Saturday, March 22, 2014

Perfection, or Why You're Probably Doing Fine

Last weekend, I drove down to Indianapolis to spend a day with my awesome goddaughter, her awesome mom, and her 3-month-old twin brother and sister. I brought Anne with me because she's going through a really intense mamma-only-please phase, nursing a lot, and still not sleeping through the night, and I just thought it would be terrible for all involved to leave her overnight with Daddy. Anne and I made the same trip almost exactly a year ago, and I kept being bowled over by how different it felt this time around.

Last time, Anne was only 4-5 months old, and couldn't quite make it through a 3-hour car ride without needing to nurse. So we had to stop. And then she didn't want to go back in her seat. Which made the trip more like 4.5 hours, with the last half hour spent white-knuckling as she fussed in the back. She was still napping 3 times a day, and the way I was handling that was to lie down in bed and nurse her to sleep for every nap. And bedtime. Which didn't bother me in the slightest when I was at home, because, you know, I only have one baby, and what else was I supposed to be doing? But when I got there, I started feeling so ashamed that I didn't have it more together, that I hadn't trained my daughter to need me less, that I had to keep going in time after time when all I wanted to do was hang out with my dear friend.

This time, we made the trip in 3 hours flat, no stops, my big 16-month-old playing with toys, reading books, and eating snacks until we got there. She only takes one nap a day now, and I planned the trip around it so that she didn't actually have to nap in a crib while we were there. I nursed her and put her down in a crib for bedtime, and then was able to chat with Sarah for 3 hours before we decided to call it quits. Anne spent most of the rest of the night between me and the wall as we shared a twin mattress. We've hit a pretty good groove, and I felt confident and happy.

I kept thinking back to how incompetent, embarrassed, and full of self-doubt I had felt a year before. I wished I could tell my past self that I was doing fine! That I was giving my baby exactly what she needed. That I should just continue to trust my instincts, that this phase would pass pretty quickly. To pay more attention to her cues, and less to what I thought she should be doing, what I thought others thought of me.

I suspect that this is a universal feeling among women, especially mothers, and it all boils down to shame. We feel a tremendous pressure to be effortlessly perfect, to look great, smile, keep it all together, and to do all this without breaking a sweat. When motherhood turns out to be harder than we thought, when at five months in, we haven't deciphered every line of our baby's code, when we feel utterly out of control, the shame spiral starts.

I'm tired of it. I'm tired of hearing the amazing women in my life apologize for the areas of perceived weakness in their lives. I want to applaud them for trying, for striving, for showing up every day and giving it their best. I can't stand the look of guilt I see on my friends' faces when they "admit" to one of the following:
  • their 1-year-old still waking up several times a night
  • their 3-year-old not being fully potty trained yet
  • offering a bottle of milk to a 1-year-old to encourage her to sleep past 5am
  • needing Elmo to entertain a 1-year-old so they can take a shower
  • their house not being completely clean all the time
  • their inability to lose the rest of their baby weight
  • the fact that their toddler won't eat anything but noodles and milk
The problem, I think, is that the person judging us lives in our heads. We judged other moms before we became moms. Because it is impossible to imagine how hard this job is. There is no way to do everything right. Almost weekly, especially at the beginning, I found myself doing things I vowed I would never do when I was a mom. We are far too hard on ourselves.

Do you love your kid? Are you doing your best to meet their needs? Are you doing what you need to to keep yourself sane? You deserve a freaking medal. Motherhood is hard. It doesn't always feel natural. It doesn't always look great. But it is immensely rewarding, and could be even more so if we would lighten up on ourselves and each other.

"Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

Monday, March 10, 2014

What Lent Looks Like {Our Domestic Church}

I have really been looking forward to Lent this year. Maybe it's because this winter has just been soul-crushingly long, cold, and snowy, and Ash Wednesday is an early sign of spring. Or maybe it's because motherhood is like a magnifying glass on my faults, making it painfully obvious how much I need my Savior. I'm tying Lenten spiritual cleaning in with my spring cleaning efforts in my home, so that by the time the warm weather rolls around, I won't have to spend any more time on indoor projects than absolutely necessary!

Do you decorate your home for Lent? Putting up a few things around your home (the simpler the better) is a great way to remind yourself of your Lenten commitments as you go through your day. It can also present an opportunity to share your faith with neighbors and friends. It helps us to unite our families to the greater church and really get into the penitential spirit.

Throughout Lent, we will forego the blessing of fresh flowers in our home as we wait for Easter. Here are the other simple little things I put up around the house:

1. A plain grapevine wreath (JoAnn Fabrics, $4.99), with a strip of purple fabric attached. Plain and simple, a reminder that Jesus is the Vine, and we are the branches, and that spring is coming.

2. "Sackcloth" (burlap, $3.99/yard at JoAnn's) and purple on the mantel.

3. A normal fixture in our home, but this little succulent is a desert-loving plant. How appropriate as we enter the desert with Jesus!

4. Desert centerpiece on our dinner table. Burlap, a purple placemat, a plate with our Lenten devotional on top, open to the day's page, and stones and candles. We've been reading a devotion aloud during breakfast each day, since my husband can't always be home for dinner. It's a great way to connect as a family first thing in the day.

5. Purple shrouds on all the crosses and crucifixes.

6. A Lenten message on the chalkboard that hangs in our stairway.

That's it!  What does your domestic church look like this season?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Homemade Sugar Scrub!

I ran out of my normal facial exfoliator, and instead of spending a bunch of money to replace it, I wondered if I could make something at home that might do the trick! Total and complete success. So much that I made two kinds - lemon for a hand scrub after doing the dishes, and lavender for baths. The recipe is so easy, and uses things you are very likely to have in your home already! 

Lemon Sugar Scrub

1 1/3 cups regular white sugar
2/3 cup olive oil
10-15 drops lemon essential oil
4 Vitamin E capsules, split open and squeezed in (about 1 teaspoon)

Lavender Sugar Scrub

1 1/3 cups regular white sugar
2/3 cup coconut oil
10 drops lavender essential oil
4 Vitamin E capsules, split open and squeezed in (about 1 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon lavender flowers

I'm looking forward to trying some other flavors soon - grapefruit! lime + coconut! lemongrass! Any suggestions?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Confession + Clean Floors

painting: "Sparkly Clean" by Leslie Graff

A couple of weeks ago, I went to confession. As usual, it had been quite a while since the last time and, as usual, I cried during and felt awesome after.

Last week, I spent a solid hour cleaning all the floors in my house. The wood floors got swept, then Swiffered, then mopped. The carpets got vacuumed. I wore my 11-month-old the whole time. I was soaked with sweat, but my floors were C-L-E-A-N.

Last Saturday, I got to church 10 minutes earlier than I needed to, and confessions were happening, and no one was there*. I had been acting like a spoiled jerk all day, so I hopped on in. No tears, no giant revelations, just.... Maintenance. Sprucing up.

I wish this wasn't such a revelation, but regular cleaning, whether of your floors of your soul, is easier. It gives you the opportunity to pay more attention to details, and to build on the clean that you achieved last week.

*You guys, why is no one there? Sacramental grace, forgiveness, wise counsel, a fresh start, the Creator and Savior of your soul are waiting.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.

Catholic 101

One God. There is only one. Yet how many things reach god-like status in our lives? Those things, whatever they may be, seem so silly and trivial compared to the maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. Maybe it's because God's work is on such a grander scale that it's hard for us to even contemplate, much less attain a relationship with the Maker. But really, what do I have to gain from expending my time, energy, and brainpower on insignificant pursuits? I often forget to take the long view, and instead get caught up in the moment, basing my actions on what will best serve me that day. Living in the moment can be a positive and virtuous endeavor, but I do see in my own life how it sometimes trips up my ability to focus on the prize. "Set your heart on the higher gifts, on the things that come from your Maker in Heaven" (1 Cor. 12) comes to mind. What would it be like, if we all lived every day with the assurance that the end of the story is good? If we made decisions based on the things that will matter at the end of life, instead of whatever might bring the most pleasure to the day? 

I spent several years when I moved to Chicago working with the elderly, and the faith I saw among bodily pain and decay was truly inspiring. I always got the sense that these folks knew with assurance, although this phase was challenging, that the end was good - and it was coming. In spite of constant physical ailments, loneliness after the loss of spouses and friends, and inability to carry out daily tasks that once seemed mundane, I saw peace. I recall being at Mass with my grandpa a few years ago, watching him struggling to kneel, and thinking "Wow. Never has it been so clear that we were not made for this earth, but for something much better." I can't say I'm entirely eager to reach old age, but I can't help but be in awe of the way that age seems to strip away the little things, and leave just what matters. May we always be conscious of the things in our lives that are of our One God who is almighty!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Catholic 101: I believe...

Catholic 101

Today, 12 years after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we are praying for all the people who gave their lives to help, and those whose lives are still affected by this tragedy. As our country stands on the precipice of yet another war, we pray for peace in Syria, for wisdom for those God has placed as leaders in our country and around the world, and especially for the next generation - for those people we are raising right now - that they would be a generation of peacemakers.

These two little words would have been easy to skip on my way to what seem like meatier sections of the Creed, but without these words, none of the rest of it would matter. Without "I believe," a list of the tenets of a faith as beautiful as ours would be just that: a list.

I tend to take belief for granted. I was raised believing in God. My parents encouraged me to see His fingerprints in every corner of the world I lived in, taught me how to talk to Him and lean on Him when I was hurting, to praise Him when I was joyful. I am deeply grateful that I have felt the presence of God so closely for my entire life. On my journey toward the Catholic Church, as I read books that made me question many of my assumptions about faith, I felt God nudging me closer to Him, closer to the truth.

We are each created with an instinctive drive to search for the ultimate meaning of life. God reveals Himself to us, and we respond in faith: "I believe." Here's the tricky part, though: "Whoever says 'I believe' says 'I pledge myself to what we believe" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994 edition, page 51). Belief is not just something you say. It's who you are, and how you live. Every day, the implications of what we believe ripple through every part of our lives. The creed is merely a symbol of a lived reality.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God--not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." -Ephesians 2:8-9

Sunday, September 8, 2013

What We Wore Sunday

We are back from our summer hiatus, linking up with Fine Linen and Purple!

It is so exciting to be part of a growing parish. We've been attending regularly at St. Gregory the Great for about a year, though I was lucky enough to meet Patrick, the music director, and start singing with the choir occasionally when I moved to Chicago in 2007. We love it! The music is fantastic, the priests and staff are amazing, the people are friendly, and there is a lot going on for young people and young families. Our Moms and Tots group meets weekly (at least!) for play, and we're starting to grow even further! This Sunday was our first Moms and Tots Family Picnic, out in the back yard of the rectory. What a fun day! Perfect weather, lots of families sitting on the grass sharing food and chatting, kids running around, and cicadas being thoroughly examined... I've attended lots of churches in my life, and I am so incredibly blessed by this one. Thank you, God!

 Our photographer was not aware that we was supposed to be taking an outfit shot. Oh well. You get what you get. :)