Sweet Resignation

It is with some (small) measure of regret that I must hereby announce my resignation from MOAB: the Mothers Of All Boys club.

Yes, that’s right:

These Walls -- Sweet Resignation -- It's A Girl!

I. am. in. shock.

All (yesterday) morning, I prepared myself for my afternoon sonogram by gearing myself up for boy #4: “I’ll be able to say I have FOUR boys!” “The (soon-to-be-not) baby will have a brother close in age to him, just like the first two do.” “Every time somebody stops me in the grocery store to say, ‘Three boys?’ I’ll be able to chirp back, ‘Four!’” “We won’t have to buy new clothes. Or toys. Or anything else!”

And then the time came. I lie on the table looking up at the screen, thankful to get to watch my baby move his hands, his legs, his back. Thankful for a strong heartbeat. Thankful for organ after organ that checked out as they should.

But we were kept waiting on the bits we were most curious about. I stared at the screen, Brennan stared at it, my mom stared. Baby was uncooperative. He had his legs together; he was hunched into a ball.

Then finally, “he” was pronounced to be a “she”!

“How sure are you?” I asked the tech.

“Very sure.”

“Still a girl?” I asked again and again, while the tech moved on to other parts of my baby’s anatomy.

“Still a girl.”

I think it will take some time before this new reality settles in. I might not even fully believe it until I hold that baby in my arms. But for now, I’m so happy. Brennan is too, though his happiness is (and this is typical for us) more muted than my own. Me: “This is so exciting!” Him: “This will be fine.”

This evening we celebrated our baby girl (ack! I can’t believe I can say that!) with a nice dinner out, just the two of us. Then we stopped by the grocery store to pick up a bouquet of pink roses and went home to tell our boys that they’d be getting a sister.

The oldest jumped up and down. I don’t ever want to forget the look of joy on his face! The middle one – who has been insisting all along that the baby is a girl to be named “Saturday” – hugged me tight and squealed and said, “Mommy, I wuv you because you’re having a girl.” The (soon-to-be-not) baby just toddled around in his diaper, looking cute.

We’re so fortunate – to have each other, to be part of such a loving family, to have three beautiful boys and now a sure-to-be-wonderful girl.

Thank you, Lord, for these most incredible of blessings.

Thank you.

Updated to add: Head on over to the blog’s Facebook page to see a video of Brennan and me announcing the baby’s gender to HER big brothers! (And if you haven’t already, please ‘like’ the page!)

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Wonderful Because They’re Them: Thoughts on Mothering All Boys

This is post 2 of my series of 7 posts in 7 days. All the time, I run across news articles or blog posts or radio segments that make me want to answer them aloud with my own take on the situation. So that’s what I’m doing this week. For each of these seven days, I’ll take a recent item (by someone more original than myself) and I’ll comment on it. That’s it, but that’s something!

~~~

This morning I had my 12-week sono. Thankfully, all went well – Baby Walsh #4 looks just as we hoped s/he would. As usual, I loved the chance to lie back and watch my baby on the screen, wiggling his body around and holding his hand up to his face. (Yes – I said “his.” No, I don’t know that the baby is a boy. It’s just that with three boys already, I’m much more used to the masculine pronouns than the feminine.)

As I watched, I couldn’t help but wonder who this little guy (or gal) is. I thought of my three boys at home and how little I knew of them when I first got this glimpse at their own wiggly little bodies. And how five, four, and almost two years later, I can’t imagine life without them. It boggles my mind to think of how much is yet to be revealed about this child, and how much I will love him.

I thought, too, on whether this child will be revealed to be our fourth boy or our first girl. Watching him, I realized that I can hardly help but think of him as a boy. It’s what I know. So as much as I’d love to have a girl, I know I’ll be fine if he indeed proves to be a he. He’ll feel familiar to me. And I’ll feel a surge of pride at having a pack of four fine boys to call my own.

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If the baby should prove to be a girl, well, I can only imagine that I’ll stumble out of that exam room in a stupor of disbelief (and joy).

As a mother of three boys, I run across “I Love Being A Boy Mom” blog posts all the time. Mostly, they don’t do anything for me. I find that they tend to either wallow in the misfortune of being surrounded by boy grossness, or serve as overly-enthusiastic cheers for Team Boy.

I’m in neither of those places. I happen to think that my boys are the most beautiful creatures on this earth, so I don’t exactly appreciate diatribes against the publicly-guffawed-about trademarks of their gender. But neither do I appreciate the assertions that “Boys are the awesomest ever! Because sports and loving their mamas and not being emotionally complicated!”

I don’t need to be told that my boys are wonderful because they’re boys. I know full well that they’re wonderful because they’re them.

All that said, a couple of months ago, I came across a Boy Mom post that hit me in just the right place. The author reviewed many of the challenges of having boys, but she did so lovingly, almost tenderly – I felt like I could see the smile she wore as she wrote.

When I’m introduced to another mother of only boys, there are a few seconds of expectation. As if maybe we are going to have a secret handshake. Or maybe we are going to say, “Hey, are there black handprint marks all over your walls? Me too!”

Instead, we just nod our heads and exchange a little smile, knowing we are kindred spirits. Having boys leads to a set of personality traits, namely that you’re not fussy and that you roll with the (actual) punches. If you have a bunch of boys, you’ve probably seen a femur up close. You can get blood out of anything.

Moreover, the author acknowledged what most of the Boy Mom posts don’t – the bittersweet sadness of never getting to mother a girl.

We boy moms won’t go prom dress shopping. We won’t pick the wedding venue. We won’t be in the delivery room. We won’t ever, ever sit on a toilet before thoroughly inspecting it first. But we will strive to raise kind, conscious, able young men. All of this is acknowledged when boy moms meet and exchange a little nod and a smile. The nod is for the food prep and the property damage. The smile is for all the rest: the sweetness of a little boy, and the way he grabs your heart with his dirty hands and never lets go.

This is where I am, even as I stare up at that screen, watching my baby. The one who is still completely mysterious to me. The one who could be our fourth boy, or our first girl: I’m a happy woman in love with my boys, who would gladly welcome another. But who, if I indeed end up with a pack of all men, will always think a little sadly on what I’ve missed.

And that’s fine. I am neither a wallower nor a cheerleader. I’m a mother. I don’t need to be told that my boys are wonderful because they’re boys. I know full well that they’re wonderful because they’re them.

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Here’s to Another Fifty-Four

Today is my sixth wedding anniversary and I’m not at all prepared: I have no card, no gift, and haven’t given any thought to how we might celebrate, except for some vague idea that we’ll go out to dinner once my morning sickness is over.

Rather than focusing on our own marriage this evening, Brennan and I will be celebrating the marriage of my cousin Zachary to his bride Susan and my cousin Jenny to her groom Colin. At pretty much the same time. (Yes – we’ll be running from one wedding to the other. We’ll hit the first wedding, then the second, than back to the reception of the first.)

Tomorrow, we’ll again gather together with much of our family to celebrate my grandparents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary.

It’s a marriage kind of weekend.

So I’m thinking about us – me and Brennan – and where we are today. I’m thinking about where we were on our own wedding day and how far we’ve come. I’m wondering where the coming years will take us.

And I’m just so grateful.

Our wedding day passed in a swirl of images and activity: skirts hiked high over brick sidewalks, our flower girl walking barefoot up the aisle, him waiting at the end of it for me, sailboats on the water, a broad dance floor under a white tent, the cake we never got to eat, hugs and good wishes, and just us – finally alone.

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Photo credit: Gordon Eisner

Our lives were so open and uncertain. Exciting, but uncertain.

Part of me wishes that we’d done the newlywed thing a little longer – gone on a few more trips, had a few more romantic dinners, enjoyed the (relative) freedom of being childless. But we were eager to have children. And thank goodness, children came easily: We welcomed our first a few weeks before our first anniversary. Our second came along 15 months later, and our third 30 months after that. Six years into our marriage, we’re now expecting our fourth.

I wouldn’t trade it – them, these years of worry and work – for the world. And I know Brennan feels the same.

Today we’re tired, we’re worn thin, we have to step over random objects (yesterday it was an empty milk jug on the family room floor) to get from point A to point B, but what an abundance of life we have in our home.

We get to watch our boys run and climb and jump and work together to catch “crocagators” and “pteranodonosauruses.” We get to hear them roar and shriek and tell long, long stories. I get to watch Brennan hold the big boys captive in his arms and my baby snuggle on his daddy’s chest. I get to see the way he teaches them, guides them, loves them. I get to hear him reading to them before bed and saying Grace with them before meals.

Our boys are getting older, more competent and independent. We’re entering the years in which we’ll teach them about the world and slowly back off as they learn to navigate it. Ten years from now, we might remember these small-child years as if through a fog. Thirty, forty years from now, our roles as parents will be altogether different.

Fifty-four years from now, when (God willing) we’ll celebrate our own sixtieth wedding anniversary, where will we be? What will we have gone through? How will we have weathered the challenges of our life together?

All I know is that despite the hard work and sleepless nights of caring for three small children and gestating a fourth, my life with Brennan is happier and fuller now than it was when we were newlyweds. That despite the fun we might have had on a few more childless trips and dates, nothing has built up our marriage like working alongside each other, making those difficult decisions together, and exchanging smiling glances as we watch our delightful, unruly brood roll around on the floor.

I can only hope that another 54 years of shared work, sacrifice, and small joys will add up to more love than I can imagine.

Grandmom and Granddad, congratulations on all you’ve accomplished together. Thank you for being such terrific parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Thank you especially for showing all of us such a beautiful example of marriage.

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Zachary and Susan, Jenny and Colin, congratulations on entering into your own marriages! I pray that six years from today, you look at each other with more love and commitment than you do this evening. I hope you’ll recognize the gift of having to work for and with each other and that someday you’ll receive the immeasurable blessing and joy of children.

Brennan, thank you for all you have been and done in the past six years. I love you and I’m so glad that you’re the one I get to walk (and stumble, and run) through life with. Here’s to another 54!

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I Love You So Much and So Much {pretty, happy, funny, real} (Vol. 18)

{pretty}

My boys are turning into quite the little naturalists, which is obvious to anyone who approaches our back door.

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(I require them to leave their rocks, sticks, feathers, etc. outside. Depending on your outlook, that will make me seem either curmudgeonly or very clever.)

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When they first started leaving rocks at the door, I was annoyed, not wanting a cluttered entryway. But as their “cowections” grew, I began to warm to them.

At this point, I do believe I might actually find the collections beautiful – or {pretty}, at least.

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I certainly like what they encourage in my boys: wonder, curiosity, an eye for detail, one for beauty. They’ve begun paying more attention to the birds – not just noticing them, but identifying them too. Indeed, my four-year-old came to the back door the other day holding a dead bird, its wings splayed and stiff. “Look, Mommy! I found a dead bird skin! It even has claws!”

It was a woodpecker, which is, I think, why he’s been particularly interested in that species lately. The day after the dead one, he spotted another (living) one just outside our kitchen window. He sat for a good hour with his grandmother, perusing her birding field guide and asking her questions.

He even drew one.

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Lovely, isn’t it?

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Just one random, unrelated {pretty} — look at those curls!

{happy}

We’ve had lots to be {happy} about this week.

After losing our bees over the winter, new ones arrived.

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My oldest son “graduated” from pre-school. (This is happy! I know it is! But I keep having to remind myself that it’s not actually the saddest thing to happen to me in some time.)

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The kids’ chairs all set out with balloons looked so sweet and cheerful.

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Of course, at first the kids were too interested in the balloons to pay much attention to anything else!

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Also, there’s this child:

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Well, there are these too:

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They each make me awfully happy.

But that first one – he’s been such a lovey little love lately. I’ve been hearing “I wuv you, Mommy.” more times a day than I can count. One evening he said, “I wuv you so much and so much” and it struck me so greatly that I’ve been using it with him too.

I love you so much and so much.

Isn’t that just a joy?

Another evening he said, “I wuv you sooo much, Mommy, because you’re so beautiful.” Later it was, “You smell delicious, Mama!”

My brother pointed out to me that my boy could simply be sucking up in anticipation of my discovering some great damage he’s done, but… I don’t think so.

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{funny}

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{real}

How about for this one I tell you about meeting another blogger in {real} life?

Those of you who follow Catholic All Year may know that the Tierney family has been vacationing in the DC area for the past week. Well, when Kendra mentioned their plans on her Facebook page (including a plan to visit Annapolis), I messaged her to offer her family a tour of the Charles Carroll House. The House was the Annapolis home of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. And I just so happen to be on its Board of Trustees, so… it worked out!

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The Tierneys were lovely – and just what I expected from having read Kendra’s blog. (So, there’s authenticity for you, right?) I hope they enjoyed the visit, and that talk of plaster and paint and persecution and politics didn’t bore them too, too much. (Though we had a wonderful, knowledgeable docent, so I don’t think that’s the case!)

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One of Kendra’s boys found a soccer ball in the bushes. Perfect!

 

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I love that my boys have been able to spend time at this beautiful, special place.

I know that Kendra’s little Frankie, at least, enjoyed running around the grounds with my boys and those of my friend Betsy. She and her three met us in Annapolis for the tour (during which Betsy monitored my boys) and a playground outing. Thank you, Betsy!

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By the way, for those of you who don’t read Catholic All Year, you may (may?) be interested to know that just as I hosted the CWBN Mid-Atlantic Conference at my home a couple of weeks ago, Kendra hosted the CWBN California Conference at her home a week before that. Small world, right?

I think that’s it for me this week! Be sure to stop over to Like Mother, Like Daughter for the everyday contentment of {pretty, happy, funny, real}.

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Lord, Be With Them

This morning, I saw the following text begin to trickle onto my Facebook newsfeed:

From Sister Monique, via Filles de la Charite, PARIS

FROM : Sister Monique

Late Sunday afternoon on 1 March 2015, I received a message from M. Francoise, a delegate of the International Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and I managed to reach her by telephone.

She was leaving for Paris, and collapsed at the news she had just received: members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Syria were kidnapped, along with their wives and children. The children were isolated and put into cages. Adults who do not deny their faith will be decapitated, and their children burned alive in the cages. M. Francoise had been in regular contact with several of them before all this occurred. She asked me to transmit the news and make a fervent appeal for prayers for these people, and all who are held hostage.

Let us remain fervently united in prayer, and have as our intention the welfare of all brothers and sisters in our Christian faith who are being held hostage

Now, I have no way of knowing whether this information is true (I haven’t found any mention of it in the media), but it is posted on the website of the Eastern Province (USA) of the Vincentians, a Catholic order of priests and brothers. I would hope that they confirm such accounts before sharing them.

(Please note that there was a publicity stunt in February, in which Syrian protestors dressed children as ISIS hostages and placed them in a cage to protest the Assad regime. So if you see any pictures purported to be the children referenced by the Vincentians, please know that you might actually be seeing images of children who are alive and well – other, of course, than the fact that they live under a brutal, oppressive, even murderous regime.)

But in any event, thinking of the Christian hostages held by ISIS in Syria and Iraq (and we know that there are indeed many of them), I pray, over and over:

Lord, be with them.

Lord, protect them. Comfort them. Strengthen them. Give them Your peace.

Lord, touch the hearts of their captors. Kindle in them the virtues of prudence, justice, and charity. Guide them to feel sympathy, to have mercy, to love.

Lord, help the hostages to know that they are loved and prayed for by their brothers and sisters in Christ the world over. Move us to offer them whatever help and solidarity we can.

Lord, shield them. Cover them. Hold them.

Lord, be with them.

This morning, shortly after I read the disturbing news above, I heard my own child cry. He was fine – just frustrated with his clothing. But his cries were like daggers to my sense of wellness, of stability, of the way the world should be. All I could think of were those parents, having to wrestle with the most horrible decision one could possibly face.

Their children’s cries… surely their children would be crying.

I have no idea what I would do in that situation. No idea. I am cowed just by the suggestion of such a choice. Though half a world away, I feel injured by the kidnappings, the rapes, the mutilations, the beheadings of my fellow Christians in Africa and the Middle East. I am wowed by the grace with which some of those who are actually close to the victims have borne their losses. I feel pain, too, for the Muslims and other non-Christians who have suffered at the hands of ISIS and Boko Haram.

Over and over, I recognize Evil in the work of those extremists. Over and over, I mourn and I pray:

Lord, be with them.

I hope you’re praying too. I hope that you and I and the elderly lady at my church choir practice who lead us in prayer for the Jordanian fighter pilot, First Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh, on the day we learned of his immolation – I hope that we (whatever Faith we call our own) will always far outnumber those who claim to do God’s will, but instead do the work of the one who opposes Him.

Lord, be with them.

The Lesson They Left

I went to two funerals last week.

The first was so lovely, really – it was for Mary Lenaburg’s beautiful, special Courtney, who had died the Saturday before, on the Feast of St. John the Beloved. The music at the funeral was heavenly, the homily and eulogy were warm, and though there was a real sense of mourning, the church was also full of love and hope. Courtney no longer suffers. She’s free, and in the words of her mother, “She is finally healed and whole. No more seizures. No more pain. Just all encompassing joy and love for an eternity.”

The second funeral came on much more unexpectedly. Mark Pacione, a long-time leader in youth ministry in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, died suddenly on the morning of December 29. His funeral felt more raw to me: it was beautiful, but also strong and real, not unlike Mark himself. The church was packed, filled up with person after person on whom Mark had had an impact. One needed only glance around the space to see it in others’ eyes – his was such a tremendous, personal loss.

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Given their proximity on the calendar, I can’t help but think of these two funerals together. And really, it’s fitting that I should file them together in my mind. These two amazing individuals, Courtney and Mark, represent the concept of love like none I have ever known.

I’ve already written on Courtney’s love. Hers is one that shows you how to love more deeply, unconditionally, purely:

In this year of knowing Mary (and through her, Courtney), I’ve learned something about love. (An undefined, powerful kind of something that I feel in my chest, but can hardly describe except to say, “I’ve got to love more.”) I’ve learned something about loving your child, your husband, your friends, about loving God. I’ve learned something about loving through hardship, about tenacity and stretching to meet the challenges put before you.

Mark’s example shows you the beauty of loving everyone. As was said during his funeral (and probably hundreds of times in the days surrounding it), when Mark was talking to you, he made you feel like you were the only person in the room. No matter who you were, no matter how well he knew you, Mark made you feel like you counted.

Both examples put into practice what we pro-life Catholics talk about, but which some of us, perhaps, don’t always live – that is, the conviction that all human life is sacred. Each and every one of us matters. That goes for the unborn, the ill, the disabled, those at the ends of their lives, and even that awkward teenager standing against the wall in a basement church hall. It goes for those we know only in passing and for those we pass but do not know.

I once had a pastor who, while shaking hands with parishioners after Mass, never seemed to make eye contact with any of them. He’d hold out his hand and touch it briefly to yours, but he wouldn’t look at you. His eyes would simply scan the crowd, as if he viewed it – us – as nothing more than a vague glob of humanity.

How often do I do the same? How often – in my haste or my distraction – do I brush past people, or if I stop to talk for a moment, give them only the pretense of my attention?

How often do I view people in terms of their utility to me? How often do I judge them by their beauty or their popularity? How often do I dismiss those who don’t meet certain (unworthy) standards?

Far, far too often.

Though my mind and the most honest part of my heart understand that all people are precious, that each and every one of us are made in the image and likeness of God, the rest of me needs reminding. My harried, distracted brain, my snobbery, my jealousy – I need to keep them in check. I need to be present enough, aware and thoughtful and loving enough to treat the people around me like they count.

Because they do.

Thank you, Courtney and Mark, for your beautiful examples to us. Thank you for letting God’s love work through you. Thank you for showing us how to do the same.

14 From ‘14

Merry Christmas to you! And a happy New Year too!

As we wrap up 2014, I thought I’d do a little recap o’ the blog to highlight some of my favorite posts from the year. (I’ll admit – it was pretty fun to scroll through them all.) And since I want to do you the favor of making it obvious as to why I chose these particular posts, I thought I’d include each in its own category. So… without further ado (since there’s plenty of it below)… here are 14 From ’14:

1. The most viewed post (and the closest to “viral” that I’ve ever gotten):

When Breast Isn’t Best

Wow. I knew this post in opposition (so to say) to Breastfeeding Awareness Week might attract a bit more attention than usual, but it went and blew “a bit more” out of the water. In the post’s first day, I received nearly ten times as many views as I usually do on post-publishing days and I more than doubled my best day ever. All told, the post has gotten more than a dozen times the views of my average post.

So let’s see… what element of the mommy wars should I tackle next?

(No, no – I’m kidding. Stoking fires just for the fun of it isn’t my thing – there are plenty of others you can go to for that.)

Doubly selfish: using formula and counting on the four-year-old to feed it to his brother.

Doubly selfish: using formula and counting on the four-year-old to feed it to his brother.

2. The post that was hardest to write:

It Is The Same Evil

This thing was a bear to get through. (ISIS? Evil? Hmm… I wonder why?) I worked on it for weeks – weeks in which I felt like I was trudging through mud every time I sat down at the computer. It definitely felt like there was some Resistance at play. When I finished writing the post, I could barely look at the thing, I was so unhappy with it. But with a little more distance, I’ve come to think I did a decent job of it.

3. The post with the best discussion in the combox:

Yes, I Worry About Religious Freedom

This post makes me so happy. Not because I think the piece itself was any work of art, but because it generated such a great discussion in the comments section. This (despite all my mommy ramblings about exhaustion and vomit) is why I started the blog – to encourage discourse on touchy, divisive, important matters of politics and society. Polite discourse, open-minded discourse, respectful discourse. I know this one little post was just the tiniest of drops in the bucket, but it’s my drop and I’m glad to have let it fall.

4. The post with the strangest subject matter:

The Best Possible Mugging

I had a mugging story. I had to tell it!

Yet another incongruous photo. It's not even Washington, it's Germany. But it was taken around the same time as the events in this post.

Yet another incongruous photo. It’s not even Washington, it’s Germany. But it was taken around the same time as the events in this post.

5. The post that would make the best sitcom episode:

Epilogue (Please) To The Day Of The Snake And The Water

Snake slithering out of a basket of my sons’ toys? Jumping toilets? Brown water shooting out of a toilet’s tank and at my face? It’s my own brand of slapstick!

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6. The post that most pulls on my heartstrings:

Single Lady Gets A Family

During my single twenties, I began to think I might never have a family of my own. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am that I was wrong.

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7. The funniest (in a desperate sort of way) post:

Think Of Your Closets

“If I had to choose one piece of advice to offer young people at this very moment, it would be: Don’t be a pack-rat. And if you absolutely can’t resist the urge to be a pack-rat, make sure to be an organized one.”

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8. The bossiest post:

Why You Should Vote – Even When It Feels Like It Doesn’t Make A Difference

In which I use guilt and just a little bit of elections expertise to strong-arm you into becoming a regular voter.

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9. The post with the most (and maybe the best?) pictures:

Taking A Weekend For Us

Brennan and I went away for a weekend before the baby was born – without our boys. It was heavenly. I took lots of pictures.

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10. The post that best showcases my boys’ narcoleptic tendencies:

Greetings From The Land Of Nod… Nod… Nodding Off

New here? My boys fall asleep all. the. time. At the table, in the car, on the sofa, in the highchair, on the floor, in the shopping cart… And when I’m pregnant, I’m almost as bad as they are.

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11. The post that seems most pertinent to the events of this week:

Courtney’s Love

Courtney Lenaburg, the beloved daughter of Mary from Passionate Perseverance, passed away this past Saturday morning. Courtney’s wake will be held tonight and her funeral tomorrow. Please keep the entire Lenaburg family in prayer during this very difficult time.

12: The post written with most love for my oldest:

What Matters To Him

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13: The post written with most love for my middle:

This Child

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14: The most consequential post:

Announcing…

I had a baby this year! Few things are of greater consequence than that!

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I’m linking this up with Dwija’s 12 Photos in 2012 link-up at House Unseen, Life Unscripted. (12? 14? Photos? Posts? Close enough, right?) Be sure to stop there for more 2014 recaps — and much more beautifully-shot photos than my own.

I hope 2014 was kind to you. The year brought me some great challenges, but even greater blessings. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

I Couldn’t Help But Cry

… this morning, when I heard this report:

Six heavily armed gunmen stormed a military school in Peshawar, Pakistan killing more than 130 people, mostly teenagers, and many the children of military officers. Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the deadly attack, possibly in retaliation for Pakistan’s military operations against it. The death toll makes this attack one of the worst in the region in decades and is a grim reminder of the ongoing political turmoil.

All those children, all those families. It’s overwhelming to think on what they must be going through right now.

Loving, of course, makes us vulnerable. And loving our children makes that vulnerability seem infinite. It’s hard to imagine a greater pain – a pain that will go on and on, perhaps overtaking us – than losing a child. To lose someone who is (in the case of a biological child) literally, physically part of you, to lose someone (in the case of any child, no matter how he or she came to be yours) into whom you have poured so much work and love, and in whom you have seen such beauty and promise… the magnitude of such a loss is difficult to comprehend.

Which is why the Taliban chose such a target. It’s why bitter, angry, attention-seeking, sometimes ill people choose, over and over again, to attack schools: They house the treasures we hold most dear – the treasures our minds and hearts go wild at the prospect of losing.

My own heart had a small scare last week as I sat in my eight-month-old’s room, listening to him wheeze, watching his torso heave as he struggled to breathe. But my fear was short-lived. Soon we were in the hospital where he was monitored and cared for; the assistance he needed was within easy reach and I was pacified. I felt badly for the discomfort he felt, but my fear was gone.

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Fear rears up, though, from time to time. I love. I’m vulnerable. I fear when my children gag on their food. (They gag all the time.) I fear when I see them ride away in someone else’s car. I fear when I call for them in the back yard and they take too long to respond. Soon enough, I’ll fear when I send them off to school – real school, all-day school. I’ll fear when they’re the ones driving the cars, when they begin to claim their independence from us, when they leave home altogether.

It’s horrible, all that fear. It’s also enticing in a perverse sort of way. If I let myself, I could roll around in it, enfold myself in it. It would be in my nature: I remember convincing myself as a child, time and again, that something horrible would happen to my parents and they’d be taken from me. The fear was quick to take over. It was hard to see through.

Now, with a little more perspective, I’ve come to realize how difficult it can be to enjoy something you’re too afraid of losing. (And I’ve come to see how hard it can be to enjoy life while focusing on all that can be taken from it.)

So I try, these days, not to let the fears rule me. (I’m fortunate that I’m in a good position to do so, of course – my children are healthy and we live in a safe, stable part of the world.) I try to remember that fearing someone’s loss is a symptom of truly loving them. So there’s some beauty in the fear. It’s horrible and beautiful, all at once.

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My friend Mary is currently losing her daughter Courtney. My friend Amanda continues, rightly, to mourn the stillbirth of her precious daughter Brianna, even as she has welcomed Brianna’s younger sister and brother into this world. My family remembers our little Leah, whom my aunt and uncle lost far too soon. I can’t begin to count the number of women I know who have suffered the loss of their babies through miscarriage.

Given the events in Peshawar, I can’t help but turn my mind today towards those who have lost their children. Those friends and family of mine, those parents of Peshawar, those of Sandy Hook and Beslan and Columbine, those of Syria, Iraq, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, those whose children have been taken by violence and disease.

All that grief, all that fear – the wild, the heavy, the sharp, the lingering kinds. They swirl in my mind today, they squeeze my heart.

Lord, be with these families. Bless them. Bring them your comfort.

What Matters To Him

This weekend I was laid low by a fever and a few other bothersome symptoms, so today I took myself to the doctor to be checked out. Diagnosis: sinus infection. It’s my standard affliction – all-in-all, not such a big deal.

While I waited for my new insurance information to be processed, I noticed a sign on the counter:

“IF YOU HAVE VISITED AFRICA IN THE LAST THREE WEEKS AND YOU HAVE A FEVER, PLEASE INFORM THE STAFF IMMEDIATELY.”

Ebola. How awful that we – that anyone – should have to be worried about that horrible, alienating disease. I’d thought about Ebola victims over the weekend while in the chilled, achy throes of my fever. How much worse they must feel. How scared they must be. How much they must want to be helped and comforted by those they love.

Heck, I only had a 101 degree fever and I texted “Wah! I want my Mommy!” to that lucky lady.

On the drive home from the doctor’s office, the news program I was listening to also focused on Ebola: this time on the nurse in Dallas who’s been infected and that city’s efforts to keep residents informed and the disease contained. I was thinking on all of it as I walked to my back door.

But then I opened it and my beautiful little four-year-old turned his head to me with a horror-stricken look on his face. Someone had died, surely.

“I don’t get my treeeaaat!”

He had tears running down his face and peanut butter smeared all over his mouth. His hand was stuck in mid-air, holding a spoon full of the stuff. I looked to Brennan for an explanation.

“He was crumbling crackers – he made a huge mess for me to clean up, so he doesn’t get a treat.” (Please know that this is a long-standing issue with this child. Anytime we give him a food that crumbles, he crumbles it. Not in the normal, accidental way that any child is expected to do – no, this guy delights in crumbs; he makes piles of them and pushes them around the table and they go ev.er.y.where. We’re working on it. And part of working on it is, you don’t get treated for good mealtime behavior when you don’t, um, exhibit good mealtime behavior.)

Anyway – Ebola. Here I was, stewing on death and fear and serious, grown-up issues, when I walked into my kitchen and found my little boy, devastated because he wouldn’t be allowed to have dessert.

I couldn’t help but smile. I hid my face while I tried to stop myself from laughing. It was just so beautiful, so delightful. My child was so safe and healthy, so loved, that he felt the loss of a handful of M&M’s as if it were a great tragedy.

What matters to him is being able to eat mediocre milk chocolate in a colorful candy shell. What matters to him is being able to play with his little brother’s new metal airplanes. What matters to him is getting to dump “avalanches” of animal and dinosaur toys onto himself and his brother. What matters to him is giving his father and me the right number of kisses on our cheeks.

These things matter greatly to him, and how I love him for that. He feels deeply. Someday he’ll mourn the wars and diseases of the world, but for now he’s consumed with treats and play and the people he loves.

Once I’d gotten my laughter under control, I walked over to my stricken little boy and held his face in my hands. I whispered some words to him, words meant to comfort but not to undermine his father’s authority. I hugged him and wiped the peanut butter off his face.

How lucky we are.

And how lucky this boy is, to have these be the things that matter to him. (Matter so much that his father’s heart softened and he gave the boy another chance.)

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Courtney’s Love

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the Little Sisters of the Poor and their loving, life-giving ministry to those who are nearing the end of their lives. I’ve thought about that post, and the work of the Little Sisters, a lot since writing it.

I thought of it when learning of a friend’s death this summer from brain cancer. I thought (and continue to think) of it when hearing about Ebola victims in Liberia, where many die without the comfort of human touch or even simple, loving attention, due to the (well-founded) fears of transmitting the disease. I thought of it the other day while listening to yet another episode of the Diane Rehm Show, this one about “Being Mortal: What Matters In The End.”

And I have especially thought of it while reading Facebook and blog updates from Mary Lenaburg, of Passionate Perseverance. For those of you unfamiliar with her blog, Mary has a 22-year-old daughter, Courtney, with some very special needs. Courtney is unable to talk or walk, to feed herself, even to see. She also experiences frequent, frightening, and often severe seizures. Sadly, it now appears that Courtney’s life is nearing its end.

Mary and her family have spent years (and a not-insignificant amount of money) caring for Courtney and providing for her every need and comfort. Doctors’ visits, therapies, surgeries, medicines, tube feedings, illnesses, hygiene care, round after round of wrangling with insurance companies – the Lenaburgs have done it all.

That’s remarkable enough – the sheer work and angst of caring for a completely dependent, very ill child for 22 years. But what’s more remarkable, and more to the point, is that the Lenaburgs have loved.

Courtney Lenaburg has been loved unlike anyone I’ve ever encountered in my life.

Mary and Jerry Lenaburg and their son Jonathan have loved Courtney through their work to care for her. But they’ve also talked to her, prayed with her, read to her, laughed with her, held her, clasped her hands, given her massages, sewed her clothes, dressed her with great attention, made her surroundings beautiful and cheerful… and so much more.

Honestly, nothing I write here can come close to describing all the ways in which the Lenaburgs have loved Courtney.

Mary and Jerry have also, through their extended family, their church, and Mary’s blog (and many other avenues, I’m sure), built up an incredible community of friends around Courtney, and around themselves. They’ve loved those friends too. They’ve prayed for them, they’ve helped them, and they’ve afforded them the great privilege of doing the same.

(When I was in labor with my youngest, Mary sent me a message to tell me that she and Courtney were praying for me. I’m sure that I’m one of many, many people to have received such a message from the Lenaburgs through the years.)

I don’t know Mary well. We met last summer at Like Mother, Like Daughter’s DC meet-up. We enjoyed a great Cuban dinner together with another Mary friend a couple of months later. And my boys and I had the opportunity to visit with Mary and Courtney at their home this past spring. Yet I feel like I know Mary well. Part of that, I think, is the mark of a good blogger. But the bigger part of it is that Mary puts her love out there for the world to see, and that love has a way of catching you, of drawing you close and folding you up as if it were your own.

In this year of knowing Mary (and through her, Courtney), I’ve learned something about love. (An undefined, powerful kind of something that I feel in my chest, but can hardly describe except to say, “I’ve got to love more.”) I’ve learned something about loving your child, your husband, your friends, about loving God. I’ve learned something about loving through hardship, about tenacity and stretching to meet the challenges put before you.

And I’m just one person.

I have a hard time conceiving of just how many people have been touched and taught by the Lenaburgs. Courtney’s love has gone out into the world and done amazing things, I’m sure of it. It’s softened hearts, it’s shored-up relationships, it’s brought people closer to God. It’s spurred generosity and engendered gratitude. It’s helped people to see the value in those around them. What a beautiful legacy.

As Courtney’s time here comes to a close, I am comforted (not that I have any right to require comfort) by the knowledge that when she passes, Courtney will be surrounded by as much love as one could possibly be. And that she’ll be passing straight from the loving arms of her earthly family to the loving arms of her heavenly Father.

Love, love, love.

The beautiful thing, of course, about the Little Sisters of the Poor is also love – their love for Christ, their love for those whom they serve. Just as the Lenaburgs care for, love, and pray for Courtney, so do the Little Sisters care for, love, and pray for the elderly poor.

What a gift.

It is this love – between Mary and Courtney, between the members of the Lenaburg family, their friends, and their online community, between the Little Sisters of the Poor and the elderly poor – it is this love, a gift from God, which touches us and teaches us and gives us a glimpse of the divine.

Thank you, Mary, for sharing your love with us – for sharing Courtney with us.

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To learn more about Mary and Courtney, please visit Passionate Perseverance. The Lenaburgs are having a particularly rough (and now in some ways, a particularly blessed) time of it right now. Not only are they caring for Courtney and preparing to say goodbye to her, but they’re also planning Courtney’s funeral. On top of that, Jerry is slated to be laid-off from his job at the end of the month. And (can you believe there’s an “and”?) they’ve just learned they’ll need to make some major (read: expensive) repairs to their sewage line.

In the past 24 hours (the 24 hours it took me to finish this post!) there’s been a tremendous upsurge of support for the Lenaburgs, so it looks like the repair costs will be taken care of. But they could still use help in covering the cost of Courtney’s funeral and in paying down their medical debt. I hope you’ll consider helping them out if you’re able. GoFundMe and PayPal buttons are located on Mary’s blog. Thanks in advance for any assistance you provide – and for your prayers!