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Filtering by Tag: Communion of Saints

On Being Little

alec vanderboom

So after I read this heart-breaking piece about the one-child policy in China, I was FIRED up for today's OB visit, Baby! I reviewed all these different scenarios in my mind. If they gave me any grief about declining testing for down syndrome--I was walking out the door! If they gave me any flack about "having too many c-sections" or being an "elderly" mother, I was going to give them an ear-full.

I even figured out how to tell my doctor point blank to stop doing abortions on sick babies in utero. Because I hung out in the NICU ward of Children's Hospital, darn it--and each one of those critically ill babies were PRETTY DARN CUTE!

Guess what happened?


My darling husband wanted to be there for the sonogram. So he walks into my OB appointment with four kids ages 8 to 1. He carries the Tess inside her car seat carrier. My family stops traffic! Our shiny light stops the anti-life people in their tracks. The pro-life staff start jumping up and down. Everyone is so stunned to see a father genuinely excited to welcome a brand-new fifth child into his life.

After Jon appears, I start to receive the gold-star treatment. My doctor gives us an up-graded sonogram. We get souvenir photos for the baby book. Even the mean nurse who yelled about me about lawn chemicals during our pre-appointment interview happily gives me a special trick to get through my flu shot without any pain.

After our happy visit, I go to the Lab to get my blood work started. Jon takes most of kids back to the car. I keep my eight year old Hannah for moral support.

The Lab Tech is very cheerful and starts talking to Hannah. She starts to coo over my newest pregnancy. I cynically think "Wow, people are so nice when they think I only have two kids. Wish that could happen all of the time!"

Then it comes--that awkward moment in the conversation. Do I lie about what number pregnancy this is to keep up the good will, or do I tell the truth? I take a deep breath and tell tell the truth. "Actually I have other kids who are with their Dad. This baby is number five for us!"

Without a word, the Lab tech flashes me her palm.

I look at it with confusion. "What's that for?" I ask. "Do I need to show you my insurance card again or something?"

"I was trying to give you a high five!" she said. "I LOVE large families!"

I clapped her hand but my wide eyes kept looking at my oldest daughter. This was NOT the usual response we receive in wealthy suburban Maryland. Hannah and I were both stunned into silence.

Soon I come to discover that my blood is being drawn by a fellow Catholic survivor of the Rwandan genocide. She was from an original family of 10 who lost 4 siblings in that horrible tragedy. She is also a friend of Immaculee Ilibagiza, the author of "Left to Tell!"

What are the chances? I got see pictures of Immaculee on my lab tech's i-phone. So we're all chatting about the Virgin Mary and "the Lady of Kibeho" (which Betty Beguiles will remember sending me a copy of three years ago!) I was so happy. It was nuts!

Later, as I recounted this story to Jon, I had to laugh. "I was all ready to make a huge show-down for the pro-life cause today. But what did Mommy Mary have in mind? She wanted my husband and I to be joyful. She wanted us to silently shine our light. Then she wanted to give me a personal high five for having number five."

I truly get all the smallest job assignments possible from Our Mother! Yet I so love being so little!

Choosing "Life" Over A Perfect Life

alec vanderboom

A Reaction to this quote in the NY Times.

"Jenny’s decision to reduce twins to a single fetus was never really in doubt. The idea of managing two infants at this point in her life terrified her. She and her husband already had grade-school-age children, and she took pride in being a good mother. She felt that twins would soak up everything she had to give, leaving nothing for her older children. Even the twins would be robbed, because, at best, she could give each one only half of her attention and, she feared, only half of her love. Jenny desperately wanted another child, but not at the risk of becoming a second-rate parent. “This is bad, but it’s not anywhere as bad as neglecting your child or not giving everything you can to the children you have,” she told me, referring to the reduction."

(ht: the Anchoress: Repugnant Non-Parenting)

My father-in-law was an identical twin, born in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression. At the time of his birth, his mother had two older children ages 3 and 5. (She would eventually go on to have six children). His family was poor. His father was addicted to prescription medication.

At some point, his mother became overwhelmed by the needs of her young children. When her husband was called into service during WWII, she gave away one of the six year old twins to his paternal grandparents.

This abandonment left a huge scar on my Father-in-law. Even though his grandparents lived close by, he never came home again! When his father came home from the War, his mother invited her son back home. However, her little boy refused to come home. He said he was "used to" his grandparent's home now. For some reason, she never forced her nine(or ten) year old to move back in. (She later expressed regret to my Mother-in-law. She said it was a mistake to ever send him away.)

As an adult, my Father-in-law still spoke about "the exile" as though he were sent to a different country, rather than 100 yards across a gravel country road. There was a lasting distance between him and his birth family. At age 20, he got a job for the State Police and moved hundreds of miles away his family. Even though he talked often on the telephone to his twin brother, he rarely returned home to visit his brother or his mother.

The boy grew into a man. He had an important job in the community, locking away criminals. He married and had three children. The intimacy scar affect his family life. He found it hard to talk to his children, especially to his only son. He didn't attend his children's sports events or talk much about their friends.

Work was hard and took a lot out of him. He worked hard 12 hour shifts some days/some nights. He had a soft spot for the poor and gave money to the desperately poor he came into contact with through his police work. He hated seeing kids abused or neglected.

And my Father-in-law was mad at God. Very mad at God.

At age 73, he caught a rare form of blood cancer that for some reason was ubiquitous in his small town. A victim of an environmental toxicant, perhaps? He was dead within 12 weeks of his diagnosis.

Yet something amazing happened to my Father-in-law during those last 12 weeks. His twin brother, the favored one--the one that got to stay with Mom while he was sent far from home--prayed for him. His son prayed for him. The twin brother called his little known nephew, my husband. These men prayed together on the phone for my Father-in-law's conversion.

My Carmelite husband called a priest, and asked him to gave his Father the Sacrament of Confession and the Sacrament of the Sick. His Father's heart was opened.

The last three weeks of my Father-in-law's life was beautiful. It was a living example of the men in the vineyard who were called "late in the day." The priest brought the Eucharist four or five times. Three Nuns came to visit the sick man in his house. He died in the full grace of the Roman Catholic Church. He died a holy death and gave a sign of seeing the Virgin Mary.


I was horrified when I read Jenny's reason for aborting a twin "so that she wouldn't be a second rate Mother." It seems so horribly close to the same reasons that I've been beating myself up for having morning sickness with a fifth child and spending weeks "abandoning" my own older children. Who knows how much this sick culture of death has infected all of us American women. What is a "good mother?" Why are we so afraid of failing or children?

My husband's grandmother was in Jenny's shoes. She lived Jenny's worse nightmares. For some reason, Grandma Ruth felt like she couldn't "handle" twins. Her decision to give my Father-in-law to his grandparents had a lasting effect on his psyche. I came into my Father-in-law's life when he was more than 60. He still talked of that hurt with fresh tears in his eyes.

And yet....

My Father-in-law was alive. He went on to become the father of my dear husband. The Father of a Carmelite. The possible Grandfather of a Nun.

What would my life be like if Grandma Ruth had the option of "twin reduction" abortion?

How much love would the World have missed out on?

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My father-in-law with me and two of his grandchildren in October 2007.

We're coming up on the 2nd anniversary of my Father-in-law's death. Blessed Virgin, pray for the soul of Bob Benjamin. Pray for all of our beloved dead.

Seeing Mommy Mary At Work, Part 4

alec vanderboom

(Part One, Part Two, Part Three)

I found an old post from 2008 that describes my conversion of heart on "the Mary issue."

In my post I said: "I became a Catholic in 2002, yet I've always had a "block" when it came to Marian devotion. I remember clearly my first Holy Day Celebration in 2001. As a new RICA member I slid into a pew at the evening service of the Immaculate Conception. "This feels pretty weird, what am I getting myself into?" as I struggled to understand why I needed to be in church at night to celebrate an "invented" doctrine from 1950 which I'd never heard before in my 25 years of being a Christian.

This year, I formally consecrated myself to Mary, through the method of St. Louis de Montfort on the Feast of the Annunciation.* It's been a slow-a pathetically slow- process. I stumble along in darkness, groping through the nightly rosary, staring a devotional pictures, trying on unfamiliar concepts like "Mediatrix" and "Assumption."

This year [ 2008] is the 150 anniversary of Our Lady of Lourdes. I feel a special kinship with Saint Bernadette. Her "dullness" at the her catechism consoles me. Just as her trust and faithfulness in suffering inspires me. I've gradually gone from viewing Mary as this strange, fearful BVM, to my Blessed Virgin Mother too.

"Through this journey, I've always felt this "Mary block" must be mine alone. "I must have some weird mother issues" I thought. I could figure out why so many other Catholics leaped confidentially into the lap of Mary, why I always felt shy and uneasy."

My parish had a program where a Statue of Our Lady of Fatima "visits" individual households. Having a visiting statue of Our Lady in my living room was a real turning point for me. I talked about learning more about the "Five Saturday" devotion.

"First Saturday's making reparations to our Blessed Mother's Heart." The premise behind this devotion is beautiful. The faithful devote the first Saturday of five consecutive months to going to Confession, Daily Mass, saying the rosary and my favorite "keeping our Mother company for fifteen minutes."

The reason for choosing the number five, has to do with the five major ways the world hurts our Blessed Mother's heart. First, we deny the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Second, we deny the perpetual virginity of Mary. Third, we deny Mary the title of "Mother of God." Fourth, we desecrate the holy images and statutes of Mary. Fifth, we "uprooted the devotion of Mary, particularly among the young."

The priests on the video carefully explained how each of these "hurts" harm our relationship with God. The Immaculate Conception was God's first gift of redemptive grace. Mary is "the dawn of Christ's perfect day." Her quiet, hidden sanctification was God's signal to the world that we will able be saved through Christ.The perpetual virginity of Mary, was Mary's gift back to God. He accepted that gift and insured that she remained forever a virgin, even through the birth of Jesus.

At this point, I gasped openly. I felt this sting in my heart. My Methodist faith, which I'd always seen as sort of sweet and harmless, was actively promoting four of the five harms to Mary. The Methodists (and most other Protestants) recognized Mary as "the Mother of God" and trotted her out in nativity scenes at Christmas. Otherwise, my religion was actively seeking to destroy devotion to Mary as "incompatible with the true worship of Jesus Christ alone."

We denied that Mary remained a virgin and taught that she had other children beside Jesus. We denied that she was special or above us, through the special circumstances of her conception. We tore down her "idolatrous" shrines and built crisp white churches with plain walls. We "uprooted" Marian devotion, particularly among the young, particularly among ME.

You can read my entire post here.

* I have to give a special shout out to fellow Catholic Blogger, Conversion Diary Jen, for encouraging me to first finish this challenging month long devotion. I fell completely off the daily prayer schedule during a week long Florida vacation trip. In a fit of perfectionism, I was about to give up finishing this devotion completely. Jen encouraged me with the memorable quote "I think Mary understands that we're not going to be perfect the first time we try this. She's a Saint after-all!" The very day I dedicated myself to Mary, I "mysteriously" won 4 tickets to the Papal Mass from my parish lottery draw.

Going to the Papal Mass in April 2008, helped my husband and I realize that we called to become Carmelites. I was about to completely drop the idea of contacting my local Carmelite group before making an initial phone-call because I felt so unworthy. Jen said to me "I don't think people are exactly beating down the doors to become Carmelites. Why don't you just call them and see if they'll take you?" The funniest thing was my reaction: "Oh no, Jen. The Carmelites! The Carmelites! Everyone wants to become one of them!" She's a good friend to have in your corner, that Jen!

Seeing Mommy Mary At Work, Part 3

alec vanderboom

(Read Part One and Part Two).

Telling this beautiful story always makes me cry!

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Last year, our seemingly healthy six day old newborn suddenly ended at Children's National Hospital in downtown Washington, D.C. As soon as we found out that Baby Tess needed to be transferred, my husband drove our car to the new hospital. (Because I had just had a c-section and still couldn't drive, I ended up being the parent who rode in the ambulance with our baby). My husband arrived at the new hospital least an hour before me and had lots of time to talk to the new doctors.


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When I got into Tessy's hospital room, my husband told me some very grave news. Tessy's birth defect was commonly linked to other serious problems in the heart and the brain. The doctors at Children's Hospital would be screening for all sorts of really awful complications.

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In a gesture completely opposite to the pattern of our ten year marriage, I put my hand on my husband's shoulder with an attitude of complete trust. "We are NOT going to cross those bridges until we come to them. Right now, we just have one diagnosis. That's enough. We're not going to worry about anything else until the doctors tell us that we have reason to worry."

As soon as I said those words, I looked out the NICU window--


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there was my Mom's house! The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It felt like Mary was right there in person, putting her hand on top of mine and saying "that's right Abby! That's the right attitude to take!"

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Because my kid's body was nutty, we ended up moving NICU rooms like 10 times. Yet we could ALWAYS see the shrine from Tessy's new hospital room. (We never ended up in one of the many, many rooms without this specific view). That visual connection to the Shrine during Tessy's three week NICU stay was so comforting!

I promised that when we got Tess out of the Children's Hospital, our first stop would be to the Shrine. Here's a picture of me saying "thank you!".

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Thank you, Mommy Mary!

Seeing Mommy Mary At Work, Part 2

alec vanderboom

(Part One is Here)

"I do have a question, though. I commonly see blessings in my life and see them as God's "fingerprints", if you will. I don't quite understand why you would think Mary is the one at work there. Is there something different about what haopens that makes you think of Mary?"


Oh Mommy Mary, let me sing of your glory!

Dear Carrie,

I see most of the blessings in my life as straight from God, as well. My miracle house, the healing baptism of my daughter Tess, and my latest baby--those are blessings I see as straight from God, not Mary.

But "seeing Mary" at work--that is something cool. Our Lady is just in her own class! Here are some examples.

At my Grandfather's death bed on December 24, 2009, I was flipping out. As a novice Carmelite (and as his only Catholic relative) I felt all this pressure to pray for dying. I really wanted to have a holy experience like Joy Behind the Cross. I wanted to sit in the hospital room, hold my beloved Grandpa's hand, and pray endless Divine Mercy chaplet's for his soul. It was absolutely KILLING me that we happened to be in a Catholic hospital but my Grandpa couldn't get the Sacrament of the Sick. (Because he was Protestant). In the absence of that special, reassuring visit from a priest, I felt tense and alone.

Also, I found "caring for the sick" to be soothing and familiar. Worrying about my weak Grandpa's fluid intake, wiping his chin after a drink, making sure his legs were in a comfortable position, singing some favorite hymns--these were all things that as a mother of young children--just felt innate. Caring for him at the end of his life was a special way for me to say "thank you" and "goodbye."

To the rest of my family, however, death was something to be avoided at all costs. They kept insisting that everyone leave Grandpa's hospital room often to "regroup". I was also requested leave my Grandpa alone for long periods to have a normal Christmas as possible at my parent's house.

There was one family meeting that we had in the hospital waiting area that was so emotionally painful for me. I sat slumped in my chair, broken-hearted. I really, really wanted to be physically near my dying Grandfather. Instead, I was stuck in this random room having a ridiculous conversation with my parents and my siblings. My mom sat directly across from me and she said something really awful. And I looked up--and there she was!

Three feet above my own Mom's head was this giant picture of Mommy Mary. (I think it was Our Lady of Guadalupe). The peace that I felt in that moment was supernatural. The message that I felt immediately in my heart went something like this: "I'm your Mom!" (As in, be kind to this lady who gave birth to you. Cut her some slack! Her Dad is dying. But always know that I'm your Mom! I've got you, and your Grandpa, and this whole family situation covered!")

I remember getting through the rest of that awful conversation by glancing at that beautiful picture over my my own Mom's head periodically. It was so reassuring. I felt like a shy child holding onto his Mother's apron strings.

Seeing Mommy Mary's picture helped me start to "go with the flow." I agreed to leave my grandfather's hospital room to help cook a big seafood Christmas Eve dinner for my family. For most of that weekend, I prayed for my Grandfather far away from his hospital room.

As a more mature Christian, I can see now that sacrificing my desire to hold my Grandfather's hand while I prayed for him--was actually the more holy choice. Work can be a powerful prayer. My family really needed "normalcy" to cope with my Grandpa's sudden health crisis. By cooking dinner for my family, I helped my parents feel more comfortable. Time away from the hospital room, probably made their shorter visits more pleasant and meaningful.

In the moment, however, I was very confused. I had a firm picture of what a "holy death" should look like. It hurt so much that the reality of my Grandfather's experience fell so short of this perfect image in my head.

That's where Mommy Mary is such a genius! Because sometimes when I'm alone with my Bible and my love for God, Satan can get me honestly confused. (Not that I don't help Satan often through my own extreme sinfulness!) But sometimes, despite my best intentions, I get mixed-up. I get lost. I don't know which path is the one God truly wants me to take.

Back in that moment inside the hospital waiting room, I was lost. I was fighting so hard. "I'm the Carmelite. I'm supposed to be praying for the dying. Leave me alone so that I can pray!" My tense attitude caused a lot of extra drama in an already bad situation.

Catching that surprise glimpse of Mommy Mary--that was everything to me. She reminded me that she was present. Praying for a dying Christian was her special role. She had everything under control. I could just relax and do my part--which was always something very, very little!

(More examples to come. Thank you Carrie, this is very fun! To Other Catholics, what are your unique interactions with Our Blessed Mother? Can you write about them and link to his blog?)

Making Sense of Mommy Mary

alec vanderboom

I got a letter from a reader this week:

"I am becoming interested in Catholicism. But this Mother Mary stuff just doesn't make any sense to me at all. Could you point me in the direction of some help understanding this?
Thank you,

Well as a little Carmelite, rather than point you to a book or a website, I'd rather point you to having a prayerful heart and rereading the Gospel of Luke.

Mary is a real person. She existed in a specific time and place. She is Christ's first and his best disciple! St. Peter messed up a few times. St. James, St. John,and St. Paul, all very good, inspiring men--but they had flaws that Scripture faithfully records.

Mary on the other hand, consistently hit the ball out of the park.

She said YES!

Again and again and again.

So lets just review a few highlights of Mary's discipleship career.

Angel Gabriel comes and announces an unexpected pregnancy for God. An event that may mean public ridicule, divorce, and potential death by stoning as an adulteress. Mary says Yes!

Early in her pregnancy (during the first trimester when I'm personally having trouble getting out of bed in the morning) Mary RUNS to visit her elder cousin Elizabeth in a far away community. Mary has great love for people as well as for God.

Being the Mother of God has such glory connected with it as giving birth in a filthy stable, fleeing from an Israeli king who is intent on killing your toddler, living as an alien in a foreign land for several years and "misplacing" the Holy Son of God for three days as a teenager in the Temple of Jerusalem.

All of this happens prior to the major heartache of watching your son die in a painful way in the midst of great cruelty and ridicule.

Mary was a purely human being, like us, who had a supernatural gift of grace (the Immaculate Conception, not like us). We don't have to be jealous that Mary got a unique gift from God. Instead, Mary does help us all accept that "goodness" is a gift from God himself. In our lives on earth, we won't ever be able to duplicate Mary's "home run" of faith. Jesus only came as a tiny baby once and none of us currently living women will ever be able to nourish him in our womb. But Mary will help us "give birth to Christ" in our soul. We can become more Christ-like. We can start to resemble our Savior's life more and more in our frail human form.

So when we pray to her, she responds. She's real. She helps us to see her working in our world.

Two common Catholic Prayers to Mary are the Hail Mary and the Memorare.

Hail Mary
Full of Grace
The Lord is With You (this is a quote from the Angel Gabriel's words in Luke)
Blessed Are You Among Women
And Blessed Is the Fruit of Your Womb, Jesus (This is a quote from St. Elizabeth also found in Luke)
Holy Mary, Mother of God
Pray for Us Sinners,
Now and at the Moment of Our Death (This is a saying of the entire Catholic Church who wants help from Mom right now, and at the most decisive moment in their Christian life--the moment of death)

Also, my husband suggested drawing closer to Mary by using his favorite Marian prayer, the Memorare

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection,
implored your help or sought your intercession,
was left unaided.
Inspired with this confidence,
I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother;
to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful.

O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions,
but in your mercy hear and answer me.


Blessed Mother, pray for Carrie and pray for us!

Spiritual Help for the Home Schooling Mother

alec vanderboom

I'm back to struggling with fear and pride again this August. Last year, we had just one disruption after another during our home-schooling year. As I'm struggling with fatigue and morning sickness my constant thought is "God, please don't let us have another year where Alex (my first grader) doesn't learn how to read!"

The Devil is real! The very fact that I'm so caught up in all the complications I'm going to have home-schooling while newly pregnant in a brand new state, is probably proof positive that our 2011-2012 school year is going to be awesome. At least resulting in major spiritual insights and improvements for my children's very flawed teacher, ME!

To fight the Devil at his own game, I'm resolved to NOT spend hours scrutinizing new home-school curriculums online UNTIL I get my heart straight!

BE IT RESOLVED THAT: This home-school year is about growing in spiritual formation for me and all of my babies.

My job as a teacher is to fight sloth and timidity in myself.

My 3rd grader's job is to strengthen her virtue of perseverance.

My 1st grader's job is to practice obedience by doing short bursts of activities that he doesn't like.

My four year old's job is to practice patience.

Every day, I'm going to use school work as a method of strengthening these fundamental spiritual virtues in my children and in myself. If we do our work "well for Jesus" each day, that counts as success.

Hopefully, I'll be able to put together lots of inspiring Scripture and examples from the lives of the Saints to help me fight the vice of pride in thinking homeschooling is more about "making myself look good by having super smart kids" and more about the humble work of serving Jesus.

St. Ann, pray for me!

Meeting Someone Who Doesn't Know Our Mom

alec vanderboom

I met someone who didn't know our Mom today.

It feels strange to be so shocked about it.

I mean, I grew up Protestant. The number of people who I know who DON'T have an intimate relationship with Our Blessed Mother must be well over a thousand.

Both this surprise felt like a curve ball.

I had a deep conversation about a recent health crisis with a fellow Catholic who matched me in all the external trappings of my faith.

I followed the conversation so closely about the doctors, and the test results and that "we can't promise anything certain about the outcome until after surgery..."

And then there were these gaps, because in my head I kept remembering my own journey through the NICU and mentally adding "and that's the moment when Mommy Mary entered into the hospital room."

But this story didn't have that.

No Mom.

No sacraments.

No intangible spiritual presence.

Everything commented upon was something tangible. The doctors where great. The church was "great" --but only in a physical, tangible way as in "everyone brought us food every night."

And it made me realize what a very precious gift it is to see Mom in my life. I get in trouble. I get hurt. I get scared. And Mom shows up!


I can see her. I can smell her.

And anytime someone does a great kindness to me- either a priest giving me some great advice, or a friend sending me flowers in the hospital recovery room-- I see it as a special sign of love from Her! It's HER son or HER daughter that is giving me that love.

I don't walk around being amazed that some random people are "spontaneously" kind to me.

Those special signs of affections come from a source-Her.

And all healing comes from HIM.

I wonder how many other people are out there, going to Mass on Sunday, giving birth to lots of kids, going through the dark night of unemployment or health scares or unexpected pregnancies who doesn't know that

Sort of make me want to tell the whole wide world about "what a friend we have in Mary!"

Something from my retreat

alec vanderboom

(a thought I had in my room during my recent retreat)

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta had the chance to say "yes" and give Love to a million different children during her lifetime.

But I have the chance to say "yes" and show Love to the same four children in a million different moments during my lifetime.

(Do you get it? Both of us have an equal opportunity to showcase God's love. Mother Teresa showed the world that "everyone is a child of God." But I have a chance to show a few very specific children that they are loved by God "all of the time!")

Pull Out the Hankies..."Let Yourself Be Loved"

alec vanderboom

Just a little sample to introduce you all to my new bff Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity

(This is her goodbye note to her Mother Superior)

"You are uncommonly loved, loved by that love of preference that the Master had here below for some and which brought them so far. He does not say to you as to Peter: "Do you love Me more than these?" Mother, listen to what He tells you, "Let yourself be loved more than these! That is, without fearing that any obstacle will be a hindrance to it, for I am free to pour out My love on whom I wish! Let yourself be loved more than these is your vocation. It is in being faithful to it that you will make Me happy for you will magnify the power of My love. This love can rebuild what you have destroyed. Let yourself be loved more than these."....

"Mother, the fidelity that the Master asks of you is to remain in communion with Love, flow into, be rooted in this Love who wants to make your souls with the seal of His power and His grandeur. You will never be commonplace if you are vigilant in love! (vol 2, pg 179-180)

(I put in bold the lines that really jumped out at me)

This letter is so beautiful on so many levels, but it really helps overcome my "survivor guilt." I don't know why I was the one plucked out of my fame obsessed, sinful and totally selfish lifestyle as a college grad and placed in the middle of Catholicism, a sacramental marriage, abundant motherhood, and Carmel. I REALLY don't deserve it and I'm not doing a great job here on earth living up to my spiritual riches.

Yet there is my gentle buddy 'Sabeth coming to my aid. "Hey, Miss Abigail", she says gently. "Don't get frightened of those Carmel vows you'll be making in three months. Your job is to just let yourself be loved more than these. God's got a plan for everyone's salvation. Your part is to be the 'turned around' Mary Magdalene who gets the unexpected reward of seeing her Savior first on Easter morning. Just sit back, honey, and enjoy the ride!"

Bl Elizabeth of the Trinity

alec vanderboom

"Darling little sister, you must cross out the word "discouragement" from your dictionary of love; the more you feel your weakness, your difficulty in recollecting yourself, and the more hidden your Master seems, the more you must rejoice, for then you are giving to Him, and, when one loves, isn't it better to give than to receive?"
(The Complete Works, Vol 2., pg 305).

A Little St. John of the Cross for Hump Day

alec vanderboom

As a mother of several toddlers, this passage made me laugh in recognition:

"It is plain that the appetites are wearisome and tiring. They resemble little children, restless and hard to please, always whining to their mother for this thing or that, and never satisfied." (the Ascent of Mount Carmel, pg 132)

As a mother, I totally understand what St. John is talking about! For example, I go into Target firmly resolved to keep to my list. "This is a quick shopping trip for Baby Tess," I announce loudly. "We are not here to get things for ourselves."

My three year old immediately grabs a small overpriced packet of gold fish crackers. "She's a good girl," I rationalize. "She deserves a gift." I cheerfully give her permission to buy it. But now I've fed her roaring appetite. She's no longer satisfied with goldfish crackers. She wants marshmallows, and cookies, and chocolate popsicles. She wants them ALL, she's not content to trade up or down. Before I know what hits me, she's having a melt down over my denial of a $45 Barbie computer. All this drama which began over a $1 goldfish snack attack.

I think St. John is telling us that if we start indulging in our appetites we will never be satisfied, just like my three year old in Target.

My Newfound Love for St. Mary Magdalen

alec vanderboom

(Note this post contains some unsavory references to prostitution. Be prepared.)

My reading list for my last American Studies seminar in college featured a book by Kathy Peiss called "Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York." I had a strange sensation while reading this book that mystified me at the time. I still remember almost every photograph in that book and whole paragraphs are still lodged in my memory. This social history of turn-of-the-century girls with their flouncy hats and tickets to Coney Island, didn't seem particularly interesting at the time. (I was much more of a Gov 100 girl back then). Yet now, I'm starting to put the pieces together.

I think the Holy Spirit was trying to tell my something. Enmeshed in the sin of vanity, I was a "charity girl" who needed to reform my ways!

In "Cheap Amusements", the author describes how the new "Nickelodeons" (or movie theaters) started a break down in the strictly chaperoned "courtship" of the Victorian Era. According to what I remember of Peiss's thesis, the movies theaters held an upper balcony where the prostitutes and their clients saw movies. (Note: wasn't my secular college reading list just lovely? :-) Below, on the main floor, were regular immigrant girls on their new fangled "dates". The prostitutes looked on these girls with contempt and called them "charity girls", because they gave their sexual attention away "for free".

I found a quote on the internet that describes this in more detail:

"When reading Peiss’ essay Dance Madness, I found it interesting that there were many different types of girls seen in dance halls, one group being “charity girls.” These women would receive gifts and attention in return for sexual acts. These women were not seen as prostitutes, for they did not have sex for money. Charity girls were not trying to make a living, and they were not looking for a husband, but were looking for “the pleasure of dancing, flirtation, and sexual encounters.” (Peiss, 116) (quote found here.)

Peiss asserted that Working Class girls hacked away at the strict social rules regarding purity, (giving away a hug here, a quick kiss there)in order to receive free tickets to dance halls, Coney Island and movie theaters. Breaking free of established social customs from the Old World, the rules of chastity individualized among young immigrant girls in New York City. Each Charity girl held onto her own "line" of purity. One would never kiss until she had a "steady" date, another would demand "food, tickets AND a new hat." The Charity girls saw themselves as distant from the prostitutes as stars are from the sea. But the prostitutes saw their similarities and poured contempt upon them.

In shock, I put together the warning I received in my heart while reading this book 15 years later. I WAS a prostitute! I was a "Charity Girl." At the time, I never would have self-identified with such a despised label. After all, I never traded sex for outright cash. But in college, I did imperil my precious gift of virginity for a couple of pitchers of warm beer, some Chinese food dinners, a few laughs and the title of "not being alone" on a Saturday night.

The prostitutes were right to pour contempt on my head! My sins were far worse! My sins of unchastity were hidden in cultural acceptance and my "payment" was a pittance!

All of this is swirling around my head this week, because I've fallen in love with Mary Magdalen this Easter. I LOVE her. At my Easter homily, Father Doug described the beauty that Mary the Mother of God stood beside Mary Magdalen at the Crucifixion. Father Doug said "there was the Virgin Mary representing the home Jesus came from and there was Mary Magdalen representing the home he chose during his public ministry."

"The home He choose..." that lit up in my mind like a Neon Sign.

Jesus CHOSE Mary Magdalen, the sinner. The prostitute. He came from the purity of the Holy Family, and he chose the dirty, impure home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus to befriend.

I find all these thoughts very calming as I climb higher in the second mansion of Carmel. I am NOT the Virgin Mary! I am not worthy of this gift of Catholic family life.

Yet my Jesus is a friend of prostitutes. Jesus told the angry Pharisees: "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him." (Matthew 21: 28-32)

I'm not yet a witness to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. I haven't made it yet. I don't feel his resurrected presence yet in the marrow of my bones. But I am chasing after him! I've heard on the reliable authority of my beloved St. Mary Magdalen that something remarkable happened on that first Easter day.

So please hurry on ahead of me in prayer today! You don't want a former prostitute, a reformed "Charity Girl" to get to the Kingdom ahead of you! :-)

Reassurance from St. Jeanne Jugan

alec vanderboom

(founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor, nuns who care for the elderly poor)

"Jesus is waiting for you in the chapel. Go and find him when your strength and patience are giving out, when you feel lonely and helpless. Say to him: 'You know well what is happening my dear Jesus. I have only you. Come to my aid . . . ' And then go your way. And don't worry about knowing how you are going to manage. It is enough that you have told our good Lord. He has an excellent memory."

Totally experienced this same thing last Saturday. I love adoration!

St. Catherine of Siena

alec vanderboom

"Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today.." From the Bishop's Sermon at the Royal Wedding today.

St. Catherine of Siena, pray for Princess Kate and for all of us women called to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

Meet the Saints- St. Edmund Campion

alec vanderboom

Today is the feast day of one of my most favorite saints, St. Edmund Campion!

Imagine for a second that Catholicism is suddenly outlawed in Mexico. All the priests are arrested. All the nuns sent home and their convents turned into public parks and public schools. Overnight, it become illegal to attend Mass, to go to Confession or to baptize your child. What would you do?

Under King Henry VIII, that same situation happened to England. England use to be as Catholic as it's neighbor Ireland. (Remember St. Patrick was a Brit who actually converted the Irish Celts.) There were many, many famous English martyrs. Many devote Catholics in the land. Even King Henry himself got the title "defender of the Faith" from the Pope.

The serpent bit King Henry through the sin of adultery and world turned upside down for English Catholics. After years of bloody struggle, the Catholic faith was surpressed.

Enter St. Edmund Campion!

Edmund's family converted to Protestantism early, and he was raised as an Angelican Catholic. He had a brilliant career at Oxford. He was the darling student who was chosen to give a special welcome speech to King Henry's daughter, Queen Elizabeth I. She was amazed at his intelligence, charm and good looks. She told Edmund he could name his cabinet post in her church and her government.

But Edmund had a problem.

The more he studied the roots of English Protestantism, the more his soul became troubled. The more he studied the great Catholic doctors of the Church, the more he felt that the Roman Catholic Church of Rome was the true church of Christ.

What to do?

He consulted the best theological minds at Oxford. He asked one of his friends, "How can you be an expert in St. Ambrose and St. Augustine and still be an Anglican priest?" The friend answered "If I believed in these saints as well as I read them, I would indeed be in trouble. But since I don't, I'm fine!"

St. Edmund was not fine. He left Oxford. He left England. He handed his soul over to God and became a Jesuit priest. He was trained in special seminary overseas designed to train priests to help reconvert England to the Catholic faith.

After receiving Holy Orders, St. Edmund at once raced back to his homeland. His heart bleed for the Catholics who were suffering terrible pains of conscious under an oppressive ruler and who had no one to guide them. St. Edmund went from house to house in secrecy. He heard confession for hours. He soothed the fears of the few elderly priests who were still locked in jail. He celebrated Mass, baptized babies and regularized marriages.

He saved souls.

St. Edmund knew that he risked death. He demonstrated heroic courage. He wrote "a brag" to tell the Queen exactly why he was coming to England, not to have a political revolution, but a peaceful, moral revolution of the heart. He even said he hoped to convert his Queen's heart as well.

He truly loved his enemies. He says "If these my offers be refused, and my endeavours can take no place, and I, having run thousands of miles to do you good, shall be rewarded with rigour. I have no more to say but to recommend your case and mine to Almighty God, the Searcher of Hearts, who send us his grace, and see us at accord before the day of payment, to the end we may at last be friends in heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten."

(Read his entire brag, it will make you cry!)

Queen Elizabeth was not pleased. After 2 years, St. Edmund was found. He was sentenced to death. As St. Edmund was being pulled to his execution spot, he saw one single statue of the Virgin Mary that the Protestants had not smashed to bits. He saluted Our Mother as he passed.

On December 1, 1581, St. Edmund was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn, London, England and parts of his body were displayed at the city gates as a warning to other Catholics.

St. Edmund Campion, pray for us!

(For more information on this wonderful saint I highly recommend reading Eveyln Waugh's biography entitled Edmund Campion).

Heaven Touching Earth

alec vanderboom

I wrote about the pain of losing my maternal grandfather, George Gableman, the last solid Christian in my family tree here. At his funeral service, I laid my head down on his casket and said "My friend, you have gone and left me here all alone."

I wanted to share with you the Joy that comes after the tears that I shed during the night.

From 2010-10-09

If you click on the picture located above, you can hear 30 seconds of Heaven touching Earth.

My maternal grandfather, George Gableman, spent almost 50 years wearing a red robe for this choir, the Fairlington United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Virginia (a suburb of Washington D.C.) After his death, my Mom told the choir director that she'd like to donate a new piece of music to the choir in honor of my grandfather.

Everyone expected the choir director to chose something typical like "Go Tell It On the Mountain."

Instead . . .

the choir director chose Schubert's Mass in G which she preformed with 90 voices and a four piece orchastra, all fellow members of the congregation to play on All Saint's Day Vigil.

I heard about the selection and started dancing around for pure joy in my bedroom.
The choir director chose Catholic Schubert, the composure who adored the Blessed Mother, and made sure that selections of the MASS got played in my grandfather's Protestant Church in honor of his memory. "The Catholic Mass" is never played in a United Methodist Church, and I took this selection of music to be a special gift of my grandpa to me.

The music was unbelievably beautiful. I drank it all in. My grandfather was an ordinary guy, who worked a boring government job. The only remarkable thing in his life was his great love for my grandmother and his fidelity to his little Methodist Church. My grandfather made sure that I was baptized during my parent's rebellion from the church. (He was responsible for baptizing a Secular Carmelite!) Last Sunday, it felt like God was sending down angels to dance in celebration of the extraordinary grace that comes from a hidden, humble life spent in dedication to the Sacrament of Marriage.

(Another funny side note: The church bulletin printed out the Latin words of the Mass (The Kyrie, the Agnus Dei etc.) along with their English translation. I sat next to my father during the church service. I had the joy of having my Dad poke me in the ribs saying "Did you see that "Lord Have Mercy On Me"? That line of text is so deep, isn't it?" I kept trying to keep a straight face and so "Oh yes, very deep" without rolling my eyes and saying "Dad, I'm a Catholic. I know the English translation to the Kyrie because I sing it every single Sunday." Each time my Dad poked me with excitement, I kept praying 'God make him a Catholic! He's so close right now!")

Feast of St. Teresa of Avila

alec vanderboom

Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila.

I'm too tired to come up with a brilliant post about this special saint.

I love her!

She means the world to me.

I named my newborn daughter after her.

She is the flawed, flighty, overly-social butterfly who got herself into heaven through the pure miracle of God's grace.

She is the saint who gives me the greatest hope that I can get myself to heaven too.

St. Teresa of Avila, I love you!

St. Jude, The Bicycle Thief, and Me

alec vanderboom

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This morning, my son's bike got stolen.

My husband came home from lunch and asked "Did Alex leave his bike somewhere?"

I glanced up from my latest domestic crisis-- mysterious green paint had appeared in the dryer and melted all over Alex's good church shorts and his beloved Spiderman pajamas--"No we haven't used the bikes yet today," I answered.

"Alex's bike is missing. I think it's been stolen."

I got a knot in my stomach. On Friday, Alex and Maria took their beloved bikes out for a spin with their new Halloween costumes. I got some great pictures of the event. I'm still a little off my Mama game, with a newborn daughter and all. I forgot to remind Alex to lock up his bike after our fun.

The kids bikes were all parked by our front door on Monday morning when Jon left for work. Now the bright yellow Mountain bike was missing.

We live in an urban neighborhood where professional bicycle thieves are on the prowl. My husband's bike was stolen off our front patio, while I was behind the patio door in our living room with my 3 loud, rowdy kids. That theft was a horrid loss, because my husband commutes to work on his bike. For a month, we missed having Dad home for lunch because Jon's quick 10 minute bike trek to work is actually a very long walk by foot.

This loss felt even worse. It was my son's bike. A handsome Trek mountain bike that my five year old son used to boast was for "a teenager!" Alex's bike was a free gift from Jesus. We could never afford to replace it.

A saddened father and depressed mother sat down together to eat some chili for lunch. "Maybe I can find it," my husband said. "If someone used it for a joy ride, they might ditch it close to the house."

"I don't think it was joy ride early on a Monday morning," I said. "It was a nice bike. I'm sure it's gone for good."

We lamented the loss. I kicked myself for forgetting to lock it up. Expecting myself to remember every detail with my current circumstances was a bit ridiculous. "I totally forgot, Jon. I usually remember. This forgetfulness is an outcome of having a Baby just come out of the NICU."

I felt scared. That bike was valuable because biking is a form of exercise I can do easily with four children. I'm a new mom without a lot of resources. "How am I going to exercise the kids this week if my son is missing a bike?"

"We can buy him a cheap bike at Target," Jon said.

"There is no way that can happen this month," I said. "Not with all Tess' NICU expenses."

After a sad lunch, my husband offered to ride around on his bike to look for Alex' missing bike. He was inches from giving that up as a futile exercise. "Go ahead and look," I said. "It can't hurt."

After my husband left, I went into our bedroom to comfort a crying son. "I loved my bike, Mom."

"I know. I think it's really gone forever," I said. "Let's stop and pray to St. Jude to help Daddy find it, just in case."

Ladies, I can't tell you how distracted and routine my prayer was to St. Jude. I was sure Alex's bike was gone. I didn't lock it up and it was stolen by a bicycle thief. I got what I deserved. I felt that my prayer to St. Jude was just a formality- just something my family did whenever we lost something of value.

I turned off the Netflix cartoon. I gathered my three young children around me and started to pray. "Dear St. Jude, we forgive the thief who stole Alex's bike. If there is anyway for you to help us, please help Daddy find Alex's bike."

I made the sign of the cross to close our prayer.

Before my fingers left my forehead, my husband walked back into our house. He found the bike!

Alex's bike was dropped in the middle of the street one block from our house. The bicycle lock, which was wrapped around the seat, fell down and stopped the pedals. It was a simple problem to fix. Yet the thief must have panicked and dropped the bike in the middle of the road. (Jon thinks it was a thief who panicked over getting caught since a neighborhood joy rider would have calmly fixed the jammed pedal and parked the bike on a sidewalk.) Because Alex's bike was left in the middle of our well traveled street, this incident must have happened moments before Jon came home from work and noticed it's missing presence.

What are the chances of that happening without a little help from heaven?

I'm always stunned when this happens. I'm stunned when a PICC line slides easily out of a baby's heart. I'm equally stunned when God takes care of the smaller things in life.

I'm a mother of a newborn. My brain is addled and sleep deprived. I forgot to lock up my son's nice bike in the middle of a large city. A thief stole it. Yet why do I mind when mean things happen to my family, if our great God can easily fix such problems in a second?

God is so good!