Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Thaw

If everything goes smoothly, it looks like I will be able to submit my resignation from work in a little bit over a month from now. This is exciting and terrifying. Finally after all these years, I will be able to do the all things that work has inhibited me from doing. Freedom is within my grasp.

Between the school rezoning and my grandmother's death, this past month has been very stressful. I feel like I have had a constant low grade headache. When the day arrived where it finally looked as if everything had fallen into place, I was a little numb to the news. Now that a few days have passed and it all still looks promising, the reality of the situation is beginning to congeal in my mind. All the things I have forced myself out of my mind and not think about for years is now flooding back into my head. Before I felt a mental block when trying to form long term plans and now that block is thawing quickly. How am I going to cope over the next few months?

I need to make so many lists just to get this swirling circle of ideas out of my mind. The first list I want to tackle is the house, but this task will take weeks or months. It isn't something that will be easily crossed off the master list. I need to decide how to approach this monumental task. Where do I start? The kitchen could take a week by itself. Each room could take days. And then the closets. And all the boxes that need sorted.

At the same time, I expect a good deal of the cooking duties to fall to me fairly immediately. I need to order my new kitchen knives with the money I got for my birthday. I will need to schedule in large chunks of time to learn how to function in the kitchen.

I need to plan the homeschool year. I feel panicky over this task. Is math and the library really enough in the beginning? I will be fending off questions from people who will think we are crazy. Time to develop a defensible stock answer.

I want to start exercising because I am tired of hurting all the time. I want to have a schedule, but I don't think a schedule is realistic while I am trying to resurface.

I feel like I will need help, but I won't be home until after my mother goes back to school so she can't help and my sister's help comes with a side of her three children which is maybe self-defeating. Seven kids running around the house while we clean and organize? Doubtful. Dave needs to be able to run on his own schedule because his work needs to be a top priority once we do not have the safety net of my job so I cannot plan with the expectation of him being home. He might be or he might not. His schedule changes daily and without much warning.

So right now I am feeling very overwhelmed. Happy, but overwhelmed. I still have time to think about this, right? Just one step at a time. Step #1: Start making lists.

Monday, June 29, 2015


My current audiobook is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I was very hesitant to start it because I already know the general story arc, how it ends, and I didn't want to be thoroughly depressed while driving, but I have enjoyed it immensely thus far. I am about halfway finished. It seems to hold the thread of realness in telling the story and doesn't back away from the less savory parts of human nature. My own personality, for better or worse, carries those same notes of struggle between cynicism and hope that permeates the storytelling. 

One of the most interesting aspects of the story is the many digressions into politics, philosophy, managing the peasants, and ways to tend the land. Intermixed into these digressions is talk about the Russian communists. Some are true believers; some withhold judgement; some find their ideas attractive, but note they are impractical in reality; some completely dismiss them. What I find so poignant in these digressions is that the author nor the characters had any idea that those communists and that ideology would murder 100 million of their fellow men before the next century expired.

Friday, June 26, 2015


I am not one to see the hand of God in everything I do which probably says more about me than the actual hand of God. I try not to see signs everywhere. If there is one genre of prayer that bothers me, it is the "Then I prayed and it all worked out" variety. I struggle and fail a lot with no clear understanding whether it is working out or not, but sometimes even I get a series of small reminders that seem a little too coincidental to be written off as random.

Back in the winter, I pulled St. Margaret Mary Alacoque as my patron for the year. She was the promoter of the Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion. In addition to promoting the Sacred Heart, she is also the patron of dying parents which is a little unnerving. I didn't know much about her or the devotion. My exploration of it hasn't been thorough. My time to read printed books is extremely limited. I read a few blogposts and thought about the concept of having a heart of flesh. I did look forward to celebrating the solemnity this year by paying special attention to the Offices of the day, but, as luck would have it, my Magnificat magazine was lost under a couch cushion for that entire week and I missed it all together. I figure I will try again next year. Thus far, the only thing I have really done is keep the idea of the Sacred Heart towards the forefront of my thoughts and notice when I see something related to it. I also added St. Margaret to my own small litany, but I call her St. Margaret of the Sacred Heart because I figure we all know who I am talking about and I don't know how to say Alacoque.

On the day my grandmother died, I sat down at work and opened my Magnificat magazine to the 18th and prayed morning prayer. In the intercessions, there was a prayer offered for the aging. Whenever any of those types of prayers come up, I always add a special intention for my grandmother. On her last morning on earth, I was prompted to offer a special intention for her. I didn't realize it until days later when I opened the magazine again to turn the pages to the appropriate day and remembered that I had in fact prayed specifically for her that morning.

In my work email, I subscribe to a daily update which offers a line or two of scripture and a related thought, usually but not always from a saint, in order to get the day off on the right foot. On the morning of the 18th, the thought for the day was:
The heart of Jesus is an abyss of love to meet our every need. -St. Margaret Mary Alacoque
I immediately thought to myself, "Hey, that's my saint for the year!" and didn't give it much more notice. There was work to do. Later in the day, I got the bad news.

After my grandmother's funeral, we went to her Baptist church for lunch. When I walked into the fellowship hall, my eyes were immediately drawn to a small freestanding cross at the side of the room. As I approached it, I incredulously saw that it had the Sacred Heart on it. There are two things that I can promise you about this cross in this location. First, the people there have no idea what the Sacred Heart is. It is possible that they have heard the words together as a phrase, but the likelihood of them being able to identify the image is quite small. Second, if they did know what it was, it absolutely would not be at that church. But there it was, waiting on me.

I brought several of my (Catholic) family members to it without prompting, and they all immediately identified it as the Sacred Heart so it wasn't just me stretching my imagination. We all had a good giggle over it.

I didn't put any of this together as possibly being connected until I was back at work this week. All of a sudden I realized that on the morning my grandmother died, I was prompted to pray for her and read a seemingly random thought from the patron of dying parents. Then in the most unlikely spot I could have imagined, there was another reminder from this same patron in the form of a stylized cross. And the nearest Catholic church to my grandmother's house? Sacred Heart.

Maybe God is watching out for me after all.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Scene from a Baptist Church

My grandmother died last week at age 91. It was surprising but not shocking. She had an aneurysm in her chest for years (a decade? more?) that she chose not to have treated. She knew that one day it would break and that day was last Thursday.

She was a strong, Southern Baptist lady so I have attended many more Baptist services than your standard-issue cradle Catholic. In fact every time we went to visit Grandma, I had to go to Sunday School with her and then afterwards sit in the long pew with the entire family where we were introduced over and over and over. Since I always went to church with Grandma when visiting, it never really occurred to me to expect Catholic things at her Baptist church. It was just different and that was the way it was. The only thing that really confused me is that I was expected to sit and behave without amusement at Mass and people would always hand me paper and pen to draw with at the Baptist church. "Am I supposed to color? Will I get in trouble for coloring at church? I thought I was supposed to pay attention?"

After my grandmother's funeral, her church hosted a dinner for us. We ate copious amounts of food containing corn in the fellowship hall. The children were getting antsy so I decided to walk them through the old hallways and show them the sanctuary. We walked into the old familiar place and the children started quietly exploring. 

After being brought up to the exciting balcony, they walked through the pews and a child asked, "Do they just stand up and sit down?"

"What do you mean?"

"Do they just stand up and sit down? Where do they kneel?"

"They don't kneel."

"There isn't a kneeler here."

"That's because they don't kneel."

"There isn't room to kneel on the floor."

"I know. They don't kneel."

"If they want to kneel, they have to come out into the aisle."

"They don't kneel in the aisles. They don't kneel at all. Look across. Do you see that spot underneath the cross above the choir area? That is the baptismal font. That is where they baptize people."

"How do they get up there?"

"There are stairs in the back that you can't see."

"How do they dip their fingers in the holy water when they come in?"

"They don't."

Blinking stares of incomprehension.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

In a Jumble

Well, we lost. Dave and I spent the last three weeks eating, drinking, and breathing school zones. After all the conversations, alternate solutions, meetings, presentations, late nights, and drama, the School Board decided to rezone our neighborhood exactly in the way the Central Office had suggested. Our zoned elementary school is now a lower performing school in the town south of us.

It does not look likely that I will be able to resign at work before school starts again. Olivia has said she would rather homeschool than go to a new school and we are not inclined to change her mind. We had planned on homeschooling her this coming year anyway, but we had also planned on me being home. Plans are funny that way.

In my mind I had a vision of how this transition would happen, how I would approach schooling, but my expectations always involved establishing new routines for our new way of living. I did not expect to have to find a way to transition a child into homeschooling while I continue to commute and work full time and while Dave is consumed with his own work, but here we are.

I thought I would take a very unschoolish approach in the beginning in order to reset our expectations about education, but now I wonder, with everything in flux, if that is a good idea right now. If nothing changes except Olivia not returning to school, is that just ripe for nothing happening except an extended vacation. I wonder if getting some workbooks might be in order to help in the interim. I really don't know. Suggestions are always welcome.

Then there is Grace. I feel very conflicted about her for this coming year. Currently our zoned middle school is a very highly praised, award-winning school. I strongly suspect that we will be moved out of this school's zone in the not-too-distant future. My children will NOT attend the middle school I suspect we will be moved to, so if she is ever going to experience a middle school like environment, this year is it.

From my own preferences, I would rather her stay home. I hated middle school, and I want to shield my children from its horrors, but I wonder if I am imposing my own pessimism on her. This school does not seem to have the educational problems my own middle school had, but I think of the social aspects and I recoil. I went to middle school in the inner city of Nashville. Most of my fifth grade suburban classmates cussed like sailors before the end of the first semester. I found the language so horrifying, even as a 10 year old, that I promised myself I would never cuss in that manner and hoped I could survive until eighth grade with that resolution intact. Even now, my language is pretty clean in testament to my reaction to all f'in f'bombs I was surrounded with.

I don't want Grace exposed to all that trash, but I wonder if I am overreacting to my own experiences. She will not be going to the inner city of a metropolitan area. If this year is her only opportunity to attend this highly praised school, is it fair for me to pull her out when all I can offer her in return at this time is uncertainty and maybe some workbooks? Will one year make that much of a difference?

But if we do send her to school for this next year, it could cause its own issues. There is the specter of the school bus and the schedule it will impose. Also I am concerned that when I finally do get to quit, which will surely happen before the close of the next school year, Grace will feel left out when everyone is at home and she gets sent to school everyday.

I think our long term prospects are better than ever and yet we have to navigate the short term, trying to decide what is best right now with the hand we have been dealt. I hope to gain some clarity, but I currently feel like I am blindly groping in the dark. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Passwords and Desires

My password expired the day I gave birth.

For as long as I had worked for my institution, they had never had a policy that required us to change our passwords. I developed a very strong password and had been using it for over six years. Maybe it was time for it to be changed? I had no intentions. In the spring of 2013, my employer decided to implement an annual requirement to change our passwords and began assigning password expiration dates. I was randomly given June 4th as a deadline. If I did not change my password on or before that date, all of my accounts would be locked and I would have to approach IT shamefaced and jump through all their hoops.

The announcement of the password change requirement came during those hazy and unambitious days of the third trimester. While I kept meaning to change it, I never quite got around to it. Nothing I imagined measured up to my awesome current password and I had a hard time focusing on developing a new one. Then I went on maternity leave. Surely I would manage to change it before it expired. I woke up on the morning of June 4th with labor imminently upon me. I could change my password later in the afternoon after the baby was born. I didn't.

The day after I gave birth, I waddled up the stairs and logged into the IT system hoping I wouldn't have to make a phone call and explain why I had not yet changed my password. As I created my new password, I muttered a prayer that I might never have to change my password again. I petitioned that I might quit work before it expired the next year. Thankfully, the system accepted my update and I had no phone call of shame to make, but I had a point on the calendar which would mark the passage of time.


My password expires again tomorrow. This Friday will be the second time it has expired since I prayed to be spared from changing it again. Since Lent I have slowly, (slowly) been reading through the Introduction to the Devout Life. In it is a chapter on Desires. Bearing wrote about this chapter a few years ago.

There are two quotes that stand out to me as being relevant in my life.
Do not desire what is far away or cannot happen for a long time, as many do, who merely tire and distract their hearts to no purpose and lay up a store of trouble. (4.37)
This does not mean that you should relinquish any of your good desires, but merely that you should put them into practice in due order, locking them away in some corner of your heart while you give your attention to those which can be made to bear fruit in the present moment. This applies both to spiritual things and to worldly things. To act otherwise is to live in a constant state of restlessness and anxiety. (4.37)

I feel like my life of the past three or four years has been lived in tension between these two ideas: Desiring what felt close, but was actually far, and locking away a corner of my heart while waiting for that due order to come.

I am very aware of my state of restlessness and anxiety. When opportunities arise that make leaving my job seem imminent, I grasp at that hope, desiring what turns out to be far away and laying up trouble for myself. When everything is in its normal routine, that corner of my heart is locked away because there is nothing to be done at the moment. The struggle is to attempt to bear fruit in the interim instead of throwing up my hands while I wait for my real life to begin.

Was it foolish to utter such a prayer in my hormonal state? Probably. Was I testing God? Maybe. Is there some irrational portion of my heart that still holds these dates in significance? Yes.

As we inch ever closer to the goal, I still cannot clearly see the finish line. I am still grasping at desires that are far away. Even if my time left can be measured in weeks and months instead of month and years, I know they are far away because they cannot be realized today. My duty is to accept my life as it is offered today, do my best, wait, and rest patiently, knowing that the balance is not up to me. I must be pruned in order to bear fruit now instead of one fine day when my desires are made into reality.