Thursday, December 31, 2015

Auld Lang Syne, Saudade, or Goodbye, Old Year

Isabella received a watch for Christmas, pink and perfect, and it puts me in mind of my Holly Hobbie watch, which I received as a young girl.  It marked time for me then just as this pink watch does for Isabella now. How as a child I became aware of time—so differently than my present self.  How the wait to Christmas was seemingly endless, and the passage of New Year distinct, and all time in between magical, mysterious, melding—disappearing. Playing blissfully. Unaware of day or hour.

These many years later—some 30-odd years since that watch—I find the passage of time not quite the same, though it is the same measurement. It feels faster, more relentless, unforgiving, sometimes merciless. But it’s not without its mercies. The simplicity of childhood may not be there, on adult radar, daily—both in our personal lives and in the public sphere, in our own time and in time immemorial.  The travesties of this past year seem the mercilessness of ages rolled into one, suggest no passage of time or growth, yet here we are, on the verge of 2016. Should auld acquaintance be forgot? The song receives more attention at our mark of year’s end. Should we forget from whom and where we came from? Shouldn’t we honor that by living our best now possible, in a time we—-still—-mark by watch and calendar, but which indeed has inevitably marched on?  In a year of mercy, can we find ourselves—-still—-grace for the journey? Grace for those who suffer the buffets of time in ways like and unlike us. When I imagine Tamir Rice’s parents, or the parents of Newtown (among the many of these past years), and their inexplicable sadness at knowing how, year by year, their children’s growth would have looked like….I feel both despair and a greater urge to make use of time as gift, given to me to cultivate mercy for not only myself but others. For those I love and those I don’t even know.

So when the New Year comes to us in a blaze of silver and gold, even if my 40+ body is asleep with the weariness of parenthood, even if caught in the frenzy of celebration, even if sad at our losses in this past year, even if rejoicing in the possibility of the new year—I will bear in mind these same moments for others. I will think of the children who are no more because of malice and chaos and a host of our sins. I will think in gratitude for their presence and ours in this lifetime, that the march of time will push us toward becoming the change we wish to see, proverbially. In reality.  In our now.

Friday, November 20, 2015


It’s been a dream to be able to care for my new little bit, Charlotte, in her early months in this world.  Just the acts themselves of caring for her have been joy, even when they have been pain--I don’t know how that’s possible, by the way.  I remember being annoyed by first parenthood, and this second time around I am only sensing the littlest bit of that.

What occurred to me the other day as I looked out our beautiful picture windows overlooking the yard and trees beyond was that I have been able to watch the seasons change.  Not just sort of acknowledge them, but actually watch the transition proceed slowly.  I remembered feeling that way during the trials of my miscarriages, in Spring one time, Fall/Winter the next.  Something about seeing the perceptible change seemed momentous, symbolic even, to just me, as if God were putting on a show for one (when I know they’re happening for us all). As if this symbol were nudging me to change from within, to both release and accept.

This unfolding mirrors my own, unfolding from years now of worry and obsession over all that goes wrong or seems off.  From thinking all will go wrong.  I am serious when I say that became muscle memory for me, and only now that I have stopped long enough to see this and work through this can I see how deep-seated it was, my lack of trust.  My feeding fear. Instead now I am feeding a baby.  While this does come with some hang ups (is she getting enough to eat?  Percentile weight.  Blah blah...) these are not enough to dissuade this new part of my psyche to enjoy this warm small bundle of a baby, this little piece of myself, and share this absolutely velvet feeling with others.

The seasons changing outside my window seem to mirror something from within: slow and steady, the leaves in my life which were nurtured in good and bad times now change color, become loosened, give themselves up to the ground we walk on, to the space created by God, the same God who created me.  Branches bare themselves, the sky becomes more apparent. Winds blow and nudge a last letting go, and tickle the chimes.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Denial and Desire

Denial is a part of desire. How much either takes over is key, and not always what we think is best.

 In some ways it’s good to deny--to build, or rather rebuild, the self.  But why we deny ourselves becomes a matter of discernment as well.  Some deny to avoid. In the case of an addict that’s ok, but denial doesn’t work this way in every context.  The example that comes to mind is denial of others, for any of a number of reasons, for fear of being led to sin.  All are made by God. All have the potential to teach us. Even our temptations temper our souls. That crazy dance or battle between denial and desire--with a third party of will stepping in--can forge a soul.

These days I have slowly and awkwardly allowed my girls to teach me something about them, and about myself. I feel like I am becoming better because of this.  I am denying myself the urge to force my will, to impose myself upon their growth (within reason, but really, it’s hard to parent!  To allow what God gave your littles to simply flourish with some pruning, rather than all-out hacking takes incredible restraint).   I also feel desire rising within: I want to write. To be alone even for just a little bit. To have a piece of chocolate cake without having to share with a five-year-old. Silly, perhaps--but what happens when the desires turn to others’ ways of thinking and seeing the world, or to the way they act or do things? My husband is type A in so many ways, a vestige of his time in the Army, and I can’t stand it sometimes--I am not a type A kind of person--but I have managed to learn some interesting things about my partner (and really connect to him) because of this unique if annoying feature of his personality.

And that’s a tame example, I know, because I “married it” (as Fr. Tom would say when I whined to him about the marriage pact).  What happens when you’re not married to it? To those who espouse hatred or bigotry, or those who live lives somewhat opposite to your own? Or just alien to your own? 

What you learn will depend on the level of patience you have, but the rewards and possibilities inherent to listening with the inner senses await claiming for those who choose a better path.  An unusual path, weird under your feet, revealing little marvels.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


I am still scratching my head at how I could be mother to two beautiful daughters.  I am thinking of my friend Holly, and understanding now what she meant about not knowing whether she could split this love, this heart explosion, for two little beings, soul made flesh, me a co-creator.

I am wondering at my part in all this, too.  At my choice, at 41 weeks, to go ahead and get the family centered cesarean set up with the best doctor/midwife team, available on August 26.  Isn’t that the same as pushing to wait for little one to make an appearance herself? To want, rather than to feel need?  yes and no. Between 41-42 weeks there are real dangers that make the gamble too high stakes--ultimately that’s what made me decide in a way I never have before: on the spot, to take action.  For months I’d been practicing centering to guide me in the labor process, to cope with pain, to work through the mental pitfalls I still felt and had no idea how deep these were (at least, until I found myself on the other side of an abdominal cut, struggling with breastfeeding, and feeling as though I had been transported in time to the difficulties of my first birth experience, and all its problems).

What I am seeing now is that I needed this experience to trigger this pain, these memories, and to release them, as I would not let them go.  I needed as well the special care the midwives offered me, and the hope, and the trust in the female body to learn to trust my own, even if in the end IT would not let this baby go.  It was as if my entire body became overprotective to Charlotte, wanting to be sure she was perfectly formed and ready for the world.  Perhaps even wanting me to be sure that all I ever doubted about myself, and what my body could do or has done, would not repeat itself. I would not lose my life. I would not lose this little life.  I had to choose right paths, and honor the path and the experience along with it.

Looking back I find the first part of healing with making a choice to be healthy in both body and mind, and consulting with women whose expertise and compassion raised me up.  Just that act--not simple, mind you--was enough to make me a different person. Just asking my husband will give you this:  he saw a marked difference in my demeanor from the moment go.  I sweated blood making that decision, wondering if it would endanger me to shift gears at 32 weeks, if this new group would understand me, if something would get lost in the shuffle.  None of these happened; their professionalism and care, their treatment of me not as clinical but as human, was exactly what I needed to make the pregnancy, the journey, both memorable and normal, my new favorite word.

More than this, I found myself thrown into a mental state I needed to confront to move on from my previous experience.  I thought I had moved on, and really I had not. Calling Charlotte Isabella by mistake, crying in the middle of the night in my hospital bed, wondering why I couldn’t do things other mothers seemed capable of---these and other psychological trip wires were signs of something deeper. Something healed when my husband, who got caught up in the chaos himself, stepped outside the madness for a moment and said, Liz, talk about it.  And that’s what did it for me: that someone I loved and shared the madness with would have the presence of mind to step away and see the value of sharing pain, of compassion that doesn’t come with answers or solutions, just an ear, a heart open to embracing someone else’s pain.  It was a providential moment, for me and for him, something which I believe strengthened our marriage again, as had our run-ins with suffering shared before this .

My mind goes back to Fr Tom--his presence in our lives remains after death, as if he were an advocate for us in the beyond, past that door marked “nevermore”--that Tony Bennett song I cannot get out of my head, so simple, about moving onward, but maybe about more than that:

The days of wine and roses
Laugh and run away

Like a child at play

Through the meadowland

Toward a closing door
A door marked never more

That wasn't there before

The lonely night discloses

Just a passing breeze

Filled with memories

Of the golden smile
That introduced me to

The days of wine and roses
And you.

We have our doors, the spaces we move in and out of, physical, metaphysical--some doors need shutting, but some should remain open as long as you can manage, before an unseen hand gently closes it. The decisions and epochs of our lives a series of rooms, meadows, spaces we share, in which memories float like fireflies, then are gone.

And then we look back, and think on them fondly, and wonder how we got through.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


 I recently discovered, as we were cleaning out an old bookcase to make room for baby, a book by Joyce Rupp called The Star in My Heart, which Fr. Tom had lent me before he passed in July.  He’d been trying to help me find meditative material to work through the angst I still felt from the miscarriages of 2013, and thought this would be up my alley--though later, because I mentioned it, he came up with three new books directly on miscarriage and loss for the Catholic Center library, and got doubles for me to read and share with the many women I found telling their stories. He’d also started a bereavement group--one of his last projects in supporting our community, which he felt so strongly about because there had been so many funerals in just the past year. I also wonder whether he didn’t feel, from deep within, a sense that something was changing inside, a sense that suffering was growing in a way he hadn’t anticipated.

I think about him every day. Today marks my due date, and though I am not sure this is going to go down immediately, I still find myself mentally preparing, and the Rupp book has become one of many I have pondered over as I vacillate between anticipation and fear of what’s to come.  The book has his scrawl in it--mostly notes to himself, points he wanted to highlight in perhaps a group meeting on the book, much of it so hard to read, but still, his writing.  His hurried hand as he read and digested.  I feel as though he is near, peering over my shoulder as I read, and hear his voice grow persistent on the main points, as it always did in his homilies, or when he was fired up about anything. And that's good, since I really wish he was here as he was five years ago at my bedside, praying over me.

The focus of the book is on the notion of Sophia as a spiritual guide--Sophia in the sense of wisdom. I gave Isabella the middle name Sophia in part because of this:  she was my little guide to parenthood five years back, and she remains now a revelation to me most days, especially when I can cut through the whining long enough to understand what she’s trying to say. In the book, as Rupp reflects in a chapter when we get hung up on our “enchanted forests”--the places in our lives in which we set things or people on pedestals and then suffer disillusionment--she quotes Judith Viorst:

The road to human development is paved with renunciation. Throughout our life we grow by giving up. We give up some of our deepest attachments to others. We give up certain cherished parts of ourselves. We must confront, in the dreams we dream, as well as in our intimate relationships, all that we never will have and never will be.

It’s a good reflection, this one, applicable in many ways to various aspects of anticipation. For me right now it’s whether this baby will make an appearance naturally, and how life will change irrevocably with a new little member of our family. Over my lifetime I think I have paused and grown most when I did recognize transitions and moments when I needed to give something up, leave something or someone behind, let go and move on to something else, to the ineffable.  Not knowing what will happen when we detach, when we acknowledge the ins and outs of our anticipation and hope--there’s the rub. Who knows which way the ball will roll?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Cherish even your weakness

There are a few times in my life I wish I could turn the clock back, and perhaps rethink or certainly relive a moment.  There was that time I should have gone with my family to Portugal--I should have quit my job, tossed caution to the wind, not cared about paying my student loans and debts, but I decided to be responsible.  Looking back I realize what I missed--how many stories and connections I could have made, especially time gone by as it has, and everyone having moved on in significant ways. There are smaller moments, too, when I wish I’d taken a little more time to savor what was happening--and knowing this only now, in hindsight, being able to see the importance of such a  moment.

Right now, in a hospice in New Jersey, a man who was not only my spiritual advisor but also a friend, a father, a brother--who played so many roles in mine and my family’s life--is slowly dying. Long ago his kidneys made trouble for him, and he made it a point to live stubbornly through this hurdle, this weakness, and dedicate his life to a host of others. His calm, philosophical and spiritual outreach must have touched thousands upon thousands of lives in all the places he lived and offer ministry to all and any.  When he came to us in Athens, GA, my husband and I immediately gravitated toward him, aiming to make him feel welcome in a new place, when, to our surprise, he made us feel welcome in our own skins. Over the years he taught us the value of our souls, to find ways to make front and center how God enters into our lives, in ways both mysterious and obvious.

He blessed my marriage, my daughter, my home; he listened to my troubles, put perspective on my sins and inner demons; he made me smile and laugh; he called me little flower.

He’s so far away now, and I am so pregnant--I cannot get on a plane to go and see him, though that’s my first inclination.  I know his family is near him, consoling him, telling him the jokes and reliving their family story. And all I can think of is the moment I had with him I wish I could relive, my most recent memory of him.  We went for a bagel, for a morning chat, and as we ate and he listened to my problems, he cored out the bready part of the bagel in front of him, and saved it in a napkin. I thought it strange at the time, but when we finished, he told me why, and asked me to pause out at the front door of the shop to watch him. Quite often, he would get a bagel at this place, and he found that  he had a little Franciscan following: pausing that day, I watched him, in the middle of Jackson Street, throw the bread crumbs up in the air, and from out of nowhere a multitude of birds came and fed on the pieces. I felt I was looking on St Francis--and I wish now I had skipped my own class and just sat and talked with him for the rest of the day.

Yesterday, I read prophetic words in the second reading: “My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.” Fr. Tom taught me that--and he lived that, to the end.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Inner demons

Choosing to live and grapple with one’s demons is an act of courage. Every time I turn around lately I find someone with a story to share or a battle well fought, and this inspires me in my own battles with “acedia,” or the “noonday demon,”  originally noted amongst monks who live a solitary life and find themselves alone with their worst thoughts about themselves on a  regular basis.   Kathleen Norris writes eloquently on the subject  --but I suspect everyone can find someone who, if willing, has a compelling story to share. I’m grateful for the examples I have in my life at the moment: I have especially looked for fortitude and faith, a counting on God but also an inner strength, a belief that all will be well, no matter the circumstances.

My current demons revolve around believing I can get through this pregnancy, and that I will hold my beautiful baby. That my  body won’t betray me. That I will have faith in God, make the right and healthy choices for myself, and somehow take care of my family.  Put things in perspective.  My battle revolves around this beautiful pregnancy, but I know elements of my battle resonate with those for whom the battle is about something else altogether.  The honesty and hope which go hand in hand for these genuine souls encourages me to keep moving, even if the steps are little and the days seem long.

It’s my hope and prayer that you will find this balance for yourself, that you will find people and their stories to share the journey along the way, that you won’t get too caught up in the end goal to miss the excruciating but gorgeous things that may happen as you move forward.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Unleashed Joy

On Holy Thursday, I was 20 weeks and 1 day pregnant.  And for the first time, I allowed myself to be fully joyful: inside, I had an all-out party with myself and Tiny Dancer.  I named the baby Tiny Dancer when I first saw legs and arms move as if in joy, as if to say to me--Mama!  Look at me!  And I did, and I fell in love.

I saw, through the miracle of science, pictures of my little one, full head, limbs, belly, squirming and stretching and telling me, yes, I am here, I am going nowhere until it’s time. Little by little I learn the lesson of trust. Each milestone feels different this time, teaches me something new about myself.  In recent days I find myself coaching from within: accept whatever comes. Accept the strange feeling of your belly pulling down and outward; accept the possibility something has gone wrong; accept the possibility all has gone well. Accept it all--it may all be true. Accept the gift of each day given freely.  This, my latest lesson in becoming more and more human.

Along with this come other lessons.  My practice and prayer through Lent really flourished through to Easter:  I am cultivating some patience, genuine communication, and understanding even when things seem inscrutable. All this is better than that malaise I was in, that dark shuffle through suffering which felt like a march without purpose. None of this could be without my real aim at communing with God: I have taken a moment each day to do nothing else but be quiet, still, and prioritize nothing but the meditative moment, for its sake only.

 I have come far; who knows what’s to come? I hope I am ready. There are still question marks, wonderment both hopeful and hesitant, paths yet to choose.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Art of Losing

I can’t see her anymore, roaming the yard, looking for her favorite sunny spot on a cold day. Our little Dot, with her hopeful looking brown eyes, always on the lookout, ever-protective of Isabella since she was a wee one.  She left on the tail end of 20 some-odd days of illness for us (sinus infections, bronchitis, flu), after suffering herself through joint and leg pain, and loss of mobility and desire. 

In this past month, we have all lost our desire, become humbled by both desperation and dependence, and are just starting to emerge.  Maybe.  I can still see and feel the way I have turned inside myself, helpless to help myself, my daughter, my husband, and ultimately, my dog.  I also remember, being in the midst of this, holding fast, too fast--not letting go.  One day, sniping at each other, I broke. I let go the anger, unleashed it, felt bad and good for it finally coming undone from me, being freed of its tyranny.

Before this I’d realized dully that somehow it might come to this, and that I needed to look outside myself.  I’d looked to newspapers, to others’ stories, to the ways suffering is omnipresent, around us always, making impressions in unexpected ways. There are everyday tragedies, and survival of these, and perseverance, and finding faith anew no matter how bad things get.

And here we are at Lent.

I feel a malaise, but something inside me says: trod on. Move, don’t stagnate.  So I reach out for those things which have helped before: prayer, fasting, listening, paying attention to the signs of my life, the things God places in proximity to my need. Again this means slowing down, making time to meditate, even the smallest amount of time--to make room.  Otherwise how could I see things as they really are?  How would I catch the peace in that spot of sun at the end of the yard where Dot used to lay, and almost see her lying there, curled up in a ball, soaking in the goodness of the sun?  A friend of mine said he has no doubt she’s soaking up the rays of God’s love now.  It was a touching thought, but it also reminded me that someday, that’s where I want to be, and the sufferings of this world are leading me to an understanding. I am groping my way in that direction, still fearful sometimes, but wanting to let go, unleash, just as I did with Dot in the moment she passed on and her brown eyes opened wide in fear and gratefulness.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


This morning, Isabella, sleepy-headed at breakfast table, said, “Mama, it’s been so nice to be here at home for Christmas--I don’t want to leave for school.”  In her little four years she, too, gets how absolutely lovely and wonderful sharing all this time together has been, and like her I have been hesitant to let it go. As I write, I steal glances at my Christmas tree, the mandate from my husband to take off the ornaments in the back of my head. I can’t do it just yet; I want to linger a bit in the loveliness of one of the best Christmases of my 42 years, to revel in the fresh memory of it so as years go on, I can access this feeling, this moment. Perhaps there will be even better moments to come, but this year will rank right up there, I think.

As we drove to school, we discovered the pearlescent moon “following us,” as she said, joining us for the ride.  And I found what I love about the ride: the textures of countryside in contrasts of color, the frost glistening in that moonlight and against the evergreens and matted grasses.  Each day of a busy 2014 I made it a point to try and find even the smallest bits of beauty in this world to focus me on what was more important than my burgeoning schedule, and here it was again: my practice of mini meditation had found me after all this time cocooning at home.

In contrasts we see the beauty of things--in fact, the most beautiful things often have the greatest contrasts exhibited in them, from works of art and nature, to beloved relationships, and everything else which touches and molds our souls. I want to continue this meditation into the new year, and my morning drive is one example of so many ways to bring this awareness to the frontal lobe. Doing this has refreshed my creative soul, the spirituality of my thinking, has even affected the genuineness of my relationships and of my vision, so I know practice makes not perfect but compassionate. If you have a moment and want to try it, maybe you could share with me what contrasts of beauty in your lives you have found lift you.  May your 2015 begin and end with this kind of unmitigated joy!