Grateful for: Second Harvest

I first met the idea of Second Harvest on a street corner in Aspinwall. I was on my way to Feast on Brilliant, my usual go-to when I’m burned out on cooking or if I have already burned dinner. Bonnie Demotte, the executive director and President of Second Harvest, was on her way to a meeting. She had the plans for the community thrift store in one hand. In the other she held the hand of my toddler as she helped my kids and me safely cross the street. That is the first thing to know about Bonnie. She is always available to help someone in need, even if she is already busy. 

Bonnie and I met lifting heavy things in the local CrossFit gym, Alpha Athletics. It is there that I first witnessed her work ethic. She also has the uncommon ability to express joy while doing something hard. Right before each workout began, on cue, as the rest of us were still deciding if we wanted to be there at all, she would shout, “BEST HOUR OF THE DAY!” It was the motivation the rest of us needed to get going, and get smiling. That is the second thing to know about Bonnie. Not only does she know how to find the needs of others, she knows exactly how to respond. 

Bonnie and I had not seen each other in months. Yet, we managed to skip the ordinary lines about being “good, busy, but tired,” and got straight to it. That is the third thing. She is not afraid to share what is on her heart.

“We are calling it Second Harvest. Sharpsburg is in desperate need of a new thrift store.”

Within moments I was convinced of the projects worth, its’ potential to transform our community, and my desire to participate. If I am being honest, though, the possibility of reaching the 2 million dollar fundraising goal in a year’s time, and managing to renovate 624 Clay Street into something beautiful left me feeling much less confident.

Even so, Bonnie’s words that day seemed to speak straight to the heart of what my mother had been teaching me for decades. For me, it is in remembering those lessons, that the convincing is done.  

I grew up witnessing my mother shop in thrift stores. I shopped in them too, but it is the way she did it that left the impression. She was always hunting for treasures, deals, bargains, or finds of a lifetime. It was never the end result that held my attention, though. It was the exuberance with which she searched, and the delight that it communicated.

“Lets see what we find today!” She would say as she burst through the store’s doors. 

Through high piles and long crowded aisles of old clothes we searched together. Safe from labels, and corporate trends, she was teaching me the art of style, the ability to listen to instinct, and to decide for myself what I liked, and why. 

So too, was she sharing with me herself. 

I remember how she approached the glass counter full of old jewels with the most hope of all. 

“I found a really good one!” She would exclaim, as the expression of her face lit the room. She would hold up the item in triumph. I can’t remember what a single jewel looked like. I can, however, remember the exact expression on her face, and the sound of glee in her voice.  

The criteria for a “good one” was specific, but hard to exactly pin down. It was clear, however, that her talent for treasure hunting transcended her personal great taste. She seemed to have a special, unspoken ability that could differentiate which pieces had been loved, which ones discarded, and which ones still had something left to say. She wasn’t just finding an old fabulous broach, beautiful bedazzled clip-ons, or long beaded necklace circa 1920. It was as if when she put the necklace around her neck she encountered an entire love story and promised to somehow let it live on. 

“I bet the woman who owned this one was really beautiful,” she would imagine with me out loud as the trinket transformed from junk to precious jewel right before my eyes. 

The “good ones,” were kept in a specific jewelry box in her dressing room. Hat stands full of vintage finds stood beside it, and long luxurious gowns of old hung behind. It all came out on special occasions. As promised, my mother would tell the entire story as to where it came from, and exactly what inspired her to buy it. 

Our house was filled with her treasures.They weren’t just things, though. Entire stories belonged to each of them. Our walls were lined with antiques each enveloped with its own tale. Vintage baby dolls laid about chronicling different eras of childhood play. Oil paintings that cost three dollars hung proudly, and lace doilies anchored second hand sterling silver tea sets. I would wear an old mink fur stole we’d purchased for pennies and a fabulous old high society hat as I filled the tea cups with juice. I had decided the fur had once belonged to a queen, so I couldn’t pretend to sip English tea without it draped on my shoulders. I guess it could be said that my childhood version of a tea party was kicked up a notch.

No matter how many perfect antiques lined our halls, or pristine vintage dresses hung in closets,  though the most important lesson of the meaning of thrift stores came from something else entirely. 

We never went to a thrift store empty handed. Packed high in the trunk were bags and bags of clothes, toys, household items, and basic necessities. The thing that kept my mother coming back wasn’t the search for her own treasures, but the opportunity to make a really big donation for others. 

Counter to the impulse to rid a house of the old and useless by piling it all quickly into donation bags, the things we donated were never old, discarded, or haphazardly packed. In fact, they were usually brand new, and picked with careful thought. 

The process of donating began when most would least expect it: Christmas morning. After the last of the wrapping paper settled onto the floor, we began the tradition of choosing what we could give to help someone else. Looking back on this tradition as a parent of five small kids, I can not believe how she pulled it off. How did she manage to have all five of us eager to participate in giving away our newly gotten gifts and not throwing a massive tantrum? 

In short, she made it mean something. 

“I used to dream a little girl like you would give me one of her old dresses,” the sentence is permanently seared in my heart. 

Unlike me, my mother did not grow up in thrift stores by choice. Life in the thrift store was one of necessity. From her first bra to her prom dress, my mother had found it second hand. 

She was one of 10 kids growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1950’s. It was a childhood filled with both joy and tragedy. By age 12, my mother relied often on the generosity of others to eat, let alone buy a new dress.

Just recently she shared with me that one of the strongest memories of her childhood revolves around the dress she wore to her little sister, Chrissy’s, funeral. Chrissy had been struck and killed by a drunk driver as a child. My mother was just 11 months older than her. 

“Of all the things your Grandma was worrying about, I didn’t want her to worry that her kids didn’t have the right clothes for the funeral Mass.”

So she searched for a way, even if small, to alleviate the pain. With a few dollars and what little hope she had, she walked to the thrift store and begged for miracle. 

“It was dark navy with white piping, a Peter Pan collar, and the sash made a big bow in the back. I knew instantly how much Chrissy would have loved it. It was one less thing to worry about, and finding it made me feel like someone, somewhere, was listening. I never stopped thanking the little girl who gave it away.” 

The stories told to me by my mother certainly come from painful memories of living without. Yet, it was her ability to express such deep gratitude for the things she found that propelled us towards generosity. 

It was our Christmas morning tradition that was the catalyst. It taught us to examine our hearts and find within the power to do good, even if in small ways. The hope of one of our donations being found by a little girl like my mom, or a boy like one of my uncles filled us up with a desire to give beyond what we didn’t need or could no longer use. We started to give the things that would be most fun for someone else to find. New things, special things, beautiful things. Maybe they would be an answer to a wish, or a prayer, or somehow fill a desire that no one thought would be heard. 

Thrifting with my mother also helped me to understand the large gap that exists between the ease of my childhood and the much harder reality of hers. In ways that are still revealing themselves to me, those days of treasure hunting in dark and dingy corners of strange smelling second hand havens, also filled me with the desire to help bridge the gap for others. 

Thanks to Second Harvest and the incredible team it has acquired, that bridge is being built, right here in the very community in which I was raised, and now, am raising my own. 

Second Harvest will certainly provide shoppers with necessities, but so too will it do much more. As a permanent presence in Sharpsburg, Second Harvest will build community. It will be a place to shop and a place to gather. It will also be a place to search for treasures, within the store, of course, but most importantly, within each other. 

We continue to defy the 2020 odds, as well as my own doubts, as we approach our 2 million dollar fundraising goal. I am simply blown away at the generosity of this community. The way you have insisted of giving not the minimum, but the very best is as edifying as it is inspiring. 

I am confident that as a community we will reach our goal, and together, build something beautiful. 

Thank you for reading what makes Second Harvest so special to me. I invite you, too, to experience the treasure of bringing in the harvest. 

If you would like to make a donation to Second Harvest please visit us on Facebook or our website at


Love Languages: Parenting in Love

She would lay on the floor helpless nearly every morning.

We all knew she could get dressed on her own, she had been doing it for years. Yet, every school morning she wrapped herself up in a blanket, laid on the floor, and refused to put on her clothes. I asked nicely, and I prompted politely. I gave her complimentary pep talks and I waited patiently. I also did the exact opposite. It was a behavior I did not understand, at a time in our already hectic morning routine that made it increasingly disruptive to our family.

Something had to change. 

“Dress her,” my husband advised as we discussed how to mediate the behavior in the midst of the many things I juggle to get three of our five kids off to school each morning.

“But isn’t that enabling her!” I insisted on continuing to try to break what seemed like bad behavior. 

Then, as if his words were lightening through the sky, he completely and totally changed my perspective, “No, it isn’t enabling. Remember, her love language is Acts of Service. That’s all this is. She’s feeling something she can’t say, and she needs to be loved in a way she understands.”

The thing is, I had often considered love languages as part of my parenting.

But when the pressures of school mornings came at me full force, I reverted back to loving her like I like to be loved, not because I wasn’t aware of what her love language is, but because I simply couldn’t see it through the blinders of my stress. She, though usually satisfied with many other acts of service, undoubtedly also felt the pressure that those early school mornings bring, and consequently, needed to be love in the way that spoke most effectively to the language she could most easily understand.

Our own reversion into ourselves created the perfect storm of stress for each other. Thankfully, my husband saw clearly what was lost in translation. So I began to speak her language, even though it felt a bit foreign. 

For the next few days, I put down my expectation for how children capable of dressing themselves ought to act in the morning, and helped dress my young daughter with focused attention on her and with a keen awareness of each and every bump in her sock, tag that might itch, tricky zipper, and pesky button. Without ever saying a word, our school mornings, though still imperfect, transformed into a much more peaceful process, even if they did take a bit longer. And slowly, as she felt more effectively loved, my daughter began more effectively expressing in words what laid underneath her insistence on laying on the floor.

Eventually, she even put on her own clothes, happily.

The beauty of the love languages is they help translate human behavior into something that we are better able to understand. In children, bad behavior very well might be the frustrated expression of an underdeveloped dialect, a tantrum the only way they know how to say, “i’m scared, nervous, too tired, or I’m worried I might spend so much of my day missing home.”

Remembering love languages, particularly in times of stress, empowers us to speak through and even beyond our fears so as to more effectively communicate love.

And if your morning are like mine, you are probably willing to try just about anything to help them run more smoothly. 

Love Language Gift Giving

981206_10100781731500952_7431917758825743323_oAmid the joys of Advent’s season, the ones filled with making magic, myth, and mystery in eager anticipation of the world’s greatest morning, also comes the looming threat of being swallowed whole by long list of looming to dos, piles of presents and parties, and too little time to get it all done. And isn’t that the biggest battle that tests each of us each year? Will we remain in the presence of peace? Or fall feverishly towards the chaos of our culture’s takeover of Christmas? I for one prefer the former, but each year I am amazed at just how hard it is to choose the baby and not the bustle. 

In the 10 years I’ve had my own children on Christmas, I have established a pattern. At first, I insist on simplicity. Not too many presents! Nothing too extravagant! Put back the trampoline! They don’t need it! And then, every year, just as Christmas shipping is about to expire, I get nervous that what I’ve done is not enough, and I amazonprime a bunch of crap that no one ever plays with and hardly ever notices. It is often devoid of thought or meaning, and I regret the purchases almost immediately. 

My tendency towards “more,” is not solely because I am a sucker for consumerism and highly influenced by nearly every very well placed Instagram add I see. Christmas is a BIG DEAL, and even though I know at its deepest level, it is not at all about the presents, it is still very much about the presents. This act of giving and receiving has such power to remind us that we are loved beyond measure and thought of carefully with attention to the details that make us exactly who we are. If we are able to focus gift giving more on the person, and less on the frivolity of the stuff, we can bring more meaning to the material and maybe even help point the eyes of our children towards the eternal. What a great opportunity Christmas is to communicate this message, especially to our children. 

One way to buy less and communicate more is to give gifts based on the Love Languages. Will I still be seduced by sales and promos and deals, deals, deals! Most likely! But hopefully, a little bit less. 

For those unfamiliar, the Love Languages were developed by Gary Chapman, and help us to understand the ways we are wired to give and receive love, and how to recognize those attributes in others. There are five main love languages and each person will have a primary way to express their love and a primary way they like to receive love. When we are able to speak the love language of our spouse, our child, our friends, we are more equipped to build a strong relationship, and affirm them in the exact way they are made.

I’ve compiled some kid friendly gift ideas for each love language. I didn’t link to any particular products, but I do try to spark some ideas as to how to effectively give gifts with more attention to particular love languages. I hope you enjoy!  

Words of Affirmation 

Words quite literally mean the world to this child! Love notes, words of encouragement, and compliments fill up their love tank. A good conversation can do wonders. Criticism, however, sticks and ought to be considered carefully and communicated gently.

A child who appreciates words of affirmation might really love a hand written Christmas letter that reminds them how loved they are. New, personalized stationary could be a big hit! Anything personalized, monogrammed, or engraved will go a long way for a person that loves words. 

As well, Christmas might be a great opportunity to show appreciation for what they do, and what they like through a particular present. The goal is to affirm them by allowing the gift to say “I notice that you like (this thing/sport/hobby) and you should feel like that interest is good, always, but especially today.” 

For a child who most desires words of affirmation, it can also be helpful to tell them why the gifts picked are especially for them, so as to verbally support the meaning of the present. (Santa knows these things too!)

Physical Touch

This child loves to be hugged, appreciates cuddling, and close physical proximity to the people that make them feel safe. They also might be a bit more “clingy” than other kids, because they are made to need more touch! 

A child who appreciates physical touch also loves things that feel soft. A new throw blanket picked just for them, a super soft sweater, slippers, bedding, sleeping bags, pillows, or stuffed animals would be a real hit. 

Quality Time

A child who is made to feel most loved through quality time wants to spend time with you and they want that time to be uninterrupted, focused, and definitely without a cell phone. It often doesn’t matter what activity is taking up the time, so long as it is highly focused time together. 

A Christmas present made for this child would be something to do together. Maybe an above age Lego set that says “lets build together,” or a set date for special one on one time. Anything that needs to be built with assistance from a parent, or a game to be played together. The key for this gift is to actually play with it with the child. The present matters much less than the time spent playing with it. 

Acts of Service 

A child that appreciates acts of service loves special care, favors, or an obvious sigh that says, “I did this for you.” It might sound a bit like enabling, but it isn’t doing the favor because the kid can’t, it is doing it for them to signal they are loved and appreciated. This child might want extra help getting dressed in the morning, or want “help,” with homework that you know is a simple concept for them. They love a homemade meal, laundry folded and put away, or their room to be cleaned…just because. 

On Christmas, a child will appreciate the effort put into the present, the thought really does count! Also the presentation will speak in a special way to this child. An extra special bow, special wrapping paper, anything that says “this extra detail, extra step is just for you, because you are worth the effort!” Santa might take some time on Christmas Eve to take a toy out of the box and build it with a note that says “I built this just for you!” 

Receiving Gifts 

It is easy to confuse this love language with materialism, especially if you are a person that communicates love through a different language. But, a person who feels loved through receiving gifts understands the power of the material to point us towards the eternal. The thought of the present and the present itself, says something special to this child and reminds them how worth it they are. 

Christmas is a particularly special opportunity to put some razzle-dazzle into gift giving to the child who feels loved through receiving gifts. Toys that sing, dance or sparkle? Something slightly ridiculous that fulfills absolutely no need at all but is just really really cool? Thats just the thing! And it will go a long way. 

Learning to love and appreciate the particular ways we experience and communicate love is a powerful way to understand each other better. An understanding of love languages during Christmas time provides a special opportunity to say more to those we care about through the gifts we are giving, without spending more or giving more. Give well, not more! Happy, peaceful shopping to you all.


 Please reach out with any questions

The Burn Zone

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My family spent a week of our summer falling in love with Montana. It was my first visit viewing the tremendous landscape after the heat of the summer sun melted the snow making visible the depth of curves and crevices carefully carved in mountains standing grand in a vibrant sky. White water chased us as we drove along remote highways passing ancient tectonic plates whose geothermal features sang out in boiling gurgles, as individual microorganisms revealed to us their own majestic color within the lava rock. Hikes up mountains and down valleys taught us that the gentle crescendo of softly flowing water in thin unassuming streams might very well lead us to discover the magnanimity of hidden waterfalls rushing with unfettered fervor. It did not take us long to realize that marveling at God’s imagination is rather easy to do in Montana. 

At one point, though, we noticed a peculiar tree line that had been recently ravaged by fire called the Burn Zone. In the middle of what seem like endless scapes of pines that stand strong, tall, and healthy, are bunches of tiny, scraggly looking saplings, pines so little they barely came up to my knees. Scattered among them are taller ones that are so tired, we wondered how they stand at all. At first glance, it is quite a sad looking sight, slightly pathetic even, especially in the scheme of such brilliant views. 

I came to learn, however, that fires in those parts, usually caused by lightening strikes, are permitted to burn. For decades many attempted to manage and chase them, to put them out and squelch the heat that seemingly threatens to destroy the pristine purity of an uncultivated wilderness. It had not yet been discovered though, that these fires are the purest form of natural reinforcement of new forest. Intense heat, incidentally, is required to penetrate the protective wax of the most fruitful seeds of the most mature trees enabling new ones to implant. It is only in letting a fire burn that the ecosystem is able to reset and rebuild allowing the unmatched beauty of mature mountain forest to begin again, to start anew, sturdier than ever. 

Recently, I, like so many Catholics, have felt like my faith has been struck by lightening and that my Church is caught right smack in the middle of a Burn Zone. Our hierarchy often appears to be a mere remnant of moral authority due to its own failure and corruption, led by many that seem awfully inclined towards arson. Not only is Rome burning, but so many of our dioceses, too. 

How often I have wanted to run from the destruction, to put out the fires that fuel around me rather than withstand them, to hide from what God might be trying to rebuild as a result of this pain. How much I have wanted to give my time, my talent, and raise my children in a place less susceptible to ravage so as to protect and defend what is most precious. How difficult it is to trust God under such intense heat, such blinding confusion, such thick smoke. How weak I feel in the middle of it all. How much I doubt that my faith can survive much more.

And yet, I could not help but find God calling me to pay attention to the lessons of that tree line. How brave are those tired trees who were willing to offer the most precious parts within them so as to bear fruit that will last much longer than they will. How relentless is their desire to survive, their insistence in teaching us that life is brought forth by fire, that there is rebirth from the ravage, so long as we stand tall and trust, so long as we are willing to withstand all that is falling around us. It is then that we may notice that this fire, as brutal as it is, has become the source of revival, the means through which we will begin again, better than we were before. 

One Year Later


It has been one year since reading the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. Themes of abuse of which I was well aware were not what most surprised me. It was the names that I recognized, people with whom I conversed, admired, trusted, regarded highly and defended. That is what kept me reading those long, terrible pages, that left me wondering what I could do, if I could change it.

Not much of the structure of the Catholic Church has changed in the past year. The Diocese of Pittsburgh has arguably gotten worse. Sure, we have new programs that “protect God’s children,” we have checks and procedures that keep volunteers accountable. But, true contrition? Lasting changes? Real admittance and accountability? A genuine desire to fight for heaven? That has occurred as few and as far between as homilies that hit home, of conversations from the higher ups that attend to our wounds, of priests, now referred to as administrators rather than fathers, seeming happy in their new assignments.

We have seen priests whom we love suffer, families leave, young people give up, dismiss, and turn away from a Church that has failed them, and I, card carrying and devout, do not blame them.

And yet, I remain.

Why? Because for whatever reason, that thing that 75% of Catholics just reported not believing in, that thing that so many of us think of as nothing more than a symbol, just an ordinary piece of bread? A regular glass of wine? That thing, to me, is real. And no matter how hard I try, I cannot walk away. 

At face value, the Eucharist is absolutely ridiculous, preposterous, bizarre. God becoming bread? Offering it to each of us?  Becoming part of our being?

And yet, I believe. 

Why? Because for whatever reason, He made it real for me. All I do is show up. And Time and time again, it happens. I plead “help me!” And He does. I say “prove it!” And He does. I say “your Church is run by crazy criminals!” And He says, “I know.”

And so, I stay. I keep my focus on Him. Because there is still good stuff here, even in the bad stuff. There is still good stuff. 


This article was originally written 4 years ago after the birth of my fourth baby. I am reposting because #mywishformoms struggling with PostPartum Depression is that they know love and find peace. 

A7A51C3F-CD52-4A31-B820-F624E9487AF9I was overcome with emotion as I spilled an entire pot of soup. Clumsiness and a poorly placed matchbox car were the unfortunate combination that robbed me of serving my first meal cooked successfully since the birth of our fourth baby. Bone broth and chopped vegetables settled into the cracks of my kitchen floor. Giggling toddlers splashed wildly in broth puddles. Failing to realize they were smashing my work and effort, they continued to stomp on heaping quantities of kale and carrots. They squealed joyfully. Relieved from eating vegetables for dinner, they rejoiced.

Normally, neither the spill, the mess, nor the chaos would bother me. Normally, my children’s joy would be enough to make me laugh, or at the very least, crack a smile. Normally, I would not cry or experience tremendous sadness over something that is moderately disappointing at most. Normally, I would not face incredible guilt for failing to properly navigate my emotions. Normally, I would happily discuss my struggle with my husband.

But I no longer felt normal.

Even with flagrant symptoms, admitting that I had postpartum depression (PPD) feels more like making a confession than stating the obvious. With a new baby and so much to be grateful for, admitting emotional turmoil can feel unnecessarily dramatic and selfish. Science clearly demonstrates that the illness is both blameless and its treatment is vital, yet my personal feelings work hard to convince me otherwise. Even with professional experience in psychology, properly navigating my own mental illness can feel hopeless.

Sixteen percent of new moms experience postpartum depression. The course and severity of the illness is different for everyone, and the course of treatment will vary accordingly. In the thick of mine, the intensity of the feelings is remarkably confusing. I am easily elated by the presence of my new baby. Simultaneously there is a strange, tangled combination of guilt, anxiety, loneliness, dependency, and isolation. I want and know one thing, but I feel another, all at the same time. The feelings pile up and swirl around each other creating a burden that is as heavy as it is bewildering. They overwhelm and self implode. Emotional reactions are rarely appropriate, and it is difficult to determine why. Allowing them to dictate behavior is incredibly easy. Simple criticism sticks. As it churns, I get stuck. It is a cycle of sadness, anxiety, anger, and misplaced guilt. It begins and ends and begins again. It explodes.

Facing such a beast requires care, focus, and help from loved ones and professionals. With proper treatment, though, I do believe there is considerable meaning in the mess and invaluable opportunities to love and be loved.

But the courage to finally say it aloud, to reach out to my husband, and do something about it did not come until weeks after I scored high on the doctor’s new mom’s mental health inventory for depression. Even when my husband asked or approached me with gentleness, I stalled the conversation. Once said aloud, I would have to deal with the reality of the situation. I’d need to carve time out of already busy, sleepless days. So I clung to the unspoken.

I spent much of that day finding my self-worth in the completion of small tasks. The demands of being a new mom—laundry, cleaning, spending individual time with each of my children, and countless other things—piled high. My desire to complete my to-do list robbed me from joy and diminished the dignity of what I was doing. Then, one night just before dinner, I spilled the soup and I decided it was time to talk.

To ensure our marriage is not an unintended casualty, my husband and I focus on communication. If I find it difficult to identify my feelings, I communicate just that. Although the depression is mine, his expression of feelings cannot get lost in the shuffling of my emotions. So we take turns empathizing and expressing until each of us feels understood. In all of this, the dialogue becomes less about managing an illness and more about finding joy in the opportunity to love vulnerabilities, sadness, and pain. Soon, what begins as a therapeutic exercise becomes a rediscovery of the person I married and of myself. It is a chance to revitalize the adventure and build a life as companions.

Honest communication with my husband also serves an important practical purpose when dealing with PPD. In the course of a postpartum day, I find myself managing busy schedules and many other new things. By frequently checking in on my internal thoughts and feelings, I can set more realistic expectations. Potential stressors, such as being alone for too long, are more easily identified and avoided as a team. Stress relievers like exercise, healthy eating, and quality time are more easily prioritized.

Thoroughly cleaning a mess of magnitude requires many things, especially patience. If chicken soup is involved, I also suggest having access to a generous amount of paper towels. Try also to remember that bottoms of small feet covered in smashed carrots threaten the well-being of clean carpets much faster than one may anticipate.

Most importantly though, it is essential to realize that seeking help from those who love you can transform a wearisome task. If approached with the right supplies and a good attitude, what seems overwhelming becomes much more manageable.

At some point, the sadness begins to untangle. The confusion unravels. The crescendo of madness settles into quiet. Peacefulness begins to blossom. What once felt nonsensical and haphazard begins to once again make sense. By accepting myself, my mental makeup and all that it entails, I can begin to experience gratitude for the particulars of my own biological process that I often fail to notice or take for granted. I have found that there is a certain sort of beauty in experiencing a type of suffering that is uniquely female, so intimately feminine. It is a process that brings forth a new unique human being made and born from the very depths of my own body. If there is anything worth sacrificing for, it is that.

Faith in the Fire

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While I am hesitant to read too deeply into the metaphorical significance of a Cathedral of such tremendous magnitude returning to dust at the onset of Holy Week, in a time of such turmoil, when corruption has come to head, when all we have felt in our hearts is how much we will not stand for what has gone on and what continues to be, I think it is safe to say this really, very much, feels wholly, completely, absolutely, and totally symbolic.

We will not rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral. The magnificence that took 200 years to point our eyes towards heaven no longer stands. We may one day build a physical structure that somewhat resembles it, but, the harsh reality is: Notre Dame has fallen.

Minutes after watching in horror as it collapsed in burning flames, I drove with my second grade daughter to teach her First Holy Communion class. Tonight, they witnessed with their eyes the inside of the Tabernacle, and for the first time, they tasted the unconsecrated Host, in preparation for their big day. They giggled and they squealed. They tried their best to remember which hand is right and which one is left. They wondered where to go and what to do next, and that the sign of the cross begins on their head, where the wisdom is, then their heart, where Jesus dwells, and that the Spirit will continually guide them on the left and on the right no matter which direction they will take. They skipped up the aisle and they played with the kneelers, they made funny faces when tasting the bread. They absolutely could not sit still. Nor should they. Receiving Jesus is a reason to dance.

As I watched each second grader approach the altar in earnest, I was reminded of something more important than any building or pew or altar, even the most ornate, the most iconic, the most impressive, the most spiritually and culturally significant. The Cathedrals that matter the most are the ones that we build in the hearts of our children. Do they know Him? Do they love Him? Do they know how much He loves each and every one of them? Do they know how he died, but more importantly, do they realize that HE ROSE. He Rose. He Rose for them and He Rose for me and He Rose for you. And He will Rise Again, for that very same reason; he loves us, even if and no matter what: He Loves You.

Our buildings may be crumbling. Our Church may feel like it is on the brink of turning into dust. So let us build it back up with the bricks of our faith. Let our love be what points high above to heaven and let it be what brings us back down to our knees, brick by brick, prayer by prayer. Each one of us a magnificent, irreplaceable work of His art. Keep the Faith, it Needs You.

The Best Lent

53417216_10101692801649072_498996756512505856_n copyI was approaching my 21st birthday, a new college graduate, and desperately in love with my ex-boyfriend who was discerning a vocation to the priesthood and had been for nearly two years. Despite the obvious nudge on my heart to utilize Lent as a spiritual opportunity to let the guy go wear his cassock and part his hair in the silliest looking severe side part you ever did see, I continued to pine, to lament, to complain ad nauseam. Underneath the incessant chatter was a deep fear. If God had called him, if the priesthood made him happy, if that is what he was made for, what would happen to me? But instead of tackling that load of heavy, I approached Lent insistent that 2007 would in fact be the year I succeeded in 40 days of fasting from my real addiction: Chocolate. Specifically, dark chocolate salted caramels.

A few days into Lent, my cravings were worse than I expected. Ghirardelli seemed like it was everywhere, so I met a friend to lament about Lent and complained some more about how terrible it felt to have the hots for a potential priest. And then she said, “What you are doing is not love, and I’m tired of listening to it. If you really love him, you would want him to find God’s will, even if you aren’t part of it.”

It was unsolicited advice coming in hotter than a hot fudge lava cake straight out of the oven.

I was mad, and down a coping mechanism. With no fudge to drown in, I took her words in front of the Eucharist, and cried. She was right. I did not want her to remain right. And so began the year I gave up Jim for Lent.

It was hard. I failed a lot, usually daily. Little by little though, chocolate chip by M&M, the act of redirecting my thoughts towards God’s will for Jim and not mine, did not get easier. It did, however, grow in peace, and trusting God all the way deep down became more real, more felt, more of an owned desire. As Good Friday approached, I knew a little bit more about love as sacrifice. Fasting from sweet treats remained torturous.

Easter morning came bright and beautiful and around the time I savored my 27th Cadbury egg, my sister called to say, “I have to talk with you about Jim.” Ready to rumble and remind her of all of my spiritual hard work I began to bite back. Before I could berate her though, she uttered the most glorious sentence I had ever heard, “Jim is coming home on Friday. He is not becoming a priest.”

Not only was God not skipping me, He was preparing something beautiful, and he was doing it with a bit of a liturgical season dramatic flare. Months later I would learn that Jim decided he would come home before Lent, but thought 40 more days prayerful preparation might make him a better husband some day. (The privilege of being married for 11 years is that I now get to consider that detail less romantic than it is annoying, because seriously, you could have just texted.)

Every year as I rattle my brain to come up with the perfect Lenten sacrifice, I think back to that moment I found out he was coming home, the rush of understanding, being overcome with the grace of knowing God is always there, in each and every day that Jim and I spent apart, and in all of the days we would get to spend together. How much of an effort God makes to roll away the stone blocking my heart from His. It helps to remember to not pursue perfection, to settle down from the sacrifices, so as to settle into the season of learning what it means to love.

Even If, No Matter What


The moment occurs at the beginning of each of my pregnancies. Shortly after discovering that I am, in fact, pregnant I am overcome by this experience that I hesitate to qualify with any term other than grace. It is one of those moments that only lasts a second, if that. In that second though, is so much powerful significance that I still feel as if I can reach out and touch the memory of each of the times it has occurred. The chill of my body, the exact spot where I stood, the way it smelled, how it sounded; it is all permanently ingrained.

I consider it God’s way of communicating to me, revealing something I need, letting me catch a glimpse of what He has in store for me in His eternal heart. It is also a startling awakening that signals me to stop focusing on all the silly things that do not matter very much, on all those reasons why I think I can’t, again.

The moment hits me in an unexpected wave that is both gentle and strong. Its soft whispers convince me that not only is it going to be ok, it is going to be wonderful. Beyond the sickness, the exhaustion, the itchiness, the insomnia and all of the other things that are hard and feel, momentarily, all consuming, there is something very good happening.  And for that second, the most brief of all instances, that is both there and gone before I take my next breath, I know who my baby is.

Before a sonogram, the pregnancy announcement, the gender reveal or a protruding belly, upon absolutely no power of my own, the sense of who they are goes all the way through to my bones. Call me crazy, but their eyes, their hair, their mischief tingle up through my spine and back down again. I sense the gender, their faults, the gifts that they are given, the talents they will develop, the ways they will drive me crazy and make me crazy in love in one singular instance that changes everything. It is as if they existed all along.

I have long considered this experience an intimate gift between God and me, a singular instant shared that reminds me no matter how difficult the next 9 months and subsequent years may me, at the heart of it all is not something, but someone. A person. There is a whole entire person entrusted to me. This is a very helpful thing on which to focus, especially when puking at 3am or trying to get five kids to school on time.

Since learning the news of New York’s legislation that permits and legally protects the abortion of human beings through all 40 weeks of pregnancy using the cruel and unusual means of lethal injection, I am compelled to share more of my experiences of life’s first moments. This effort is not so much rooted in an attempt to convince anyone’s opinion otherwise, although I happily welcome that. Simply, I want to exercise the privilege of sharing who I am, what I think, and what ideas make up the person, specifically the woman, that I am- an existence for which I am eternally grateful. There is nothing more important to me than our ability to recognize the dignity of the human person at all stages of life, especially the most sufferable in the most impossible of scenarios at the most inconvenient of times.

The topic of abortion in its polarization, politicalization, propaganda, and ability to really ruin a dinner party, has the ability to rattle and unravel rational thinking and productive conversation. As much as I hesitate to participate in a conversation that political structures have so successfully vilified (mostly for their own profit), I cannot ignore the encounters with the dignity of personhood that is so thoroughly and firmly part of who I am. The laws I support must reflect the philosophical underpinnings that I have made my own. In the circumstance when the law directly violates the very framework by which I live and the essence of my experiences as a woman, I cannot remain silent.  The reality is, that no matter how emotional we get, abortion will always boil down to one incredibly important and absolutely essential question about our existential existence as human persons. When does life begin? Why are we as Americans, in all of our scientific and technological advances, unable to answer with any semblance of coherence?

For me, and many, this question is not only answerable, it is an essential building block upon which we frame and build our philosophy of life. Life begins at conception. There is much scientific evidence that supports this position, and a sonogram will prove it.

Political semantics have attempted to pigeon hole my position about when life begins and silence my point of view because a pro life feminist does not fit the narrative. The assertion that life begins at conception which is largely based on my own experience as a feminine person, attempts to disqualify me and call me anti-woman, anti-choice. The effort to make me yield my convictions to the velocity of women’s rights, and the magnitude of movements like #metoo, the wage gap, and so many other flagrant injustices is both frustrating and isolating. Nonetheless, I refuse to concede that participating in the human rights violation of others will make us equal to men or more productive in society. It will make us worse and less influential.  Moreover, it makes us less of who we are as women and the inherent feminine genius that we possess. Women are made to do hard things, to deliver babies in seemingly impossible circumstances, to give and bare life with the very flesh of our bodies. As a feminist, I cannot grapple with the fact that we would ever deny ourselves the experience of seeing to fruition the full consequences of our sexual decisions. That we would ever believe we must rely on the government to grant us rights that we inherently possess, that we desire the false promises of believing sex ought to exist without consequences, or fail to recognize the humanity that finds its very beginning within the depth of our bodies.

It can get awfully confusing when presented with the most extreme of circumstances, those scenarios flooding our social media feeds, that say this law is really designed to protect good women from the pain of delivering babies that are no longer viable, but so desperately wanted, and to save the life of the mother whose survival hangs in the balance of a dangerous pregnancy.  To that, since I am not a doctor, I offer the Dublin Declaration, in which thousands of OBGYNs assert that there is never a medical reason to encourage the direct and intentional killing of the unborn, which is the exact medical scenario that this law seeks to legally protect. Many medical scenarios may arise in which the demise of the baby occurs precisely because the intent of OBs is to always do what is best for the woman. In those very hard cases, the ones where the sonograms show predicted inviability, why as women are we so encouraged to not still see it through? Why are we told and encouraged to deny ourselves the experience of doing hard things and sharing these experiences? There is no way to sterilize suffering, no matter how painless the injection. How terrifying it is to accept the parts of life that are beyond our control, those things that limit and confine, crush, and and make us crumble. Those things that make us do what is hard when it is against our will and in spite of our desires. In those moments though, is the opportunity to cling to the core truths that we really do know, deep down underneath it all. The moment that life begins and ends is not up to us to decide.

My niece Mary Margaret has six older brothers. Her mother, at the time of her conception was of “advanced maternal age.” Her 20 week ultrasound indicated severe fetal abnormalities, the sort of which incur the suggestion of abortion in an effort to reduce the high probability of suffering for both mother and child. Yet, Mary Margaret is a thriving three year old who spends much of her day bossing around a bunch of bigger boys. How lucky a young lady to one day learn how wanted she is even if, and no matter what. To me, this is the heart of what feminism needs: A well lived conviction that women are always loved, even if, and no matter what.

I am reluctant to judge all of the supporters of this legislation. The temptation to categorize them and permanently sever my own way of thinking from theirs is certainly present. As difficult as it is for me to understand, though, the intention to protect women may very well be in their hearts, a viewpoint that is a convoluted product of a broken culture or particular experience. Nonetheless, I am terrified by this laws ability to impact harm both on individuals and the already torn fabric of American culture at large. The ambiguity and deliberate vague definitions of “women’s health” allow for the abuse of this law by very bad people, in very bad ways, and it will allow it all to happen with the full approval and protection of American Law. As the events and current condition of my beloved Catholic Church continue to remind me, we live in a world where Theodore McCarrick was decidedly protected and purposefully promoted. There are very bad people who say things that sound quite good. Our laws cannot enable their behavior, and we must wake up to the power that we possess to make it better. For example, I encourage you to recall the case of Kermit Gosnell. Under this law Kermit Gosnell has protection. He was convicted as a serial killer. 

Life begins at conception. Therefore, abortion is always a violation of human rights. 100% of the time. Even if, and no matter what. That does not mean I do not feel sympathy for the parents, or fail to recognize the vastly complicated realities of life, and poverty, and race, and abuse, and rape, and youth, and fetal abnormalities, and just how difficult all of this is and will always be. It means I believe that there is another voiceless human being that we, as a culture, fail to recognize or acknowledge as mattering at all. The definition of personhood, that point in time at which a human being begins to matter continues to become more and more ambiguous, less and less legally protected. Across state lines personhood laws lack any coherence or consistency. In the attempt to normalize abortion, we have failed to answer the most basic questions of all: what makes a person a person?

Is it when we will it? When I say so? When I decide that I want who is already there? As powerful and beautiful and strong and capable as women are, we do not get to decide when life begins or when it ends, even if, especially if, it is happening within us.

New York’s legislation has awoken the unsettled questions and reignited the hate filled attacks that keep us all in our corners ready to knock out the other before the first punch. That to me, is another element of how well crafted the evil; the way the reporting and politicking twists it and sells it so as to permanently separate, continually enrage, completely dismantle our ability to have a conversation. The desire to win at making the policy disables us from finding the person- not only in the womb, but in each other.

Conversely though, it has reinvigorated so many of us to celebrate life with honesty, bravery and courage. May we continue to tell our stories, to share our beliefs, our children’s beginnings, our unwanted pregnancies, and those we tried so hard to conceive. May we dig deeper in our pursuit to allow life, at its tiniest beginnings, to impact the totality of our existence with tremendous enormity. Let us celebrate life and protect it with all that we are and all that we do.

Worth It

The following is a story written by me 5 years ago on my old blog I am sharing again because I want to share stories of the Dignity of Life in light of New York’s decision to legalize abortion with the use of lethal injection.

A Great Race 

The runners sweat drips steadily and peacefully offering the dark hard road its gentle rolling moisture. Just outside my fifth floor window, the pattern of pounding hardens and slows at the wet hill; its incline stifling the swift, continuous stride of their rhythmic feet, the muggy air sticking to its steepness, the cadence of each step slowing towards its unrelenting landing, their socks soaking the rain are soggy. Each step is one closer towards the finish of this Great Race. They are a sea of muddled effort, a community of isolation in tandem and competitive contest in parallel motion. They stare at the road beneath them. Its monotony is inflexible. The cheers of the sidelines are unable to change its interminable blackness. Their clothes are light and revealing the form of their bodies, made of spandex and rayon, their color black with neon flashes. Their reasons for running are frustrated by the incline of the hill, its gradient muddying their purpose, precipice rising with each cold step.

I lay on my side. My eyes brew with envy towards the foggy glass barrier. They continue to pass by, impacting me much more than their knees. I would like to capture the air beneath each foot just before it strikes, that single moment of human flight. I imagine flying by with speed and long legs, toned and tight, without veins, cramps, or extra pounds. My body light and free, my midline strong and balanced, as I soak the sideline cheering, determined and fast, smiling and well trained. My stomach is calm, and unlike the year before, I do not vomit over the highway’s side, in a disgusting display of too eager too early, unable to endure the swishing and churning of nervous acids threatening to expel. My joints, rejuvenated, do not pound. They glide and absorb the landing. They rebound with bouncing speed, each step faster than the last.

“Maybe next year,” I whisper hopefully as I shift my stare below to my feet, swollen and veiny, tired and cramped. The floor beneath them is parquet, small pieces of dull wood composing a puzzle frustrated with no beginning or end. It is just like the one in the living room at home, but hopefully, cleaner. The walls, covered in maroon colored, fruit patterned wallpaper circa 1986, the year of my birth, or some other year of unfortunate fashion, suffocate. I wonder what this room designer is like, the one who decided the color of dry blood for walls looked upon for courage and strength. The one who put that window there with the perfect view of cycled flight fast and free. I think maybe that I hate her.

A few thousand steps before this hill each racer stood behind the start line attempting to balance anxiety and self -assurance, apprehension and preparedness. For me, the moments before a race are always the same. The physical hunger is subsided by nerves unsettled by the fear of the shotgun, as I wonder if my feet will do what they ought when the sound is heard.  My speech is hurried.  I step up as close as I can to the line. I’m almost bouncing; excitement intensifying all the way to my fingertips painted red and vibrant, sleek and loud, and I cannot seem to shake it out. I inhale, unable to catch the air all the way. The height of the breath remains out of reach, stifled by the pounding of my heart. The gun is a pop, the signal to go. My shoes do not absorb the first strike, or the tenth. It is a sloppy stride with too much distance between each step, heels landing flat, and hips bearing down. The height of each breath is still dangling above me, as I wonder if I will complete even one mile. Then, the first burst of moisture is felt on the small of my back, at the point of sciatic pressure and lumbar curve. It gently rolls, spreading to my neck and forehead, each bead a wet release of encouraging stamina. With its break, I find my stride. I begin to fly for millions of singular moments between each pounding rebound.

This pregnancy, too, began with a line. A faint shade of pink, a delicate color for a statement so strong. Its paleness marks the start of my 40-week gestational marathon.  At its sight, buckling knees, sinking hips, shoulders surrendering into the concaves of my chest, flatten my immovable feet further. My breaths exhale to the pit of my stomach, yet they fail to move me at all. The lump in my throat sits large. No matter how tightly I close my eyes, or how much the burrow of my brow reveals my worries; the sight of its positivity remains the same. Hours earlier, the public display of gagging at the site of raw chicken had already indicated pregnancy. The midnight sweats catapulting my head from my pillow and into the toilet further signaling my suspicion. I raise my eyes, watery and beginning to swell. The sight before me was a pale reflection of fear and doubt, disbelief and question. My mind fills with waging battles between midnight bouts of vomiting into porcelain, with early morning toddler wrangling with swollen eyes and creaking joints. Images of three lap children on one airplane with strict aviation laws and other passengers, trips to the grocery store with two hands, three babies, a shopping cart, and produce displays within a toddler’s arms reach, pushing strollers the same size as small European vehicles, crawling under tables to pick up Cheerios, continue to thwart my motivation to move, to blink, to breath. All I want to do is run. To feel the pavement below each strike, to soak its impact fast and hard, to shed my fears through dripping sweat, my feet the vehicle of freedom and distance, my will its driver. Yet, as I strain to lift my heel from the floor, my muscles are tense and inflexible. I am stuck.

I had seen that line before, and I had been ready. There was no regret, no apprehension the two times before. The knowing awareness of her tiny beating heart, pulsing with each of mine, mount the blame already welling, further halting my feet and their steps. Unable to meditate on the life within me, or grapple with any of my practical impediments as the parental unit of three children two and under, a spiral of self-pity commences.  The guilt is heavy and thick and so is the fear.  I look at my arms, and regret their lack of tone. My waist still thin, having never worn that dress. My skin, beginning to age prematurely for its number of years already looks tired. My free time to be traded for naps of tired desperation. At 25, I feel old.

There is a peculiar resentment of my fertility even though I know how precious it is, how delicate, how fleeting. While I am aware of the tiny humanity clinging to my nourishment, relying on the walls of my body and making I do not yet appreciate her, know her, want her. The guilt for harboring such thoughts debilitates my breaths into unrelentingly confusing gasps and sobs. My two children fight and squawk in the kitchen over blueberries and juice boxes, as my husband knocks on the door at the sound of my sobbing. With nine grueling months ahead of me, my breaths continue flickering unsteadily, barely able to support my stance at all. I rest my hand on my womb and search for life, but I can’t yet feel it. The end is millions of miles from that bathroom mirror, and I am desperately seeking a path to escape, to run away as fast as I can, to avoid the reflection staring back at me.

I do not run. “God knows,” I repeat to myself, gently coaching moment after moment, day after day, even though I don’t believe it.  But, growing a baby is a commitment of mind just as it is one of the body, and I refuse to give up. It is a marathon of life, a resurrection of sacrifice, and this is my turn to give what I’ve got.

Its precipice is my looking out this window as laboring my third child intensifies, still wishing I could run away.

The sheets on the bed that detains me are itchy, confining, and hot. I place my hand on its scratchy covering. I stretch each finger long and wide; their violent texture an inconsolable foundation for finger’s working so hard. I beg the pressure to escape my fingers red painted tips, too flashy a color for birthing a baby. As the height of the pressure declines and releases, I stand so as to shake the labor out from my feet, to release it with kicks and flailing limbs thrusting their way towards nowhere.

The gown is draping, revealing and hot. It does not move with my body. It stifles. It hangs. It sticks. It’s too big, too ugly, too borrowed, and not made for a woman so small or with so many opinions.

The bathroom a few feet away, might as well be ten kilometers from the squishy ball on which I sit, leaking and swaying. It is made for stretching and sit-ups. It is used to ease each mounting pressure with movement, to break the monotony of the bed’s stillness. As if rocking will make it end sooner or squish could absorb the pain.

I breathe in between. My husband is in my face breathing with me. His face is gentle. He is confident of the strength inside me, of my ability to pace, and make it to the end. He can see the womanhood I possess, and all of its feminine power. Yet, as it tightens again, I am weak, and unfeminine, with nothing left to push, and nothing left to give. I feel incapable of handling what is to come naturally for a woman, but probably not one with such small, childlike hips. I dream of running the fastest 10 kilometers of my life in the face of someone who believes in me. Then, the strength for one more contraction comes out through the gasp of my breath.

The haze will not release the sun. It is stuck, just like me at too few centimeters. I am not close, and if I hear the number 6 again, I think I’ll rip out the needle and throw it at the bearer of “only four more to go!” The cheer is meant to be one of encouragement, but with what seems like an eternity of painful distance between one and ten, my screams become grunts of anger.

“Concentrate, you are doing great. It’s just a few miles more” he tries to encourage using words I like, metaphors I understand. My gaze continues in envy, toward that window. “Stop looking at them,” he says catching my focus. He hopes the race ends soon because the envy is distracting, and he is tired, too. The runners now are stragglers, their landings hard and painful, their clothes soaked, their bodies heavy. The good ones have crossed the finish. They eat bananas, compare their times, regret their performance on the hill outside the window through which I blink and stare.

Each contraction, like a hill; the intensity in its rising, lactic acid burning, focus on the breath, my muscles are ripping apart. Each one is growing stronger, a mounting pressure emerging steadily every two minutes. It is as if at first it asks its permission. It hopes for acceptance as its intensity grows. It exists nonetheless, and continues to climb in disobedience.

The sounds of hearts beating muffled and quiet continue to determine the course and pace of my labor. Our beats, united in both stress and calm, as her fast pulse is in sync with mine. She is squeezed, yet endures, moving down. It is difficult, though, to think of her, or anyone else, in moments that feel like such insurmountable personal weakness. I bear the consequence of another with parched breath, dry and stale. The faces of those surrounding me are all in mine, as I demand they push both my spirit and already bruised back. Yet, no amount of muscle or sweat could absorb my body that feels much too small to bring forth the life of my own, let alone someone else’s.

The sound down the hall is of a woman’s final push. It is a desperate scream and a call to God. The newborn cry follows. It is perfect and pure. It could be heard as motivation, of a finish line close, just a few more breaths. Yet, my concentration to bear down and breathe is baffled and thwarted. My envy is fueled by a finish line crossed by someone other than me. I request help with the pain. My sister interrupts, “Just one more. Pretend it’s a mile.” I do one more. She’s a runner, too.

They pray around me, with beads of peace and rhythm, so long as I don’t find it annoying. The repetition reminds me to breath, to experience my body. I listen to its strength, one step at a time, one cycle into the next, one bead after the other.

“It’s time,” the doctor says, and my eyes well with tears. “Are you excited?” I ask, with the finish line in sight, and they are crying, too.

The lights are bright, and reveal too much of a lady. The stirrups offer cold support, but their presence seems more appropriate on a horse for someone strong enough to use them. The mirror should be thrown and cracked and broken. The silver table, ready to greet her, with a test and to find her weight, seems too cold, far away, and rather judgmental.

My stomach tightens. I close my eyes. My breaths astonish my body’s dependent weakness, its bending and bruising. They hold my limbs, hanging and disconnected. I push. I pray. I cry.

The moment is the same each time for each race, not the circumstance but the feeling. The cadence slows, my muscles cramp, my heart beats fast, and my breaths can no longer keep up with its rhythm as airways tighten and restrict. I am pushed to the point of puking, or my shoulder bleeds from a messy fall, my knees smash into pavement, and I cannot remember how I stood up or why. To quit is impossible, but continuing seems so, too. The temptation is to be still, but that’s when the pain sets, swelling to the point of bursting. That’s where the will is made, the pain ignored even though I’m screaming, the movements persist not automatically, but to the tempo and tune of “almost there, cycle again, breath once more, exhale now, land and absorb, bring flight to it now, strike again, another step closer, inhale, repeat.” Then it’s over. The ending is immediate and abrupt. The path of the course, the rhythm of my treads, their circles and landings in duplicated recurrence are erased by the pavement behind me. The tempo of my body is made still, as my mind begins to race with adrenaline, sigh in elation, bounce in jubilation. Life is clear, and I am capable. My memory is oblivious to its trauma, my mouth grins a gloating smile, soreness is hung by happiness, and a sweaty release goes unnoticed. I did it. I finished, and the road behind me no longer matters.

The Ring of Fire is the name for this moment in labor. New life at the threshold of birth pushes to escape. Its breath is not yet present, but its power is full and robust, demanding to be noticed as it paralyzes and humiliates, authorizes and inspires. Then, it is a slide and a slither, a sobering instant streamlining unfathomable pain with a blink and a cry. The physical relief is not at first noticed. Rather, it is a surge of joy just as powerful as the pain, overwhelming just the same, grateful gasps resounding and repeating.

The room and its window no longer matter. The walls, the floor, the lights, and their faces are a background blur.

Her name is Rita.

I am her mother.

Her cries cleanse us both. What was once fear is purified by her gentleness, what was once saturated by guilt is transformed by her innocence. This baby I never thought I wanted, lying naked in my arms. Her innocence is exposed, my desire for her insatiable.

The first look between a husband and wife after giving birth surely must exist in eternity. The recollection of yelling, cursing, and nearly strangling him moments earlier is erased and forgotten. His smile is one of proud fulfillment, tears revealing his thanksgiving at the sight of his second baby girl. Memories of the gentle acceptance spoken by his first knock on the door in the moment of my discovery of pregnancy echo. His strong arms are protective, surrounding my frail figure, a tender reminder to breath slow; their embrace coaching my anxiety to absorb into the kind beat of his heart.

Awe is what I feel as she is given to me. My shaking arms hold her, as she is placed directly on my chest. Her tiny breaths are in sync with mine. These first moments of life hold humanity’s most important truths. It is where innocence stems, newness is revealed, and purpose is born, all in the form of a baby. She is a miracle made flesh. A person, there all along, when I looked in that mirror and had all those questions, faced all those doubts, struggled to believe it. She was there all along, in me, all along.

A gaze is at the reflection of myself in her, so small and new. There is finally a visual depiction of the language silently communicated by our bodies since the moment of her conception, a significance and purpose that I did not understand until her 7 pound body, made from and kept by the flesh of my own, lays there blinking and cooing at her brand new world. The victory is her presence, her body my reward.

364 days later I ran the Great Race again in a personal record. Five fast miles in, with the barrier to my left, and my window up five floors to my right, there is a hesitation in my stride. I begin to slow out of a curious desire to stop and stay awhile, to let that spot impact my knees just a little longer than my pace and its energy want. As I look up at my window from the other side, it was gratitude in place of envy, freedom in the place of guilt, desire in the place of regret. The road race’s finish line is a ways ahead of this spot that marked my effort, my desire to flee, my decision to accept, the courage to sacrifice in the Great Race of motherhood. I pause for a moment, praying and cheering for those women in their beds, with their itchy gowns and ugly walls, in their panting and breathing, their swelling and their cramping. “You can do it,” I cheer and I hope they can feel my motivation because each and every one of them is doing great, and so am I. With a wave and a smile I ran to the finish.

“Did you win, Mom?” my oldest, age 3, blurts out in enthusiasm as I return home to our home, quite comfortable in its mess. He stands sturdily with his favorite race car in his right hand. His hairs stick like wires, long eyelashes blinking quickly and inquisitively. He is barefoot and strong, clumsy and curious. My husband stands tall cooking breakfast. My daughter, age two, bounces happily towards me, her blond curls, voluminous and buoyant, spunkily rebounding with each of her steps. There is chocolate on her face and she only wears a diaper. She swiftly wraps her arms around my leg, her happiness exuberant as she repeats her sounding joy, “Yay, Mommy!” Baby Rita, just one day from her first birthday, sits content and glad, still in her pajamas, her tiny palms clapping while cooing and laughing. She would jump to me if she could, her smile containing the most cheerful peace, her chub the perfect amount for a happy baby.

“Absolutely,” I reply.