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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

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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.

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!

Pilgrimage Day 53: St. Agnes, Pray for us!

January 21, 2014: the feast of St. Agnes.

File:St Agnese in Agone Rome interior 02.jpg

Way back in 1984 or so, I chose St. Agnes as my Confirmation saint (or did she choose me?). I had read about her in a book in my school’s library, and was struck by her courage, and her love for God. I wanted to be like her!

Here is the Antiphon from today’s Vespers:

The blessed Agnes stood in the midst of the fire * and stretched forth her hands unto the Lord, and prayed, saying O Thou Who Alone art Almighty! Who Alone art to be adored! Who Alone art to be worshiped! Who Alone art to be feared! I bless thee, and glorify thy Name for ever and ever!

I STILL want to be like her!!

Product Review:

For Christmas, my Mother-In-Law gave me a 5-Mile Walk at Home DVD with a set of hand-weights, which I have been using when the weather does not permit me to go outside for a walk. It takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes to do the 5-Mile Advanced Walk workout on the video. It keeps my heart rate close to where I want it to be during the workout, so I am really training my heart and burning the fat.

Stay tuned for some exciting news!

Pilgrimage Day 39: How are the New Year’s Resolutions Coming?

I just re-read my New Year’s Resolution post from a week ago. I had already forgotten some of them! The dangers of putting promises on public display!

Well, resolutions do me no good without frequent review, so let’s get to it:

1. Save money monthly for Chartres. CHECK. I have a certain amount I am saving each month, but I really don’t know how much I will need. I’ll just keep saving until I figure out all the expenses I am likely to incur.

2. Set monthly goals: endurance while walking, weight loss, diet adjustments to level of activity. CHECK. My personal Trainer gave me a little device called a Fitbit last week. It is amazing. It links to an online account, which helps you keep track of goals, caloric intake and burning, number of steps taken, intensity of activity, etc. If you have a heart rate monitor, you can enter that info here too, to keep all your motivators in one place. I just received my first weekly report in an email, which gives best days, worst days, and averages for all this stuff. By the way, I have lost 6 lbs. since I first logged in last Thursday. Yay!

3. Learn to use the heart rate monitor Ian gave me! No, I have not done this. I have it right here, and I downloaded the owner’s manual, though. Counts for something, right?

4. Set goals and start training with a friend who has agreed to be my personal trainer. See number 2 above. Today I took my walk (70 minutes at a brisk pace. It was supposed to be at 50 – 60% of my maximum heartrate, but since I have not done #3, I do not know if I reached this.) My Trainer wants me to get to the point where I can run a marathon at abut 5 mph. I am not there yet.

5. Stay accountable with my “loser buddy.” I sent her a note today, telling her what I am doing. 

6. Walk or exercise every day. Set a specific time for this. I do not have a specific time. I am not sure I can do this yet, since the weather and temperature fluctuate so much this time of year. As the weather warms, I can set it for the same time every morning, but for now it will depend on whether my breath freezes and falls to the ground as soon as it comes out of my nose, or whether there is a blizzard going on. I have thought about walking at the mall, but that would require at least one and a half hours of driving to get there and back, and would only give me level pavement to train on. Out here, I have gravel, mud, snow, ice, hills… and my Mother-In-Law gave me a DVD and a set of wrist weights for walking at home! I will use that during bad weather.

7. Drink enough water every day. I can make this part of a daily check list on my phone. I have not been drinking enough water, and I have not put it as a reminder on my phone. 

8. Learn more about how to exercise effectively and safely. I am doing this little by little. I am glad I have the running shoes I do. They are incredibly comfortable and supportive while I walk. Today while walking, since I did not know how much my heart was working, I wondered if I should jog. But because I was alone on a country road, I thought I had better not until Ian can make sure I don’t sprain my ankle and have to lie in the gutter until someone passes by.

9. Find out about pool membership and swim regularly if not cost-prohibitive. I did find out about this, and I think we might do it closer to summer if we go with the outdoor pool, or sooner if we go with the indoor pool with the possibility of swimming lessons for the kids.

10. Schedule time to spend one-on-one with each of the kids, especially the girls! I have some Girls’ Night In/Out activities on the calendar for my daughters. The next one is this Saturday: home manicures and pedicures! I took them the other day to pick out some nail polish.

11. Make time to go to the museum with our new family membership which we received for Christmas. Have not done this yet.

12. Try to minimize or consolidate doctor and dentist appointments so I have more time at home. Well, the appointments have slowed down a bit. At least for now.

13. Dedicate a specific time to grading school papers. I am trying to do this while the kids are doing their school work, but I frequently have to stop to teach a lesson or explain something, or even to stop a fight between the younger kids or lie down with a little one so he’ll take a nap.

14. Schedule Confession for the kids and take them. Have not done this officially, but some of them have gone recently. Some have not and need to.

15. Blog every day, or at least once a week, on the Liturgical Year/Feast Days, Family, and/or Pilgrimage Prep. Set specific time to blog. Obviously I have not done this since January 1. 

16. Set specific times for prayer (Divine Office and Rosary), spiritual reading, examination of conscience, and Scripture daily. Keep prayer area clear of distractions.  I have specific times I am supposed to do the Divine Office, but I do not always follow the schedule. The rosary I pray while on my walk and in the evening with the kids. I have not been diligent about the rest, and my prayer area is a mess. I’ll clean it up this week and try to get into a better routine. Also, at my last confession, the priest suggested I add the Angelus three times a day. I already do it at noon, but he said I should pray it at 6 AM and 6 PM also, to help structure the day.

17. Schedule regular Spiritual Direction and Confession. I went to confession last night, and have put it on the calendar for every two weeks, ,which my Spiritual Director recommended. As for having regular Spiritual Direction, he is a busy man and I take what I can get. Every 2 – 3 weeks would be ideal, but not possible.

18. Find a quiet place for a desk that is just for correspondence and bills. Keep it clean. Nope. Maybe once we move.

19. Save up for a Breviary since I had to return the one I borrowed from Fr. O’Neill. Or at least get a good app for my phone. Ian found an app that might work on my phone, but we have not gotten it yet. I have not started saving for a set of books, although this is something I really would like. I will have to look at the budget.

20. Read the Etsy-preneurship book Ian gave me, and refurbish my shop. Make more dolls and things to sell. Enlist the older kids to make things as well! Schedule time for reading, making, and doing. I have not done this.

21. Set regular time aside to sew the kids’ Christmas stockings. Goal: have Susan’s, Peter’s, Maria’s and Nana’s done by Thanksgiving! That means finish Susan’s in January, and then have a stocking completely done every 3 months. Enlist the help of the older kids. I have not done this either! And I am adding more to it: I want to learn how to crochet lace, and how to play the harp if my brother makes me a harp! Oh! and I want to have a flower garden.

22. Save up for a new Bosch motor so we can make bread regularly again. I have not budgeted this in either, but it needs to take priority over the Breviary set.

I guess that’s not too bad, but I need to crack out that calendar and start doing some of this stuff! The year is 7 days old already!