Laughing, Weeping, Living

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

Other People’s Babies

You know it’s spring time when all the ladies you know start having their babies. Several of my facebook acquaintances recently gave birth to their beautiful new babies, and the newborn photos are adorable. The kiddos are so cute, and sleepy, and they have sweet little hands, and I could just eat them up. The little boys wear hats with an owl face and the little girls are in cute pink ruffles. I really like seeing these children of my friends. I am happy for the families who welcome these babies.

When Agnes was born, I joined a couple online networking groups for support. Mommies of Miracles and Moms of Trach Babies are the two main groups that I joined. I am still linked to these groups since they encourage the moms whose children have passed away to stay in touch with the community. I have been able to comment on a couple questions that have come to the discussion board, and it does help me feel connected to a community. The members of these groups submit charming photos of their “miracle” children with complex and often debilitating medical needs. Children in wheelchairs, children who can’t talk or see or hear, children who are dependent on feeding tubes, trachs, regular I.V. treatments, children who require multiply surgeries and hospital stays. Beautiful children who are always the light of mommy’s eye, and she loves this child so much, and she would do whatever and anything to help this child have a better life.

I love to see pictures of these children, too, the children who are alive despite grim diagnoses and shortened life expectancies. I love reading about how these children have overcome difficult circumstances in order to thrive in their own special way.

It does get really hard for me, though, to read about these miracle children. Harder than reading about healthy babies. My friends’ healthy babies are beautiful but it’s the stories of the medically complex babies that break my heart.

Earlier this week I saw some absolutely gorgeous photos of a little boy in the Mommies of Miracles group, and he has a very similar genetic condition to Agnes. Not the same, but very similar. His story was full of uncertainty, but he now appears to be thriving with the help of a feeding tube, and that’s it. His eyes were so big and blue, and he looked so alert, and he looked like Agnes would have looked if she ever opened her eyes. And he’s still alive. And doing well. With a condition so similar to what Agnes had. And it’s stories like his that are so hard for me to see. I am happy for that little boy and his family; he is a beautiful child. But I am also intensely sad and a little bit jealous.

This experience makes me wonder if I should still stay connected to these groups. Is the connection helpful for me or does it simply bring heartache? I don’t know. I love seeing the photos of miracle babies, but each one is a reminder that my miracle baby is not here anymore. I can cheer on these children and pray that they continue to beat the odds, but at the same time I am painfully aware that my child did not beat the odds.

Baby Agnes, pray for me.

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Cookies and Kittens and Other Cute Stuff

Hi all. We’ve been busy around here the past week or so.

First before I do anything else, here is Agnes’ grave marker! It was installed in time for us to visit on Memorial Day. It is so pretty. We are very happy with it.

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Octopus and shark cookies, with interested facial features.

Octopus and shark cookies, with interested facial features.

Okay. Since I made those cute lamb cookies for the Holy Ghost parish Easter dinner, I’ve been waiting for an excuse to make more cute cutout cookies. Finally this week I found an excuse: the celebration of Stephen’s baptism day! He was baptized on May 28, 2011 when he was just barely three weeks old. We want to celebrate these sacramental anniversaries in our family, so we took the opportunity to throw a little party, complete with cute animal cutout cookies. I wanted to do octopuses and sharks because those cutters appealed to me this time. If you are interested, the set of cutters I bought is this one from Wilton. It has any animal you could ever want. Any. Animal. The cookie recipe I use now for these cutouts is the “Glazed Butter Cookie” recipe from The New Best Recipe Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen. I haven’t talked about those guys for a while, but I want you all to know that they are still a big part of my life. Especially now that I can’t live without these cookies. I like this recipe because the dough is easy to work with, you don’t have to chill it for hours before you roll it out for cutting, plus the directions say to roll the dough between two sheets of parchment which is pure genius. Nothing sticks to anything and the dough rolls out perfectly even with very few tears. That’s “tears” rhymes with “pears” not rhymes with “beers,” though this recipe certainly cuts down on that kind of “tears” as well.

Nap time

Nap time

Also this past weekend we went to visit my Aunt and the new kittens one of her cats recently birthed. There were four kittens in the litter and we wanted to adopt one of them! It was a fun trip. Stephen enjoyed playing with all four kittens, who were all energetic and very adorable. We decided relatively quickly that we wanted to take the fluffy one, the only kitten that has long fur. We had been discussing potential kitten names for a while so it was pretty easy to decide on a name. At this point in the story I would like to stop the narrative in order to fill you in on a bit of history. As you know, we already have a cat named Sashimi. We adopted Sashimi a few years ago when we lived in Billings, MT, and we thought it was funny to name him after the Japanese raw-fish appetizer “sashimi.” Ha ha. Aren’t we funny and so witty. Anyway so. We wanted to continue the ethnic food theme with our new cat as well. We tossed around some ideas like Pakora, which is a chickpea flour fritter from the East Indian culinary tradition. We considered Cannoli. Taquito. Nori. Ramen. As you can imagine it gets ridiculous very quickly. Frijoles Refritos, “Frito” for short. Combo Plate #2. Gravlax. Wonton. I refer you back a few lines [ha ha aren’t we funny and so witty]. We named the fluffy kitten Pakora and vowed to bring her home with us.

Oh, but all the other kittens are so cute and look at that one, he really gets along well with Pakora and my Aunt says he’s even more snuggly and I really wanted to get another snuggly kitty. But then, if we get another kitten, what should we name it? Gravlax? Jeremy said no way. I quote directly from Jeremy’s mouth: “That is the worst name for a cat ever.”

Gravlax (left) and Pakora (right)

Gravlax (left) and Pakora (right)

Guess what we ended up naming the kitten? Gravlax! I’m so happy we did because every time anyone says the name Gravlax everyone in the room kind of titters. It’s hilarious. Also, it’s very much in keeping with Sashimi’s name, since Gravlax is a fermented fish that is also eaten raw. I think the name is awesome. Pakora and Gravlax. It rolls off the tongue so well. And they really do get along well with each other. Sashimi did take a few days to get used to the idea of two new kittens, but I think they have already worked out their differences. They have all played together a few times, and they can all eat in the same room without a throw-down occurring.

stephen and iconsFinally, we hung up our icons in our new house. It took awhile to get around to it, but I’m so happy we finally did it. It looks great! There is plenty of room to continue adding icons as our collection grows. So long as add to it symmetrically! We plan to have icons for each of our children’s patron saints, as many as that may be, plus whatever else we decide to add. I’m excited for the possibilities.Gravlax likes Mary!

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Face to Face

I realized today that one of the main reasons I’ve been quiet on the blog recently is not because my life is so busy. No. It’s not because nothing meaningful is happening around here, that’s not it either. I think the big reason I’m not posting on the blog is because Jeremy and I are participating in grief counseling. I am able to take the inner conversations that I used to hash out on the interwebs, and I hash them out with our counselor. This activity is exceedingly important and beneficial, and I didn’t fully realize how beneficial the counseling is until I made the connection to my silence on the blog.

We’ve been meeting with the grief counselor for about six weeks, and that pretty much lines up with blog silence. It’s really funny to me that I find myself appreciating the experience so much, since Jeremy all but dragged my the hair into the first meeting. *Sighhhhh* “Okay, honey, if it’s that important to you, we can go…”

The first few weeks of meetings, we just got to know our counselor (we have the same lady every time), and we told her the background of us and Agnes’ story, and what happened when she died. Then we worked on a list of goals so we know what we are working on, and so we can know when we are done. That was hard. How will we be able to know when we are healed enough that we don’t need grief counseling anymore? We had to list specific, concrete markers like: right now I cry at trigger moments twice a day; I’ll know I am “done” when I cry at trigger moments only once a week. For example. We have to learn how to recognize a trigger moment is about to happen so we can redirect ourselves or prepare, and thus manage our emotions. That is a big one. For me, trigger moments happen all the freaking time. If you ever see me weeping in the grocery store parking lot or sniffling during choir practice, now you know why. Trigger moment. I keep saying that like you already know what it means. You can probably guess, but the trigger moment is something that makes me think of Agnes, or something that makes me feel sad, or something that pushes me close to the edge of tears. So basically, anything.

The other thing we’ve been doing with our counselor is, she wanted a list of names of all the people whose lives were enriched or touched by Agnes in any way. That would be a completely separate post. I think I will do it; the list is very impressive. And our counselor wants us to think about all the positive things that are coming of our experience. She told us that even though we feel like it is impossible to even get up in the morning and do our stuff, people look at us and are filled with hope because, if we can overcome the monumental loss of our baby enough so that we are even able to drag our butts out of the house, then they can surely overcome whatever trials they have in their lives. So, we’re supposed to think about things like that. Hope. Inspiration. Are we inspiring? I don’t know. I don’t feel that inspiring.

Anyway, it’s very good that we are meeting with a grief counselor and having these conversations face to face. She is trained to ask the right questions and draw out what we really need to say. She is encouraging and receptive, affirms our feelings and tells us we are totally and completely normal for feeling the way we do. She helps us to see all the sides and she helps us draw comfort from our memories rather than pain. Face to face. A living, feeling person is far superior for this sort of thing than a glowing screen bearing a vague promise that someone might connect.

On a slightly related note, I just want to mention that we are pretty excited because the monument company called us this week to say Agnes’ burial marker is finished; the cemetery will install it soon. This is huge because every time we go visit Agnes’ grave site we’re like, “….I think this is it…maybe…or over here?…This looks right with that tree there….I think I remember these other names being near her…” It’s a nightmare! When I say a prayer over the place where Agnes is buried, I want to be darn sure she is where I think she is! Plus, we’re excited because her stone is really pretty. We’ll definitely take a picture once it’s installed and I’ll put it up here. No worries.

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An old picture of Agnes I wanted to share again. Because she’s cute!

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Stephen is Three!

100_2123This weekend we celebrated Stephen’s third birthday by throwing a little party. We were kind of organized about it, and put together a few casual activities like blowing bubbles, sidewalk chalk, and bowling with the plastic kid bowling set on the front patio. We made a table full of treats, and Stephen got to eat cake, and open presents, and play with his little friends. I would say the party was a success, though a more closely-structured activity may have been better for the group of kids we had. A more structured activity may have averted the inevitable three-year-old conflict. Oh well. Overall, I would say the party went well.

When we bought our house, the oven in the kitchen didn’t work, so we’ve been doing everything on the stovetop or in the little toaster oven. We were waiting for our tax refund to arrive before we bought a new oven. Well, we were able to get our new oven delivered and installed on Friday evening, so I was able to bake Stephen’s cake at home! It was the very first thing (and so far, only) I made in the new oven. Sniff, how sweet! I had fully intended to buy a nice-looking cake from the grocery store bakery, but when I went to the store for party shopping, I noticed the box mixes and cans of frosting were all $1.00 each. I know, I know, box cake mix. But Stephen doesn’t care if I baked his birthday cake from scratch and frankly, I had a number of other things to do, so I made him a cake for $2.00 and decorated it with candy I already had. You can’t beat that. And of course, he loved it! Blowing out the candle did take two tries because one of his little friends ran up and blew it out the first time. We relit the candle and Stephen had a turn. He blows like he’s saying “ffff” which isn’t very effective at creating a breeze, so I helped. He’s a hoot.

100_2125Stephen was looking forward to his birthday for at least a week, and he would show anyone who asked how old he was going to be. Three fingers. The morning of his party he asked to eat cake for breakfast. He knows that’s ridiculous, too, because he asks very quietly and looks embarrassed when we ask him to repeat the request because we didn’t hear it. He’s very cute. Even today as we eat the leftover party treats, he holds up the grape or the strawberry or the piece of cheese and says, “this was for my birfday!” He is still talking about his party and how he had a “birfday.” Our friends and family gave Stephen some very thoughtful gifts for his special day. Jeremy’s parents shipped him one of those bikes with no pedals, and the kid is supposed to push it along with his feet. Stephen is kind of nervous to ride it, so we don’t have any documentation of his bike enjoyment yet, but we’re hoping he gains confidence quickly. The little boy who lives next door jumped right on and rode around, so we’re thinking of inviting him back to show Stephen how to do it!

100_2130I can’t believe Stephen is already three years old. When I think back to what my life was like when he was born, it seems like a life that belonged to a different person! So much has happened since then. We’ve moved twice to two different states. I quit working full time, then quit working part time. We had a miscarriage, then another baby, then that baby died. Jeremy changed careers. We have a new house. We’ve become Byzantine Catholic after a life of Roman Catholicism. So much has happened since Stephen was born, and he’s rolled with it the whole way. He is so good-natured and easy-going. Of course he has unreasonable toddler moments, but we are so blessed to have such a wonderful little guy in our lives. He is smart and funny and helpful, he does cute stuff and has interesting ideas, he makes me smile and cry.

Happy birthday, Stephen. Mommy and Daddy love you! And your baby sister Agnes loves you! And all your grandparents love you! And everyone else…you know how you feel about my kiddo.

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Escapades in our New Home

This week dawned bright and early Monday morning. The half-light was stealing beneath the shade, gradually softening the darkness in our room, accompanied by the dulcet tones of the cat throwing up under our bed while we were in it.

So that kind of sets the scene.

We also had the great joy and pleasure to witness water dripping in our kitchen. Not in a friendly and expected location, no. Water from inside the wall was dripping through the window frame and plopping onto the sill. Water that we can only presume has somehow broken free of the confining tile tub surround. So…does this mean no more showers until we get it fixed? I couldn’t say. We are thinking of hanging an extra plastic curtain on the inside wall of the surround to see if that stops the water, but there are actually a number of locations where a crack may have breeched the seal. We knew the bathroom tile was something we would have to do sooner rather than later, but we were not planning to do it this soon. Plus…the available evidence suggests leaking has been a longtime issue, so I’m afraid to think about what the condition of the interior walls may be. I’m sure whatever the case, their condition is going to be expensive.

100_2102100_2103100_2104But there have been lots of fun escapades, too! We went to an early-season yard sale over the weekend and bought a little plastic kids’ bowling set. We took it up to our finished attic that is currently empty since we haven’t decided what to do with it yet. Well, I guess we decided it should be a bowling alley!

We have also been unpacking boxes at a ferocious rate. I told a friend on the phone that we are “almost done” unpacking, except for four or five boxes of knick-knacks, five or six maybe seven boxes of books, oh and all those flat picture boxes that have who-knows-what in them. Yeah, almost done, indeed! Well, we sure are close to being all unpacked considering where we started not even two weeks ago! Our house looks more like a home every day. Our furniture looks really good in this house, almost as if we collected each chair and lamp with the mystical foreknowledge that we would end up in this very house. The wood tone of our bookcases matches the woodwork of the house. Our flower-print rugs coordinate with the existing color schemes. Our big brown sofa that I wanted to slipcover actually looks perfect in the cozy living room, just the way it is. Amazing.

Today Stephen and I had some fun in the neighborhood, too. We went to a local antique store to pick up some housewares that I decided I would rather not buy new. The store was wonderful, had a bit of everything, and I can definitely see myself popping over there any time I need a couple more wine glasses, or a large serving bowl, or some picture frames, or long-handled teaspoons, or a cool tablecloth, or a old-fashioned door handle, or, or, or…

Today I purchased a number of small glass jars and bottles to use for storing spices. Some additional forks, spoons, knives because we only have four of each. Some vintage linen cloth napkins. Four ceramic soup bowls since the only “soup” bowls we have are Christmas-y and melamine. You can’t put that stuff in the microwave. I already thought of some more items I would like to find at an antique store. I recently read a book about “being green” by recycling and reusing antique stuff. It creates waste to buy a new tablecloth, so it is “green” to buy a vintage tablecloth. I can see the truth in that, and I can honestly say I never thought about that aspect of antique/second-hand items. I’ve always just gravitated towards that market because it’s more interesting to me, but now I will do it more intentionally!

Finally, our escapades frequently take us to the local branch of the library, which is within easy walking distance. Even for Stephen! He knows the way, and he always assumes we’re going to the library if we go outside or go for a walk elsewhere around the neighborhood. He is such a cute little bibliophile. His current favorite library book is Wooby and Peep. I like it too. The illustrations are very interesting, and the animal characters are likable. The neighborhood animals appear to be nosy, looking over the fence, and they often have funny comments about the action. There is some subtle humor adults can appreciate, and broader comedy for the kids. I recommend it.

Hopefully our escapades continue more in this fun direction and less in the cat-puke direction. I would appreciate that. Kthxby

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Pascha Most Sacred!

“Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered. Pascha most sacred is revealed to us today; Pascha new and holy; Pascha so mystical; Pascha most ven’rable; Pascha which is Christ the Redeemer; Pascha so spotless; Pascha so very great; Pascha of the faithful; Pascha which opened for us the gates of Paradise; Pascha which sanctifies all the faithful.” (from the Paschal Hymns of Resurrection Matins)

Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!

Dressed in our Easter finery.

Dressed in our Easter finery.

On Sunday my family celebrated Easter for the first time in the Byzantine tradition. It was beautiful, edifying, moving, and inspiring. I was able to attend liturgies on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning, and each was beautiful as part of the whole story of Great and Holy Week. On Friday, we processed around the outside of the church with a Holy Shroud, an ornately embroidered cloth with an icon of Jesus laying out as though in a tomb; the icon was made of fabric, I think. We processed then took the shroud back into the church where it was laid in a “tomb” surrounded by candles and flowers. Each parishioner then approached the shroud, crawling on our knees, to kiss the face, hands, and feet of Jesus. On Saturday, the liturgy focused on the theology of baptism as passing from death into new life. During one of the songs, the priest picked up the shroud and laid it across his shoulders. He carried it out of the “tomb” and put it on the altar where it always rests. The sacrament of Holy Eucharist takes place upon the icon of Christ at every liturgy. I never noticed that before this week.

On Sunday morning, we started with the Resurrection Matins, which are sung only on Easter morning each year. Matins begins with another procession around the outside of the church, this time with the icon of the Resurrection. During Matins we sang the refrain, “Christ is risen from the dead! By death He conquered Death, and to those in the grave He granted life.” When I say we sang that refrain, what I’m saying is we sang it about five million times. After Matins, we jumped right in to Divine Liturgy. It was a long morning, but so beautiful and joyful. At the end of liturgy, Fr. Sal suggested all the parishioners go out to the front steps of the church for an Easter morning group photo. All the parishioners. That is one of the wonderful things about belonging to a smaller parish.

Our traditional Easter foods, and my natural-dyed eggs.

Our traditional Easter foods, and my natural-dyed eggs.

Jeremy and I also participated in the Ukrainian traditional Easter foods. The tradition is to fill a basket with the foods you will eat after liturgy on Easter day. You bring the basket to church Saturday and the priest blesses the food. Then, you take it home and you have to eat all of it, because it’s blessed! If you don’t want to eat that last egg, you have to bury it in the ground; you can’t just throw it away! The traditional foods are ham and/or sausage, hard cooked eggs, pascha bread, butter molded into the shape of a lamb, cream cheese, and beet horseradish relish. It was not like Easter dinners I’ve eaten before, but it was delicious!

For our Easter eggs, I decided to try natural dyes. I used some of the juice from my purple sauerkraut, and turmeric. I added a bit of water and vinegar to both. The eggs turned out blue and yellow, which happen to be the national colors of Ukraine! I did not plan that at all, those were just the natural things I had around that I thought would work to dye eggs! It was really fun using the natural dyes. I would like to experiment with other things, and I don’t see why colored eggs should belong to Easter only. I’m going to do it any old time!

So, after a long break away from my blog, I am happy to be back! We moved to a new home last week, so for a few weeks we were working flat out to pack up at the old place, then we moved and didn’t have internet yet, and we were working flat out to unpack the essential items. Now things are calming as we have reached the point that whatever is in a box isn’t urgently needed, so we can work at a more reasonable pace. And we obviously have internet again!

I hope everyone had a wonderful holy day. Remember to keep the party going: Easter lasts for fifty days!

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Changing the Lights

“Do you want to help with the lights?”

That was the cryptic question posed to Jeremy this morning while we stood around in the parish hall after liturgy. He just had to ask, “What does that mean?” One young parishioner explained that it’s a tradition at Holy Ghost. Two times a year, right before Christmas and right before Easter, all the men of the parish go up to the church after coffee and climb up on a huge ladder to replace the burned out light bulbs. This young parishioner also explained that it’s kind of a rite of passage for young guys, the first time a guy gets invited to help with the lights is a Big Deal.

100_2079100_2081So Jeremy, of course, agreed to help. After all the men left, the ladies were explaining to me what all is involved in changing the lights. First of all the ladder is enormous. “How tall is the ladder?” I asked. “…uh,” each lady said. “…it’s really tall.” At least as tall as the inside of the church, however tall that is. Second, the ladder is really old, and really heavy. It takes every man in the building to help with that thing. How many church guys does it take to change a lightbulb? They all take off their suit jackets and drape the coats on church pews. Then they troop over to the rectory garage and get organized to lift the ladder down off the wall pegs, carry it over to the church, and very carefully raise it upright. They have to be very organized and focused. A mistake could send the ladder toppling down to crush guys, the icon screen, and anything else in its path. Then they position the ladder under the first burned-out light, and Michael climbs up 30, 40, 80 feet in the air. Who knows? It’s just really high. Michael stuffs the large, fragile bulbs in his shirt and climbs up while all the other guys hold the ladder steady. While Michael is at the top of the ladder stretched out to reach the light, the church is silent. All the guys stop chatting and just watch Michael switch the bulb. You can hear the scratching of the threads as Michael unscrews the bulb. He changes the bulb then climbs down, breaking the elbow brackets as he descends so the guys can fold up the ladder and move it to the next position. The guys start talking again. I asked Michael if he’s the only one who climbs the ladder and he laughed and said, “I’m taking volunteers!”

After all the burned-out bulbs were replaced and the guys had very carefully lifted the 90-foot ladder back onto its wall brackets in the garage, I told Jeremy that I think this tradition is really cool. He sat there in the car picking ladder splinters out of his dressy pants and said, “I guess so,” in a not-very-enthusiastic voice. Well, at least the pants aren’t his favorite anyway! Now we have an excuse to go shopping.

This tradition is cool because it’s unique to Holy Ghost parish and it’s part of the folklore of this community. It’s a duty the men perform ritually and at specific times of year. All the guys know about it and all the guys know how to do it. Jeremy and I, as new parishioners, had to learn about this tradition. It’s a mystery that belongs this parish. One of the ladies told me they should just get a new aluminum ladder to make the whole job easier, but the 150-foot-tall ladder is part of the story. No one needs to know how tall it is; the vagueness of the ladder’s height is part of the story. No one needs to know how old it is. This ladder has been used for this job as long as anyone can remember and that’s part of the story. There is one guy who climbs the ladder, and that’s part of the story. What if he doesn’t come to church on the weekend they want to change the lights? I don’t know. Perish the thought. I guess they would just do the lights the following week! It’s a rite of passage for young male parishioners and that’s part of the story. It’s wrapped up in the spirituality of Advent and Lent, preparing for the two high points of the liturgical year. It’s important for the holy days, yet not obvious like setting up the Christmas tree or arranging the potted lilies.

Modernizing the procedure would probably make the job easier. Aluminum ladder. Longer-lasting light bulbs. But the ritual surrounding the activity of changing the lights is important, and I think it is a blessing for the life of Holy Ghost parish.

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Our “Old House”

93 Casterton photoStephen likes to read this book we found at the library called The Old House. It features an anthropomorphic, run-down house that looks so shabby, no one wants to buy it. In fact, most people think it should be demolished. Obviously this makes the house feel very sad. Then one day a family stops by and thinks they might want to buy the house and fix it up. They do that and the house ends up very happy. Stephen really likes this book and he calls the house we are going to buy “our old house, just like in the book.” We did go over and fix it up a little last weekend, so we’ve reinforced the idea. Stephen is very excited to finally arrive at the moment when we can go over to the old house and walk in without having to wait for someone to let us in. And then we can stay there. Sometimes we drive past the house when we are out and about, and it always makes Stephen sad that we can’t go in. We have to tell him that soon, soon we will be able to go in whenever we want.

And that day will be coming very soon now. The house has finally passed all its inspections and we are clear to organize the closing! Hopefully we can get it done next week, then we can move in to our “old house” and stay there. We went past the house today actually, to spy on the work we hired a contractor to do for the inspection. While we were in the neighborhood, I got excited about how ideal the location will be. We went to lunch at one of the local restaurants and since we had driven down, we had to maneuver the car around the postage stamp-sized parking lot only to discover it was full. When we live in our old house, we will be able to walk to that restaurant. Here is a list of all the things we will be able to walk to from our house:

Restaurants: chinese take out, middle eastern dine-in or take out, pizza by the slice, italian dine-in, subs, mexican, “american” take-out, wally waffle, ice cream, coffee shop. at least.
Services: movie theater, the bank, drug store, library, pet supplies, veterinarian, laundromat, music lessons, tax preparer, grocery store (coming soon!).
Other conveniences: bus stop a block away, park with playground, bar with frequent live music. at least.

The only things not within walking distance are our church and our family physician. We could bike to visit Agnes at Glendale Cemetery or take the bus. That bus stop is very convenient. The line that goes past our street can take us downtown where we can go to street festivals or the minor league baseball games, or the main library branch, or restaurants downtown. That route also goes the other way, out toward Fairlawn where it stops in front of our favorite wine bar where we like to go on dates, the main Acme grocery store, a couple major shopping centers, more and more restaurants and fun services. The only limitation would be the bus schedule, which from what I can see, the bus stops along that route at least every thirty minutes or less. It drove by at least two or three times while we were eating lunch.

We are looking forward to hoofing around much more, and enjoying our great new neighborhood. We have even met our neighbors on both sides and they all seem very nice. There is a young family on one side with a little boy to play with Stephen, and a group of girls who are university students on the other side. Maybe babysitters? Or maybe they’re too busy. We’ll see!

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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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