Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Going Gray

Every twenty minutes all morning long I found long, silvery hairs attached to the baby’s pajamas, my pajamas, the couch, the carpet, my ring, the pacifier, the computer, and, most distressingly, my head.

I frowned as I peered into the bathroom mirror.  Sure enough the red streaks in the front of my otherwise dark brown hair were turning pale blonde…and wiry.  Before I had only seen the occasional gray hair here and there and I had pulled them out as fast as they had been spotted.  But this was something different, a sea change in hair color.  As I noticed the many glinting hairs staring back at me, my attention was also drawn to my part.  Was it getting wider?  I held my breath.  Was it worse than I thought?  Was my hair not simply content to turn gray but must it also fall out?  It all seemed so dramatic.  But then again so is motherhood and I wondered why I had any hair left at all. 

I called my mom.  Actually, I left a message on my parents’ answering machine, wondering if my mom could please call me back because I had a hair dyeing question.  She did, and I asked it: am I really going to have to dye my hair all through my thirties?  I was only 29 after all.

She encouraged me to calm down.  That it would be okay.  That she hadn’t noticed any when we had last visited but then gave me the finer points of hiding gray hair.  I hung up the phone and glumly thought of having to work my hair maintenance into the monthly budget.  
29 and going gray.  I see now that I’ve swapped good sleep, a good figure, and now good-looking hair—or at least brown—for motherhood.  I suppose that’s still a steal.  And at least I’ll have lots of people to take me to the salon in my old age…or maybe next month. 


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What Have We Lost?

{If you or a loved one has been hurt by abortion, please feel free to check out this ( earlier post on God's infinite mercy and power to heal, written with the help of my dear friend Fr. Matthew, and on Rachel's Vineyard, a beautiful apostolate dedicated to helping women heal after their abortions. “Our sins are nothing but a grain of sand alongside the great mountain of the mercy of God.” — St. John Vianney}  

I had intended to write this post hours ago but was prevented from doing so by a hiccupy, grunty, ever-hungry nine pound boy.  It’s twenty to twelve at night and he had just seemed to be settling in for maybe—maybe, good Lord!—a five-hour sleep, and just now I brazenly opened and began eating a bag of potato chips and he’s now awake.  But the post must go on.

It’s Monday, the 21st, the eve of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and I’m looking at my tiny son wondering what he will lose from abortion.  I read somewhere that we’ve lost 55 million children since the legalization of abortion.  55 million unrepeatable souls.  Was one of them meant to be a best friend of his?  A mentor?  A spouse?  I watch as he picks up his legs and grunts, and I am reminded again that there is no private sin, no personal decision that doesn’t affect others.  Those were children as real as my son with very carefully arranged plans for them and now what?  I struggle to grapple with the enormity of loss.

My mind drifts to the funeral of my mother-in-law.  A truly faith-filled lady who spent her life serving others, her funeral was a testament to the wonders God can work in us if we only let Him.  Hundreds of people came to the visitation and Mass, and I know that it was only a fraction of the people that she had touched over the years.  I think of all the good that she had accomplished in her life.  And I think that that potential for good has been lost--55 million times.  Surely we’ve lost mothers, fathers, priests, sisters, saints, and scientists and who knows the myriad ways they would’ve helped the world. 
My son grunts again, and I admire his light brown hair.  I don’t know the good that all those children would’ve done, but it’s enough to know that we’ve lost all those fuzzy heads, all those squishy shoulders, all those little feet, all those little voices.  

This Friday is the March for Life, and they’re expecting their biggest crowd yet.  If you’ve never seen coverage of it, please check out this video.  We’ve lost so much already—let’s beg God for His mercy for us all before we lose any more.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Universal Longing

Christopher West had me at hello.

Actually, it was more like on page 31 of his new book Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing when he writes:

The Prophet Isaiah declares: “The Lord will prepare a lavish banquet for all, a feast of rich food and pure, choice wines; juicy, rich food, and pure, choice wines” (Isa. 25:6).  I love this imagery because, well, I love to eat.  Love it!  …A gooey Cinnabon at the airport, or a warm, buttery Auntie Anne’s soft pretzel…what a treat!  And when it’s over…what a disappointment.  I hate it when a delicious meal is over.  Why?  Well, because…it’s over.

Hold the phone!  Christopher West disappointed when a meal is over?  That’s what I feel—every time!  Before starting this book, I was prepared for another nice book on topics regarding Theology of the Body, a good refresher of things I had already known.  I was not prepared for a book that got right to heart of my daily spiritual struggle.

In the pages of Fill These Hearts, Christopher West makes the beautiful case that we are creatures of desire, of infinite desire, and that it is only God who can satisfy us.  We run into trouble ranging from annoying to eternal when we try to satisfy that ache for Him with other people or objects.  Drawing from art, literature, and culture, West illustrates that the best of art, the timeless, widely-loved creations, all speak to that incessant longing we all feel as creatures.
On page 6 he writes:

Yes.   Sometimes it happens.  Sometimes we hear a certain song or piece of music and it awakens something inexplicable at our core…an ache, a burning, a throbbing, a yearning…Beneath our desire to earn money and live until Friday, there’s a much deeper desire, isn’t there?  We’ve all felt it.  Indeed, that collective cry that arises from the depths of our humanity for something to fill these hearts is what makes u human.  Desire is part of our design, and if we follow it through to its furthest reaches we seem to intuit that it will lead us to our destiny

For me—much to my husband’s chagrin—this song is “Piano Man”.  A while ago, my five-year-old asked me why I liked the song so much.  I told her I think it captures humanity, the soul, human yearning, and the search and hope for communion in the midst of loneliness.  She replied, “Yeah, that’s why I like it, too.”  

Now, the question: once this ache is identified, what’s one to do?  Getting back to the Cinnabon, West writes:

                Right in that moment of sadness, at the end of a meal, it seems I have three options
(1)    I can repress my desire in hopes of alleviating the sadness;
(2)    I can gluttonously indulge my desire in more food than my body needs; or
(3)    I can let the deliciousness of the meal and the sadness that it’s over do its job: to awaken my hope in and whet my appetite for the life to which I’m destined, the life beyond this life where the banquet never ends.

The option I choose in that moment indicates whether I’m learning to direct my desire according to God’s design so that it launches me to my destiny.  In short, the option I choose in that moment determines whether I’m on the path of a stoic (tries to avoid the pain of desiring more than this life has to offer by choosing not to want so much, by shutting desire down), addict (who tries to avoid the pain of wanting more than this life has to offer by gorging on the things this life does have to offer, trying to such infinity out of finite things, or mystic (who allows himself to feel the deepest depths of human desire and chooses to “stay in the pain” of wanting more than this life as to offer).

It is, then, the great saints who chose not to snuff out this desire, ignore, repress it, nor did they try to satisfy it themselves, seeking momentary pleasure in the things of this world.  Instead, they chose to live with the ache that they believed only God could satisfy, contenting themselves with waiting for Him to come to them and satisfy them on His time.  And here came another earthquake of understanding: just how many hundreds of times during the day do I reach for something other than God to help temper the sadness and agitation that comes from an imperfect life?  To think: that unsettledness is a longing for God and how infinitely more He feels that for me!    

This all leads to Christopher West’s thesis that “Christianity is the religion of desire—the religion that redeems eros—and its saints are the ones who have had the courage to feel the abyss of longing in their souls and in their bodies and to open that longing in ‘the groanings of prayer’ to the One who alone can heal their ‘wound of love’.  In other words, the saints have learned how to open all their desires for love and union to the Love and Union that alone can satisfy:  ‘mystical marriage’…with God” (39).

Fill These Hearts is a beautiful examination of what it means to be a creature of desire and how we, who might have disordered desires, can pray that God “untwist” them so that we might discover our own deep longing for God, which is, in fact, an echo of the infinite ache He has for each one of us.  We are destined for eternal bliss with God, Christopher West reminds us, and I am so grateful for the powerful reminder of that destiny that is this book.  What a joy to come across such an effective tool for the New Evangelization.  Thank you, Christopher West!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

We Named Him Ignatius

“So what are you going to call him?”

And so it begins.  Round 2 in weird Catholic baby names. 

When our oldest son Augustine was born, there was lots of confusion on the part of people asking what his name was.  Either they misheard (“Justin?  What a nice name.” or “Augustus?”) or they mispronounced it, especially if they were from a different faith tradition.  Many a nurse has called for Augusteen across a crowded waiting room.

Now this year on Christmas Day we welcomed a handsome almost nine-pound bundle (whose mother had become hooked on the Food Network show Cupcake Wars in the months preceding his birth, no doubt lending itself to his most scrumptious plump cheeks), and it was no sooner when he had been cleaned up when the staff began asking about his name.

My husband and I glanced at each other.  Were we sure?  We were, in fact, and had been for nine months.  For many years, we had greatly admired and felt a strong connection to St. Ignatius of Antioch, the valiant martyr of the second century, the man who simply could not wait to be eaten by lions for the love of Christ.  We even had had the opportunity to pray for the very new baby on board this spring when we were in Rome visiting the tomb of St. Ignatius.  A proponent of the real presence in the Eucharist, of unity among believers, of obedience to the bishop, we’ve felt strongly for a long time that St. Ignatius is a man for our times.  And for our baby—it feels as though he’s going to need a strong intercessor in these times to come.  But that was too much to tell the staff in the delivery room, so we simply said, “Ignatius,” and smiled at each other.

In the days following his birth, I tried not to worry about how other people perceived his name.  Everyone had been very polite and remarked on what a beautiful or interesting name it was.  No one actually said what they might have been thinking, “Are you serious?”  Filling out the birth certificate paperwork, I tried to banish thoughts of how our little guy might grow up to hate us.  With God’s grace, we pray that both of our little boys might learn to love their strong, courageous patrons, that they take comfort in knowing that they have their own superheroes praying for and watching out for them in a special way, and that someday—hopefully sooner rather than later—they might aim to imitate them.

In the meantime, we’ve got a tiny baby with a big name that can make casual grocery store exchanges awkward.  But lest I begin to doubt our choice of names, I need only to remember this Epiphany when our dear priest friend poured holy water over our son’s soft, fuzzy head and said, “Ignatius Michael, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and it sounded so right—I knew that we had picked a good name for our little boy.  And I think St. Ignatius agrees.