In a recent issue of Catholic Digest, a reader wrote an in-depth review of the magazine. I agreed with a lot of her opinions. Some of the authors she enjoyed the most I, too, gravitate towards; however, she also admonished the fact that a Catholic publication wastes its precious space on sections like “The Homefront,” which shares recipes and lifestyle tips, as well as the column I contribute to – “Body & Soul.” Instead of having these types of articles, she wanted more content that would directly enrich her faith life.
Now, of course, it wasn’t great to hear a reader say she wished something that I write would go away, but her objection to including anything more worldly and secular in a faith-based publication frustrated me as well. I am not picking on this person and like I said, I agreed with some of her points. For example, she argued that the information included in these columns probably could be found in a lot of mainstream, consumer magazines and that there are so few publications that encourage people of faith that Catholic Digest should stick to the spiritual stuff. Sure, the primary focus of the magazine should be on the Catholic part. I get that. I really do.
But the Catholic part transcends the overtly Catholic articles. Our faith has to be a part of everything. Being a person of faith doesn’t just mean reading the Bible, showing up at church, or connecting with like-minded people. It’s about being salt of the earth. It’s about effusing kindness and connecting with others – strangers, atheists, Facebook friends, neighbors, and beyond.
We’re going to have a hard time connecting with anyone other than those who are just like us if we don’t know what’s out there, if we’re unable to talk about pop culture, or current trends and news headlines.
And perhaps this particular reader doesn’t feel like generic health articles really matter one iota to Christians, though I am connecting imaginary dots here; her argument was more that she can find those type of articles elsewhere, but I’ll go ahead and make a point that is near and dear to me anyway. Our bodies do matter! Christ suffered in the flesh. He became Man. He had a body. So do we. Our souls don’t work out our salvation on their own; we stumble toward heaven in our bodies. We can’t overlook that Christ suffered in the flesh. God became man – the Word Incarnate. Part of being human means having flesh, and we should care for the body God has given us in a loving, respectful way.
Consider these words from the Catechism:
“Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.” (CCC 364)
And if our bodies matter, then it makes sense that including a column that just might help someone make better food choices, decipher an unusual symptom, get more sleep, find time to exercise, etc. is important and matters very much to our lives as not only people but Christian people.
Likewise, most of us are of the world; we don’t wear habits or clerical collars that separate us from others. We never know how God might use us to reach someone else. He works in mysterious ways. He may speak to some people through Scripture. Others may find him during a time of sickness or through the kindness of others. But many people discover God in unexpected places or at least glimpses of Love (God is love, remember?) – in a pretty girl, for instance. I once read about a young man – and for the life of me I can’t remember the source – who reluctantly went to Mass, but then he started to get excited about going, not because of Christ but because of an attractive girl singing in the choir. It wasn’t the liturgy or the tabernacle but a pretty, young girl who drew this man in; God, the Author of Beauty, spoke to him through an attractive member of the opposite sex. At first, the man didn’t notice her faith – or Christ. He was paying attention to more worldly things initially, but eventually he was drawn to something deeper.
If I went around only reading spiritual tomes, wearing mu-mus, and kept my children from associating with any child who didn’t have parents who parented the exact same way I did, I might be playing it safer, but our faith needs to be daring. Sometimes it’s when we come out of our comfort zone that we change the most or perhaps reach the most people.
Being a Christian isn’t an adjective. It doesn’t simply describe the books I read, the clothes I wear, or the friends I make. It’s a verb. It’s what I (try) to do as I live my life out in the world, not in some cloistered-off convent. My vocation takes me to the grocery store, to barre classes filled with college students, to the school carpool lane, to soccer fields, basketball games, on group runs with people who have different faiths or no faith at all, onto Instagram and Twitter, and here, there, and everywhere.
I am not afraid to show the chaos in my life, and I am not afraid to wear cute shoes or share my new love for Stitch Fix either, lest someone thinks I’m a vain, materialistic person. I’m not afraid to reveal the fact that my kids love Jesus, but they also like some secular things, too. I hope that my little family can be a positive witness for Christians and the Catholic faith because we are real. We know the words to “Let It Go.” My two oldest daughters now do know who Taylor Swift is, and they think she’s pretty. But they know who Mother Teresa and Our Blessed Mother are, too, and they think they are lovely. We make people laugh. We can talk about things that all people – whether they believe in God or not – can talk about.
And maybe just maybe, it will be something that’s not really tied to our faith that surreptitiously invites someone into our life and they discover something he or she likes and wants. And I don’t just mean the Malbec in my pantry or the new suede yellow heels that give me a bounce in my step on a gray day, or the countless books my family reads. Maybe, with God’s grace, they will discover something else, something deeper, a glimpse of mercy, love, and faith.
You may be the only gospel someone reads all day, but if all of us are walking around carrying and quoting St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, a lot of people might sadly not even stop to consider what we have to say or how we (try to) live. Be not afraid. Be authentic you. Go out into the world, and know that it’s not all big and scary. Our fallen human nature means we can botch anything up and contaminate anything. But also remember this: Christ and his redeeming cross means we can find goodness in a lot of more secular things; we can baptize practices from other cultures.
Don’t live in a Catholic bubble. Yes, be centered on Christ, but go ahead and burst that bubble, trust in God, and get out there and live a full life.
One of my goals for 2015 is to write more. Last year I kept my hand in writing with very sporadic blog posts, equally sporadic personal journal entries, novel writing, and Bible study notes, my ongoing Catholic Digest health column, some speech writing, and a fashion writing freelance project, but I didn’t write nearly as much as I would have liked. There are several reasons for my sparse writing. Firstly, life just keeps getting busier as my littles grow older. Secondly, I was delusional in thinking that the end of medical residency would mean cush hours for my hard-working husband. He works harder and longer than ever. This past weekend he worked what most people work in one week (40-plus hours in three days). During the week, he worked the five to midnight shift, which basically means I’m a single parent and in charge of the evening sports schlepping and managing the bedtime chaos. And I haven’t been managing it all that well, I’m afraid, especially last night when I absolutely lost it after two out of four children became desperately thirsty after I turned the lights off and was prepared to get them to drift off to Dreamland.
“You are NOT thirsty!” I screeched.
“I am! My throat hurts!”
“You had all that time [while I was getting another little one to bed] to get a drink,” I pointed out.
“I was coloring, and I wasn’t thirsty then.”
Of course you weren’t thirsty then. Or hungry. Or cold. You were probably so ready for bed you would have peacefully drifted off to sleep with nary a complaint then.
“Well,” I said. “It’s either me or a cup of water,” I patiently clarified.
Perplexed look from dehydrated child.
“You get a drink of water, and I leave you to go to sleep on your own.”
“Noooooooo!!!!” Horrible wailing ensued. Never mind the fact that I should probably leave a 5-year-old to fall asleep on her own every night. I am a bedtime wimp. Inconsistency is my trademark because the truth is, sometimes I like nothing more than to cuddle up next to a warm body and fall asleep beside a child. It reminds me of those co-sleeping, baby days. It’s wonderful. Sometimes. But there are other nights when I have four kids who are cranky and tired and all want Mommy to give them their full attention, but Mommy is desperate for alone time or just needs to fold heaps of laundry or shoot off a few emails or try to do that meditation lesson from Bible study. All I usually contemplate during contemplative prayer is when is someone going to interrupt me? Oh, wait. Here it comes. The dog barks at the cat, which wakes up the toddler who always wakes up with a voracious appetite. “I want breakfast, Mommy!” he demands with no, “Good morning!” whatsoever. What was I meditating on again? Ah, yes. Jesus feeding His sheep. I know all about that.
But back to bedtime (or lack thereof). If I believed reincarnation was a real thing, I would want to come back as a Wicker child at bedtime. Ahhhh...the cuddling, the magical stories read, the backrubs topped off with a prayer and a “God bless you,” and the one more cup of water request usually satisfied because these littles won’t be little for long (thank God, I said to myself last night), and then a little more cuddling. So much cuddling, in fact, that Mom can no longer fight Mr. Sandman and finds herself succumbing to a peaceful sleep next to the warm, little body curled up to her. Yet another reason very little writing happens. My 3-year-old’s bedtime name should be changed to Ambien. Well, I am in the midst of a lovely reverie (what dreams may come!) next to Ambien when Crazy, Older Kid storms in just to check on me. I wake up startled and remember that there are still three more kids to put down. “Put down” seems like the appropriate phrase at this point. I am ready to take drastic action because I am drunk with sleepiness and just am ready to write, read a good book, or do a few relaxing stretches, and go to bed. But more kids want stories read or another vespertine tête-à-tête. (One child always asks big, important questions as I’m tucking her in because she knows I have a soft spot for ponderous thoughts and soul searching.) These children will not be ignored. And I am also a sucker who hasn’t learned to ignore them. So the bedtime routine drags on and on and on…until I fall asleep once again, this time wedged in the middle of a pile of sugar and spice and everything nice, except when a sister annoys another sister and all you-know-what breaks loose, and I think, “There’s no curl on the head, but it’s true that when she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid.” Mr. Hyde looks like an angel now. They always do when they’re sleeping.
I am nearing the end of the epic bedtime grind when my 10-year-old asks, “Can you cuddle with me for just a bit?”
And I almost say, “No way, Jose.” But then I remember her name is Madeline, and she’s more than halfway to the point when she will leave me and I won’t have the option to cuddle beside her, so how can I say no? And when I’m next to her and she tells me she loves me, I realize I didn’t even want to say no. The writing can wait.
They’re everywhere. The promises of a new year and a new you. Now is the time to reinvent yourself. Get more organized. Quit smoking. Lose 5, 10, 15, or 20-plus pounds. Exercise more. Sleep more. Eat less sugar.
Personally, I really like my 5-year-old’s New Year’s Resolution: Be nice to people. Now that has eternal value.
Funny aside: My 7-year-old uses the least amount of electronics in the house, but she was the one who wants to watch less TV in 2015. She doesn’t play on the computer or even watch much television. She usually has her nose in a book (she read five fat books over the Christmas break), but she also is the one who always thinks she is worse than she is. I’m not sure where she gets that from. Ahem.
I’ve always been a goal-oriented kind of person, so I usually end up scribbling down a few New Year’s Resolutions. Once upon a time at least one resolution had to do with my weight. Even when I claimed I was just thinking of my health, I was guilty of subterfuge. But not this year. This year I want to pray more, write more, and listen more.
I am tempted to add more even though I know that while my goals seem simple, I’ll likely fail pretty miserably at them. Way to believe in myself, eh?
I like to accomplish, but I seem to accomplish big things pretty rarely lately.
Every week I scribble down a to-do list, and I get great pleasure from checking off each item. Look at how productive I am! I like to have things to work for, too, and things to achieve. What I don’t like is failure or feeling like I haven’t accomplished much. But this year has been a year of letting go. And not just for Elsa or her gaggle of pint-sized followers, but for me, too. It all started with the dreadful running injury. I can no longer call it a running injury because I am not much of a runner any longer, although I ran with a running peep this morning and experienced pure euphoria – more from the company than the actual physical exertion. The run didn’t provoke much pain, but walking around the rest of the day and just sitting to teach my child phonics did hurt a bit. I’ll think I’m all better and that BAM! I’ll feel a twinge in my high hamstring area, or my hips will start aching. On a bad day, both hips, my hamstring, and my bum hurt.
Sometimes my body makes me grumpy. Sometimes it makes me sad. But lately it’s made me grateful because despite my dreams of qualifying for Boston or even running another half again perhaps becoming wishful thinking, I feel strong. I am doing quite of a bit of Pure Barre. It’s a low-impact but challenging workout. I don’t weigh myself, but I definitely feel stronger and leaner. The first day I tried the class I felt like an old, uncoordinated dork. It was 80s day, which I didn’t know, and all these young things – who were born in the 90s, mind you – were planking and tucking and shaking in flashy, hot pink workout garb. I was all in black on the back, planking like an elephant probably.
As I tried to follow along and figure out what it meant to tuck, I mourned for my running life. Running was something I could do pretty well. This was new and scary and all the core work wasn’t easy for a mom of four, but I stuck with it. That was way back in early October, and I’m still sticking with it, and I’ve found my groove. When I was leaving my most recent class, the instructor, whom I had not had before, asked me my name. I told her, and she said, “Katie, you had excellent form all throughout class.” This is ridiculously silly, but I thanked her and beamed, and the afterglow lasted at least an hour. I headed out to the cold mist with a bounce in my step, no matter that my high hamstring was nagging me and I felt shaky walking down the stairs after giving my thighs a killer workout.
I went out to dinner with my running peeps to catch up recently as well, and it was a delightful evening. We laughed and chatted, and I was so grateful that all those miles covered had forged true, meaningful friendships. And, of course, I was nostalgic for those morning runs, wishing I could be out there, too, and maybe I will be (I have a pain provocation test tomorrow involving an injection into my hip bone), but what’s been such a blessing is I am starting 2015 totally and completely at peace with the fact that I may not be able to return to the kind of running I once did. This is where the gratitude surprisingly comes in: I am grateful there are other ways I can move my body. I am thankful I can shoot hoops with my daughters; my 10-year-old is playing her first season of basketball and loving it, and I’m enjoying playing Horse and having free throw contests with her in the driveway. I am thankful I can still be active even if I do hurt sometimes.
I am also thankful that I am finally able to approach new ventures – even things as seemingly insignificant as a new barre class – without perfectionism as my sidekick. I lost out on a lot of fun in the past because I would park myself on the sidelines of any activity in life if I knew I wasn’t going to excel at whatever it was. I’m far less afraid now, probably because I fail all the time and motherhood more than anything else has taught me just how little control I have over my children or anything else in my life. I am so glad I’m learning these lessons because I want my children to try new things and to not be afraid to not be the best at everything. I want them have to work hard at something, to know that what starts out tough may one day become easier simply because you stuck with it. And I want them to dust themselves off when they do fall, forgive their own failings, and start again.
I’m talking a lot about exercise these days and my inability to run, but this has been a year of growth in the mothering department as well. I’ve had to make peace with the fact that my mothering life (so far) hasn’t exactly turned out the way I thought it would. I remember when Madeline, who is now 10, was just 2 years old and I found a network of Catholic homeschooling moms, and one of them would always talk about how she could see me having 10 kids and homeschooling them all. That really stroked my pride. I envisioned myself as this super mom effortlessly juggling at least a half dozen kids while still taking daily showers. I have four kids, and I won’t tell you the last time I washed my hair.
And these days, it doesn’t look like I’m going to be a mom of a super-sized family, and I am homeschooling only one child now with plans to have her join her big sisters in that place I once feared so much: REAL SCHOOL. That first year of REAL SCHOOL I felt like an epic failure. I’d run into a friend of mine who still homeschooled, who probably had more kids than I did, and I felt like I was lacking or that they were better than I was. All my comparing and feelings of worthlessness only robbed me of joy and blinded me to the fact that we were all doing okay. I doubted myself and my husband’s decision on a daily basis. At the start of this school year, I still was approaching the year with some trepidation, but something has happened. I see how happy we are, how this is working for my own little family, and I know I didn’t fail at anything. The girls returned to school this morning, and Rachel hopped out of bed this morning and said, “I can’t wait to go back to school!” This doesn’t mean she didn’t enjoy her time with me. We loved our lazy break and the slower pace, but she’s happy there, too.
I also don’t care (too much) what others think any longer. I did have a handful of well-meaning homeschooling folks (although the vast majority offered nothing but support) say some hurtful things when I first decided to send my two oldest to school. It wasn’t easy to digest what they said – things like, you only get one chance at mothering your children and if you can homeschool, why wouldn’t you? Of course, these people did not know the clinical depression I was grappling with or the fact that my husband’s hours are unpredictable or the temperaments of my lovely but feisty children. Many times we mothers dole out our opinions in an effort to validate our own choices. We’re not really looking to criticize the other mom or her choices; we’re just trying to convince ourselves that what we’re doing is the best for us and our families.
Now I joke about being a homeschool dropout. I don’t worry so much about if we appear all put together because the truth is, we’re not. We’re a messy but fun bunch. I let my kids choose their clothes – even what they want to wear to the Christmas Eve Mass, providing it’s the right level of decorum. I peruse our thousands of archived photos for the perfect family photo for our Christmas card and instead of becoming frustrated at the dearth of photos where even half of my clan is looking at the camera, I laugh at the wonderful energy this family of mine has, and then I create a Christmas card that is authentically Wicker. And lo and behold, I get more compliments this year than any other year. People crave authenticity.
That’s what I really want to be in this life more than perfect. I want to be authentic. I want to be the kind of person you can come to and reveal your dirty secrets and dirty dishes and know that I’ll love you anyway. I want my children to know in their deepest souls that despite the times I fail them as a mother, despite the chaos that is our life, I love them just the way they are.
One of my daughters, who happens to share my melancholic tendencies, was recently divulging all of her bad memories. She then went on to point out the ways I am not a very good mother. A year ago her diatribe would have made me cry. Or I would have acted strong, but I would have crumbled inside. I would have wept to my husband and sought his reassurance that I was a good mother and that I wasn’t screwing up my children. But tonight I calmly hugged this child. I reminded myself she was angry at me because I had taken a privilege away as a consequence for less than desirable behavior. I told her I was sorry she felt that I wasn’t a good mommy right now and that I knew I was far from perfect and had a lot to work on but that I also knew I was a good mom who gave her very best and who loved her children with an open heart. Then I calmly left the room. It was bedtime, and my child wanted me to stay beside her for longer (ironic that she wanted a monster of a mother to be in such close proximity to her in the dark). She started to rage against the injustices of the world. I told her I’d come check on her in a bit. And I did. I slipped in beside her in a nest of blankets. She threw her arm around me and she whispered, “I am so, so sorry.”
“For what?” I asked.
“For acting like you’re not a good mommy when you’re the best mommy in the world,” she whispered.
“It’s okay,” I said, and I squeezed her hand.
“I am so sorry,” she said again, and I realized she was me just a year ago, someone who was always sorry. Sorry for not being better, good enough, perfect. Sorry for not doing more. Sorry for being injured and not being able to run. Sorry for things that were utterly out of my control. Sorry for giving up on homeschooling. Sorry when I truly should have been sorry but not knowing how to open myself to mercy and forgiveness, so that I was consumed by guilt and what-ifs and mired in a despair I couldn’t shake even though to the outside world I was nothing short of a golden Pollyanna. Oh, the acting was exhausting. The guilt-mongering paralyzing.
“It’s okay, my love. I am not hurt. You are completely forgiven.”
“I am sorry,” she whispered one last time burrowing her head into me so that her honeyed hair tickled my face and her tears wet my shoulder.
I am sorry, too, that it’s taken me 30-plus years to let go of trying to be something that I’m not, I thought. And I am sorry that you, my sweet daughter, will have to learn this lesson on your own, that others and their careless acts and barbed words will rob you of your joy, that you might doubt yourself and remember the bad, the criticism, more than the good and all the praise. That you may be blind to beautiful you and not see that you have so much to offer others just by being imperfect you.
I can not make her believe any of this. Life will have to teach her all of it. I hope the wisdom comes to her sooner than it came to me, but it is a lesson she must learn herself.
On the eve of the Epiphany (yes, my tree and decorations are still up but if I’m truthful, the shedding pine needles and extra festooning is driving me crazy), I think of the Magi and what must have been a dangerous, tedious trip. The journey to truth is never straightforward or easy. But when you finally encounter it – even if it’s just a glimmer of truth – you are forever changed.
This new year, I’m not looking to be a new person. I’m just looking to make peace with the imperfect person that I am.
Reflecting on the past year I recognize plenty of moments of happiness and days when I was aware of the blessings that surround me even in the midst of life’s messiness. But far too often happiness was elusive for me because things that were out of my control kept happening, because I too easily let others, situations, things people said (or didn’t say), or self-defeating thoughts take my good feelings away.
Sometimes when I see my mom smile even as I am aware that her constant trigeminal pain is like hatchet permanently being lodged in her face, I can’t help but think, “Joy can always supersede our pain.” Because real, everlasting joy comes from something beyond us. Mean-spirited people can chip away at your happiness. So can everyday stress. So can a toddler who refuses to pee on the potty or an achy hamstring and wonky hips. So can a cancer diagnosis, a death in the family, a miscarriage. Life, no matter how hard we try to inoculate ourselves against unhappiness, will sometimes take good things and good feelings away.
But nothing, nothing can take Him away. He came to us on that first Christmas, and I’ve got to believe that He’s with us still.
All of these ponderings are nothing new. I’ve known them all along, I suppose, but they, I admit, have sometimes felt like nothing more than empty platitudes, cozy Hallmark-like tag lines to give me a temporary pick-me-up. But not right now. Maybe tomorrow I’ll forget this lesson when the laundry and sibling squabbles overwhelm me. Maybe I’ll lose my joy because I’ve lost Him. This is my human condition to be blinded again and again. But it is God’s condition to keep making me see.
And now a glimpse into our Christmas season:
Guess who was Mary in the Nativity play at church? And Rachel, my 7-year-old, sang a duet to “Silent Night.”
I don’t care if it’s a tad blurry. I love the joy personified in this photo.
We had a few spring-like days. Thank goodness because now it feels tundra-like.
I went on a date with my girl. We went to what she referred to as a “very fancy restaurant.” Layla (the dog) wanted to come along, too.
Puppy love. No, she’s not ours, but the kids sure do wish she was. This was one of Madeline’s best friend’s Christmas gifts from her parents. “Geez,” Madeline remarked, “she gets a puppy, and we get hermit crabs.” Yes, my husband and I got the kids two hermit crabs for Christmas. They’re named Padfoot and Speedy and to be fair, we do already have two fish, a cat, and a dog. And is it just me, or is my oldest child looking really, really old all of a sudden?
Here’s to a healthy, happy and joyful 2015!
The only social media outlet I really keep up with these days is Instagram so if you’re hungry for more Wickers, feel free to follow me over there.