Thankful For All The Broken Pieces

It has been almost two years since we bought this big old farmhouse.It needed a lot of work, but had good bones, so we decided that loving a fixer-upper was something we were capable of.

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  Our first night in the house as I walked up the stairs I looked around.  I saw past the brown paint on the walls.  The carpetless living room with exposed nail strips that I had duct taped pool noodles to was invisible to me.  The boxes and dust and work to be done seemed non existent as I stood there and stared.  All of this... For me?  For us?  It seemed as though God was being too generous.  I never dreamed that I would call a house like this "mine".  I knew there was a reason for it.  There was more to do.  I didn't know how God would need to use us and the space we had been so incredibly blessed with but I did know that he wasn't done with us.

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  That was in March of 2015.  The following October we opened up our home and hearts to my youngest sister.  She was round with child, growing a niece for me.  She had put her life in God's hands and he promptly dismantled it.  I could see his handy work all over her, but she wasn't at a place where she could appreciate His loving reconstruction or her world as she knew it.  I know that place, I lived there for quite a while after I lost my girls.  My sister was grief stricken and needed a soft place to land.  I knew immediately that this was why we had been so profoundly blessed with our new home.  We had more than enough space to easily make room for my sister and her baby.  She was working on healing her broken heart and I was painting a nursery for her.  Times were hard, but the greatest beauty shines through brokenness.

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  Most of the time, we as humans become apathetic to our blessings.  You get a new car and there for a while you take it to the car wash every week. You change the oil and rotate the tires religiously.  You swear that it will never get messy and promise to appreciate it every day.  Then slowly, the washings stop... The sonic cups pile up... The oil needs to be changed and the tires are bald. You drive a dumpster on wheels.. that's how I am with my car anyway.  But I swore that I wouldn't stop being thankful for this house or the blessings it held.  I have kept true to my word.  Every night after everyone is in bed I go through the house locking doors and turning out lights, I walk up the stairs and stop in that same spot and look around and feel my heart swell with gratitude.  I look at all the closed bedroom doors and think about the people I love so much sleeping behind them.  I say prayers of thanks and protection and I head to bed.

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  Things have changed a lot over this past year.  Last Thanksgiving I was fresh post op from an exploratory laparoscopy that showed severe endometriosis, which would require a much more invasive surgery the following month.  My Julia was big and pregnant and my other sister Katie and her baby and husband were down for the holiday.  We spent the day loving, laughing and mending broken hearts, wombs and surgery scars.  My family is the kind of family that heals.  We are close knit and when one of us falls the others pick up the pieces and start the healing process, tenderly creating a beautiful mosaic of life from shards of broken dreams.

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Photo credit jessicarobinsonphotography.com

Photo credit jessicarobinsonphotography.com

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  This year, on Thanksgiving eve I made my bedtime rounds, but I was not alone.  I have a miracle in my arms.  A son.  A child that has been prayed for.  He is a story to share, a message of miracles, both small and great.  He is a beacon of light shining hope and faith into the heart of anyone who sees him.  He is a prayer that I had given up praying.  He is the truth in the perfection of God's timing.  He is my Maximus Augustine.

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Photo credit jessicarobinsonphotography.com

Photo credit jessicarobinsonphotography.com

Photo credit jessicarobinsonphotography.com

Photo credit jessicarobinsonphotography.com

  I stop on the stairs and I look at the closed doors and as I do every night, I pray for the ones I love that are sweetly sleeping behind them.  I bury my nose in Max's hair and inhale his smell, it's intoxicating.  My heart throbs and my eyes fill with tears of joy.  I think about  the hard times, about the hopeless moments, about the brokenness that the last few years have held and I smile.  I kiss my son and think "Ah, Lord now I have eyes that see and a heart that understands."  I see the beauty that will shine through the brokenness, if you let Him light the way.  And for that I am truly thankful.

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I am.

While sitting on the side of the tub last night, pregnant belly resting on my thighs, large with life.   I was wearing nothing but a pair of panties, with a my hair swept up in a sloppy pony tail to keep it out of the toilet as I vomited... again.  I started to pray, not for my misery to stop, but rather to make divine use of it.  I offered up my suffering for my sleeping husband and child in the next room.  

I wiped my mouth after another wave of sickness and the words "I am" came to my mind.  I thought about the different times in the bible when those words are used.  Used by God the Father " I am Who am." and by Christ the Son "Before Abraham was, I am."  

As I laid my face against the cool porcelain I realized that my toilet really needed to be scrubbed, but after that I began to ponder those two words and what exactly they mean to me.  Exactly what "I" am.  I came up with a list of descriptions of myself, strengths and weaknesses.  Trials and triumphs.  Fears and Hopes.  

The thing that came to the forefront of my mind almost immediately was pregnancy, not just this miracle I am currently round with, but my pregnancy with Chloe, my pregnancy when I lost the girls.  The infertility.  The surgeries and all the promises I made to God after that.

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I thought about how truly physically miserable I have been this pregnancy.  I have had more than one friend or family member say "But this little miracle is worth it."  A statement that is wholly true.  But what I am realizing is that loss does not make discomfort feel good.  Of course it is worth it.  Of course I would do this all ten thousand times over for just a moment to feel this baby boy play rugby in my womb.  But my love for him and my thanks for this miracle do not eclipse the contractions, itchy skin, sleepless nights or seemingly endless vomiting.  I promised God I would happily suffer anything for another baby. His reply seems to have been "Challenge accepted."  I may not be doing a good job on the happily part, but I embrace my suffering and unite it with His.  He said "take up your cross and follow me." And so I shall. Suffering for a cause, for sanctification, for mothers contemplating abortion, for our country, for my family, for fallen away Catholics and those I love who do not yet have eyes that see the spiritual side of this life yet.

I coughed through another gag and was simultaneously kicked by an unhappy baby boy, who does not appreciate being smashed against the toilet.  An image came to my mind.  Something simple and true that needed to be documented.  Something natural, beautiful and pure, my expanding belly.  My changing body.  A simple nude portrait.  Yes, I, the veil wearing Catholic who preaches modesty took a nude self portrait.  Not something so far fetched five years ago... but in recent times it is not something I have felt appropriate doing.  I thought back to a statue of the Virgin Mary bare breasted, the infant Jesus suckling.  

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I shot this image, not because I am beautiful or need to be sexy or appreciated by anyone other than my God and my husband.  But, rather because the life I carry inside me needs to be documented.  The beauty of the miracle inside me is real.  He is a person he has a soul and a profound purpose.  So today I set up my back drop and stripped down to show the beautiful side of the miracle of life.

I am..... 

The face of infertility.

A survivor of IVF.

An IVF success story.

An IVF failure.

A mother.

A wife.

A daughter.

A sister.

A friend.

A woman who overcame loss.

The owner of a repentant heart.

A conversion story.

A NaPro Technology success story.

The bearer of a miracle.

A Rosary praying Latin chanting Catholic.

Pro Life.

A miserable failure at times.

A woman who can breathe fire.

A truth teller and a truth seeker.

Hot headed.

Self conscious.

Sensitive.

A potty mouth.

Brave.

Terrified.

A frequent face in the confession line.

A work in progress.

A full time combatant in spiritual warfare.

An artist.

A photographer.

A lover of the pregnant form.

A co-author of life.

A thankful, humble, blessed soul. 

Purity

 

 

Purity...

 

I have made my share of poor choices in this life.  Part of my goal as a mother is to guide my daughter away from the unfortunate decisions I have made. 

 

What is God?  I mean, I know He is God, but descriptively, what is He?

 

He is holy, He is sacred, He is good, He is love, He is pure.  If we were created in His image (which we were) then we too are capable of being the things He is.  We are holy, We are sacred.  We are good.  We are loved.  And we are pure.  Pure... a word I used to snarkily scoff at.  I heard all of it when I was growing up.  Words from parents, friends, aunties and cousins. "If you aren't married, it's a sin."  "You should love the person" "You could get pregnant." "STD's are forever."  "Your body is a temple."  "Use protection" "Get on the pill."  "Young boy's will tell you what you want to hear."  While all of those things are true (barring protection and the pill which are neither safe nor necessary if you are living a chaste life or in a marriage open to life.) not one time was I ever told that I had a gift. That I, Marie, was a gem beyond comparison.  I was never told that I was made in the image and likeness of God and that not only my soul, but my body was a sacred and holy thing.  Something to be treasured.  Something to be earned.  Something worth waiting for. 

 

You may ask why I am already tackling this issue as a mother, since Chloe only recently turned five.  My answer is simple.  The world and it's evils won't wait until Chloe is 15 to take her innocence.  This world is chipping away at my baby girl every day.  I see it in advertisements, magazines, movies, even in cartoons.  I hear it in music.  As if I am the deaf man Our Lord healed in the book of Mark, I have ears that hear.  What I once considered "good" music, now sounds of throbbing chaos.  There is something exceptionally vile about hearing your child sing borderline pornographic lyrics to a song.  I had never paid attention to the words, it had a catchy tune and made us dance around.  I never paid attention, until I heard those words come out of my daughters mouth.  Tiny lips, spewing venom she knows not.  Pebble by pebble, the world is trying to reduce her castle to rubble.  I see a little girl with eyes full of light with an in-corrupt soul, I see her taking in the world.  I see her ponder and question.  I see her child like faith.  I see her purity and it sparkles like diamonds.  She is something worth waiting for.  She is sacred and holy.  I must start teaching her what a precious thing she is now.  She must know, before my words fall on deaf ears.  I will not sacrifice her to the altar of this forsaken world.  I will fight for her until my last breath.  My job as her mother is to make sure she gets into Heaven and that is a job I am determined to finish, and finish well.

 

My friend Becky got a book for Chloe a little while back.  It is called The Princess and the Kiss, written by Jennie Bishop.  It is a phenomenal children's book.  A fairy-tale about purity. 

 

In the book the king and queen have a baby daughter.  On the day she was born, God gave her parents a gift for her.  Her first kiss.  They keep it safe until she is of age.  Then one day they take her up the tower and give it to her.  The king tells her she may do with it what she pleases, but he requests that she use wisdom in her decision making, and reminds her that she should never give this gift to a stranger.

 

The first suitor is Prince Peacock.  He is strong and handsome and he knows it.  She is impressed but quickly realizes that he loves himself so much that he won't have room in his heart for her kiss.  So she sends him away.

 

The second suitor is Prince Romance.  He promises to take her to far away lands and that every day will be like a honeymoon if she marries him.  She thinks that the trips sound exciting, but sees that nothing can be perfect for ever and that he will soon lose interest in her kiss.  So she sends him away.

 

The third suitor is Prince Treasurechest.  He arrives with jewels and gold and beautiful silken robes and promises her the finest of everything.  There is no denying that she would never want for anything material as his wife, but she recognizes that since he can have anything in the world, he does not need her kiss and will not think her kiss is special.  So she sends him away as well.

 

Finally a young farm boy comes to the castle.  He tells her that he isn't the strongest, or richest and that he can't take her on romantic trips... But that he does have one thing to offer her.  A gift he was given on the day he was born.  He had been searching for a woman to give it to, but none were right.  One day he saw the princess in the garden and her purity sparkled like diamonds, he knew she was the one he could give His kiss to.  He is the man God has picked for her and she agrees to be his wife. 

 

In a church, before God and all the kingdom they exchange their first kisses during their wedding.

 

It is the best fairytale I have ever read, and Chloe thinks it is fantastic.  While I read it to her I knew immediately that I had to try to bring this story to life.  Images flooded my mind.  It is a fairytale, but...

 

We don't live in a fairytale.

 

My mind turned a little dark, I felt the need to not only show beauty and purity, but I wanted to creatively depict the world trying to steal and ravage this God given innocence.

I took my precious princess down to a old home crumbled by time and neglect,  surrounded by dead trees it has a feeling of desolation about it.  I dressed in her finest princess costume and I photographed her holding her "kiss" in this castle reduced to rubble.  The light of her purity shining brilliantly in the dark.  An expression of confidence beyond her years on her face.  Try as they might, the hands can not steal what God has given.

After that shot was taken, I used her dad as my hand model and took shots of his outstretched arms, clawing and grabbing.  I added those to my image.  

The three hands represent

The world

The flesh

And The will.

 

Very real battles we will all face.  I only pray that I am able to fill this child with so much heavenly light, and love that the darkness shrinks away in terror.

Welcoming Clementine

Welcoming Clementine


Water is a powerful thing.  It has the power to destroy cities and the capability to forge new paths by cutting through stone.  It possesses the gift to bring forth life, and the might to purify the soul.  Water cleansed the earth of sin, in the days of Noah and water baptized our Lord in the river Jordan.   


"I think my water broke" is what she said to me after she plucked the earbud out of my ear.  It was around midnight and I had been asleep for a few hours.  I fall asleep listening to homilies from some of my favorite priests.  (Shameless plug for Fr. Chad Ripperger on YouTube)


I was a little disoriented and if I'm being honest, I really just wanted a few more minutes of rest before the chaos of childbirth ensued.  I told her what I had told countless patients during my former life working in OBGYN.  "Go lay down for about 20 minutes with a pad on, when you get up if you leak again it is probably your water."  I also had a small strip of ph paper that I had nicked from the clinic, so I told her to press it into the fluid should she leak again. 


I laid in bed painfully awake against my will, and trying to calm the nerves present from knowing that this birth would thrust all of us into some painfully adult situations and bring out a wild torrent of emotions.  I say 'us' in reference to the three adults who are the front runners of this new child's life.  Her mother, her father, and myself.


I realized quickly, that my anxiety over hypothetical issues was causing me to neglect my sister in her moment of need.


I saw her standing in her underwear.  With shaky hands she held a strip of emerald green ph paper, it was her water that had broken, I was sure of it now.  I helped her get into a clean change of bottoms and told her to get dressed, while I went into my room to put on some clothes and loaded her bags into the car.  Five minutes later she was frozen on the stairs, wracked with the pain that brings forth life.  The contractions had started coming, strong and rhythmic like ocean waves pounding against a cliff.


I looked over at her as we backed out of the driveway and asked her to let me get one quick photo of her.  Her pregnancy has been well documented (it is a perk of living with a photographer)

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She was calm and silent, her countenance like a lake at sunrise on a still morning.  Slow deep breaths were the only sound she made.  As we listened to the rosary for most of the thirty minute drive to the hospital, I talk texted the necessary people and did my best to not drive 90mph down the highway.  I prayed for every kind of strength imaginable.  I reached out, held her hand and glanced up at the Divine Mercy image of Christ taped to my sun visor.  "Jesus, I trust in you" spoken from the depths of my heart.

 

He was waiting for us when we pulled into the emergency parking lot, backpack slung over one shoulder and a worried expression on his face.  In an instant he was at the passenger door helping her out and whispering love and support in her ear.  She reached out and grabbed my arm as he steadied the other side of her body.  The three of us squeezed in through the automatic door.  The first door of many that the three of us will have to press through in the years to come.

 

She had been scheduled for a C-section on Feb 15th,  I had called her doctor (my former boss and friend) to let him know that we were headed in.  It wasn't his call night, but he had told me to let him know if she went into labor, so he could try to make it in for delivery.  However, I was thankful to see Dr. Tony Terry standing in the emergency room.  He recognized me through the glass window and smiled.  I always liked him and if my doc couldn't make it, I was more than happy to have this man as his replacement.

 

"Only one of you can stay with her." Words from the nurses mouth.  In an instant, His look and body language let me know that I had been praying for the wrong virtue.  It wasn't strength that I needed, it was humility.  I swallowed my pride, and with a hard lump in my throat I walked to the waiting room.  I fought back tears as I tried to answer my mom's questions about my sister's state. 

 

I requested an update via text.  The interaction read like this-

 

Me: Updates would be appreciated please

Him: Moving a little fast at the moment

Him: 6cm 100%

Him: Contraction 2 minutes.

Me: Thanks. Keep me updated.  Has Duke called back yet?

Him: Coming

 

I thought that last response was in reference to the staff being able to reach my doc... Well I thought that until I saw a nurse from the O.R. dash past the waiting room door.  As I peered through the thin glass window I saw a slapdash of activity.  Then I heard the screams.  It has been years since I have worked on a labor and delivery floor, but the howl of a woman about to naturally birth a child is a sound of pain that is forever etched into the memory.  I saw my sister on a gurney, crying out from under an oxygen mask as she writhed around like a worm on a hook.  She was surrounded by a blur of blue scrubs rushing her toward a labor room.  Him in hot pursuit, carrying all their bags.  I realized quickly that His response "coming" was in reference to the baby and not the doctor.


I grabbed my camera and joined the mob.


The dam had been breached.  If you have ever seen the floodgates of a dam open, that image accurately depicts a woman naturally birthing a child with no pain control.  Raging, wild, uncontrollable, terrifying, yet almost hypnotic in its strength.  The water bursts forth tearing everything in its path out of the way.

 

We were almost to the room when my sister yelled "SHE'S COMING OUT!! SHE'S HERE!"  The gurney rounded the room corner with a Tokyo drift and screeched to a halt next to the hospital bed.  I yelled "I'M HERE!" to my sister, her eyes shut tight with pain.  He jumped over the bed to be her support and hold her hands while the new life they co-created rapidly emerged. 


Well past crowning, her shoulders were delivered then her tiny perfect body, all while my shutter fired at rapid speed. 


And then at 1:43am she was here.  Our Clementine.


She let out a few weak, stunned cries as her cord was cut and they whisked her to the warmer.  I knew peripherally that my sister was dealing with the aftermath of birth, but I never took my eyes off that baby.  I lowered my camera as I read the fingers of the nurse listening to her heart.  Forefinger and thumb tapping together in rhythm with the heartbeat... A rhythm that was entirely too slow.  I held my breath as they fought to give my niece, hers.  First the suction, then the oxygen then the blue bag squeezing air into tiny lungs, lungs shocked by a breakneck delivery speed.  Clementine's skin shifted color from a dusky purple to a soft pink and with a quick prayer of thanks, a sigh of relief and a reassuring nod to mom and dad I picked my camera back up.

 

She was breathing but her breaths were shallow and inefficient.  The nurses swaddled her up, and let mom and dad see her for a moment before they left for the provisions in the nursery.  Tears full of joy but tainted with worry flowed.

 

I followed the nurse to the nursery, camera in hand, yelling for my mom to come out of the waiting room as we passed quickly by.  While they worked to getsome oxygen flowing to Clementine, mom and I stood outside the fishbowl and stared in amazement at the new life God had blessed our family with.

 

He walked up, relief on his face.  We all hugged and gazed lovingly at the one thing we had in common.  The wee 6lb 3oz baby girl with a head-full of blond hair and her mamas full lips.

 

Back in the room we sang praises to mom for a job well done and recounted just how insane the night had been.  In just one hour and forty-three minutes my sister's water had broken and a new baby arrived.  A tiny soul with all the potential in the world had joined the our lives in a wild, wild, way.

Shortly after Clementine's delivery Mom and Dad were told that they could come to the nursery and visit their daughter for the first time.  She was so tiny and covered in tubes and monitors, but she was perfect.  Mom shed a few tears, but overall it was a joyous moment to behold.  

 

After about twelve hours with oxygen, IV, and a feeding tube, Wild Thing was stable enough for her mama to get to hold her for the first time.  The nurse and her daddy conceded to me being the one to document the first time my sister felt the weight of her daughter pressed safely against her breast.  That moment is one I will never forget and a place in time that I will always be thankful that I was able to capture. 

 

Tomorrow Julia and Clementine will hopefully be discharged from the hospital.  They will come to my house and together with her daddy we will cut a new path to a different kind of family. We don't really know what to expect or what this new blended family will look like, but with a lot of love, support, prayer and humility... I think it can look as beautiful as any other family.

It can because it's ours.  Our family.

Thirty-four

Thirty four

 

Today is my birthday.  I was born on January 26th at 7:10pm.  I thought about doing my hair and make up and taking a series of self portraits...  But that isn't what thirty-four looks like.  Thirty-four looks like a messy ponytail, split ends and roots that need to be colored.  Thirty-four looks like my favorite pair of sweats and fingernails that need to be painted.  Thirty-four looks like several new scars on my belly and a crooked bottom tooth.  Thirty-four is being comfortable in my own skin and firmly grounded in my faith.  So that is the shot I took.  No editing, I kept the wrinkles and the roots and the dirty sweats.  I'm good with that.  I thought about writing about what this past year has done with my life, or what I thought thirty four might hold.  But had I not been born and mothered the way I was, none of that would be relevant. 

 

A few months ago my mom asked me to write her eulogy.  When she dies of course... So maybe this will be a trial run.

 

I was seeking inspiration so I pulled out our old family photo albums.  Photo albums that I requested for about ten years before my mother bothered to finally find them in the attic.  I am the photographer, it is only right that I should be the keeper of the photo albums.  I went into my closet and pulled out the faded white book.  It has no cover and the binding has been duck taped back together.  The pages are yellowed with time but the love they hold is immeasurable.  It smells like the dust from an old bookstore with a hint of cigarette smoke and it weighs at least eight pounds.  There are random photos shoved in-between some of the pages; images of another time, stories that tell the tale of what makes me, me.  I brought it down stairs and Chloe immediately wanted to know what I had.  I showed her the top page, four or five images of my mother, young, beautiful and very pregnant with me, are what she saw stuck to the tacky backing that has held them in place for over thirty years now.  She said "Is that you?"  I laughed and said no.  I told her that, that was Kona (the name Chloe gave my mother as soon as she could speak) when I was in her belly.  I watched intently as her little mind tried to wrap around that concept.  We looked at the first few pages while I used my remote to document the experience, then she ran off to watch cartoons.

 

My mom has always been just that...mom.  She always said it was the most thankless job she had ever had and that she would never have it any other way.  She was and is a spectacular mother, so of course I didn't appreciate it... I never knew any different. Only once you become a mother, and you fall into that ocean of love with bricks tied to your feet, willing to drown in a sea of sacrifice for that tiny person; only then will you be able to begin to comprehend the things your mother did for you and the unyielding love she felt and still feels for you.  Now that I am a mother myself, sometimes I try to step into her mama shoes and think about what things must have been like for her.  To realize that the unconditional love I feel for my child is the exact same love my mother feels for me, it's pretty profound actually. 

 

The sixth child out of eight, all my mom ever wanted to be was a mother.  She is the most like my grandmother out of all of her siblings.  After a few years of being married to my father and some infertility struggles, her prayers came true (insert mushy sarcasm here) and God gave her perfect squishy little me.  What an amazing God he is, I mean talk about a blessing!  (I have always been and always will be a pain in the ass.)

 

I don't know that I have an earliest memory or a fondest memory of my mother.  What I have is something far greater than any one memory.  I have a sense of security that has permeated my entire life.  My mother was ALWAYS there.  ALWAYS.  I never competed with a job she had to get to, or friends she had plans with.  My parents have been married for 38 years, so I never had to compete with some man she was dating, hell I didn't even compete with my father.  I was number one in her world and that was all I knew.  She was there when I was sick, when I was scared, when I was sad, when I was happy, when I was proud, when I was hurt, when I had school functions, when I had a broken heart, when I had surgery, when I got married, when I went through infertility, when I had my baby and when I lost my other babies.  She has raised me (and my sisters) with a grace that fascinates everyone who meets her.  She is honest, kind, funny, sassy, sarcastic, snarky, and a little foul at times but if I were limited to one phrase to embody my mother, it would be that, she is a soft place to land. 

Doesn't my dad look like Russel Crowe?

Doesn't my dad look like Russel Crowe?

 

She raised three Catholic girls and showed us how to be women.  Not so much with her words or her rules, but with her actions and humility.  I have learned what marriage is from her.  I have seen her sail gracefully through storms with my dad that would have had anyone else jumping overboard.  I know what sacrificial love is and I know what it takes to truly love when love is hard.  I watched her go to mass all alone for years.  None of us were "practicing" our faith.  We chose to "live as pagans" there for a bit.  She never guilted us or shamed us for leaving the church and letting her sit alone in the pew, she just prayed.  And prayed.  And prayed.  I will always be eternally thankful for all the prayers she has offered for me.  That woman is the St. Peter of our family, she is our rock, our pillar of faith, our cornerstone. 

 

So HAPPY 'my' BIRTHDAY to you mom!!  Thank you for sacrificing your entire life for love of me.  Thank you for teaching me gently and loving me intensely.  Thank you for all the times my bad choices caused my world to fall apart and instead of criticizing or chastising me, you just let me cry on your lap as you gently stroked my hair.  Thank you for showing me how to be a mother, wife and a Catholic woman.

Without you I wouldn't be the woman I am.  I love you.

Fellowship

Fellowship

 

BLEH!  I don't know if it is the Catholic in me, or the fact that I am actually an introvert disguised in extrovert clothing; but the thought of meeting strangers in a closed environment gives me nausea.  My mouth waters and head spins as I quickly make way toward the Xanax I keep in my closet for just such occasions. I can tell a story to a group of people, I can go through the motions and even be the life of the party, but at the end of the day all of that completely drains me and I have to go hide in my shell and recharge for a few days afterward.


A few weeks ago I got an email from my best friend and social butterfly Becky.  "Blessed is She" was in the subject box.  It was either a tea or brunch, I don't remember, I deleted it too fast to really read it.  Now I was part of a mailing list, yuck.  So every few days I had to read "Blessed is sh-..." DELETE!  One of the reasons Becky is my best friend is that she doesn't get her feelers hurt when I completely ignore her emails, another reason is that she is quite the opposite of me.  She is the butterfly to my hermit crab.  She flits around with bright colorful wings sharing her faith and offering words of encouragement.  I hide in my shell and pray for people behind their backs and wave around my pinchers if anyone should tread too close. 

 

Fellowship is a big deal to Becky.  In the Protestant world, there was a great deal of it and I think when she came back home to The Church, it was the one thing she missed about her former life.  I'm not speaking for all Catholics or all Protestants for that matter, but I would have to say that on the fellowship front, they seem to have us beat.  Which is fine with me because even just the word fellowship tastes bad in my mouth.  I don't go to mass to see you or anyone else, I go to mass to see Christ.  Period. End of story.  I pray by my self and my favorite day of the week is Thursday morning when I get up at 1:15am and drive 30 minutes away for my hour of adoration from 2-3am... You guessed it.. to be ALONE with Jesus.  Hermits have their place in faith too. 

 

"So are you coming tomorrow?" She asked me on the phone.  My face puckered up like I had just sucked on a lemon.  I knew what she was talking about, but I asked "Come to what?"  She reminded me of her brunch, or tea... What ever it was.  I still wasn't sure.  I gave an honest but typical non-committal response.  "If I have a car and if Shane is off work.  I will make an honest effort to come... Will there be wine?"  She laughed at me and told me I could have a glass before if I came early.  We got off the phone. 

 

I felt like an ass.  She is my best friend.  She would come to my party if the circumstances were flipped.  She would support me.  She would encourage me.  She would offer to bring food or drink.  I have no words to accurately describe how much I did NOT want to go.  So I recruited my sister to come with.  Misery loves company, right? 

 

I prayed that morning.  A request for grace for my anxiety and that my friends brunch or tea or whatever, was a success.  She was nervous too.

 

Julia and I arrived about 45 min early and walked in, just as a van full of Carter children backed out of the driveway.  No kiddos were going to be at this shindig.  I walked in the kitchen and Becky was flitting around the bar moving chairs, setting up refreshments, plates and napkins.  I brought my camera, it's a defense mechanism.  I can hide and participate all at the same time and that made it easier to breathe.  I cringed as she handed me a name tag.  A NAME TAG.  I have a visceral dislike for name tags.  I stuck it over my boob, edges curling up and catching wisps of my hair.  I wanted to sneak it in the trash.  I think Becky sensed my discomfort and she promptly poured me a glass of red wine.  Gulp..Gulp..Gulp.  The first car pulled in the driveway.  I put my 1/4 glass of wine back into the fridge and took a deep breath.

With every car that pulled into the driveway, Becky smiled a little bigger.  I floated around in the background  h̶i̶d̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶f̶r̶o̶m̶ ̶e̶v̶e̶r̶y̶o̶n̶e̶  photographing this fellowship that was taking place.  I didn't want to play, but watching my friends happiness shine through my lens made this Grinch's heart grow three times it's size.. I set down my camera and started introducing myself to these strangers.

 

Women from all over came.  Old, young, married, single, divorced, seasoned moms, new moms and pregnant moms.  A dozen different ethnicities floated around the kitchen chatting and smiling; all having one deep beautiful common vein.  Catholicism.  Some were cradle Catholics and some were converts, some were reverts (having been raised in The Church and then choosing to leave, only to return home.) but we all had one thing in common, the same beautiful faith.  It was pretty amazing.  I peeked cautiously out of my shell.  The air smelled like baked goods and The Holy Spirit was hovering above our heads.

 

The tinkling of a silver bell rang though the room, signaling that it was time to begin our afternoon.  Becky stood on her staircase to address the crowd of women in her kitchen.  She began with prayer and then tried to thank us all for coming as her voice cracked and tears began to flow.  She laughed her way through it, genuinely shocked at her own flood of emotion, fanning her face with her cards, trying to regain composure.  I'm sure some people thought she was just nervous, but that isn't what I saw.  I saw my friend overwhelmed with The Spirit after being starved of the fellowship her heart had craved so badly.  This was her soul food. 

 

An older woman named Kathleen directed our afternoon.  We were to divide into groups.  There would be four groups, one in the kitchen, dining room, living room and school room.  She had some cards written out to guide us once we found a destination.  We were supposed to ''let The Spirit guide us'' to the spot we were supposed to end up at... The bell rang and I cringed.  My favorite room in Becky's house is her dining room, so that is where I headed.  My sister just followed my lead. 

 

We sat down and followed the directions on the first card. 

 

  • Who are you?
  • Why did you come today?
  • Share something interesting about yourself

 

We passed the card around the table round-robin style and shared a bit about ourselves with one another.

 

The next card was much more intense.  Once again we were supposed to be spirit lead on when we chose to answer these two probing questions. 

 

  • What is Mercy?
  • How has God shown you mercy in your own life?

 

Wait... What?  I thought I might vomit.  This is getting entirely too personal for me.  I listened peripherally to other women speak as I genuinely tried to let The Spirit guide my words.  Then BAM! There it was, exactly what I was supposed to share.  NOPE.  Don't wanna.  Can't do it.  Leave me alone.  I won't share this.  YOU CAN'T MAKE ME.  Funny thing about the Holy Spirit... He is pretty persistent.

 

I sat across from a strikingly beautiful Indian/Arabic looking woman, a lady with big black ringlets framing her kind face and big blue eyes, and a black woman with a lovely accent.  At one end of the table sat a new mom and her infant daughter.  My pregnant sister sat to my left at the other end of the table.  A pretty twenty-something blonde in a grey hat sat to my right and a lovely, wise, experienced mama was on her other side.  They sat patiently waiting as I tried to articulate the words my soul was ready to pour out.  The sentence "I struggle with infertility" escaped my lips before my voice cracked and my eyes brimmed with tears. 

 

I DID NOT WANT TO BE THIS PERSON.  THE CRIER.  PLEASE GOD NO!

 

Humble yourself Marie.

 

So I took a deep breath and let them know I was going to cry my way through my story.  I shared about I.V.F. About doing things my way.  I shared the loss of my girls and the rage that filled my soul afterward.  I shared my first trip back to mass, and the brutally raw confession that took place.  I pulled my stitches, cracked my rib cage and let these women see my heart and all of it's hurt, because only then could I explain suitably how God has shown ME mercy in my own life.  I shared the beauty of how perfectly He put my soul back together.  How when I let Him heal me, He did so with a profound majesty that only the King of Mercy could possess.  It was an esoteric experience.

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Fellowship.  Saying it still makes me sarcastically raise my eyebrow.  Maybe I need to find another word.  A word that doesn't make my insides twist.  A word that feels a little less contrived.  But whatever it was that I experienced at that tea or brunch or what ever.. I am thankful for it.  I was gifted wisdom and granted mercy.  I made some friends and learned quite a bit about the beautiful journey that we all make to grow in our faith. 

So, to my butterfly, thank you.  Thank you for loving me where I am at, but always pushing me gently to broaden my horizons.  I still stand by the fact that hermits have a lovely place in the church, but so does this fellowship stuff. 

Pray For Me When I Die.

Pray for me when I die.

 

I have been away from writing for a while.  I had a very busy Christmas season. 

Family pic after Midnight Mass, with a very cranky Chloe. 

Family pic after Midnight Mass, with a very cranky Chloe. 

My veiled beauty enjoying the choir's Christmas songs before mass. 

My veiled beauty enjoying the choir's Christmas songs before mass. 

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Santa has arrived! 

Santa has arrived! 

Chloe had her fifth birthday,

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we had family in town

Shot with some of my in laws  

Shot with some of my in laws  

and it ended with my second Napro surgery up in Illinois with Dr. Stalling during the past four weeks.  I have been healing and a little too drugged to write a coherent piece... or shower regularly for that matter.

 

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Not so flattering post op shot.  Courtesy of my husband. 

Not so flattering post op shot.  Courtesy of my husband. 

My poor swollen belly after surg #2

My poor swollen belly after surg #2

So now that we have had a nice long break lets jump right in shall we?

 

Today I want to chat about Purgatory.

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  This isn't a post trying to convert anyone.  That is the work of the Holy Spirit.  I am simply sharing some of my feelings about The Church's view on it.  If you don't believe in purgatory, no worries, at best you will walk away with something new to study, think about, pray about or chat with your pastor about.  At worst.. You may end up in purgatory... But no worries, if you die before me, I'll pray for you.  So now that that is established lets get on with the show....

 

I struggle with death.  Who doesn't right?  I tend to struggle in a different way though.  I find it almost physically painful to hear people talk with such enraptured certainty that their loved ones are in Heaven.  It sounds brutal I know but hear me out.   This won't be a theological post littered in biblical quotes. It will however, be loaded with unprofessional iPhone shots and stock photos, because I'm not quite physically up to shooting yet.  If you are curious about The Church's teaching on Purgatory THIS is a good place to start doing some homework for yourself.  You can also read more on The Church teaching of Purgatory HERE and HERE.

I hear the quote "Don't judge" thrown around a lot, nearly always in reference to excusing sin. Firstly that quote is about not judging where someone's soul is headed (good or bad), it is not about judging actions.  If someone kills a  child I can say "That is a bad person" with out judging whether or not they will suffer eternal damnation. I find it interesting that many Christians don't see the flip side of that coin.  To assume someone got a straight shot to Heaven because they love Jesus, in my eyes is a very dangerous notion; not only for ourselves, but for the pour souls of the faithful departed.  Of course we want our loved ones to go to a land of eternal bliss.  Of course we want them to be free of all pain.  Of course we think the best of them.  We LOVE them, which is defined by it's very nature to want our loved ones (and if you are a good Christian, your enemies too) in Heaven, God-willing, with us for all eternity some day.  But to assume we know the state of anyone's soul as God does is trite at best and down right heresy at worst.  Even Moses couldn't see the face of God.

*Exodus 33: 19-21(ok maybe a few bible quotes will be in this post, but I really am trying to keep it on a personal level.) 

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Moses couldn't see the face of God because of our inherent sinful nature.  Sin cannot survive in God's presence.  I know, I know, you are going to tell me that this is Old Testament which means Jesus hadn't saved us yet.. You would be right.  But my argument is that while Jesus poured out his blood for many, if you don't choose Him, with your faith, works or even with your dying breath, than it wasn't poured out for you. Our Lord is a lot of things, He is all things, but among those things He is a gentleman. 

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He will not force salvation on us.  He kicked in the doors of Hell and opened the gates of Heaven for us, but there is still a choice to be made.  Which path will you take?  Redemption is offered to all but what we choose to do with His sacrifice is where the judgement will be applied to our souls.  He died for our sins, not so that we can just keep on sinning and be assured salvation, but because he loves us infinitely and wants us to love him back.  If a man cheats on his wife, even though he loves her, and she forgives him over and over again... is it really a marriage? Does he truly love her?  We can LOVE Jesus, but if we love our sin more, how can we expect to be saved?  God is loving, but he is also JUST.  We as lazy humans, tend to focus on the love side and ignore the disciplinary part.  Of Course we can hope for salvation, we are supposed to be "Working out our salvation" Phil 2:12 day by day.

Ok.  So I guess I totally lied about the theology and bible quotes... but seriously... keep reading.

The beauty of all that is that yes we are sinners and even if we are working out our salvation and building a relationship with Christ and doing everything as right as we flawed humans can... we. still. fall. short.  We can not be with God in Heaven with even a speck of sin on our soul.  What then?  Hell?  Not necessarily.  Hell is a place we choose, not a place we are sent.  If you choose a life apart from God on this earth, why would you choose an eternity with Him in another?  Allowing us to choose Hell if we wish is the one time He will say to us "Thy will be done."  For those of us that have done our best to choose Him, but don't die in a state of grace there is a place to be cleansed.  You are already saved, it isn't a golden ticket or second chance or some kind of eternal time-out.  You have proven that you are a child of God by your faith and works; through His bountiful outpouring of grace and in His infinite mercy he offers your soul a place to be purified, like gold in a smelting pot.  All the impurity is burned away.

So now we get to me.  I think about my loved ones.  I think about the day they will or have died.  I imagine that last breath.  I think about that second in time that their eyes show that they have seen the face of Christ.  I love the thought of their souls drifting up through the clouds to the gates of Heaven.  Radiant white light spills over creation as voices of the Seraphim singing praise floats all around.  They are filled with an unimaginable bliss as they enter His kingdom.  It is easy to drift away in those daydreams.

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But what if that isn't how it really looks?  What if they are faced with Christ crucified. 

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He stands there ripped and torn, wearing a crown of thorns and they are accountable for every tear in his flesh.  Every drop of blood spilled was caused by their choices.  They see what they have done and turn away in horror.  None of us are exempt from this.  He DIED for us.  ALL OF US.  He loved us so much that He would die that way for you or me if we were the only creation in the universe.

What if theyshrink away from the ugly truth of their sin?  There is no justification in this judgement.  There are no excuses.  Truth IS.  It's as simple as that.

He calls their name. Once. Twice.. A third time...

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Finally they look up with tears streaming and try to utter the words "I'm Sorry Lord" in a moment He is risen and they are forgiven... He embraces his prodigal child.  They want to follow Him into the kingdom but they are still sullied with the stain of their own wickedness.  The sin itself has been forgotten, but the effects of their choices on the soul are a different matter.

 

They enter a state of purgation.  A place where the soul is purged of all impurity and prepared to enjoy the full glory of God.  The souls in Hell suffer fires of pain with no hope of salvation.  Separation from God for all eternity.  The Holy Souls in Purgatory suffer fires of purification, blessed by our prayer and sacrifice here on earth, they receive the aid of the Blessed Mother, Angels and Saints and possess a sweet knowledge that some day they will join them with Him as well.

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I think of my mother, when she dies some day.  If ever there were a woman who deserves a straight shot to Heaven this woman would be toward the front of the line. 

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She has faithfully and gracefully survived struggles that would cause most people to crumble.  She has loved as Christ loved and she forgives as He forgave.  She is gentle, generous, kind and strong.  She is The Rock of our family.  A pillar of faith. She is an example to be followed and a mother to be thankful for.  But what if?  What if she isn't in a state of grace when she dies.  What if there is some reparation to be made?  What if she needs MY PRAYERS and I'm down here in blissful ignorance, singing about how she is with Jesus... because that thought is what makes me comfortable.  I couldn't live with myself knowing that my mom needed my prayers and I didn't offer them.  If I'm wrong and she goes straight to Heaven, my prayers won't be wasted.  There isn't a trash bin in Heaven for unnecessary prayers. God will send that grace to the soul most in need of it.  But oh sweet Lord, if she is sitting in the fire and ice of purgatory and my prayers and sacrifice could bring her a glass of cool water sent on the breeze of angels wings, how selfish am I not to do all I can for her in this life and in the next?  

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I will pray for my loved ones and offer up all my masses, joys and sorrows, pain, triumph and holy hours spent in adoration for their souls until one of two things happens... The Lord allows them to let me know they are in Heaven or until the day I die.  If I'm wrong no harm and no foul.  But if they need me, then what a beautiful thing it is to be aiding them at a time in their existence when they can do nothing more to help themselves.

So PLEASE I beg you, when I die, don't sing songs, don't talk about my soul in Heaven, don't judge where I went.

 

PRAY FOR ME. 

 

I will surely need it.

There Were Eleven

There were eleven

 

That was her answer when he asked her why I was so devastated by the loss of my twins, but not (outwardly) hurting by the loss of the baby who was placed in my womb with Chloe. 

 

What he didn't know was that there wasn't just one baby missing from my family photo, there were ten missing and one beautiful curly headed miracle present.

 

"How can you be "Pro Life" and think it is ok to make all those babies knowing that most of them won't survive?"  Those words left whip marks on my soul, not because they were cruel, but because they were valid.  It is an honest question, a question that I intend to finally answer today.

 

The short answer is you can't be pro life and support I.V.F.  If you are pro life you believe that ALL life is precious. As Catholics WE MUST RESPECT THE SANCTITY OF LIFE.  It is not to be tinkered with for our own desires, prevented for our own pleasure or exterminated for our comfort.

 

To understand my story we need to start at the beginning.  This will be a long emotional post, but please stick with me.

 

She came in the clinic room,  a pixie sized doctor dressed in scrubs, a brightly colored O.R. cap on her head.  She looked at me and touched my arm with hands cold as ice.  "We got the results back... they weren't good."  My throat tightened, I'm still not sure if it was to suppress sobs or vomit.  "with your issues and his, your chances of conceiving naturally are literally one in a million."

 

1 : 1,000,000.

 

My earth stopped moving.  I wasn't hearing this.  She continued "if you ever want to have a baby you will have to do I.V.F. with I.C.S.I."  I heard the words coming out of her mouth, but they were bouncing off my face, crashing to the floor and shattering along with my hopes and dreams of motherhood.

 

  The worst part about working in the medical field (which I did for 10 years) is that you get to be the bearer of bad news.  If I hadn't worked there, they would have called my husband for me to share the news.  Unfortunately it was left on my shoulders.  He came in the door from a lousy day at work and all I could think was "You think your day has been bad?... just wait.  I'm about to ruin your year."  I sat on his lap and shared the news.  He took it well, but it affected him more than he let show. 

 

We met with the I.V.F. nurse and she shared packets of information, shockingly our insurance covered the procedure once in a lifetime.  We had to talk about custody of our "embryos" what we would do with them if we were to divorce, or if one of us died, or if we produced more children than we could care for.  I talked to the nurse and let her know that I was Catholic.  I use that description of myself at that point in life, very loosely.  I didn't know my faith at all.  Regardless, I wanted to make sure that they wouldn't be willingly disposing any of my babies.  I didn't care if they weren't perfect, I wanted them left alone.  My logic at that point in my journey was "Women miscarry all the time, if they (my embryo babies) stop developing on their own, that is nature, not destruction of life."

 

"You know The Church is against this?"  Words from my mothers lips that set me aflame.  "The Church!!??"  I hissed.  "I'm not disposing of anything, I'm TRYING TO MAKE MORE CATHOLIC BABIES!!"  I raged on the other end of the phone.  Who were these celibate men to tell ME how I could and couldn't have children?  As the serpent slipped into the garden, I hung up the phone and stuck a needle filled with hormones into my thigh.

 

For weeks I poured toxic mixtures into my body.  Shots, patches, pills, creams, firstly to shut down any fertility and then to shift gears and throw it into hyper-drive, creating as many usable eggs as possible.  My belly large with swollen ovaries, I waddled around.  My body cruelly mimicking what I craved so badly.

 

The room was cold.  Sterile.  I was surrounded by smiling faces but had never been more alone in my life.  Legs in stirrups, privacy gone, my body and soul lay open in front of strangers.  I remember the anesthesiologist telling me "It is nice that you are thin, this is much harder with big girls." as she pushed white medicine into my vein.

 

Sleep.

 

I woke up in the recovery room, groggy, nauseous, incredibly sore.  They had retrieved 28 eggs and were actively pulling the DNA from my husbands sperm to fertilize them. 

 

Detached.

 

This wasn't how children were supposed to be made.  I knew it at the time, but I refused to let myself feel it.  Funny how our fall as humans involved desiring the fruit of the tree of knowledge, then we spend much of our lives hiding from the truth that comes with the knowledge we so badly craved.

 

There were eleven.  Of my 28 eggs eleven had fertilized. Of the eleven eight had began to divide.  I was so excited.  Filled with hope.  I was climbing the mountain with blinders on and didn't see the crevasse I was approaching.

The phone rang. One of my "embryos" had stopped developing and a few others didn't look very promising.  I felt numb as the tears came.  One of my babies had died.  That was the truth.  More of my babies would likely die.  That was also the truth.  It was a strange kind of grief to lose a child like that.  It was a part of me.  It may have had my blond hair, my husbands green eyes or my loud laugh, yet I had never felt the pangs of pregnancy.  I didn't know this child.  I pushed that to the back of my mind where we all hide the things we simply can't justify.  My eyes were on the prize, and the prize was a baby. 

 

The day we traveled to the clinic for implantation there were six babies.  Two ready for my womb that day and four that had to survive to the blastocyst stage of development, to make it into the freezer.  Life granted by God but paused by man.

 

Again I laid on the cold table, bright lights shone.  This time I was allowed to have my husband with me.  We were both absent at conception, but allowed to hold hands during implantation.  I prayed silently.  God in his infinite mercy answered that prayer according to my will.  Three weeks later I had a positive pregnancy test.  I blissfully planned for twins as I stuffed the emotions I felt for the loss of my seven other children, deep in to the darkest spaces of myself.  Only two babies had become "snowflakes". 

 

I was four weeks pregnant when my doctor convinced me to do an ultrasound to see how many embryonic sacs there were.  To see if I was going to have the twins I had planned for or not.  The probe searched.  One tiny black spot on the screen, I felt my heart break.  "Are you sure there aren't two?" I asked hoping against hope that she had missed something.  "It's really early.  Maybe the other one just isn't as developed yet?"  I asked optimistically.  She told me that was highly unlikely and again I pushed my hurt down.  A subterranean abyss of emotions I was unwilling to feel.

 

After a hard pregnancy and thirteen weeks of bed rest, I gave birth to the most beautiful human I have ever laid eyes on.  She was made in His image and she was perfection.  I wept as she laid on my chest, taking her first breaths and letting out grunty little cries.  I shed tears of thanks, that my baby had made it here safely.  That God had heard my terrified prayers said from alone in my bed, begging and bargaining.  I shed tears of loss for the sibling who should be laying next to her.  For a long time after that day I felt the loss of the other baby.  I know it isn't right, but it is true, I grieved the loss of that baby more than I did the others that had died in a petrie dish, so far away.  I also thought of and often prayed for the other two snowflake babies who were waiting on me.  Life created and halted, waiting on a womb.

 

For a very long time I never felt any guilt about doing I.V.F.  in my eyes, I hadn't done anything "to" those babies I lost, it was simply nature taking its course.  Nature.  In a lab.  In a petrie dish.  Man made humans.  Oh how we lie to ourselves. 

 

Years later I was having a meeting with my spiritual director.  An old priest and diocesan exorcist.  He was a stern man with a loving heart and a logical mind.  I brought up I.V.F.  he looked at me from across his large desk and asked "Have you ever confessed that?"  I answered "No.  I didn't withhold it, I just never felt like I needed to."  Without judgement or harsh words he smiled gently at me, opened a desk drawer and pulled out a purple stole and put it around his neck.  He leaned back in his office chair with his hands clasped relaxed over his chest.  "Well, why don't we do that now?"  He said.  I wanted to hide under the desk!  Face to face confession!!??  Um... no thanks!  But what do you do?  So I bowed my head and began my confession.  I was confessing something I was not sorry for, at least not consciously.  I had said up until that day that if things didn't go well when we went to get the "freezer babies" I would absolutely do I.V.F. again.  Believe me when I tell you that the grace from confession is real.

 

When I left his office something in me had changed.  I knew in the pit of my soul that I could never do I.V.F. again.  We obviously had to go back and get the two babies we already had.  They deserved a chance at life.  But to start from scratch, having tiny humans built in a lab to fulfill my selfish desires for motherhood would never be another occurrence.

 

The next winter the time had come to expand our family.  I had started the hormone regimen.  It was different this time.  I was allowing God to dictate how things were going.  I wanted to do His will.  Never having any idea how different His will would be from mine.  Blind to the agony that awaited me.  Ignorant to the beauty He could grow out of my utter brokenness. 

 

Another trip to the lab, this time I got a photo copy picture of my babies.  Two perfect little circles.  They had thawed impeccably and were both in excellent condition.  I held my husbands hand and I prayed as they poked and prodded me trying to find a safe place in my womb, to accept this life reanimated.

 

I noticed my body trying to accommodate my children almost immediately.  Sharp stabbing pangs of implantation.  Night sweats.  Unquenchable thirst.  I prayed.  Three weeks later the same day as my sisters second miscarriage I got a positive pregnancy test.  It wasn't the positive I had prayed for though.  My hormone levels were low and they were worried.  It was December 5th.  I sat in the drive through at Walgreens waiting on my medicine.  As I stared through the window at an over the counter box of "Plan B" birth control, I tried to hold back the tears.  I wondered how there are women out there who so willingly dispose of life, when I was so desperately trying to co-create it.

 

December 7th

My phone dinged.  It was a text message from the nurse at the fertility clinic.  My hormone levels had plummeted.  The life that had been waiting on me for four years and nestled in my womb for nearly a month was gone.  My husband and I sat at the kitchen table and cried.  He looked at me with watery eyes filled with hope and said "We can do it again."  Grace flowed as I stared back at him and said "No."  72 hours after my sisters loss, I joined her. Holding hands we walked together into a pit of despair.  The pain from that loss is still raw.  Tears run down my cheeks as I type this.  December 11th.  That was the day they left my body.  But before that happened I wanted a self portrait.  An image of my girls and I.  I went outside at sunrise and photographed the sun through the trees

Then I photographed Chloe and I together and made an image that shows my girls.  All I had ever known of them were two perfect little circles.  Two orbs of light represent them in my depiction. 

 

I slipped into darkness.  The abyss welcomed me with open arms.  There in the pit I laid, using my guilt, anger, hurt and confusion as a security blanket.  To say I was angry at God was an understatement.  I despised Him.  In His infinite mercy He loved me anyway.  In His infinite justice He quietly waited for me to come to Him.  Three weeks had passed.  Winter was just a fog of tears.  When I went back to mass for the first time, I sat in the confessional and howled rage.  As I knelt in the pew before mass I glared at the crucifix hanging above the tabernacle.  Then it happened.  A whisper of peace.  The knowledge that as a mother it is my job to get my children into heaven and with those babies I had accomplished that beautiful task.  They were no longer in limbo in some laboratory freezer, they were in eternal bliss with Him.  I dissolved into tears.  I was so hurt and so angry...but I was like the Apostles when the crowds left Jesus. In that moment He wiped away my tears and He turned to me and said "Will you leave me too?"  my response was as theirs was so many years ago.  "But Lord, where shall I go?" 

 

That moment is when the beauty of my journey really began.  I can look back to that time two years ago and see what he was doing in me.  Rooting up weeds to plant a beautiful garden.  A garden where the serpent was not allowed.  A garden where She who will crush it's head sits enthroned in roses.  I was not the woman then that I am today.  That is a beautiful conversion. 

 

Since then I have been led to NaPro Technology.  This journey has been 100% led by Our Lady of Guadalupe, which I why I chose today Her feast day, to share my story.  I didn't understand it in the beginning, because I have never had any personal affiliation to that particular apparition. 

 

I learned that St. Maria Goretti's relic would be visiting a near by church.  I decided to load up my family, best friend and her clan and head out for a pilgrimage to St. Maria.  We stopped for gas at a half way point, and in the window were dozens of beautiful canvases of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I thought, Ok Mother, we are obviously on the right path.  When we arrived at the Cathedral in Collinsville I noticed another large painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe toward the front of the sanctuary.  Feeling affirmed yet again in making our pilgrimage, I smiled. 

 

The week of Thanksgiving I had a surgery scheduled with a NaPro OBGYN doctor in Peoria Illinois.  I scoured the internet to find a Catholic church to attend mass at while we were up there.  I decided on St. Mary's Cathedral.  When I arrived I was sad to see that the church was in the chaos of renovation.  Scaffolding from floor to ceiling and folding chairs for worship.  One of the sisters introduced herself to me and showed me around before mass.  They have the largest reliquary outside of Rome.  I walked in and was greeted by slivers of The True Cross, bones of martyrs and a large statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe... There she was again.  I knelt and prayed for her intercession, wondering why she kept picking this image to speak to me.  When mass began I noticed a large painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the right of the altar.  At this point it was almost laughable.  Later that evening I spoke to my mother on the phone.  I shared all the different ways Our Lady was reaching out to me.  I said "She is trying to tell me something, I just don't know what."  My mother was silent for a moment and then replied "Marie, you know that she is pregnant in that apparition?" The hair on the back of my next stood on end.  That was it.  She is guiding me, down this path to motherhood.  As we left Illinois and headed home the last thing I saw before succumbing to the pain killer induced sleep, was a large billboard by the Knights of Columbus.  Divine Mercy's Jesus with his arms stretched out to me.  Jesus I trust in You is what I said as my eyes closed.  When I woke up we were just entering St. Louis and the my eyes landed on yet another billboard.  This one with photographs of babies and a painting of... Yep.  Our Lady of Guadalupe.

 

Last week, December 7th was the two year anniversary of the loss of my girls. (I call them my girls, because the Lord gave me the gift of seeing their cherub faces one evening as I laid next to my daughter soaking her hair in my tears while she slept.)  It was also the vigil mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  That evening two images of Our Lady of Guadalupe arrived on my doorstep from very different locations and during mass Fr. was vested in a garment with her image enshrined on the front of his robes. 

 

There were eleven. That choice is something I will always live with.  I have been to Hell and back doing it my way.  Now with the guidance of the most beautiful mother in history, I will do it His way.

I want to be a Pinterest mom..... Oh wait.

I wish I were a Pinterest mom...

Except I don't.  Not at all really.  The pretend life highlight reel is exhausting.  My OCD perfectionist adores the pretty images of mini quiche bites and expertly frosted bunt cakes smothered in icing made with vanilla imported from Madagascar, but that isn't my reality. 

 

My reality starts the morning in prayer, not because I am some amazing Godly woman, but rather because I am a painfully flawed hot-head who yells and cusses way too much.  I need as much help as I can get, so before I get out of bed, an arsenal of prayers for patience begin.

 

My reality is that I haven't mopped my floors in about a month.  I have clothes thrown all over my laundry room, like a closet caught the flu and vomited socks, underwear, towels and other items everywhere.  I'm fairly certain something terrifying is growing in the guest bathroom toilet and the guinea pig, Sarah Carol's cage smells like a urinal cake.  Who has time for Madagascar vanilla extract when those flippin' odds are stacked against you?  Not this mama.

 

My reality is that I struggle with the need for perfection.  If something can't be exactly how I want it, then to hell with it.  I don't want it at all.  That attitude lands me in confession regularly and frustrates my husband to no end.  Which is why I am sharing this post.  I am trying to learn that there is beauty in imperfection.  I can appreciate that in the images I photograph.  The candid moments, the slightly soft focus of a child's grin during a belly laugh.  I can see the artistic quality that imperfection can bring at times.  But not in my own life.  I want my life to look perfect.  But that perfection is a down right lie.

 

My reality is that I hate baking with my child.  Yep.  Said it.  Meant it.  Not sorry.  I despise it with the fire of a thousand suns.  Baking is usually an escape for me.  Music turned up, recipe opened, heavenly aroma fills my home.  Baking smells like love.  For me it is a way to disappear into another world and make something delicious and then basque in the affirmation of of my family as they stuff their faces whilst groans of satisfaction escape their lips.  However, when I have my kid in the kitchen chaos is sure to follow.  She constantly interrupts while I read recipes, she sticks her fingers in the ingredients, she drops sugar on the floor and it makes my bare feet feel sandy and sticky, she sneezes in the batter (consider yourself warned, if you get cookies from us for Christmas.) she licks everything, spoons, beaters, her fingers, her palms.  It is like baking with a puppy! She wants to do everything by her "ownself" and she doesn't want my help.  My OCD monster rages and stomps and thrashes around crying in my head while I watch her glop sloppy gobs of icing on to our cookies.  I smile and and lie, saying it is beautiful.  She glances up at me with a snarky smirk and says "I know." 

 

*it is also important to mention that I always bake with blessed salts.  I ~poison~ everyone with blessings*

My mother was good at this stuff.  Baking, projects and crafts with children.  The woman has the patience of Job.  She sees cute little toes on bare feet, when I see those feet standing in flour that was spilled on the floor, ready to track it all around the house.  She sees tiny fingers dipped in batter excited to taste, when all I see are sticky hands.  She sees the magic a little bit of sparkly cookie sprinkles will bring, while I get the vacuum and await the spill.


Ugly cookies.  That is what we made tonight.  Sugar cookies that expanded into one another...making some sort of new misshapen shape.  Chloe oozed icing all over them (just breathe is what I repeated in my head) forced smile on my face.  Kind words on my lips.  My kitchen was messy while we worked.  I drank at least two glasses of wine during the ordeal.  I floated around and documented it.  Ugly cookies and sub-par photos of them.  I am not a product photographer.  Regardless of how miserable (I hid it well) I was, Chloe was having fun and we were spending time together, and well even when she drives me bonkers, she is pretty cute.

 

Now, don't get me wrong.  I love doing things with my daughter, I just HATE letting HER do them.  I want her to sit quietly and not touch a thing while I make pinterest worthy sugar cookies and then flawlessly photograph them... but where is the fun in that?  I hear my mothers voice in my ear and I try to die to myself just a little and I allow Chloe to run the show.  That is when the magic happens.  You see, it doesn't matter how awful her cookies look,  it doesn't matter how much better I could have done, It doesn't matter that the kitchen is a wreck or that I have sugar on my feet or that the lighting SUCKED.  When I see that accomplished smile on her face my heart explodes.  I realize what an ass I am and I say a little prayer of thanks,  thanks that I have a mom who showed me what mothering looks like.  Even when I fall far short of my goal, I have something beautiful to aim for. 


So here they are.  Our ugly cookies that are baked with love and drowning in frosting. 

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Sorry Pinterest... I'm learning to love the fails more than the perfection. 

Sincerely,

M~

**ps. I hate sugar cookies.  But this recipe was easy and by far the best I have ever tasted.  So if you want to see perfect photos of yummy cookies and grab a good recipe here is the link.

I Forgive You

I forgive you.

 

Those are some powerful words.  They have the power to change lives, to show someone the love of God, the ability to allow joy to grow, not only in the heart of the forgiven but in the heart of the forgiver as well.  Love sewn in barren fields of winter that will blossom and innocently share it's fragrance and beauty at the first thaw.

 

I forgive you.  I forgive you not because you need it.  I forgive you not because you deserve it.  I forgive you because I love you.  Loving you is a struggle for me.  It is a choice I have made.  Loving you is a choice I will continue to make.  My heart hurts for you and for the choices you have committed to.  I know I love you, because of the pain I feel. 

 

I see your hurt.  Not from fresh blood,  rather from old scars.  Deep wounds, branded, tainted with the muscle memory of pain.  I watch you re-invent your life, in the name of happiness only to find heartbreak.  It is like watching someone drown in six inches of water.  Standing on the shore, I watch.  I scream that all you need to do is look up and your head will lift out of the water, granting you that air of joy you so desperately seek. 

 

It is joy you are seeking.  You call it happiness, but they are not one in the same.  Happiness is temporary.  It is of this world.  It is a limited fulfillment to an eternal longing.  Joy transcends all.  It comes from God himself... which is why you run from it in angry desperation.  The longing for joy and the refusal to accept where it is borne is what causes you to howl in rage. 

 

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I know you don't want my forgiveness.  I will give it regardless.  I pray that someday you know just how much love you actually own.  Love from your children, love from your family, love from those you have hurt, and most of all, love from the one that loves you more than all.  Love that dies for you even though you loathe it.

 

Mark Twain once wrote " Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that crushes it."  What a beautiful sentiment.  I see the pain you feel, I watch it grow rounder by the day.  A seed sewn, a promise broken, a violet crushed.  The scent of forgiveness in the air is intoxicating, yet you refuse to inhale.

 

I know you have been waiting on a venom filled response from me.  Trust me when I say I had one.  I have wrestled with my anger.  I have cried hot tears.  I have pounded my fists in rage and gnashed my teeth in torment.  For months I have been sucking on razor blades, because I refuse to be the Christian you are waiting patiently on me to be, quietly awaiting my temper to prove your judgement right.  I did all the right things for all the wrong reasons.  I prayed for you, I fasted for you, I sacrificed for you... all in the name of my own pride.  I would NOT give you the satisfaction.  I would not allow you to dictate what Christianity looks like.  I was wrong.   

 

I am hurt.  I am angry.  I am confused. And I am sorry. 

 

I love you because Christ loves you.  I forgive you, because he forgave me.  I pray for you because it is what is good and right. 

 

I have faith that someday you will appreciate the incense of forgiveness.  In one beautiful breath you'll smell it's sweetness and offer prayers of remorse to accompany it as they drift to Heaven. I have faith that someday you will know the boundless loves of true joy.  But until then.....I will choose love.  And because I love you, I forgive you.