shame

12-1-17

shame
shame on me for shaming you
innocent and naked
we were hurrying to get in the shower
but also wanted some music
to dance to and distract you from the pain
of your chest burn scab
and your two week old fingernail wound
and fresh diaper rash
it is hard to be 18 months old.
so Christmas tunes to the rescue
and I heard you make a quick puddle on the floor
didn’t even think
just exclaimed loud fast SIMON!
mostly out of surprise
but you heard it loud
shame amplified in your new tiny ears
eyes wept immediately
body shook
our hearts sank together.
I know this is a wound I can’t fix quick
I see the hurt in your eyes
“I’m sorry Simon”
are words that feel useless.
I plead with myself to never forget this moment
to stop the murky foul smelling tone of shame
from leaving my mouth again
it came out before I knew it was there
the tone I’ve heard many times from others
and even more from myself
to myself
to my husband
to the people I love
shame

but alas
I did it again at the store later
when you were excited and squealed
about two chimichangas from the freezer isle
“You don’t even know what those are”
I said to you
in a way that quietly steals away joy
that is completely unneeded
I corrected myself.
“do those feel cold to you? Those are called chimichangas.
They taste kind of like burritos. I love
how excited you are about them!”
deep breath
we are both learning about shame.
words can demean, even when we don’t mean for them to.

I’ll hold you now, tight and close
and feed you the best kind of healing food
“more nurse,” you ask
your toddler eyes sparkle bright
while you sing
with the lullaby hippo
my son
my joy
I am sorry
I will try harder
we will learn about shame and love
and many more things
together

11/16/2017

It’s late. Well, it’s 10:00 p.m. and I’m 25 years old with a son, a wife, a house, and a full-time job that supports all three. I wake up at 4 a.m. to pull my son out of his crib because he doesn’t like to sleep alone and every morning I think, “I should stay up and write and pray and not crawl back into bed,” but I crawl back into bed anyway.

Sometimes my son wakes me up to say, “Hi dad” in a soft, scratchy, high-pitched voice that I wish he would keep forever. Sometimes I press the sleep button on my alarm so I can lay next to him longer, my hand on his stomach, his body close to mine.

Love is a tree that climbs tall and roots deep.

Love is a little boy and a wife and a home and waking up at 4 a.m. and realizing how lucky you are. Even though you are just 25 and life just started.

Following My Father’s Example

Last spring, The Atlantic published a series of articles under the headline of “Choosing my Religion.” The articles are diverse in scope, covering the mass exodus of millennials from organized religion, personal struggles under religion’s expectations, and one compelling series where readers responded to the question: “What was your biggest religious choice?”

I have read countless articles on the religious practice of millennials, but none has made me pause quite as much as the series about their readers’ biggest religious choice. The responses were filled with the honest struggle of living a life of faith. The series also included many tragic stories about faithful people becoming disillusioned by the hypocritical actions of religion’s elite.

Ever since discovering this discussion a couple of months ago, the question of my biggest religious choice has troubled me. Being part of a generation that is largely skeptical of organized religion, I feel having an answer to why I practice is important. Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of anxiety about this because I find it really hard to come up with an answer.

Lately, every time I sit down next to my wife and son in the church pew, I wonder if not having an answer to that question is acceptable. Am I just wasting my time? Am I setting a bad example for my son? Why don’t I have a clear answer to why I am here?

I’ve always been an observant person, a by-product of my introverted personality. When I was growing up, my favorite place to people watch was church. In the pews ahead of me, I would watch older ladies pray the rosary during Father’s homily. Beside me, I would watch harried mothers attempt to control their bored children. And behind me, I would see men with polo shirts tucked into their jeans not utter a single word throughout the entire service.

It seemed obvious to me why the older ladies were at Mass. I figured they must be praying for something very important to not listen while Father gave his message. I certainly knew why the harried mothers and their children were at Mass, a lesson I learned quickly when I wouldn’t get up for church on time.

My mother, never weary of telling us what to do, would march into my room, pull the sheets off my bed, and tell me that I needed to go to church because Jesus required it of me. I just imagined all of those children were in the same position as me, at church with their mothers because that is what Jesus required.

The cadre of men with their polos tucked into their jeans always perplexed me. They never looked happy and they never said a word. Yet, they were there out of obligation to God, their wives or their children. When I think about not having an answer to my biggest religious choice, I think about this group of seemingly unhappy men. But luckily for me, there was another man I would often watch in church: my father.

My dad distinguished himself from this group of men in a number of ways. First and foremost, his standard church dress was, and still is, a polo tucked into khaki pants with a pair of white tennis shoes on his feet. That outfit is a product of many years in a public school classroom.

Second, he always sang and said the responses. Third, he prayed before church and always knelt down in prayer after communion. Finally, he was anything but faceless around our parish community. He was the director of religious education, the youth minister, a member of the parish council, and the one person everyone went to with a question about this or that.

On Sundays, my dad would wake up early and head to church to roll out tables in the parish school basement, set out religion books, prep the teachers, and then give a morning reflection before religion classes started. After religion, he would put the books away, clean up the tables and chairs, head over to the church to write his name on the Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion sign-up sheet, and then sit down next to his wife and three boys in the pew.

He would lift me up and hold me on the church pew when I couldn’t see the priest, he would run his finger across the words in the hymnal so I knew what words to sing, and he would always actively participate in the liturgy.

In all of this, he never once spoke to me about the reasons he worked so hard for the church or why he helped me pray the liturgy. And honestly, I am not certain he has an answer for why he is so obviously committed to his faith. I can say that because my dad has never been a man of many words, but he has always been a man of faith-filled action.

I take comfort in my dad’s example when I am uncomfortable with not knowing the exact reason I show up to church each Sunday. Each time I open the hymnal to sing, kneel down to pray after communion and lift up my son to see the priest, I think of when my dad did that for me.

I am grateful for the faith handed down to me from my father, even if I don’t always understand it. In his example, when I don’t always have the words of faith, I can take comfort in the testimony of my actions. Actions that I sincerely hope my son will pass down one day to his family.

What is my biggest religious choice? Maybe it’s not something tied to a moment in time. Maybe it’s every Sunday when I walk into church next to my wife holding my baby boy and decide to follow the faith-filled example of my dad.

-Christian

Originally published in Saint Meinrad’s Echoes from the Belltower blog on June 15, 2017

One Year Old Hands

Your formerly tiny, balled up hands are different now
Flatter, fatter, moveable, still soft on my cheeks
They explore every surface and texture you touch
Patting and wiggling all day long
Your baby paws dig into the dirt as we put plants in the ground,
Leaving lines of black under your fingernails.
Grasping at strawberries and cheese for your lunch,
Carefully placing them each into your wide-open mouth
With curled up corners and a giggle in the air.
They softly pat my chest as you nurse and find the biggest mole you can pinch
Eyes drifting off into sleep, or at least stillness and rest.
Much needed rest.
Your hands are bigger now, and they do big things
Like pull you up on the furniture as you cruise, lightning fast towards your friends
They learn gentleness to pet the dog, and high fives to greet.
You grasp my fingers when you walk, and stop if I let one go.
As Daddy pulls you in the wagon, you reach your hand out for mine
And we walk, hand in hand, tiny and true and trusting.
I love your tiny hands, willing to open and clap, to be kissed and to hold.
You have your daddy’s fingers.
They are the most natural thing I have ever held in my hands
Like they were always meant to be right there
All this time

-Gillian

Making a Working Man’s Casserole

I don’t have anything too important to say this week so I decided to post the recipe to one of my favorite dishes instead. Who doesn’t like a good meal right?

This dish is very basic and I am sure it has been made in your house from time to time. I call it the working man’s casserole because it is quick to put together, easy to clean up, and it is a very hearty meal.

To start, chop up 2 bell peppers, 2 apples, 2-3 large sweet potatoes into cubes, and slice 4 links of sausage. I really like a flavored chicken sausage, but any smoked sausage would work.

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After it is all chopped up move it to a pyrex or other baking dish. The trick here is covering the dish with aluminum foil so cleanup is easier.

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After all the ingredients are in the dish, stir it up a bit to ensure they are all mixed together. Then I put about a 1-2 tsp. of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes (for a little kick) on top. I also include a clove or two of garlic. I love garlic so I always add a little more. To top it off, I drizzle a little over 1 tbsp. of olive oil on top.

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Then I put the dish in the oven at 425 degrees for 45 mins. – hour. I stir it up intermittingly while it cooks to ensure all of the potatoes cook. Like, I said – super easy! This is nothing special, but Gillian and I love it. After about an hour, it will come out looking like this!

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If you do end up cooking this or something like this, my only requirement is that you sit down and enjoy it with your family! Meals at the table are the best meals.

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-Christian

3-13-2017, A Lesson about Giving Grace (to myself)

Days can be full of the most mundane things. More often than not, we let the mundane become our focus and lose focus on the extraordinary things that exist around us. For example, doing laundry = mundane. Allowing your baby son to destroy your perfectly sorted laundry pile = extraordinary.

Why is that extraordinary? Because it breaks up the mundane. We need both. If we didn’t have the mundane we wouldn’t know about the extraordinary. But if we lose sight of the extraordinary, we will never find lessons in the mundane.

I think Gillian shares that so beautifully below. Grace can be found in both the mundane and the extraordinary. But we need to open our hearts to both so that we can find it.

3-13-2017

The to-do list is long and the done list feels very short.

I reflect on my day and wonder how late I can stay up…
…to switch the laundry (but the shirts in the dryer are wrinkly again)
…and fold the towels
…I should pump and study.
…Help jumpstart tomorrow. Prep lunch. Make coffee.

I think about all of these things and about how much I stressed today,
and how I didn’t just take a deep breath and find joy in the moment,
and how much I fretted about being too tired and was too impatient,
and how often I cursed the time change.

I think about how my day needed a little bit more love and grace,
because I think when I talk to Jesus about my day, he doesn’t see my to-do list,
He sees my done list, but it looks very different from my own.

He sees how I loved my child and gently washed his hands after each meal.
He sees how we clapped hands a million times today,
and that we laid down and took a nap together.
He sees that I called my friend just to see if she was okay,
and spent a little extra time listening to a new game invented by a most creative 8-year-old.

So maybe my lesson for today isn’t what I did or didn’t do,
(yes, maybe I looked away too long when Simon spilled coffee on the carpet)
but that I tried to love today – that’s the takeaway.
I hope tomorrow I can give a lot more grace to myself and just as many kisses to Simon.

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When the Cure Hurts

I can always tell when my lungs are feeling their best because I can laugh freely and I don’t stifle it to avoid a coughing fit. When I stopped taking Orkambi, I couldn’t do that so well. So I think of that and I smile.

Last Wednesday, I started taking a medicine called Orkambi – the first type of medicine to treat the underlying defect of Cystic Fibrosis (CF) at the cellular level. It’s pretty cool and very new.

When I was in college, I was a part of the clinical trials for this drug and eventually started taking it “open label” until it was approved by the FDA in 2015. Shortly after though, I found out I was pregnant with Simon and since there’s no data on what it does to a developing baby, I decided to discontinue taking it. After Simon was born, I waited to restart since I was breastfeeding. It is not known if it transfers into breastmilk and if so, what that small amount would do to a baby.

Now that Simon is almost 10 months (!!!!), nurses less, and my baseline lung function is lower than it used to be, we decided it would be wise to restart Orkambi. We will get monthly labs for Simon just be sure that he’s doing well.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about restarting this medicine. It’s an amazing drug. It works and it’s been so rewarding to be a part of making it happen in the trials. But… it’s not what we all hoped for.

It’s not a cure and doesn’t completely fix the problems caused by CF. It is a start though, and in my experience on Orkambi, I was living a better quality of life, had no pulmonary exacerbations/hospital stays, and my lung function stayed steady. Sounds good right?

The side effects though. These should be temporary, but they are not pleasant.

Within a couple of hours after my first dose, I had a hard time breathing even laying down. Shortness of breath continued the next day, then fevers came. Next day, no appetite. More coughing. Night sweats and hot flashes. Tightness in my chest. Oh-so-tired (thanks Simon, for letting me nap with you).

I feeI worse now than I did before I was admitted to the hospital a few weeks ago (and I just got to feeling better!). So, this Orkambi, with all of its anticipation, hope and excitement has me feeling pretty rough right now. I’m holding on to hope that I will feel better than before, with a new kind of clarity in my lungs, more stamina, and less cough.

I can always tell when my lungs are feeling their best because I can laugh freely and I don’t stifle it to avoid a coughing fit. When I stopped taking Orkambi, I couldn’t do that so well. So I think of that and I smile.

-Gillian