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!


noro strikes

We have been waylaid for a week thanks to what might be norovirus. Whatever it is, it's heinous.

Nourishing crockpot soup recipes, nontoxic stain removal recipes, and general survival tips appreciated.

The up-side is that now I can catch some of the late night/early morning Olympics coverage.

More soon.


a happy pappy (papillon) update

When Eli was injured a few weeks ago, it manifested as pain and a leg he couldn’t put weight on. It looked just like the occasional knee problem he has but significantly worse, so I assumed that’s what it was. This knee problem is degenerative, so I figured we had entered the next stage of his life in which we do some palliative care and begin thinking about the severity and the options for treatment. It felt very heavy. Every time my little buddy has a health issue, it feels heavy to me. He’s usually very robust, save for some season allergies, and I go from zero to doom in about 2 seconds.
Three days after the major injury, he suddenly returned to normal. Completely normal. He was sassy. He was barking. He was patrolling. He was running up and down stairs with his tail up. I thought it was weird that his knee would be bothering him so much one day and the next day, it was like he was in his youth again. With some time “bought,” I started looking more deeply into the options for managing the knee situation from a preventative standpoint.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I am sitting on my bed chatting on the phone and Eli is in a little ball next to me. Scritches begat tummy rubs, and tummy rubs begat foot rubs. I mindlessly felt each of his feet to see how long the nails were, how long the fur on the bottoms of his feet had gotten, determine just how desperate he is for a doggie manicure, etc. At some point I felt what seemed like a toe with no nail. Weird, but maybe it was a scar or I was mis-feeling it or something. My hand wandered across the rest of the toes on that foot and I only felt three nails. Odd. He definitely used to have four toes with four toenails on each foot. And the nail-less foot is the one attached to his problematic knee – the one he’d been favoring when in pain. I counted the nails at least five times, as if I've forgotten to count to four in my old age. Definitely three nails.
So now I have a new theory. It wasn’t his knee causing him so much pain. It must have been his foot and he must have torn the nail completely off. How that could have happened, I have no idea. But it’s with some relief that I come to that conclusion. Maybe his knee isn’t as far gone as I thought it could have been, and maybe there’s still time to do a lot more preventative care for him. As much as I don’t want him harmed or in pain, there’s some relief in knowing the problem was not the problem I thought it was and I have more time to take care of him.
Eli, of course, being the grumpy-pants that he is, will let me feel the foot all I want because that seems mindless, but the minute I show actual, directed attention to it, he won’t let me inspect it. He’s like that with everything that he knows I want to see. Is anyone else’s dog like that? “Oh, you want to see this? Here, let me just obscure it from you and then run away every time you get anywhere near me.”


we are not the same

Gabriel is watching Sesame Street while I get some desk work done. Burt and Usher, as in Usher, are discussing the word unique.

My son is disgruntled that neither Elmo nor Big Bird appear on his screen. I, on the other hand, could watch Usher and Burt -- really, Usher and any muppet -- all day. But not Abby. Abby is by far my least favorite muppet, and not even Usher's smooth presence could make me want to watch that screeching, whining disaster of a character.

Usher has just informed Burt that his dance moves are "one of a kind." And now Usher is performing some of his one-of-a-kind dance moves.

I am just saying is all.


the children's hospital

I recently spent a night at the UNC Children's Hospital. Everyone is fine and the little patient was discharged after less than 24 hours because she was recovering so well. But not all of the kids I saw there were fortunate enough to need only one night in the hospital.

There were kids there, and their families, who clearly had been there for a while. A week, maybe more. There were older kids. There were infants.

One little girl had hand-drawn signs on her door letting the staff know when she was awake, asleep, etc. You don't even know what kinds of signs you would need to make unless you've spent at least a full day there, experiencing the routines and the unexpected awakenings and the odd schedule of tests and checks and pricks and visits. And on the window of her room, the most recently passed holiday-themed mural included her name. She had likely been there at least a week. Who knows how much longer.

Late into the evening, I saw a caregiver pushing a toddler around in one of those low strollers that looks like a racecar. This tot looked to be about my son's age, maybe a couple of months younger. She seemed unsettled, like she wasn't sure what was going on around her. I figured she was probably new. Maybe it was her first night, or maybe her second. I would be bewildered for days to know I was sick enough to be admitted, too. The image of the child my own son's age, wide-eyed and uncomfortable, is one I don't think I'll ever forget.

During one of my treks out of the room -- to the linen closet, the snack room, the elevators -- I noticed a lady walking the halls pulling a radio flyer wagon and an IV bag. In the wagon was a baby who wasn't even old enough to sit up on his own yet. I didn't think about it at the time; it was only later that it occurred to me that this floor had a couple of wagons.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks: this floor needs wagons, so that parents and caregivers can pull their sick babies around. The linen closet is stocked with tiny, absolutely tiny hospital gowns. The rooms' exterior windows overlook a "memory garden" full of oversized sculptures of flowers, animals, and bugs that move.

We'd anticipated our stay to be brief, and it was. There are some kids -- some infants -- who have spent a lot of time here, though. Long enough that their caregivers didn't even have to think about how to load an infant into a wagon and haul him around without losing track of the IV. Long enough that they don't have to look at the menu anymore to know what they want for dinner. Long enough for the staff to paint a personalized mural on their window. How grateful I am for my son's health. So very, very grateful.


the pervasiveness of pregnancy loss

One of the hallmarks of growing up is the growing awareness, and then understanding of, the issues of pregnancy. The issue may be not wanting to be pregnant or wanting nothing more than to have a baby, or it may be one of the varying degrees of success toward either effort.
Pregnancy loss is one of those issues. It seems, in some circles, as though it’s perceived as something we simply do not discuss, or something we have not discussed and need to discuss. The seemingly pervasive sense that “we don’t talk about this” or “pregnancy loss is the secret, silent pain” used to confuse me, because I had never (knowingly) experienced the silence. Pregnancy loss is not a part of my own experience. It has always, however, been a part of my story. It is a part of some of my most formative memories. There were family stories going back generations, reasons why this aunt never went to baby showers and why those siblings were so far apart in age. There were couples at church who lost their babies, and we would pray for them. There were funerals with tiny caskets that were carried out by one person. Pregnancy loss felt, for a very long time, to be very real to me, and not something that was hidden.
But the older I get, the more I learn that many people really don’t talk about miscarriages and other pregnancy losses. Sometimes they’ll speak of it years later, and I’m sure there are others who never speak of it at all. I hear it in passing comments about why she never goes to that church on Mother’s Day – it was four years ago at the Mother’s Day service that she lost her first baby. I see it in whispers in social media, of veiled “praying for the so-and-sos” and we all draw our conclusions when the updates stop coming for a while.
These days, it can be easy to find community online. There are bloggers who “go public” with their losses, making it easier for other grieving women and men to find solace and know that they aren’t the only ones. I have often been silent, because I can’t personally relate and therefore feel like I have nothing to contribute. I hope, though, that I could be a safe place if any of my friends is dealing with pregnancy loss. My contribution to the conversation is not a personal story, but I do want to be a support, a listening ear, a meal-bringer, a friend that can be called on in the middle of the night. I want to love on these hurting parents, miss these unseen children, come alongside in, and affirm, the grief.
Every moment of every day, I live in the very real grace of having been pregnant only once, and having a thriving toddler to show for it. There are millions of women who can’t say the same – millions of couples and families who have “set a place at the table” for a little loved one who will never join them. My hope, moving forward, is that I can continue to lend my voice in support and love for these hurting families.