The Secret Society of St Nick

 

We were on our way to Confirmation prep class and our eldest boy, who was thirteen at the time, was talking about Christmas and Santa Claus.  After a bit, I asked him, “Do you still believe in Santa Claus?”

“Yes.” He replied confidently. “Lots of my friends don’t, but there are all kinds of things we don’t see or understand and still believe.”  My heart both sank and leapt at the gentle trust and faith of my son.  “I just tell them they’re wrong, and that it can’t be their parents.”

I reached over in the dark of the car and held his hand.

“Oh no.” He whispered.  “Say it isn’t really…”

“Do you know the story of St Nicholas?” I asked him.  “The real story of the saint?”

“Yeah…kinda…”

“1700 years ago give or take a bit, St Nicholas was a wealthy man who had become a priest, and then a bishop, at a time when it was against the law to be a Christian. He didn’t care what the law was, he loved God and tried to take care of his little corner of the Church as best as he could.  He took the wealth his parents had left him and began giving it away to those members of his flock who needed it.  Remember, Christianity was illegal, so a lot of people suffered terribly.”

“Like they couldn’t get jobs?” My son asked.

“I would assume so.  I can’t imagine the people of that area liking these lawbreakers, could you? So, anyway, the Christian people were being persecuted and many were poor.  There’s a well-known tale of a family that was so poor that the father was having to sell his daughters into slavery because he couldn’t pay his bills and they couldn’t eat.  Can you imagine the sadness of having to sell your children because you had no money?  It’s unbelievable almost, that kind of pain.

Nicholas, the Bishop, heard about this family and wanted to help them, but couldn’t do it where other people could see.  The cops already knew that he was a Christian, they had sent him to jail for it.  If he was seen giving money to someone, they would be exposed as Christians, too.  But Nicholas was clever, and as he walked by their house, he dropped a small bag of coins through the window.  Three times he did this, until the family had enough money to not need to sell their daughters.  One of those times, the coins landed in one of the girls’ shoes which were sitting by the fireplace.”

“Is that where the stockings on the mantle thing comes from?”

“Exactly right.  We know these stories and retell them.  That’s how most traditions begin.  Like St Nicholas.  We don’t actually know what time of year it was when he gave the money to the girls, but we know it was cold-ish or her shoes wouldn’t have been near the fire.

Over the centuries, St Nicholas became more and more loved by people as they heard tales of his goodness and generosity.  Eventually, it became a thing for children to put out shoes on his feast day to see if they could get something good in their shoes, too.”

He sat for a second and thought about it.  “So, how did it end up at Christmas? I know he was a bishop and loved Jesus, but how did we end up with Santa Claus and presents on Christmas Day?”

“I don’t really know the answer to that, but I have a guess.  I’d think it was two things.  The first is that his feast day is in December and close to Christmas.  The second is the Protestants.  They don’t have a love or an understanding of the saints the same way that we do.  They also celebrate Christmas way before it actually arrives.  That all kind of combined to make the Christmas season come before Christmas Day and St Nick got swallowed up into it all.”

“So why do we do it?  Why do Catholics play this game?”

“Because to us it’s not a game.  To us, it’s doing something in memory and in the name of a great and wonderful man.  It’s taking a moment to think about the needs and wants of others and then giving generously in the manner of St Nicholas.  We do it anonymously, and sign his name to the gift tags.  Because, it isn’t about us, it’s about love and kindness.  It’s about taking what we have and sharing what God has given us.  It may not be an actual physical St Nicholas, or Santa Claus, arriving at our homes on Christmas Eve, but it is those of us who love him and follow his example.  In that way, his spirit of unselfish giving lives on along with his great faith and love.”

“So that makes us his followers…like disciples?” He asked me.

“Or elves…” I told him.

He laughed a bit and squeezed my hand.  “It’s kind of like we’re a secret society, The Followers of Nicholas, isn’t it?”

“It is.  Only you know the thing about a secret society is….”

“What happens in Fight Club stays in Fight Club?”

“Cute.  If St Nicholas didn’t tell, then neither should you.”

I waited a few moments before asking him, “I didn’t just kill it for you, did I?  Have I killed the magic for you?”

“No.  It’s not the sparkly magic, but it’s kinda better.  There’s a secret pact of all the people in the world to love each other.  That’s cooler than toy-making elves….Plus it takes away the creepy part of ‘He sees you when you’re sleeping…’

“So, what do you think? Do you still believe in Santa Claus?”

“Absolutely, yes…..even more now than ever before.  Now, I get to be a part of it”

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Opting out of the “National Day of Prosperity”

**I originally wrote this post two years ago, but I think it’s worth dusting off and sharing it again.

 

Last year, two Chinese students joined our family for the week of Thanksgiving. The dorms had been closed for maintenance, and the school pleaded for families to find space for those students unable to travel to their homes for the holiday. Plenty of space and food, and a long tradition of Southern hospitality led to our spending the week with two young men from China.

Our bustling child-filled home was a shock to them. Raised in a world of only children, they were  overwhelmed by the number of children in our house. One of the young men, who goes by the American name David, is an only child without cousins, aunts or uncles. The other, Sean, has an elder sister. It took his parents and grandparents years to raise the $45,000 bribe to gain permission to have a second child. He told us how relieved everyone had been that he was a boy, because their was no way for them to either raise that amount again or gain permission for a third child.

Thanksgiving itself didn’t hold much interest for them. Instead, they focused almost entirely on Black Friday. They scoured ads and compared the advertised deals. They asked me repeatedly where we would be shopping, and were confused when I said that our family doesn’t do Black Friday shopping unless it’s online. We prefer to eat leftovers, watch movies, and lounge around in our pajamas all day Friday.

On Thanksgiving Day, dinner started at two o’clock, but our house-guests were already checking the time long before we had begun to eat. David looked at me nervously and asked if we would be done eating by 4:00, and would we have enough time for me to drive them to Best Buy for their opening time of 5:00. When I told that I’d likely be doing dishes or eating pie at that time, and that we didn’t still didn’t plan shop on Thanksgiving Day itself, he shook his head and ordered an Uber for 4:00. They inhaled their food before dashing out the front door.

I don’t know how many shops they hit between Thursday afternoon and 3:45pm the next day. They came dragging back through the door with tales of all the things they had bought “very much cheap,” and the crowds they had waded through in an orgy of buying. Twenty-three straight hours of shopping,  then they fell into bed, and slept until 10:00 on Saturday morning.

As we got ready to take them back to the dorms on Saturday evening, David asked me, “Your family is not very patriotic?”

I was momentarily surprised, and answered, “We’re very patriotic, David. Why would you ask that?”

“You didn’t participate in the celebrations.”

It seems that our foreign guests totally misunderstood the holiday that week. In their minds, the real festival had been Black Friday. They saw Americans celebrating our national wealth and abundance with an all-night shopping spreethat saw stores open for 24 hours straight and hoards lined up to take part. They saw the news stories and media reports as further proof that Black Friday was about showing how well our government runs our economy in a massive propaganda scheme.

What about the Thanksgiving dinner, I asked him.

That was the cleverness of Americans, he explained to me. We have a day of gorging ourselves on food on Thursday so that we had the strength to make it through the shopping frenzy to come.

These men who had each lived in America for over six months, who had studied American culture for years, and worked hard to prepare themselves for the holiday spent at my house, never got the message from our culture that the whole point of Thanksgiving was thankfulness and gratitude. Sadly, I don’t think we were able to counteract any of what they had seen. Thanksgiving, which was meant to be a day for counting our blessings and our gratitude for what we have, has been overshadowed by an annual rampage of greed. When foreigners can’t be convinced that it’s anything other than a nation-wide shopping binge, maybe it’s time for us to reexamine who we are as a people.

There have been years when Black Friday was a game that we chose to play, but as it crept backwards into Thanksgiving itself, we decided to no longer take part. We consciously  chose to forgo the pursuit of bargain priced Christmas presents in favor of appreciating the people and gifts we already have.

While we don’t judge those who choose to go out in the wee hours of Friday morning, it’s not something we want to be a part of. Our un-patriotic selves will be drinking hot chocolate and staying in our pajamas until it’s time for Mass on Sunday morning.

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The Wine Fairy

To call the last week rough would be an understatement. Ella’s arthritis flared in a whole new set of joints, the baby got the stomach virus that never ends, it won’t freaking quit raining and the kids are making me insane, plus a thousand other things I’m sure I’ve forgotten. I was hanging in there, but running on fumes.

Tuesday morning, I got ready to dash out the front door for a school run in the pouring rain when I spotted a bottle of wine sitting on my front porch.

I thanked the “wine fairy” on social media, and smiled all morning at the thoughtfulness of some unknown someone in my neighborhood. (Yes, I know who it is now. No, I’m not telling. The Wine Fairy wishes to remain anonymous.)

Throughout the morning, people left comments about how lucky I was to live in a place with such a thoughtful neighbor, and how they wished a Wine Fairy lived near them. They wished for people to be generous in their own lives, and for a community where you didn’t just know the names of the people living nearby, but enough about their lives to know that they really could use a bottle of wine right about now. I agree with them that it’s pretty cool. I do live with some amazingly kind and generous people nearby.

What I noticed on all of those social media platforms was that not a single person said “out loud, “Oh my gosh, I could BE the Wine Fairy!” Nobody commented in public about the challenge to reach out to the people around them and truly get to know them. Nobody seemed to get that for there to be a Wine Fairy, someone has to BE the Wine Fairy.

Communities don’t just happen. It’s not accidental that neighborhoods exist where people know each other and try to lift each other up. It exists because someone started it. Generosity and compassion are contagious, and it just takes one person to get it all going. Which means that you, too, can live in a neighborhood like mine. You can live in a place where people know each other by more than the car they drive or the dogs we hear barking when they get let outside.

There are people living in the houses all around you. Interesting people. Funny people. Kind people. (And some unfunny, boring ones too.) There are people who are just aching for community hiding right behind those doors, and you could be the one who sets the whole thing in motion. There’s nothing stopping you from being the anonymous generosity of wine, chocolate, flowers, kind notes, balloons, or anything else you can imagine. Don’t be afraid. Don’t second guess. Don’t sit around waiting for the generosity to come and find you. Go out and BE the generosity and compassion in your neighborhood, and I’ll bet that you’ll be surprised at all the ways it comes back to you.

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Coming Home to a Yellow House

I fell in love with the yellow house the first time I saw it online. I’d been scrolling through house listings and dreaming of moving out of the house I’d come to hate living in. The brick box where we’d lived for the past seven years was a house of tragedy for our family. Horrible things had befallen us there, and the weight of those memories sat heavily upon our family, but the financial reality of years with a chronically ill child meant that moving seemed unlikely. So I looked at house listings online and dreamed of the day when we wouldn’t have to live there any longer.

I stumbled upon the yellow house, whether by accident or providence, I don’t know. Its cheerful facade and historic architecture charmed me long before I saw the interior. I teared up as I slowly flipped through the online pictures – here was home. I knew it instinctively. This was my home and it was months before we would be ready to buy it.

I sent the listing to a realtor friend of mine and begged her to tell me that I was crazy to fall in love with a hundred year old house in a tiny town I’d never even known existed. She didn’t call me crazy, instead she said, “I think we should go see it.” So we did. It ticked all of our “impossible to fulfill” needs: five or more bedrooms, huge yard (half an acre,) handicapped accessible downstairs including a bedroom and bathroom for Ella, charm, and walls. I was done with dreadful open concept houses with their lack of alone time and noises that carry all the way through them.

We first saw it in person way back in June, and again I knew with a certainty that it was home. “Maybe it will still be on the market in a few months,” I said without much hope. The housing market is crazy here, with houses often selling in a few hours, for it to linger unsold for months seemed unlikely. I wasn’t surprised a few weeks later when the online listing changed to “Sale Pending.”

“I really thought it was the one,” I told my realtor friend. She shrugged and began sending me other possibilities, advising me to keep an open mind. We worked on securing financing, and she worked on finding us a home that would fit our timeline.

As time ticked by, we settled on a house a few miles from where we were living – smaller and more modern that we wanted, but accessible and with a huge yard. We made an offer and things were looking good. We started to pack and plan. I was arranging furniture in my head, and preparing to move. We gave notice to our land lady for the end of August, and thought everything was done. When our deal fell through in mid July, we began to panic. We suddenly had nowhere to go and were running out of time.

Suddenly THE house was back on the market. It had fallen out of contract and was once again available. That’s when I began praying in earnest, and things began moving at breakneck speed.

First I told the whole sordid tale to a dear friend. It turns out that her sister in law works in the mortgage business. She put her people to work, and figured out what to do with us in less than a day. “You just need to find a house,” she told us. That was the easy part, and by the end of the day we were under contract. By the end of the week, our mortgage paperwork was done and we were staring at the email informing us that we were “Clear to Close.” Five days later, we sat at the title company signing the paperwork which made the sweet yellow house on a quiet street in a tiny town ours.

The next day we began moving in, and the whole neighborhood turned out to help. Teenage boys pulled things off of our U Haul truck and the ladies from around the corner dropped off a cooler of drinks while we unloaded in 103° heat. Neighbors from up and down the block stopped by to introduce themselves and welcome us home.

Nine days later and before the boxes are all unpacked, it really is home, just as I knew it would be six months earlier when I first sighed over the front porch with the welcoming front door. Only now it’s our front door, and the family that lives here is ours.

from our front door looking in

 

 

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An IQ Too Low to Be Taught, A Student Too Smart to Believe That

The public schools tested his IQ the year that he was a student there. A third grader who seemed to struggle with most tasks, he was labeled as having “Severe Learning Disabilities – Unspecified,” and his IQ test score was so low that he spent most of his day in the Special Ed room working one on one with teachers and tutors. And he still made no progress.

I had reluctantly enrolled him in our local school that year after crying “uncle” at my own inability to teach him. We had spent two solid years on first grade math, and he was still unable to do even the most basic addition problems. Reading was torturous for both of us as he memorized what he was reading, letter by letter, and then would attempt to sound them out in his head. He never got far beyond two letter words.  I could see how the schools would arrive at the conclusion that his IQ was so incredibly low. Except I knew that it wasn’t.

This boy of ours might not be able to do any of the tasks he was assigned for school, but when it came to costumes and make-believe, he was a creative genius. In his head was an encyclopedic catalog of every item of clothing in our house, and he had no problem with raiding our dressers and closets in order to become the characters in his imagination.

When an acquaintance recommended an eye specialist test him, we really didn’t have anything to lose. He’d been to an eye doctor before, and had 20/20 vision, but the specialist saw something else. Our son had Convergence Insufficiency – his eyes didn’t work together which gave him double and triple vision. On top of that, he was dyslexic. Imagine, the doctor said, trying to read something when there are three of every letter that overlap and also turn in odd and unpredictable ways, and for added fun, those letters all vibrate until they blur. How would you read?

Well, you wouldn’t. And neither could he.

He made no measurable progress that year he was in the public school. The special education teacher cried at our parent-teacher meeting at the end of the year as she told me how she had failed our son. I decided that I couldn’t do worse than failure, and brought him back home for school the next year.

That year, I took a radically different approach, and began teaching him as though he were blind. All of his books were audio books, and his tests were verbal. He dictated papers and assignments, and I typed them. His work wasn’t brilliant, he was a solid C- student, but we didn’t need brilliance, only progress. We began taking him to a vision therapist, and he began slowly learning to read. Today, he can read and do well enough at math, but it has never become easy for him.

This morning, as I drove him to work, the young man who once was labeled at too mentally disabled to be taught, told me that he’s been studying politics. “People at work were talking about Trump and about all kinds of stuff, so I thought I should know what they were talking about.”

He listened to a few podcasts, but they were too long and hard for him to follow at first, so he turned to YouTube. He looked initially for priests or religious people to explain the Catholic perspective, and then searched for people who seemed reasonable on both sides of issues, so that he could figure out what he agreed with. Then, once he’d chosen a point of view, he watched videos of people who explained the positions in greater depth so that he made sure to understand it. Sometimes, he said, the greater detail solidified his opinions, and other times it made him change his position completely.

He’s moving on to new subjects now – religion and history for now, learning through YouTube and other videos online. He’s determined to find answers to his questions, and to know what people are talking about, even if he’s a quiet guy who doesn’t say very much himself.

When we first started homeschooling, we said that our goal wasn’t to have our children memorize and be able to regurgitate facts and numbers, but to have them understand those things, and most importantly, know how to go and find those things for themselves. Our goal, we said, was to teach our children how to learn. This morning, my formerly “unteachable” son reminded me of that.

 

 

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Searching for The Life We Want to Live

Sometimes it seems as though every few years we’re looking at moving -if it’s an even number year, we’re looking at houses. And so it is this year that we’re once again looking at listings and figuring out what we can afford. We’re also trying to figure out what kind of community we want to live in. While many of our friends are sending their babies off to college and downsizing, we still have babies at home, and are caught up in the never-ending conversation of where we want to raise our family. Because we’re still raising family.

This summer is no different, and our traditional “maybe we should move” house search is underway. As always, wheelchair friendly is at the top of our list, followed closely by a big yard, and walls. You’d think walls would be a given in a house, but apparently not. Have you seen how open open-concepts can be? Why don’t people like walls any more? I need space away from the people in this house.

But mostly we want a house in a place where kids still get a childhood, if places like that still exist outside of memory and imagination. The kids who live in this part of the world don’t have childhoods as much as they have jobs, and that job is “get into college” and “get a scholarship.”

There are very few children here who have the luxury of unscheduled time. They all have bikes and scooters, but not the time to ride them. They live in neighborhoods with playgrounds, but aren’t home to use them.

Instead, they’re at practice. It doesn’t matter what kind – soccer, volleyball, baseball, piano, ballet. Lessons and classes eat up their summer days and school year afternoons. Their parents admit the craziness with an apologetic shrug of the shoulders before returning once again to their day planners and digital calendars, carefully orchestrating the dropping off and picking up of their super stars-in-the-making.

It’s a dizzying merry-go-round that never stops, and I want to get off and bring my family with me.

It’s not that I don’t want my children to play sports or have hobbies, because I absolutely do.  But I want them to play them. My children are not great athletes. They are unlikely to become great athletes. (Ella aside, but her life is weird already.) They are not going to be professional dancers or basketball players. And I’m okay with that. In fact, I love that about them. I love that they aren’t amazing at the sports they play, but they play them anyway. Not for the scholarships or accolades that may come from them, but because they just like to play them. Because I want my children to grow up knowing that it’s okay to do things your just okay at, that they don’t have to be the best at everything they do in order to do it, and that the things you love don’t have to eat up your life.

Balance. I think that’s what we’re looking for. Balance and sanity. And I think we may have to move way out to a small town to find it. Far, far away from the hyper-competitiveness of big city suburbs, in speed of life if not in actual miles.

We have spent years building a life here in our little corner of Texas, but as our town has grown (doubled in size in five years) the pressures on children and families to live up to impossible standards has grown with it. The wealthier and more upwardly mobile the community, the more insane the standards seem to become. And so we’ve built a life, but I’m not sure it’s one that we want to live. Because it doesn’t actually seem like living at all.

We want to live somewhere where children play because it’s fun, where being on the team doesn’t cost the equivalent of a mortgage payment, where games are friendly and traveling is not required, where kids ride their bikes in the afternoons and chase lightning bugs in the evenings. Those places still exist, don’t they? That’s where we want to plant our roots and raise our family – in a place where childhood is lived and not merely a whistle-stop on the way up the career and social  ladders.

photo credit: By Aleckoh [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

 

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All Grown Up and Suddenly Gone

When our eldest son was born, he was the tiniest baby I had ever seen. He was born ten weeks early, and at nineteen inches long and just over three pounds, there were dolls at our house that were bigger and heavier than he was.

It was two weeks before we were allowed to hold him. The nurse tenderly lifted him from the open warmer that was his first bed, careful not to tangle the forest of tubes and wires hanging from his tiny body, and laid him on the bare skin of my chest. His fingers splayed open against my skin, and I ran my finger gratefully over his delicate hand, almost afraid to touch him. Finally allowed to feel the weight of him, I swore to keep him safe and close and never let him go.

But tiny babies don’t last. They grow up in the blink of an eye, and before I realized it had happened, he was a man.

This week he made the decision not to stay at home for his first year of college, as we had been planning. He’s moving four hours away to go to school, and is planning to move by the end of the month. Suddenly and unexpectedly, eighteen years of raising him is in its last few weeks.

He was such a hard baby. Six weeks in the NICU left him uncomfortable with being touched. He screamed and pushed away from us whenever we snuggled him close. He hated the world, screaming in anger and frustration at everyone. We joked that we could tell him ‘no’ or amputate his leg with a butter knife and we would get the same response. Being his mom was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

His boyhood room was bare and simple, not because we didn’t try to decorate it, but because his temper tantrums sent him on a path of destruction that ripped pictures from the wall and flipped over his bed and nigh stand as he raged against the world. We would wrap him in our arms and try to calm the storms that raged inside of him, and most of the time we couldn’t.

We spent many hours in exhausted tears, unsure of how to help the son we loved but often struggled to like.

Puberty hit him like an answer to prayer, and the angry boy gave way to a quiet and funny young man. The son we had despaired over became a person we genuinely liked. He let us into the world of his imagination, and we discovered who he really was inside. He told us about the frustrations of his early years, the inner struggles he’d raged against, and how he’d finally begun to find peace within himself.

He is funny and witty. Shy and finding his way.

He’s the kid who belts out Disney songs with all of his might, and is my front seat dance partner when we’re driving in the car. He snorts when he laughs, and that makes him laugh even harder.

We have learned to play and find joy in each other’s company, and he often actually chooses to hang out with his uncool Mom. I like him. So very much. At last.

And he’s leaving.

I know that this is probably what’s best for him, and that we never intended for our children to live with us forever. I just didn’t know that the future was going to hit us so soon. I can’t imagine what our house will feel like without his crowing laughter wafting down from upstairs, or how dinnertime will be without him in his usual place at our table.

We have just two weeks before our house changes from where he lives into a place that he comes to visit. We can’t keep hold of our children forever; I just didn’t expect that the time to let him go was going to come so soon.

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Do You Know About The Lady in Blue?

I don’t know how I managed to live a huge chunk of my life in Texas, and manage to never hear the story of the Lady in Blue. I’ve made the obligatory annual pilgrimages with my children to take photographs in the bluebonnets, and yet never knew the legendary and distinctly Catholic reason behind their bonnet-like shape.

In and around the 1620s, a young woman wearing the blue habit of the Poor Clares appeared to the Jumano tribes in what is now West Texas. She spoke to them in their own dialects, and taught them extensively about Jesus Christ and the faith of the Catholic Church.

When Spanish traders and missionaries crossed paths with these nomadic people, the Jumanos spoke lovingly of their Blue Lady, and asked Fray Alonzo de Benavides, father-custodian of New Mexico (he was in charge of the Church for the entire territory of New Spain that stretched from Texas to California) to set up a mission and send them a priest.

The Jumanos described with great detail the habit of a Poor Clare nun. The only problem with that was that the nearest convent belonging to the cloistered order was back in Spain. Who, then, was this mysterious woman who was wandering around the American Southwest evangelizing the native peoples with such success?

The more Fray Benavides looked into the mystery, the larger it grew. Not only was The Blue Lady appearing to people in West Texas, she was visiting native peoples across a huge territory – from East Texas forests to the Rio Grande Valley and all the way out to what is now New Mexico. Not only was she covering an insane amount of territory, but she was crossing rivers and harsh terrain alone, and speaking to every tribe she encountered in their native tongues. How was such a thing possible? Yet, as the reports came in of over 500 separate accounts of personal encounters with this Poor Clare, Fray Benavides became convinced that as unlikely as it was, there must be something to it all.

Fray Benavides began blanketing Spain with letters asking for any information that could lead him to the Lady in Blue. At last, one of his letters reached a priest near the Spanish town of Agreda. The good father went to the local convent and asked if anyone knew of the nun who was bringing the Good News of Christ to the American Southwest. The Mother Superior, Sor Maria de Jesus, said calmly “Yes. I’m the one.”

In 1631, Fray Benavides heard about Sor Maria and traveled to Spain to question her. She accurately described to him the people and terrain of his territory with astonishing accuracy and detail. This cloistered nun, who had never left the convent in Agreda, Spain since taking her vows in 1619, had somehow also been teaching and preaching all over Texas.

The story of Sor Maria is one of bilocation, the ability to be in two places at the same time. The most well known bilocator is Saint Padre Pio, but the people of West Texas and the Poor Clares of Spain are certain that this gift was also granted to Sor Maria de Jesus de Agreda in the 17th century, and her writings back it up. She knew things about the people literally on the other side of the world that she simply could not have known unless she had seen them herself.

The Jumano people who are still around San Angelo, Texas say that the bluebonnet was a consolation given to the people of Texas at the time of The Blue Lady’s death. The bluebonnet’s distinctive hat shape and vivid blue color look very much like the one Maria de Jesus de Agreda wore as a part of her habit, and serves as a reminder of the woman who led over 2,000 of their ancestors to Baptism in the Catholic Church.

 

 

A memorial statue of The Lady in Blue will be unveiled in San Angelo, Texas the weekend of May 18, 2018

If you make it over to Spain, Sr Maria de Jesus’s incorrupt remains are in the chapel of her convent in Agreda

Maria de Jesus de Agreda

photo credits:

“Bluebonnets” By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters (Texas bluebonnetsUploaded by Dolovis) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Maria” via Pinterest

 

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All He Wanted Was Us

Our son turned eleven this week. I started blogging way back when he was only a twinkle in his Daddy’s eye, and now he’s grown up and eleven.

The boy I once wrote was “happiness just out and walking around” has become quieter and deeper. He’s become a lover of history and a voracious reader. He lives in a world which sometimes seems to have conspired to wipe the shiny happiness off of him, and somehow he has managed to hang onto his delight in other people, his gentle and generous heart, and an immense compassion. He is my child that the world has forgotten how to see.

On Tuesday, I asked him how he’d like to celebrate his birthday. In a perfect world where we could do anything, what would he want to do? I readied myself for another trip to the aviation museum or a flock of boys invading our house, but I was wrong.

“Can we just stay home?” He asked me. “Can we please just have a day where no one has to go anywhere or any chores to do? Can we just stay in our house and be in the same place together? Can it be just us and no one come over?”

And so we did.

We skipped gym classes and ballet lessons. I canceled my grocery store run and made do with what we had on hand. I parked the car in our driveway, and it didn’t move all day except to pick up his siblings from school. We had a day of stillness, and it was a gift to us all.

He spent a sizable chunk of the day in his room rereading the final Michael Vey book. I sent his sister upstairs to ask him what he wanted us to do while he read, and he sent back the reply, “Whatever you want. I just like knowing that you’re all here.”

It’s two days later, and I’m still thinking about his birthday, and how different his childhood is from my own. When I was a girl, the days stretched around me, unhurried and uncomplicated. I played sports and was involved in all kinds of activities, but they never seemed to consume my family’s life. Our home was was more than just the place where we changed clothes and shoes and eventually collapsed exhausted and wrung out into our beds. Our home was a place where we lived.

My children don’t have that life. We seem to be always on the run from one activity, practice, or class to another. It’s pretty rare for all of us to be home at the same time until it’s almost bedtime. It’s the way that most of us live these days, and I can’t help but feel that it’s wrong.

It shouldn’t be a treat to have a quiet day at home. It shouldn’t take a special occasion for family members who live together to be under the same roof at the same time. Somewhere along the way, our lives have spun out of our control in a blur of rush and busy-ness. And there is no time for quiet, or peace, or family. There is only the swirling undertow pulling us always faster.

My son gave me a gift on his birthday. He asked for his family, and showed me quite clearly that it had gotten lost along the path of obligations. I don’t know how we will remedy the mess we have allowed to grow, but I have a few ideas, and they all start with the word ‘No.’

 

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What happens after

I’m sitting here looking at pictures of bridal bouquets and trying to decide about the wording of wedding announcements. With one short conversation over IM, our wedding planning went from slow and leisurely to fast forward speed. Our daughter and her love have set a wedding date at last, and it’s one month from now. ONE MONTH!

Fortunately, they have declared the theme of this wedding to be “simple and easy,” and have only invited 40-ish people to share their day with them. (22 of those people are their immediate families.)We don’t have time for custom anything.    There’s not a lot of time for people to get their feelings hurt or for this to blossom into a nuptial extravaganza.

My husband and I have been put in charge of her flowers (the only flowers they will have besides the spring flowers growing at their venue,) the wedding cake (100 cupcakes from her favorite bakery,) and the announcements to be sent out later. It’s not a lot to focus on right now, but I’m throwing myself into this tiny to-do list with enthusiasm.

I used to wonder how mothers-of-the-bride could so completely take over their daughters’ weddings, but right about now, I wish we had a big wedding for me to micro-manage. I’m wishing for tiny details and feats of daring-do. I can’t help but think how nice it would be to have all of that minutiae to pour my energy into so that I didn’t have to look to what happens after their wedding day.

Because after they’re married, she leaves.

Her fiance is about to be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Army, and she’s going to be a military wife. We’re waiting for his orders to arrive any day now, but we already know that there aren’t any Army bases anywhere near us. I don’t know if y’all realize this, but “not anywhere near us” is kind of far away.

I’m not ready for her to go.

She’s 21 now, and we’d made it past the teenage years when we weren’t so sure that we were going to end up liking each other. Then suddenly, we liked each other again, and then it seemed like maybe were were going to get to be mother/daughter and maybe friends.

I was getting used to seeing her smiling face around here again, and it was pretty great.

But there’s this boy….okay, he’s actually become a man…which is weird because he’s been her friend since she was 12 or 13. He was this nerdy goof, and next thing we knew they were adults and he was becoming a part of our family. (He might need a prayer or three, if I’m absolutely honest.)

We were planning a wedding!!! And it was fun and hopeful and then it hit me…

she’s leaving.

We raised her for this, of course. There was no time in her life that we wanted her to be thirty, single, and still living at home. We wanted her to grow up, fall in love, get married, and build her own wonderful and exciting life.

She’s doing exactly what she’s supposed to be doing. She’s a great person, and we are beyond proud….

but it’s hard to watch her go.

Which is why we need a WEDDING!!!!

Or at least I do. I need the distraction. I need a big wedding, and to be the nightmare Mother of the Bride. I need to obsess about pointless details like the stitching on the napkins and whether or not the florist’s centerpieces are the exact perfect shades of blush and bashful! I need to expend all of this emotion in a whirlwind of busy-ness.

Anything to avoid thinking about what happens after the wedding.

Because I’m just not ready to think about that today.

 

photo sourse? Pinterest

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