Rohr on crisis of faith

When we grow, our image of God and our self-image normally move forward on parallel tracks. And if one of the two breaks down, the other has to come apart too. We stick to both of them, and both stick together. Every crisis of faith implies that one or the other side is cracking up. If you really grow in faith, then in my opinion this process ought to take place at least every two or three years. This is the darkness of faith: when you've had to drop the old for a time but haven't yet found the new.

Fr. Richard Rohr, Simplicity: the Art of Living


grief is sneaky

I'm 24 days into life without my dog, and I still habitually look for him when I break open a hard-boiled egg to give him the yolk.


a euology and a requiem

My Eli is gone. I have his paw prints in clay on my bathroom counter. I have his empty bed kicking around my room, as it has been for years. I have his leash, his food bowls, his sweaters, his tooth brush, a clip of his fur in a baggie. I have more than eight years of good (and admittedly not-always-good) memories. Tomorrow, I will pick up his crate and a tiny box of ashes.


All his life, I had nightmares about his demise. In all of these terrible dreams, he was afraid and suffering and I was powerless, screaming, unable to reach him, forced to see his panic and hear his cries. Over and over and over, for eight years, I watched Eli die dozens of terrible, miserable deaths. I would wake up crying, pulse pounding, often shaking, and reach for my tiny companion. He would always be there, drowsy and asking for a belly rub. It was just a really bad dream.

But last Thursday, it wasn’t a dream. It was a terrifying reality, playing out inches in front of me, and reality was worse than I’d ever imagined. The attack, the worst surprise of my life, happened so close and so fast that it still takes my breath away. For eight years I’d been anticipating that moment, and yet in all those years of rehearsal, I never learned how to stop it from happening. Powerless and screaming, as always, I couldn’t stop it.

I’m so sorry, Eli.

Tiny Eli, in shock and suffering desperately from his wounds, heard me and trusted me enough to haul himself into his crate. I held hope close on the way to the vet, but I also knew. He wouldn’t be coming home. No animal could have survived the attack I’d witnessed from mere inches. When the vet found no internal damage from teeth that went all the way through his tiny body, I was dumbfounded. Maybe there are miracles and maybe God was giving us one. I thought...

And then he wouldn’t wake up. I went back and met the vet who had been working for an hour just to wake him up. Had he been shaken? We all cried.

My choices were heroics that would most likely fail, or cradling him in a peaceful goodbye.


The afternoon we met, Eli chose me. Our first moment together, he nestled himself in my lap. Our last moments of normal life were spent together, me kneeling at the door, him in my arms, cut short by a long-awaited nightmare that charged at my left elbow. Our last moments together with him fully alive were in the car, the car he loved so much, me sobbing and talking to him, my Eli in unbearable pain. His last moments of real awareness were probably in a back room, surrounded by people he didn’t know but who cared about him very much.

Did he know they were helping him? Was he looking for me? Did he even know they were there, or that I wasn't?

We tell each other that “they can hear us” or that “they know these things.” I say it, too, but I don’t buy it.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope he knew, on some level somewhere, that these scary people in this scary place were safe, that they loved him and were doing their very best to help him live. I hope he knew I was with him when he took his last breaths, and that I was still taking care of him, and that I loved him very much. I hope those comforts were his last memories. I hope.

Precious Eli, I am so sorry. I am so very sorry I couldn’t stop this from happening to you. I’m so sorry I couldn’t tell you everything would be ok. I’m sorry. I'm so sorry. You didn’t deserve this. I’m so sorry. I miss you, Eli. I love you. I’m so sorry.


My priest, when I told her about what happened, said that these are the things we can only live through. There’s nothing we can do but simply keep ourselves alive as we endure the seemingly unendurable. There’s no point that I’ll “be ok” with this, or get a handle of it, or just deal with it – I must simply live through these days until I’m able to do more.

Now I’m hobbling around my house as often and for as long as my wounds will permit, limping around the place where my little dog and I lived together and where we lost each other. It’s unbearably quiet here, with my son at his grandparents and my roommate at a conference. I need to move things around and put things away and change the way everything looks so that I can, someday, walk into my kitchen and not want fall to the floor and sob.

Soon my son will be back from his weekend away, and I will try to explain to him what death is and tell him that we can still love Eli and talk about Eli and look at pictures of Eli, but that we can’t kiss him anymore because he’s not here and he won't ever be here again. I will watch him closely, see how he has changed, wonder how much he saw, find him a helper to heal his little heart. Soon my roommate will be back with her sweet, sad dog who witnessed the whole thing from the other side of a window, and she and I will be gentle with each other or we will avoid each other or maybe we will do a little of both. And I will all the while try desperately not to get attached to this furry four-legged girl, as I will try desperately not to get attached to anything or anyone ever again. How could I live through this another time?

Soon, I hope, I will stop losing my breath when I close my eyes and suddenly relive what happened. I will stop scanning for the spray bottle when the doorbell rings. I will stop expecting to hear the jingle of dog tags when my laptop snaps closed, once the cue for bedtime. I won’t wake up in the middle of the night, no longer having to coerce the heaviest 8-lb. dog in the world off my feet or my neck or wherever he’d inconveniently lodged himself. It won’t seem weird that I can enter my house in silence. I won't wonder if this hair is the last dog hair I'll find on these pants or in this corner. I won't be obsessed by all the minuscule decisions that led to this tragedy, wondering why and how and why again. I won’t lose my vision to hot tears and falter, whispering how sorry I am, that I am so sorry, you didn’t deserve this, I love you, I’m so very sorry.

Someday, maybe soon.

But for now, I trace a set of paw prints with my finger, I nudge a clip of fur and hear the echo of a memory of a toddler saying "eee-yi very soft like a bunny." I am simply living through this loss. 


capsule wardrobe vol. 2: delete the obvious

Last week, I wrote about my breakdown moment of truth about my clothes. It’s time for a change, and while there are many other areas of my home that could use this change more than my clothes closet, apparently it’s where I’m starting.
I first read about the idea of a capsule wardrobe years ago when Hayley from Tiny Twig did a 31 Days project on it. Way back then, I started a Pinterest board the way she’d recommended, so I could get an idea of my style. Some trends emerged pretty quickly, but I never did much with it. I don’t spend a lot of money on clothes – in fact, the vast majority of clothes I own were given to me. And when you’re just grateful to have pants that fit and aren’t threadbare, you aren’t going to worry about whether they’re the right cut or fabric. The good news is that by this point, I have such excess that I’m pretty sure at least 70% of my future wardrobe is already in my wardrobe, and it’s just a matter of finding it and digging it out.
Step 1 for me is figuring out what I like and want to wear. On Pinterest, it becomes apparent that I like layers with jeans – tanks or tshirts with cardigans – and fun jewelry. I also like striped/nautical tops. Lots of solid colors, not many patterns. Okay, I can run with this.
I also like the look of longer tops and short dresses over leggings. This is also practical for me because, as a work-at-home mom, I am not exactly inclined to put on structured pants. I don’t like structured clothes regardless, so this is a big deal for me. I need to acknowledge this fact and run with it, not work against it and pretend I will convert to buttoned waistbands at some point.
So, step 2 for me is wading through what I already have and shedding things that clearly don’t fit with my general style. This is an ongoing process of having repeated “get real, Ashley” moments with myself. Am I really going to wear this ever again? Do I even like this? Do I feel cute or pretty when I wear this, every time I wear it? If there’s even a little bit of “meh” in my answer, I put it in the go-away pile. I’m obviously wearing something every day, and if it’s not ever going to be this particular something, there’s no sense holding onto it.
It’s really hard for me to let go of things right now. It’s too hard to actually get rid of them yet, especially the nice ones...I’m just piling things on a chair in my room. Not a long-term strategy, but at the same time I know it’ll get me there. I already feel so much relief every time I go to get dressed. A lot of these things are nice enough to consign, which is both good and bad because if I consign them, I'll need to hang onto them for months before the shops take this season of clothing again. 
In the meantime, the hard part for me is going to be figuring out exactly how big I want my wardrobe to be – true capsule size, or more like capsule-inspired – and then deciding what is really going to stay and what I need to add when it’s all said and done. (Light-gray cardigan, I’m coming for you.) 


quotes from the saints on st. valentine's day

This is a collection of quotes about love pulled from the works of saints who have gone before us. I copied this directly off someone else's blog and printed it for my liturgical notebook, but I didn't write down the source. If you know the source, please tell me so I can put credit here!

"The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Love; It signifies Love, It produces Love. The Eucharist is the consummation of the whole spiritual life." St. Thomas Aquinas

"Pure love... knows that only one thing is needed to please God: to do even the smallest things out of great love - love, and always love." St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul

"Intense love does not mesure... it just gives." Blessed Mother Teresa

"What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has the eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like." St. Augustine of Hippo

"The proof of love is in the works. Where love exists, it works great things. But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist." Pope St. Gregory the Great


capsule wardrobe vol. 1: the moment of truth

Lately I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I have. It’s not an uncommon thread in the story of my life, but it’s really been tripping me up lately. I simply have too much. I tend to get stuck somewhere between “but I paid $___ for that and I should use it” and “what if I need this someday?” and that’s a tough place to get stuck.
If you’re me, at least.
This is an area of my life that has been under near-constant improvement efforts, despite an almost 100% failure rate. Every time I move, I take more truckloads to the donation center. And yet I still have so. much. stuff.
One area where this has been bothering me particularly is my wardrobe. My wardrobe is a funny thing. I have loads of really nice clothes that I almost never wear, and piles of not-so-nice clothes that I tend to wear. It’s time for that to change.
Part of the reason I have so many clothes is that my current clothing pile covers everything from size 8 to size 14. I was a 12/14 for a while (and I was probably actually bigger than that, just wearing clothes that were too small – which is a miserable way to live, by the way) and last year I lost about 40lbs, taking me down to an 8. About mid-year I gained half the weight back, and I’m sitting right now somewhere between a 10 and a 12. (You’d think a week of not being able to eat anything would have led to some downward momentum on the scale, but you’d be wrong. I think I’ve actually gained weight, thanks only to what I presume is inflammation.)
When I got healthier, I tossed a lot of my bigger wardrobe, but not all of it. Some of those things were just so nice, and I felt like I should hang onto them “just in case.” I won’t blame the beautiful black pants from Brooks Brothers for me letting my weight loss slip, but I also won’t deny having the thought that “at least I can probably wear those pants again.”
Special “big clothes” aside, I just have too much. The other day, as I tried to cram one more shirt on a shelf, I threw my hands in the air. Maybe it was the delirium or the frustration of being sick that sent me into “this must change immediately” mode, or maybe it was just time to do it. I sorted through every single thing in my closet and had a “get real moment” with each one. I rearranged the shelves to make more sense for how I dress. I pulled out some things that I just won’t wear. Even some nice things. And then I sent an email to a bunch of friends to begin coordinating a clothing swap.
Ultimately my goal is to build a capsule wardrobe – or at least a “modified” capsule wardrobe. More on that soon. 


liturgical binder

The other day, I finally made time to do something I've been wanting to do for a while. I pulled out an old binder, filled it with a bunch of plastic sleeves that I've been carrying around for years (tell me you have a stash, too), and set up my Liturgical Notebook.

Right now it just has a bunch of the plastic sleeves and three pieces of paper on St. Valentine's Day. It's a humble start, but it's a start. On Friday evening, Gabriel and I will have a quiet little dinner (I haven't decided what to make yet: either pink, heart-shaped pancakes for dinner, or something traditionally Irish) and I will tell him a story of St. Patrick and talk a little bit about what love is in the familial context as well as the Christian context. It's all going to go over his head, but I could probably get him to eat some pancakes at least (or "cham-pakes" as he calls them). And maybe if I can kick this bug in the pants within a day or two, we will make it to the library to check out a book on St. Valentine.

Ultimately I'm hoping to turn this notebook into a well-loved family institution. Every month I'd like to observe and celebrate the church holidays -- festivals, Saint days, and the broader aspects of the liturgical calendar. It would even be cool to have some decor in keeping with the colors of the church seasons, too. A table runner on the dining table, perhaps. That should be easy enough to change out. Or maybe placemats. I haven't really gotten that far yet.

I've been reading about celebrating the liturgy of the church year at home for years now, since before I even had a child, and it's something I have "wanted to do" for a long time. Over the past two years, I've put together a very small collection of books that do just that -- talk about the major (and some of the minor) festivals throughout the year and offer information on the background of these celebrations, the significance of them, and the ways they can be celebrated. I've got three books and an e-book. Certainly enough to get us started. (Oddly enough, none of these resources has much of anything on St. Valentine, though there are lots of big and small holy days in February.)

Blogs make it easy to come up with ideas for celebrating, as does Pinterest. Oh, Pinterest, sometimes I hate you, but when it's liturgy time you are a cherished friend.

My deep desire is to have a home that is infused with faith and steeped in liturgical tradition, so that my child(ren) can grow up with the understanding of church and spiritual practice in the greater context of living, time, and the rhythm of life. Faith has always been an every-day thing for me, and this is one of the ways I'd like to pass that practice to the next generation.

If anyone is curious about this stuff, I would love to offer more. There are quite a few others who have said a lot already and as a complete novice, I'm not at the point that I can contribute to the conversation yet, but I'd be happy to share some resources!