Friday, November 14, 2014

Why Beauty Matters

Lately I've been thinking about the importance of beauty.  How beauty is a gift from God-- one that we so desperately need in our lives.  How beauty has the ability to uplift, to elevate, to draw us closer to our creator.  Beauty is the lens through which we see the extraordinary, a touch of the divine.

I have this friend who has bare walls in her house, because she's doesn't have the extra funds to decorate the way she'd like to.  So, she's decided to settle on nothing at all.  This makes me sad, because when we surround ourselves with beauty (and I don't mean the cost-a-whole-paycheck variety.  I'm looking at you, Pottery Barn.) we are uplifted.  Beauty elevates the spirit, making us come alive inside.  It arouses a feeling of hope, a glimpse of eternity.  And beauty can truly be free...or practically free, if you use a little imagination.  A simple browse on Pinterest can spark all kinds of creative ideas on how people re-purpose, up-cycle and use items found in nature.  Fill old jam jars with wildflowers. Paint an old picture frame. Cut up a salvaged sweater and wrap it around a dollar store candle.  Take a walk in the woods and cut some branches to display.  Beauty. Practically free. 

A year and a half ago, when we moved to our new house, the walls in the dining room were a bright sunflower yellow.  This wasn't the color I'd originally envisioned, but I was 7 months pregnant and it was 3 weeks 'til Christmas, so painting was pretty much out-of-the-question for me.  But I still wanted to make the room look pretty, even though I'd decided not to paint.  I thought a collection of cheerful plates would work well with the color, and bring some beauty to the bare walls.   But, since we had just moved and it was right before Christmas, there wasn't much money to spend on decorating.  So, I went to Good Will and found a bunch of bargain plates for $1.00 a piece.  It was so much fun playing around with the designs and sizes to create something unique! Yes, it wasn't completely free--it ended up costing about $12.00 dollars (I made the hangers myself with wire). And if I had had to save up for it, I would have.  Because beauty matters. It's just a simple thing I put together, but one that continues to give me cheer, whenever I'm in the room.

My cheery little plate wall, on our first Christmas in the new house.

And of course beauty isn't only aesthetic, and it's certainly not restricted to home decorating.  We all know that beauty comes in many forms--music, dance, nature, writing, cooking, and countless other forms.  But the reason I bring up our homes is that we spend so much time in them--hours gazing at the walls and surfaces around us.  So, why not make them as beautiful as we can, to elevate our spirits?

Several months ago, I came across this video on the subject of beauty, presented by philosopher Roger Scruton, entitled Why Beauty Matters.  It has been with me ever since.  It is one of the most moving pieces I've ever come across on the subject of beauty.  It's about an hour long but very worth the watch.  (Warning: the video contains several disturbing images unsuitable for little eyes, so plan to watch it sans children!) Here are some of the take-aways that really spoke to me:

image source

1) We understand our own nature, as spiritual beings, through the pursuit of beauty.  An experience with beauty can have a profound and life-changing impact.

2) Beauty is an antidote to the chaos and suffering of this world.  It brings consolation in times of sorrow and jolts us out of the complacency of our everyday duties.

3) Creativity is a call to others to see the world as we see it, a way to share our hearts and connect with others.

4)  Beauty has the power to arouse powerful emotions within us--feelings of desire, adoration and longing.  It awakens in us the stirrings of the soul that sometimes lie dormant and calls us into contemplation.

5)  Beauty lies all around us--the world itself is intrinsically beautiful, and art (in all its forms) reminds us to see it.

6)  When we remove beauty from the world, we are left with ugliness, utility, a world of alienation, raw appetite and despair.

It matters that we create an atmosphere of beauty in our lives.  We are surrounded by so much ugliness in this world.  There is pain, poverty, illness, natural disasters, loss of faith.  We need a place to elevate our souls and arm ourselves to fight for what is good. 

Plato once said "Beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, you will be able to nourish true virtue and become the friend of God."  Yes.  I can't think of a better pursuit than growing closer to God while pursuing virtue.  And I love that beauty is a path to this.

An *old* high school picture of me singing in the our chorus

image source

So, lose yourself in a soul-stirring piece of music.  Contemplate the brush strokes of a gorgeous painting.  Gaze in awe at the wonder of an architectural masterpiece.  Be blessed by a stage-performance which feeds your being.  Go for a walk and bring a bit of nature back home with you to display.  Get lost in a beautiful pursuit of your own, that awakens your passion.  Take a moment to look within, to contemplate, to be transformed by heaven here on earth.  Let beauty be a balm to to your weary soul.  Steep yourself in goodness, and ponder in deepest gratitude, Our Creator, who gave us this magnificent gift of beauty.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Happy Martinmas!

Happy St. Martin of Tours...a.k.a. Martinmas!  Last year my family had a lot of fun sitting around the fire pit in the backyard, grilling hotdogs and making s'mores to celebrate.  We also decorated these printable lanterns , and displayed them in the yard.  This year we plan to do it all over again!  I just wanted to share the printable lantern again with you, in case you wanted to make one, too!

Our backyard fire last year.

HUGE huge fire Kevin had made! (It was actually a little scary at one point LOL!)

Luke toasting up some marshmallow yumminess.

Happy celebrating!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October Daybook

It's been FOREVER since I last posted and so many wonderful things have been happening!  I've had such a fun-filled summer of beach days, nature walks, reading (always reading!) and just finding much-needed peace and renewal, after a difficult Spring.  And this Fall has been filled with so many new and wonderful experiences!  I figured it was high time for a bloggy update!  And what better way to do that, than with a nice long daybook. :)  And so, I bring you, the October Edition Daybook:

Outside my window...

The leaves are exploding color all around, which is a glorious sight!  It makes me want to just drop everything and go on a nature walk!

I am thinking...

Lots of things have me thinking about the importance of relishing the present.  I love that idea that we can experience joy, peace, love...God right now.  One of the ways I've been able to live this out has been through my gratitude journal (which I'm better about writing in at some times than others!).  But there is something truly sacred about pausing to give thanks for the right this minute. I was fortunate to hear a speaker several weeks ago, Kevin Hines, who shared his experiences battling mental illness and surviving attempted suicide.  He ended his talk with the quote he lives by each day: "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift; that's why it's called the present."  Upon hearing it, I immediately thought of eucharisteo.  I love how God speaks to us through bits and pieces of experiences we have, all with a common message.  In the past week, so many conversations I've had and passages I've read all have echoed this theme.  Um, I think God is definitely trying to tell me something!

I am thankful...

For the reminder to not hurry past eucharisteo.  I've been trying to intentionally set aside time each morning for my gratitude journal--it's something I've gotten a little lazy about. It's funny how the same life lessons keep whispering to our hearts over the years.  It reminds me of that metaphor of one's spiritual life resembling a spiral staircase...looping around and around, but always ascending.  It's so true.

In the spirit of eucharisteo, some of the other things I've been thankful for lately are:

The crisp autumn days along with the coziness (and yumminess!) that fall ushers in.  Pulling out the sweaters, busting out the fall-scented candles, the crunch of leaves beneath my feet, hearty soups and steaming mugs...LOVE. IT. ALL.

The gorgeous butterflies fluttering all over our butterfly bush in the backyard.

The bounty of fresh garden produce our neighbors have been sharing with us, especially appreciated since we didn't plant any veggies this year! 

A smooth start to a new homeschooling year.  Such a blessing to see the progress each of the kids are making.  I think I've finally figured out a more "slow and steady" pace, which is a very good thing!

All of the new things my little Thomas has been doing each day!  Walking!  Talking!  Each day he's doing some new cute adorable thing! (Although his new favorite pastime is sneaking up the stairs to play in Megan's room when no one is looking...not loving that new skill! Time to invest in a gate!!)

For the Fall fun we've been jam-packing into this short season!  Apple picking!  Hay rides!  Painting Pumpkins!  Halloween parties!  Jumping in the leaves!  Farm trips!  Apple cider!  Donuts!  (Especially donuts!) I am just loving every minute of this golden season.

This little girl just celebrated her 5th birthday!  She was one happy little lady with her ice cream cake!

In the kitchen...

As I just mentioned, I've been all about the Fall recipes!  This Rachel Ray Pumpkin Pasta is to die for. Broccoli Cheese soup will be happening this week and I've been craving me some hearty chili!

I am creating... 

I've been gradually pulling out the autumn decorations.  I've also had fun putting together a Halloween mantel!  I'm thinking a new wreath for fall would be nice, too.  Time for some Pinterest perusing!

I am going...

To Salem, MA in a couple of weeks.  It's been several years since I've been there--I just love all of the history of the place, and how it looks like Halloween exploded all over the place!  I'm planning to do a unit study of the Salem witch trials (albeit very simplified, since my guys are still pretty young! No Arthur Miller read-alouds just yet for my crew!).

I am wondering...

Whether my older kids can do the adult version of Rosetta Stone Spanish.  Has anyone had any experience with their children using the adult course? I just started the program a few weeks ago and LOVE it!  I always loved Spanish classes way back in high school, but sadly, never really used it since.  Over the years all those lessons on boot verbs and tenses have mostly slipped away.  I figured it would be nice to get them back.  I had heard wonderful things about Rosetta Stone and loved the idea of "immersion and intuition" it employs, so I decided to try it out.  It's been SUCH a different way to learn, and one that I love much more than memorizing word lists!  It's so much fun.  I had Luke try out a lesson last week, which he enjoyed, but also found somewhat difficult.  He did ask to do the next lesson, though, so I figure we'll just see how it goes.  Maybe I'll sit down with him and help him out whenever he gets stuck.

Our family got all spiffed up for a formal dance with our homeschool group.  A fun night (cranky over-tired toddler aside!) !

Megan did not want to stop dancing!  The boys were being such wall-flowers but she just kept dragging everybody back out onto the dance floor!

I am reading...

I'm on a huge C.S. Lewis kick right now.  I've decided I just might as well go ahead and read every single book of his, since he's Just. That. Awesome. I'm working on The Problem of Pain right now.  It's so good.  More to come on that, I'm sure!  I also have a million half-finished books laying around, as usual.  I borrowed Rediscovering Catholicism from a friend, which I'm working my way through (putting C.S. Lewis on hold, so I can return the book to my friend soon!) and just finished a wonderful piece of fiction, Crossing to Safety.  I found myself so enthralled by the 1930s setting, complete with gorgeous nature descriptions and loads of profundity entwined in a uniquely character-driven plot.  I fell in love with this book.  It's the best piece of fiction I've read in awhile.  I can't wait to read more Wallace Stegner soon!  And, to top it off, I learned a fun new word: lugubrious.  (I'm such a word nerd!)  I'm also trying to finish up a Carol Joyce Oates book, We Were the Mulveneys and a few others that have been gathering dust over the summer! I'm dying to read some of Madeleine L'Engle's non-fiction as well.  I've heard great things about it!

I am hoping... painting of birch trees goes well tonight!  I'm going to a Paint Nite with my sister tonight!  I went to one over the summer and LOVED it!  I've always loved painting, but tend to not really do it much on my own, so I love the idea of girls night out of painting.  I hope I come home with a materpiece! :)

I am looking forward to...

...Halloween!   Last year the farmer down the road from us took all of the neighborhood kids on a hayride to go Trick-or-Treating.  It was a blast!  It was such a nice way to get to know our neighbors better, and some of the people on our street even passed out treats to the adults! (One neighbor had cups of wine for all the grown-ups!  Best treat ever!!)  The night was capped off with a bonfire party, complete with chili, pizza and hot cider.  It was awesome.

No Autumn is complete without making your best "Candy Corn Fangs" face!

I am learning... much from an Alpha course I've been taking at our parish. If you've never heard of it, I highly recommend finding one near you!  It's just such a wonderful way to give your spiritual life a "kick in the pants."  It's an 11 week video course covering the basics of Christianity, along with dinner and good conversation.  The video presentations are wonderful, and just have a way of bringing life into one's faith.  Whenever my small group gets together for discussions, we all marvel at just how good the videos are, and how much more renewed we feel.  I'm so happy I've been able to participate!

At the Halloween party our Parish put on for the kids this past weekend.

Around the house...

...I've been on a major Fall-cleaning kick, just trying to get rid of a bunch of stuff we don't need.  Our basement play area was out of control, so we spent hours and hours yesterday going through every single toy down there, filling up an entire garbage bag with broken junk, and another bag with donations.  Aaaaaaaaah.  What a great feeling!  While I'm not a minimalist, I love the feeling of paring down our possessions.
Luke making one of his favorite meals--Enchiladas!

I am pondering...

What our family will do as a giving project this coming Advent.  Last year, the kids made scarves to sell as a fundraiser for the Philippines.  We all loved this project!  Megan has been asking me what we can do this year, so I'm brain-storming. :) Ideas are welcome!

Caught this gorgeous sunrise out my back window last week.

A favorite quote for today...

" Once we recognize that the Father has given us everything, the focus of our lives changes.  We begin to marvel and live in awe of a God who desires to be so involved in our lives that he shares from his fullness to fill our poverty.  The more we acknowledge him as the giver of all that we are, the less we need to hoard, to cling, to defend, or to fight for what we have.  Ultimately nothing is ours, yet everything is ours." 

Yes, to all of this!  It's a quote from an ebook of homilies I have, Ordinary Grace, that accompany the daily Mass readings. I LOVE these books.

One of my favorite things...

These quirky Sharpie Mugs I made!  Kevin had bought some dishes to replace the many that have broken over the years (it was ridiculous how few we had left!).  The dish sets came with plain white mugs that were just BEGGING to be crafted into something fun!  There are a ton of craft tutorials on how to make these, with tips on how to get the best results.  I highly recommend reading them all first, to get the marker to adhere!  So much fun. :)

A few plans for the rest of the week:

..,Paint Nite, Apha Class, continued purging/organizing, as many read-alouds as possible with the kids (LOVING audio books these days!), make soup, get outside as much as we can to soak up all that lovely autumn air!

A peek into my day...
My little lounging men :)

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Monday, April 7, 2014

Even There...

Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. --Psalm 139:10

It's 1am and I awake to the pain of contractions.

No, I think.  Not again.

I am 18 weeks pregnant and yesterday there was spotting.  Immediately I know I am losing this baby.  Experience tells me this, for 3 years ago, I had a similar loss.

I don't want to leave the warm comfort of my bed, confirming what I already know.  If I can just lay here a little longer, I can delay the pain I know is coming, even if only for a few minutes.

I'm no longer pregnant.  There was no kicking yesterday, along with the spotting.  The little life inside of me has already slipped away.

I know what I must face, so I will myself out of bed to the bathroom, preparing myself for the sight of blood.  My husband is at my side as the precious still-warm lifeless little body slips out.

My boy.

My perfectly formed, tiny soft boy who fits perfectly in my hand.  Eyes closed, mouth in the shape of an "o"-- like an angel singing God's praises.

He's up there now singing praises right along with the angels.

I grapple to understand how just the other day I felt the flutters, the gentle nudging of legs and arms squirming about.  I know that life is fleeting, I have lived sudden losses before.  Will it always be this way, I wonder?  Will loved ones just keep slipping away without warning, death like a thief in the night?

Even there...

We go to the hospital for there is lots of bleeding now and I bring my boy with me in the car.

How odd, I think, to be bringing my baby to the hospital and not the other way around.  In a daze I welcome the sympathetic care of nurses and doctors around me.  Here, in the ER, they know sadness like this.  They witness trauma, the faces of the bereaved and bewildered each and every day.  These kind faces know all too well the fragility of life and the faces of the grieved.

God knows this grief, too.  He watched His only Son suffer and die, a lamb to the slaughter.  He knows this pain, the pain of a lifeless child.  There is comfort in that.

Even there...

The priest comes to the hospital so we can baptize our little boy.  He's all wrapped up in a tiny blue hat now, a hat knit with love for newborns to wear home.

But my little boy won't be coming home.  

This sweet little hat serves another purpose today.  Fitting perfectly as a blanket, my wee one still wearing his "o" mouth, tucked snugly in all that baby blue.

We need to pick a name.  Brendan was a name we always liked, and Kevin reminds me of the story of St. Brendan the Voyager who sailed his way to the Isle of the Saints.  It's perfect.

Our little boy sailed his way to the saints, too.

The priest pours the water three times, only the smallest droplets needed for his tiny little head.  And still he goes right on singing, that perfect "o" mouth set in endless song.  We recite the familiar words, the words I've said all my life: the Our Father, the Baptismal Promises, though it's hard to get them all out because the tears are coming hard now.

Even there...

I recieve Jesus on my tongue and the words the bible run through my mind--the ones I've heard hundreds of times at funerals (I used to be a music director and have sung at many many funerals), the lyrics I've sung again and again, run through my mind like a melody of comfort: In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, their departure was thought to be an affliction...but they are at peace...may Christ who called you take you home, may angels lead you to our parents side...give eternal rest O Lord and may your light shine on Him forever...even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

I thank God for these words of truth.  I cling to them.

The words of eternity and Truth are branded into my heart, and I didn't even know I had memorized them all until now.  The feel the hope and peace wash over me, right here in this hospital bed of grief and pain and all that red that just keeps coming.  Lord help me get through this long and awful night.  Knowing my Brendan has sailed his way home makes this pain more bearable.

Even there...

After a long and sleepless night we are home.  

Home without him. 

I want an image of St. Brendan to view, so I search online.  And I find this:

The words--the words along the border are the very same words of comfort I had recited to myself just the night before:

Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

I read the entire psalm and of course it's all so perfect, so fitting:

You have searched me, Lord, 
 and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise;
  you perceive my thoughts from afar. 
 You discern my going out and my lying down;
  you are familiar with all my ways. 
 Before a word is on my tongue
  you, Lord, know it completely. 
 You hem me in behind and before,
  and you lay your hand upon me. 
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
  too lofty for me to attain.

 Where can I go from your Spirit?
  Where can I flee from your presence? 
 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
  if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 
 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
  if I settle on the far side of the sea,
 even there your hand will guide me,
  your right hand will hold me fast. 
 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
  and the light become night around me,” 
 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
  the night will shine like the day,
  for darkness is as light to you.

 For you created my inmost being;
  you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
  your works are wonderful,
  I know that full well. 
 My frame was not hidden from you
  when I was made in the secret place,
  when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
  all the days ordained for me were written in your book
  before one of them came to be. 
 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
  How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
  they would outnumber the grains of sand—
  when I awake, I am still with you.
 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
  Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! 
 They speak of you with evil intent;
  your adversaries misuse your name. 
 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
  and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? 
 I have nothing but hatred for them;
  I count them my enemies. 
 Search me, God, and know my heart;
  test me and know my anxious thoughts. 
 See if there is any offensive way in me,
  and lead me in the way everlasting.

The Lord knows me, He knows this pain.  I am precious to Him and was knit in the secret place, just like my Brendan. He had a plan for my boy all along. I cannot outrun His love, for even the night is like the day.  He will keep right on pursuing me to offer His comfort, dispelling the darkness. He will carry me through. 

I know I have, once more, encountered a thin placeI've known thin places before--the precious sacred spaces, the spaces between heaven and earth, where you feel God's loving touch so powerfully you can almost reach right out and touch heaven.  I thank God for this newest thin place, and know I will be ok. I will thrive, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Even there.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ten Tips on Prayer...

Lately, I've been taking stock of my prayer life.  As is typical of a life with God, I have many peaks and valleys.  Lately I seem to be dipping into the latter, so I figured I should turn some attention to ways I can grow in this area.  A book I started reading awhile back but never finished popped into my head: Spiritual Direction by Robert F. Morneau (if you've been reading my blog for awhile, you may know that I love this author!  As far as I'm concerned, everything he writes is pure gold).  Although it's a great book, its very dense,which is probably why I've never finished it!

Anyway, I pulled out my notes on the portion I had read so far (yes, nerd that I am, I take notes when I read!).  The content is great that I promised myself to pick the book back up and try to finish it.  With any success I'll have lots more goodies to share in the future!  But for now, I thought I'd share some of what I've learned thus far.

10 Tips on Prayer:

1)  Prayer is loving attention to God.  Therefore, it is meaningless when we are distracted. 

 Hmmm...I need to work on this one.  I too easily find myself becoming distracted during prayer. Often when I sit down to pray I think, " I'm feeling a bit hungry--let me grab a snack first."  Or, "Oh, let me just check my email first."  Thankfully I've become more aware of this lately, and I intend to work on his one!

2)  Prayer is only as good as the love that is put into it.

Our words ring hollow without love in our hearts. And love cannot be hurried.  You can't just rush into prayer.  By its very nature it is slow.  Sometimes I think about what else we might be missing out on by hurrying through our days.  Lessons in life are definitely learned slow.

3)  Prayer requires self-control of body and spirit.  Therefore, a person who is satiated on earthly things is no longer responsive to God.  We can help bring clearer focus on God through :fasting, silence and waiting.

 I find this a challenge in this culture of so. much. noise.  Our attention is pulled in every direction,  our social media-satiated culture being one of the here and now. What's happening on twitter right now?  What's looking interesting on Pinterest?  Have I gotten any new texts? Waiting becomes increasingly difficult when we find ourselves able to be entertained pretty much constantly, with information and technology right at our fingertips.  Taking a cursory glance around a waiting room, you'll find a  sea of dimly-lit faces staring down at their phones.  (The magazines on the table don't even get picked up anymore!) It just causes me to wonder what might be gained, if we all sat with silence more often.God speaks in silence.

4)  We absolutely must bring our true selves to God, just as we are.  Do not be tempted to hide parts of yourself.

God knows us.  He knows what's going on in our minds and our lives.  And He loves us no matter what.  He wants to help us.  But there's no point in praying if you don't show up.

5)  Make God the focus of prayer--not yourself.  Try to transcend the self-centered anxieties that crowd our minds.

There is a time for petition, confession and repentance of course.  But let's not forget to also make time to simply worship Him.  Take time to adore, with a thankful heart.  When I do this, I find myself truly transformed.  This is not the case when I just mentally unload all of my worries and struggles, without getting to the other stuff--the God-praising stuff.

6)  Try to create a sense of reverence, wonder and awe in your prayer.  Do not be afraid to be child-like.  Allow yourself to fill with wonder of life and of the universe.  Do not place your focus on man-made things, but the things of God.

Be child-like.  Yes!  As a mom it's so easy to see how awe-struck a child's eyes become at the things we so often take for granted.  Simple things... like the beauty of bubbles in sunlight or the feathered wisp of clouds across the sky.  Take time to really see the beauty He has made for us!

7)  Know that God's activity in prayer is more important than our own.  Experiencing God through prayer is a gift from Him.

This is an important one for me to keep in mind, because I sometimes think I have to be this way or that in order to have a powerful prayer experience.  But simply making an effort is enough.  God will meet us where we are.

8)  There is no one way to pray.  We each have our own unique path to God.

No two prayers are ever alike.  Each one is uniquely our own, each experience one of a kind, leading us where we need to go.  Yes.

9)  Prayer leads to intimacy with God, and therefore to intimacy with everyone and everything.

I love this--that prayer leads to greater intimacy with everyone around us.  And of course it's true--when our hearts are transformed by God we are more attuned to everything and everyone else.  As we grow, we're better able to serve others-to listen better, to love better. Our hearts are elevated which helps us look outside ourselves to see a world in need.

10)  Prayer can happen at all times, in all things so long as we keep God with us.  Be like a sunflower that follows the sun all day, pointing its colorful head to orient toward that shiny orb in the sky.

I love this--be like a sunflower!  I want to remember this when my teething toddler is cranky or I realize mid-recipe that I'm out of eggs.  To keep God with us at all times and in all things--what a challenge this is for me.  But what an amazing goal to have!

I hope you were able to find something here to help you in you prayer life.  I know I will be working on all of these things.  May we all become like sunflowers, following God all day long!

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