Tuesday, March 20, 2012

an extra souvenir (...what a hard word to spell!)

I thought Joseph was the best souvenir I was taking home from New Zealand. But I was wrong. Joseph is one of the two best souvenirs I am taking home. The other I will be smuggling onto the plane, not declaring at customs, and waiting to unpack until very early November....my second Kiwi baby.

It has been my desire for a very long time to fill up a house with children. Anyone who knows me well is quite familiar with this dream of mine. I (usually) enjoy the happy chaos of a home teeming with life -even though a certain percentage of each day is just chaos, minus the "happy". After growing up with a tiny extended family, I pined to have a house bursting with bustle and noise, especially over the holidays. Whenever I'm around large families, it just feels so right. The relationships, the activity, the intensity, the fullness....it has always been inspiring to me to witness the way that large families work - both when the children are young and when they are grown. I want it. I totally get that it is a lot - A LOT - of hard work and sacrifice. But I think nothing is more worth it. I didn't sign up for the wide and easy road - I set my cap toward the path that is narrow and difficult.

So I'm surprised and sad to find that I feel a little embarrassed, even ashamed about being pregnant this time around. I've never felt that way before. I'm happy to be pregnant. I feel awkward about telling people. Why? I don't really know. I don't think it's because of the close proximity in age of this child to Joseph. Rich and I have always been pregnant again by our babies' first birthdays. This child is no closer in age to Joseph than Joseph is to Bernadette. The only reason there is a little more space between Bernadette and Maria is because we lost a child in between. I've never felt at all sheepish about having children close together before. So the rapid succession of baby to baby is not the culprit.

But if it's not because the kids are crowded so close together in age, I'm struggling to find the reason I feel so uncomfortable when I tell others I'm expecting again. Maybe it's partly because this is the fourth child. We're officially out of the "normal" range now. Even worse, we're shamelessly enlarging our carbon footprint, the only universally acknowledged mortal sin in the religion of the modern age. But that's not really enough to make me feel so awkward about this pregnancy.

I know my feelings are partly because we don't, like, actually have a job yet. But that fact is far more pressing in light of the three children who are already actively incurring expense - this new baby will be breastfed, cloth diapered and attired in siblings' hand-me-downs - in other words, practically free for at least six months. Plus, I have a totally foolish trust in Divine Providence, based on the rock-solid history of His unfailing generosity over the past 33 years of my life. So that isn't really "it" either.

I think a big chunk of my discomfort arises from fear of judgment....either of my choice of family planning method or for my ability to competently use it. I'm afraid that others will sneer that NFP is unreliable - or that I clearly don't know how to use the method properly - or that I have a reckless disregard for the responsibility associated with childbearing. Or possibly all three of these things. It's totally unnecessary and inappropriate for me to have to explain myself before the public eye on these points. But sadly, I'm realizing that this fear is the biggest cause of my restrained way of sharing my delightful news with others. I guess these fears do nothing so well as they betray my pride and lack of humility. Dang it.

These uncomfortable feelings have been immensely aggravated by some of responses we've received since our secret became public. The four grandparents in question were absolutely beautiful about the news. The youth here have likewise been fantastically enthused about our tidings. With few exceptions, our close friends have celebrated this new life with unhesitating and sincere joy. But there have been a lot more "restrained" reactions, even from faithful believers.....
          I'm sorry.
         So - was this intended? 
         Are you happy about this? 
         Are congratulations in order - or condolences? 
         Oh, no! 
         How did that happen?
        Oh my gosh. How are you going to handle this?  
        Are you okay with that? 

        (Rolling eyes with uncomfortable giggles) 

        (Mock faces of horror and dismay)  et cetera....

Others have simply not responded to the announcement. At all.

Over the past few days, the Lord has given me just enough grace to finally recognize that most of the responses above have no ill-will behind them. To the contrary, most come out of sincere concern and interest in the good of our family life. I completely understand that....now. No one ever said that babies were all rainbows and butterflies. There's no point in pretending there isn't a certain amount of additional pressure or exhaustion that another little one will add to the mix. But no one ever responded like this when my girls were on their way. These recent reactions dampen the joy of announcing something that otherwise delights me. They embarrass me. They leave me feeling like I need to explain myself - like very personal information is being demanded of me. And I deeply regret that on many of these occasions, I've tried to explain things that really ought not to be.

When I saw two pink lines on the pregnancy test, I was thrilled. Nothing impinged upon my happiness. Within minutes though I foresaw that comments would come - and that they would cloud the early days of my pregnancy. So for the first time, Richard and I opted to keep our pregnancy a complete secret for a few weeks. For most couples that may be standard, but it was a first for Rich and me! That decision gave me enough time to simply wrap my heart around the new child the Lord had blessed me with, free from any fear of censure. And I did. I wrote a little note to my unborn child, jotted down some appealing names, contacted a midwife, prayed in thanksgiving, bought prenatal vitamins - all the I've done in the early days of my previous pregnancies but, for the first time, I did them covertly. And actually, I enjoyed the secrecy - immensely. It was a sweet, lovely secret to have. Then - in the middle of a talk I had been asked to give to some high school girls up at the local Catholic high school - it slipped out. A "pro-life moment" arose - and that was that. End of secret pregnancy. Beginning of awkwardly public pregnancy.

Honestly, even if I was devastated by this pregnancy, responses like some I've received would do nothing but discourage me further. If I was struggling to come to terms with this life, I would be desperate for encouragement & support,  for others to help kindle in me the joy and hope that I would need in order to persevere. But I'm not struggling to be glad- and these responses sting for a different reason. I had been praying for new life and am awed that the Lord has seen fit to entrust another little soul to my care. But I feel a little sorry for this baby - the first child of mine who has not been automatically and universally celebrated, welcomed and embraced with joy by the world at large. I wonder what will happen if I miscarry this child, as I did miscarry my little Christopher, as I did almost lose little Joseph. Will the eye-rollers and condolence-offerers secretly feel it was for the best? Even worse, what if they say it aloud? Thankfully, thus far, my daughters have not witnessed any of these dubious reactions about the sibling they are so excited over. What would Maria think if she heard one of these comments? Mama, is that person not happy about our new baby? 

Looking back over what I've read, I realize I need to clarify that (except for perhaps a few pointed silences) no one has been hostile about our news. Not at all. Yes, there has been an uncertainty from others ... is this good news? and yes there has been an unsettling freedom in openly prying ...was this a mistake? and yes, a widespread assumption that the answer to the latter question could only be a resounding yes! But once people have ascertained that I am indeed glad, they have been quick to be glad with me and I am very grateful for that. I guess I'm just wishing that a new life was automatically seen for the gift that it is - at least among those who worship the One who shapes each new soul. I wish that the standard reaction to new life was unconditional joy. I wish that the very hard work and sacrifice involved in raising lots of little ones was not seen as such an undesirable burden (even if it is not something to which all feel personally attracted). I certainly wish that among Catholics, continued openness to life -even in not-so-cushy circumstances - would not come as such a shock. And mostly I wish that I was the kind of woman who didn't undercut the realization of these desires by looking so darn apologetic when acknowledging this new life.

So....with uncompromised excitement - free from all traces of embarrassment - I want to start again: 
We have another child on the way! 

(and, almost as beautiful - 
 I should be totally done with all morning sickness before the Epic Journey homeward!) 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

of castles and cottages (in dante's "new zealand")

a castle familiar to my girls group

It's coming to a close quite quickly all of a sudden..... a few more weeks left of this term, all of which are being swallowed up hastily in the hustle and bustle of SetFree preparation....a  short holiday..... and then a new term begins - a term in which Richard and I will be assistants, not captains - a term which we will only glimpse briefly before departing.  It's really coming to a close.


I will finally now frankly admit that there was a time I thought the end could not come quickly enough. My feelings in the beginning were nothing short of despair. I joke now that my first eight months here were hell and the second eight were purgatory - but these last eight have been far more like heaven then I ever thought Mission to New Zealand could be. Those first months were lonely, disorienting and overwhelming far beyond anything I had thought to prepare for. There was such a gap between the expectation of missionary life and its reality. For example, I had imagined having sheep and cows outside our kitchen window - instead, the Lord gave me Bayfair Mall and a skatepark.

More importantly, it seemed I could not be the mother I wanted to be with all that our life here entailed. Conversely, I could not be the missionary I wanted to be with all that motherhood entailed. I knew without a doubt which duties ought to take precedence, but was afraid of letting so many other people down. Things were too hectic and I was too weighed down to do even the simplest things to make our new life feel like home, which - in turn - crushed even more of the joy and life out of me. I felt I was failing at being a mother and a wife, the roles to which I feel most committed to fulfilling with excellence. I didn't feel like much of a missionary either. There were few people I could talk to about my struggle without fear of offending them, worrying them or giving them license to say I told you so.

The darkness was so intense that waiting for Joseph's birth was often the only little thread of "hope" I was holding onto. Sometimes I still look into his sweet eyes and marvel at how much he helped me before I ever even saw his tiny little face for the first time. For me there's something about being pregnant - nine months of expectant hope with the promise of perfect joy at the end. It's a real metaphor for the life of faith. Looking like a hippo and enduring the agonies of labor are a small price to pay for the bliss of looking into the newborn's sweet wrinkly face and saying, "It was you! All this time....YOU!" Likewise, I imagine that looking like a fool to the "world" - and enduring the agonies of death - will seem a small price to pay for the bliss of finally looking into the Lord's beautifully radiant face and saying, "It was You! All that time...YOU!"

another castle the girls' group knows and loves well


Joseph's illness made those middle months an obvious period of suffering for Rich and I both - but this suffering was actually a blessing for me (heavily disguised) as it straightened out in my own heart what was truly important and gave me courage to act on those convictions. It also brought me out of myself and gave me a sense of how blessed actually I was. And so it was during my many hospital "retreats" with Joseph that I started to find peace. In a true sense, I enjoyed my stays in the two Ronald McDonald Houses, and in the Children's Ward at Tauranga Hospital, and on the Medical Specialties Floor at Starship. For days at a time, I was alone with my precious, vulnerable baby. I had nothing to do all day but be totally present to him. There were no meals to cook, no toilets to clean, no laundry to hang, no sisters to read to. There was nothing but Joseph. I was given the gift of utterly uninterrupted time with my son - and I used that time to the full to bond with him (in a way that most mothers would not be able to do with a third-born child!) When he slept, I prayed for him - and read - and reflected on how I could do this missionary thing better. And, after many days of hospital food and missing my girls and being so, so far away from Richard, it was always nice to come home. "Home" - and our everyday missionary life - always gained in comparison to Hospital Life.

classical castle-with-moat


So now I'm in the "heaven" stage. I'll still be very happy to get home, but it's going to be a bittersweet departure. Truthfully. It's hard to even put my finger on why these months feel so different. Joseph is healthy. That one is obvious. Also, the end is in sight, which makes the difficult things so much easier to bear. (Enormous cockroach in the underwear drawer? Ah, well, just two more months of semi-tropical insect housemates. Neighbors blasting rap and screaming profanities at 3AM? Well just a few more months and then I highly doubt I'll be calling the cops on the octogenarian Barths! )  Thirdly, we've been here long enough to start to see some really solid fruit of our labors, which makes it all have a point. And we love these kids - we've been here long enough to really know them and to love them.

where is she going with all this castle stuff anyway?

There are plenty more reasons why this has been the honeymoon stage for me, but one of the more significant reasons is that the Lord has done great things for me over the past few months. After sixteen months of pretty much smashing me to the ground, He's finally showing me the blueprints for the new edifice. He's got the digger out and He's busy. See, for the past thirty-three years, I've been assuming that I'm meant to be a castle. With a moat. Possibly with a dragon too. A real Fortress. Perfect. Majestic. Impervious. (Imposing).  So I've been working - real hard - on that plan. In New Zealand, the Lord has finally made me understand that all He wants me to be is a cottage. I was shocked. A cottage! Yes, a cottage. A sweet, humble, attractive little cottage. Strong and very well made - but not a castle. Pretty and charming - but not a palace. Inviting and homey - so....no moat, and certainly no dragon. Even though theoretically it should be so much easier to be a cottage, after three decades of trying to be a castle there are lots of new habits to learn. But....I am learning.


The Lord planted the seeds before we left, at our farewell party, where Fr. Jean-Luc preached, My vocation is not "for me". How those words have stayed with me and grown with me over the past two years. To explain the significance of the words and their impact on me would be a whole other blog post, (and perhaps one I will write). But though those words got something started, this current "heaven" experience did not start properly unfolding until the first Tyburn monastery trip with the girls' group in late August. The Tyburn monastery is almost heaven. And it was there that I saw a perfect little cottage among the pointy hills and the gentle alpaca.... and experienced joy....and realized it had been a long, long, long time since I'd felt that once-familiar emotion.

another fine kelly

And then there's Vivian, the spiritual director who stumbled accidentally into my living room a few months ago and has since become one of the most influential people of my whole life. Through Vivian have come great books and fresh perspectives and new routines like waking, walking & praying at 6am every day. (How I dreaded getting up in the dark every morning - and now I can't imagine coping with three children all day without beginning in silence - and prayer & exercise.) The overall effect is a great deal of peace and joy, of order and rhythms and good routines, of feeling really well-connected to God and my husband and my kids - and going to bed at night feeling like it was a really good day. I didn't think I was going to get those things back until I returned home. Instead the Lord has shown me how to depend totally on Him for these things rather than any of the changing circumstances of my life.  These are some of the lessons that have made these two years some of the most precious of my life, even if they have been the hardest as well. It turns out now that He didn't call me here to totally undo me - He brought me here to remake me. But for those who know me personally, please do not be expecting construction to wrap up anytime soon....I'm still really just in the stage of being a muddy hole in the ground with cement bags lying around chaotically. All I'm really saying is that I've seen the blueprints - and I like them.
a more realistic kelly

Friday, March 2, 2012

some prayer requests in the guise of a post

I'm not a regular blogger. My life at present is just way too full for that kind of pressure. Ideally I like to blog once a week, but if it doesn't happen I don't worry about it in the slightest. However, Richard "observed" that it has been more than two weeks since the last post - and threatened, oh! I mean offered, to write a post himself if I didn't update the blog soon. I called his bluff - it was a bluff, of course - but you never know when he might actually get serious about something like that. So here's a little hodge-podge - my hasty scrambling for something to write before calamity could strike.......

our Lenten cactus 

"Lent" means "spring" - allegedly. Here in New Zealand, Lent always comes in autumn, but this year, autumn seems in a particularly big hurry to wrap its chilly, gloomy, blustery arms around the liturgical season. One is free to debate which type of weather lends itself more appropriately to the theme of these forty days, but after enjoying only about four days of sunny warm summer weather, we are a bit crushed to be welcoming fall already. I only got to swim in the ocean once! Still, it's nice to dig out all those warm things knowing that in just three months we'll be doing "Summer, Round Two".

In addition to the Lenten cactus, we also inadvertently acquired a Lenten caterpillar this year when a fat green caterpillar hitched its way into our home in a cornstalk. I thought it would be a nice symbolic addition to our Lenten season. I imagined it entering its tomb-like cocoon in a few weeks and then resurrecting with a glorified body. However, after spending over an hour on Google Images staring at photos of hideous larvae and grubs in every shade of disgusting (all while trying to determine what kind of caterpillar/future butterfly we have living in the glass jar on our table) I'm actually now just overcome with repugnance and revulsion for the thing and wish I had never ever thought to get the kids all excited about making a pet of a green maggot. At minimum, I'm moving it off of the dining room table.

Wednesday breakfasts

The ministry is humming along nicely. Fr Michael has added a Mass at 7:00 AM every Wednesday for the duration of Lent. Our youth have made a fantastic effort to get up early and attend. Afterwards we have a simple breakfast together and then off they go to school. James and Matt (the seminarian-hopefuls  who came up with the idea of the Wednesday morning Masses) are fantastic additions to the youth program and have enhanced the youth nights greatly. Both are pictured below - James near the center with spiky blond hair and Matt is bottom right in a white shirt with a red oval on it. The youth love having them around and they both contribute a level of "coolness" to which Richard and I aspire only in our wildest and most youthful dreams.

Some of the Tahu Youth & helpers 

Some of the Lighthouse Youth & helpers

Sealy Family Updates:

No, nobody's engaged. However, in the unlikely event that anyone was wondering about the sequel to the story of Maria's ring and my overly complex parenting theory about grace.... Maria did finally get her ring. She then went promptly back to all of her old habits of interacting with her sister. She then put the ring in her mouth in bed one night and very nearly choked on it. In other words, the entire affair was a complete disaster from every possible vantage point. The ring is back in my possession, along with a large helping of humble pie. 

Also on the "family" front - the whole family weathered the aforementioned seasonal changes quite poorly. Joseph got tonsillitis while Maria, Richard and I had bronchitis - we were all ill at the same time. Bernadette stayed healthy for almost three weeks before succumbing yesterday to "something." Meanwhile, Maria is still not 100% and is getting a chest x-ray to check for pneumonia. I think (or hope?) she does not have that, but would appreciate prayers nevertheless.

We are also asking/begging/groveling for prayers that Richard would hear about a job (and sooner, rather than later). Truly, we are both completely confident that the Lord is going to provide. He has done nothing but flex His mighty muscles for us over the past two years. I feel like if we don't understand His power and His goodness by now, we never will. All that said, it would just be really nice to know what we are going home to in three months. Especially because the moment we get off that plane on May 31, Joseph will need medical coverage for his frequent forays to the doctor. But the Lord knows that. He also knows that we gave away a lot of things before we came here, like, for example, our car. So if others could join us in trustfully and gently reminding Him - reminding Him not that we need a job, but that we are totally counting on Him to arrange it all! We also need prayers that we would remain trustful and at peace. Like Peter on the sea, we walk joyfully on the water while we keep our eyes fixed on Christ - but also like Peter, we are easily distracted by the winds of mortgage payments, health insurance and minivan acquisition that waft our way from the States. Sometimes we sink! Pray that we hold steady and grab instantly onto the strong, faithful arms of Jesus in those moments of panicky what the heck were we THINKING giving up the security of our sturdy little boat for this crazy tempest we are living?!?!?!! 

Speaking of "what the heck were we THINKING", there is a lot of THIS going on in the house. 

(Richard's son)

Poor guy. He's not nearly big or strong enough to defend himself, nor cognizant enough to realize that he ought to at least try. But his first birthday is coming up this month, so those sisters of his better watch out....  His liver is humming along well, but his growth has slowed down a bit again. The upshot of this return to the second percentile line is that I didn't have to get him any new winter clothes for the fall weather since almost all of his older stuff still fits. The downside, of course, is that his sisters will be able to have their way in dressing him up for a lot longer. And really, at this point, that is the only downside and so praise the Lord for that!