Living the gritty poetry of love.

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Have you ever heard the wonderful Van Gogh quote: “I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people”? I’ve seen it beautifully hand-lettered and then shared over and over again on the Internet. It’s the sort of quote that would make for the perfect caption under a bright and dreamy lifestyle family photo.

It also calls to my mind something that Joseph once said while we were engaged. He was having a conversation with someone who was encouraging him not to give up his dreams of writing poetry for a wife and family. He responded by saying, “Well, Dominika’s the best kind of poetry.” Of course it made me swoon to hear that (and still does!), but there’s a weight to it that has continued to resonate with me as I enter more deeply into the mystery of loving people.

Sometimes loving people really does feel artistic and poetic. Falling in love, getting engaged, walking up the aisle on your wedding day, holding your freshly born baby. Those moments are palpably transcendent. And even within ordinary days there are moments that feel sacred and extraordinary. When Leo visibly understands different words for the first time. When he wraps his tiny arms around my neck and squeezes with real affection. When Joe traces the sign of the Cross on his forehead when we put him to bed. Those moments are met with a happy fiat on my part.

But there are a lot of days that feel emphatically unpoetic. Many days, I fail again and again and wish that someone could relieve me of motherhood. When I’m trying to fix dinner and Leo’s clawing up my legs and whine-crying, I’m so quick to lose it and snap at him. Or when I slip into all-day social media scrolling because I feel like it just takes so much energy to be present with him, I become convinced someone else would do this job so much better than I would.

On this blog, I try to write about motherhood honestly and specifically in a way that means to show its sometimes sweet and sometimes stark but ever-redemptive beauty. I do this because so much of the language surrounding parenthood tends to be banal, an exercise in fear-mongering, and generally unhelpful for young people already feeling apprehensive about the commitments of marriage and parenthood.

However, I think it’s important to admit that sometimes the beauty isn’t perceptible and it certainly doesn’t feel redemptive. It really does feel like the trenches. It doesn’t feel like you’re valiantly marching under the standard of sacramental love. It feels like you’re swimming in exhaustion and hailed on by a multitude external pressures.

And at the end of the day, after failing time and time again and wondering just how much I’m messing up my child with my impatience and harshness, all I can do is offer up a reluctant and frankly pretty sucky fiat. It usually goes something like, “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to get up in the morning and do this all over again. I just want a friggin break. So just make me want this. Because I’ll keep choosing it, but only because I have to.” Not really stuff of “Behold, handmaid of the Lord here” caliber, but I think God accepts and works even with my crappy fiats.

And I know He works with them, because eventually, in a calmer moment, I’m able to say with a little more grace than before:

“Now I accept the cross You have sent me, which I at first rejected, and I accept not having accepted it right away.”**

Then when I hold my sick child who cries if I move at all or look at him or dare to breathe, and I’m able to do it patiently even if I’m not feeling patient, I think it might even more poetic than when I beheld him miraculously as a newborn. When I let Joe give me a kiss when he comes home instead of swatting him away because I am so touched out by sticky toddler embraces, it’s perhaps more poetic than the kiss we shared on our wedding day.

I’ve barely been able to blog lately and I haven’t been able to write anything else. March has been the month of never-ending sickness for this aspiring-and-usually-failing-at-being-holy family (admittedly I’m generally the one dragging us down). But March also has ties to The Holy Family, since it contains both the solemnities of the Annunciation and of St. Joseph. Mary and Joseph aren’t remembered for the great deeds they accomplished in brazen acts of independence (deeds they could have been accomplishing if they didn’t have to take care of each other and baby Jesus, dang it.) They’re remembered for their humble receptivity to will of God even when that will involved fear and sorrow and the Cross. And yet, their lives have been lauded for centuries in poetry, art, and music.

It’s a good reality check for me to remember that writing blog posts or poetry about motherhood–writing poetry at all–isn’t comparable in real sense to actually living it. Great poetry might be recited till the end of the world. But really living the gritty poetry of love, living it well, even if it’s not remembered, endures eternally.

And I know several more years and children might make me look back and think a. I had ONE CHILD. One healthy, pretty easy going child. I had no idea what it’s like to really struggle and/or b. geez the death grip I had on my time and my right to a certain level of sanity was just not realistic and no wonder I was struggling.

It should also be known that I got a free chunk of babysitting this week (yes I was pinching myself the whole time) and wrote this from a cafe. Some people dream of traveling to Bora-Bora or the Amalfi Coast. I dream of traveling alone to Corner Bakery Cafe for a couple of hours.

**From I Believe in Love, a book that’s been invaluable in my daily life.

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Living the gritty poetry of love.

What is your true style?

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This is a completely unnecessary post–a first world problems post. I have a roof over my head and homemade French onion soup currently in my belly and a very cute baby who gets oatmeal stuck to the carpet and a very good husband who painstakingly cleans up after him. So my basic needs and more have been met and there’s nothing really legitimate to complain about. But for a little fluff post–let’s talk about style.

My sister and her husband bought a house not too long ago and she’ll ask for second opinions about door knockers and bedside tables and whatnot. This has led to a lot of conversations about style. What is her style? What is my style? What is the significance of styling one’s home in the first place? And the more I think about it, the more I think about how social media, particularly pinterest and instagram, have either shaped my style or perhaps imprinted a false style over my true style.

I think in one way, visual social media has helped me hone in what I really like. Without pinterest or instagram, I wouldn’t have discovered and fallen in love with designers such as Ulyana Sergeenko or Stephanie Fishwick who have made me rethink the possibilities of things like fashion and calligraphy.

But at the same time, the thought of “what my style should be” increasingly creeps into my head. When I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed and picture after picture of perfectly unstyled-styled homes with exposed natural wood furniture and white walls and thrifted trinkets and treasures and bonnet capped children (okay, that I can totally get on board with), I start feeling like I have too much visual noise in my home (not to mention too much very plastic tupperware), or like I’m at the mercy of a home full of things that have unconsciously been thrown together and don’t really make aesthetic sense. And then all of a sudden this “simple living” that these bloggers and influencers espouse, feels more stressful and expensive than simple.

Some of it is a work in progress. I would prefer pretty weck jars to the tupperware. But some of it is just a difference in style. And sometimes I just need to remind myself to follow my own stylistic impulses rather than go where are the legions of followers are. So what is and is not my style?

I adore Joanna Gaines but I don’t want wide open spaces and the bright whites from top to bottom in my home. I actually weirdly prefer colorful closed off rooms which I think has something to do with my feeling that rooms should be designated spaces for particular activities.

I think I might die of happiness if someone banished me to isolation in an English cottage but I wouldn’t say I’m all that into the shabby chic, vintage, and distressed look.

If we ever bought a house with a subway tiled kitchen, I would never ever ever breathe a word of complaint, but I’m more into this sort of thing.

I love spode and wedgewood and milk glass and jadite and brass but l love it all mismatched together. I like velvet, tufted furniture but in vibrant colors. I like patterned rugs, floral wall paper, black and white checkerboard floors, and whimsical touches like this.

So I guess my style is eclectic, whimsical, vibrant, elegant, a little bit happily chaotic?

But styling a home goes so much deeper than choosing and arranging things in it. (I guess this is going to get a little less fluffy than I originally planned.) When I think about the house and home I truly want, I think about homes I’ve been in that were made beautiful by my experiences in them. I remember falling asleep on the couch one advent evening in the glow of our Christmas tree. I remember exploring the prickly hill my grandma’s sunshine filled house sat on in Arizona. I remember crowding into my stara mama’s kitchen playing board games or eating bread and butter or just being together.

And then I think about films or stories that feature warm and loving homes. Mr. and Mrs. Badger’s home in Narnia, George and Mary’s drafty old house in It’s a Wonderful Life, the Bennet home in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice, Mole End in The Wind in the Willows, both the houses in Nanny McPhee 1 and 2 and so on.

And while many of the things in all those homes have usually been chosen with a sensibility for style and beauty, it’s the living, breathing community that talks and plays and laughs and reads and prays and sometimes weeps or is silent together that imbues the physical objects in a home with their power to evoke emotion and memory.

So, I do think, depending on the community (or the disunity) within, the most photogenic and home tour worthy home might, in reality, be a cold and tense place to live. And the more mismatched and rumpled home might be the most desirable place on earth. And vice versa.

I suppose my conclusions are more questions. What do you think the relationship between fostering community and styling a home is? Can you focus too much on one at the expense of the other? Has social media helped or hindered you from discovering your true style? Do you even think there’s such a thing as a true style? And how much does discovering your true home style or clothing style or whatnot really matter in living your life well?

Image above: William Morris wallpaper–always a good idea in my opinion.

What is your true style?

Words for a Second Anniversary

 

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Five years ago our evenings were filled with thick damp air as we prayed and talked and clasped hands on a bench before a thorny-rose-bush-encircled-stone labyrinth with all our dreams suspended sweetly and agonizingly in possibility.

After the minutes had gone too quickly by and you had to go back home and I had to go back to my dorm, I would happily tease you to kidnap me insisting that I would be the happiest hostage.

Then, on a wonderfully warm May afternoon, we spoke words that can never be undone by human tongues and gave one another rings. Blessed shackles. Sacramental links in a chain of love and suffering, grace and sacrifice.

We gave ourselves wholly and freely body and soul to have our humanity forged into divinity. In front of God and man, we said I do to one another.

I do to the nights of damn good French cooking and 90’s romcoms and sparkling cocktail-charged conversations. And I do to doing someone else’s sweaty gym laundry and to sitting behind stalled vehicles in the HOV lane on the long commute to a charmless job.

I do to the fear when that tiniest member of our little trinity wavered within me. I do to the joy as he broke forth triumphant and bloody under the resplendent fluorescent lights of the operating room.

I do to evening air thick with newborn wails and damp with breastmilk. And I do to the realization of our dreams in the rapturous blossoming of human life.

I do to all we cannot yet see: to the irritation and the tenderness and the thrill and the boredom and the joy and the grief and the roses and the thorns on this labyrinthine way to eternity.

Words for a Second Anniversary

Film Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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Our movie nights tend to go something like this:

I scroll endlessly on Netflix, adding a bunch of movies to my watch-list that I may at some point be in the mood to watch but am not currently, ask my husband what he wants to watch, am met with feigned indifference hiding a hankering for a foreign art film and, while maybe in the depths of my heart I want to watch something heady as well, my immediate desire is for something light and fluffy, so I suggest a lot of options of that sort and all get shut down. After roughly an hour and half of going back and forth like this, we decide on a tv show which feels less like a commitment than a film even though we usually watch enough episodes to equal a film and a half.

I made my 2016 watch list to help with this indecisiveness. 90% of the films are recommendations from The Catholic Catalogue. Certain people like to tease that I won’t watch a film unless it has the TCC stamp of approval but whatevs. Those ladies know what they’re about.

The other night, on The Catholic Catalogue‘s recommendation, I picked Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and my husband and I both loved it. I think it’s the best possible answer to The Fault in Our Stars.

There may be legitimately good things about The Fault in Our Stars. (Don’t ask me. I read the book to see what the hype was all about and found the writing nearly unbearable to swallow.) However, the reason it succeeds so well is because it feeds adolescent (and not so adolescent) girls’ raging desires for romance. And a youthful romantic story driven by the urgency of death makes it all the more compelling (yolo and all that).

But Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which also deals with teens and cancer, is all about friendship and maybe that’s why it hasn’t enjoyed the same amount of popularity. (Though I suspect the cult around John Green has something to do with it.)

We worship coupledom as a culture, and, in the microcosm of high school, that worship is intensified. The majority of young people believe that members of the opposite sex cannot have deep platonic friendships, that to have feelings for another person necessitates pursuing a relationship with that person, that they can’t not be in a relationship at all times, and, as depicted by The Fault in Our Stars, that a romantic relationship is the end all be all of life. (Oh and things like this do not help.)

I don’t want to absolutely discredit the teenage experience of romance, but so many young people are pursuing romantic relationships without healthy relationships to look up to and emulate and without genuine guidance from older friends and family members with their best interests at heart. I think that far more needed than sex ed courses focused on instilling a hellish fear of STDs and unplanned pregnancies in teens and supplying them with condoms because our expectations for them are so low is a cultural conversation about friendship and the dignity of the human person that might inspire them to love rather than use one another. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl contributes to such a conversation.

The main character, Greg, has spent his life avoiding real friendships. He refers to his best friend, Earl, as his co-worker since they make films together. He is on good but superficial terms with all the cliques in his high school so as to escape notice. When his mom makes him spend time with Rachel, who has just been diagnosed with leukemia, he is resistant. But he does and they quickly become friends.

Greg’s fears that becoming friends with another person will make him vulnerable are soon realized. Again and again, Rachel challenges Greg’s comfortable invisible existence and shallow ties to other people. The possibility of death forces them to truly get to know one another and for Greg to face the possibility of having his heart broken.

However, with true friendship comes not only vulnerability but a richer experience of life. Greg discovers the joy of helping a friend, who is often weak, exhausted, and discouraged, enjoy what might be the last months of her life. When Earl shares their films with Rachel, Greg is angry that he has betrayed something of theirs that is so personal to her. What he doesn’t expect is how liberating and gratifying it is for someone you care about to appreciate those deepest, most vulnerable aspects of yourself.

Earl, who also becomes Rachel’s friend through Greg, for the first time is able to transcend his objectification of girls (at least momentarily) and see Rachel’s unique dignity. In their film tribute to her, he tells her: “It’s just crazy how patient you’ve been. You know, I know if it was me that had cancer, uh… I’d be upset and angry and trying to beat everybody’s ass half the time. So I’m just, I’m just amazed at how patient you’ve been. You, you make me feel blessed.”

Romantic feeling–and much less, sex–don’t have to be essential elements for a relationship between two persons to involve emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and moral companionship. In fact, for emotionally immature people, sensual romance can cloud their vision and obstruct the path to that companionship. Perhaps Greg and Rachel’s (and Earl’s) friendship doesn’t develop in all those aspects but it does show us that young people have the capacity to pursue deep, meaningful, and life-changing friendships.

Of course I can’t finish this review without these oft-quoted lines from C.S. Lewis:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Be forewarned that there is crass teenage humor in this film. Nevertheless, it would make for a great youth group or theology of the body club movie night and discussion…or for a stay-at-home-date-night for people like me and my husband who went to public high school and hated being there lololol

Film Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl