The Best Laid Plans

Most mornings at 5, you’d find me drinking tea, doing my spiritual reading (St. Faustina’s Diary and Searching for and Maintaining Peace) and lectio divina. Or getting ready to go for a swim, but let’s not get too complicated.  

June 19, 5 a.m. This is what greets me.  

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Yes, it is the morning of my youngest son’s birthday. Nothing is wrapped. The quandary: Attend to my spiritual duties or to my temporal? Enter: the cup of tea. 

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Earl Grey Creme. With…creme. Yes, and the stovetop needs to be cleaned. 

Back to my quandary. It’s going to be a busy day. Do I wrap the presents now and skip the spiritual or do the spiritual and try to rush getting a special breakfast done and presents wrapped after Mass? A few weeks ago, I read Holiness for Housewives, by Dom van Zeller.  In it, he said that we please God most when we do the duty that He gives us at the moment. Pile of dirty dishes in the sink? Crying babies and laundry strewn throughout the house? Maybe He’s calling me to stay home, tend to my children and house instead of piously praying the Mass. If that is the case, lovingly scrubbing the dishes can be more pleasing to God that any amount of Holy Communions. Sometimes we use holy things as an excuse to run away from our earthly concerns. Yes, God wants us to run to Him. Just not always literally. At times, the “running” that we do can only be in our hearts as we dust the shelves, change the 500th diaper, or do the dishes for the sixth time. Before lunchtime. 

Is my case a good example? Uh, probably not, since I really could have done the present-wrapping every day for the week prior. But! It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? And I did pray for my son as I wrapped those gifts. That he would be a good, holy and obedient child. That he would learn to hear God’s whisper. That he would pick up these toys so I wouldn’t have to immediately give them to Goodwill. That his day would be joyful and a source of good memories to fall back on in hard times. 

 

Tea for…One?

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“Just tea for two
And two for tea
Just me for you
And you for me.”

For my thirty-third birthday, I received a cast iron teapot and two porcelain cups and saucers (pictured above) from a dear friend. I, who have not owned many lovely things , nor had much use for anything if it wasn’t practical, was delighted. Can something as simple as drinking tea be lifted above the mundane action of satisfying thirst? Can it even be considered beautiful? It can, and it did. Each morning as my husband made our breakfast, I prepared the tea. Cups on saucers, milk in the cream jar, tea steeping to perfection in the black tea pot. All to the table, plates steaming with spinach, onion and feta omelets. Benedic Domine. Just my husband and I together in the quiet stillness before the world wakes, before our day begins.

Now it is I alone in the kitchen in the early morning hours. I wanted to put the teapot and cups away, to block from sight the reminders of our time together. But I cannot. Despite the sadness, perhaps even because of it, my spirit needs the beauty of the fragile porcelain cup, the strength of the solid teapot, and the hope of sharing them again.

I tri

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So this past Sunday was my first sprint triathlon. I’ve wanted to do a tri for a long while, but never had the guts to tackle the swimming aspect. My re-entry into running was cut short in February because of plantar fasciitis. With a deployed husband, I had to find some kind of physical exercise that would keep me sane. I tried the stationary bike for awhile, but that drove me to the limits of despair. The only other activity I could think of was swimming. Fortunately, I live very close to an indoor heated pool. I began swimming, taking some clinics on proper form and drill work. Then one day in early April, while drinking wine with friends (dangerous, folks), one of us said, “How about we try a triathlon?” We were fired up! We jumped on the computer, found a race that suited our schedules and signed up. 

Fast forward 2 months. June 8, 2014, 7 a.m. My friends and I stand on the river beach, questioning our sanity. The buoys are so far away! And the water temperature is a chilly 59 degrees. But here we are. It’s a grand adventure, right? Hmmm. The race begins in waves. I wait until the very end to begin, balking at the thought of salty water in my mouth and critters (oh so many jellyfish) touching me. The first few meters are agony. I panic and wonder how in the world I am ever going to do this. Where’s the black line?? The crystal-clear water? The ropes separating the lanes? And above all, where is the chlorine?!? I flipped onto my back and did the backstroke until I could calm myself. “Draw me after you, let us make haste” (Song 1.4); “Put out into the deep” (Lk. 5.4) “At what time I am afraid, I put my trust in thee” (Ps. 56.3). The comforting words calmed my fears and allowed me to flip back over and swim with greater confidence. 

The biking section was probably my favorite part of the race. Since I was at the back of the pack (pack? what pack? I was so far behind that I was my own pack) I had plenty of time to concentrate on the road, the scenery and prayer. The town and its surrounding environs is absolutely gorgeous. New England back roads are spectacular in the springtime. I passed an alpaca farm, had a deer jump out in front of me twice and heard the cheerful songs of the birds. The hour plus ride gave me plenty of time to pray. I prayed for priests, for my family, for the people in the area, the people in the race. And I sang! There was no one even remotely near me so at the top of my voice I sang songs of love to the best of all mothers, Our Lady. 

Maybe I shouldn’t even mention the running portion. This was the part I was dreading most. After the swim, the bike, I was exhausted. I walked. A lot. By now, my enthusiasm had died and I was praying something like this: “God, please don’t let me die.” 

I finished 3rd to last in this race. 2:30:27. It was an exercise in humility and endurance. Not humility like humiliation, but rather, I’m not the best or even close to it. Nor do I want to be. I did this for fun, for the adventure, for the joy of finishing with friends. And so I ended with the prayer that I try to pray every day: God, let me be a beginner again. Let me learn from you.

 

 

If today you hear His voice

“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…He goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (Jn 10.3, 4).

The Gospel of John has always been a challenge for me. From the narrative and fact-driven styles of the other Gospels, we come to St. John, the mystic, the philosopher. But I’m leaning into him. Slowly. Lectio divina style. The above verses particularly struck me, as one of my “arrow prayers” is “Draw me after you, let us make haste” (Song of Solomon 1.4). I pray this numerous times throughout the day, but especially before (sometimes during) the Rosary, Mass, the Little Office, lectio, adoration, etc.

What a comfort it is to think of Our Lord, calling me by name. I imagine Him saying my name with such love and tenderness, such affection. He calls, every day, all the time. And what do I need to do in response? Only listen so I may hear His voice and then follow Him. “Oh that today you would hearken to his voice! Harden not your hearts” (Ps. 95. 7, 8). To listen, to hear, I must quiet my own interior chatter. “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul” (Ps. 131. 2).

Teach me, O Lord, to quiet my soul, to hear your voice and to follow.

Mt. Greylock

One of the beauties of homeschooling is that we can take off when we want. Wednesday, May 28, was the feast of St. Bernard of Montjoux (historical), the patron saint of climbers and so the patron saint of my dear husband. In honor of his special day, the children and I drove up to NW Massachusetts to hike Mt. Greylock. It was quite different from Monadnock in New Hampshire. I was expecting a trail from the bottom to the summit. Not so much. There were multiple trails, loops, nothing really from the bottom to the top. So we took a loop trail and then drove up nearer the summit to catch part of the Appalachian Trail to the top.

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“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord form the heavens, praise him in the heights! Mountains and all hills…Praise the Lord!” (Ps. 148. 1,9,14).

There is something about a mountain that evokes in man awe of God his creator. Perhaps it is the sheer size, the knowledge that compared to this bulk, we who traverse upon it are but ants. And I ask, “What is man that thou art mindful of him, the son of man that thou dost care for him?” (Ps. 8.4). He answers me, “Thou art my Love, my Bride, my very dear child. All this I made for you.” Yes, my beloved is mine and I am his (Song of Songs 2.16).

I remember Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, God’s Grandeur: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Though man makes his mark, and the earth is “bleared, smeared with toil;” still “nature is never spent;/There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”

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“As the light increased
I discovered around me an ocean of mist,
which by chance reached up to exactly the base of the tower,
and shut out every vestige of the earth,
while I was left floating on this fragment
of the wreck of the world,
on my carved plank in cloudland;
a situation which required,
no aid from the imagination
to render it impressive.”
–Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau visited Mt. Greylock and this quote of his we saw near the summit. Our visits seem to have been during similar weather. How incredible, to walk where he did, to see the mountain’s peak through similar lenses. Yet another example: God has spoken once, twice I have heard him.