Thursday, September 27, 2012

No scheme of man.

As the pregnancy hits the peak hormonal shift (I'm 8 weeks!), so comes the very worst of the first trimester sickies. After struggling with postpartum depression, I know I'm especially vulnerable to the mental anguish that physical suffering can bring. It's no different this time.

The past two days have been especially bad, and I'm often tempted to despair that I could ever suffer "well" (whatever that means--sounds too much like the fictional "good divorce"). After all, if I was truly good, wouldn't I suffer cheerfully, without feeling discouraged and depressed? But this is a lie. Didn't Christ himself beg for deliverance? I am certainly not greater than he!

St. Josemaria Escriva had some words of comfort yesterday: in The Forge, he says repeatedly that in suffering we will always feel that natural, fleshy discouragement (and, in the case of depression, it's literally fleshy!). The way to holiness is not an escape from these feelings. It is, he says, perseverance through suffering.

But how to "persevere"? What does that mean? It hardly seems like persevering could mean "just lie there in bed for 8 more weeks, and your body will work itself out of it." It couldn't mean "produce a baby in 7 months." I want a way to live through this, not just grit my teeth and bear it until it's over.

There is more to perseverance, because perseverance means that after all this I will be more than who I was before. I will be more His, more Him, and much less me. How can the sick persevere in decreasing that He may increase? It is quite simple: first, recollect my final end always, and second, pray for fidelity to way to attain that end.

Our final end is that eternal "weight of glory," that joy beyond all comparison. But I'm terribly forgetful. Every hour or so, I lose sight of heaven and just want to go for a run, a bike ride, all sorts of things I can't do right now... I need constant (okay, perpetual) reminders of heaven--an icon, a Bible verse from a friend, a crucifix, beauty. When I keep my eyes on the prize--that blessed Day, when every tear will be wiped away and all will be joy in Him--then even if my body rebels against its cross, my heart is free and at peace.

The second step--fidelity to the way-- is harder, in a way, but also very simple. We know the way and the truth in Christ, proposed faithfully by the Church: to love the Lord our God will all our hearts, minds, strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And if we find that very difficult (I do), there is help:

"We are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal." (2Cor. 4.16-18)

The very sufferings that throw us into such confusion and despondency are "producing for us an eternal weight of glory"! All the distractions and lies that make that fidelity so difficult are evaporating in our suffering. The transitory and fleeting empires of social media, celebrity culture, the culture of death, and our own selfish grasping--they cannot even touch the promise that "our inner self is being renewed day by day." The more we die to them, the freer we are to love without condition.

Blessed are the poor, the meek, the suffering. They shall inherit. They shall see. They shall be satisfied.

That's a promise I'm willing to wait on.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


St. Hildegard of Bingen, soon to be Doctor of the Church, wrote beautiful chants to ease the pain of her sisters' patients. The songs still heal, but this Dominican version of the Salve Regina will always be my favorite:

 Salve, Regina, Mater misericordi√¶, vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve. ad te clamamus exsules filii Hev√¶, ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle. Eia, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte; et Iesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exsilium ostende. O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Comparing crosses.

I am guilty of comparing my crosses in the worst way. During my second pregnancy, and first bout with hyperemesis gravidarum (HEG), I resented friends who "threw up once or twice, I think." Before conceiving the third child, I begged God, "I'll suffer HEG again... anything, if I can only have more kids!" And then, as I lay in the hospital with four needles in my arm, I of course resented all those women who were barren.

My cross is rarely what I want.

Another way I compare crosses is the "humbler than thou" technique. How dare I complain when women throughout history have suffered HEG in wartime, in rice paddies, and even died from lack of medical care? Clearly, they suffered more. I should shut up and get on with the IV's.

It is all a ridiculous attempt to make myself God and judge. In my own heart, I would say it's as deadly as the drive to abort a child, use IVF, or any of the terrible sins against a person. This is a dreadful thing to say, but here is why. The bargaining with God is a hidden sin of the apparently sinless--the seeming saints--who lie suffering and feel they are automatically doing something beautiful for God.

The drive to compare our sufferings to others begins like a creeping darkness. We hardly notice our hearts have fallen into the snare.

When friends see me lying in bed or listen to the vomiting in the next room, I can begin to hear it in them, too.

"You poor thing. I shouldn't complain to you about x, y, z. You're so sick. Don't listen to me."

Don't be silly. I look pretty bad, but who can possibly know what it really costs or does not cost me? There is enough each day for me to give you my ear. How can I agree with you if I don't know what it is you want to say? And so, please tell me what you are going through. I want to know and hear and offer something for you if I can. Do not assume my burden is heavy (it is not).

The next most frequent sorrow: "I hope you are remembering how blessed you are to be able to have children." This is usually from the dearest and holiest souls--who know my desire to serve God and my total faith in the eternal gift of a human person. It is a good reminder. Until the punchline hits, "I can't. I would suffer everything you suffer for even one child."

That is good. What a beautiful desire. And what a difficult, terrible burden.

But it sounds so close to that bargaining we do with God, "Lord! If you will only give me A, I will do x, y, and z for you!"

Or, "Lord, take this cup away from me and I will _________________."

This is terribly human. Terribly noble in a sad and hopeless way. We were made for more than this.

We are not created to compare crosses, hold them up for measure, take our pick, and live happily ever after. There is no eternal bargain, hidden from view, that once discovered will mean we can demand of God every crown we desire.

There is nothing I can offer God that would "convince" Him to change the course laid out for me, because the course was set from eternity so that my nothingness would be filled completely with His Being. The only response to His total gift of self on that one and ultimate Cross? To trust. To surrender. To receive.

There is so much joy in every cross--in sickness, in health, in children, in barrenness, in early death, in long life. How could I anticipate or plan for my happiness? I am too small, too finite. There is only submission to love and trust in that love.

This obedience to God's will for my irreplicable and irreplaceable life is that something beautiful for God. I will listen and observe the struggles and crosses of all the saints and then say, "How wonderful!" And if my own life seems a little tepid when I turn back to my cross, I know that is my own telescope vision.

The reality is that there is no other cross I can bear today. There is no other suffering and no other reward for me than a brief, brief trial and an eternal joy won for me by the Cross that contains and is perfected in all our trillions of crosses.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

There's a first time for everything!

Well, the blog's been up for almost 5 years now, and I've never asked for anything. Except maybe a little sleep... And y'all have given so much, with comments and messages of support and questions and challenges. Thank you.

Today, however, I'm adding a little button to the sidebar: a PayPal link for donations to Regina Caeli Academy. Through this button, 100% of your gift goes toward the Philosopher Family's fundraising commitment to this fabulous program. 

Regina Caeli Academy is a private, independent academy and offers pre-school through 12th grade classes that meet twice a week. This unique, hybrid model builds up the family as a domestic church, because children have the opportunity to spend the majority of their time at home with their siblings and parents. 

We are committed to faithful adherence to the Holy Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church and particular obedience to the Holy Father. Regina Caeli Academy is a response to the need for affordable, authentic, classical education taught in light of the Catholic tradition. And let me tell you... this is solid education. A good example: do you remember hearing stories of the inner city parochial schools run by sisters-- the children copied everything. They copied, memorized, and spoke aloud to the teachers, because they were too poor for laptops (didn't exist), paper (only for public schools), and ink (in short supply). That methodology, which produced the best-educated population in the country, is the classical methodology. 

Another example. Do you remember when it was fun to memorize those childhood chants for jump-rope or hand-clapping? The classical method capitalizes on those years when memory-work is fun by emphasizing memorization of everything--the Catechism, Scripture, states and capitals, mathematical operations, names of bugs, etc... And then, when kids are really ready to argue (say, around 6th grade), they get to use those facts to debate and learn to give reasons for what they believe. This is precisely the method Regina Caeli Academy uses in the classroom and offers training for parents to use in the home. You can see our booklists here

RCA is a very special place-- now actually, four places in Texas, Georgia, and Connecticut! --and your help toward our opening costs up here in the north country is much appreciated. 

If you choose to donate, please leave me a note so we can send you a personal "Thank You!" 

RCA is a 501(c)3, but if you donate here, I can't get you the letter because, sadly, I am not myself a 501(c)3. 

The Big News!

Too quiet. But it might stay that way a little longer... because, well. Here's where I'm at:

To be precise, Baby4 is at about the left-most box right now. And until we're well past the right-most box, this is going to be one sick momma. 

We've been this way before, and the results have always been worth every moment. I'm watching the Scientist Dad rediscover his extreme domestic skills, the girls draw closer together as mom fades out of the picture, and it is good. The love of dear friends and the assurance that this time we'll have help at every turn has made the prospect of the next 10 weeks a burden both easy and light. In the Biblical sense, of course. 

WHEN night is almost done,
And sunrise grows so near
That we can touch the spaces,
It ’s time to smooth the hair
And get the dimples ready,        5
And wonder we could care
For that old faded midnight
That frightened but an hour.