Laughing, Weeping, Living

Life happens. You laugh about it or cry about it, sometimes both.

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

This past week has been crazy and busy. We have been on the run, which is nice because there were a couple days in a row that I didn’t cry about Agnes even once. So I guess I’m doing okay.

Ha.

On Thursday we took some time out to go up to Cornerstone of Hope, a non-profit faith-based grief counseling organization in Independence. This organization was founded by a Catholic couple in 2000 after the death of their little boy. They looked for something that would help them process their grief after the death of their child, but there were very few options. No one wanted to help grieving families acknowledge death. So they started their own gig. Jeremy and I found out about Cornerstone of Hope a few weeks ago when we went to the Marriages of Grace retreat. Cornerstone of Hope was a program sponsor with an ad in the retreat booklet. We would have missed it there, if one of the other couples on retreat hadn’t pointed it out to us and told us what the organization was about. The ad focused on some summer camps for boys and girls, so we had no idea it was also a grief counseling organization.

After the retreat, Jeremy spent some time looking up information about Cornerstone of Hope. I let him because I’m a supportive wife, and even though I don’t need any help processing my grief, I knew Jeremy had been feeling kind of down and maybe it would be good for him.

Ha.

We went together to an intake meeting on Thursday and the therapist asked us to tell a bit about Agnes’ story and why we were at Cornerstone of Hope looking for help, and what we thought we might benefit from as far as types of therapy or services they might provide. The therapist also took us each through a 15 to 20 point grief symptoms checklist, I don’t know…I guess to see how much in grief we are.

Are you experiencing any of the following:
Appetite changes?
Lack of energy?
Changes in sleep patterns (too little of not enough)?
Headaches or general achiness?
Inability to make decisions?
Lack of motivation?
Loss of interest in hobbies?
Forgetfulness?
Urge to cry unexpectedly or intense crying?
Change in social habits?
Feelings of loneliness?
Isolation?
Feelings of worthlessness?
Feelings of helplessness?
Anxiety or panic?
Anger or irritation?
Disorganization?
Lack of focus or concentration?
Recurring thoughts or ideas?

I think I answered “yes” to all but four or five of the items. The moral of the story is I thought I was doing well, but a professional assessment has revealed that I am a wreck. I was living in a lie that I had crafted for myself. It is true that I had a lot of time to pre-grieve while Agnes was sick in the hospital, but that was grieving for something different. We have been grieving different things ever since we had that first ultrasound of Agnes back in February of 2013. We grieved the loss of an uneventful pregnancy, the loss of a totally natural birth, the loss of our joyous homecoming with a healthy baby, the loss of all Agnes’ milestones, the loss of her cry. She never cried. You might think a baby crying is just loud and irritating, but I would give anything to have heard Agnes cry even once.

Anyway, Jeremy and I are going to start grief counseling because we both would benefit from it. I was too proud to admit that I needed help; going to this meeting was very close to the last item on my “want-to-do” list but it is good that Jeremy dragged me up to Independence. I’m not really in a position to give advice, but I would say that if you think your mood or behavior is at all different from how you remember yourself, get a professional assessment because if you do need help, you are probably not in a position to recognize it for yourself.

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The Holy Things for the Holy

343_vierge_orante_large iconDuring my days as a graduate theology/liturgy student, I had the pleasure to attend a lecture by a favorite scholar of mine, and she was talking about the different elements of the Roman Catholic Mass. Her position was that when the liturgy was reformed after Vatican II, they left a dis-jointed sequence of texts leading up to communion. Her biggest beef was with the acclamation, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof; only say the words and my soul shall be healed.” She didn’t like that we had this penitential prayer right before we receive communion. We are holy, she argued. We already did the breast-beating part earlier; we have witnessed the transformation of our gifts into the Body and Blood of Christ; we are now standing around his altar in praise and thanksgiving, why do we have to ruin the mood by harping on our sinfulness yet again? It’s redundant; it upsets the “flow” of the liturgy.

Now, at that particular time and place there were a number of liturgy scholars who saw the Eastern Rite as the more sophisticated and mature older sibling to the Roman Rite. These professors saw the poetry and mystery of the East and wanted some of that to imbue the rituals of the West. They loved the Roman Rite and wanted it to be the best it could be.

This scholar held a similar opinion. She had this example of “Lord, I am not worthy…” and for contrast she offered a line from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the primary liturgical celebration for Byzantine (Eastern) churches. She stood at the podium facing the audience and said that, right before communion during Divine Liturgy, the priest holds up the Body and Blood and acclaims, “The holy things for the holy.” Then the scholar demonstrated the gesture with her hands up, and moving her imaginary vessels out towards the audience. It was a powerful moment. All of us in the audience made that “ohh/mmm” sound you hear during powerful moments among a crowd. The scholar’s point was, the priest is acknowledging the holiness of the assembled people, their worthiness to now receive the Precious Body and Blood. That’s all fine; that was a nice point to make and it certainly sold her argument. I can tell you I was sold on her argument.

But now, having attended the liturgy where this moment occurs, I can say she had it completely wrong. Totally wrong. If that scholar had ever attended the Divine Liturgy she would immediately notice that priest spends the entire time standing at the altar, facing the tabernacle, so his back is to the assembled people. When he does indeed hold up the Body and Blood and acclaim, “The holy things for the holy,” he gestures toward the tabernacle–toward God–who is holy and who is receiving the holy gifts we his servants are offering to him. The priest is speaking on behalf of the people, addressing God, and offering God the holy sacrifice of the Body and Blood. This is completely the opposite from the point that scholar was making many years ago.

The other piece of that long-ago scholar’s argument was that the penitential line, “Lord, I am not worthy…” is misplaced and doesn’t belong immediately before communion. She can have that opinion, but she needs to find another counter-argument because the Divine Liturgy only offers an even more extreme act of penance immediately before communion. Again, if she had ever attended Divine Liturgy, or even read a complete liturgical text before drafting her lecture, she would have known this. During Divine Liturgy, after the priest acclaims, “the holy things for the holy,” the people pray:

I believe, O Lord, and confess that You are truly Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. Accept me this day, O Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not tell the mystery to your enemies, nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief, I confess to You:
+ Remember me, O Lord, when You come into Your kingdom.
+ Remember me, O Master, when You come into Your kingdom.
+ Remember me, O Holy One, when You come into Your kingdom.
May the partaking of Your Holy Mysteries, O Lord, be unto me not for judgement or condemnation but for the healing of soul and body.
+ God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
+ God, cleanse me of my sins and have mercy on me.
+ I have sinned without number, forgive me, O Lord.

Then, in a suitably humble frame of awareness, we walk up and receive Eucharist. As an aside, I have noticed some members of my congregation actually beating their breast during those last three lines. The liturgy scholars would be horrified.

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Eggroll Pizza

100_2074Folks, the pinnacle of culinary invention has now been achieved. The world has now witnessed the marriage of two perfect foods, which have become, in their union, a single even more perfect food.

It all started this afternoon when I experienced a craving for Chinese fast-food eggrolls, a craving that was never to be fulfilled on a Friday during Lent. So I took matters into my own hands. I already knew I was experimenting with pizza for dinner, since I recently read a recipe for pizza crust made from cauliflower puree. Why not experiment with the toppings as well?

So I followed the cauliflower crust recipe: Chop up one head of cauliflower into smallish pieces. Pan fry in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until crisp-tender and browning. Puree in a blender or food processor with 1/2 cup cornmeal, two eggs, salt and pepper to taste. Throw in extra seasoning if you like. Line a pizza pan with parchment and pour out the batter. Spread it around to fill the pan. Bake at 450 for 20 minutes.

While the crust bakes, prep the toppings. I used some of my red cabbage sauerkraut, rinsed and drained, matchstick carrot pieces, thinly sliced bell pepper, and about a teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger.

I made an asian peanut sauce from this Rachel Ray recipe. I could eat this sauce everyday, on anything, it’s so delicious.

So, when the crust is baked to your liking, spread the sauce, then arrange the kraut, pepper slices, carrot shreds, and sprinkle the fresh ginger. Bake an additional 10 minutes or longer if you like your veggies cooked more thoroughly. I liked to keep them fairly fresh since I had all that lovely sauerkraut on there. Cooking the kraut kills all the probiotic organisms which are the main reason to even eat the stuff.

I was actually not overwhelmed by the cauliflower crust. It tasted good, but it didn’t hold together and we had to eat the pizza with forks. I can see where I personally went wrong and I’m willing to try it again, but I’m not convinced it’s worth the trouble for me. I added a bit of water to the blender because the stuff wasn’t blending and I probably should not have done that. I think a food processor would work better for this job. I am planning to try these same toppings on a regular pizza crust and see how that goes. I can’t wait!

This pizza satisfied my eggroll craving, and it looked so pretty. Definitely a flashy dish that would even impress company! If you can convince them to try it!

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Family Mission

First, it turns out this is my 200th post on the blog! Woohoo!

Jeremy and I were able to go on a mini retreat over the weekend. It was the annual Marriage Enrichment retreat put together by Marriages of Grace, a local organization founded by an ordinary married couple about seven or eight years ago. The retreat last weekend featured a couple keynote speakers, some smaller talks, time for each couple to be together to reflect on the content of the program, then Mass and a dinner. It was a great program and I encourage anyone in the Cleveland/Akron area to consider attending future events.

Anyway, the small talk Jeremy and I attended was all about dream building and setting personal dreams and family dreams, then figuring out what behaviors and habits are helping you to realize those dreams. That talk got us thinking about our family’s mission, which we have thought about before a few years ago. Then we forgot about it and never developed our ideas. The family mission is a great way to focus our energy and attention when it comes to philanthropy, supporting different organizations, even the activities we get involved in. For example, the couple who founded Marriages of Grace obviously support the sacrament of marriage as part of their mission. They focus a lot of energy and resources toward programs that build up married couples and help marriages flourish.

Jeremy and I thought of a few ideas. I really want hospitality to be part of our mission. I think it’s important for there to be snacks and coffee at a bible study. If you can have a lunch after a church meeting, you should. I would love to be able to spontaneously invite overnight guests to stay at our house. I want to have dinner company often, especially clergy and religious. We met the two Brothers of the Holy Spirit after Divine Liturgy on Sunday, and they confessed to us that they have started a new ministry: the ministry of eating! I want to support them in that by having them over for dinner!

Jeremy and I also want our family mission to include evangelization–Catholic in particular, and recruiting for Holy Ghost parish in particular. We love our parish family and we want the parish to succeed long term. I believe there are many people longing to experience the beauty and mystery of the Byzantine rite, but they don’t even know we are here and that they are welcome to come! It’s not widely known that Byzantine Catholic liturgies are open to Roman Catholics; Roman Catholics can receive sacraments because the Byzantine churches are in communion with Rome. They recognize the Pope as the head of the Church. The format of Divine Liturgy may seem foreign at first, compared to Mass, but it is actually similar. There is a series of petitions, then readings from scripture, then a homily, then Eucharist, then dismissal. We sing “Lord, have mercy” a lot, but other than that it is remarkably similar. I really like that Mary the Mother of God is mentioned so much in the Byzantine Liturgy. She is mentioned in nearly every long prayer the priest says, plus she gets a petition in all the litanies, plus there are at least two hymns for Mary sung during the liturgy. Roman Catholics may think they have Mary all to themselves, but I think the Byzantine liturgy texts mention her way more! So if you have a particular devotion to Mary, check out a Byzantine church! My personal, most favorite part about coming to church on Sunday is walking in amidst all the beautiful icons, gleaming gold in the lamplight, and inhaling the combined scents of incense and frying onions. It’s just perfect. It smells so holy and homey at the same time.

So, those are a couple ideas we have had about our family mission. I’m sure we will continue working out what God’s Plan is for our family. We continue to pray for inspiration and for the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds and hearts.

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Reflection: Moving On

I’ve always been pretty good about moving from one phase of my life to another. I am easily able to tidy up, say goodbye, and close the door on one phase, then quickly turn my attention and energy to getting settled in the new phase. Graduating from high school was easy. A few parties, exchange email addresses, pack for college, great new phase of my life. Finishing college was not as easy, but still manageable. More sadness was involved with parting from stronger friendships. But in the end it was not too difficult to look ahead and turn my attention to the new phase of grad school. Finishing grad school and moving to Montana was hard. I had to part with more great friends and leave a place I liked quite a lot. But here again, it was pretty easy to move on. Moving from Montana to New Mexico. Really hard. Less manageable and I’m still processing that. Moving from New Mexico to Ohio. Hard but because there was so much involved in that decision, there was not really time for anything but a quick transition.

I will be the first person in a long line of people to say that I am horrible at maintaining friendships over these “phase breaks.” It’s wrapped up in my strategy to move beyond a sad situation and focus on the future. I was able to overcome sadness with each transition because I could mentally and emotionally pack up everything associated with the former life and put it away. I miss the people I’ve left behind and I wish I was better at keeping in touch, but on the other hand I’m glad I am able to put away the past and not let it get in the way of my current life. The people I have managed to keep up with, I truly enjoy our friendships! So I don’t know why I can’t do that with everyone. As an aside, if I’ve lost track of you it’s not because I don’t like you! I’m sure I would love to catch up. I will work on improving my nature. I’m not describing anything unhealthy here, at least I don’t think so. I have just learned that it’s pointless to dwell on the past and feel sad  or regretful about events that have already happened.

Anyway, so, all those transitions I’ve described above are about moving from place to place and shifting life stages. Moving on after the death of Agnes has been both similar and different for me. On the one hand, I feel like it’s been pretty easy to do things and live life normally and give my attention to other people and tasks. On the other hand, weird triggers still reduce me to tears. I’m not surprised and before anyone says it, I’m not being too hard on myself. I’m not upset or frustrated with myself that I cry, I’m only surprised that it doesn’t happen more. Why aren’t I a perpetually tear-damp wreck barely two months after the death of my baby? Because that’s not how I process transitions, that’s why. I take care of all the feelings then set the whole business aside so I can focus on what’s next. If there are any lingering emotions, they are usually not debilitating and I can deal with them while I carry on. My lingering feelings about Agnes are debilitating. They knock me out no matter when or where they strike. It’s different for me. I don’t necessarily mind one way or another.

I think the most helpful thing someone has said to me is, “you don’t get over it, you get used to it.” Sometimes I feel like I am becoming used to Agnes being gone, but then suddenly it is a fresh wound again. I can laugh with friends over coffee in the church basement after liturgy, and a mere two hours later I will be sobbing in the car because I drove past an ambulance. I can be totally focused on the symphony chorus rehearsal, and suddenly the director will tell an anecdote with the name “Agnes” in it and I can’t sing for ten minutes.

My grief process and “moving on” is uneven which is a new experience for me, but I expect someday I will get used to it.

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Awesome Roast Chicken

I made a roast chicken for dinner tonight less than a week after making the same roast chicken. It is that good.

I followed the “Simple Roast Chicken” recipe in The New Best Recipe cookbook from American’s Test Kitchen. These are the people behind the Cook’s Illustrated magazine. The cookbook is called the “best recipe” because the recipe for each item really is the best way to do it. The test kitchen works out scientifically all the possible ways to roast a chicken, for example, then they figure out the way to roast the chicken that results in the most awesome chicken, and that’s the chicken that makes it into the cookbook.

So, I made it. It was AWESOME! I only did one thing different from what the recipe says: I put carrots in the bottom of my roasting pan instead of a roasting rack.

Here is how you make the most awesome roast chicken you ever tasted ever.

100_20691. Brine your whole chicken. Dissolve 1/2 cup of table salt in 2 quarts water and soak the chicken in the fridge for at least an hour. This is the most important step. Your brined chicken will be tender and juicy, never dry.

2. Put your roasting pan in the oven and preheat to 375. It is important to preheat your pan. I used the deep covered baker from Pampered Chef. But without the cover.

3. Cut up the carrots and melt 2 to 3 Tbsp of butter. Set aside the butter. Put the carrots in the preheated pan and drizzle with olive oil. Get the chicken out of the brine and pat it dry. Rub the melted butter all over the chicken. You can season with pepper. Put the chicken on top of the carrots, on its side so a wing is sticking up.

4. Roast the chicken for 15 minutes. Flip the chicken so the other wing is sticking up. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn up the oven to 450 and flip the chicken on its back, breast side up. Roast until done. For a 3 1/2 pound chicken, 20 to 25 minutes more. For a 4 1/2 pound chicken, 35 to 40 minutes more. Meat thermometer stuck in the fat part of the leg should read 160 to 165.

5. Get the delicious crispy golden chicken out and rest it on a cutting board for 10 minutes. You can keep the carrots warm in the oven while you fix the rest of the sides and set the table. Carve the chicken at the table and prepare to enter chicken bliss.

6. You can shave more meat off the carcass to make sandwiches later, or to put in tacos. The carcass will make a killer chicken stock. Don’t throw it away!

The only criticism I have with this recipe is it results in flabby back skin, but since no one really lines up to get the back off a roast chicken, I’m willing to overlook this.

Please promise me you will make this chicken for your family. That is all. Thank you.

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Reflection: I Don’t Feel Like It

Every day this week I have come in to the office several times a day and said to myself, “I really should write a blog post today.” It would be good to get back in the groove of regular blogging. It would be good to write about how I’m doing. Lot’s of people care about me and they might like to know what I’m up to.

But you know what, I don’t feel like it. Specifically, I don’t feel like reflecting. It’s hard, it makes me cry, and I would much rather be devoting my energy and time to less difficult activities that make me cry less.

Well yesterday I spent my whole morning helping at church with the pyrohy business they do, and it was really fun. Then I came home and life was suddenly horrible. I don’t know what happened to me but all of a sudden I was trying to throw together a pot of soup and even that was too difficult. Tears. What the hell? And today we went to Divine Liturgy and everything was fine; but this afternoon I put together our monthly budget which I’ve done many times before, but this time it was extremely difficult and nearly panic-inducing. I wondered aloud when might I start to feel capable and effective again.

So with all that being said, I don’t really feel like I want to spend my evening writing a reflection on how I’m feeling, because it’s really a downer. I know I shouldn’t expect to be “over” my grief yet, and I don’t resent myself for feeling sad and weeping for Agnes from time to time. However, I do wish I was more with-it around the home. There are tasks to be done and I am the one who has to do them, if I want them to get done. When I go around feeling incapable and sad, the simple tasks are overwhelming. Then I feel even more down because how could I let such a simple thing upset me so much? Then all of a sudden, I’m shedding bitter tears over a pan of splattering onions, and someone walks in and says, “Okay, so what’s wrong?” as if I have any idea what the answer may be. I could diagram it for you:

I am upset because:

  • The onions are splattering and the grease burned my hand.

Due to/because of:

  • Poor sleeping and possible hormone imbalance

Due to/because of:

  • Stress and possible mild depression

Due to/because of:

  • Unresolved feelings of grief about my deceased child.

 

So, long story short, I can get along quite well as long as nothing demanding is going on. I can act normal in company at a public location, and it seems as if I am handling my grief quite well. As soon as something demanding happens, all bets are off.

We’ll get through it, and I know you are going to say I need to be easier on myself. I will try. In the meantime, maybe don’t expect frequent posts. I’ll still try to buzz in a few times a week. Hopefully once our house deal gets closer to closing I’ll be bubbling with all that kind of news. Thanks for stopping in to read, thanks for “listening” to me vent.

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