Posted in musings

ash wednesday

I don’t really feel qualified to write about the mystery of Lent, its call to holiness and love through suffering and confession. I’m not particularly good at any of those things, to be honest.

But Lent is not just for the saints, an exalted or esoteric road that only the most advanced in the faith can travel. The pursuit of God – the long journey of learning to love – the turning away from sin to embrace the right – those things are for all of us. And Lent is a reminder to be intentional about them, and an opportunity to take tangible steps in their direction, no matter how small.

We made prayer chains yesterday as a physical reminder to pray and a way to mark the season of Lent. Rondel especially has so many questions and a heart open to learning about God; hopefully this will help him learn to come to God and know Him in that personal way.

We pray because Lent calls us to come to God with our weary hearts and distracted minds. We fast because Lent calls us to give up the earthly things we substitute for the consolation of God. We give because Lent calls us to emulate the One who gave his own life for us. Lent calls each of us this way, wherever we are, no matter how small or trivial our steps toward God might seem to someone else (it’s not about comparing with others anyway).

broccoli

So… does anyone else find themselves murmuring things like, “The broccoli is good. The broccoli is life-affirming” as they eat dinner at the end of a long day?

In my defense, it was exceptionally tasty broccoli 😛

Posted in musings

thoughts on rest while dealing with a cold

I’ve been knocked out with a cold since Saturday morning but thanks to President’s Day this was my first day alone with the kids while sick. And… I spent the entire afternoon fighting off a meltdown and trying to help Rondel do the same as he’s also getting sick. Getting to go to work tonight was such a relief – a chance to escape the emotionally charged atmosphere in the house (probably only emotionally charged due to my current mood associations) as well as the constant sensory input coming from three little kids. I was alone, with tasks demanding very little from my overwhelmed socioemotional skill set and utilizing instead the more intellectual and scientific parts of my brain.

It made me realize how much I rely on that balance to give me renewed energy for the daily work of parenting, and how valuable rest – both physical and mental – is for coping with life in a turbulent world. (Work is very definitely restful for me, at least in this season of life). It also made me very thankful that I have this built-in source of margin! It helps me regulate, process, and relax – and in so doing it allows me to care for my family in a more calm and and emotionally available way. And at times like these, when my innate emotional margin is completely used up dealing with sickness, it is particularly helpful.

What are some ways that you expand your margins and give yourself rest, thinking of rest not simply as doing nothing but as creating mental balance or emotional space?

Posted in miscellaneous

tea!

I purchased some loose leaf tea (from Adagio Tea), mostly because I was curious about how it would compare to the bagged tea I’ve been becoming addicted to, and realized very quickly that the quality is much superior 🙂 The tea is much smoother, with more layers of flavor, and the leaves can be re-steeped more times before becoming weak (which is nice, because I like cream in my tea and you need strong tea to support the cream!).

I also realized that I’m fairly particular about my tea.

It’s not just that I prefer black tea to green, white, red, or matte; it’s not just that I prefer black tea over most flavored tea; no, I prefer assam black teas (and blends) over ceylon black teas. I had already suspected this, as I like Irish breakfast tea much more than English breakfast tea, but this order confirmed it. You see, along with the order they sent a week’s subscription to their communiTEA program – a daily cup of tea with a new flavor or blend – and the only one I really enjoyed and would want to drink again was an assam black tea blended with peach, marigold, and caramel. The oolong and raspberry teas I couldn’t even finish.

What’s kind of neat (since my favorite tea is Irish breakfast) is that the way I like to drink tea (strong, with plenty of milk or a dash of cream) is apparently the Irish way to drink tea! You know, if you can believe what you read on the Internet 🙂

Are any of you tea drinkers? What are your favorite blends, or your tea idiosyncrasies? I’d love to hear from fellow tea-lovers online since I don’t know many in real life!

Posted in musings, quotes

star of the sea

“Eärendil saw now no hope left in the lands of Middle-Earth, and he turned again in despair and came not home, but sought back once more to Valinor with Ellington at his side. He stood now most often at the prow of Vingilot, and the Silmaril was bound upon his brow, and ever its light grew greater as they drew into the West. And the wise have said that it was by reason of that holy jewel that they came in time to waters that no vessels save those of the Teleri had known; and they came to the Enchanted Isles and escaped their enchantment; and they came to the Shadowy Seas and passed their shadows, and they looked upon Tol Eressëa the Lonely aisle, but tarried not; and at last they cast anchor in the Bay of Eldamar, and the Teleri saw the coming of that ship and they were amazed, gazing from afar upon the light of the Silmaril, and it was very great. Then Eärendil, first of living Men, landed on the immortal shores.” – J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

Eärendil’s guiding light, the Silmaril, eventually becomes a star giving hope to the people of Middle Earth: it is that star that Sam Gamgee looks up to see from the crooked paths of Mordor, whose light helps him to remember that there are good and beautiful things higher and deeper and longer-lasting than the present evil and suffering. It is the light of that star that resides in Galdriel’s phial – a light, she says, for when all other lights go out, a light that gives Frodo the courage and strength to oppose the giant spider Shelob in her lair.

But it is this story, where it guides Eärendil through all the obstacles in his way to the “immortal shores” of his forbidden destination (forbidden because of the evil of Men and Elves), that comes to mind whenever I hear the phrase “star of the sea” (which I have been a lot, as it appears in the Marian antiphon for the season). Like the Silmaril, Mary can be a light leading us always to her Son, bringing us to His life, reminding us of His presence to give us hope. She is not the giver of life, nor the way through the obstacles, but she guides us to the One who is.

Posted in musings, sqt

{sqt} – spring will come again

As the seasons fall toward winter, my emotional center falls with them. Even in the midst of good, happy things; even when I feel genuine gratitude for the blessings in my life and joy for the beauty around me; even when I have hope for the future and time spent in prayer – even in all those things, guilt, insecurity, anxiety, and sadness well up within me in this season.

a single stalk of grass fluffy with seeds about to fly

I’m not sure why this is – it could be the drop in temperature, the slowly shortening days, or the impending holidays (which for me really start on Halloween – we don’t have a week without something extra from then through Epiphany, since four of our birthdays are added to the mix).

But at least this year I am aware. I remember the way the wave of depression carried me away last fall, how it caught me unawares and vulnerable, how much I struggled through the next few months as a result, and was unable to lift my head up to see the beauty and feel the wonder and share the joy of Christmas. (I’m really much more of an Advent person – the waiting, the longing, the expectation, the melancholy and sorrow at the brokenness of the world tempered only by the hope of the coming Savior – but I think Heaven is going to be more like Christmas, the fulfillment of hope, the fullness of joy, and I ought to be preparing my heart for that eternal home – )

Looking towards the sky through the changing leaves of the maples

And now – I am being intentional. I am taking time to pray (more than before, but still far short of what I ought, what I need.) I am making time to exercise. I am pacing my efforts with the kids, letting good be good enough instead of demanding perfection from any of us. I am growing green in my garden, the rich riot of life a balm for my soul (yes, our seasons are all different here). I am resting in the beauty and freedom of nature, bringing the kids where they can explore away from the structure and restraints of the city, where we can learn to love the earth we live on, where we can find the secret treasures of the untamed spaces.

Limerick walking along a mountainside trail with a walking stick, like a hobbit journeying through the Shire

These things do not make the struggle go away. They do not lessen the pull of the undertow. But they help give me the strength that I need to keep my head above the water. It is an interesting strength, that I find in these times, through this intentionality, not a strength of fire and sparks, of passion and heat, of bold courage and drawn swords. It is more the strength of the tree, that bends in the face of the wind so that it will not break, that learns to grow sideways to endure the forces against it.

Wild grass, golden in the autumn sunlight, seed heads full and ripe over green stalks

It is even, I hope, more the strength of the grass, that sends down its roots deep into the soil, and its runners far-spread around it, and its seeds to every corner on the wings of the wind: by every means ensuring that when the fire blackens the land it will rise again from the ashes, that when the snow cuts off the sun it can wait for spring to come again.

I’m joining the SQT linkup today even though I don’t actually have seven things, but hey, Kelly is bending the rules too and it’s her blog party so I think it’s ok 🙂 Head over to This Ain’t the Lyceum to join in!

Posted in musings

walking by faith: because coping with mental illness is like striving for a virtuous life

When you live with a mental illness, you get a lot of practice at redirecting the pathways of your thoughts. Sometimes it’s as simple as stopping and taking a deep breath when the first hint of an unhelpful emotion or mantra wafts in; other times it takes repeated corrections, minute by minute, guiding your thoughts out of the road they want to travel and into a different pattern.

“He’s angry at me”, my mind says – and I have to force myself to look at the facts of the situation, remember he didn’t sleep well last night, so maybe it makes more sense that he is angry at something else or just tired and not showing positive emotions well.

“I can’t do anything right”, it says again, and I have to list off the things that have gone right in the past hour, no matter how small they are, and put the mistake in perspective: I fed the kids a healthy breakfast, I got a shower, I got everyone to speech therapy on time with activities prepared, and it’s not the end of the world if they only have socks on and their shoes are sitting at home…

“You’ll never be worth anything, they’d all be better off without you”, it repeats, and I have to turn the feelings inside out, repeat what I believe in the core of my being about the innate worth and dignity of the human person, remember the irrational and inexplicable unconditional love of a child, pray for the strength to run my race with endurance as did the saints who suffered and died for their faith, lift up my head like a superhero knocked down but not out once again.

The emotions are harder to deal with, being by nature less specific of a difficulty. Sometimes it seems as if the whole world is covered in a gray mist, blocking out the color and the joy and the reason to try, and all you can do is make your way from one task to the next, drawing on reservoirs of strength you didn’t know you had, waiting for the sun to break through again. Sometimes guilt (or self-loathing, or whatever the word for it is) attacks like a fistful of knives in your brain, and you hold your breath through the mental pain and then, somehow, inhale again and lift your face to the fight once more. Sometimes everything you take in is edged with inexplicable sadness, the inverse of a silver lining, and you embrace the beauty anyway, despite the bittersweet twist in your heart.

And what I’ve been coming to realize, lately, is that this turning away from the easier path into downward mental spirals and unhelpful thought patterns, and this setting of my feet so carefully and unsteadily in new ways of thinking, is really very similar to the process of living a virtuous life. Here is my fear, dissuading me from some act of charity or justice or faithfulness – now I must turn my thoughts aside from that path, from the rationalizing of my cowardice, and take an action I very much do not have the emotional support to make. And in the act, I make it that much easier to choose courageously in the future. There is my anger, snapping out at the people I love, roughening my edges to sharp and jagged lines, giving me hurtful words to hurl – now I must close my mouth, count to ten, pray for peace and gentleness and self-control, try to look through another’s eyes, and eventually even try to speak in kindness and in calm. And in the act – in every time I try, even if I do not entirely succeed – I train my mind and will to not fall so automatically into the pathway of that vice. It’s rather a daunting thought, knowing that I have both sanity and virtue at stake here 😉 – but on the other hand, what practice I will have at it! And with God near at hand with His grace and strength, and the community of saints present to encourage and guide me, I have hope that my practice (in both arenas!) will not be in vain.