The children are always memorizing poetry or Scripture, but we take our time with it. In fact, we may spend an entire month on one piece, reciting it daily. The hope is that these beautiful pieces will become a part of them–lodged deep within their souls.
Right now, the older children at home are memorizing the “Canticle of the Three Young Men” from the book of Daniel in the Old Testament. It’s one of my favorites, especially the line, “Ice and snow, bless the Lord.” As I detest ice and only appreciate snow–from about December 24th through December 31st–it’s a good reminder that these things are ordained by God and therefore good. (May it please the Lord to remind me of this come February.)
The Eldest, who attends a classical school, is memorizing two pieces: “A Christmas Hymn” by Richard Wilbur for her Literature class and the “Judica Me,” or Psalm 42, for her Latin class.
My other son, who also attends this classical school, just finished memorizing “The Flag Goes By” by Henry Holcomb Bennet.
And how about the Little Girls?
As they love Robert Louis Stevenson so much, they’ve been reciting “The Swing” for weeks on end. Oh, and a few nursery rhymes.
What’s coming up for December?
While every year is a bit different, we do tend to return to a few of our favorites this time of year: “A Visit From St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore, “Prologue to St. John’s Gospel,” “Stopping By the Woods on Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, and “Wintertime” by Robert Louis Stevenson.
How about you? I’d love to hear what you’re working on.
All right, enough of you are interested and apparently would like me to say a few words on Santa Claus.
Most of you know the difference between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus, right? If not, there are plenty of other capable websites out there willing to chronicle the similarities and differences of these two men. (Well, one was a sainted bishop and the other a fictional, old man, likely based on the former…)
But today I’m not interested in detailing the particulars of St. Nicholas, whose feast day is December 6th and wherein many children (including ours) receive chocolate coins in their shoes to commemorate his generosity in helping out three destitute sisters long, long ago.
Rather, today I’m only interested in our modern culture’s Santa Claus–you know, the fat, jolly, old man from the North Pole with a bunch of magical, flying reindeer at his service.
As I was saying, we’re not haters around here. In fact, I like Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus and Rudolf and all those hard-working elves. You may remember the charming poem, A Visit from St. Nicholasby Clement Clarke Moore? This poem is all about Santa Claus and my children recite it every December. Why? Because it’s beautifully and imaginatively written; it’s a lovely story with a happy ending for all the good boys and girls in the world.
But it’s just that–a fictional tale that’s fun to read and dramatize in costume and song and generally just enjoy.
And like all other fairy tales, we cannot tell our children that they’re true because they aren’t, and they know it anyway.
So, for our family, we enjoy the tale of Santa Claus, while avoiding lying about his eternal, omnipresence–for he isn’t eternal or omnipresent. There is only One who is, and He was born on Christmas day, and His story is tremendously important and magical and beautiful. Happy Birthday, Jesus, on December 25th!
Now that’s a story, and a true one at that. And on Christmas morning, we don’t care to have any competition with it. So, no gifts from Santa, but…
Yes, we’re talking Christmas here, and it’s about the material side of things, too. Yikes! I intend to dedicate this post to Christmas shopping and Christmas gifts intentionally for two reasons:
It is always a good idea to look closely at one’s finances well ahead of any purchases, especially in a season oftentimes fraught with expense. So for prudential budgeting purposes, our family actually does the bulk of our Christmas shopping in October.
We also like to have our Christmas shopping done well in advance of Advent so that we can do precisely that: Advent. Who likes to rush around frantically shopping at the last minute? Not me, anyway. We prefer to attempt a slower, more prayerful awareness of the liturgical season.
That said, let’s look at a few things our family does for gifts.
Ah, but perhaps I should mention that we don’t do Santa Claus? On second thought, let’s not mention it and move on. Feel free to ask me to explain later, if you’re curious, and I will.
So on Christmas morning, after praying Lauds and singing Happy Birthday to Jesus, our children open a few gifts from us. Our goal is to keep it simple, and so here’s what we typically give:
An article of clothing
And something else fun or useful
Now we have 7 children, and those three items add up and can be expensive, so we buy used things, if possible. For example, almost all the books are used, or I will purchase them months in advance from, say, Bethlehem Books when they have their half-off sales. Most of the clothing I purchase used too, at second-hand stores. The last “fun” gift, however, does get to be tricky and most often is not used.
Let me give you some examples of what our children will actually receive thisvery Christmas. (Should you happen to see the children, don’t tell them!)
Next Girl Up:
The Third Youngest Girl will also receive much the same, except that instead of a play skirt, she will be getting some colorful notecards that I found on sale at Hobby Lobby. (She likes to do crafty things.)
The boys will also be receiving second-hand clothing from my cousin, the following books, which I purchased earlier this year at a Bethlehem Book sale, and one pellet gun, which they will all share.
The Eldest is getting a new dress–not used–and this book:
Christmas Stockings and a Family Gift
Yes, we do Christmas stockings. Typically we put Christmas candy in the children’s Christmas stocking. This year I also purchased some Christmas-themed socks to stick in too.
And lastly, I purchased a Christmas puzzle as a family gift.
And what about me and my husband? Do we exchange gifts? Yes, and while I do have his gift purchased already, I cannot tell you what it is, for fear that he might actually look at this blog post.
Do You Have Any Christmas Gift Ideas?
Do any of you have any Christmas Gift ideas? If so, I’d love to hear about them. I suspect that some of you are very crafty and handy and might even be able to make Christmas gifts.
This morning, at 7am, I drove to our local voting precinct only to discover a line trailing out the door and wrapping around the building. So, I drove right on by, came home, fed the children breakfast, and tried again at about 8:45am.
Thankfully there was no line the second time, and I walked right in without a mask. I was greeted by a kind, elderly lady who in a muffled, mask-voice asked, “Would you like a mask?”
I smiled and declined, “No, thank you.”
Muffled Mask Lady then pointed to the Huge-Mondo Hand Sanitizer Pump and enquired hesitatingly, “Would you like to sanitize your hands?”
I again smiled sweetly and said, “No, thank you.”
After I checked in and signed for my name and address, I received my ballot in a manilla envelope and a pen. I was told to keep the pen. I guess in Minnesota our taxes are so high that we earn Voting Pens.
I then walked to a table, sat down, and voted as conservatively as possible. The only distraction to my voting was the incredible reek of cleaning materials. The room was in a haze. I hope I didn’t contract cancer from all that hazardous chemical being sprayed and wiped all over the place.
In any case, I submitted my ballot to a machine and was told to add my manilla envelope to the pile on a chair. I wonder if they will dare reuse those manilla envelopes? My germs are on it.
How was your voting experience? Did you get a sticker?
This evening we attended a beautiful Missa Cantata for All Souls’ Day. It was a Requiem Mass celebrated by Fr. Altman.
If you’ve never attended a traditional Requiem Mass, I promise it’s worth whatever sacrifice one needs to make to get there–time, travel, enduring tired children, etc. The prayers alone are striking and heartrending. I’m thinking in particular of the Sequence, or the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath). Tonight, I was struck by verse 14, “Worthless are my prayers and sighing, Yet, good Lord, in grace complying, Rescue me from fires undying.”
For those of you who are interested, I will post a few photos and captions below.
Shortly after posting the last note about our miscarriage, we discovered that our baby had a twin.
How did I not discover the second baby immediately?
You may remember that my husband was not at home when I miscarried–he and the children were in South Dakota–so I chose to wait before opening the baby’s sac. When I did open it, however, I found two precious babies.
Ah, my heart!
They were tiny, in their little, kidney bean-like shapes. It appeared that one had died perhaps around week 5 or 6 and the other a week later. I had the information and the pictures sent to my doctor, who in turn had a pathologist look at them. Both doctors unofficially concluded what I observed–the twin babies had died very early.
And how does one react to such a bittersweet discovery?
With praise and thanksgiving to our Lord who saw fit to give me two sets of twins. (My 12-year-old boys are twins.)
But then, I could hardly be human if I didn’t admit with a choking cry the ache that such a loss causes. For the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
I am currently reading St. Teresa of Avila’s The Book of Her Life and The Way of Perfection. Both books are pertinent reminders of the fleetingness of life and of the great importance to remain close to our Lord in prayer. Truly all of our sufferings can bring us closer to Him, if we only seek Him.
If you’ve never picked up St. Teresa of Avila, I strongly encourage you to do so. Don’t be intimidated by her lofty, contemplative prayer life. One need not be very advanced at all in one’s prayer life–thankfully!–to gather much of what she’s saying, for she has a very clear way of writing and can be quite funny at times, especially in The Way of Perfection, which she wrote for her sisters as a summation of her first autobiographical book, The Book of Her Life.
Dear Readers, I realize that this subject matter might be either too heavy or uninteresting to some of you, for I intend on writing about the actual miscarriage of our baby. I am also posting a picture below, which some of you may find unsettling. If this is not for you, I understand, and I’ll see you next time.
For the rest of you…
Four Weeks of Waiting
As I mentioned earlier on my blog, I learned about four weeks ago that our little baby had died in my womb. I was about 8 weeks pregnant at the time when we weren’t able to detect a heartbeat, and I chose to wait and let the miscarriage happen naturally, rather than seek a D&C or take medication to speed the process up. My doctor was comfortable with this, but she gave me a 4 week window for my body to figure it out. (Apparently after 4 weeks the risk of complications increases dramatically.)
In any case, I waited and waited in a silent agony for the miscarriage to happen. It was a queer sensation to knowingly carry a precious, but dead baby in my womb for so long. How could I be ok during this time? And yet, how could I not go on? I had a family to care for; life would go on. And I will be perfectly honest, it was tremendously difficult on many levels.
Perhaps one of the most burdensome things to endure was my body’s inability to recognize it’s situation. For you see, I kept producing normal levels of HCG, which is a hormone that maintains a pregnancy. In other words, I still felt all the symptoms of being pregnant–especially persistent nausea and sheer exhaustion–all up until a few days ago.
Let me break the numbers down for you. Here are my exact HCG levels taken at three different times:
Here are the standard HCG levels for these same weeks. You’ll notice there is a wide range of what is considered normal. This is because each woman is unique.
Standard Chart of HCL Levels: 5 Weeks Pregnant: 18-7,340 mIU/mL 6 Weeks Pregnant: 1,080-56,500 mIU/mL 10 Weeks Pregnant: 25,700-288,000 mIU/mL
As I said, during each week, I fell within what was considered “normal.” The interesting thing is, however, that I had two ultrasounds that indicated that my baby had died somewhere around 7 and 1/2 weeks. That would be the point where one would expect HCG levels to drop dramatically. But mine didn’t. Why? I’ll likely never know.
A few days ago, at about 12 weeks “pregnant,” I began bleeding. It was the day before our family was to travel to South Dakota to visit family. The children were wild with excitement to see Grandma and Grandpa and all their cousins. They had their bags packed days ago and could speak of nothing but drinking Mountain Dew with Uncle Rodney in the combine, eating candy bars with Grandpa in the semi-truck, and cooking in the kitchen with Grandma. What were we to do? For surely I would be miscarrying any moment.
In the end, my husband took the children and went to South Dakota, and I stayed home.
After packing their lunches and seeing them off, I decided to drive to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and spend an hour with our Lord in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I wasn’t bleeding very much, after all, and I thought it was worth the risk.
While I was praying my rosary, however, I noticed a dull aching-feeling spread across my abdomen, and I sensed that I had better finish up and drive home. Now, if any of you have been to Our Lady’s shrine in Wisconsin, you know that one has a ten minute walk through the woods to get there. As I started walking down the hill, a thunderstorm, complete with pea-sized hail, broke loose and poured forth from the heavens. It was majestic and strangely beautiful. Thankfully I had an umbrella.
Once I reached my car, though, I sat down and started having contractions. I drove as quickly as I could to my home, while experiencing these contractions almost continually. I pulled into the garage, turned the engine off, and stood up. As I did so, I felt a gush of blood and ran into the house, stripping off boots and coat along the way. I made for the bathtub, leaving a trail of blood behind me.
Then I carefully held my little baby in my hands and wept.
Now this may sound cold or flippant, which is certainly not my intent, but I was tremendously relieved. And thankful. For you see, my little baby was easily identifiable in his perfect little sac, which I’ll post below.
I marveled that he could have been dead for at least four weeks, but was still obviously there. For I had worried and worried that after so much time, he would perhaps have disintegrated or gone away somehow. I felt extraordinarily blessed that he did not. (In my first miscarriage, I did not have a recognizable baby, which was a cause of deep suffering for me at the time.)
And so my story comes to an end. We are contacting the Shrine to see what should be done with our baby’s tiny body. He will be laid to rest there in the Memorial to the Unborn.
And now, I hope to begin to heal.
Incidentally, today is the traditional feast day of St. Raphael the archangel, patron of healing and marriages.
St. Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.
P.S. Some of you may be curious about the name we chose, for after all, it’s a masculine name, even though we aren’t certain of the baby’s sex. In the end, we figured God could sort it out. If little Raphael is really Raphaella, He’ll take care of it, and we’ll be glad either way.
Last January we moved 600 miles to a new home in a new state. Within a day or two, literally, I called the Church’s office and scheduled a home blessing with our priest, Father Altman. He came out within a few days and prayed the traditional blessing for homes and doused the place with Holy Water. And I mean doused every nook, cranny, and closet. Then he celebrated a TLM in the living room.
The place had been thoroughly sanctified.
This Fall, however, I noticed a few “Black Lives Matter” signs showing up in the neighborhood, along with those “We Believe” signs, wherein such slogans as “Science is Real” and “Love is Love” ramble on in rainbow colors. I thought about our 1 acre yard that hadn’t been blessed. It made me uncomfortable.
So, a few weeks ago, I called the Church office again. Would Father mind coming out to bless the yard, our two Mary statues, and a Jesus statue?
He came out on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and blessed an entire canister of salt and a container of Holy Water in Latin, according to the Old Rite with all the sweet exorcisms. Then he prayed from theRituale Romanum, and we processed around the perimeter of the whole yard and sanctified the property. He ended with celebrating another TLM in our living room.
Dear Readers, if you haven’t had your house blessed, you should really get it done while you can. Don’t delay on something so important. And if your priest will do it, ask for the Old Rite. It’s richer. Do the homework and compare the prayers; you’ll be astonished at what was left out in the later Book of Blessings.
If you’d like more information about the use of Latin or English, click HERE for Fr. Z’s explanation. Or, if you’d like to hear Fr. Altman explain the difference in blessing Holy Water according the Old Rite and the New in an interview with Patrick Coffin, click HERE and skip to 1 hour 28 minutes.
I want to sincerely thank everyone for their prayers and kind words, as we continue to struggle with the loss of our baby. It is truly agonizing to wait for this miscarriage to happen. As it is right now, I’m still waiting and going on ten weeks “pregnant.”
I worry about rescuing the baby’s tiny body. Will I be able to identify anything? I’ve heard that as time slips by, one’s body can sometimes slowly absorb the baby.
I worry about something else going wrong. There’s the risk of hemorrhaging. There’s the risk that the little baby will become toxic to my body, and I dread a D&C.
I battle with thoughts of guilt. Perhaps I ought to have been more vigilant with taking progesterone?
Then there’s the heartbreaking questions from my four-year-old, “Mommy, why did the baby have to die?”
“Jesus must have wanted him in Heaven, Honey.”
“But, why did the baby have to die, Mommy?”
I looked down at her innocent eyes, held her hand, and said, “I don’t know.”
I suppose in the end–the only thing one can do–is place little Raphael Marie in God’s hands. He’s a good Father, after all, and knows best.
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Rosary
On a lighter note…Happy Feast Day of Our Lady of the Rosary. This feast has a rich history. (Click HERE for it at New Advent.)
Many of you may know that this day was originally named Our Lady of Victory to commemorate the naval victory of the Christian fleet over the Turkish fleet in the Gulf of Lepanto in the Adriatic Sea in 1571.
Every October 7th our family reads G. K. Chesterton’s famous poem, Lepanto. If you’ve never read it before, give it shot. Chesterton covers this historic battle very well, and it reads like a marching army. We love it.
And which publication of Chesterton’s Lepanto to we prefer?
Dale Ahlquist’s book appropriately titled Lepanto, consists of Chesterton’s poem along with a few essays detailing the historical background for October 7th, 1571. It’s excellent.
“How many pregnancies have you had?” asked the ultrasound technician, as she guided the transvaginal wand and clicked away. I couldn’t see the screen.
“Including this one? Eight. But I miscarried one of those babies a year and a half ago, and one pregnancy was twins, ” I offered, wanting to see this baby on the hidden screen, but not daring to ask.
“Hmm…do you have an appointment with your doctor today?”
“No, my doctor only needed a lab to verify progesterone levels and an ultrasound to verify a heartbeat.” My heart raced. A heartbeat. Is there a heartbeat? There should be at 8 weeks. But I couldn’t ask.
The tech finished up and said, “Go ahead and get dressed. I’ll set that appointment up for you right now. I’ll be right back.”
The door shut. I changed and sat still. Either this was bad news, that I must see my doctor, or it was wildly good news. Perhaps the tech found twins, and she wasn’t able to say so? But if that was the case, surely she would have shown me the screen. No, this was bad news.
I was then directed to another room. My doctor came in and quietly sat down and said, “I’m afraid the ultrasound indicates that your baby died. I’m awfully sorry.”
I nodded, feeling suddenly hot.
She continued, “You may quit taking the progesterone now. You’ll likely start bleeding and cramping in a few days, or maybe not for a few weeks. This is sometimes called a Missed Miscarriage…”
She went on, but I couldn’t register it. A silent sob choked in my throat. It’s happening again? Oh, my dear baby. I am so sorry.
I blinked back my tears and forced myself to listen, as my doctor kindly went on with other instructions.
And then, numb and dazed, I walked out to my van and sat down. I thought of everything I still had to do that afternoon. Drive home. Switch out the laundry. Make supper. Help the children with their homework. Fold laundry. Eat dinner…
And my little one died. Oh, Jesus! Not again. How can I do this a second time? And a flood of tears overtook me as I sobbed and sobbed. But I submit myself to your holy will, O Lord. Only hold me and my little one, for I cannot do this without You.
And what could I do? After a time, I had to pull myself together and drive home.
That was Monday.
Now it’s been a few days, and I still haven’t miscarried the baby’s tiny body yet, for my body still thinks it’s pregnant, as I continue to be exhausted and nauseous. These days have been full of a Silent Agony, as I wait for my body to figure it out and for the baby to completely pass away from me.
And then, we must somehow tell the children–the children who speak of nothing but the tiny baby growing in mommy’s tummy and all the wonderful plans they have for him.
Plans that will never happen.
I am sick, as I hold this silent sorrow in my heart and in my womb. And I wait. Wait.
Length aside, The Lighthouse is a moving tale of the life of Ethan McQuarry, a young lighthouse keeper with a wounded past. Just like his other novels, we get a good dose of sin, evil, loneliness, holiness, and redemption. Unlike most of his other novels, the evil is not expressly tangible, as say in Sophia House or Island of the World. You Michael O’Brien readers out there will know what I’m talking about. One is not made to read through truly horrific evil acts. And because of that, The Lighthouse seems, well, lighter, even with its tragic but redemptive ending.
Those of you who have never picked up an O’Brien novel, this might be a good place to start. Those of you who can’t seem to put O’Brien novels down, this book won’t disappoint you.
I received a question the other day, which I’ll post below with a few of my thoughts.
Kim, I am inspired by your daily recitation of the liturgy of the hours. What prayers of the Divine Office do you pray everyday? I had bought compline books and wanted our family to pray that every evening but that has not happened yet. Any suggestions for getting started?
First of all, thank you, dear Reader, for the question, which I’ll break into two.
Question #1: What prayers of the Divine Office do you pray every day?
Our family uses the Roman Breviary from Baronius Press. These books are excellent because they have Latin and English side-by-side.
But we didn’t begin our marriage praying this breviary. In the beginning we prayed the red Christian Prayer book, which I’m sure many of you are familiar with. A few years ago, however, we made the switch to the Roman Breviary for various reasons. (Mostly, we wanted to pray what the Church had been praying since time immemorial, not just since 1976, and we wanted its fullness.)
The Roman Breviary has all the traditional hours in it, which is why it’s a three volume set. Now, if I actually prayed all those hours, I wouldn’t get my work done. Therefore, I only pray two: Lauds and Compline.
As you frequent readers of the blog will know, the older children join my husband and me in praying Lauds every morning, but just my husband and I pray Compline in the evening, after the family rosary. My husband, however, prays more. If he’s up early, he’ll do Matins, and then, in the late afternoon he prays Vespers on his work break. The other minor hours, like Terce or Sext, might get prayed during Adoration some time during the week, but sometimes not. It’s just nice that they’re there as an option.
Question #2: Where should one start?
So, let’s say you own a breviary or some Liturgy of the Hours book and are wondering, where to start? I’d suggest beginning with whichever hour makes the most sense for you and your schedule. Of course I think it’s best to begin and end each day with prayer, so perhaps Lauds and Compline might be good options, but anywhere is better than nowhere.
Oftentimes, it’s just a matter of making it a priority.
Lastly, Satan hates families that pray together. Therefore, you’ll be sorely tempted to not do it. Therefore, do it! This is especially important for those of you with children, for whether you know it or not, you’re modeling how a life of prayer is done. You’re children see you, and your actions matter. If they see Dad every morning, day in and day out, praying Lauds, chances are, they’ll pray Lauds, especially if you provide them with books and invite them in. On the contrary, if they see Dad hurriedly rushing out the door every morning, neglecting his prayers, they will understand that this is not important.
And finally, don’t be overwhelmed by the whole thing. The breviary can be a complicated book to navigate. If you feel drawn to it, just dive in and don’t worry about missing a feast day or some special commemoration. God sees your heart and will be pleased with your efforts.
If, however, you’re looking for more information on the Roman Breviary, I strongly recommend reading Pius Parsch’s book The Breviary Explained. My husband couldn’t put it down.
And Just For Fun…
The Eldest is learning how to play the organ.
Every Friday, during practice, her younger brother throws himself at her feet (literally) and watches those pedals move. Of course he begs to play too, and she willingly obliges from time-to-time.