(Please click on the picture for the handiwork detail!)
I could hardly believe my eyes when I came home to find the loveliest, most delightful package at my front doorstep this afternoon. Opening it up, revealing two exquisite dresses made by a beautiful, dear friend, brought me to tears. What a wonderful surprise this was, for me and my girls. We put the dresses on instantly and I watched as my daughters twirled and skipped and bowed all through the house and in the yard. It seemed they knew there was something extra special about these dresses, even before I told them they were made by the hands of a friend!
Cheryl, they are beautiful. I love the colors and the prints, the gorgeous smocking, and the lace on the sleeves. They are truly special. I really can't thank you enough for such a generous gift.
With much love, much gratitude, and God's heavenly blessings on you,
~ Weekends seem rather suitably designed for rest from work, for family fun and activity, and for rekindling the love between father and child or husband and wife. A nice break from schedule and routine and the stresses of a father's work is always a welcome friend. But once in a while, the time for leisure can be much more than a needed reprieve.
I spent this past weekend visiting one of the most admirable couples I have ever known. Edward, a venerable ninety-year old World War II veteran, renowned architect and inventor, exemplifies the characteristics of virtue, reverence, nobility and chivalry, and he is a gentleman in every sense of the word. A wine connoisseur, an historian, a lover of education, an appreciator of art, nature and beauty, his stories told from ninety years of living capture the abundant gifts and blessings of this life. At one point he could have related those stories in many languages, and his memory today is still sharp enough to speak a bit of French, Italian and Spanish, just for fun. His company can sit for hours listening to him recount war stories, successes and failures as an architect, years of hardship and proud family moments.
Edward married the love of his life, Pauline, on a ten day break from military service. Nine months later in the midst of the war he received a letter announcing the birth of his first son. He did not meet Edward Junior until he was two years old, and he speaks well of the struggles of catching up for lost time as a father. But God saw to it that Edward would gain all the experience he needed in fathering four more children who would benefit from the blessings of his marriage to Pauline. Their five children would grow to become a businessman, a naval commander, a nurse, a priest and an artist, and the Catholic faith instilled in them by their parents fortifies each of them today.
Pauline's beauty and grace simply cannot be described in words. As Edward is a paragon of the gentlemanly, so is Pauline a model of the loveliness of womanhood. She captures the beauty of elegance, stateliness and femininity combined with reverence, humility and piety in one person. A personification of truth, goodness and beauty, she is one of God's fairest lilies plucked from His heavenly field.
Pauline grew up in a devout family, and her upbringing has carried her through sixty-five years as a wife and mother like a faithful dove, keeping her always at the Father's side. She is now eighty-seven years in age, and her memory, affected by Alzheimer's disease, is not what it once was. But she still personifies every bit of grace and loveliness as in her youth. She may walk slower, speak slower, and she may not maintain her former status as a bridge tournament champion, a gourmet French cook, an impeccable seamstress or needlepointer. She may not remember the faces of hundreds of friends she once loved, the proud moments of her motherhood and marriage, or particulars from the honorable stories Edward still narrates about her life. But she remembers the love of God, reverence for Our Lady, good-will for others, and she remembers how to pray.
As I sat in the living room so familiar to me from my childhood, where the furniture, artwork and photographs have remained unchanged, praying the Joyful Mysteries with my grandparents, I could hardly conceal the love and admiration I've known since my earliest years of life. These two beautiful souls with white hair, aged skin, canes and walkers, repeating "Hail Mary, full of grace...." so perfectly and with such youthful clarity ~ while I could barely utter a word out of my choked-up vocal chords, sounding like I was the elderly person in the room.
The privilege of taking my grandparents to Mass on Sunday morning was no small blessing. We arrived about a minute late, as it takes Grandma a bit longer than in the past to get out the door. The church was filled, hundreds of parishioners already in their pews, voices resounding like trumpets from the choir loft all the way to the sanctuary. At first it appeared to us there was not a place to sit. Then our usher, a bearded man resembling a guardian angel (to me, anyway), pointed out an empty space in the front pew. As I escorted my grandmother up the long aisle towards the altar, people turned their heads, their admiration for Grandma clearly revealed on their faces and in their gestures. Smiling through tears myself, I felt a granddaughter's pride attending her grandmother to the altar of Christ, mindful of both her spiritual joy in being present at Holy Mass along with the physical pain and difficulty of each step she took.
My grandparents, having known each other seventy-nine years, still love each other as faithfully and with as much reverence as in their youth. During the short time I spent with them it seemed every hour my grandfather would compliment his bride: "Polly was the most beautiful gal in all of Nanticoke, and she's still the prettiest girl I've ever seen." Or, "I love her even more today than the day I married her." And, "She may not have the sharpest memory, but she's the best thing that's ever happened to me."
My grandparents still pray the rosary after dinner each evening and kiss each other before going to bed at night. They consider their greatest accomplishment having raised faithful, loving children who would pass that faith on to their grandchildren, and I must agree. One might think their wedding feast occurred sixty-five years ago, but I tasted their wine this past weekend, and benefit from its sweetness every day. It is indeed a rare and exceptional vintage.
If you would like to pray a novena to this beautiful saint for her feast on April 28th, today is the day to begin. Pope John Paul II canonized Saint Gianna with the title, "Mother of the Family" in May of 2004. Her intercession brought us our Gianna, and she is particularly helpful to mothers, families, children, and babies in danger of abortion.
Her novena prayer can be found here, and I will provide a link to it in my sidebar until her feast day. I will be offering the novena for a personal intention, and for the intentions of any of you who are praying it with me.
In an effort to bring a little spring glory into the garden for Easter, I thought I'd stop at our local garden center to peruse the current blooms. I love to bring new flowers home at this time of year. And what better time to visit the nursery than while my mother, an appreciator of all things botanical was with me.
But how does a young lady decide,
when these are her options?
It wasn't easy. We picked up some
happy Gerberas and planted them
in front of the house.
I wanted to begin a rose garden, especially for
the month of May. This lady's name is Moonstone.
Her shape is lovely. She is a beautiful shade
of soft porcelain pink, and each of her blooms
will produce more than 35 petals.
This is Gold Medal. She's a grandiflora, and I thought she would add some rays of sunshine to the garden. This tall hybrid-tea named 'Bewitched' was the first rosebush my mom and I noticed at the garden shop.
This morning I stopped at Home Depot to pick up a garden shovel and a leaf blower. On the way to the cash register I paused for a moment in front of the paint aisle to retrieve something from my purse, when Gianna noticed a man perusing color choices:
In a not-so-reserved manner, she exclaimed, "That man needs a wife."
The gentleman looked our way. Yes, he did hear the remark and no, he did not smile. ~
Have you seen the gorgeous photograph of Alicia and her six young ones living and learning together on her site, Studeo? What a beautiful, perfect picture. It belongs on the cover of a bestselling homeschooling publication!!
I have been meaning for some time now to have a particular family over for dinner, but I keep postponing the invitation. I am fond of this family, but because they do not share the Faith of my household, and for fear of their discomfort in my smaller, more humble surroundings, I have hesitated to phone them. How shameful this is. Then I read the Magnificat on Wednesday morning:
O God, in Christ you give bread to the hungry. May we who have put on Christ and eaten at his banquet table turn in love toward all those who are without food for body or spirit and freely give what we have been so richly given, proclaiming with joy the Christ whom we have come to know in his sacramental gifts.
The above prayer was included to supplement Wednesday's Mass reading, in which Peter and John approach "the Beautiful Gate" of the temple and are begged for alms by a crippled man. Peter answered him, "I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk." And all were astonished at what followed.
It occurred to me at once that whatever I have, I can give, and the recipient of the very smallest of my gifts may indeed rise and walk because of one humble gesture on my part . Because really it isn't my gift at all. Any good I have or do is from above. It is Christ Who decides whether our actions or our gifts will secure another soul for Him. We are only instruments. But we must use the better part of us, our gifts, always for the good. We must strive to bring more and more souls to Him, and not neglect to do so out of fear, humiliation or the too often used excuse, "I don't have time. I'm too busy."
Saint John Bosco, founder of the Salesian Order once dreamt he was approached by Our Lord, and was shown the number of souls who entered heaven on account of his good work. It was a great number and St. John was pleased. Then Christ showed him an additional number of friends and acquaintances, far greater than the first group. When the saint asked "Who are these?" Christ replied, "These are the souls who would have been saved had you trusted me more."
It's a lot to think about. I know my strengths and my weaknesses. And often I use my weaknesses as an excuse for not utilizing my gifts. I am a happy, optimistic person by nature and I love to manifest the beauty and truth of my faith through those natural gifts when the opportunity arises. But now, in the case above I see how I have used the smallness of my home and some differences in belief as reasons not to invite a friend over. Perhaps a crippled friend who could be helped, by a small dinner invitation, to rise and walk one day. Or perhaps it is I or a member of my own household who will benefit from the invitation.
The older I get I realize how little I use well the gifts given me. There is not much time to put off what could be done now. Having been given the Faith, the nourishment of the sacraments, a good marriage, children, and so much more, I don't want to approach Our Lord one day to be shown hundreds of souls who would have been saved had I not made so many excuses.
Yes, I do have pictures of the topiary in it's previous seasons. Let me just say, I was not a fan of topiaries (I thought them too formal and a bit stuffy) until I saw a beautifully decorated example at my favorite nursery. Now, I'm hooked!
the beauty of the union of joy and suffering in Love.
This is our only in-house plant. I decorate
this topiary according to the season. Simple as it is,
it makes an impact on the "spirit" in the home.
My beautiful mother's visit during Holy Week
was the best part of my Lent. Thank you, Mom! Passion Sunday Mass at the Abbey. I love how the priests wear red instead of purple. The statues and crucifix inside the chapel, also covered in red, were very moving.
~ On a star-lit December evening in the season of my fair maidenhood, I attended my alma mater's yearly formal Christmas dinner celebration. I sat myself down at a table of good friends, right next to a rather handsome fellow classmate I hardly knew. Somehow the dinner conversation among our group turned to the subject of marriage and weddings, and I haphazardly commented that I knew exactly what I wanted my wedding gown to look like. I went on to dreamily describe its perfect beauty. My good friend Peter chuckled, questioning, "And who, exactly, do you plan to marry wearing such a dress?" I casually placed my hand on the shoulder of the dashing gentleman next to me, asserting with a smile, "I'm going to marry Patrick." Everyone burst out in friendly laughter at that moment, but an hour later I was courted by that very man on our first date. We married a little over two years later on April 5,1997.
As I reflect on these ten precious years I see only the good. Not because I remember the past with only fond memories, failing to bring to mind the particular difficulties and trials given us during those years. I recall the joys experienced and suffering endured in our marriage with equal clarity. The truth is, the present for me is always the best. I am happiest in the now. The past is a pleasant memory, the future full of hope, but joy is today.
In the first six years of marriage before our first baby, I was happy. I was grateful to enjoy such wonderful adventures with just the two of us, from our honeymoon in Italy, weekend getaways to the wine country, hiking in the mountains together and cuddling up at home with popcorn and a movie. I thanked God for every moment. Even suffering from childlessness, though hideous at its worst moments, was appreciated for its own benefit of growing closer to my spouse through a cross only met and nourished by love and the bond of a sacrament.
During the next four years Patrick and I would welcome two beautiful babies into our lives. Our love grew and multiplied in number and in degree. There were new trials, much smaller ones than childlessness, but perhaps even more important - the daily responsibilities of parenthood. There were no longer weekend getaways to the wine country, dinners out whenever we pleased or peaceful Sunday masses. But there was more love, and more happiness.
In my sometimes frivolous youth I had no idea the man I loved would bring me this kind of true joy. I was too inexperienced to know that through marriage I would watch my husband sacrifice himself for his children and for me, every day. I could not conceive what it meant for a spouse to embrace his role as a helpmate, until I saw over and over again the loads of laundry, the ironing, the picking up of toys, the washing of cars and the diaper changes that would be performed by a loving and generous husband. I had no conception of the patience and compassion I would become accustomed to witnessing during times I would complain of a difficult day, or display one or more of many vices he would bear calmly. And in my youth, no one could have explained the joy I would come to know so frequently when watching my husband cuddle with his girls while reading them a story, or kissing them before he leaves for work.
Today is Holy Thursday. What a treasure it is to celebrate a wedding anniversary on the day commemorating the moment Christ defined Love for His disciples, offering His own body and blood for them. I could not have planned it more perfectly. My husband and I will attend a beautifully chanted evening Mass of the Lord's Supper at St. Michael's with a procession to the Altar of Repose, just the two of us. We will no doubt recall the moment we received Our Lord's body and blood for the first time as a married couple. Silently, we will surely renew our vows before His body is reposed. And bearing the wisdom and experience gained over ten years of marital Love, we will fortify our union with today's ever-new, ever-present Commandment:
~~~~~~~~~" Love one another as I have loved you." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~(John 13:34)
Having written much since the inception of this blog about the incomparable joys of motherhood, I have been meaning for quite some time to share our story about the struggle of infertility. I know what it means to live a Christian married life without babies, and I remember the unspeakable pain suffered on account of an empty womb and a quiet home. And so this post, my friends, is dedicated to those beautiful couples, who have been given one of the greatest crosses set against the tabernacle of holy marriages - the cross of infertility.
When I was first married nearly ten years ago, I dreamt of nothing more for my life than motherhood. I wanted ten children. For a vibrant, youthful twenty-three year old who had only taken the first steps on her marital path, I recall how rare it was at that time for young women my age to desire a large family. But I was not surrounded by common modern women whose idea of fulfillment was a successful career and one or two children down the road. Perhaps in some ways infertility would have been easier had I been among such company. I was blessed with friends and family who not only admired the bountiful home, but pursued it with every bit of grace given them. And their families were indeed beautiful.
That beauty multiplied for each family as their fruits multiplied. This was where the combination of being Catholic and barren began to weigh more heavily on me. I celebrated the births of first babies and second babies and third babies, and though I was happy for each and every one of those miracles, I couldn't help but feel very alone. Isolated from my closest friends and abandoned by Divine Providence.
The questions seemed endless. Why not me? Why is she expecting her sixth child while I stand here with none? Couldn't I have one baby? Just one, Lord, that's all I'm asking. What is wrong with me that I have no children? Would I be a terrible mother? The Church teaches that marriage is primarily for the sake of procreation. What does that mean for my own marriage? Has it been in vain, since we are not achieving our primary purpose as a married couple?
The questions were all legitimate in my own mind. Even Holy Scripture shows us the heart of the barren woman through Sarah, Hannah, and Rachel.
And Rachel, seeing herself without children, envied her sister, and said to her husband: Give me children, otherwise I shall die. (Gen. 30:1)
In the catechism we see the compassion of the Church for the couple who cannot conceive:
Couples who discover that they are sterile suffer greatly. "What will you give me," asks Abraham of God, "for I continue childless?" (CCC 2374)
Two years into our marriage my husband and I began seeing infertility specialists. We then spent the following two years enduring much testing and a long list of treatments, including various pills and intramuscular injections, some of which required needles more than three inches long. Fortunately I was not bothered by any of it. After all, it was a means to an end. And I was willing to do anything within Church approval to attain that end. But I am very sanguine tempered. For the melancholic or choleric person this too would have been a heavy cross.
As a young Catholic wife without children, the company of friends was often a heavy burden. Ironic that those we love most and desire only the good for can, through no fault of their own, bring about our suffering . It seemed every friendly gathering involved the common young-mother discussions of breast-feeding, birth stories, slings vs. baby carriers and such. I remember smiling through those years, asking questions of the new-moms about their natural births or their decisions to co-sleep with their infants, all the while pretending I was just as interested in the subjects as they were. And truthfully, I was interested to a certain degree, but I was also hiding behind a veil of tears that no one could see.
Through those years I attended and hosted many baby showers for friends. They were agonizing. Not because the joy of celebrating new motherhood was absent. On the contrary, I always delighted in the good of others as though it were my very own good. But such celebrations were difficult on account of the stretching of oneself in opposed directions, the right hand towards happiness and rejoicing for a friend, the left towards pain and agony for oneself. I remember feeling like Edmund Campion as his limbs were stretched on the rack, only without the grace of his holiness. How could a person's soul be so contrary?
I look back on those years with the fondness of a woman wearing rose-colored glasses. I see them now only as a huge blessing, without which I would not have the two souls before me. Today I am grateful for my infertility, and I no longer desire to bear chilren in my own body. It is easy to look back on our past with the certitude that all was accomplished for our greater good. It is difficult to look at our present trials with the same perspective. But God has ordered things so perfectly, that He allows us to learn from our mistakes, and to make spiritual progress even with setbacks, and many of them. He saw it so perfectly that on His fateful steps toward Calvary, so familiar to us during the Lenten season, He fell three times. And three times He rose again.
For those faithful couples to whom children have not been granted but place themselves in the generous service of others, may we who have been blessed here on earth, build their mansions in heaven.