Friday, 29 March 2013

Easter: Suffering & Hope



Easter is my favourite holiday. When I was a kid I loved it for the trip to my Grandparents in Abbotsford -- the Easter-egg dyeing and basket-making and house full of 20 or more people and the delicious Mennonite food. When I became Catholic I grew to love it even more, for all of Holy Week, especially the Triduum culminating in the Easter Vigil. And, since I have been with David, I have loved it as the one holiday that we’ve been able to spend together and make our own. Needless to say, this year I was looking forward to having our first Easter with Walter. And then the shit (quite literally) hit the fan (or at least the baby) and, along with all the other chaos that is our life right now, put an end to my hopes for a normal Easter.

Walter and I both caught the flu again. We’re pretty sure we got it from David, who probably initially got it from us when we arrived. So Holy Week has been full of doctor visits, a threatened trip to the hospital (thankfully we didn’t need to go that route), and now a baby & mummy who are likely both on the mend but, at least in the case of the baby, going through numerous changes of clothing each day as no diaper seems able to cope with the disgusting leaky eruptions of baby diarrhea. We were told it should clear up in a few weeks, but we’re praying it clears up a bit faster. It’s especially frustrating since he was almost back to normal after his last flu.

Needless to say, getting to church this week has been impossible. Getting to confession, which I’ve been trying to do for over two months, has also proved impossible (mostly due to illness). In all the scenarios in which I thought about celebrating my tenth Easter as a Catholic I never considered that it would be spent violently ill and nursing a sick baby. Ditto for how I imagined Walter’s first Easter.

The two themes that keep recurring for me this year are hope and suffering. I think we all have mental lists of things that that make us feel sort of secure. You know, “I may not own a home, but at least I have a husband” or something like that. This past year & a half I have watched most of my Security List disappear. When I lost my home, when it looked like both of us were going to be unemployed, when my savings were replaced by about four times as much debt, when despite all my efforts I couldn’t even keep the three of us together in one country any longer, I thought “at least I still have my health”. But for the past two months I’ve lost that too, and worse than losing it myself, I’ve seen my little son go from one illness to another. So much bad has happened that I mostly spend my time empathising with Job and tending to think that we are under some concentrated spiritual attack. We’re not the only ones – 2012 and early 2013 have been nightmarish for a lot of people. Our struggles are nothing compared to what some people I know are going through.

But through this all I have hope. I have hope that things are going to get better, and that God will ultimately take care of us, even if we are allowed to pass through this shadowy valley for the time being. If things in this life never improve, I have hope that we are being perfected for something in the next life. And I have hope that my current trials will serve to make me more empathetic, patient, and understanding.

This Easter is the first one where I have started to understand being united with Christ in suffering. And, as I wait with the rest of the Church for Easter morning, I have hope in the plan of God and the glory of things to come. 

Meister von Messkirch -- Christus am Oelberg (The Agony in the Garden)

Sunday, 24 March 2013

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 4)

--- 1 ---
I missed doing a quick takes last week because it was my last week in Canada and I was busy packing up. I also had a nasty case of the flu, and Walter had a slightly-less-nasty case of the flu (which took forever to clear up), and it was a bit of rough going for a few days. We both are recovered, but this virus is so contagious that David managed to catch it from us over a week-and-a-half from when we had it. I am so tired of being sick (so far it's been fairly steady for either Walter or I to be sick for the past 6 weeks) and I'm hoping this is the end of it for awhile.
--- 2 ---
It took us 22 hours to get from Vancouver to Cambridge and this time around I realised what it is that I hate so much about travel -- it's the sheer humiliation & degradation levied towards the innocent traveler by those in positions of authority. Think of how many bullies it attracts! This time around there was the utterly horrible US Immigration Officer Lady who accused me of committing fraud and didn't want to believe that I actually had the right to travel with my son to take him back to his father. I know that you're supposed to get a letter of consent to travel without one parent, but circumstance made this difficult (I couldn't get a signed letter from David by the time of our flight) and the guidance from the Government of Canada is that you need it to travel away from your country of residence -- we were traveling to our country of residence. It took a marriage certificate, birth certificates, and David's Cambridge admission letter to convince her that I wasn't abducting Walter. Following from this there were also the horrible stewardesses which American Airlines seems to hire (I don't know why they have such a hard time bringing water for a baby, but this is the second time that Walter's had to go without food because they couldn't be bothered to bring water after I asked for it...so I spent the bulk of our trip dehydrating myself so that I could save all my water for mixing his food), and there were the incompetents at Heathrow who couldn't manage to get anyone's strollers to the gate (we were lucky as our flight terminated there -- there were a couple of families who had to continue their journey without adequate transport around the airport for the children because the strollers were left dumped in the baggage collection area). Try lugging a 20lb infant and several carryons through a massive airport and see how awful you look/feel.

The funny thing about the above list of  grievances is that this was a relatively good journey! UK Immigration was awesome and gave me no trouble, our connections all worked out, and the taxi company sent us a huge van instead of the estate car I'd paid for, meaning we could ride to Cambridge in comfort. I'm really grateful for how smoothly everything worked out, but I think travel is just destined to be unpleasant...
--- 3 ---
When I was born, the in-vogue craft seemed to be cross stitch, as I have a few cross stitched pictures celebrating my arrival. 29 years later and the trend seems to be quilting, as my little son has received four handmade quilts so far. Three of the quilts were made by friends or family (the fourth was purchased from a craft fair) so they are incredibly special to us, but I am almost jealous that he has more quilts than I do (although my one & only baby quilt was made by my Auntie Helen out of my mother's wedding dress). They are all very different and I love them all:

Bright Pinwheels made by my friend Nicole. Walter spent a lot of time on this when he was first born. Not only is it beautiful, but our whole family loves it as a reminder of the amazing, kind, and generous friends we've made in England.
Bedtime Bears -- it's a really large quilt so I'm looking forward to using it when he has a bigger bed.
My Auntie Helen made him this Canadian-themed one. The blue heart in the top-left corner is cut from one of my Grossmutter's dresses, and Walter's name & birthdate are embroidered around it. Needless to say it has a lot of sentimental value for everyone in my family.

The lovely quilty blanket our friend Alice just made for him. The colours are the same as the ones in the wedding quilt that my Aunt Helen made for my parents and it's just perfect for our growing boy.

--- 4 ---
On with the picture theme, here is my favourite 3 Generation picture of Porter-Men:


--- 5 ---
 It's currently snowing. In March. In Cambridge. Maybe this serves me right for not being overly sympathetic to all the Albertans complaining about their latest huge dump of snow, but in my experience on the prairies a March blizzard dump was nothing to be surprised about. The year it happened in late April was a giant pain, but March is still winter in that part of the world, regardless of what the calendar says. Don't hold me to this if we ever move back to central Canada!

--- 6 ---
This morning on my walk in to Mass I realised that I could pretty much describe my life as "purgatory". For me this was a major breakthrough. It may not sound that great, but for the past year and a half I'd been more apt to describe my life as hell -- a seeming endless series of hard events, tough decisions, and disasters that in many ways kept getting worse and with no real end in sight. Now, although things are still really difficult and some days I wonder how I can keep going, it no longer feels like we're doomed to suffer forever. God is giving me grace right now to seek Him in these experiences and to use it as a way of strengthening my faith and my ability to relate to all sorts of people. Sure, I wish my life were quite easier, but the struggle no longer seems pointlessly overwhelming.
--- 7 ---
 I'm late on my Quick Takes, as you may notice since it's now Sunday, not Friday. But I have a jet-lagged baby, a husband with the flu, and a huge amount of errands to run. The good thing about them being late is that I can finish off by mentioning just how awesome it was to return to our very own Fisher House for Mass this morning. We saw so many friends, friends who we could relate some of our most recent struggles to, friends who were instantly supportive. It was so nice. I can't really talk about a lot of our problems by blogging, because I don't want to commit certain things to writing (that blasted paper trail always comes back to haunt one, especially in the UK if the papers are to be believed) so it was nice to reconnect with friends. And this morning's experience wasn't the only chance meeting -- on Friday we bumped into a dear friend, unplanned, because we both happened to choose the same pub at the same time, and on Saturday another dear friend met up with us because she just happened to be in town over the weekend. It's been great.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Friday, 8 March 2013

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 3)

--- 1 ---
Walter's visa got approved! Once again I am glad that I need to get back to the UK sooner rather than later, as it meant I could pay the "priority application" fee in good conscience. We had his appointment and couriered his application to New York on Monday, and his visa was approved by 12pm PST today. Certainly can't complain about a 48hr turnaround. For people like me who struggle with anxiety and impatience, paying the extra money means that we only suffer through a couple of days of obsessively checking the email inbox, rather than three weeks... in fact the extra fee is almost worth it for that peace of mind, except I don't like giving in to my anxiety!

--- 2 ---
For all those who told me not to worry about the application process, yes, yes, you were right. Yes, I am too pedantic and read way too much into things. But aside from having my paperwork in order, and sayings loads of prayers, I think what cemented his application getting approved is the picture he sent in for his visa:

"Please Mr Visa Officer, let me into your country so that I can be with my daddy"

--- 3 ---
Walter and I are spending this week in Victoria, visiting David's family. So it's a bittersweet trip, because it's the last time we'll see them (or be in Victoria) for several months.On Tuesday we went for a walk along Willows Beach and Walter got to try a swing out for the first time in the playground overlooking the ocean. He was in hysterics of joy. I was also full of joy, because it's not every day that one gets to swing their infant son in a park at the edge of the ocean!
--- 4 ---
We're halfway through Lent and I'm finding it quite interesting this year. Mostly, I am absolutely sucking at fasting & abstinence. For various health related reasons, as well as out of consideration to non-Catholic family who cooks for me, I can't always have a completely meatless Friday. On top of that, also for health related reasons, I find that I'm sometimes consuming the food product I gave up for Lent. I don't feel guilty about it or anything, but still think it's too bad that I've not been able to keep to my fasting & abstinence as much as I wanted to. On the plus side, and the more important side, I've found this Lent to be much more spiritually refreshing than Lents in years past. Between daily meditations, the conclave, and the "adopt a Cardinal" program I've been spending a lot of time in prayer and reflection. All in all, it's been good thus far.  
--- 5 ---
After talking to his sister Sarah, I learned something very loving that David had done for me years ago: One night, when we were living in Edmonton, our couch erupted with beetle larvae. I learned this when a panicked David woke me up at 3am and asked me to help in carry the couch outside. What I just learned is that apparently he first called his sister & her then-boyfriend and had asked them to come over and help him get the couch out so that he wouldn't have to wake me up. Living a several blocks away, and given that the time was 3am, she said no. But I am rather touched that he was so concerned about my sleep that he would bother harassing his sister first!
--- 6 ---
After his bout of sickness, Walter seems to have forgotten how to sleep for a decent length of time at night. He keeps waking up every 3 hours or less, usually for food. Does anyone have any good ideas of how to get him back to somewhat normal (which for him was usually sleeping until 5am, drinking a bottle, and returning to sleep)? For awhile there he was getting really good at putting himself back to sleep, but that seems all shot to hell now and I'm not super keen on just leaving him to cry.
--- 7 ---
Speaking of waking up babies, one thing that might help him sleep is if I could shake this horrible throaty cough that is now lingering on three weeks after we first came down with The Cold from Hell. It's slowly getting better during the day, only to return at night with a vengeance. It's that horrible dry, catching feeling you get in your throat when it's all disgustingly phlemgy and you can't clear it and even breathing irritates it and you keep choking on air. I can't believe how severe this winter cold was and I really can't wait for it to be over!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Friday, 1 March 2013

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 2)

--- 1 ---
I finally got off my butt to get Walter's "four generation" photo taken with my Gramma. It's been quite difficult to orchestrate, as Gramma hates being photographed and usually we see her on the spur of the moment, meaning that none of us are really dressed for a photo op. But we had a really great opportunity to do it while my brother was in town for reading break and I'm thrilled with the result. I hope that when Walter grows up having the photographic reminder of his Gran'mama is as special to Walter as the one I have with my Great Grandma is to me:

From left to right: Baba (Ukrainian for Grandma), Gran'mama (Great Grandma!), Walter, & Me. The brooch I'm wearing belonged to my Grossmutter (my dad's mum) as I wanted to have some sign of her in the picture as well since she died when I was 6. 

From left to right: My mum, Me, Baba (my Great Grandma), and my Gramma. This was taken on the family farm in Saskatchewan.
--- 2 ---
Walter is quickly becoming more mobile. He's figured out how to launch himself towards targets of his choice. Usually these targets are either me or whatever direction would be most dangerous (like trying to fly off the end of the bed). I figure that once he learns to crawl properly I'll lose about 20lbs just chasing after him and trying to get him out of trouble...
--- 3 ---
We had my mum's pastor and family over for dinner the other night. As my contribution I made rhubarb crisp and the recipe turned out to be the best crisp I've made yet. You can find it here and I strongly recommend it.
--- 4 ---
This is currently Walter's favourite hymn, or at least I assume so because it's the one that works the fastest when he's upset. We first heard it on The Bells of St Mary's, and although it is perhaps lamentable that we didn't run across it at Mass, I don't mind that we first heard it sung by Bing Crosby!


--- 5 ---
As a convert, there are certain areas of Catholicism where my expertise falls far, far short. Today on the news I learned that all the popes wear red shoes. And then there was a close-up of said red shoes. I jumped from excitement, which is perhaps not the most fitting response since the shoes symbolize the blood of the martyrs (then again, perhaps it is a fitting response).
--- 6 ---
The past year-and-a-bit has been pretty damn hard. In my moments of despair, which are unfortunately frequent, it sometimes feels like hell on earth (which shows how little I know about hell, and how shallow my concept of suffering is), or at least a never ending torment. So I've really been struck this Lent by how my Lenten devotions have been guiding me to see the beauty and rightness of suffering. I feel as if I am on the verge of believing, not just understanding, that in my suffering I am united with Christ and that I am currently being given a cross to bear. It sort of blows my mind. I am so, so ready for life to become good again but I pray that I will have the grace to bear whatever it pleases God to send my way.
--- 7 ---
Speaking of grace, every time I fill in a visa application online I have to provide information about both my & David's birth dates. Thanks to the calendar feature, I get to go back in time to select our birth dates from the relevant calendar, which means I get to see our actual weekday of birth. What's cool about this is that it turns out we were both born on Tuesdays. I love coincidences like this. According to the old rhyme, Tuesday's child is full of grace. When I mentioned this to David I laughed and said it was too bad, as neither of us is particularly graceful in bearing. He corrected me and pointed me towards the spiritual graces, and said that it meant we were born on a day of particularly good fortune. I call this perspective! I've been particularly fond of my Tuesday birthday since then.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!