do we know what God wants us to do? Should we try to discern God’s will even for little decisions like what to eat for dinner? What if we pray and it seems like God is telling us nothing at all? These were the questions I had when I decided to get a copy of this book. I found good answers to those questions and a whole lot more: the book has lots of practical advice for daily living that you can start applying to your life right now. It’s also a little bit less dense and more readable than Introduction to the Devout Life.
Posts that were inspired by this book:
What are your recommendations for good Lenten reads?