Early Autumn: A Meditation on the Love of God

altar candles

…and the Light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

There is something about the beginning of autumn that brings out the melancholy in me, even though I do like this season for its anticipation of Advent and Christmas. It is a time when nature says “slow down” and we tend to become more introspective, all the while the world says, “Hurry up! Only ___ shopping days until Christmas!” This is usually a busy time for our family; summer is over and we have just canned peaches and chokecherry jam. Now we pick several bushels of apples and take time to make apple sauce, apple pie filling, and spiced apple rings for the coming year. Sometimes there are pears or plums that we can preserve also. We get together with family and make our traditional red tamales to freeze for Christmas Eve. We try to make a lot so that we have some in the freezer for the next 12 months, but they never seem to last past June, if we can keep our hands off them for that long! It is a joyful, busy time.

But this time of year makes me a little sad, especially when it is a cold, cloudy day and I have not gotten enough sleep. I lack the energy I need to do the daily laundry, dishes, and meals: the work that is never ended. But God grants sunshine as well as clouds. He allows us to feel our imperfections and to experience the Ember Days in a more profound way, perhaps, than at other times of the year. We learn, if we are willing, to rely solely on Him. When the sun shines, the day seems to sparkle, with red and gold leaves and sometimes frost: the coming of winter is evident.

The Clouds of Autumn

Winter Approaches

For the first time since I have been a mother, I am not homeschooling my children. Seven of the ten are attending a local charter school, and I am at home with the three youngest, who are not yet old enough to go to school with their brothers and sisters. It would seem that I should feel more free, and have more time to run errands, clean the house, work on projects long overdue, and even start one or two more that I have wanted to do for a few years.

But I am tired.

I do not seem to have more time now, and I need more sleep at night. I am older than I was. The coming winter is evident in the frost-colored hairs that appear little by little, and then less gradually.

But God grants sunshine as well as clouds. I feel the end of my life coming much faster than it seemed when I was young, although I have always, ever since I can remember, seen the end of my life very near. The years and decades are shorter than they were. The clouds of doubt and sorrow and sin and regret close in, and I panic, thinking I have only so many shopping days left and not enough money! The temptation to believe that I have done nothing worthwhile with my life is very strong, and I want to just fall asleep and not think about the hopelessness of it all. But then the clear, warm, saving Sun pierces my melancholy and I am suspended in the Love of God. I have time, but I must begin again now and not give up.

Thank God for good Spiritual Directors. They are sometimes the only light shining in the darkness. Mine told me recently, when I was having a hard time seeing any good in myself, “Love yourself as others love you.” That is possibly the most difficult task I have ever undertaken. He asked me to look at the successes in my life: all of my children are happy and know that their parents and God love them. The teens among them are joyful and outgoing. The little ones are thriving and confident in the love of their family. He asked me to look seriously at the way people see me, and recognize that I have allowed God to work through me my whole life. God has granted me favors that not everyone is granted. He loves me because He made me lovable. Others have always thought of me as a kind and holy person.

I always thought that those successes were all God’s, and they are, but my Spiritual Father reminded me that I had to cooperate with God in order for these things to happen.

God's Love turns weeds into roses

God’s Love turns weeds into roses

And so, on this cloudy autumn day with amber sunshine piercing through the cold, I begin again to do the work He chose for me. That sink-full of dishes and that frozen roast thawing on the counter are my emblems. Some day they will be pictured beside me – grey hairs and all – on a holy card. In the meantime, “Jesus! MY Jesus! I trust in You!”

St. Paula of the Big Ham

St. Paula of the Big Ham

“Sometimes we feel tired and discouraged, just like Jesus’ disciples… ‘We have worked hard all night and have caught nothing!’ (Lk 5:5) However, nothing is lost if, in the hour of darkness, we are able to trust once again in Him, Jesus, in Whom we have placed our joy and hope.” ~Pope St. John Paul II

Why a Chapel?

For as long as I can remember,  I have wanted to have a chapel where my family could pray together daily, as well as individually whenever a bit of quiet time with God was needed. I made a few attempts in our old house to make the “Back Room” into a chapel, but we always needed the room for something else – storage, guest sleeping quarters, play room, sewing room. We just did not have enough room for everything, and the chapel always had to be the loser. God stepped in, knowing that I needed to be near Him, and in time I was given keys to my parish church, where I could go sometimes to be quiet in His Presence. But the distance between house and church was far – almost an hour. That prevented me from going very often. I began, very slowly, to learn how to find quiet in my soul even with noise in the house. Still, every now and then I needed to go back to the church to recharge my batteries in actual, physical, tangible silence.

When Ian and I looked at this new house, I immediately saw where the chapel would be, and in my mind and heart I solemnly vowed that it would not be a multi-purpose room. This time God would be first. It did not even enter my mind that this room could ever be anything else. We would have to build walls eventually to enclose it and separate it from what would be the living room, and I really prayed that the walls could be built soon so that the chapel would not be lost to storage or clutter. Providence heard my prayer, and a wall had to be built right away. The previous owners of the house had removed a wall from just the place I wanted one. It turns out it had been a load-bearing wall, and the upstairs now had no support!

When told that this room would be our chapel, a visitor to our unfinished basement asked, “What will the room be used for normally?” I didn’t know what he meant, so he asked, “I mean, when it is not being used as a chapel.” I said it would be used as a chapel every day, but he did not seem to understand what I meant. Later, another person suggested that it could be a quiet place to go and read, and that we could keep all of our bookcases in there.

It never occurred to me that people would not understand what I meant by “chapel.” I did not mean a temporary place where sometimes we would gather to pray as a family and sometimes play board games. I did not mean a quiet place to read. One might as well ask,”What do you use your kitchen or bathroom for when it is not being used as a kitchen or bathroom?” I meant a place set apart all the time, where one can go and know that no one is going to be sewing or listening to music or doing homework. A place set apart to pray; that is, talk to and listen to God without distractions. One needs silence for that, and in a home with 12 people living in it, silence is hard to come by.

Now I can understand using space wisely, especially when room is tight and many tasks have to be done in one place. I know that I cannot at this time have a dedicated sewing room. I do not sew often enough to merit that (although one could argue that more sewing might be done if there were a place in which to do it). I understand that I cannot have a dedicated classroom, even though we do school every day. The dining table will have to serve as school desk for 10 children, and I will have to cook and plan meals at the the stove while I teach them.

For me, though, praying is different. I know I must pray always and make my life and every part of it a prayer, but I have to recharge sometimes. Now that we have moved, I do not have keys to the local church. I can’t drive the 3 hours to my old parish to find quiet. There has to be a place where I can go every day. I want to cultivate that inner silence in my own heart, and in the hearts of my children. I want them to know Who God is, and the only way to hear Him is in silence. I want the chapel to be the heart of our home. I want it to be normal and natural for each of us to go there separately or together every day, and as many times a day as we want to. I want this room to be available all the time, to encourage prayer and reflection.

Like that Providential wall that provides support for the main part of the house, prayer is the absolute foundation without which our lives fall apart. The chapel will be a visible reminder of that need in our lives, and, I hope, a place in which to find the One Who can fill that need.

Building a House into a Home

When Ian and I saw this house a few months ago, we could see the possibilities: the little girls could share this room, the boys that one; this could be the living room, that could be a guest room; if we build a wall here, we can finally have the chapel I have always wanted. The back yard was huge, and we could see our children playing and riding their bikes around the neighborhood.

Look at those bike paths!

Lots of room to play!

So we moved in and painted a few walls in anticipation of the floor that would be put in shortly, and we’d move beds into the proper rooms and everyone would know where everything was and everything would have its own place. We would postpone restarting school for a few days because of the temporary chaos of cramped quarters on the main floor. As soon as the basement was done, we’d set up our dining room table so the kids would have a place to do school and we’d be able to unpack all our books and put them into shelves for easy access.

Margaret among the boxes

School Among the Ruins

A month later….

We have started school, using various tables and sofas and chairs that are surrounded by boxes and dressers in what will one day be the dining room. We also eat meals here and pray our nightly rosary.

so much stuff!

Taking a Break from Unpacking and Painting

The kids are sleeping in sleeping bags in two bedrooms, and Ian & I are sleeping in a tiny room that may have been an office at one time. It has been one long camp out!

Robert camping out

Robert camping out

I have taken lots of pictures of the process of tearing down, rebuilding, tiling and painting, so I’ll highlight some of those projects in upcoming posts.

A New House, a New Home

We have been in our new house for almost a month already, but it is still not home. Robert (3) keeps saying tearfully, “I want to go home!” I know how he feels. We lived in our little house on the prairie, which we affectionately called “Windyside Manor,” for almost 14 years. All of my children, except my oldest daughter, were born inside that house, and all of them learned to walk and talk there. I had never before in my entire life lived in any house or apartment for more than 3 years. Although we had put this house on the market a few years before (I still think it was providential that it did not sell), I did not think we would ever leave Colorado Springs.

Home, Sweet Home

Ian and the kids painting Windyside Manor

Ian and I looked at the new house a couple of months ago, and we both could see our family living there and being happy. Immediately I saw exactly where we could have a family chapel, and we quickly figured out what children would fit in which rooms. Best of all: we’d all be together under one roof every day.

Loveland Home

Our New Place

The kids and I picked out paint chips for the bedrooms and bathrooms and the chapel. The day after we moved in, my In-Laws came to spend 2 nights and days with us and got the basement rooms painted before the floor was installed.

Dad's organization skills got the basement painted in 2 days!

Dad getting it done. Go Dad!

We are all still living out of boxes and suitcases, and sleeping in sleeping bags because our basement is not finished yet. What we thought just needed a coat of paint and flooring has turned out to be a huge project, involving removing and rebuilding walls. Apparently the previous owners removed a load-bearing wall, so putting it back became a priority!

Future Chapel!

New walls

Gratefully, we all get along in our close quarters on the main floor. We have a bathroom-and-a-half upstairs, but we were down to one toilet for a while. Not fun. Especially last week when three kids had sudden flu-like symptoms with no warning. Did I mention we don’t have a washer or dryer hooked up yet? You guessed it: the laundry room is in the basement. I have gotten to know Lupita at the laundromat really well.

Some good news, though, is that the contractor we hired is wonderful. He and his wife have been working in our basement almost every day since we moved in, and have laid laminate flooring in both bedrooms and part of the hall, built that all-important load-bearing wall, and today will finish laying the tiles in the bathroom. Tomorrow they will grout them, and the next day they’ll install the toilet! We’ll have two places to bathe, and THREE TOILETS! If you are a mom of many like I am, you will rejoice with me! Alleluia indeed!

Gotta go!

The Long-Anticipated Third Toilet

 

Leaving Home: Finding God

Even though it took almost an hour to drive to church, and despite its leaky roof and faulty plumbing, Immaculate Conception Parish was the closest thing to heaven I had ever seen.  I loved going there for Mass, for friendship with godly people, for Spiritual Direction and Confession, and sometimes just to be alone with God. I loved to clean the rectory because it was peaceful and quiet. With the priests busy with appointments and meetings and Altar Boy training, I had uninterrupted silence two Saturdays a month: my own silent mini-retreat. Now that we have moved it is over 3 hours away, but I have felt a strong urge many times in the last month to just drive there to kneel and cry.

Why so sad at leaving a church: Aren’t there other good Catholic churches where we have moved? Isn’t there a Latin Mass closer now? Isn’t God in Loveland? Yes, yes, and yes. But Immaculate Conception is more than a good Catholic Church. More than the Latin Mass. It is home. I found God there so palpable. I could see Him and touch Him, and enter into His Most Sacred Heart. There I saw His Blessed Mother honored. Immaculate Conception is not only the name on the collection envelopes: it is the soul of the parish.

For me change is very difficult. I want permanence: to be sure that the sun will rise and set, and that everything will be where I saw it yesterday. Living in the semi-chaos of changing houses and towns is hard, especially since we cannot unpack everything yet. I cannot find a certain pot or the dishwasher detergent. The plan was to move into the main floor and finish the basement within a week, and then unpack everything and put it into its new place.

At least that was MY plan.

God has a way of showing me again and again that I am not in charge. My plans are not the ones that matter. This life is not permanent and I must not get too comfortable here. I am reminded that I am a child and that unless I become as a little child I cannot enter His kingdom. I must become docile to His will. I must not cry when God plays peek-a-boo with me.

Yes, I am a child, and a very beloved one. God takes care of me wherever I am, and loves me beyond anything I can imagine. I suffer when it appears that God has left me. I cry when I think I am alone. He is only hiding his Face for a little while and it is my task to find Him. I am sure I will find godly people in my new home. In time I may love the Latin Mass community here. Everyone is very friendly and the priest very devout and holy. I will find that God is here even in Loveland.

We’re Moving!

One month from today we will take up residence in a new-to-us house in Loveland, Colorado. We have lived in our current house near Colorado Springs for almost 14 years, and all but one of our children was born here. There are a lot of memories within these walls, and we thought we would be here forever.

Fun with boxes My beautiful picture
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But Ian’s job changed a year ago. He had to temporarily shut down AquinasandMore.com, and take a job in another city. After more than 12 months of commuting and spending many nights away from home, we have finally sold our house and bought a new one closer to work. As of April 9, we will no longer have to say prayers over the phone.

Pilgrimage Day 100!!! New Pilgrimage Podcast!

Chartres Cathedral - our destination

Chartres Cathedral – our destination

To celebrate the first 100 days of preparation for our pilgrimage, here is some exciting news: Starting tomorrow, Monday, March 10, Ian & I will be doing a weekly podcast to record our preparations for the 2016 Chartres Pilgrimage. We’ll have that website available for feedback and for posting interesting information. Join us!!! Just click the picture of Chartres Cathedral to go there.

I am copying all of my recent posts related to the Pilgrimage to the new website, and all future Pilgrimage posts will be there instead of here.

Here is MORE exciting news: We are moving! After almost 14 years in this house, we have sold it and have bought a new one further north to be closer to Ian’s work. But that’s a whole ‘nuther post!