Well, the last time I wrote here, a long, long time ago, I really was trying, with all my heart, to live the Church's call to be an Easter people, to live life as an Alleluia. And it was an earnest endeavor that went decently well for a while. And then there was May.
May and all its dates and memories and birthdays that weren't. May with all its hopes faded. Nothing was as it should have been in May. And embracing life as it was and letting it be enough was painful, so painful. I woke up every day feeling as though I had been rubbed raw with the sand paper of grief. I willed myself to function. Or not. I clung to the edge of emotional health while my feet dangled dangerously over the cliff of depression.
And there were no words in May. No words to write here. No words to utter in prayer. Barely enough for daily conversations with those most dear to me.
It has taken about this long into June for May to wear off. Still we face our struggles. There is the summer to be lived, full of anniversaries and memories and would be due dates that aren't and that all too awful day looms at the end of it all. There is a family's life hanging in the balance of a flailing economy and total destruction of the Louisiana oil industry. There are questions and uncertainties and instability.
But there are words once again. My faithful friends have returned with their own brand of comfort and consolation. For that tender mercy, I am grateful.
It's still Easter. Do you feel it? Is the wonder of the empty tomb still fresh? Is the shout for joy still rising up, welling over, spilling out? Are you still feeling the relief of the proclamation: "ALLELUIA"?
St. Augustine proclaimed that "The Christian should be an Alleluia from head to foot" and John Paul the Great enjoined us not to despair because "we are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song."
I've been tumbling the thought of what it means to be an Alleluia over and over in my mind this Easter season. I really, really want to get this one right. Fifty days can seem such a long time at the beginning of a resolve, but it sways by quickly in the passing of days from spring to summer, on the wings of baseball games and long days and icy treats. Before you know it, Pentecost will be waving its red banner high and I don't want to get there and be disappointed that I never quite figured it out, that I never did have my Alleluia AHA!
I need Easter badly this year. I need the hope of resurrection, the end of death's sting, and the glory of Christ risen. I need to dig down deep into the well of supernatural life that was given to me as pure gift at baptism and I need to cling with all my might to the grace of the moment. And I need to know, really know, how, despite the horror of the cross that still hangs heavy in the air, to live as an Alleluia.
I think it will take a bit of fumbling on my part. I'll undoubtedly mess it up more often than I get it right. But if by chance, desire and will and grace all happen to collide somewhere in these next few weeks, I might just get a glimpse of what it all means, the breaking of the chains that bind, the freeing of the bonds of sin and death, the healing of the wounds, and the rising, the glory of the rebirth. And a glimpse would be good. But the hope, and the challenge, that the church in Her wisdom lays out for us is to take the gift of that glimpse and turn into the spiritual work of the everyday. Mary Magdalen onl saw that angel briefly. It transformed her into an Alleluia. Thomas got to touch the heart of the Savior for only a moment. He was forevermore an Alleluia. The light shone in Saul's face for just a few minutes, but it was enough. Enough to transform, to create, to heal, to quicken the heart with the reality of the Resurrection. And then it became their life's work to live in light of that reality.
This is our life's work. It is the work of a grieving mother learning to find peace and joy in where life has her now. It is the work of a woman's heart learning to abide in grace and hope rather than fear and anxiety. It is the refusal to drink the dregs of the cup of bitterness and instead to fill the cup of gratitude to overflowing.
I've been composing a list in my prayer journal this Easter of things that make someone an "Alleluia". These are the dispositions of spirit, the heart tone I will try to set for the rest of this season, and for the rest of my sojourn on this earth. It is with purpose that I march to this wildly beating Alleluia song, it is so that I know the tune when it's my turn to sing it in chorus with all the angels and all the saints, with my saints, who wait for me in that place where Glory reigns and Alleluia is its anthem.
We had an incident in our house this Easter season that about made me come undone. It involved a kitten we brought home from my brother's house and a band of over-exuberant toddlers. Suffice it to say that the myth that cats always land on their feet is NOT true, but that whole nine lives thing, oh so true.
Here's the thing: in the moment, it was an agonizing crisis, with children crying and a mom on the verge of a panic attack and a dad sure he could not cope with one more thing. Even after it was said and done and the outcome was decidedly more cheerful than we had anticipated, I swore I would never tell anyone that story.
Less than a week later, I found myself standing in a group of homeschooling mommies who were riveted to my lively retelling of the tale of LuLu the Resurrection Kitty, and I marveled as we laughed together--as I laughed.
The crisis has passed. The moment is gone. The reality is that everything is just fine. And the sheer relief of it all is a wellspring of joy that bubbles with laughter.
Alleluias laugh at things that once were not laughable. Alleluias laugh at themselves and the sheer silliness of their own lack of faith when the truth is finally revealed. Alleluias laugh, like Sarah did, when God does something better than they could've asked or imagined. Alleluias laugh as I'm sure David did when he danced before the Lord. Alleluias laugh as I'm sure the Apostles did the evening of Pentecost when their tongues quieted and their hearts swelled.
Alleluias laugh because it is well with their souls.
Alleluias rejoice in victory rather than admitting defeat.
Today I chatted with a friend as I mopped my kitchen floor. This was one of those I've-waited-entirely-too-long kind of moppings that was testing the mettle of both me and the steam mop I was using. All the while I was mopping, my internal dialogue was me fussing at myself for being such a slob, for not working harder, for not getting the job done. I huffed into the phone as I lifted the mop to change the pad for the third time, "What does it say about my kitchen floor that I'm changing the pad on the mop for the third time?"
The voice on the other end was the voice of a friend. It was the voice of an Alleluia, and it replied, "It says that you're cleaning it."
The internal dialogue changed for the rest of that mopping session, I stopped berating myself and starting enjoying the small success of a clean floor. I worked with purpose and found satisfaction in each cleansing swipe. And I reminded myself that Jesus is a victorious Savior.
We are sinners, each of us. We each have a laundry list of failures we go to bed with each night. We examine our consciences and find ample need for mercy. But we should look to the failure list only long enough to ask and receive forgiveness. The most important moment in the day is not the fall, but the decision to rise again.
And Alleluias rise to try again. And they take with them a fresh supply of grace and mercy. And in the trying, they chant the chant of victories won and enemies slain, not the lament of defeat.
Alleluias let themselves heal.
I am facing a season in my life I have never faced before. For the first time I will have a three year old without a baby here for me to tend. It is an awful, heartbreaking truth that I wish away with great regularity. But somewhere this Easter has come the grace to embrace this season, to look forward to a summer at the pool where I can actually teach my toddler to swim, to look forward to being able to watch the whole baseball game, and to a break from diapers.
Each time I tell someone close to me about looking forward to this time I feel the need to qualify the statement, to tell them that, of course, it is not without heartache that I accept this joy. As if somehow they would actually think I was glad I didn't have my babies here. As if somehow I am betraying my little saints by enjoying the now.
Today, as I expressed that sentiment to my husband, I realized how silly I sounded trying to explain away my peace. After all, isn't peace and healing what we have prayed for, begged for? Is this gift not the promise fulfilled, the healing of my brokenness begun?
And so I have resolved to be okay with the fact that I am okay most of the time. I have resolved to allow myself to heal, and not to apologize for it. I have resolved to witness to the power of hope and faith and Resurrection, because not to do so is to cease to be an Alleluia.
Alleluias know they are beautiful now.
I spent a lot of time in my rose garden this week and it had its fair share of lessons to teach. One afternoon as I stood admiring buds and anticipating the beautiful flourish of foliage they would soon bring, I turned to find Kolbe plucking a plump red bud from its stem. "Oh Kolbe," I cried, "we have to leave the roses on the bush so they can get beautiful" Confused, he looked at the deep red encased in delicate green sepals that his hand held gently and he said, "But Momma, it is boofull, now."
The Lord spent that afternoon reminding me that while He does in fact love and desire all the potential I have for beauty and perfection and sanctity, He loves me now. Just as I am. A bud that is beautiful to His eyes right now, even still encased in all that she might become.
We find the grace to live John Paul II's exhortation to "become what (we) are" not by looking at all we were meant to be and thinking that once we get there someone will finally love us. "No, no," reminds the Shepherd who brings the little bud to bloom, it is knowing that you are loved now that you are able to ring out the Alleluia cry, and in that cry is the becoming, the opening, the flowering of your beloved soul.
Oh, how we sing. With all the power of the heavens joining in the song.
And the song goes like this:
I have been trying to be a little more focused lately on getting the full value of our library system and filling book baskets with new topics regularly. We've been really loving our nature and art learning trails and thanks to Jessica, our Easter book basket was full to the brim this month. Having full baskets of picture books placed strategically throughout the house serves as a constant reminder to me to spend some time with the littlest ones in the midst of busy school days and full family evenings. And I am a huge believer that a good picture book can teach an older child as much has any text book or internet research can, and do it an a way that brings beauty and joy to his heart.
That being said, I filled a seasonal book basket with sweet spring picture books this month and we are enjoying them immensely, so I thought I'd share some titles. Here's what we're cuddling up with these sunny spring days:
I'm not posting Amazon links, because these are not necessarily a well-thought out book list I'm suggesting you go purchase. More or less, I grab from my own shelves, the seasonal shelf, and the Caldecott shelf at the library. I look for familiar titles, books I haven't seen yet that look lovely, and let the kids pick a few. Some are destined to become favorites and fill the basket every year, others get returned to their respective shelves with no love lost. Nevertheless, there's something very inviting about a basket full of spring books placed next to the front porch rocker just behind newly planted window boxes. And these are the tender moments I'm looking to create. Maybe it'll help renew your focus too.
Next month's book basket themes are Mary in the faith basket, baseball in the seasonal basket, and Monet and gardens for the art and nature trail. Any great recommendations? Feel free to leave them in the comments.
Last week, as I looked over the list for the Garden Party for week two of Easter, first and foremost on my mind was how to adapt things so there would be less sugar pulsing through my little guys veins. This spring air has left them friskier than normal, the feasting has added the sugar dimension, and the start of baseball and Gatorade consumption threw food dye into the mix. The results were, how shall I say it, less than desirable?
I quickly realized I could tweak the plan just a little bit and have a reasonably healthy breakfast to serve as our party this week.
We read the lovely picture book, The Easter Story, while we ate and the kids described the events in each beautiful painting before I read the corresponding Scripture to them.
Last week, as we discussed the symbols each day, we spent a lot of time talking about the Mass and it being our chance each to experience again the solemn awareness of the Triduum and the joy of the Resurrection.
Here is our calendar on our school room bulletin board:
For more ideas and inspiration for the Garden of the Good Shepherd Easter calendar, visit Catholic Cuisine and follow the links.
Blessings to you and yours as you continue to rejoice in the Risen Christ.
I spent some time in my rose garden yesterday afternoon, tearing away a year's worth of overgrowth and revealing the hint of gorgeous color still encased in green buds. I draped tendril up lattice and guided their climbing. I pulled away the ugliness of weeds and drew attention to the beauty planted there. And I didn't wear gloves.
I couldn't have told you why beforehand or even have told you what, but I was compelled to feel every prick and scrapy scratch those thorns could mete out. Something in me needed to feel their sting and process this whole relationship, the beauty in the rose and the prick of the thorn and their coexistence and the way that that relationship goes relatively unnoticed until I stick my hands in there to tend them, guide them, free them from entanglements.
And of course you know why. I had spent the weekend away. I had embraced a long time friend who had stood by my side from afar in my darkest hours. As is our nature, we had spent the weekend telling tales and laughing, entertaining ourselves and those around us. I had made new friends this weekend, progressing from texting across the room to locate one another to standing talking for hours about everything from kittens to poop to schooling a dyslexic child. I had shared lunch with a group of amazingly talented women whose sincerity, geniality and intelligence were refreshing and renewing to me. And I had joy. Most of these women had a peripheral awareness of all that has transpired in my life in the last eight months. I spoke my little one's name often and easily. Sweet Bryce. I accepted condolences and soft, tender embraces that spoke volumes and moved on. This weekend was a weekend of joy.
And yet in the midst of all that joy, grief lives ever-present. I have come to accept that. I have given up the faulty notion that one day I will heal and grief will be gone. I will heal. But grief is a permanent resident in my home. Like my roses and their thorns, grief and joy inhabit my soul as sisters. Each needs her moment in the sun, each needs tending, each barges in unexpectedly and catches me off guard. For the most part, I have learned to let them dance their sisterly dance with acceptance and resignation. I would not have ever wished for this reality, but it is mine, and I have always held firm to the conviction that we are happier people when we just accept that we are who we are. I am a naturally joyful, funny, thoughtful, articulate grieving mother. And all those adjectives inhabit the garden of my soul relatively peacefully. Until the gardener steps in to do His work.
I needed to feel those thorn's pricks yesterday because it gave tangible reality to my experience this weekend and everyday. I find a way to move forward each day, to take the next step, embracing who I am in the His perfect will for me. I know there are thorns. But there are roses too, and they are reason enough to keep the garden going. And then, in a most unexpected moment, there is the prick. The stabbing, intense heart pain I did not expect. And then its sting, the burn that lingers while I wipe back tears and try to refocus. And sometimes there is blood, a little piece of me, of the life within me, leaked out in the agony. These are humbling moments. They come when I don't know they are coming. They cause me to lose track of the conversation I was having or suddenly walk away from something purposeful I was doing. They leave me raw and unsteady in the midst of an ordinary activity. And they make me grieve when I want to be joyful--for someone else's pregnancy announcement or the birth of a sweet pink bundle to a momma of all boys, for someone's photographs of a gorgeous, growing babe and the siblings all smiles.
The pricks humble me. They make me realize how much grief has changed me, how much, like my experience raising siblings shows to be true, her sister joy is different because of grief's birth in my soul. And sometimes I am angry with her for her prickly ways, for the way she scratches at me for attention when I am reaching to embrace her sister. Sometimes I wish she hadn't come at all, or that she could be different from who she is.
But yesterday in that garden, in the quiet processing of the weekend and the weeks and the months and the days since grief's birth, I realized that she has been given to me, like the gift of a child. We don't get to determine the temperament of the baby we bring home. Our Heavenly Father examines us in His full knowledge and determines whether we need the baby who sleeps the day away contentedly or the one who must be held 23 1/2 of each day's 24 hours. We are all quite sure we need the former, but rarely do we get that baby. I am quite sure I'd rather the gift of joy, that she is a better companion for my soul, she who blooms in beauty and opens in color and wafts sweet scents that soothe. But the Heavenly Father, in a wisdom I cannot claim to understand, has determined that joy shall have a sister and her name shall be grief. And for the most part, she will be a quiet companion.
And then there will be those moments, when the Good Gardener reaches in to tend my soul garden, to cut away the overgrowth of fear and anxiety, to pull the weeds of sin, and to guide my growing in the right direction. And in those moments, grief's thorns prick. They sting, They tear. But yesterday reminded me that those moments, humbling as they may be, are the way the Tender One makes room. The sisters need guidance, they are small and sometimes unruly, and often unaware of whose turn it is. So the Merciful Lord reaches in, allows the thorn to prick and the beauty to bloom all at the same time, sweet sisters dancing their dance of intimacy in my soul, so that He can make way for their mother.
She comes to guide them, to show them how to take turns and be gracious and hospitable to one another. She comes to show them each their unique gift and to console the less desirable sister, dear grief, and remind her that she too is a worthy and noble gift, noble enough to inhabit the heart of the Savior, beautiful enough to live in the soul of His Most Pure Mother.
And I am grateful for her coming, this mother whose name is GRACE.
Early on in the week, as I still tried to recover from my Easter haze, I realized that given the week that lie ahead of us, one large tea party wasn't a likely option for this week. That realization was followed shortly by the realization that I was at the park, my husband was due home shortly, and I had no dinner plan. These anxious thoughts combined into a quick brain storm that led to Shepherd's Pie and Shepherd's Crook bread sticks for dinner that night, which in turn led to reading the accompanying Scripture verse at the table and a lively discussion about Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
I seasoned the ground beef with onions and powdered seasonings, added jack cheese and spread it in the bottom of the pan. Then added a layer of corn (we have always used corn in Shepherd's Pie as my kids don't eat cooked carrots) then I layered a bag of hash browns and covered that in cheese. It was a hit.
The day we made our ram and ewe cupcakes we were invited for a spur of the moment visit with friends, so we got to bring them to share. It was fun, but in the craziness, I forgot to take a picture. To be honest, they weren't that photo worthy anyway. But the kids enjoyed them and it was nice to share our Easter joy.
I knew that as the weekend rolled around we were unlikely to get to any more special treats. We had a 9th birthday to celebrate on Saturday in our own family and Sunday included Mass, a church fair, and a birthday celebration for my nephew.
So instead I brainstormed a little game that we played with Daddy. His arms were the sheep fold and one child was the lamb. Someone else was the wolf. The lamb had to try to get around the wolf and safely into Daddy's arms, while the wolf tried to catch him. It was good, rough and tumble boy fun and it worked well in this house. We had great discussions all week about the Scriptures and Jesus' role as the Good Shepherd.
I want to remember next year to include our 23rd Psalm picture books in the Easter book basket to read during this week. There are so many lovely versions and it would fit nicely.
We are using Charlotte's print outs for our calendar and I had hoped to end this post with a photo of it with the week's symbols added, but the camera left for work with Daddy before I remembered, so I'll have to come back and add it later.
We are really enjoying our Easter celebration and can't wait to see what this week brings.
Check out everyone else's Garden parties at Catholic Cuisine!
With Spring full upon us here and the knowledge that in a few short weeks we will begin to complain about the heat, I am trying very hard to immerse us in as much nature study and outdoor time as possible. Last month, inspiration struck and I decided on a whim to create a display about birds on the nature table. Then, a picture book about John James Audubon caught my eye at the library and I decided to make him the artist of the month and tie our art study into out nature study. It was a lovely and inspirational whim. It led us on a field trip to these gardens to gaze at the snowy egrets, and will culminate in a trip this zoo this weekend, where we will celebrate the ninth birthday of our very own artistically inclined nature lover. Since this little rabbit trail began, he has been drawing birds with great detail and passion and declaring to everyone that he wants to be the next John James Audubon.
Here is our John James Audubon Book List:
The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon
Into the Woods: John James Audubon Lives His Dream
Audubon: Painter of Birds in the Wild Frontier
For Picture Study:
John James Audubon: American Birds
There are plenty of great books for studying birds to add to your nature table. I just pulled from our shelves and from the library shelf and left them there for the kids to peek through as they liked.
This little rabbit trail played itself out so nicely, that I have made my library requests and this month the nature table will be full with picture books about artist Georgia O'Keefe and nature books about wildflowers.
Here is our Georgia O'Keeffe book list:
Through Georgia's Eyes
Georgia Rises: A day in the Life of Georgia O'Keeffe
My Name is Georgia
For Picture Study:
Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Collections
I hope we can enhance this study with a field trip to this lovely spot which will be lush with azalea blossoms and wisteria vine this month. Again, flower study will be a random splash of books from our stash and the library's shelves.
I hope you all are getting out and about into the world this spring. Do let us know where spring's glory takes you!
We are rejoicing because He has risen!
These were plain wooden letters that were on sale with the Easter items at a local craft store. I decided to use them to mark out the major focal points of the fifty days of Easter.
May, the month of Mary
On the mantle with this year's stained glass ALLELUIA, the two little nests await a blue bird in May (for Mary) and a dove on the Feast of Pentecost, the little scene on the end depicts this week's Garden of the Good Shepherd theme.
And the angels guard our Divine Mercy novena roses.
All in all the gentle Holy Week crafting turned out quite nicely and we really did have a lovely celebration of the Triduum and lots of Easter joy.
Here's our crop of decorated wooden eggs...some done stained glass style and others painted. The boys had not enough patience to go back and create the Pysansky style look as I had planned, but I think they are quite lovely anyway, don't you?
Lenten mantle reminder: Forty Days in the Desert
As we approach Holy Week this year, I am having to rethink the way in which I would normally do things. Most years, the effort of Holy Week in this house is to find age appropriate ways to make the reality of the Passion of Christ real for my children, so that they may truly experience the joyful exultation of Easter. This year, real life has changed the perspective a bit. And it's hard.
To be honest, I wish we had needed this Lent. I wish that all the superficial reminders that we are dust were necessary. I wish the reality of suffering and death were far removed from our lives and we needed a wake up call. But the truth is we've been living life on the Via Dolorosa for some time now. Death's sting is palpable in this house. The transient nature of the world is all too real. The reality that the only eternal joy is in heaven is unfairly ours. And the deep, desperate hope of Resurrection is the rallying cry of our spirits. It alone makes us rise each day and begin again. My kids know the horror of death more than I ever imagined they would at such tender ages. They know what it means to close up the tomb and wait. And they don't need any further reminders.
What they need this Holy Week are gentle ways to live the liturgy, to see the beauty in the ashes. The hope of Sunday's reality needs to be sweet and joyful and tangible, but the references to death and its sting need to be quiet and gentle. So my regular rotation of Stations of the Cross and watching the second half of Jesus of Nazareth in the evenings and attending the very realistic Living Way of the Cross at the local university are put on hold this year. There will be Mass and Confession at some point. There will be Eucharistic Adoration and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. But mostly, there will be gentle beauty and quiet, hopeful healing for little hearts (and bigger ones too, I suppose).
Each day this week, we'll let a lovely picture book sharpen our focus and lead us through this week's reflections with gentleness and beauty. Then we'll quietly create something lovely, another gentle reminder of the beauty in the ashes.
Holy Week at Home 2010:
The Legend of the Easter Egg, Easter Eggs for Anya, and Rechenka's Eggs: We'll read these books and do a more age appropriate version of Pysanky here. Using wooden eggs with a flattened out bottom (so they stand on their own), the kids will pencil draw a design, then trace over it a Sharpie marker. Then they'll paint in the design with craft paint. When that layer of paint is dry, they will go over their marker lines with puff paint to create a raised design. I'm hoping the effect will be quite nice and the process rewarding for them.
The Little Rose of Sharon: We'll read this one and then make red and white ribbon roses. We'll tie on day's prayer of the Divine Mercy novena to each of nine roses and put them in a vase on the mantle. We'll untie each prayer as we pray it and put it away. On Divine Mercy Sunday, I'll put the ribbon roses away until next year and replace them with real ones.
The Tale of Three Trees: We'll follow this one up with a spring walk in the woods and pretzel making for Good Friday.
Fiona French's Easter: This book, which contains the words of the Easter story from the King James Bible and beautiful stained glass illustrations will be our Easter Saturday read aloud. Afterwards, we'll make our own stained glass windows by coloring printed coloring pages of Easter scenes (not the bunny kind, the Jesus kind) and then covering the edges with coloring tissue paper glued down, and oiling the backside with baby oil on a cotton ball. When they are dry, we frame them in black paper frames and hang them in the windows as Easter decorations. We'll make a new Alleluia to hang across the mantle using the same technique.
I hope you all find some inspiration for bringing Holy Week to life in your home. We will carry you with us in prayer this week and can't wait to celebrate the joy of the Resurrection with you.