Thursday, December 23, 2010

I Don't Need a Thing

I wrote the following reflection a while ago, but I find that now, as Advent comes to a close, I find that I could use the reminder.  Come, Lord Jesus, and fill our emptiness.  Let us not settle for less than You.


During the time surrounding the birth of my first child, my husband often worked late. And that left me in a small house with a small infant in late winter. Twilight seemed to arrive so early, and I knew the night would be long. Up until that point, we had never had cable TV. But my husband sensed that the many hours of sitting and nursing would take a toll if I were not entertained somehow, and we got ourselves some cable TV.

And one night, it was very dark, but only about 7:00, and my husband had phoned from the office to tell me, "Not yet," and I sat to nurse the baby, feeling the night and the silence and the loneliness threaten. Motherhood was still new, the physical sensations bothersome, my thicker middle uncomfortable, the lack of sleep debilitating. I had yet to make my mommy friends, whom God would present to save my emotional health within weeks, but not yet.

I flipped on the television, and a vast array of channels flashed before my eyes. Cooking shows, home shows, re-runs. As I held my infant, I felt a lack of connection to the world. Was anybody out there? And then I flicked the remote once or twice more and landed on a shopping channel.

Wow. What is this? They're selling this pottery on television? Why would anybody do that? Why would they just talk and talk about it? The history of this pottery, its origins, its artisans, its value...I started to listen. It was sort of interesting. Every so often, people would call in to say that they had a whole collection of the expensive stuff already. I felt a vague sense of disdain for the whole thing, but I couldn't stop watching. And then I felt comforted. And then I realized what was attracting me! It was live! What I was watching was really going on somewhere! Right now! And in the oddest sense, it connected me to the world, and these other people in their homes watching these extended sales pitches! Pitifully, it quelled my loneliness a bit. And that wasn't the last time I watched.

I began to see how people could become hooked on buying stuff to fill a need. And, while this is not an expose of a foray into shopping-network addiction, I must admit that there have been times I just wanted something I didn't need because I thought it would make me feel better. A fashion catalog would arrive, and I'd expect the purchase from it to do something more than clothe my body. Just recently, I was feeling down about my children growing up, school ending, the next grade looming, waiting to take them farther away, with my belly empty and (sort of) flat(ish). And my mom gave me some money for some shoes she knew I had admired, to cheer me up a bit, something just for me, without having to pinch pennies. So, the morning before my daughter's kindergarten graduation, I pulled my unenthusiastic little boy into the mall with me, and bought the sandals. They really are lovely. But what was my condition afterward? Down in the one pair of shoes.

I don't need anything, thanks be to God. I don't hunger for food. I don't want for shelter. I have clothes to wear, and books to read. Lots of books to read. I have flowers in my garden and fabric to sew with. I do not need anything! In fact, I have more than I need!

So why do I want?

In answer to that question, I've toyed with the idea that it's wrong to want, even sinful. But that never worked. Why? Because want is built-in. It's built into us by the Builder! It's just that, at times, I'm simply misperceiving what (or Who) is supposed to fill the want.

The thing is, I mess up again and again. I come to realizations like this, and, quite possibly, the following day I seem to have forgotten what was revealed to me the day before. But once I can identify the problem, I can better keep myself accountable.

Tummy growling? The answer is food.
Skirt have holes in it? The answer is a new skirt.
Pillowcases threadbare and stained? The answer is new pillowcases.
Feeling sad because children are growing up so quickly? The answer is God.
Feeling lonely because husband is working late? The answer is God.
Feeling betrayed by a "friend?" The answer is God.

I write these guidelines because they're helpful to me, to figure stuff out, to order my beliefs, and to push my stubborn self to live out those beliefs. But there's only so much figuring, ordering, and pushing I can do. I can only exert effort to a certain point, and then I must rest. Rest in God. Rest in his peace and forgiveness and understanding, and rely on him to turn my heart. And, while Scripture says his mercies are new every morning, I think he'd also tell us we don't have to wait till tomorrow to prostrate ourselves and make a new start this second.

Dear Lord, and so it is that, once again, I promise I will come to you first, asking that you fill me with your peace, with divine satisfaction that cannot come from things, or the pursuit of things, or lists of things I would like to have. Enhance my discernment in those times of doubt, when my human failings threaten to undo me, and turn me away from you and toward that which will become moth-eaten and rusted. You are my treasure. You are my treasure. Amen.


This rich Italian Christmas bread has a presence that a platter of cookies just can't approach.  It's perfect to present to friends, as they will appreciate something to accompany their Christmas morning breakfast.  It also makes a lovely bring-along if you have been the happy recipient of an invitation for a Christmas celebration.  I've never sliced one of these up and seen a crumb or crust left behind.  You may tailor the additions to your taste.  Merry Christmas!

Makes one loaf. (I rarely make one of anything. Go ahead and double it. Beautifully efficient.)

1 pkg. active dry yeast
1 c. warm water (110 degrees F)
1/4 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 c. plain nonfat yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
(when I use almonds, I add 1 tsp. of almond extract, too)
a little lemon zest - I use way less than the 1 tbsp. called for. Not my thing.
1/4 tsp. salt
4 c. flour, plus more to add during kneading process
1/2 - 1 c. additions - this can be dried fruit, chocolate morsels, nuts...
1 tbsp. confectioner's sugar
1 tbsp. melted butter

Grease and flour an 8" cake pan.
Mix yeast, water, sugar in a large bowl, and let stand 10 minutes. It will froth up satisfyingly. If not, your yeast is dead, and you need some new yeast.

Add eggs, yogurt, vanilla, zest, and salt to yeast mixture in bowl. Stir gently until just incorporated.

Stir in flour gradually - a cup or less at a time.

Turn onto a floured surface. Have nearby a bowl filled with some more flour. You'll likely need it.

Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes, adding more flour as necessary. If it sticks to your hands in a wet fashion, it needs more flour. However, it shouldn't be dry! Once well kneaded, it will hold in a nice smooth ball and it should feel like a freshly bathed 7-month-old's cheek.

Grease another large bowl (I usually just wash the one I just used and use it again), put the nice dough ball in the bowl, and turn it over so it is moistened all over by the grease from the bowl.

Cover with a fresh, lightweight cloth, place in a draft-free spot, and let rise 1 hour. While you wait, sprinkle your additions of choice with the confectioner's sugar, and toss gently to coat.

After the hour's up, go peek at it! It's huge and puffy! Now, you get to punch it down, pfffft, gather it up and place it on your floured surface again, and knead a little bit more, this time incorporating your goodies - nuts, fruits, chocolate, what have you. Knead just until the dough is dotted rather evenly with your additions. Smooth into a ball and pat it into your prepared pan. Cover with your cloth again, and let rise 30 minutes.

During this time, preheat your oven to 350. Once the 30 minutes has elapsed and your dough is puffing out of the pan nicely, brush it with the melted butter, and bake 45 minutes, till golden brown and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. You can tip it out of the pan once it has cooled just a few minutes.
Share and enjoy!  This will bring a smile to faces!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

When I Stopped Saying "Please" and Started Saying "Thank You"

I have three dear little souls entrusted to me, and I always felt that God used those early years of motherhood to show me who I truly was.   Those things that threw me for a loop before motherhood, well, with a babe on my hip, I could suddenly manage them.   The problem was,  I understood motherhood quite narrowly:  I defined it as being a mother to a baby, or at least a toddler.   I wanted that period of life to go on forever, and so, as the children grew up a little and all were preschool age or older, it seemed it was time.  Excited, and more ready than not,  I began to think anew of newborn stuff.

I shuffled rooms around and reorganized the house to make room for one more soul.
I exercised consistently and ate well.
I stayed away from anything stronger than Tylenol.
I considered the hand-me-downs.  What to keep?  What to give?
Co-sleeper or bassinet?  Definitely co-sleeper.
Sling or Baby Bjorn?  Baby Bjorn, hands down.
And I thought of names.  Clare.  James.  Therese.  John Paul.  I tried them out as the next link in a chain, allowing each one to punctuate the litany of my other children's names.
Godparents?  Oh, yes!  I knew just who we'd ask!
And I considered the birth, the fatigue, the discomfort.
And I considered the joy, and I said my, "Yes."

And what I never considered was how arrogant it all was.   For, in the past, each time we asked (and even when we didn't!), God said, "Here you go!"  Straight from God.   Just like that.  Healthy, strong, smart, and beautiful.  Three children.  I'd like to have one more of those, please.  Please, God.

Anticipation and eagerness grew within me, but that was all.  I pled my case.  My emotions were carried up, then down, then up again in response to my body's signals.   And there came a time when, out of obedience, I realized that a cherished period of my life had come to an end.  I was no longer the mother of babies, nor would I likely be again.  This surprised me, because I had always, even as an engaged woman, seen in my mind's eye a gracefully mature woman, dark curls threaded with silver, holding the hand of a toddler.   I would be a young mother and then I would get to be an older mother.

That's sort of what I thought.

What was odd, though, was that when that realization struck, that this was a "No" that I was called to obey, I understood that, though what I was asking for was indeed a very good thing, I was still coveting that which was not mine.  I was looking to the future, what was next, that something more.  And, while each child is a blessing beyond blessings, I was not entitled to or guaranteed what I wanted, no matter how good it was.   And my longing for that which was not mine began to get in the way of caring for that which had already been entrusted to me.  Drawing on what I had learned from Fr. Tadeusz Dajczer in The Gift of Faith, I saw that mammon had firmly entrenched itself between me and God.  I was grabbing for something not in God's will for my life.  And, until I detached myself from this longing, I wasn't free to do the tasks set before me.  Ugh.  Mammon.  Even the word reeks of evil.   I had no choice but to obey.  In fact, I had no inclination but to obey.

And when the moment of obedience came, a quiet peace stilled me.  I stopped looking elsewhere, forward, back, around, or beyond.  I looked at what was right in front of me.

Raising the children we already have, loving them and educating them and walking beside them, is no less holy than having more children.  It became clear that a veil had dropped from before my eyes, and I was better able to see the gifts I had been given already.  Color appeared brighter once again, and I realized how dulled and narrow my vision had become.  I suddenly had a laugh, a gentle touch, a bit of patience.  I was no longer a woman denied, but a woman lavished.   Each time I turned my head, or lifted my eyes from a task, I could see the graces around me that had been clouded.

Sweet, pudgy fingers rubbing my back.
Sticky candy-cane hugs.
Declarations of, "You're the best mom ever!"
And, "This is the best day ever!"
Perfect report cards.
Assists and blocks and scores.
Crayon drawings of "my famly."
Drum recitals that awe.
Christmas concerts full of charm and sparkling voices.
Piano lessons.  The Christmas songs I'd always wanted to hear, played by my very own child.
Ballet.  Again.  How beautiful to relive my own beloved pastime through these petite toes.
"Will you read to me?"
"I made this for you."

Each day is filled with these endless gifts, and sometimes releasing the "Please" and embracing the "Thank You" is exactly what we need to see these treasures for what they are.  So while I rejoice in the precious promise of each pregnancy as it is announced around me, I recall my own, ponder them in my heart, and then look at what those treasured times have yielded.  My present is full of gifts, and for them all, I say, "Thank you, my Lord and my God."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Walk in the Light

After my first child was weaned, I went on my first-ever overnight retreat. It was hard to leave my new little family, but I had experienced so much in that year-and-a-half of motherhood that I really felt called to spend some time apart, undistracted, before the Lord. I know some people don't need this kind of silence and separation, but I've experienced it twice, and the practice has borne great fruit in my life. Anyway, on the third and last day of the retreat, I had a final meeting with my spiritual director, and his parting words to me, thoughtfully, deliberately, and gently spoken as he looked directly at me, were "Walk in the light." I have a hard time explaining exactly what that phrase has come to mean to me, but if I had to give words to it, I would say it places me. It puts me exactly where I need to be. The notion would be that right where I am, standing right here at the counter as I type, or as I bathe a preschooler, or as I help a child with his homework, or as I drive a minivan (hey! No laughing!), my response to God's presence puts me in the Light or in darkness. And I choose light.

The first scripture reading from Isaiah yesterday, the first Sunday of Advent, contained this verse, my verse, and I sort of lit up when the lector read it during Mass. The glow from the first lit candle on the grand Advent wreath gave illustration to the words, and I felt that wonderful sense of being right where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to be doing. Sitting right smack in the middle of God's will.

As mothers, I think we are blessed to have a vocation where the right choice is usually fairly obvious. It is when I toy around with thinking and debating and mulling things over that I realize that I am really trying to cajole God into seeing things my way. It's a red flag of sorts, and a warning that I am trying mightily to step out of the light. But what's there? I shudder to think what's there. Momentary satisfaction, and then what?

We are blessed that the frequent appearance of literal light throughout Advent can serve as a reminder of the Light of the World, and how we should live our lives in His glow.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Wait

Some of the most precious times in life are ones of waiting. 



These are times when we can abandon ourselves to lofty dreams, or succumb to fear.  Or, if we place ourselves within the protective palm of our loving Father's hand, we can rest in a peaceful anticipation, trusting in the knowledge that though we don't know what is to come, He does.  And He will carry us through.

It is with this perspective that I embark upon this Advent.  The Wait is upon us, and though I am sure busy-ness and bedlam is likely to rear its head frequently as we navigate these weeks, I will seek wholeheartedly to do His will, and keep my eyes on the Child for Whom we wait. 

And so it will be the fruits of the Spirit that I try to cultivate more deeply in my being this Advent. 

I will dwell not on the perfect Christmas tree, but on charity. 
I will seek not compliments on my cuisine, but joy in the coming of the Lord. 
I will aim to cultivate a home not of grandeur, but of peace. 
I will give more thought to exercising patience,  than to exercising my body into a smaller dress. 
And while kindness pours forth easily from me toward store clerks and school personnel, I will endeavor to pour kindness upon my family always. 
May my goals reflect the goodness of the Great Good I believe in, so that when people see me, they see Him. 
And may I bestow generosity on the needy, rather than juggle my budget to satisfy my wants.
 Oh, gentleness, gentleness, how I need to hear you take over my voice and the motions of my swift moving hands and feet, trying to get so much done.  Slow me down and sweeten my gestures.
And may I obey in all faithfulness the will of the Lord. 
May modesty regulate my dress, and eliminate my boasting.
May chastity flower in my marriage, as we place ourselves beneath the Lord's guidance, seeking to do His will in our marriage.
And self-control will be my primary goal, for all else depends upon it, doesn't it?

A blessed Advent to you all.