...once you are Real, you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.~The Velveteen Rabbit
Fifth in a series.
All of the other posts in this series were written a couple of weeks ago and queued up at Typepad, ready to go. This one is mostly being written in real time. That's because I have used this last week, the ninth week, to come to an understanding of the eight previous weeks. I thought I had it figured out, but God had other plans.
On Monday of this week, my first real day back online and the day I planned to integrate all my new habits into my real life, I woke up sick. Sick enough that I didn't exercise. And I didn't pray the Hours. I didn't get dressed. I dragged myself through the day, feeling sicker and sicker as time went on. I did manage to get drawn into an internet dialogue. Spent more time hunched over the computer than I had in the last eight weeks. And then I spent too much time on the phone. At the end of it, nothing good was accomplished and I had a headache and an overwhelming urge to go to confession.
The day ended with me curled up in a ball in excruciating pain from my waist to the top of my head. My entire left side burned. It was the kind of pain that when they say, "On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst pain you've ever felt..." I briefly remembered the time they forgot the meds right after my c-section and said "Nine, but almost ten." All night long, I kept considering how very wrong the day had gone. Did I mention that I also ate leftover brownies from the weekend party? Yep. Blew that whole thing, too. It was as if, in one day, I had the opportunity to see how critical every component was.
Tuesday, I went to the doctor. People who know me know that I never go to the doctor. The last time I had a sick visit to the doctor, I had taken a child to the pediatrician and he made me stay until he managed to diagnose pneumonia--in me. It had never occurred to me that I needed a doctor that day. I have just a wee bit of post-traumatic stress where doctors are concerned. This was not improved by my last [life-threatening] delivery. But I went to the doctor because I was that sick and that desperate. Turns out I've been nurturing a staph infection for sometime now. That might go a long way to explain the recurrent mastitis and the fatigue. I left the doctor, filled the prescription and went home.
Wednesday, I read Amy Welborn. Have I ever mentioned how much I love Amy Welborn? She articulates the good and the true and the beautiful so very well. I read all of Come Meet Jesus on Wednesday. And then I began to read it again on Thursday. It's my new gift book of choice. I think everyone should have a copy and I mean to put one in as many hands as I can.
Wednesday definitely found me trying to make sense of it all, trying to hear what He was saying clearly. Turns out this wasn't an eight week experiment. It was the unveiling to me of a rule of life.
I need to start the day with prayer. Lots of it. And I need to pray it in the rhythm of the real Church, not the Church that other people represent to me.
I need to exercise every single day. (No, I don't mean when I'm sick, but I could really tell how the lack of routine could upset the apple cart even if I felt fine.)
I need to start the day (after the prayer and exercise start) with a shower, clothing and lipgloss, and then some quiet time with the Bible. I want my children to find me in that room, with a candle lit and the Bible on my lap when they first wake up. I don't want them to find me staring into my laptop.
I need to refrain from internet drama, even a little bit.
I need to limit the phone to times when my children and husband aren't present, so that I can be fully present in my home. And oh boy, I need to be fully present. To them.
I can't eat sugar or flour--not even a taste.
On Thursday, I packed up the children and went to visit my father and his wife in Charlottesville. Because even after all these years, Charlottesville still calls my name. I am the child of a naval officer and my parents divorced in my late teens. Those two things make it very hard to know where to go when every bone in your body wants to go "home" to someplace where someone will take care of you for a day or two.
My father and stepmother live in Charlottesville--the only town I've ever chosen for myself. It was my town before it was their town. I went to school there and around every corner are little pieces of me and of people I love.Those are my trees, my mountains; the air smells like home to me. It's a good place to be. Sometimes, when we're very tired, a change is as good as a rest. And if that change takes you "home," all the better.
So, surrounded by people I love, in a place I cherish, it's been easy to reflect on the past nine weeks and know what I need to do every single day to live the seamless life I so long to live, to walk in the peace of Christ. Over the past couple of days, I've had heart to heart, face to face talks with people I trust. I bought new lipgloss and a new candle. I met a friend for lunch and kind conversation and then put two tiny girls in the van and drove around while they napped. I drove past the places where I was educated. I drove past the places where I taught--and where I fell in love with teaching. I thought about how dear it all is--the things I've done, the places I've been, the people I've loved.
And I thought about how dear the time to come is. I want it to be everything God intends for it to be.
The last big question remaining for me has been whether to continue to blog or not.
One of the things I did when I decided to take a month-long blogging break was to sift through lots of old columns and give them to my children as copywork to keyboard. In such a way, I preprogrammed posts and continued to blog, using writing that was sometimes 15 years old. The process of choosing those pieces was lovely, indeed. I spent several hours reading my own writing and remembering things I know I thought I'd never forget.
But I had forgotten.
And it was a joy and a consolation to read them again. I read about our happy times, my moody times, the struggling times. As soon as my eyes met the word on the page, I instantly remembered every column in great detail. I even remembered where I was when I first composed them in my head. My children enjoyed reading them and I think they were touched more than once to see in black and white how very much they are loved. Those columns have value. And it's a very personal value.
The blog is even better. This place has always been the place on the web where I am at home; I am myself. I am real. There is more writing and many, many photographs. It's a family treasury and my immediate family has never been anything but extremely supportive of my blogging. I know that every post is a deposit in a treasury of family memories. Some of those memories are family anecdotes and others are the personal musings of a mother's heart. I think, when I sift through them fifteen or thirty years hence, both will be of worth.
More than my memories though, I want these posts for my children, particularly my daughters and daughters-in-law. I want to connect with the young mothers they probably will be. I want to empathize and to encourage and to support. I want to be for them the hand up, the strong shoulder, the warm hug I have wanted so many times on this journey. I think these posts might help us both. I want to remember the struggle of these years. I want to remember how hard I tried, how much I pondered, how deeply I loved. I want to remember because I want to be able to empathize. Going forward, it is my intent to write with those young ladies of the not too distant future as my audience.
So, why publish?
Because of you. Because despite the nasty notes and ugly threads and hurtful comments hurled through cyberspace, mostly the people who read this blog are very good people. And you wrote to me. You told me how and why this blog mattered to you. You told me your stories and you touched my heart again and again. You sent me birth announcements.
We are given gifts. We all have our talents to bury or to squander or to invest. All my life, God has given me words. When I have been lonely, afraid, without comfort or attachment, He gave me words. I write to make sense of the world around me and I always have, for as long as I can remember. Actually, He gave me the Word and He gave me words. Late at night, huddled under the covers with a flashlight and the Children's Living Bible, I had a very strong sense of understanding that to know this--really know--the God of these words was the only way I could stay sane.And then I scribbled notes in the dark, reams and reams of notes. I write because it's my gift--the lifeline God has thrown me, for me. But, He showed me that when I have the courage to share those words, they can bless someone else. I can give them as a gift. I can articulate something that she is thinking and so help bear the burden of the thought.
As I recently told a friend, if you have a beautiful voice, and you sing the Hours faithfully at home in total privacy, that is certainly a beautiful thing. You are giving God a beautiful gift and you are allowing yourself to be open to His transcendence. But I would be ever so grateful if you would consider recording your voice. When I lay down to nurse my baby to sleep and start to sing to her, she ceases nursing, holds up her hand and says, "Stop." I cannot sing. Your song would be a gift to me.
I want my words to be a gift.
I worry, though. When I first started blogging, one thing several friends who are writers agreed upon was that this is a great medium for people who think in narrative. At last we had some place to actually put all those thoughts. The last few days have me wondering. Are we supposed to think in narrative? I don't think so. I think we're supposed to think--or not think-- in prayer. Thinking in narrative focuses our minds and our hearts on ourselves. Living a one-piece life of genuine prayer focuses both heart and mind on God.
To know Christ is a gift, a gift I am tempted to shelter and carefully protect, lest it slip away somehow. A gift I can scarcely believe is mine. A gift that seems so precious that my first instinct is to protect it deep within my soul.
I think I'm making this all too complicated. Maybe it's really much simpler. Live the life of prayer--make it genuine and true and real. And if the Lord gives me the words and the time, share abundantly.
I know that I cannot control how I am received. I cannot control what people will write and say and do. I cannot begin to take into account every possible situation. I can just remember how much I wish someone would sing the Hours for me in clear voice and how I might somehow bless someone likewise with clear prose. I can share a life of prayer--just as long as sharing it does not cause it to cease being a life of prayer.
I could sit for hours and try to do a cost-profit analysis on pushing the "post" button. And I have. In the end, it doesn't matter if blogging has caused more pain or more happiness in my life. In the end, what matters is whether I have the words and whether I have the means to share them. These words are God's gift to me. I cannot, in good conscience, smother a gift so dear. Instead, I give thanks for this new media. I give thanks for the opportunity to see words come to life on a MacBook in the small spaces of my day when my children leave me in the quiet with my thoughts. I fully understand that those times may be scarce and I promise not to squander them wandering mindlessly online. I give thanks that I can and will tell my children and anyone else within earshot that there is joy.
The mechanical toys were very superior, and they looked down upon everyone else. Between them all the poor little Rabbit was made to feel very insignificant and commonplace and the only person who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse. --The Velveteen Rabbit
Fourth in a series
This is the part of my journey that is most difficult to write, to share. About six weeks into the project, I had to come face to face to what was really tormenting me. My children are growing up so fast. It's astonishing to me how quickly the time has passed. When I began "the new habit project," I sifted through old columns and set them aside to post while I was away. I enjoyed reading them so much! I enjoyed re-living the moments they captured. I found myself wishing for that girl again. That girl--the one who wrote about ten years ago--that was the real girl I knew and loved. But where did she go? Why did she feel so elusive? And oh, what have I done to allow something, anything, to take her away and leave in her place an exhausted blob of a person who doesn't have nearly the idealism and enthusiasm as the girl she was? I don't want to be thirty again. I'm not looking to turn back the hands of time. But I want to take hard-earned wisdom and marry it to the positive optimism I once had in such abundance.
I sat today to write all about how I've restructured my time and my perception of the online world. but then I realized I've already written it. Nothing has changed really since those three pieces. Kind Conversation is new since then. It has a very tightly defined mission statement and I hold myself to it. Not everyone needs this kind of definition. I do. I use Kind Conversation as my portal to Twitter and Facebook, updating from there because being there holds me to that standard and the prompt is phrased in such a way that I am reminded to promote a culture of respect, dialogue, and friendship. I give social networking--Facebook, Kind Conversation, Twitter--no more than one hour a week total. I set a timer. I keep track. I have to in order to guard the precious, precious time I have. There was a time when I spent more than 20 hours a week nurturing a message board. I honestly believed I was doing the right thing. I was grateful for a ministry opportunity that allowed me to share this lifestyle without leaving my home. I invested my heart into the women there with all good intentions. In my sharing though, I traded the lifestyle. I gave away so much of myself that I lost the real. Struggles on the internet have yielded at last to an insight about myself for which I am very, very grateful. I see that for me, in this season, I need to look away from the computer and sharply limit my conversations there. I can attribute the insight, the resolve, and the ease with which I can keep those resolutions only as a blessing of this time of intense prayer and fasting.
Right around the time I was wondering where all this was leading and why peace was so elusive, I got an email from a friend who was inquiring on behalf of her friend. She was wondering how we decided to go ahead and try to conceive after chemotherapy and radiation. The gist of her question was whether we had researched and worried about the effect of chemo on my ovaries and the precious cargo therein.
I don't let myself go there too much because it's really a waste of
emotional energy. Christian was conceived in 1991. Six months after I
finished chemo and radiation, I asked my oncologist about getting
pregnant. He said it would probably take awhile to conceive but that if
i could, he thought it highly likely I'd live to raise my child. We
conceived that night. I didn't go home from that doctor's appointment
and consult the internet. There was no internet access. I didn't get
bogged down in medical studies or anecdotal reports on message boards
or anything else. I trusted my doctor medically and then I trusted my
husband with my life and the life of our child. That's the way our
marriage works. We gathered expert information and then asked the Holy
Spirit. We discerned that it was God's will to be open to conception
and we were.
Wow! The biggest decision of our lives and that's the way we made it. Actually, we consulted two priests as well; both of them celebrated Christian's baptism nine months later. We have continued to make that decision that way for all these years. As my childbearing years come to a close, I am profoundly sad. I wish there more more babies. But I am also consoled by the fact that I know we have been open to every single one of them. I used to say (until very recently) that I have no regrets about these years. Now, I see that I do. I most definitely do.
I regret the way I allowed what I read on the internet to influence my life at home.
The thing that has changed is that now I look on those heavily- influenced- by- the- 'net years and my regret is not that I let my children play with felted fairies. My regret is that while they were happily engaged, I entertained countless conversations with women on the internet. And I let their opinions, their judgments, and their understanding of the faith color mine. Over time, the real me was rubbed away and what was left was a facsimile that was further from the image God I was created to be than I ever thought possible.
I regret that I made school decisions, house decisions, even clothing decisions in a way that was so counter to the way we made childbearing decisions. And I definitely regret the time I spent "consulting" about such things. I have always taken the gift of time very seriously. I regret that I wasted time online. I regret that I allowed online conversations to rob my family of the wife and mother God intended for them. Those were the years the locusts ate.
"I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter" (Matthew 12:36)
My experience with social networking isn't a unique one. It isn't universal either. It is what it is and I am where I am. The internet can be a tool for the good. It can be a font of community, prayer, and genuine support. And it can be a tool for evil mischief. Some people can engage in online banter or vigorously debate an online correspondent and click the computer shut and walk away, no better or worse for the exchange. Not me. I carry it around in my head. I laugh about it. I cry about it. I mentally write responses to it in the shower. I feel it. I live it. Some wounds run deep. And for those of us who feel those wounds, who struggle still to let Him heal those wounds, internet conversations can be a place of peril.
Let's bring the cancer thought to its completion. When I first got online, I joined a Hodgkin's survivor's group. At least I thought it was a Hodgkin's survivor's group. It was an email list that actually included survivors and people in active treatment. The week I joined, someone died. The first three days, there were graphic reports from his wife, delineating in detail his suffering. There were all kinds of posts second guessing his treatment, and everyone else's treatment. There were conflicting reports of longterm survival and early demise. There was utter confusion and despair in almost every thread. It was the blind leading the blind and they were all going some place very bad. On the fourth day, the man died. I unsubscribed. I was about 7 years out of treatment at that point and I'd avoided groups all that time. I knew myself well enough to know that I would take everyone else's experiences and make them mine. I'd feel their pain, live in fear of their struggles, share their confusion, and empathize so thoroughly that I'd never recover. That's who I am. That's how I'm made.
And I knew myself better than to do that. I don't believe that positive thinking can cure cancer, but I do believe that negative thinking can seriously compromise recovery. Recovery is too precious to me to risk. Ever. I am sure that there are very nice, medically sound cancer support groups out there online somewhere. Do I want to risk stumbling around in the negative ones until I find a positive one? Not really.
About a year later, pregnant with Stephen and feeling so happy and full of life, I found a Hodgkin's message board. I had one purpose: I'd get on and share the joy. I would shout to the world the good news of recovery. It just so happened that on that very day a dad was doing research for his daughter. He asked if anyone had every gotten pregnant following treatment, since she'd been told it would be nearly impossible. Oh yes! Someone had! I was expecting my fourth post-cancer baby. Wasn't that grand and glorious news? To my dismay, people started weighing in on how what I was saying couldn't be true. How "irresponsible" it was to raise her hopes. How I really shouldn't gloat on a board where so many people were suffering. And my joy? It was awash in tears of rejection and fear. Never again with that kind of board. Ever.
Over time, I settled into a Catholic homeschooling mama niche online. Mostly, the conversations were very enlightening and very friendly.It takes hours and hours to form relationships online and I invested those hours. All was well with the conversations there. Except when they snuffed out the joy. I didn't recognize it at first. Hah! I didn't recognize it at second or third or... Instead of clicking away, I tried to see the perspective of these "other people out there who must know so much more about God than me." I tried to believe their perspective. I formed my opinions and changed my mind according to the ideas and "authority" of people online, rather than using the discernment process of ageless wisdom. I listened and empathized and believed and felt until I wasn't even me anymore. I knew more and more about religion and I spent less and less time with Jesus. And the joy? Gone.
Anyway, I was slow to see the same dynamic as on the cancer board. Now I do. Now I know where the places are that I must avoid in order to guard and preserve my own interior peace. And there are lots of them. Apparently, I am a bit hypersensitive in this regard.This experience is mine alone. Why then, do I share it?
Because confession is good for the soul.
Because in writing I can begin to make sense of it for myself. Because the mere fact that I am able to write again means that there is healing. I stopped blogging because the voices of the people who would rob my joy had grown so loud that I couldn't hear myself think.
I shut it all down. And there was quiet.
The good news is that I found God there. I have quieted the voices of other people that have pelted my thoughts for so long and when I stopped hearing them, I heard Him.
Only God can love me back to real. Well, God and the sweet family with whom He has abundantly blessed me.
Of what use was it to be loved and lose one's beauty and become
Real if it all ended like this? And a tear, a real tear, trickled down
his little shabby velvet nose and fell to the ground. ~The Velveteen Rabbit
Third in a series.
As I pulled away from the internet and the telephone, I became more aware of my home and the people in it. My goodness! They had all acquired some very bad habits, too. My little ones were bigger now. Technology had infiltrated every corner of our home. My television can do things that astound me. My daughter can text so fast and so frequently it makes my head spin. And we are all iPod Touch junkies, just ask Karoline. But this is not where I tell tales on them. Just know I'm working on sharing with them some of my own insights. I've also bookmarked just about every article or post that has come down the pike lately about this topic. Ironically, I've read very few of them, but I intend to read them all, when I have time to talk them over with Mike.
I have set some new limits on screens and such, but more than that, I've given them something else to do, to think about. I've gone room by room through my house with one thing in mind: I'm home.
Sarah Anne plays this sweet game where she takes a much-too-large-for-her tote bag and slings it over her shoulder. She walks across the kitchen, staggering a bit beneath the wight of the empty bag, and then she turns around and comes back to me. She smiles brightly and says, "I'm home!"
This is her reality.
This is my reality. This is what is real in my home during this season. It is a place of coming and going. For this baby, home is someplace where people leave and then they come back. Try as I might to stop the march of time and pretend that they are all little and running in concentric circles around me, "I'm home!" is what is real. It's so obvious that the smallest among us recognizes it.
It is time for me to recognize it. It is time for me to look again at the rhythm of our lives and establish our home as a place of welcome and soft landing. So, room-by-room, I went, looking with a critical eye and seeking to make this place a haven for all of us. My goal was especially to be certain that God was palpable in every nook and cranny. That doesn't mean that I stuck a statue and hung an icon in every corner. But it does mean that I ensured that my children will never doubt that home is a haven and that the transcendence of God himself will envelope them here.
Perhaps I will give you a tour some day.
Ironically though, "I'm home" often means I'm not home. Only two of my children are old enough to drive, so if the rest of them are coming and going, it means I'm driving. I hate to drive. My daughter takes ballet 9.72 miles from my home. It can take me an hour and 15 minutes to make that trip in traffic. Imagine what it's like during rush hour with a toddler and a three-year-old for company. Now multiply that out over five children who need rides four days a week. Throw in weekend soccer games, recently as far as 65 miles away...
Therein lies a huge source of stress. I am a homebody who is never home. I am a terrible driver who is always driving. I am a mom who believes in providing opportunity to her children who often wonders if they are over-scheduled. And my husband travels. A lot. It is a life of contradiction. A life of constant re-evaluation.
For now, it is summer and with the heat and humidity comes also a change of pace, a chance to catch my breath. We are seriously considering all our options for the fall. Exhaustion happens and exhaustion is often what I mistake for depression.
Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?" "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept.--The Velveteen Rabbit
The second in a series
After the first three weeks of exercise and prayer, I recognized that more habit-changing had to happen. I was no where close to the peaceful healing I so wanted and my family needed. I decided to stop blogging for the month of June. More about that in the next post.
In addition to the blogging break, I undertook the Saint Diet. I knew I wanted to fast--I wanted my body and my soul to be oriented towards dependence upon God. I considered other fasts, but this fast made the most sense to me. I wanted to overcome my tendency towards gluttony and to be reliant upon the tangible help of the Spirit to do it, but I wanted to work with my body chemistry, not against it. My body reacts very badly to sugar and to wheat. A fast that eliminates other foods, but allows wheat and sugar would have conspired to make overcoming my gluttony more difficult and it would have been detrimental to my physical well-being. Furthermore, I have learned that essential fatty acids are, well, essential, for me, particularly when battling depression. I paid careful attention to increasing fatty fish, beneficial oils, and EFA supplementation. The Saint Diet offers ample opportunity to whisper imploringly to the Spirit, "Please God, help me to desire you more than I desire this food." Jen does such a good job connecting the physical and spiritual dimensions in her posts, that little more needs to be said here.
After the first week or so of the "s" focus, I read this piece. And that finally resonated in a way no other look at fasting --and everyday eating--ever had. Again, I had to tweak a bit to reflect a healthy diet for me. But I have pretty much adopted this monkish meal plan.
My family does not eat this way. One of the other things I did during my detox time was to make well-considered meal plans and detailed grocery lists. I've always done this, but this time I did it with a distinct sense of detachment. I still believe in the beautiful expression of love and community that comes around the dining room table. And I still believe in healthy, well-prepared food. My personal perspective has changed a bit though, in a way I can't articulate very well.
This was about the time I added an intentional reduction in telephone use. I have long had a tradition of little or no telephone use when my husband is home. In searching my heart to see how things had gotten so out of control, I could see that my telephone and computer use had gone up exponentially when he stopped working from home and took a job downtown, right around the time Karoline was born. So, in order to train myself to be sensitive to computer and telephone use once again, I endeavored to refrain from both when my children were present and awake. It's crazy how much peace that practice brings! Truth be told, I have never been idle while on the phone. I use a headset and fold laundry, clean the kitchen, cook meals, but there's always a bit of chaos around me as I do.
And then there is another thing: my children are older now. Adult conversations don't sail over their heads. They hear them. They understand them as well as one can understand when he only hears one side. They shouldn't. It's not their world. Nor should I carry on a conversation with someone else while they are in the room. It's just rude. There are rare exceptions, of course. But they are exceptions. It's amazing how much this has affected the quality of the conversations I do have. When I wait until I can fully focus on talking instead of being distracted and interrupted by my children and couching my speech so as to protect them and the listener, I have better conversations. I can share more deeply. I can reach my "real." What's more important is that I can reach the "real" of the person to whom I am talking.
So, the second three weeks was more of the same exercise and prayer, with the addition of sharply curtailed internet use, very little telephone, and the Saint Diet. About a week into this phase, it was Memorial Day weekend. Three soccer tournaments, three different towns, all far away. I drove and drove and drove. I schlepped my poor baby around in 90 degree heat and DC humidity. I got to know every corner of rural Maryland.I didn't even think about the computer or the phone. When I got home at night, the only things I read were soccer-related emails. And I felt utterly detached from the bloggy world. That was the good part.
The bad part was that I was so unbelievably, incredibly, overwhelmingly tired that I seriously wondered when I would fall over. Around Thursday of the week following Memorial Day, I crashed again. And I despaired. All this work! All these habits! Hours and hours of prayer. And all that driving time? I had spent that listening to spiritually uplifting and challenging podcasts. Still, here I was a sobbing, exhausted heap.
What in the world was the problem with my program?
For a long time, he lived in the
toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much
about him. He was naturally shy, and being only made of velveteen, some
of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him. The mechanical toys were
very superior, and looked down upon everyone else; they were full of
modern ideas and pretended they were real. ~The Velveteen Rabbit
First in a series.
In early spring, I wrote about my struggle with depression. It was an easy post to write and a not-so-easy post to publish. I wasn't at all sure that it was a good idea to put it all "out there." But I hold myself to a very strict honesty policy on these pages. I try not to sugar-coat things or to only put forward the polished, pretty, happy times. So I wrote it and then I pushed "publish."
And then, frankly, I hit a wall. I reached a point of spiritual, physical, and emotional exhaustion that dictated a drastic change of lifestyle. Somehow, over the last decade, I had lost the real me. The ways I was spending my time didn't authentically reflect what I thought was important. The voices I was listening to and the things I was thinking about weren't voices I genuinely valued. Everything was off-kilter--from what I ate to what I read.
I recognized that in the last few years of over-forty childbearing and mostly sedentary living, I have grow rather plump. We go to Mass on Sundays in a school gym two blocks from my house. During Lent, I noticed that I got winded just walking there. I sit in the bleachers. When we kneel, there is no pew in front of me to hold and the bleachers are unrelenting. Sadly, I don't have the core muscles to kneel upright without occasionally resting back on my heels, something that is impossible when kneeling on a bleacher seat. I find that rather horrible. I recognized that I was not eating as I should, was not sleeping as I should, and was not praying as I should. I was not spending enough time out of doors, was not spending enough time just relaxing in the presence of my children, was not spending enough time with my husband. I had developed some very bad habits.
It was time to lay down some new rails.
The first thing I did was to get up earlier. I got up early enough to put 16-20 miles on a stationary bike every day. That's 45 minutes (or more) of hills, 6 days a week, for the last eight weeks, my friends. I didn't start small. I went all-in. I wish I could tell you--some eight weeks later--that this discipline and sweat has resulted in an astonishing weight loss worthy of the cover of a woman's magazine. I wish I could tell you that the fat just melted away. It has not. Just a pound a week (give or take five pounds, depending on the day). Nothing spectacular. The reality is that I am a 44-year-old mother of nine who has had two babies in my forties. I am still nursing. I might never weigh what I did in my twenties. But I intend to be as healthy as I possibly can. I love these kids. I want to be here for them in every sense of the world. I want to be a genuine blessing to them in the next phase of our lives. A plump, lethargic, slow-moving blob will not do.
I also gave myself enough time to pray the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer first thing every morning. Words cannot convey the healing effect of this practice and I won't even attempt it. The Divine Office and exercise and then-- because I was too sweaty to do anything else-- I was straight into the shower. This had the effect of creating a clean, dressed, contacts-in Mom, ready to face the day.
If I had accomplished all of this and still the house was still quiet, as it most often was, I lit a candle by the icons in the living room and sat with a cup of tea and my Bible. Maybe it was just minute or two or maybe it was many, many more. Whatever I received in that gift of time was spiritual treasure. Morning by morning, candle lit in my living room, the Holy Spirit has been very good to me.
I need time alone. In the early morning, when my eyes were literally begging to stay closed and fighting mightily against my best efforts to open them, I was compelled from downy covers and the enticing companionship of both husband and cherub by the very thought that if I got up I could have hours--maybe two or three--in my home with no one else. I so need that time alone. This indulgence in time alone has required a ridiculously early waking hour and so fatigue still lurks, but I'm working on that angle.
Time alone in prayer became genuinely quiet time. Now, I pray the Hours, but then I just sit and listen. I try to empty myself of anything and everything and just let God pour his mercy into me.
Morning time had previously been blogging time and I thought that was "me" time. Time to write and to read on the internet. In reality, it was quiet, but it was incredibly noisy. Introverts need time of genuine quiet. Heck, I think we all need time of genuine quiet. I sacrificed my internet time, my time to hear everyone else's ideas and to contribute to the conversation, for time of genuine quiet. It was an experiment of sorts. If I would just shut up and be still, would God reveal to me the real me?
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, O my God! To hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother. Amen.
...that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love, to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures or wisdom and knowledge. ~Col 2:2
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