Give of your Strength the Seed to Nourish

Give of your Strength the Seed to Nourish

Me and Lucia and Bella with Sister Karla (and yummy chocolates behind me.)

First, to get it out of the way up front: I’m not pregnant. Not pregnant and not planning on being pregnant any time soon.

But recently I spent about a week certain I was. Let’s just say the charts were confusing and so were the signs. So a week at the beginning of Advent was spent rearranging my mental space, trying to prepare for an unexpected newcomer. (And then being very relieved when it turned out to be a false alarm.)

Benedictine sisters demonstrating pysanky and chatting with the kids.

Not Really a Crisis?

In that time I had a couple of anxiety dreams.

In one of them Dom and I were doing something or other in a lab and some kind of mistake was made and some chemicals were mixed that were probably going to explode. And so he was protectively rushing me out of the building while trying to figure out who to call. I was insistent that we call 911, but he said since nothing had actually happened yet, it wasn’t really an emergency and we needed to find the non-emergency number to call.

And then we needed to find Anthony and get him to shelter too (no idea where the other kids were, in the dream I was just focused on Anthony). And when I’d found him he refused to stay under cover of the concrete bunker or underpass or whatever it was we were hiding in. He sat there complacently eating his sandwich. I finally got him down just in time. Everything exploded and we were almost burned but just barely survived.

In the other dream I was driving down the road near my parents’ house in Austin and suddenly terrible weather was heading my way. A black curtain of poison rain came over the overflow ditches and threatened to blind me, overwhelm me. And then a host of tornadoes, at least half a dozen were swarming round me.

Anxiety dreams. Pregnancy dreams? I thought so at the time. I started mentally writing a blog post incorporating the “pregnancy dreams” into an announcement of the impending arrival.

But they can be traced back to other sources. Much of the imagery was lifted from Superman Man of Steel, which I sort of watched over Dom’s shoulder the other night. (Mostly messing about on the computer, sort of getting sucked into the movie at times.) And then there was the conversation I had with Dom that began with me declaring something about “when I’m no longer in crisis mode and look back on this time” and him adamantly repudiating the term “crisis” to describe our life. Followed by me feeling crushed because he just didn’t understand how overwhelmed I really do feel much of the time. (This was triggered by realizing how much tidier our kitchen, dining room, and living room were after his mom had been over for dinner. An extra set of hands made it possible to get them up to what I’d consider standard levels of tidy rather than the “good enough” or “too tired tonight” that are our current standard.) Finally we came back to the topic later and he acknowledged what I meant by crisis and explained why he had thought the words was off. But the point was I was feeling overwhelmed and was feeling that my experience was unacknowledged.

And if I was in crisis mode without a new baby, how was I going to survive a pregnancy?


In Nomine Exhaustion

Survival mode. Crisis mode. I suppose it doesn’t matter what you call it. What I mean is I feel like I’m constantly on the edge of red, never in the green. Things are never really clean or tidy. I get one room sort of done and the rest of the house looks like a war zone. What I mean is I rarely have time to step back to look at the big picture. Day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute, I”m just getting from one bit of time to the next, trying to put out fires, prevent diaper leaks, get food on the table, and not fail too miserably at everything else. Not enough time to scrub the bathroom, to write a thoughtful blog post, to potty train a stubborn boy child, to get rid of junk we don’t need. No time to sew, no time to sit and read or write or think for more than what feels like a snatch.

Recently Sophie– and the boys– have been quoting a line (I think from Cars) that seems all too apt: in nomine exhaustion. Sophie repeats it over and over with a sigh on the exhaustion that feels so right. These days I do seem to be doing most everything in the name of exhaustion.

I’m in the crucible and all sorts of selfishness is being burned away, I’m sure. But it hurts. It’s hard. And yes, I’m more than a little relieved that I’m not going to spend the next three months exhausted and queasy all the time.


Making Room

I kept thinking of Simcha’s piece on being pregnant in Advent, Making Room, which was included in her The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning (which by the way is an awesome book that everyone should read even if I’m having the devil of a time getting around to writing my review of it.) Writing about expecting a new baby during Advent, Simcha writes:

I responded the same way I do every time I face this particular dilemma: I cried. I couldn’t help it. So much of managing a big family is making order out of chaos—not even making things clean, but just making cleaning possible. And despite the relative sanity of our lives these days, facts are facts: There is just no room.

and then:

So, there was room. There was room after all. It’s not wonderful, but it works, and it gets the job done. There was a real problem, and I solved it, more or less, without even dying.

That’s my plan for Advent this year: making room where there is no room. I have a whole other person who needs space in our house, in our routine, in our lives. What to do? A fresh, breezy room full of spacious shelves and empty closets is not going to attach itself to our house overnight; and I will not become a flawless, holy, worthy receptacle for my savior, the Christ Child, when He comes. I can barely get through a Hail Mary without driving off the road from the sheer distraction, so what can I do to make some room?

Simcha’s talking about making room for the baby who is about to be born, but I was thinking about just making room for a pregnancy. Finding a way to accommodate the disruption and increased chaos. Simcha is right, I thought, it’s all about making room. It’s so perfect that this is happening at the beginning of Advent.


Even the Hour When Wings Are Frozen

I stood in the kitchen doing the dishes and singing along to one of my favorite Advent songs, People Look East:

1. People, look east. The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

2. Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.

3. Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.

4. Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.

5. Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

And I started to cry a bit. Pregnancy is just that: welcoming a guest for whom there is no room, giving up your own strength to nourish a new life, trying to create a warm spot even when things feel impossibly cold.

I still didn’t see how it would work:

We’ll need a new car– which comes with a new car payment just when we’d paid off the minivan finally. I’ll need to find a new OB and I don’t think I’m going to have much luck. The big group practice I was at last time was a nightmare, but all there is now at the hospital I want are a few more big group practices that I fear will be more of the same. Oh I really don’t want to deal with my doctor anxiety again already.

I’ll have to give up on the small truce with chaos I’ve made and give in even more as my body spends the strength on growing new life instead of tending to the messy ones I’ve already got. What will give? School? Laundry? Let’s face it, if I’m maxed out, then perhaps I’ll have to call for help. Who can help? I don’t know, but maybe God will send someone. Perhaps that’s what he’s calling me to do. Find room, make a space.

Then I glanced at Lucia in her high chair and she beamed at me, waved both hands, called for more food. When I found out she was coming– right after my sister moved back to Texas– I felt lost and bereft. I knew that once I met her face to face I’d love the irreplaceable amazing person she was. But at that time she just seemed like a burden, a sickness I didn’t want to carry, a mess and an interruption. Sure enough, now that she’s here I’m only grateful. I can’t imagine our family without her beaming smile, happy laughs. She’s perfect for us. She’s perfect.

And this season of Advent, I’m being called to stretch myself. To open up a bit more to God’s mess instead of to my plans. To welcome Love, who is always so very Demanding. To die to self and live only for others.

A small miracle occurred the other night. (Was it that same day or the next one, after I cried over the image of bare furrows nourishing a cold seed?) Dinner was winding up and Sophie finished first and ran to get her nightgown on and I was trying to coax her into starting in on the nightly living room toy tidy by herself while the other kids finished their dinners and got their jammies on. She was resisting as usual. Suddenly from out my mouth I heard words that I’d never thought of. Something like this: “How about we skip the part where I start to get frustrated and yell at you? That never seems to work very well. Let’s see if you can get more clean up done with hug power instead of yell power. Do you think if I give you enough hugs you could maybe pick up some stuff?” And it worked. We got the living room picked up and all the kids helped and I stayed calm and many hugs were given and taken. And when they had finished picking up, I served dessert and while they were eating that I vacuumed the living room.

I wish words could convey how weird it was, how those words totally came out of nowhere. How could such a total change from the (admittedly wrongheaded) way I always do it have happened unless it was an act of grace?

Surrender to God and he will do everything for you.

Let go of fear, let go of plans, let go of habits. Make room. Room for new ways of doing and seeing and being. Room for transformation. Did that moment of grace happen because I’d made a little bit of room in my heart for the Christ Child to enter in? Because I’d said a small, humble fiat?

Behold, the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to Thy word.


Prepare We in Our Hearts a Home Where Such a Mighty Guest May Come

Sophie’s getting it this year. She’s noticing the song lyrics to the hymns I sing as I go about the day and then sing again as I tuck her into bed. She likes to comment on them: how the flowers are love growing in our own hearts. Bella is listening to the prophets, noticing Isaiah, noticing echoes in the Bible. Ben is paying attention to the Bible stories for the first time, asking for them, thinking about them.

And I? I’m trying to pray with intentionality rather than worrying about the frequency and kind of prayer. Make every song a moment of encounter, saying the Angelus with attention, trying harder to ask for the grace to get through each day, to make grace the grit between my teeth when I can’t bear it anymore.

I’m still hoping to put off a new baby for quite a while longer. There are all sorts of reasons why right now it’s more prudent to wait than to embrace a new life, not the least that I have had five c-sections in seven years and that in the last one my placenta gave me quite a scare by being about an inch away from implanting on my scar tissue and causing major complications. But I’m trying to let go of fear and be open to new life in other areas. Trying to listen and hear what exactly God is calling me to be open to today.


Yesterday we visited Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey, where Dom’s friend and former coworker, Karla, is a novice. They were having an open house to celebrate the ribbon cutting on their new solar panel farm. It was a lovely chance to see our now-cloistered friend and to hear about her new life, to meet many of her new sisters, to enjoy the famous Benedictine hospitality, to eat chocolate and sip cider, watch a short film on the various kinds of green energy the sisters are using. The solar is on land they have leased to a third party and the energy it produces goes to the town of Franklin, providing 80% of its power; the wind power and geothermal run their candy factory and gift shop, but the abbey itself is old and gets its power off the grid.

Sister Francesca was demonstrating pysanky, egg decorating, saying she’d learned it from her mother who learned it from her mother. She also had beautiful pressed flowers. Another woman, I think she was a lay Benedictine (an oblate?), was making chocolate roses and when she saw Bella was interested she let her make one and then take it home.

One older sister saw Anthony staring at her and grinned at him, “I guess he’s never seen a sister before?” she quipped. Oh no, I explained, he’s actually seen many sisters; but he is shy around new people and tends to stare.

I’m not sure how it fits, but it seemed fitting to use those pictures for this post, to end thinking of myself as a guest, how much I enjoy other people’s hospitality and how very little it takes to set me at ease. One thing I noticed was how very focused they were. Never hurrying, always paying attention to the person they were talking to. How full of joy, happy to have us there, happy to tell us a little about their life, but also wanting to ask us about our family. How much I want to emulate the happy hospitality of the beautiful nuns in my own home, to welcome others with joy and attention and put them at ease. I think that’s not a bad goal for Advent.


Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Melanie, such a beautiful post; like a concerto, so many threads combined. Motherhood really is like this, the extremes of anguish and joy and everything in between. I’ve been sleepless with staring open eyes all night at a pregnancy ‘scare’ and wept bitter tears at the baby that wasn’t conceived. And then there’s the exhaustion to the point of burn-out which lasts for years. My little ones aren’t so little any more and I’m in a new season of opening out. What’s so interesting is that everything I’m now able to do was forged in those intense years. Everything’s being used, everything has proved so valuable. I like the image of needlepoint; we’re on the side of the mass of messy ends of threads and knots, God/other people/history sees the other side of the exquisite picture.
    Your family looks like an exquisite picture to me. Such a beautiful family, home, childhood and education for your children. And visiting your blog is maybe a touch like your visit to the nuns. It’s a place where the language of the heart is spoken and people can be their true selves. Thank you and blessings.

    • Stephanie, yes, I’ve always loved the needlepoint image. Things only look messy because we lack the perspective to see the pattern. I am always so encouraged by mothers who tell me that it does get easier at some point, things “open out” as you say. Thank you.

  • I told my mother over the phone yesterday that one of the things making this season so hard is that I’ve been feeling this way all year–first I couldn’t have a baby and was miserable, and then I was pregnant and miserable, and now I have a newborn and am miserable. “Maybe I’ll be miserable forever,” I said, “even when I get everything I want.”

    The funny thing is, last night while I was dozing with the fussy, squirmy baby on my chest, I kept having the line, “Love, the guest, is on the way” running through my head, and I couldn’t remember if it was a song or where I’d seen it before, though I thought sleepily that it must have been from your blog somewhere. And I hadn’t read this post yet…maybe you posted the same hymn last year?

    I feel like I should have a profound conclusion here, but the baby sounds like he wants me so I should go.

    • I’m sure I must have posted it before. I’m pretty sure I wrote a blog post about the song too, but I can’t find it. Now I’m going to go search the archives because it’s going to bug me till I do find it.

      I do feel sympathy about feeling miserable no matter what. It’s so very hard. *Hugs.*

  • Thank you for sharing this. Beautiful, inspiring, and so human. I thought of Advent too when Simcha wrote that part of her book.

  • Ok, if Anthony is anything like Teresa, he was in your dream because he probably contributed to impending explosion whereas the other children were safely elsewhere playing like little angels and reading classic literature. 🙂
    I haven’t gotten my cycle back yet (seems to be getting later after each baby, but things have definitely been preparing of late) but I sympathize with being relieved. I’d love another baby at some point, but I just don’t feel like I have a routine, or even just a rhythm yet with the way things are now to take the hit that pregnancy would bring. I’m still trying to find it – hence my questions and tweaking about school, chore charts, timing, etc. on Facebook. I’m intentionally starting school a bit later this week (aiming for 8:30, but due to icicles it will be closer to 9 this morning) and seeing how it goes. We still have no Christmas cards and I’m wondering how awful it would be to not do any this year. I threatened Cecilia with not getting our own tree but just “using” my parents’ upstairs and since she liked the idea, I’m wondering if I can get away without doing any tree work myself this year. It makes me sad the idea of not trimming a tree, but I when I think of the energy it would take to do it (I do it with the kids “help” – the Christmas tree isn’t James’ “thing”) all I can think is, “I need to get that done too?” I still have a week or so to decide but I can’t help but wonder if God is trying to give me a break, even if it will be a sad one.
    It is hard to share with some how chaotic my life is at the moment because so many people are so negative about having a large family to begin with or critical of homeschooling at all (hence this comment being on your blog instead of on FB). You get the “I told you so” or “you asked for it” instead of any help, like that useless woman who tried to lecture you in the grocery store.
    I know we do things a little differently, but I’m really sorry this morning that we don’t live next door to each other to share the load and maybe a hug. I’m really, really hoping the Christmas break will help me catch my breath and gain my footing for the new year. I hope Christmas brings both our homes the peace they need and both of us the calm we need.
    (P.S. – I know this probably isn’t an option considering your proximity to Dom’s family and Dom’s awesome job, but have you considered trying to relocate where you might have more help, be closer to other Catholic homeschooling moms, and things might be cheaper? I realize it might not be an option, but I just wondered to what extent it might be feasible? Even just to another Boston suburb where more homeschooling moms are?)
    Prayers for you. 🙂

    • I do think that Anthony was in the dream because he’s the one who most makes me feel explode-y. He’s definitely hitting that terrible three stage now and oh there are no words about how much I hate three. My sweet little helpful boy has suddenly turned into a ball of NO. And the random destruction continues apace. He is definitely most likely to blow up the house.

      I know you’re at the same place I am with the number of kids and ages. I’ve been wondering if things were a little easier for you with all girls, but it sounds like we’re both feeling similar struggles. Though strangely Christmas isn’t giving me much anxiety. It’s the school and housekeeping stuff.

      I wish relocating were an option. The fact is we live here because it is close enough that Dom’s commute is only 20 minutes or so. Anywhere else he would be gone longer and that would stress me even more. Perhaps some day we might be able to move to Texas. But even that might be hard. I don’t think it will be easy to sell this house in this market. And even harder to buy a new one we could afford in Massachusetts.

  • Totally off topic but, if I commented on one of our posts, and someone else commented, I would get an email. I don’t get emails anymore. Can I get them again and if so how? I wished I had known how to do that with my blog but was never so computer savvy.

      • I’m sorry I was unclear. I blame the kids. I get emails when someone (even me!) comments on posts on my blog. I meant that I used to get emails when anyone commented on one of YOUR blog posts after I had commented on it but now I don’t anymore.

        • Oh no, I understood what you meant. I just didn’t word my response well. Do you know if you’ve ever got email notifications since the blog switched to Word Press? I wonder if something happened with that. I just assumed that since I get email notifications whenever anyone leaves a comment that everyone else does too. I’m rather distressed to find out you aren’t getting them. How vexing.

  • Thanks for sharing so openly. I can really relate to this post,having had a pregnancy scare a few weeks ago and the same ambivalence about the relief I felt when it was over. I also thought of the chapter from Simcha’s book about prudently avoiding–how that can be really painful and hard too.

  • So lovely. I’ve always like that song, but never looked at it from the “foreboding” side (bare furrows, frozen nest, and feeling totally inadequate to the task of making my house “fair as I am able” during the season of life which you so accurately describe. And yes, the fear that one is pregnant, followed often enough by the fear–in early months–of suddenly not being pregnant anymore.
    Melanie, it’s really time for you to follow in Simcha’s footsteps and whip some of your best posts into a book. Consider my saying this a sign unto you, and think about it.

    • Thank you, Daria. I thought the moment for a book had arrived a couple of years ago.I was even talking with a publisher and working on a proposal. Then Anthony happened. I realized I couldn’t work on a book while pregnant. (The irony that the proposed book was on morning sickness was not lost on me.)

      So I think there will someday be a book. Though I have no idea what it will be about yet. But not while there are babies and toddlers about. I know my limits.

  • “Make every song a moment of encounter.”

    There’s enough to contemplate in that one exhortation for a whole year, let alone a whole advent, and I want to strive to do so in all of my singing, around the house and outside of it.

  • I love this. It’s a wonderful reminder. I was just thinking the other day about how I used to enjoy being pregnant and expectant during Advent, but how this Advent I have had no holy thoughts and am filled more with anxiety than joy and hope at the coming of our new little guest. We just bought a new used car this summer, and while it has seatbelts for 9, now that my other kids are large, having a carseat squashed between teenagers and a middle schooler in the front between the grown-ups is not appealing. I figure we only have room for a portacrib in our room, not a full size one, and hope the baby won’t outgrow it before it’s time to move again. And I hate that I’m thinking, “At least the oldest will be leaving home in a couple of years and we’ll have more room again.” I don’t want my oldest to leave! And while the messiness and physical exhaustion of homelife with toddlers has abated, the busyness and emotional exhaustion of life with teens and preteens is a whole different kind of craziness. I’m a moody witch lately, primarily because of selfishness. This baby is interrupting what I want to do and how I picture life proceeding, but the reality is that she will be a welcome guest bringing more love into the fold. Love is growing all the time. I keep reminding myself that we are blessed to have our “plans” interrupted by new life, not by sickness or death.

    • Emily,

      As I struggled to come to terms with the idea of a new baby and as I thought about writing about it, I kept thinking of your blog post about the new baby, your anger and surprise and the roller coaster of emotions.

      Though I do wonder if you’re a little hard on yourself about the moodiness. I know my mood is so very closely connected to how I feel. When I’m tired and sleep deprived I am a hundred times more cranky, negative about everything big and small.

  • “Survival mode. Crisis mode. I suppose it doesn’t matter what you call it. What I mean is I feel like I’m constantly on the edge of red, never in the green. Things are never really clean or tidy.”

    Such a thoughtful post.

    Even though my youngest is only 6 months and I am not yet in danger of having pregnancy scares, I feel like I am constantly in crisis mode. On the surface our lives look very different since I have a full time job and two of mine are in the local public school, but I have the same feelings. Like I’m drowning. Like I cannot possibly keep up.

    I have this thought in my mind that if I could just quit my job and stay home, this feeling would past. I would then HAVE TIME!!! The house wouldn’t look like it is about to get lost in the clutter and dirt. I fantasize about what it would be like to be pregnant and not have a job. Would my morning sickness be better? Oh, the luxury of not having my time demanded every single day. The nightly wakings of the baby wouldn’t matter because I could take a nap whenever I wanted.

    But that isn’t real, is it? If I were at home, my other children would still be demanding my time. I know that my fantasy of all the things that would get done would disappear. I know myself and the struggle is still in my head to make the best of it whether I am working or not.

    I once tried to explain my feelings of crisis to my husband by comparing it to the lawn. What if you could only mow the grass once a week and only had time to mow a eighth of the yard at a time? What do you do? This week, you may mow close to the house, but what do you do next week? Do you mow near the house again or choose a different spot? If you only mow near the house, soon the rest of the yard is an overgrown mess. If you rotate around the yard, the area near the house is almost untenable by the time you get back around to it. And no matter what, the grass doesn’t stop growing. It’s just grass, but it feels like it is taking over and you are powerless to stop it.

    He understands that it is all upsetting to me, but he doesn’t feel it himself. The stuff that bothers me just doesn’t bother him. We are actively trying to get me home because I do think I would not be as stressed without a job, but I am also trying hard to not make an idol out of ‘staying home’. What happens when the dog catches the car?

    • I like the lawn analogy.

      It’s true that just being home won’t magically make the chaos disappear. But it might in fact make things a little easier.

      I too have all sorts of fantasies about what would make things totally better so that I HAVE TIME. Right now I’m just clinging to the kids being old enough to really help.