Posted in quotes

merry christmas!

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“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.

He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

– Luke 1:46-55

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When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.

And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

– Luke 2:15-19

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He [Simeon] came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

– Luke 2:27-35

Posted in sqt

seven thoughts on motherhood

Today I’m linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum for the weekly Seven Quick Takes – head over to read the rest of the posts! And if you have time, catch up on Kelly’s May blog series highlighting different titles of Mary from around the world; it is undeniably worthwhile, simultaneously fascinating, inspiring, and convicting.

  1. I first learned what it was to be a mother from watching my own mother. There’s a theological term kenosis which describes how Jesus emptied Himself out in accordance with His Father’s will out of love for us – and I think the commitment, self-giving, and love my mother shows for her children is a human reflection of that quality. If one of her children is sick, she will offer to help even if she hardly has five minutes available in the day. If one of her children suffers from physical illness or emotional pain, she suffers too, and wakes in the night to pray on their behalf. If one of her children makes a decision that confuses, hurts, or disappoints her, she responds with a genuine desire to understand, constant forgiveness and unconditional love.
  2. I also learned from my mother that mothering is not limited to one’s own children. The posture of provision, nurturance, patience, and love can be extended to almost anyone – and she lives and has lived it in so many ways: with her struggling students as a professor, with other homeschooling families as a mentor and veteran, with kids at church, with her brother and nephews, with anyone who has ever entered the doors of her home, and more.
  3. Motherhood is one of the hardest and best things in my life. Perhaps more than any other experience, it has given me a desire to truly strive for holiness and sainthood, while never failing to expose the weaknesses and sins that make me dependent on the grace of God for that holiness.
  4. In addition to my mother and my own experience of being a mother, the person who has taught me the most about motherhood is (unsurprisingly) Mary herself, Mother of God, Mother of the Church. Ever since Limerick was born I found myself being drawn to her – finding peace in prayers inspired by her, finding comfort in sharing my struggles with her, asking her to lead me closer to her Son. And in every situation where I have turned to her – in labor with Aubade, in the depths of my postpartum depression, in the daily turns of life with young children – she has responded by opening and softening my heart to God, and by increasing my desire for and faith in Him. For Mary, motherhood is about bringing her lost and hurting children to their Savior and Healer through a relationship of love, compassion, hope, and connection.
  5. A mother will never desert you, never give up on you, never stop loving you, and never stop praying for you. She will probably never stop teasing and/or embarrassing you either, of course! But this persistence and constancy is but an echo of God’s maternal love, according to Isaiah 49:15: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, yet I will not forget you!”
  6. If mothers are awesome, grandmothers may be even more so. I have to mention my own mother again here 🙂 because if it weren’t for her wisdom and support as the grandmother of my children, my journey through motherhood would be much more difficult. As it is, my children reap the full benefits of her experience and have a huge amount of extra love poured into them. We watched a documentary this week in which an elephant baby became stuck in deep mud, and her panicked first-time mom was just making things worse attempting to dig her out. Things were looking bad when the elephant grandma noticed the situation, pushed the mom out of the way, and helped the baby out. It just seemed so emblematic of every great grandmotherly relationship! Grandmothers are crucial to passing relational knowledge and experiential wisdom down through the generations.
  7. Here’s an amazing quote – succinct and powerful – from St. Edith Stein to wrap up. “To be a mother is to nourish and protect true humanity and bring it to development.” (The Significance of Women’s Value in National Life). There you go. That is what we do, fellow moms – that is why we pour ourselves out in all the little and big things of each day with these children we’ve been given, that we might nourish, protect, and bring to development the intrinsic humanity within each of them.

Don’t forget to head over to This Ain’t The Lyceum for the rest of the linkup!

Posted in musings

learning to know the saints (slowly and rather awkwardly)

Just a month or so ago I noticed that while I believe in the community of saints (that is, I believe that the church is the body of Christ, so the part of the body here on earth – us – is still one with the part of the body in heaven – the saints – and we are thus able to have some type of connection or relationship with them), I didn’t really know much about the any of the saints, and I didn’t have a particular relationship with or devotion to any of them except the Virgin Mary. It felt too contrived to try to pick a saint on my own, so I just registered my thought and moved on. I figured it would be best to let such relationships develop naturally, as my relationship with Mary has.

Well, earlier this year, as you know, kind of for the fun of it and to satisfy my curiosity, I used the random saint generator to find a saint of the year for myself, and was given St. Jude, the patron of hopeless and desperate causes. Interesting, I thought. I didn’t feel a connection, so I again registered it and moved on. I read the book of Jude but that was it.

Then I was hit by postpartum depression and anxiety at full force. It was obviously and drastically worse than the transitional sadness and fatigue I’d had the first couple weeks after Aubade was born; it was a massive effort just to get out of bed, and I felt like all my time and emotional energy was expended just in rolling away the negative thoughts that kept intruding into my mind. I would hear a sound (like a car in the bank parking lot behind our house, or a door opening downstairs) and feel stabbing anxiety pain course through my body in the half second before realizing what it was. And I was starting to build escapist fantasies in the back of my mind, because I just wanted to be at peace and peace felt so unattainable.

Hmm… a situation in which I was left feeling completely hopeless and desperate for help… and a patron saint whose speciality is in interceding for hopeless and desperate causes… maybe, I thought, that random saint generator wasn’t completely random. So, feeling very awkward and not really knowing what to say, I asked St. Jude if he would pray for me in this situation. After all, what is the worst that could happen? Nothing? And at best, he would hear my request and pray for my healing and peace; a saint living in eternity, championing the hopeless and lost, probably is better about consistently praying for his supplicants than the average busy and distracted friend (of course, I might just be extrapolating from my own inconsistent prayer life).

There is of course no way to verify that St. Jude did anything, but I know that I was able to fight my social anxiety enough to go to the new moms’ community after church two weeks ago, and that the only other woman there that week was an experienced mom who encouraged me spiritually and suggested I call my doctor; I know that instead of spinning into a hole of endless research and indecision I actually did call my doctor; I know that my husband and I started praying together every night, which we’ve never done before and which has really comforted and supported me; and I know that the progesterone shots my doctor prescribed, while not completely knocking out the PPD/PPA, have made me much more functional and given back a lot of the joy in my life. In other words, things don’t feel so hopeless anymore. If nothing else, I feel like someone outside of God and my family (namely, St. Jude) cares about me and how I’m doing emotionally and as a mother – that they are standing beside me before God, praying on my behalf.

I still think I’d like to let my relationships with the saints develop slowly and naturally, at their own pace, but I’m very glad that I’ve made the acquaintance of one of them this year so far, and I think I owe him some thanks.

Posted in musings

seven things I learned from my third childbirth

Because I thought I knew how it would go after having two babies, and discovered I still had a lot to learn!

  1. Every delivery is different – and by that I mean different enough to leave even a third-time mom completely confused and unable to read the situation! Baby #1 I had no false labor but dilated to 3.5cm, was induced two weeks late, and had a c-section for failure to progress. Baby #2 I had some preliminary Braxton-Hicks but nothing painful or regular until the real thing, a slow and steady labor. With this one, I had several weeks of regular uncomfortable contractions with no dilation, then an incredibly rapid and intense labor that took me from 1cm to delivery in less than 24 hours. My mom and MIL both describe their deliveries as all being cut from rather similar cloth but that has not been my experience at all!
  2. Oxytocin is pretty powerful. I’ve not been very excited about this pregnancy, or about meeting the baby, and I hadn’t felt any sort of emotional attachment with her – but lying their in labor, I suddenly felt this wave of anticipatory love, thinking ahead to the moment when she would finally be snuggled up against my chest. So I’m grateful to the hormones for that one!
  3. Transition is miserable without drugs! I was comfortably attached to an epidural for my first VBAC by the time I hit transition, but this time (because of the labor’s fast progression) I got to experience a bit of it before the anesthesiologist could put the line in. Normal contractions are bad… transition contractions are worse. I would describe them by saying that the pain suddenly was all the way around all at once instead of focused in either my back or abdomen, and it was significantly harder to breathe through them because of that lack of focus. I am in awe of you ladies who can make it through labor drug-free.
  4. Epidurals can come out during labor. Not the most pleasant thing to happen at 9.5cm, but…
  5. Pain that isn’t relieved by your epidural can signify uterine rupture. Before the doctors realized that the epidural line had come out, they were starting to become seriously concerned about that possibility. So I suppose the bad news of hearing there was a technical difficulty was really good news compared to the alternative! I was lying there thinking, well, the worst that can happen is that I’ll have a hysterectomy and this will be our last baby. The epidural makes me rather blasé about disasters and fatalistic about outcomes, I think… if something had gone drastically wrong, I wouldn’t have felt the emotions for a day or so.
  6. That crazy feeling of a baby slipping out of your body is simply amazing. Not quite as good as the feeling of the sticky warm baby herself pressed up against you a moment later, but pretty close 🙂 I don’t think either of those feelings could ever lessen in their primal beauty and profundity.
  7. Finally, labor is more than just a physical process; it involves the whole emotional and spiritual aspect of a person as well. The contraction pain drove me to prayer, and prayer – while not necessarily relieving the pain – brought comfort and hope in the midst of it. It’s very much like squeezing my husband’s hand through a contraction: the knowledge of his presence in response to my need gives me strength to persevere through the pain. Labor prayers are not particularly eloquent but they are fully and authentically meant! There isn’t much room left for pretense or appearance at that point, after all. And one of the strongest feelings I can recall from my labor was that of being held, enveloped, by the love and strength of Mary and Jesus. She was another mother, my spiritual mother, holding me through the pain, giving me her comfort; He was love itself surrounding me, the One without whom nothing can be made or created, with me bringing this new life into the world. And when we thought that we’d have to have a c-section anyways, because Aubade wasn’t aligned right to make it past that last half centimeter, it was prayer that gave me peace regardless of the outcome and prayer that, I think, made the difference in straightening her out and letting the dilation finish during the 45 minutes of prep time for the section (after 5 hours of unsuccessful contractions).

What did you all discover after the birth of a subsequent child, that you didn’t know or fully realize after the first (or second, or third…)? It makes sense that every delivery would bring some new revelation, since the experience is bound to be different in some way or another 🙂 I just didn’t realize how different it could be the third time around!

Posted in musings

on Mary

“And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
‘And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
‘For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden.
‘For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.'”
– Luke 1:46-48

“And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother,
‘…a sword will pierce through your own soul also…'”
– Luke 2:34-35

It’s an interesting juxtaposition. In the first passage, Mary has just arrived at her cousin Elizabeth’s house, and Elizabeth has just proclaimed upon seeing her (and upon feeling the unborn John leap for joy) that Mary is blessed among women. In response, Mary enters into what is known as the Magnificat, praising God for His work in her life and in the world through the coming Messiah. She has been chosen for an incredible and unique role in God’s plan of redemption, and is realizing how blessed she is.

In the second, Mary and Joseph have taken Jesus to the temple for his ritual purification/dedication, and Simeon in the Spirit greets them with rejoicing and prophesying. And in the midst of his praise for the Messiah who is finally come, in the midst of his joy, he comments to Mary that her position as Jesus’s mother will bring her great pain and sorrow.

The two – the blessing and the sorrow – are far from mutually exclusive. They are intertwined, twin fruits of one tree. In entering into God’s redemptive plan, in taking up the role He has offered her, Mary receives both the blessings and the sorrows that come with it. She is given power, responsibility, purpose and calling, and the joy of knowing God so deeply and intimately as Jesus’s mother; she has to endure the scorn of those who think she has become pregnant illegitimately, and the greater pain of watching her people reject their Messiah and murder her son. Because the world is broken, because we are scarred and stained by sin, even the highest calling and the most blessed person will experience pain and suffering; because God is entering into that brokenness to redeem and renew all things, even the deepest pain and the greatest sorrow can be woven into the beauty and joy of His plan.

Posted in art, musings, quotes

{fine art friday} -Japanese Madonna and Child

One of the beautiful things about the Church is her universality – her appeal to people from all cultures and eras, and her significance and importance to them. The stories of the Church – the stories of Christ – and above all the stories central to the Gospel – fulfill the echos whispered in different ways in human traditions and legends, and fulfill the longing questions of our hearts. So while each culture is able to remain fully Christian and hold true to the meaning and teaching of each story, they are also able to take those stories and imagine them in culturally significant ways. Most notably, we appropriate the people and events of those stories to our own cultures by making them “look like us.” We envision Jesus and His family and disciples to fit our own ethnic background, and we layer the Church’s stories into the rhythms of our own cultural sense of time and emotion.

So in the parts of the Church heavily influenced by Europe, we see Jesus depicted as a white man, and we see the fasts and feasts of the Church, the focal stories, aligned with the seasonal changes of the Northern Hemisphere. The birth of Jesus, for example – the beginning of a new hope for humanity – comes at the Winter Solstice, as if by His birth He reverses the plunge into darkness and heralds the dawning light. Many of even our most traditional and spiritual Christmas songs focus on this aspect of the birth, something that makes singing them in the paradisaical Arizona winter somewhat odd… Likewise, His resurrection is celebrated in the height of spring, surrounded by all the natural reminders of new life.

Likewise, in other areas of the world, one can see different cultural influences on the artwork and life of the Church. This set of four paintings of the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus, by an unknown artist from Japan, illustrates that in several ways.

Clockwise from top left: Madonna of the Cherry Blossoms, Madonna of the Bamboo Grove, Madonna of the Moon, Madonna of the Snow

Obviously a significant difference between these and Western Madonnas in that both Mary and Jesus are Japanese. It makes the motherhood of Mary, the humanity of the Word made flesh, more immediately and emotionally palpable to the people painting and praying with theses images; it allows them to feel close and connected to these people who, after all, are not just historical people but living members of the body of Christ.

Something else I learned about these paintings, and Japanese art in general, that I also found very fascinating was that the four seasons of the year are central to Japanese art and poetry. Back in the tenth and eleventh centuries, nature was seen as a powerful, frightening, and unpredictable force, and aristocratic poets began to simultaneously tame it and use it as a lens to understand human emotion (which was probably also a powerful and unpredictable force that they wished to tame and control more completely!). As one author put it, Japanese culture focused mainly not on nature itself, but on a “secondary nature” –

…not a direct apprehension or participation in the natural world but a culturally constructed view of the non-human realm as representative of inner feelings experienced through profound associations made with outer phenomena connected with the rotation of the seasons and cycles of the year that are meaningful for their symbolic and aesthetically oriented value. – Steven Heine, in a review of Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Art by Haruo Shirane

By placing Mary and Jesus within each of those four seasons, the artist not only signifies their presence with us at all times of the year, he or she also meditates on the presence of Jesus, the importance of the incarnation, the loving motherhood of Mary, through all the various emotions we undergo as humans. He is with us in the springtime when the cherry blossoms give us hope for renewal and revival; He is with us in the autumn when we watch the lonely moon in our own melancholy and withdrawal. The cultural patterns of the year are drawn up into the eternal promises of Christ; they are not obliterated by His presence, but glorified.