God is Good

Ellie,

I want you to remember that on March 26, 2017, you made your first communion. Remember that it was a rainy, misty day. That we all breathed a sigh of relief when Mama Syd and Papa Chris texted to say they were in Hot Springs. They asked if you wanted to go to Fudruckers or Perkins for lunch.

"Mmmm. . . Can we do Perkins? I'm gonna get the 'usual.'"

Remember how Elizabeth came over to make the flower crown you requested. Seeing the white and palest pink spray roses that we had been unable to find was so exciting and absolutely perfect. You two worked together on it and when you tried it on, you positively glowed.

Remember, too, that I had promised you that your Bitty Baby would have a dress to match yours but at 3pm, it was still not done. Dad and Mama Syd said nothing but gave plenty of pointed looks encouraging me to step away from the sewing machine. You hovered close by, repeatedly asking if your dress had buttons yet. They were seen on at 4:10, plenty of time before the 5:30 mass.

You requested a bun in your hair and didn't complain once about the repeated combing to make it just right. On went the dress, the tights, the shoes, the flower crown and then the veil. I'm pretty sure you grew a full 3 inches the moment the veil was pinned in place! Remember how I told you to have a seat on the pew and for-the-love DON'T move so you'd stay clean. You cradled your now matching doll, grabbed a book and proceeded to sit criss-cross applesauce in your dress. I only had a minor moment of panic.

Remember that you were so excited. You had asked for weeks, months, when we could practice. It took us a while to track down the required Necco wafers but we did and we poured wine into a glass and prepped a dish with the candy even though it was very late. Everyone sat still and quiet while we told stories of God's providence, Jesus's miracles and the great mystery that is the Eucharist. You answered questions breathlessly and then, nervous and eager, lined up behind your siblings to practice how to receive Our Lord.

Recall on the day of, as we walked into Cathedral you felt the same eager nervousness that you had felt just days before. The greeter asked if we wanted to bring forward the gifts and I think dad would have said no (he was ALL nerves!) but he looked down at you in your dress and veil and crown and said yes instead. Your brothers served the Mass, grateful to be a part of this with you, so it was Dad and I and the girls that walked the long aisle to take forward the bread and wine. And because it was Lent, we did it to the sound of silence.

I hope you remember that Fr. Dillon called you and your parents up to receive Our Lord, Fr. Giving you the precious body and grandpa offering the precious blood. You were reverent and somehow looked so grown up and yet so tall all at once. You prayed an act of thanksgiving in the pew and were still and relaxed, breathing easy now it was over.

Please remember how many people came up to congratulate you, how many came to support you and love you. You stood patiently for so many photos and smiled and said thank you again and again. Remember, too, how people we did not know came up to tell you how happy they were for you or how beautiful you were. Remember the man who congratulated me and was teary eyed as he shook my hand, pressing into it $10. "For the first communicant. You have a lovely family!" Never forget God's abundant generosity and love that you received in the form of bread and wine and the love of those around us.

I hope you'll remember the tacos we served at the party and too many people for the house. How Joe was so silly and funny you kids howled with laughter and Patrick nearly choked in the hilarity. Remember, too, the gold painted cupcakes and the fun of gifts and how you walked to each gift giver unprompted to smile and thank them specifically.

I know it's a lot to keep track of, so maybe just remember this: you are so loved. First, by the King of the Universe who gave his life for you and shares his flesh as true food. Second, by your family who basks in your joy and thoughtfulness. And third, by all of those who come in contact with you. Yes, you are so loved. Never forget it.

I like to plan. It's a well known gag among ourselves and our friends that Jac and I tend to be decidedly different about the necessity of planning. (I'm bringing him around!) And our children? Yeah, they've learned a little too well from my example.

"So, what's going to happen after nap?"

(If you don't ever go to sleep and keep the baby up, you won't live to ever find out.)

"What's for dinner tonight?"

(Why do you only ask on days that I don't have an answer and how about one thing at a time, Mr. Jammiebottoms?)

"How will I say no if someone asks me out?"

(Uh. . . You're ten. Let's work on learning the times tables first, m-kay?)

Anyway, The kids were sorely disappointed by our lack of plans for New Years Eve.

"No one is coming over?! That's sad!" they lamented.

I assured them I had planned on plenty of sugar and probably some games and all would be well.

There were no plans for New Years but there were plans for the rest of the twelve days of Christmas, Twelfth Night, Epiphany, for schooling, for evenings in and out and I, for one, was relishing the thought of the New Year, new goals and fresh starts.

Then the call that Papa was in the hospital. Would he stay or be sent home? If he stayed, for how long? Things weren't so bad. Things weren't looking good but could turn around. Things were . . . Bad.

I got the text Papa had passed after the New Year was rung in and everyone was in bed. We got the first text offering condolences and help before I was out of bed the next morning.

Messages of sympathy and assurances of prayers came flooding in. We had planned to go to Mass and leave to come and load up so we could go before the weather hit but we were the last to leave the church. Friends came to give hugs and ask what they could do. Folks offered to pick things up for us. Rent a vehicle. Take our kids so we could pack. Elizabeth came and washed dishes, matched socks and folded laundry.

When we hit the road, exhausted and spread thin, friends stayed up to pray and send messages, asking for updates and making sure we stayed awake. More texts came assuring babysitters if we needed them in CA. Later we heard that at Ripon Grace, Pastor Rex asked for prayers for our safe journey. All of this prayer ...continue reading

This guy.

  
I'm talking about Jac. . . Not Santa.

I asked for help to get the timing of the pie just right and he just did the filling (it's multiple steps and rather messy). He wore a kilt and a tie to supper. He wrangled my afternoon peevishness and made me laugh at myself which is no small feat.

He loves me- loves us all- well.

It truly is the little things that mean the most. This summer, when I was dragging myself through each day, I received a new debit card in the mail. Calling and getting it activated and all that jazz seemed more than I could handle so I just put the envelope away and went on being nauseous and tired. It was two weeks later when I realized while out shopping that my card was different, newer. Jac had, without being asked, set up the new card, disposed of my old one and put the new one in its place without mentioning it to me. I was stunned by it, overwhelmed by his loving care for me.

To say I'm thankful for him and the way he out-loves me is a massive understatement. He inspires me to think beyond myself, to selflessly give, to love big in little ways. On this day of counting blessings, he tops the list. God sure is good!

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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 now 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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Folks, let me give it to you straight:

God is good.

So very, very good.

I am a wallower.  If things are crappy, I am naturally drawn to just sinking in up to my pits in the crap and the muck and the ick and just wallowing.  It's not fun or pleasant, but there it is.  The flip side of that coin is that I can revel in the good like nobody's business.  The trip home included numerous hours of blissful smiling on my part, blessed out of my mind at the amount of love poured over us while we were in CA.  People wanted to be with us, spend time with us, actually LIKED us and we ATE. IT. UP.

It was a pipeline of grace, straight from God.  I could almost hear his voice saying, "You're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggone it!  People like you!  Chin up, kiddo!"  So California folks with all of your sunshine and warmth and generosity - thank you for the love.

And then.  THEN -

We came home and there were actual cheers in the Suburban as the yard and house came into view.  The grass wasn't a jungle!  The place looked welcoming! I brought in the first load and my whole soul smiled at the the cleanliness and orderliness of the living room and dining room.  Things smelled clean.  I came in a short time later and found Jac shaking his head.  "Those crazy kids.  Those crazy kids!"  I couldn't tell which kids he meant until he demanded that I look at the kitchen floor.

The kitchen floor that never, ever looked clean.  The kitchen floor that had bubbled up because of water damage and then cracked and split, leaving a crater in the smack-dab center.  The kitchen floor that was peeling and stained and all around gross. THAT kitchen floor was gone and in it's place was a brand-stinking shiny new one.

I couldn't speak.  I laughed. The kids whooped.  I cried.  The kids scattered.

"They cleaned our rooms!"  "She fixed the screen!  It's black now!" "Mom!  Come look at the toilet!"  "They. Sorted. Our. Legos.  All of them!"  "You should see our closet.  Your should see your closet!"

It was true.  For 24 hours we found joyful surprises.  The laundry room was clean.  Our curtains were washed.  I could eat out of the fridge - eat out of it! The pantry had been organized, the downstairs bathroom sterilized, counters cleared, shower scrubbed. ("Look at how shiny the faucet is!")  The floors were slick under our feet and the sheets on the beds were crisp and clean.  The office, admittedly a disaster, was not just tidied but filed and organized and clean. The back yard was mowed and the branches piled high since November, were gone.

People, they bathed the dog.

We were blessed but that is an understatement.  There aren't words to express the gift that this was.  The enemy lurked outside, peering in through the clean windows and hinted at my failure and the embarrassment of these friends having seen the worst of our crap.  But the blessing and the love was so big and so loud that it shut out that nagging, insecure voice and let me just revel.  And revel I did.

Randy - for organizing Operation Daniel Clean Up, I owe you some beer, peach cobbler and hours of youth office sprucing.  Thank you for everything, most especially loving us in spite of our hoarding tendencies.  Sorry about the asbestos . . . Rachel - 10,000 hugs for the W.O.R.K. you did.  My mom keeps shaking her head and saying, "That was a JOB!"  I love ya, sister.  Always have, always will.  Thank you for everything, most especially for loving Monday so well that she's been depressed since our return.  Wilhelmi fam - I love that you guys operate on an all for one, one for all code.  Thank you for the many, many hours you spent here.  And to Jackie, Jeremy, Kyle, Elisa, Stacy, Bridget, and the others of Cor Jesu who helped - you guys are amazing.  We love you.  Thank you for loving us!

It took an army.  They were slightly bigger than this.  And with mops and hammers as weapons.

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Wednesday we awoke to snow. At times it was driving side ways and clouded our view and other times the flakes hung suspended in the air, holding their breaths as they fell to the earth. And it was cold.  

But we were signed up for an hour of prayer at Cathedral to pray for the protection of the unborn so we bundled and hustled and stamped and shushed our way out of the house, through the parking lot, and into the chapel. It wasn't until we were all squeezed into the pew and had peeled off our coats that I had the fleeting thought that this hour over lunchtime might not have been the best idea.  Lulu woke up hungry, the rosaries were clanking and clattering, Gemma decided she didn't WANT to be quiet, and I heard Ellie praying the meal blessing prayer.

"Ugh.  Lord!  I am so sorry." I rolled my eyes and gritted my teeth internally.  I resolved to white knuckle it through the next 60 minutes the best that I could and just offer it up.  What had I been thinking, anyway?

Then I heard Ellie say the meal blessing again.

"Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts that we are about to receive from Thy bounty through Christ Our Lord."

Everything went still.

Here we were, praying for the protection of the unborn and for mother's to choose life and I was at wits end with my children. Oh, the irony.  These gifts, MY gifts were those little fingers on noisy beads, eager, enthusiastic voices and misplaced prayers from rosy lips. I was less than receptive to that bounty and I was embarrassed when I recognized it.  I looked with new eyes on the orderly chaos all around me and murmured thankful praises for the gentle reminder.

God is good like that.

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41 years. 55 million lives aborted.  Pray for the protection of the unborn.

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This time of year - up to our ears in holidays and such - makes one reflect of the many blessings of life. Or it should anyway.

All through November, I kept track of the small graces and huge gifts given us.  There was so much to be thankful for (I still have hope of recording it all) that it was overwhelming in the best possible way. Thanksgiving week was the capstone and it seemed only right and fitting to celebrate Lucy's baptism then.

It was a night brimming with gifts.

We were thankful to gather in the same space as we did for our wedding and all of the other baptisms.

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Thankful we were surrounded by friends and family and for all of the support they have given and continue to give.

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Thankful for the saving waters of baptism.

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Thankful for the light of faith to lead the way. (And for tall godfathers.)

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Thankful for a loving community.

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So very thankful for the California folks who could celebrate with us and provided a lovely (and tasty!) reception.

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Thankful for tradition and the comfort of the liturgy.

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We are thankful for the graces God gives us to lead this growing family and the strength of prayer.

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Thankful for good and holy godparents. We arrived to find them in prayer in the Blessed Sacrament chapel. Lucy is blessed.

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And we can't forget these crazies.  Plum FULL of thanks that we get to be their parents.  God is good.

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*Thanks to Chelsey for dying my hair, dealing with my hormonal shopping trip, and for taking these photos. So glad you came!

 

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Throughout the spring, I made lists in my head of things Sabine would need for college.

Extra long twin sheets, laundry basket, coat, Ramen . . .

Practical things, to be sure, but always, ALWAYS the list began and ended with FRIENDS.

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I would not have stayed or survived Black Hills State without the friends I made.  Indeed, if I had not met Chrisa that first day of classes and had someone to eat with, I would have starved.  Starved and gone home. That morning I had woken up with tears threatening to fall and I said a fervent prayer.

"Lord, I don't want to go home and prove to everyone that I couldn't make it here.  YOU brought me here so bring me some friends.  I can't do this alone."

The ladies he sent  were an answer to prayer and continue to be.

***

Saturday we met amid the Pumpkin Festival celebrations downtown and kicked off our weekend reunion with lunch.  From there we [had to jump the van and congratulated ourselves on no one getting electrocuted, get last minute items at Walgreen's and Safeway and pick up Julie's stuff] headed to Terra Sancta.  In the Monastic wing we relived a little of that good old dorm-living feeling.  We took Mia outside into the lovely sunshine so she could crawl about on the grass.  We visited and played catch-up with each other. Then we celebrated Julie's birthday with a fantastic lasagna Lace made and plenty of laughter.

We swapped recipes and advice and prayed with one another.  Though it was less than 24 hours, it was packed full of the blessing that only friends can understand.

We marveled at how we have stuck together through these years.  Fifteen years since that first fall semester.  Through boyfriends and jobs and weddings and babies,we've marked them all together.  This time we even dared speak of the future - of a time when there are no more nursing babies, perhaps weekends spent together when our kids are grown and in school and we are praying for them and their friends.

God willing!

Ladies, it was a great weekend.  You guys encourage and inspire me in such magnificent ways.  I'm looking forward to the next time already.  Taiwan 2014, baby! (You know it'd be fun, Beth!)

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If you are in the Hills and need a place to stay, Terra Sancta Retreat Center is the place to be.  Many, many thanks to Reeny and her crew for setting us up and going out of their way to make the Monastic wing comfortable for us.

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Our table is the center of all activity in our house.  It is hard at work from the moment the kids wake up (Breakfast is always the first order of business of the day for them.  Even before the bathroom.) to the minute we turn off the lights to head to bed and sometimes, often, that's late.  It's not just where we eat but where we school and read and sew and craft and write and prepare meals and hash out the big plans of life.  Serious work happens there.

When we moved into the Newman Center, we  were tasked with finding a table that would fit as many college students into the smallest space possible.  We learned then the power and importance of a table that was ready and welcoming to friends and strangers alike.  When we moved into this house, Nana Joyce bought us a second hand table to just "tide us over" until we could get something nice.  That table has been a work horse for the last 8 years. We have crushed and crowded around it's perimeter.  We have stripped it and painted it -twice- only to have it dinged and stained and scraped with wear and tear.  But we were nearing capacity - sure, we could fit but we were losing room for guests.

It didn't sit right.

Jac contacted Luke, a beloved seminarian, in the spring.  Luke, so very talented at so very many things, is a gifted carpenter.  Could he, would he, be willing and able to help Jac build a farm table?  He assured him he would and they began tossing around ideas.  Then this spring happened and when Luke called in May to see when we wanted to start, we couldn't commit.

Not enough money or time or energy could be found. We were disappointed - not so much about the table but because Luke would be leaving (he begins Theology school in Rome in a week!) and we'd miss the opportunity to work with him.

Right before we left for California, Susan called.  "Have you done anything about a table?" she wanted to know.  Jac assured her we hadn't. "Well, don't."


June came and went and so did July.  We saw our seminarians at Duc in Altum and Totus Tuus and at their many parish assignments and prayed for Luke while he spent the summer away attending the Institute for Priestly Formation. The minute Mama Syd and Papa Chris left we began the countdown for SEM PHOTOS 2013!!!  Always a highlight, the guys all come for their annual photos and we feed them and catch up.

That Sunday Luke and Michael arrived 2 hours early.  The kids, already anxious and excited, sprang from their resting places to check things out.  The guys apologized and assured us that waking the kids wasn't their only intention. They needed to consult with us.

They would be building us a table.  THE table.  The sems and the "vocations office people" (and, really, I'm not sure who else) had chipped in and worked it out. They had desperately wanted to surprise us but there had been disputes during the planning process and Luke had put his foot down: he wanted to make sure it was exactly what needed and wanted. We planned for a awhile, took some measurements and Luke made some figures.  He and Michael left to go get the wood with the promise that they'd deliver the table within a week or so.

This gift, this blessing, is too big to comprehend.  Not just for it's necessity or beauty or magnitude.  But the sacrifice, that's where the love lays.

Luke had so very little time to spend on other things as he prepares to leave for Rome.  He will be away for 2 years.  There are so many goodbyes and preparations to take care of.  To be up at 2 am to stain and varnish? Then there are "the guys." Michael, Grant and Andrew all traveled to Faith to cut and sand and drill and finish.  Today, when it arrived, Adam came to help fit it all together.  And everyone else who contributed to this masterpiece? It's so, so good.

I know that this is what finding and living your vocation is about.  The sacrifice of love, the gift of self.  This is what our sems are learning and living.  Now we have a tangible piece of their call in our home.

It is beautiful.

Luke and guys,

We will never have the words to express our thanks and gratitude to you.  Your work is exquisite and greatly appreciated. The kids say they feel like kings and queens and they think the bench is the greatest thing ever. You are always welcome around our table and we can't wait to have you here again.  And today you can join Fr. Christensen in saying you've made me cry, because you did.  In the best possible way.

We love you guys - thank you for loving us!

P.S. They were only like this for 2 seconds.  It will never happen again.

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This week was rough.  Not in a dramatic sort of way but just how it is when the kids have colds and the to-do lists incite panic (Oh hello, Third Trimester Nesting! Good to see you again!) and I'm not the mom I could be.

It came to a head last night when Jac kicked me out of the house.  Not like that - it was of the "Do you want to leave now or in five minutes?" variety and when I asked him a question he replied with, "Oh, you're still here?"  It was for my sanity and the good of us all that he did it and it was rather amazing how a quick trip to Target for toilet paper and printer ink could do so much toward resetting the week.

The thing is, it wasn't anything but me that was making me miserable (though the kids and that darn dog sure like to push me to the edge . . . ).  I was girding my loins, so to speak, on the way home, having a pow wow with the Lord about the equity and justice of the universe when I was reminded of my lack of gratitude.  Yes, things are crappy when you feel a lacking, but gratitude?  Well, in the words of a wise woman, gratitude turns everything into enough.

So I took stock and here are the things I am thankful for this week:

- For new-to-us cars that are "fancy" and being one step closer to this baby.

- For every single seminarian  in our diocese.  Those guys crack us up and bless the pants off of us and our kids.

- For Fr. Tyler who busted out the big guns and exorcised the house and blessed it with the 'good' holy water.  And the fact that he let the kids fling the water into the rooms?  Bonus.

-It's August 9th and we haven't had to water once this summer.  Not once! I am thankful for thunderstorms that wake us up in the night that bring rain to this land and keep things green FOR FREE.

- I'm thankful for clotheslines and stolen moments alone with the clean clothes and for loads that dry before the rain comes.

- For the good news of miracles worked and the feelings that come when prayers are answered.  Our friends, the Hidalgo's, have a son with Cystic Fibrosis who was put in the hospital a week ago and things looked grim.  In short order God fixed him up!  God is good!  We continue to pray for a lung and liver transplant.  (Also, my wallet was lost for 4 days.  There were some tears but we found it.  Thanks St. Anthony!)

- For little girls who like to make clumps and clacks and taps in their cowboy boots because it means that there are strong, healthy legs attached to spirited bodies.

- For friends who bring Chinese and adult conversation to my table and make me feel like what I say is important.

- For kids who all want help right now! with their fair projects.  It reminds me of their creative minds and I love that about them.

- For new books that grab our attention and have the kids requesting just one more chapter.

- For a husband who knows how to take care of me and lines up a sitter so we can get the heck out of dodge and just make eye contact in peace.  I love that guy.

- For tiramisu in bed at 10:30 on a Friday night.

- For fresh starts every morning.

God is good. What are you thankful for today?