Saturday, November 21, 2020

Pleasure Without The Pain

The morning sun was warm on my face this morning as I stepped outside.  I should have been deer hunting, considering the mornings that are above freezing during a November deer season are few and far between. Yet, as much as I love watching the sun come up and hearing the forest come to life, I also hate cold toes and frozen fingers.  This morning, I could have had the pleasure without the pain.  But instead, I slept in, thinking only about the pain I was escaping instead of the joy I may have been missing.    

Novembers in Appalachia usually go in one of two directions climatologically.  Some years, we have days upon days of cold, cloudy, wet weather with gray trees silhouetted by gray skies.  Other years, we have starry mornings, bright blue skies and days upon days of sunshine.  There usually is no middle ground in an Appalachian November; the days are either extremely depressing or incredibly uplifting.  Perhaps it is in God’s mercy that he chose to give us the latter for 2020. 

The kids and I have made the most of these extended Indian summer days.  We’ve taken up a new hobby:  mountain biking.  Yesterday, we biked almost 10 miles, half on trails and half on roads.  The week before that, we did 8 miles on backroads through the forest, and the week before that, 4 miles to the river and back.  Other than a few “Oh s#$%” moments and an aching tailbone at the end of the day, it has been glorious.  I had forgotten what it felt like as a child to climb on a bike and race down the road, wind in my face, feeling like I was escaping the confines of my home and the reality of my world.  How ironic that as a 51-year old housewife, I still feel the same.  

On each of our rides, we inevitably pass a cemetery or two.   Appalachian forests are full of cemeteries.  I was pleased with my boys when, without prompting, they stopped their bikes at each cemetery to offer a prayer for the dead.  Earlier in the month, we spent All Souls' Day making a pilgrimage to five cemeteries, saying a decade of the rosary at each.  The kids made gravestone rubbings and recorded the names of whomever they felt led by the Holy Spirit to pray for.  When we returned home that evening, we wrote those names on our Remembrance Candle and have lit it each night as we prayed for all those on it. Since that day, we’ve written the names of three more friends on that candle who have passed on to eternal life since the month began.  I often wonder who’s name will be next.  If 2020 has made me aware of anything, it is that.

I made my weekly run to the grocery store this morning as I do most Saturday mornings.  The store was already crowded, despite it being only 8:30 a.m.   Old ladies were buying frozen pie crusts, one young couple was debating about the size of turkey to buy, and the onion and yam kiosk overflowed to capacity.  As I scanned my groceries at the self-checkout, I chatted with the employee who is there every Saturday and knows my routine.  We know each other by name now, and always enjoy making small talk.  Today, she told me that it was on Thanksgiving Day last year that her husband went to the hospital and I saw her eyes fall.  I did not ask any questions.  I already knew that today, she is a widow. 

I took the mac n cheese, Vienna sausages and tuna fish that I’d bought at the grocery and dropped them off at the Blessing Box.  Noticing that someone had left trash around the base of the statue of the Blessed Mother nearby, I walked over to her and picked it up.  The sun was even warmer now, and when I stopped to remove my jacket, I noticed a middle-aged lady in a motorized wheelchair had already spotted me placing food in the Blessing Box and was approaching it.  I smiled at her and waved and I suppose she smiled back behind the mask she was wearing.  I finished cleaning up around the statue and noticed that people had been putting small stones around our Blessed Mother’s feet.  As I prepared to leave, I checked the Blessing Box and it was already empty again. 

And now, I sit in our local library, mandatory mask on my face, typing quietly in the corner.  The ladies at the front desk discuss the people they know who have COVID-19 and I think about my own friend who often hikes with me on Saturday mornings, but today, is in quarantine on this lovely weekend.  Sitting here, I look at the periodicals in the magazine rack:  TIME magazine has a cover photo of Biden and Harris with the headline “Time to Heal”;  National Geographic proclaims “A World Gone Viral”, Working Mother magazine asks the question “Now What?” and Liberty magazine ponders “The Collapse of Liberal Democracy?”  Next to the magazines stand three large racks of paperback novels, all with broken spines and worn-out covers, evidence that they are clearly the most-read books in the entire library.  They are divided into two major categories:  romance novels on two racks, westerns on the other.  Escapism for each gender.

After this, I’ll return home.  We are making a brisket for supper and inviting a family to join us.  They, like us, homeschool, and share much of our philosophy, not to mention a love of good BBQ. This past summer, they spent most of their time hiking the Appalachian Trail.  When not hiking, they were camping near the trail, performing “trail magic” for other hikers, which basically means, meeting long-distance hikers along the trail and providing them with hot meals and snacks, shuttles and friendly and encouraging conversation. He’s a military veteran who speaks his mind but makes a lot of sense.  He has already been suspended on social media twice, or maybe it’s three times now.  I’m starting to lose count.  He and his wife are pretty sure their family had COVID-19 last month but did not get tested.  They isolated and rode it out, like most of us will have to do. 

So, I will head home and make a cake and some beans to go along with the meat-fest my husband is preparing.  We’ll enjoy sitting in this warm November sunshine and chatting while the kids do flips on the trampoline and race bikes.  A friend told me that we should never have gotten that trampoline, by the way, because they are so dangerous.  She’ll never let her daughter on one, she said.  I don’t doubt she’s right.  And yesterday, flying down the hill on that mountain bike, I saw myself for a second heading to the ER, or one of my kids.  Heck, we’ve already spent most of 2020 nursing my son’s broken elbow, thanks to a bike accident he had in late April.   But I doubt my friend has ever done a flip on the trampoline or flown down a hill on her bike. "Couch potatoes are the new heroes of 2020" was a headline I saw this past week.

Today is supposed to be the last warm and sunny day we have for a while.  This week will bring cloudy skies and rain.  Deer gun season will end this coming weekend, and the Christmas music will start playing in the stores.   I don’t expect I’ll be able to get another bike ride in with the boys for quite some time now, maybe not until spring.  I fear it will be a long winter, once it finally arrives.



Saturday, October 10, 2020

He Will Not Win

It’s raining, a far cry from where we were this time last year, when our 41-day drought finally ended.  I had said my rosary daily during that dry period, desperately praying for only enough rain to keep our fall garden alive, while watching my broccoli plants, kale, collard greens, and arugala shrivel up and turn brown.   And in the end, our Blessed Mother heard me; our good Lord sent the rain and we were eating freshly picked broccoli for Christmas.  God always gives enough.

Tomorrow brings to an end another series of daily rosaries for me, as I finish day 54 of my 54-day novena.  However, this time, I was not entering into October desperately praying for rain.  Instead, I was desperately praying for my marriage.

This week, on October 13, we will be celebrating 19 years of matrimony.  It has been a hard-earned 19 years.  I do not write much about marriage, mostly because I don’t feel like I’m very good at being married.  I also don’t write often about parenting because I don’t feel like I’m very good at that, either.  If, by their fruits, you will know them, then both my marriage and parenting skills leave a lot to be desired, because the fruits of both are sparse and sometimes pretty rotten.  So often, I think God has picked the wrong person to tend this vineyard that I call my family.

Of course, that is the devil talking.  My feelings, my judgement of myself, my perspective, mean very little in God’s eyes, especially when being obscured by self-doubt and self-pity.  How much time have I spent reflecting upon my own desire for a different kind of husband, different kinds of children?  Too much.  Much, too much.

It was a moment of revelation that showed me how close I was to losing it all.  My husband packed his suitcase and I could see in his eyes that it was no joke.  Adding to the stress, our autistic son had kicked another hole in the wall, broken the door of our heirloom hutch, and was threatening to hurt his father in yet another fit of unexplainable rage that was becoming almost a daily occurrence.  There were late night arguments, too much yelling, too much judging, too much blaming, and too much bullying.  A demonic atmosphere began to take hold in the home, and every moment of peace or attempt to pray was being disrupted.  The perfect storm was brewing and we were all spinning in its vortex.

That’s when I began the 54-day rosary novena.  I prayed it every day, desperately.  And things got worse.  I kept praying, and things got even worse.  I got worse.  The temptation to yell, rant, and fall into self-pity became stronger, and the opportunities to do so became more frequent. I struggled to resist the urge to give into my bad habits.  I encouraged my husband to go on a much-needed get-a-way that lasted 14 days. We both needed to re-set. Staying home with the kids, one of whom was very dysregulated, would be a sacrifice that I could offer up to Jesus with the intention that He heal my marriage. I was determined to stay in the spiritual battle and fight my true Enemy, who I was beginning to realize was not my family.  I added fasting to my battle plan and centered my thoughts on one word, humility, the supreme virtue from which all other virtues come. 

With each day of reflection upon this virtue, I became more and more aware that my lack of humility was the means by which I was allowing the Enemy to tear apart my family and allowing me to fall into sinful behaviors.  The intense desire to be loved and feel validated was my idol, and I would stop at nothing to protect it.  “I only need reassurance,” I would plead with my husband, even after he’d try to express an apology that I felt just wasn’t “good enough”.  “Why did God give me such terrible kids?” I often moaned in self-pity, completely overlooking the blessing that I had in each of these children I’d prayed so long for. 

I began saying the Litany of Humility and it left a bad taste in my mouth.  How could I truly desire such things?  Don't I deserve to be loved? Deserve to be wanted, honored, praised for doing good, acknowledged for being right?  The more I thought and prayed about it, the more I came to realize that I've spent most of my life trying to achieve these very things. Now, I found myself praying to be released from them.  It was, and is, very uncomfortable.

Sadly, for too long, I have been focused more on receiving love than giving it.  Oh yes, I have done countless small deeds with what appeared to be great love, but it was not true love, because I was not practicing true humility.  My small deeds, when not returned with affirmation or validation, particularly from those closest to me, rapidly turned into the seeds of contempt that, over time, caused my vineyard to be overtaken by weeds and not bountiful fruit. 

It has been a rocky road, these past 54 days, and these past 19 years.  My husband returned from his 14 days away, renewed and ready to try again, but the Enemy came after us harder a few days later, and we (I) gave in to our old behaviors.  In the midst of that, I read this past week’s Gospel reading, in which Jesus made it loud and clear to me, saying:

“When an unclean spirit goes out of someone,
it roams through arid regions searching for rest
but, finding none, it says,
‘I shall return to my home from which I came.’
But upon returning, it finds it swept clean and put in order.
Then it goes and brings back seven other spirits
more wicked than itself who move in and dwell there,
and the last condition of that man is worse than the first.”
  (Luke 11: 24-26)

And that is how it has always been, and always will be.  The battle I must fight for my marriage, my children, my own soul, will never end until my time ends.  I see it clearer now, in part because I have come very near to losing the battle and the Enemy revealed himself to me.  Yet, I have complete trust in Our Lady and her Fatima promise, and I know that if armed with the Most Holy Rosary and the virtue of humility, he will not win. 

Our Lady, Virgin Most Powerful, pray for us.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

7 Quick Takes - Get Out(side) While You Can

I’m suffering from a case of writer’s block so what better time than now to do 7 Quick Takes, linking up with Kelly over at her blog.  Happy Birthday, Kelly!


It’s September!  I do believe that September is becoming my favorite month of the year.  I’ve blogged about this before, but every year, I love September even more.  I think people tend to overlook the wonderful things about September, skipping too quickly ahead to “pumpkin spice & jack-o-lantern” season instead.  But September, with it’s dusky evenings and cool mornings, late summer wildflowers and heralds of migration always leaves me feeling nostalgic and more at peace than any other month of the year.  I love the winding down of the summer and all its craziness. 


Unlike last year, this year, thanks to several tropical depressions, our September has been filled with rain, and so the garden is still growing, although the season is near an end.  This week, maybe even today, I hope to dig the sweet potatoes and then in a couple of weeks, I’ll be planting garlic, and that’ll be a wrap for Garden Year 2020.   The year has been good, but nothing like Garden Year 2019 was.  That year was our most bountiful ever.  This year, there were no apples nor pears, and a late freeze in May took a heavy toll on our potatoes.  Still, God always provides just enough, and our shelves are still filled with the canned food from last year’s surplus, plus we harvested just enough corn, squash, potatoes and tomatoes this summer to get us through another winter. 


School has begun, although for us, school never really ends.  We have always homeschooled year-round, which allows us to work learning into our daily routine when it is most convenient.  This year, we are doing 5th grade, 4th grade and pre-K.   I have thought often about blogging more about our homeschool experiences, but it seems like every homeschooling blogger has already done that.  For years, I mostly stayed “in the closet” about homeschooling, sharing little about it over social media and with family and friends.  But now, in 2020, it’s suddenly cool to be a homeschooler, so I’m a little less apprehensive.  I have no advice to new homeschoolers other than it is really hard.  But if your kids are anything like mine (and if they are, you have my condolences), they will learn despite everything you do wrong.  There really must be a lot of grace that God gives to homeschoolers for this miracle of learning to happen despite all the chaos and disruptions that make up our homeschool days.  I trust him to do his part if I only do my part.


With cooler temperatures that came with September and less time required gardening and putting up food, we’ve been doing more hiking.  We had a week without rain last week and took advantage of the low water levels to go to the river.  The water temperature was “almost” too cold for swimming, but of course that doesn’t stop little boys from jumping right into it.  They ran and played and swam and jumped and fished and cooked 2 pounds of hot dogs over an open fire.  Homeschool lessons of the day were 1) how to successfully build a fire using only one match and things we found in the forest, 2) how to cast a rod and reel without piercing your neighbor’s ear, and 3) how to leave-no-trace when all is said and done.   Life skills that will take them far, I hope.


We celebrated two birthdays this month.  September 13 was the 2-year mark for our dog, Chessie, something the boys made sure I did not forget.  Chessie got a lovely “cake” made of leftover chicken nuggets, cheese sauce and dog food sprinkles as her award for officially leaving the puppy years behind.  And as lab and lab-mix breeds are known to do, she is finally starting to act like she has a brain now that she has reached the two-year mark.  She is loyal to her family, especially Joah, who claims her as his own, and has shown remarkable patience around our chickens in spite of the fact that two boys keep trying to encourage her to chase them for their own delight.  She is also showing evidence of becoming a surprisingly good squirrel dog and expertly spots and trees any squirrel that dares put foot on the ground around our bird feeder.  No doubt, it is the mountain cur in her that we can attribute to that.  So, while I had my doubts about Chessie in her first year of life, her brain seems to be maturing, and she is turning into a remarkable dog.  This same phenomenon gives me hope for my children!


And of course, the other birthday not to be overlooked was that of our Most Blessed Mother.  Unlike Chessie, Our Lady did not get chicken nuggets for her birthday, but rather, some home-baked gluten-free chocolate chip cookies prepared by John.  And of course, also unlike Chessie, Our Lady was more than willing to share her special treat with the rest of us.   John took great pleasure in baking cookies for her birthday, perhaps knowing how generous she’d be in sharing! 


And lastly, this September will be recorded in my memory as the time when I took care of all the kids alone for 13 days straight while Tom was out of town.  Small potatoes to many mothers out there, I know, and I tip my hat to all of you ladies who are single-parenting, or who have husbands deployed, or are frequently away from home for other reasons.  You are superheroes!  But for me, this was the longest period I have had to solo-parent all the kids since becoming a parent and it was brutal, but worth it.  Tom got some much-needed time away and caught up on some work, and I realized that just keeping the kids alive and fed really is the most important thing.   And absence really does make the heart grow fonder, so I am feeling even more thankful now for this man whom God gave me to help me through life and especially, with this parenting gig.  I know even more now than ever that I couldn’t do it without him. 


I hope you have a wonderful ending to this loveliest of months!    Based upon the arrival of the fall migrant birds I’ve seen, the woolly worms, the persimmon seeds, and the general aura of 2020, I expect an early and hard winter so, get out(side) while you can!