Saturday, December 26, 2020

My COVID-19 Experience


Walking to Grandma's house on Christmas day.

Merry Christmas!

As Minnie Pearl would often say, I’m just so proud to be here, and I hope you are, too.  There’s nothing quite like a bout with a new to science, new to the human population virus to make one appreciate being able to get up and take a deep breath in the morning, and such was my gift this Christmas.  Thank you, Jesus!

It started with body aches.  Or maybe it was the unusual rash that appeared (and itched like crazy) on my back two days before.  Or the headache that I just couldn’t shake the day before that.  They say that COVID-19 is not like the flu, and now that I have experienced both for myself, I would agree.  Unlike the flu, which would hit me fast and hard, the COVID-19 virus came on slowly for a couple of days before really settling in.  By the time I realized I really was getting sick, I’d already gone hiking with a few friends, been to the grocery, and kissed my husband and hugged on my kids.  And yes, I wore a mask to the grocery, social-distanced, all that.  Thankfully, nobody I was in close contact with during that time got sick (even the employee who helped me use the self-checkout at the grocery).

I know it is starting to sound cliche’, but I have no idea how I got it.  The two weeks prior, I hadn’t been within 6-feet of anyone unmasked outside of my immediate family, with three exceptions, and those three people were not ill.  Perhaps one of those three was an asymptomatic carrier, but if that were the case, I would think others in their social circles would also be getting COVID-19, and that does not seem to be the case (I live in a small town so everyone knows who everyone hangs with around here, LOL!).

Anyhow, I wonder if I may have been exposed to the virus months ago and it lingered in my body until my immune system weakened.  And that doesn’t take much, as my body already struggles with an auto-immune disease diagnosed in 2002 (interstitial cystitis).  But really, I’m not sure any of that matters, anyway.  I knew that living any kind of life beyond sequestering ourselves in our house meant accepting an element of risk, and I have no regrets about that.

Uncertain of exactly when my “Day 1” began, we quarantined for longer than the recommended 14-days, which, considering our homesteading, homeschooling, teleworking lifestyle, really wasn’t all that difficult.  I spent 9 days in bed, the longest in my life, other than the period of bedrest required when I was pregnant.  My body cycled between chills, fever, and body aches that would come and go over and over for about four days.  I never had a cough, not even a tickle in my chest, and no issues with breathing.  Nasal congestion was minimal and there was no sore throat. I never lost my appetite nor my strength, which I found quite odd and very unlike the flu.  My single worse symptom was intense back pain around my kidneys, which lingered for a couple of weeks and even today, re-emerges if I over-do it and get fatigued.  After the first week of symptoms, I lost all sense of taste and smell, completely, thus confirming that I definitely had COVID-19.  One month later, I have regained only some of my taste and smell, making Christmas treats a bit of a downer, but giving me the perfect penance for Advent.

Other than that, life is mostly back to normal now.  We had the most beautiful first day of Christmas yesterday, complete with snow, which happens only about 10% of the time here in southern Kentucky.   Joah requested a snow shovel for Christmas (along with a hard hat and pruning saw…not your ordinary kid), so I guess God decided to send some snow to go along with it.  I still get easily fatigued, and Christmas Eve, with all its preparations, combined with kids pulling out all their “behaviors”, almost did me in, but my heroic husband came to my rescue and sent me to take a nap while he picked up the slack.  He has been my saving grace during all the days that I have been out-of-pocket, and in God’s mercy, he has stayed healthy and strong. 

It is not lost on me how serious this virus is for so many.  While I was ill, a friend of mine lost her mother to COVID-19 and my heart breaks for her.  Others we know of are having serious lingering effects.  I certainly do not want this post to appear to downplay its effects.  I have very elderly parents and friends with chronic conditions, and I fear for all of them, and would not knowingly put any of them at risk nor encourage them to take unnecessary risks.

Still, I am grateful now to have had it.  In some ways, it is a relief to have been through it and have it over with, much as having a root canal or giving birth feels.  I often reflect on my life and think about all the times God has given me another day; times when only my guardian angels or modern medicine have saved me.  I’ve been living on borrowed time for a long time now, and I am thankful once again to be able to fight another day.  I guess God has more work for me to do.

I pray that you have a most blessed Christmas season, and I will see you in the coming year, Lord willin’. 


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!

Saturday, August 15, 2020

A Tale of Two Statues

Nobody said anything, but I could tell that most of them didn’t really like the idea.

I could tell by the silence and the lack of enthusiasm.

It had been suggested at a church meeting by one of our church’s elderly parishioners that we place a statue of the Blessed Mother in the newly acquired parking lot across from the church.  There was already a raised bed built of natural stone in the corner of the lot, and she thought it would be the perfect spot to establish a small grotto.  A few smirked, most said nothing, and the suggestion was ignored. 

Months went by and weeds overtook the stone bed in the corner.  Eventually, another member of the parish suggested that a “blessing box” be placed in the corner of the lot, directly on top of the stone bed, a suggestion that was met with enthusiastic support.  Within just a few days, the blessing box was in place, standing atop the would-be grotto.  The church parishioners took turns filling it with non-perishable food items for the local citizens in-need, who came to it within hours, usually leaving it empty again.

More time went by.  But then one Sunday, another parishioner made an announcement.  She and her husband had been given a lovely, vintage marble shrine of the Blessed Mother by their former parish, which no longer had a place for it, and she and her husband wanted to place it in the lot across from the church.  There was apprehension.  There was hesitancy.  But after this parishioner agreed to not only donate the shrine, but to also do all the labor and pay for all the expense of establishing it in the vacant lot across from the church, the church leaders agreed to allow it, and so she and her husband went to work. 

There were doubts.  Some, including myself, wondered how long a public statue of Our Blessed Mother would last.  We live in a wonderful small town, but Protestantism is strong here, and there are certainly a lot of misconceptions about Catholics and idolatry.  I feared that any statue of Our Lady would be vandalized, or be used by non-Catholics in the community as justification for their mistaken belief that Catholics “worship Mary”, as they so often like to say.  Still, I thought about how we, as Catholics, are called to evangelize not just by doing good works (such as the blessing box), but also, and perhaps more so, by publicly expressing our faith.  And so, on a hot Saturday in July, my family joined the husband and wife, and we helped pull weeds and put up new fence and cleaned up the old lot to make ready for the little Marian shrine.

On August 15 of last year, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, our priest blessed it. It was a lovely little shrine.  Following our priest, my children and others from the parish proceeded to the shrine from the church, singing Ave Maria and carrying silken lilies. That same day, my husband and I renewed our children’s consecration to the Blessed Mother in front of it.  Later, other members of my parish mentioned to me privately that they enjoyed stopping and saying a “Hail Mary” in front of it each time they took food to the blessing box.  It was beautiful, and I smiled at myself as I thought about how Our Lady has a way of coming to us no matter how many obstacles we put in her way.

But then she was gone.

It had happened in the middle of the night, about a month later, and was caught on security cameras.  Three young adults approached the statue at around 3:00 a.m., toppled it off its pedestal, and carried it off into the night.   As soon as my family heard the news, my kids began to cry.  Who would do such a thing, they asked?  How could they?  More concerning was what would happen to her?  Would she be used in some occult practice somewhere?  Or sold in a pawn shop?  Or simply smashed into little pieces and reduced to sediment in an act of demonic contempt? 

Feeling somewhat distraught, I reminded my children and myself that the statue had been blessed and consecrated and that it really belonged now to God, not us, and that if we trusted in him, something good would come out of the situation.  Then, we said a rosary, offering it for those who had stolen the statue and praying for its safe return.

It took a few weeks, but eventually, local law enforcement was able to use the video from the surveillance camera and track down the thieves.  And then, late one night, just as it had been stolen, the statue was returned, unharmed, by a sheriff’s deputy.

She was back, but by now, the monetary value of the statue had been made public, and there was a real concern that placing it back in the shrine would elicit another theft.  So, it was decided that instead of returning the high-value vintage statue to the shrine, another, less valuable statue would be put in its place.  The elderly parishioner, the one who had first suggested building the shrine two years earlier, eagerly offered to donate her family’s own Blessed Mother statue to replace the original, and so it was done, and almost a year later, it is still standing there, representing all that is good. 

We had hoped that today, one year from the day that the first statue was blessed, that our priest would bless this second statue that took its place.  We had planned to bring our family to mass, then we would process to the shrine and place roses at her feet and re-new the consecration of our children to our Blessed Virgin Mary, as we do every year on this day. However, it is not to be, as a member of our parish tested positive for COVID-19 this past week, and now our church is closed and locked for two weeks, and we are again left on our own to say our own prayers and ask for our own blessings.   So, instead, I visited the little shrine alone this morning, placed flowers around her feet, said a “Hail Mary”, and then walked over to the blessing box next to it and made my weekly donation of tuna fish, mac n cheese and sardines.

And if you are a long-time reader of this blog, you will know that my family, too, has an outdoor statue of our Most Blessed Mother.  When we lost our first child, Francis, I wanted a statue of Our Lady to stand guard over his grave, and so my husband and I made a special trip to a local statuary to find just the right one.  We placed our statue next to Francis’ grave, which over time, became two more graves as we lost more children in miscarriage.  I cannot express the consolation that seeing that statue over my children has brought to me through the past 15 years, and she has always been there waiting each time that I took “flowers to Francis”.

However, today, there is another statue in her place.  As it happens, when the couple who had donated the vintage statue of Our Lady decided not to place it back in the church lot’s shrine, they were left with the question of where should they keep it.  I encouraged them to take it home and set it up in their own yard, as a place of meditation and prayer, but they resisted this idea.  The wife said she was waiting for “just the right spot” because the statue meant so much to her, and she said that keeping it for themselves did not seem quite right.  And so, the statue stayed tucked away in storage for many more months.

One day recently, while visiting with her, I shared with the wife the story of our infertility struggle and mentioned the loss of three of our children.  I made the comment that we had buried our unborn babies, and she asked me where.  When I told her they are on our property, next to our Blessed Mother statue, she was astonished.  “That’s it!” she exclaimed.  “That’s where she belongs, next to your babies!” and she insisted that we place her beautiful vintage statue of Our Lady at their graves.  A few days later, she and her husband brought the lovely statue to our home, and we placed it over guard of Francis, Karol and Isaac-Anne. 

And there she stands today, on this Solemnity of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, one year from the day that she was blessed in the church parking lot, having since passed through the hands of both evil and good, and then being put into storage but finally ending up just where, as my friend said, she belonged all along.  As always, our Blessed Mother is never outdone, and God responded to our plea for her safe return in a way we never imagined. He is so good and so full of surprises.

Today, as my family stood in front of her and renewed our children’s consecration to her once again, I thought about the words of St. Paul, who wrote that "all things work for good for those who love God”(Romans 8:28). Might I add, for those who love His mother, too.






Saturday, July 25, 2020

And Now He's 10...

I know mothers are supposed to love all their children the same, but I can’t help but think they all have a special little spot for their first-born.  It’s not that the child him or herself is more special than any of their other children, but rather, what that child represents to the mother is extra special.  For women like me, who prayed to be mothers for so long, that first-born represents the end of a long, lonely walk in a barren desert, and an answer to countless prayers. And once that child comes along, after so many years of waiting and wanting, the thought of losing what we desired for so long is almost unbearable.

When my eldest son turned 8 a couple of years ago, I remember thinking he was starting to grow up.  And then in the blink of an eye, he turned 9, and I remember thinking that he was already half-way grown.  And now this week, he turned 10, and my heart is breaking as if I was about to watch him leave for college.  Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s in double-digits (something he likes to point out to me often), or perhaps it’s because he is starting to ask questions about adult things, and reading the newspaper and pulling out my recipe books and planning dinner.  I am very proud this little boy who isn’t so little anymore, and who I now refer to as my young man.  

He’s always been wise beyond his years, asking me questions that I found strangely perceptive for his age.  He’s still small for his age, which he comes by naturally, but his mind is growing by leaps and bounds.  He’s one of those kids who, by the age of four, already had most things in life figured out, and who studies everything.  He knows all the “book answers” and every day is a lesson in putting them into practice. 

Since he was five, I have been his school teacher.  We sat side-by-side on the sofa five years ago as he sounded out three-letter words to me and we tried to count to thirty together.  Today, we still sit side-by-side and I listen as he tries to explain CS Lewis to me, or we tackle mixed fractions together.  And each day now, there is always a moment when I look at him and I think, “When did you learn that?”

He is my metric for motherhood.  His birthday is my anniversary…the anniversary of when I made the crossing and left that barren desert of infertility behind.  And as he counts up to the day that he is fully grown and can leave home and embark upon his own “great adventures,” as he likes to say, for me, every day is a count down to when I have to finally let him go.  And maybe if I start preparing my heart for it now, then in the next ten years (or fewer), I’ll be ready for that day.  But probably not.

So for now, I enjoy the snuggles that he’s still willing to give, the way he walks beside me and still wants to hold my hand, the fact that he still thinks I can answer all his questions.  And as each day goes by faster than the day before, I’ll try to remember what a miracle he is and that, as the doctors said when I carried him, God must really have something important planned for him.  Something that will require me to let him go.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

7 Quick Takes - 7 Photos for June

For such a long year, it certainly is going by fast.  Rather than write another post about deep thoughts, I've opted to go for quick and easy this time and share seven photos from this past month, just for posterity sake, and to keep from breaking my own personal goal of one blog post per month in 2020!  So, here they are, in no particular order.

The garden.  There are people who take long summer vacations.  Serious gardeners are not one of them.  We finally got everything planted by early June and now we are in what I like to call "maintenance-mode" which basically means, keep the good plants growing taller than the bad ones.  To beat the heat, I go out about three times a week at sunrise and work at it for about two hours.  I love it.  The cool mornings, seeing the garden change daily, and having that quiet time to myself does me a world of good.  Each of our two older boys has their own garden this year, too, and I am encouraged to see their enthusiasm increasing a little every year as they take ownership in their own little patch of dirt.  Now, if I could just get them to pull the weeds...

Related to my last blog post and all that's going on in our country today, I guess you could say that this photo represents my form of protest.

And this.  He has recently developed a love of "saying mass" at home.  He walks around and hands out the host to anyone who will take it, saying "Body Christ".  He says he's making his own "home church", which isn't surprising because...

...we are now on week number 15 of having "home church" instead of going to mass at our church.  Because of the social distancing requirements, there isn't room for everyone to fit in our little church now, so we are trying to give others the opportunity to go, plus, ever try to keep a mask on a 3-year old?  My husband has done a beautiful job leading our "dry masses" at home, and then when we wrap that up, we all load up in the car and drive to our church where the priest gives us holy communion in the parking lot.  He is also allowing us to make appointments for confessions and hears them outside as well.  Strange times.

About a week ago, the boys and I joined with two other families and participated in the "Rise Up and Run" 5K organized by Melody over at The Essential Mother.  It was so much fun!  We were lucky enough to have a cool weather spell and took advantage of it to complete the run.  Before we did our run/walk/bike, each of us talked about who or what we were praying for during the run, and I was touched by how thoughtful our little ones were.  One child prayed for her grandparents who had lost jobs due to COVID-19, one for his father, one for a recently widowed friend, etc.  It was such a beautiful moment and I thank Melody for encouraging everyone to "Rise Up and Run", united in prayer.

This past week, we marked the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, which is a very special occasion in our family.   My husband and son both share St. John the Baptist as their patron saints, and it is also my husband's birthday.   St. John the Baptist has interceded for my family on at least two very important occasions, and I truly believe I have him to thank for two of my children.  I keep meaning to write a post on the subject and maybe I'll get one up in time for the Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist on August 29.

Our little John with his name-day gifts.

In the coming month, I will have been a parent for ten years.  Ten years!  It is not lost on me that my little ones are already half grown.  From the time that they turned eight, it seems like my two "twibling" boys have just grown up before my eyes.  It does break my heart, and scares me a little.  Last night, while helping me wash the dishes, my oldest began to explain to me his interpretation of heaven and hell and I really had to stop and listen to him in order to understand it all.  His thoughts were so profound and complex (he's been trying to read CS Lewis lately) and all I could think was, when did he learn all of this?  I focus so often on my failings as a mother, but moments like that remind me that God will redeem anything that I offer up to him, including all of my parenting mistakes.

Now, hop on over to Kelly's blog to check out some other quick takes of life in the Catholic blogosphere.  Thanks, Kelly!

Saturday, May 30, 2020

What Will I Tell My Dark-Skinned Son?

It’s back in the news again, and no, I’m not talking about coronavirus.  I’m talking about racism.

I made the mistake last night of catching up on the weekly news before bedtime. With my husband and two of my kids gone on an overnight trip with their cousins, I was having difficulty falling asleep, so l dove into the headlines.  And there it was, another tragic story about a white cop and a black suspect.  I read the story and it all seems plausible and just so terrible. The suspect is dead, the cop has been fired, and questions are being asked. Was this racism, or something else? I try not to take sides.  I have family members who are second-generation law enforcement.  I want to show them and all law enforcement the respect they deserve, just as I respect those who serve in our military and government and who work tirelessly for justice so that we may live in peace.  Our freedoms would evaporate without them on the frontlines. 

But I also have family members who are dark-skinned, one of whom is my son.  He slept next to me last night as I read about the rioting, the anger, the vengeance, and the lack of compassion on both sides of the issue. These injustices seem to be occurring over and over in our country, particularly for young men of color. How do I prepare my son for a society like this? 

I am white, but I did not come only from white people.  I came from ancestral origins partly known, partly unknown.  My father remembers his great aunt, who was the sister of his grandfather.  He tells me about how she was regarded as a black woman because her skin was so dark, which was the physical reflection of her Native American ancestry. I remember my grandmother refusing to wear short sleeves on hot summer days for fear of tanning, and she encouraged me to do the same.  She told me the stories about the murder attempts made upon her father, her grandfather, and her uncle, all of whom were considered second-class citizens by a community that knew well their ancestry.  But that was a hundred years ago now, and we’ve moved beyond that kind of racism in our country.  Or so we think.

Four generations removed now, I have light skin. As a result, I have never been the victim of racism and so I do not know what that feels like. However, I am a woman in a male-dominated career field, a Catholic in the Bible Belt, and the parent of special needs kids in a trans-racial family, so I do know what prejudice feels like.  And years ago, when I was discerning whether or not I should parent a child of another race, it was many of those experiences that came to mind and convinced me that I could do the job.  Although he and I do not share the same ethnicity, he and I can share what it feels like to be unfairly judged and marginalized, and as painful as some of my own experiences have been, I realize now that going through them was God’s way of preparing me for being his mother. Or so, I hope.

What I will tell my son is that prejudices can seep into us when we do not even realize it, beginning at birth and continuing throughout our life. By nature, we notice differences in the world around us, and particularly in the people around us. This is how we learn and it is a good thing to recognize those differences. Our diversity in thought, experiences, shape and form, among other things, makes humankind in general stronger and more resilient, and our survival as a species depends upon such diversity. The pandemic we are currently in will not be the end, not by a long shot, of humankind, and that is only because of our physiological diversity.  My children know the biological reason for variations in skin tone and we leave it at that.  But not all children are given such simple, scientific explanations for our differences, and so they are too often left to figure things out for themselves, creating fertile ground for the seeds of prejudice to be planted by well-meaning individuals filled with misunderstandings.

I will tell my son that racism is subtle and well-hidden.  The sweet little old lady in the church pew. The friendly neighbor next door.  The doting grandmother.  The chummy co-worker.  The friend who preaches “inclusiveness” and “tolerance” on social media.  These and others very well may carry within themselves racist or sexist persuasions that they will disclose only within their closest circles.  I will encourage him to ask God to reveal these people to him, and I believe that as he matures, he will develop that “sixth sense” that clues him in to such people, a sense very familiar to those who are part of a minority segment of society.

I will remind him that racism goes both ways, and that he must be mindful of any tendencies he may have to show bias toward others.  Shortly after we adopted him, we introduced him to our Hispanic friends. I recall them passing him around, loving on him and snuggling him, and one commenting that they wanted to take him home.  Jokingly, we replied that they could do so if they brought him back, to which they replied somewhat seriously that no, he should not come back to us. It gave me pause.  Did they feel sorry for our son, to be adopted into a white family? Was this a thinly disguised comment intended to express a deeper feeling that only they could raise him properly because they all shared the same ethnicity?  The preference our Hispanic friends show towards our Hispanic son compared to how they treat our non-Hispanic sons, is obvious.  It doesn’t upset me, but it is racist.  However, I recognize it for what it is.  There is no ill-will in their hearts, yet, having been the recipients of prejudice that I can only imagine, I know they must feel somewhat protective and concerned about my son. It is human nature to be drawn to those most like ourselves, and I am grateful that my son has these friends who share his ethnicity in his life.

I will remind him that his outer appearance is what people see first about him, and only those who want to know him better will ever see beyond that.  And I will remind him that some people will never want to know him better, and that this mostly likely is a response to their upbringing and personal experiences and has absolutely nothing to do with him. I will also remind him that only Jesus can change such a heart, and that he should pray for them and love them anyway.

My son is only three, but he has already been the victim of prejudice and racist attitudes due to his dark skin.  From the moment we brought him home, we have faced the stares, the comments about his “beautiful skin”, the desire of people to run their hands through his hair, the questions about his ethnicity, the subtle biases shown by some family members who don’t give him quite the same kind of attention afforded to his brothers.  As his mother, I hate it, but I also try to understand it.  We can’t let racism anger us.  It is an injustice, for sure, but like poverty, it will always be part of the human condition.  Over my life, I have experienced many grave injustices due to my gender, my religion, my cultural background, my values.  Most of us have.  My sons will, as well.  I pray that it does not turn them into angry, bitter men, but rather, makes them even more sensitive to those who are also victims of such. I pray that they will become bridge-builders, and witnesses to life and fighters for true justice. But most of all, I pray that if I, as their mother, must mourn their loss due to an injustice grounded in prejudice, that I will rise above a desire for vengeance and instead, imitate the Blessed Mother when she cradled her own cherished son who was killed for the same reasons. And in the nights to come, when darkness draws near and I cannot go to sleep, rather than catching up on the news, I think I will talk to her, instead.

“Lord, send forth your spirit, and renew the face of the earth. “
Psalm 104

Saturday, April 4, 2020

7 Quick Takes - Easter Is Near

Linking up with Kelly over at her blog today.  Thanks, Kelly!

Well, let’s start with the obvious.  I debated about whether this blog post should be about sharing my deep thoughts regarding the COVID-19 crisis or whether to just keep it light and share about some of the wonderful things that are happening around here.  I’ve decided that with all that’s going on, and with the approach of Holy Week, we have enough hard stuff to dwell on, so I’m going to go with an upbeat post this time around.  I’ll save the deep thoughts for later.

Happy April!  Springtime has hit Appalachia in full glory.  Our mountainsides are blushing with the many shades of green as tulip poplars and the big-leaf magnolias spring forth (pun intended!) their new leaves.  Interspersed among them are the purple hues of the blooming redbuds, the white of the serviceberry (“sarvusburry” if you’re a local) and the cream of the dogwoods, each bringing with it a cold snap timed with the bloom.  This past week, we fired up the woodstove again as we passed through “redbud winter” and in a couple more weeks, it’ll be time for “dogwood winter”.  By the middle of May, “blackberry winter” will have many scratching their heads, wondering how it could possibly be so cold in May, yet “blackberry winter” in May is as predictable as the springtime.  My mid-western city-raised husband laughs at these local colloquialisms that I grew up with, but has come to accept that mountain folk have their own colorful ways of explaining the world around them.

Photo I took on St. Joseph's Day just as the sun started to peak out of the clouds.

In our own social distancing/ homeschooling/ homesteading way, which really hasn’t been much different than our life before COVID-19, we’ve been celebrating the feasts and fasts of the Lenten Season.  At this point, I want to send a big thank you to Kendra at Catholic All Year for her continual inspiration in helping us keep the faith at home.  I follow her blog religiously (pun intended again!) for her perspective and ideas and lately, it has been invaluable as I’ve searched for ways to have church and now Holy Week at home.  Thank you, Kendra!

St. Joseph’s Day is always a big deal at our home and this year, I attempted gluten-free cinnamon rolls.  They weren’t terrible.  Succeeding at gluten-free pastry making has been my last big hurdle in this gluten free lifestyle that we adopted three years ago in order to improve my children’s mental health.  I try to avoid xanthan gum and other additives, so have yet to find a gluten-free flour mix that I’m satisfied with when it comes to baking, but I’m getting closer.  All that to say, these cinnamon rolls were devoured by my family, proving yet again that even a hockey puck would be a delicacy to a 9-year-old if you just smothered it with butter and sugar! 

A few days later, we celebrated the Annunciation with some fresh flowers in the home, and ribs for supper, both definitely not something we’d do during Lent.  And, as he did on St. Joseph’s Day, God blessed us with a beautiful sunny day, which was not part of the weather forecast, as we’ve been plodding through day after day after day of rain since last year ended.  I was so grateful for some sunshine and much needed Vitamin D that obviously couldn’t come at a better time. 

All that sunshine brought out the dandelions and of course, we had to have some for dinner!  My kids love to eat fried dandelion flowers and we never have leftovers.  Picking them this year seemed especially significant considering the amazing health benefits found in all parts of the dandelion plant.  Combined with a little sunshine, I’m hopeful that our immune systems got a much needed boost during the past couple of weeks.

With the cancellation of public masses across the country, our family has been doing “home church” and it has been very successful!  Tom and Joah normally play the music at our church for mass anyway, so we have the advantage of still having live music just as we would at mass every Sunday.  We follow a dry mass outline very similar to the one Kendra recently described on her blog, and Tom gives a little “homily”, which is usually an explanation of the Sunday readings and gospel.  We get dressed for home church just like we would if we were going to mass, and it has been a good way to teach the kids that we don’t dress up for church so that others can see us, but rather, because Jesus can see us.   Of course, it’s not even close to being the same as going to mass, but it has certainly helped us keep our Sundays still feeling like Sunday.  For Palm Sunday, we are going to use some fronds from a yucca plant growing on our property and process around the homestead.  I suppose the chickens and dog will enjoy joining us!  I suspect maybe there were a few feral animals in the procession when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, so I guess it’ll be somewhat authentic.

So that has been my therapy during these challenging and scary times, i.e., keeping things as much the same as possible.  Sure, it could all change tomorrow, but that is nothing new.  No day comes with a guarantee, but the seasons do, and in this season, we are planting our potatoes, celebrating the arrival of the hummingbirds (they arrived yesterday!), picking dandelions, wondering at wildflowers, and trying to stay close to Jesus by not tearing each other apart.  And lest I dig into my deeper thoughts, as I have already promised not to do, I will stop there.  The sun is shining outside my window and I have yucca fronds to pick.  Happy Palm Sunday!   Easter is near.