Friday, September 24, 2010

30 pounds ago, these pants looked good.

In a fit of self-confidence after a (precious) jog the other night, I threw on a pair of black stretch pants that, back in the days when I was an intellectual, had been oh-so-cute. Looking in the mirror, however, I realized that the emphasis should be firmly placed on had been. As in, the past tense.

One of the most disorienting effects of hyperemesis pregnancies has been the ridiculous fluctuation of my weight over the last three years. I have bottomed out at about 115 pounds only to shoot up to a ridiculous 175 pounds several times now. Now, almost five months postpartum, I'm still about 15 over a "happy place weight."

It's a roller-coaster ride for both the body and the psyche, as any mother of small children can tell you. And it can bring out the very worst in me.

I find myself oggling other mothers' waistlines, enviously if they are thin ("How did she do that in just six months?!!??! I'm so fat!") and with smug satisfaction if I detect a stomach roll ("Ha! There's no escaping it!"). Then the internal dialogue turns on me: "You're such a jerk! You can't even just enjoy these beautiful kids because you're so vain! Haha! You'll never wear those jeans again!" It's none too pretty: inside or out.

But I know, I know, that this is another opportunity to grow in grace. Yes, even this stomach roll. I'm not talking about self-effacement or not caring about my appearance.

First, we made a deliberate choice to be open to God's design for our family. Part of that choice (and, as we're learning, it was heroic) will involve a changing body for me. I'm not going to look like I did back in the old days (just like I'm no longer reading Kant seven hours a day, thank heavens); I'm not going to think or read or even feel like I did. This was a life-changing decision, and it requires a daily re-commitment, a daily yes to all this family requires. Including the fact that I need to wear larger pants. Lesson: Man up, momma!


Second, while I can't expect to get back my college body, I can have hope that someday I will be in a semblance of shape again. This is a short time. In ten or twelve years (which doesn't seem such a long wait anymore), I will probably be able to exercise daily again. But I won't be so able to snuggle a baby. Lesson: All things are passing.

And then, soon, I'll be standing before the Throne of God anyway (hopefully), where I can feast of the Lamb's Summer without a worry for calories. Lesson: Have a broader perspective.

Third, drop the internal dialogue. This is easier said than done when the brain is fried to a crisp by small children's incessant questions or endless sleepless nights. My conversation with my head gets out of control almost daily now. But it's not just the words coming out of my mouth that need to be charitable. The words of my mouth "and the meditations of my heart" must be "acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord." Lesson: Practice interior silence.

Finally, there are just going to be days when the body changes are frustrating, when I cry in front of the mirror, or when I just feel ... frumpy before I'm thirty. On those days, I need to close my eyes and offer it to God who gave up his body for me. "Unless the seed falls to the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit." This time, too, will bear fruit.

And those pants were so goshdarn cute...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I wish I was Polish.

I often joke that being Lithuanian just means I wish I was Polish. We are forever indebted to them for many traditions, including Tradition itself through the evangelization efforts of St. Jadwiga (who courageously married an unschooled, unchristened Lithuanian and proceeded to convert the nation). And then there's John Paul II.

But there are other, smaller traditions, that we adopted from the Poles. As Fall kicks in and I search for more Catholic practices to add to our family life, Poland provides again.

Oplatki are small wafers that the family share on Christmas Eve (or Christmas). Obviously symbolic of the Eucharist, it provides another special commemoration of the Nativity. Click on the link to learn more about the practice.

I am especially excited that they come in pink... for obvious reasons.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Blessed John Henry Newman

From the homily:

"Cardinal Newman’s motto, Cor ad cor loquitur, or “Heart speaks unto heart”, gives us an insight into his understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness, experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God. He reminds us that faithfulness to prayer gradually transforms us into the divine likeness. As he wrote in one of his many fine sermons, “a habit of prayer, the practice of turning to God and the unseen world in every season, in every place, in every emergency – prayer, I say, has what may be called a natural effect in spiritualizing and elevating the soul. A man is no longer what he was before; gradually … he has imbibed a new set of ideas, and become imbued with fresh principles” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, iv, 230-231). Today’s Gospel tells us that no one can be the servant of two masters (cf. Lk 16:13), and Blessed John Henry’s teaching on prayer explains how the faithful Christian is definitively taken into the service of the one true Master, who alone has a claim to our unconditional devotion (cf. Mt 23:10). Newman helps us to understand what this means for our daily lives: he tells us that our divine Master has assigned a specific task to each one of us, a “definite service”, committed uniquely to every single person: “I have my mission”, he wrote, “I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do his work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place … if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling” (Meditations and Devotions, 301-2). ~Benedict XVI's homily at the beatification of John Henry Newman

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

It's just sex.

Once in a while, I like to watch FOX's "Lie to Me," the semi-detective show following Dr. Cal Lightman (Tim Roth), the psychologist who can spot a lie a mile away by reading supposedly universal body cues--eye twitches, lip curls, hand jerks, etc. The series airs just when Ana is nursing down for the night, and it's brain candy at the end of a long day.

Except when it's brain crap.

Last night's "Black and White," the season finale, began with the usual murder and Cal stumbling about in his increasingly eccentric way (as the show has progressed, as it were, Roth has just played the man "curioser and curioser," perhaps to hold viewer attention?).

Anyway, he sidles into his own home, which he shares with his teenage daughter, Emily, to hears giggles and see boots and clothing strewn about. His usual reaction ensues: He calls out her name, growls and smirks at her boyfriend as the young laddie throws his shirt back on, tells him to get out, and casts a knowing glance at the shocked Emily. It's happened before. Then he orders the boyfriend into the car. Emily wails, "Daaa-aaad! It's just sex."

Come on, Dad! Tell her.

Instead, he leers at her one more time, acts like this is a shock, and orders her to accompany him in the car.

And that was it. Oh, my soul, the lost opportunity! Listen FOX: Here's the moment when Cal could have done something really strange. Something to really draw those viewers in!

Emily: (wide eyes) Daaaa-aaad! It's just sex."

Dr. Lightman: (leering, he swings back toward Emily and earnestly searches said wide eyes) "Just sex? Just sex? Listen, cupcake (or other endearing term), there's no such thing as just sex. Is it just sex when you end up with four STD's before you graduate high school? Is it just sex when you find out you're pregnant and Dick here's not going to support the baby and so you have an abortion and spend the rest of your life grieving for your lost baby and wondering if it was a boy or a girl? Is it just sex when you have to tell your fiance in ten years that you slept with every other guy in your calculus class? No way, cupcake. This isn't any game. And, if my lie-detecting eyeballs tell me anything, I can see this young man has no intention sticking to just sticking you in bed. So, I'm going to take him out back, thrash him, and then make sure you don't spend your next study hall naked with some random guy."

But no. The tough guy, Cal Lightman, didn't say any of that. He couldn't. Because, as his own behavior has shown, it's just sex to him, too. I guess it's okay, since he's over 18?

Or something like that. Now, FOX, surprise me next time. Give me a show I'd watch again with a character with real spine.

That's enough of that.

Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

JESUS, if, against my will,

I have wrought Thee any ill,
And, seeking but to do Thee grace,
Have smitten Thee upon the face,
If my kiss for Thee be not
Of John, but of Iscariot,
Prithee then, good Jesus, pardon
As Thou once didst in the garden,
Call me "Friend," and with my crime
Build Thou Thy passion more sublime.

~"Rex Doloris," frontispiece from Dorothy L. Sayers' "Catholic Tales and Christian Songs"

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Singing on Ephesians.

A dear friend wailed the other day, "Everything I touch turns to dust! Everything I'm doing just falls away and fails!" It was a dark day.

And then, a reading from Ephesians 2.8 for Mid-Afternoon Prayer.

"It is owing to his favor that salvation is yours through faith. This is not your own doing, it is God's gift..."

Yes, my dear. Everything we do turns to dust. But the One Thing Necessary is not our own doing. It is God's gift, and it shall not fail.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

What's the proof?

One of my favorite quirky artists is Hasidic reggae/rap star Matisyahu. After years of following Phish in some sort of hallucinogenic fog, he discovered and embraced his Orthodox Jewish roots, adopting the practices and doctrine of hasidism. And rapping about it.

Shma Y'sroel, Hashem ELokainu, Hashem Echad
(Hear, O Isreal, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One)

His songs are like a beatbox version of the Old Testament psalms of praise and lament. "Got No Water" has become a sort of background song/anthem in my head over the past year.

The world could just crumble to dust it's just us
it's not two it's just one
The middle road call truth: Torah
Yes, you sooth my brain bruise
Open up peruse with knowledge of God
And move up an arousal from below
Till the secrets start to ooze (Don't snooze)
It's pure light
The Most High wants us alive
What's the Proof?
We got life!

The last lines--"What's the proof? We got life!"--are on a Big Scale, I think, a cry for the Jewish people. Through the centuries of persecution and dispersion, they are still here.

But it's also, on a micro-scale, a one-line battle cry for each of us. The Most High wants us each alive--the proof? We got life! What more do I need? Do I need a nice minivan, new clothes, fancy foods, a perfect body in order to be sure that God wants me to exist in Him? Negatory. Do I need Him to answer every prayer I send up literally and with acuity? Nope.

The only proof we need of His grace is this: we are. He wants Miriam to be: She is. He wants Isabella and Ana to be: They are. It's a beautiful sense of the holiness and goodness of simply being.

This is sacramental, too. We believe as Catholics that marriage is a sacrament: God gives us all the grace we need to fulfill the responsibilities that this sacrament calls for. What's the proof? We are still married. He wants us to be faithful and together: We are. And therefore, He is here with us.

If he is not, we are not.

So, rap it out, Matisyahu.

You quench my thirsting soul and you fill my appetite
I give myself to you because you treat me right
Put my trust in the world and the world gets tight
Shift my trust to you, it's like a crystal clear night
Expand in all directions, get the sections to unite
Hashem's rays, fire blaze, light my way, Light of my life