Sunday, May 31, 2015

Consolation in the Crowd

The rare Cumberland Red Azalea...
...seen by few but known by God.
A few days ago, a friend sent me an email with the subject line: "Thought of You." Attached was a short note saying, "I felt led to share this with you," and a photocopy of a meditation she'd been reading that day that was based upon the following Bible verse:

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
Isaiah 26:3 (ESV)

The meditation was a short story about a woman who was waiting to adopt a little girl from the Congo. The woman had no idea when she and her family would be able to bring her little girl home as they waited for the international adoption process to be concluded. She went on to write, "I don't know what is on the other side of this waiting season, but God Who is faithful and good does. I am finding peace in that."

I sent my friend a reply email thanking her for the note and assuring her that while the waiting is hard, God has been sending me signs that I have not been forgotten. However, had her email arrived a few weeks earlier, I would not have been able to say that.

At the end of April, perhaps because I'd recently celebrated another birthday, my heart was heavy with the sinking feeling that my chances of ever conceiving and carrying a child to term again are long gone (and realistically, they probably are) and that our decision to adopt again will be fruitless. I really try not to think about babies and having another child anymore. It's been three years since we started trying for another child, and all we have to show for it are two more graves and two (very time-consuming, expensive, and stressful) adoption home studies. There seems to be no light at the end of this tunnel and as time continues to tick away, I find it easier and easier to believe that my prayers just aren't loud enough anymore. I often wonder if God and I have gotten our wires crossed.

When this month began, Tom and I took our family to the mountains east of us for a weekend camping trip. We wanted to enjoy the spring warbler migration in the hills, but more importantly, we wanted to touch base with the wonderful priest who married us, and he was assigned to a parish near where we planned to camp. He had not yet met our boys, and it had been over a decade since we'd seen him. As he and our family shared a dinner under the stars that weekend, we spoke of the changes in all our lives. While talking, I commented to him how excited we were for him to be nominated for an award by the Catholic Extension Service, but I lamented to him that he was not receiving many votes on fac.ebook and probably would not win the award. He chuckled and proudly exclaimed that he is "computer illiterate" and therefore, avoids all forms of social media. The fact that he was in a social media popularity contest, vying for "likes" and votes, was comical to him. He admitted that he was very honored by the nomination and then added, "but as long as God knows my name, I have all that I want."  He knew that only one vote really mattered.

Two days after our visit with this wonderful priest, I had the opportunity to attend the ordination of our diocese's new bishop.  I had been very tentative about attending the ordination, given that we'd only returned home from our weekend get-away the day before, and the ordination was a good two-hour drive from my home. But a friend had tickets and nobody else from our parish wanted to go with her so, I reluctantly agreed. Tom commented that it might be good for me to go, perhaps because he'd noticed the funk I'd been fighting in the past few weeks, and offered to babysit the boys so I could have a "girls day out."

The morning of the ordination, I thought of all the reasons I should be staying home. In the back of my mind, I'd been struggling with those words said by our priest, and I found myself asking, "Does God know my name?" Since hearing those words, my mind had been filled with doubts.  As a result, spending a day in prayerful celebration wasn't exactly something I felt compelled to participate in.

We arrived at the cathedral with an hour to spare before the ordination began, but when we walked inside, every pew was nearly full.  As my friend and I walked slowly along the wall, I spotted a space just barely big enough for the two of us at the end of a pew about half-way back from the sanctuary. The view was not great, but all the prime seats were taken, and we were happy just to have found a place to sit.  I asked the middle-aged lady sitting near the end of the pew if we may sit there, and she smiled and slid over a bit to make as much room for us as possible, and I sat down next to her.

As we settled into our seat, the lady next to me leaned forward and whispered something to the lady in front of her. I heard none of the conversation except for these words, "My mother had me when she was forty-seven and a half." I perked up and as she leaned back, I asked her, "Did you just say your mother was forty-seven when you were born?" She told me that was true, and I told her that I was so glad to hear that because I am forty-six and that my husband and I had been praying for another child for years, either biologically or by adoption.  She looked at me thoughtfully and explained to me that her mother had longed for a child and had made frequent pilgrimages to the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation.  Now, decades later, she was a parishioner at the shrine, which happened to be where our new bishop had been previously assigned and where she had met him. She said that many couples make pilgrimages to that shrine, praying specifically for conception, and that her mother had been one of them. Then, she reached into her purse and said, "I want to give you something," and pulled out a bottle of holy water from the shrine. I was dumbfounded. Of the hundreds of people I could've sat next to in that crowd, God had put me next to her.  I thanked her profusely, and she assured me of her prayers when she returned to the shrine.

Does God know my name?  I found myself seriously doubting the answer to that question one day, only to be reassured by Him the next that He most certainly does. In a church pew, while sitting next to a stranger who shared her mother's miraculous story, God proved to me that He knows not only my name but also all of my desires. And in a conversation with a special priest, He also reminded me that because He knows my name and all my desires, there is really nothing else that I shall want.

Our Lady of Consolation, pray for us.

Friday, May 8, 2015

7 Quick Takes - Spring So Far

{Alternatively titled "Hillbillies R Us".   Thank you to Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum for hosting!}

I can't believe that the last time I wrote one of these Quick Takes, I was talking about eight inches of snow and getting ready to serve up some proverbial groundhog for dinner. Or maybe in your parts, it's called supper? Either way, proverbial because the actual groundhog is a bit too greasy for consumption, or so I've heard. I've never actually eaten one considering I've never actually ever been that hungry. However, my parents did cook one up in their pressure cooker last year after eradicating it from their garden, and they said it wasn't half bad, which to me, probably means it wasn't half good either. No point in letting good meat go to waste, they claimed, unless it is 'possum of course.  Possum just ain't fit to eat. Nasty critters from what I understand. There's a reason they've outlived every mammal species on earth. Greasy as all get out and mean too, if you ever grab one by the tail. And yes, I have. Trust me, you don't want to go there.

Anyhow, this post is supposed to be about spring and not semi-edible varmints. The beauty of spring has arrived in full force in the Appalachians and it is as surreal and lovely as you might imagine.  Our hills are filled with the songs of the returning wood warblers and this past month, God carpeted the forest floor with an endless bouquet of wildflowers. I missed most of the wildflowers last spring since I was spending all my spare time last April unpacking boxes, so it was a joy to be able to get out and re-acquaint myself with old friends from my past such as showy orchis, red trilliums, lady's slippers and mayapples. Someday, I hope to be able to photograph them in a way that does them justice, but even a photograph just can't seem to capture the beauty of a hillside covered in dappled sunlight and a profusion of petals.

Red Trillium

Yellow Trilliums

Showy Orchis

Pink Lady's Slippers


And, as any good mountaineer knows, when the mayapples appear, so do the morels, better known as "dryland fish" in these parts. We did our duty and spent more than one Sunday afternoon walking as a family along rivers and woods roads in search of these elusive mushrooms.  Few secrets are held tighter than the known location of a good mushroom spot. I had kept in mind a few such spots from when I'd found them here a decade ago, but alas, time has a way of changing landscapes and morels are in those spots no more. Or if they are, other hunters have found my secret spots and beat me to them, or maybe the wild turkeys have eaten them all. I must say that one thing I do truly miss about the Missouri Ozarks is the abundance and size of their morel mushroom patches. I seldom got skunked when looking for morels in the Ozarks, but the foothills of the Appalachians are a different story.  I suppose we'll just have to survive on fiddleheads instead.

Mushroom Hunter
Finding morels in the Ozarks -  April 2011

Of course, with spring comes planting time, too. Thanks to the generosity of my father, who agreed to share part of his garden space with us this year, we are trying our hand at a new garden location, this time one with much more sun. We've moved our raised beds and started over with strawberries, broccoli, and a few herbs. Green onions and lettuce are ready to eat and broccoli will be picked next week. Peas aren't too far behind. The potatoes were planted two weeks ago, in accordance with the "signs", and beans should be sprouting any day now. Corn is not yet in the ground, although the "corn bird" (aka wood thrush) arrived three weeks ago, and the oak leaves are much bigger now than a squirrel's ear, so obviously, we are behind on getting our corn seed in the ground.  Maybe next week.  Tomatoes and peppers are still sitting in their starter pots, getting leggier than our son John, and begging to be put in the ground. Meanwhile, the deer are waiting on the sidelines, licking their chops.

Our boys have gone from restless to feral with the nice weather, and I find myself now standing on the front porch saying such things as "get in here and put your shoes/shirt/pants (sometimes all of the above) on!" or "don't you dare go down to that creek!" or "I told you to stay out of that ivy!"  John and I took a trip to a friend's house a couple of weeks ago where he had a big adventure terrorizing their chickens and retrieving the eggs.  After the plethora of plastic Easter eggs we were bombarded with last month, I thought it important that he see where the non-chocolate filled eggs come from. Joah stayed home with his daddy because flightless birds, fragile eggs and Joah do not a good combination make.  Getting our own flock of chickens is on our family's bucket list, somewhere above "get a goat" and below "get honeybees". Honey trumps eggs any day in my book.  Getting a goat is still up for debate.

Preparing to make "coffee".

Pouring the "coffee".
Who needs shoes come spring?

John's coup after Battle of the Free-Range Chickens
(photo courtesy of E. Jones)

Of course, winter around here does not die easily.  We have thus far passed through "Sarvus Winter", "Redbud Winter", "Dogwood Winter" but have yet to succumb to "Blackberry Winter".  It has to be close, though, considering our blackberry blossoms are about to burst.  I found it somewhat disconcerting that we were building yet another fire in the wood stove on May 1st this year!  That should be it for the season, but frankly, at this rate, if we are still hauling firewood to the front porch on Memorial Day, I wouldn't be entirely surprised. We did take advantage of the cold snap during Dogwood Winter to cut one last load of firewood but only time will tell if we have enough for the Winter of 2015-2016.  I am not feeling optimistic.  Dang global warming.

So, that's about it for our spring thus far.  As you can probably tell, my blogging has taken not only a backseat, but rather, is precariously perched on the tailgate, held on by not much more than some bailing wire and duck tape.  I have no excuses other than sometimes the spirit moves me to write and sometimes it doesn't.  But I am still here, and if blogging doesn't fall completely off the tailgate as I splash through the knee-deep mud holes of my life, I will be here again.  It's a bumpy ride but I wouldn't feel at home on any other path.

Have a great weekend!