We ironed 3 shirts, 3 pairs of pants, 3 dresses and one sweater then tamed 6 heads of hair. Shoes were found and we loaded up in the heat to go to Cathedral for a funeral.

I saw it on Facebook en route to California.  Then Jac texted:

"O.C. died last night."

I felt the void of his absence as sure as if the air was sucked from the room. Through the weekend, in the few still seconds between all the other things we were doing, I felt the emptiness and gulped in the oxygen.

It's true we did not know him well, not much beyond acquaintance really, but as Bishop Gruss said in his homily, "It's like a rock star has died. But the Rock is the rock of Christ.  His love was Christ loving us." Monsignor O'Connell shone Christ and an encounter - no matter how brief - left you feeling known and loved.

So we went to mass, over lunch and naptimes.  History lessons were abandoned for life lessons because I want our kids to understand life is a terminal condition and that they have a call and if you're going to spend your life, it's best spent for Christ. I listened to Gemma ask Elizabeth if that was his body, felt my throat tighten at the plain pine box draped in a star quilt, and prayed hard for our sons who are listening for their call.

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Praise for our death that makes our life real,
the knowledge of loss that helps us to feel;
the gift of yourself, your presence revealed
to bring us home.

The pall was placed and the procession began, our Crucified Lord leading the way. And yet the priests wore white, the symbol of the resurrection and victory.  I watched his family, large and healthy spanning several generations and was struck mute.  O.C. belonged to Western South Dakota, to the impoverished, the Native, the Hispanic, the priests, the widows, the people.  And yet, here were his people, his blood and they loved him ounce for ounce as we did.  These priests, they are never lonely and their families expand beyond their reach by the grace of God.

O.C. left specific instructions about the homily to be shared.  Don't talk about me, he said, but the love of God in the priesthood.  The Bishop admitted to falling short, of struggling to ignore the presence that was the Monsignor.  This man, a priest's priest, did what he did through Christ's strength and the Lord allowed him to serve 58 years when the doctors optimistically said 10.

The people there today mourned our loss, celebrated O.C.'s gain, and thanked God for the gift of his vocation.  Jac and I, at opposite ends of the pew, prayed the same passionate prayer for our children.  "Please, Lord, give them eyes to see and ears to hear the joy that comes in obediently following your call."

O Lord, with your eyes set upon me,
gently smiling, you have spoken my name;

all I longed for I have found by the water,
at your side, I will seek other shores.

I was reminded of a conversation I had once with someone who was upset by a Catholic funeral.  "They didn't talk about her at all or let anyone share."  I tried to explain that a funeral isn't meant for that.  A wake?  Yes!  But a funeral?  A funeral is a final send off, a time to pray for the departed, to commend them to God, to come together and, shoulder to shoulder, remind ourselves of the resurrection.

That was real today.

In the silence post communion a singular priest began low and loud, "Salve Regina . . . " The entirety of our presbyterate stood together and joined the song. They faced the coffin and us, their masculine voices filling the sanctuary.  Our kids, and everyone else, froze, moved by O.C.'s brother's farewell.  There was a second of silence and we stood for our own goodbye.

Give him eternal rest, O Lord.
May light unending shine on him.
Receive his soul, O holy ones;
Present him not to God, Most High.

Again, the silence breathed and then, from the choir loft, a lone voice began a Lakota honor song.  Three others joined in and soon the drum, too.  I wept, holding my breath against sobs.  It wasn't because of the drums - though Lord knows they get me every time! - or because I understand Lakota.  I cried, overwhelmed with the ferocity of the love the people of the diocese have for our priests.  The song was glorious and fitting for O.C., but it was the spirit, the pure gift of it that conveyed all our hearts.  When the mass was over, eyes red and puffy, person after person admitted to being overcome.

And really, it was perfect.  The song was a mystery to most of us but it moved us in the same way that God's love and mercy is beyond understanding and yet changes hearts and lives again and again.  O.C. lived his life in that truth. . . what a way to end it.

You can read O.C.'s obit here and the local news story here.
The words in italic were all sung today.

 

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Wisdom from Jac:

"Kissing is for men with wives, not men with knives."

Inspired by a conversation with the kids about the scandal MacGyver is considering how many ladies he's locked lips with.  "Is that adultery or something else?"  Oh, the fun we have around the table!

Max and I have the same shirt in the same size at the top of our laundry stacks.  It IS weird.

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Someone tried a grape in the egg slicer.  I have my suspicions as to who.

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Gemma has bagged up all of the girl's shoes and left them on a shelf of the baker's rack.  I can't begin to guess as to why.

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There is an open bag of cereal on the floor.  Lu's been snacking.  Related - this is why we don't invite guests to breakfast.

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There's an entire basket worth of socks to match.  If you need me, I'll be weeping in my closet.

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There are potatoes with bites taken out of them scattered around the house.  Again, Lu's been snacking. (Also, I like to leave sharp objects down where little hands can find them.  Because life isn't interesting enough!

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This is on my pillow.  I don't ask questions any more.  It's just better that way.

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The pan from last night's supper is still on the table.  Jac put away the left overs so I'm not even annoyed by the dish.  Really.

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In short, CHAOS.  How's your Thursday shaping up?

Just over a year ago, Jac began looking into a uniformed, Catholic youth movement for Tess.  We didn't want to hitch our wagons to the cookie sellers and our girl was itching for badges to earn so we were motivated. When we found the Federation of North American Explorers and their roots that reached back to Lord Baden Powell through a Fr. Jacques  who had connections to St. Therese . . . Well, it just made sense.

We began to pray for 5 other girls Tess's age that would make us official.  We filled out paperwork, learned the lingo, made the neckers, hosted info nights and waited. Before we knew what was happening, we had 14 little girls, 5 big girls and were in the possession of a good deal of camping gear.

The camping gear was a blessing because girls would invite their friends and they'd learn some knots and at the end of the night announce they'd join, "But when are we going camping?"

I'll admit, I was taken aback.  I can't remember ever being excited to camp.  Maybe it's because we did it -OFTEN- growing up. By the time Billy and I were 6 and 8, it was our job to pitch the family tent and arrange the bedding when we dune buggied or traveled to SD.  Did I like being in the dune buggies?  Yes, as long as I could breathe.  Did I like hanging with my friends in the wild? Absolutely.  Did I enjoy raucous campfires and having everyone under one roof?  Of course!  But did I like pooping in the woods or the dirt everywhere or the cold mornings or the work before, during and after?

No.

But these girls were giddy at the prospect.  So, we planned a maiden voyage to the lake.  We prayed things would dry out because it was a swamp and the wettest May/June on record and camping in the rain is even harder than plain camping.  (I was going to say "worse" or "crappier" but a Timber Wolf is always happy!) We loaded up the girls and the cars and set off in high spirits.

Minutes away from Spearfish and Mass, we blew a tire at 80 mph. It peeled back the metal of the wheel well and broke a coolant line.  Because we were working on Being Prepared, we had a new spare and the Witte's were able to fill our resevoir and patch the line.

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We got to the lake as dark descended.  Elizabeth and the girls struggled with the tents they had effortlessly erected days before.  I began to panic when, after an hour of trying, I could not get a fire lit.  The organization encourages all meals to be prepared over an open fire, so I was looking down the barrel of hunger and desperation while our neighbors poured gasoline on their woodpile and exclaimed over their flames.

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We ate our burned weenies in the dark. ("Wait . . . are weenies the same as hotdogs?" "My favorite part was the hotdogs.  Even though they were burned and the biscuit was doughy, it was still REALLY good.") We hustled through an abbreviated dessert and campfire. (Upon being instructed with marshmallows and chocolate and tortillas -"Oh! They're Sm'acos!" "My favorite part was singing at campfire.")  I lined them up and showed them how to brush their teeth from a cup and spit in the weeds.

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At midnight I crawled into the tent to sleep on my hump of meadow between the bags and shoes.

At 3 am the thunder and lightening woke me.  I laid still, not wanting to disturb the condensation I could see with each flash.  Drips began to fall on my face.  The thunder was so continuous that even though I yelled, "Girls!  Are you okay?" no one could hear me.  Thirty minutes in, there was a sliver of a break.  This time, we heard Elizabeth leading the big girls in a giggly version of 'Singing in the Rain.'  "That's it!  They can NOT have more fun than us!"  When they heard that, the separating flaps all unzipped and they all began to talk at once.  Then they discovered EVERYTHING was wet.  They were cold.  It was scary.  They should've cried and I wouldn't have faulted them - I would've joined in!

Instead, we rearranged.  We pulled out extra sweatshirts and covered pillows with towels.  They piled around me like puppies and we sang and played games and in the end, because God loves me, I had a book of fairy tales downloaded on my phone.  I read to them over the rain and the thunder and we slept a couple more hours.

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We woke to fog so thick we couldn't see the lake.  It was wet and cold STILL but no one complained. When the sun broke out as we made breakfast, they all rushed to put on their swim suits.  Who cared if it was only 60 degrees?  Elizabeth led the charge to brush their teeth with charcoal and after a collective "Crunch!" in the breathless silence, there was so much laughing and spitting black I can't help but giggle now.

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They played so hard and got so many sunburns and 'squito bites that at our late lunch, there was silence.  "This is SO good.  I think I was hungry!" Most of them slept on the return trip  but when they woke up, wanted to know when we would go again.

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And wouldn't you know?  I'm actually looking forward to it, too.


Jac's shirt tonight says 'LIFE' on the back.  The front says 'limitless' and together?  Well, that pretty much sums up the last 9 weeks.

Summer 2015 has been full of birthdays and Duc in Altum, weddings, visits, campouts and sleep away camps, the lake, drives back and forth, Totus Tuus, good news near and far, and loads and loads of laundry.

The AC went out in the Suburban.  (What the. . . ?)

We were gifted a trampoline. (Thank ya, Jesus!)

It's August and I feel as if we've only just begun and yet someone mentioned that it's beginning to feel like fall.

Limitless LIFE. I'll take it.  And a nap.

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This girl.

She makes us laugh 4 times for every time we are exasperated and we are exasperated A LOT.

This particular day I should have been exasperated and I fear she thought I was.  A sign of a guilty conscience to be sure because she knows she's not supposed to use the markers.  She knows, too, that if she is using the markers, they are not to be used on her clothes or her skin. That day she had emerged from "nap" with beautifully rendered stigmata - it's all the rage among the girls currently. So much so that I wasn't surprised at all upon seeing her. However, it wasn't until bath time that we discovered this.

She mistook my laughter for derision when it was nothing but delight.  Because really, the skill displayed and how she managed to find such a wonderful canvas . . . well, it was a thing of beauty to be sure.

I'm praying that she gets it out of her system now or sticks to the washable markers.  And, please Lord, keep me laughing through it all.

It's the first day of June, the sun is shining (FINALLY), and yet . . . And yet I feel like we've just pulled ourselves over the finish line of a particularly grueling race.

May . . . was not kind to us.  May Day was packed in a can't-catch-your-breath kind of way and it paid no mind to the fact we actually had our acts and baskets together before that morning. NO. Instead, the kids missed each basket delivery, were caught TWICE by the same person and were, largely, slow moving and dull.  Pulling up to the MANsion, we heard a pop as we rolled next to the curb.  When Max opened his door, we were met with an insistent hiss.  His brow furrowed, he looked calmly towards the tire and announced we had a puncture. Why is it when the kids need to move fast, they switch to slow-mo?  Who cared that we were rapidly losing air and we were blocking a driveway that had a woman waiting in her running car with the reverse engaged?  Not these kids.  We limped around the corner and parked ourselves on the pretty, historic Boulevard.  While we waited for Jac, Max and I (in a dress) removed the spare and attempted to do something, anything, useful while the car load fought and cried.  I ruefully Googled "How to change a tire" to know where to start as this mechanic's daughter was never taught to do such a thing.  The reason?  "She'll never be strong enough to remove the lug nuts anyway."  Well you know what?  They were right.

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An hour and a half, some high grade lube, and a "cheater" post later, we were back on the road, only having changed vehicles twice. Oh, and lest we forget, Jac and I both ended up with bleeding hands and as he put the old tire in the  trunk, it bucked back and broke his glasses.  As in the frames cracked and the lens went flying, wouldn't stay on his face, kind of broke.

We ate supper after 8 that night.

We did that several times last month . . .

Two days after the tire/glasses debacle, the screen of the laptop cracked leaving 4 ziggy-zaggy lines across the face.

Things just kept breaking and busting but the final straw was the timer button on the stove that just gave up even trying.  This has complicated our lives in so very many ways and has made me realize how good we've got it.  Well, how good we HAD it anyway. #firstworldproblems

There was the snow.  And the rain. And the depression. And the coughs from Gemma and Lu that are serious indeed.

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But there were the trips to Tripp county with buffalo prime rib enjoyed overoloking the Missouri, an evening spent in Kyle, Saturdays with nothing to do, friends at our table, visits from Sister Joy, a birthday, a vigil for Pentecost, flowers delivered, loads of laughter, and so much more.

I sense a turning of the tide.  Sure, June will be just as busy and has the same possibility of disaster, but it holds promise, too.  So June, I'm looking at you . . . let's do this.

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Ellie turned 6.  (Can we all just take a moment to point out that Philip turned TEN in FEBRUARY and I didn't breathe a word about it here?  I am that mom.)

She plotted and planned the perfect execution for her entry in Club Big Kid.

Before you ask, no, it's not a real thing.  Not really.  But the transition to 6 and all the things she would get to do because of a change in her age was very real and important to her.

So Club Big Kid induction. . . Mama Syd gave the boys and then the girls their own CD players for Christmas.  It was my idea.  I thought it was brilliant but failed to take into account Boom Box Battles (wherein each room plays a song of choice at full volume simultaneously and then they decide who 'won'.  That of course spirals into a battle of words and wills.  It's SO MUCH FUN.) or how the Annie soundtrack played for hours on end would make me wish I had never been born. Oy. Anyway, Ellie had decided before Christmas that she would watch the new Annie for her birthday so the soundtrack only fueled the fire.

An Annie Extravaganza!  Hurray!

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She wanted invitations and she wanted to make them and deliver them.  And there were red velvet cupcakes to make and their decoration to delegate and supervise.  And a red dress to wear of course.

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Before she even got to the party there was monkey bread for breakfast and Pottery to Paint to visit.  Everything was choreographed according to her plan and executed with her help.

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I have no idea where she gets that from.

She was a very tired, very happy, Club Big Kid member when she headed to bed that night. And they haven't played the Annie Soundtrack once since! God is good.

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I've said it before, and I'll say it again, nothing can save a day like tea.

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The last few weeks, round about lunchtime is the time I'm ready  to cash in the chips instead of serve them. Lunch after a morning of screeching, screaming and squabbling seems like too much work especially when no one can agree on anything.

Enter tea!  There is something trans-formative about putting on the kettle.  When it begins to whistle, someone invariably says, "Wait!  Are we having tea?!" and life is worth living again. Having tea means serving up finger foods that can be as mish-mash as you want them to be.  It is soothing to set out a plate with toast spread with Nutella and topped with sprinkles.  Healthy?  Probably not.  Magical? You betcha. Instead of trying to make a cohesive meal, the surprise of choices seems whimsical. And then they serve themselves which seems like sheer genius.

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We probably won't do tea for lunch for much longer as I don't want it to lose it's luster.  But we're all enjoying the respite it's currently providing. We are flying through our read-alouds and lingering with each other.  We've been sampling the latest teas Aunt Cristie sent from Columbia Kate's - San Francisco Blend and Gold Rush.  I must admit, I feel a certain pride hearing the kids debate the merits of their favorite teas and watching them eagerly try out new blends.

Do the kids still leave their plates on the table at the end of the meal? Yes.  Do they still resist the afternoon siesta? Of course. But the occasion of tea seems to set our hearts aright and that allows me to be okay with all the rest.  It's worth it every single time.

Practically speaking: We started with very subtle teas (subtleties . . . get it?!) to allow the kids to gain a palate.  Tension Tamer steeped around 3 minutes went over big with this crowd.  Mint followed and remains a favorite.  Of course, I always allow a certain amount of sugar and honey because I do. Milk in a creamer is all sorts of fun and a healthy and tasty addition.

Every day lunch service is made and put onto specific plates that belong to the kids.  But when we do tea, I fill plates and bowls with the offerings while they set small plates at their spots and pull out their tea cups.  Then they pass the food to each other providing a chance to work on manners. (Or not . . .)  Some things we serve for tea (I usually have 3-4 things on the table) include: scones (when I'm daring), popcorn, sliced apples, sliced strawberries, frozen blueberries, baby carrots, sugar-snap peas, pretzels, toast fingers or triangles with Nutella or jelly or peanut butter, tiny crustless pb&j, sliced cucumbers, orange wedges, left over ham, gingerbread cookies, cinnamon toast, mini muffins from breakfast, cheese cubes or sliced cheese sticks on toothpicks (trust me, tooth picks are FANCY), left over waffles from breakfast dusted with powdered sugar, cheese and crackers, melon cubes, rolled lunch meat on toothpicks,etc.

Writing it out it seems silly - there is probably more effort that goes into tea than into regular lunch.  But the difference is my heart.  Making tea and the food to serve with it is creating an event and that is fun and a cause for joy.  That in turn flows out to the crowd and that turns the day around.

Well, that and the Nutella.  Ain't nobody hating the Nutella . . .

 

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I've been stewing for the last week.  Reading status updates of people hating on Mother's Day has riled me up.  The sentiments behind the posts were legitimate - grieving a mother, the hurt of infertility, dreams deferred, rough relationships, and everything in between.  I wasn't sure why I would get worked up because I'm certainly not attached to the day myself.  Then, it dawned on me- it felt like those voices were raining on my parade.

I know they're not, I really do.  But let's be honest, mothering is my thing. I desired and chose it, ill-prepared and naive as I was, and I have been finessing it for 12 years.  I have willingly been stripped of and let other things go for the sake of this call and I own it.  My motherhood isn't clean or soft or even pretty, but it's hard-fought and determined and passionate.  The chorus of what I'm doing wrong and failing at is always droning in my mind and at times it can be deafening so don't think for one moment that I think I have it together or that I'm perfect.  I don't feel the warm, fuzzy "I heart being their mom!  They are my world!" vibe, but this pack of rapscallions?  They made me ME and are plowing my way to heaven, THANK YA JESUS.

So I will take the day.  The recognition.  The honor of being noticed for what I am doing and will do for the rest of my life. My motherhood, my pride in saying, "I brought forth that life," doesn't make me better than anyone else but it does define me. Being a mother means your body is never, ever yours alone ever again. My biology, my very self at a cellular level, has been changed by my children. My mind, too, is different as a result of this call. If they gave medals for it, I'd take one for each of my babes because mothering is HARD. First with the puking and fatigue, then the pinched nerves and hernias, labors, births, nursing, fatigue, post-partum depression, fatigue, mom brain, hormone roller coasters . . . did I mention fatigue?  For the love of Pete, isn't it okay to give these hard working ladies a brunch and sparkly cards?

Sheesh.

In the end, I wonder if we women aren't just afraid.  Afraid that we won't be remembered and noticed for who we are.  I'm just a stay-at-home mom, after all.  Others worry no one will recall or recognize the empty arms and aching heart because of infertility or a life lived unmarried. Others worry their loss of a baby will be forgotten.  Or that no one will want to mention the mom who is no longer here or who abandoned you or was abusive.

Woman, you are seen.  You are important because God made you and he has a plan for you.  It is wild and crazy and doesn't seem logical, but if you follow where he leads, that plan will yield joy upon joy. Alleluia, glory be, God. Is. GOOD.

Today that meant breakfast in bed, homemade cards and lilacs rescued from the snow.  It meant less than an hour to get ready for mass and wearing cowboy boots with fancy dresses because we couldn't find the right shoes.

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It meant braving the snow on the roads to go to a sparsely attended mass. It meant carnations from birthright clutched in hands of various sizes.

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It meant second day makeup and tights poking out of shoes that I didn't notice until we were back home.

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It meant lunch from Taco Bell, naps three to a bed, and sharing my water bottle with a thirsty girl so she would just go to sleep.  It meant Jac cooking supper and celebrating with 3 godmothers because we realize their spiritual motherhood is as valuable as my physical presence in the life of the kids.

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It meant phone calls and texts to the ladies I love and admire.  It meant crying over a letter and gifts from Jac because he notices me.

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It meant shaking off the funk and annoyance and noticing God's goodness.  And it was great.