The Lent when I gave up more than expected

Lent 2016 began on February 10.

On February 11, 2016, Mark sent another query letter to another job opening across the country from our home. It was no big deal. We had done this hundreds of times before. Usually, we heard nothing back.

To us, these two things had nothing to do with each other. The timing was an accident – I didn’t even notice it. But the coincidence later came to hold a permanent significance to me.

You see, I didn’t intend to give up anything for Lent last year. It was my very first serious Lent, and I wasn’t fully Catholic yet. I was still a Candidate.

I thought (with some justification) that my life in general was, at that time, penitential to a degree that I just wasn’t sure I could keep it together if it got any harder. So, I changed our family “fun jar” (where anyone can contribute their pennies and the savings can be spent on a fun outing) to a “giving jar,” I committed to pray the Morning Offering daily, and I obeyed the Friday abstinence (which I do year-round anyway). And that was it.

I had no way of knowing what Lent would really be like for me as a Candidate. That job application, for all its importance, was only part of the story of my first Lent.

The road into the Catholic Church is a long, beautiful, and sometimes painful one. At the beginning, I really didn’t understand why it had to take so long. But I found that there are some things that one can’t learn in a book, or by pulling a late night on Google (no, seriously). Some paths simply must be walked, even especially when we don’t understand, when we can’t see.  There were certain things that had to happen during Lent, for me. They were hard things, but also things that turned my heart more firmly toward Christ.

One, I needed to make my first Confession. This was a deeply difficult experience for me, which I have written more about here. In Confession, I gave uConfessional-780028p my pride. My appearance of having it all (or maybe any of it) together. I also gave up my fear – fear of judgement, of rejection. I had been rejected before, in a church where I thought I was safely at home. It was doubly tough to then bare my soul with the ruthless honesty required to make a good confession, and it took me a long time afterward to relax and believe that it was really going to be okay. (But it was, more than okay. Confession is awesome, guys, I don’t know how I lived without it).

Second, during Lent, I came to really embrace the Catholic attitude toward the Magisterium of the church. I had been Reformed, a child of Luther and Calvin, for a long time. As a passionate adherent to Sola Scriptura, what I believed had had to come down to my own interpretation of the Bible. I could be advised, informed, inspired by the church and by the great (protestant) theologians, but I couldn’t trust them. I could only, in the end, trust my own study, my own judgement of what the Bible taught. (That got me in plenty trouble.) As a Catholic, I am no longer the final authority on what the Bible is saying on any given topic. Just because it’s clear to me, doesn’t make it so. (And if “clear to me” was the same as “clear,” we wouldn’t have so many denominations.) That’s remarkably freeing, a weight of misplaced responsibility lifted – but it’s humbling, too.

Finally, during Lent, I came to something of a breaking point in my personal life. Our steady downward financial spiral and our long, fruitless job search were a torment to me. It’s seriously humiliating to have a lot of kids and be in financial trouble. It’s terrifying and all-around stressful. I spent most of my “free” time either filling out job applications, researching academic job search strategies, or finding creative ways to juggle our finances so nothing got shut off that month.

For years, I had prayed and hoped and worked for and agonized over financial stability as an obvious good – which of course it is. But not every obvious good is given to every person. This one certainly had eluded us, in spite of our neverending efforts to pull ourselves out of our mess.

As it happened, that query letter that Mark sent out on February 11 got answered, which meant we were now ready for the nail-biting joy of Skype interviews. We had had several very near misses in Mark’s job search in previous years, sometimes making it to the very final round of interviews. My prayers over those were always variations on a theme: “Please, we need this job. Please, give us the opportunity to fully provide for ourselves. Allow us the dignity of a job that pays our bills. Allow us rest from this trial.” And sometimes, when the rejection letters came, they felt like rejection letters from God Himself. I knew it wasn’t so, in my head, but I couldn’t change how I felt. The stress was unbelievable.

This was how I came, one day during Lent, during the weeks of interviews, to a broken moment of prayer, crumpled in a heap on the bathroom floor (where else can a busy mom pray?). I could no longer hold onto the hopes and dreams for our future and family that had driven me for so long. I had a death grip on my idea of the way my life ought to go, and too many of my prayers had been little more than one long, loud tantrum that it wasn’t turning out that way.

This time was different. This time, the spirit of Lent took hold of my tired heart. In that moment of prayer, I gave up those dreams for Lent. I gave up my own hopes, goals, and plans for my life and for our family. I gave up wanting what I wanted, and asked for the heart to want what God wanted, instead- even if what He wanted was for us to remain trapped in a hole that was growing ever deeper. Not just to accept it – but to want it – because what I really want is God, and for God to draw my soul nearer to him. If the best way to do that is by this or that grim trial, then I can know that what I am getting is precisely what I really wanted all along.

In that moment, I understood. For my first Lent, I had to give up myself.

After that, I was ready for Easter. I talk about that a lot more in my Reflection After the Easter Vigil.

And in a truly poetic turn, Mark got that job. Our job search and our church transition came to completion at about the same time, around that Easter of 2016.

I haven’t fully worked out yet how we will observe Lent 2017, but I will always remember my first Lent. The spirit of that season, of laying down our wordly loads and loves, and turning our hearts and lives toward the cross, dwells in the Church and in the lives of her people, of which I am privileged to be a part.

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Sweet Little Ones

{SQT} Homeschool changes, kid stuff, and general commotion


Whoa, it’s been busy around here. We had a good Christmas with lots of family, and we’ve been hard at work with school. This school year has easily been our toughest ever. We have had, all at once:

Merry belated Christmas!
  • The move in the summer, including buying a house, consuming 100% of my time that I needed for preparation.
  • Needed curriculum changes from our Catholic conversion.
  • The kiddos moving into a bit of a new phase where I now have 4 grade schoolers and 2 high schoolers.
  • The two littlest ones, ages 1 and 3, are both very high maintenance children, far more than most of my other ones were at those ages. The two of them are quite a team, and leave me feeling like a rookie as often as not.
  • Other significant life stressors cropped up in the past year, too, and my heart is tired. You know, because a major faith transition coupled with a midlife career change and moving a family of 10 to a completely new place within one year isn’t enough. I guess. Apparently.

It’s been the first year where I really thought we might just hang it up and send them to public school. It was definitely on the table, for a while, and that’s not something I’ve thought twice about since we decided to homeschool an adorable 5 year old Erin, 12 years ago. But, if all I can do is run around throwing worksheets at people with a shrieking toddler wrapped around my head, well, that’s not going to cut it.


But, before we quit, I wanted to try changing some things around. Sometimes that’s all you need, really, is just a new approach. Since I was getting worn out trying to keep up with all the separate coursework (plus two crazy monkeys), I decided to try some unit studies. I had done this once before when Erin and Anna were little, but neither of them enjoyed it much. They didn’t like the hands on, lapbooking type stuff, so I ditched it.

But, new times. New kids, and it turns out purchased unit studies have been a fabulous breath of fresh air. Less prep for me, since it’s all put together already, with good ideas for the projects and field trips that are so hard for me to think of when I can’t find time to visit the bathroom or throw in a load of laundry. This batch of grade-schoolers loves the lapbooking. So, we’re interspersing week-and month-long studies as a supplement to our foundational coursework.

making pizzas

We’re getting a lot more done and enjoying it more. We even took a school tour of Pizza Hut and got two free pizzas out of it, so clearly it’s a win.

So now, I’m optimistic we can carry on. It’s a relief, because I was worried about laying still more life changes on all of us.


The running…oh. That. It’s cold out there, you know? So I do kettlebell. (Sometimes). I love me some kettlebell. 10 minutes, 200 calories. Done.

The kids even get into it, now. I happened on a 3lb bell at a thrift store a while back, and now my 3 year old is perfecting her swing.


The kids are settling in a bit. Rebecca is doing well at dance, and has been invited to be on the Oireachtas team for this year. It’s pronounced oh-ROCK-tus, and it’s a regional competition that will be in Florida this coming December. She’s super excited. Becca has a lot of goals, and one is to go to the World Championship in Ireland someday. Who knows? If Becca can give me an excuse to fund raise for a trip to Ireland, well, hmm. I’m good with that.scouts

We’ve also started the boys in Cub Scouts. They are adorable in their uniforms, but I know nothing about scouting, or about most of the things that scouts do (which is one reason I wanted them in scouts. Right?).  Their poor leader has to talk me through everything. My hand has almost healed from helping them make Pinewood Derby cars a couple weeks ago, though, so that’s something.

And, to my complete shock, my three year old has forgotten Utah. She no longer recognizes photos of our house there, or her old room. She remembers people, friends and neighbors, but not the place.

Also, Becca is going to be an altar server. I’m happy that she can do that, both for its own sake and also as a good place to find some friends her age in the church.


We got a dog! Memargo and beccaet Margo. She’s a Great Pyrenees/Labrador mix obtained from a rescue up in Virginia. She is our second try – the first dog we brought home from the shelter sadly had to go right back the next day, after it became clear that he had an incurable taste for cat. He was a sweetie otherwise, but I do like our cats an awful lot.

Margo is another story. She is so much fun and has fit right in, and after a chilly start with the cats has become best buddies with Rhys. Erin, who has wanted a dog pretty much forever, still can’t quite believe she’s here.


Tim me

Timothy isn’t really a baby anymore. He’s a tempestuous, insanely lovable and lovably insane toddler, now. The whole house has been claimed by him – most especially anything I am eating. And the stove timer, which no one can figure out why it makes him so angry. When it goes off, he becomes enraged and yells “NO! My timer! Mine!!”


While Emily has forgotten Utah, I have not. We have moved to a good place, with good people and good opportunities, and I’m grateful. But leaving Utah behind left a deeper hole in my heart than I expected. I’m finding life to be that way, the last few years. We’ve left much behind, both physically and metaphorically, and life is different than it was in so many ways.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams, and forget to live,” said Albus Dumbledore. It seems strange now, but I never realized how much that can apply to dreams of the past as well as dreams of the future. It’s always been a priority for me not to waste what I have for want of what I lack. In the past, what I lacked was stability, prosperity, plans for the future beyond getting that much-needed job. But we lived there, and made a life there, and a darn good one.

my favorite view
View from our old dining room window.

I’m determined to do that here, too. To roll who I was into who I am, and be present, and live here. Utah and its breathtaking beauty and its kind, generous, and hardworking people are stamped on my heart, as is Pennsylvania where I grew up. Starting over is hard, but I won’t waste this stretch of my life gazing back at the last one. Even if I have been very busy framing old pictures to hang up around the house.

For more Quick Takes, visit Kelly at This Ain’t The Lyceum.

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