A Way to Mark Time

Time is one of the things over which we have no control. It cannot be stopped or manipulated and it flows in only one direction — at least as far as we know. It can, however, be sanctified.”

Alan Jones

It is December 5th, the second Sunday of Advent, and the first December I have not been a teacher. I woke up early to shower and go somewhere the other day, and as the water rushed over me, I thought I do not miss this. There is nothing to be mourned from 5:30AM wake-ups, hustling lunches, diapers, and book bags out the door for a 7:30AM start to my work day. Those are not the things I miss about teaching.

I feed Anneliese with one hand as I type this with the other. Her entrance into our lives back in April was more and less disruptive than Evangeline’s, more and less life-changing for me, more and less miraculous. As with most things, I try to assess as I go so that I can experience the moment in real time, rather than in some sort of nostalgic reflection: having a second baby doesn’t seem to be as emotionally or mentally difficult as having a first baby; I am still the “new me” of motherhood, so there is no big identity shift; logistics are a nightmare as they never were with only one child; there is no more playing around (there were times with one baby that I felt like we just had a little buddy we brought along to everything we did — now we have two little buddies, but that’s one buddy each, and not everyone loves an incessantly-talking-toddler-and-incessantly-grunting/screaming-baby combo).

[Anneliese is done eating. I give her a huge slinky to toss around on the top of her high chair. I think I hear Evangeline stirring upstairs. Type, frantically.]

When September rolled around, I felt the itches of a new school year. I am 32 years old, and this was the first September (minus one outlying year after college) that I have not begun a new academic year since I was three years old. Many teachers have similar stats to their life resumes, but when I realized that was 28 years of fresh starts and new notebooks and new syllabi, I was shocked.

[I asked a former teacher how many years it would take before I stopped measuring time in school years. She smiled sweetly and said, “Probably never.”]

I wondered how I would feel after I left teaching, who I would feel like. “Once a teacher, always a teacher,” is both terrifying and lovely — more than once, I have found myself on the cusp of correcting a child I had no business correcting, laying out expectations in too-obvious a format for regular adult communication. And of course I could wax poetic about the daily instruction and guidance I give my daughters etc. etc., but that feels like trying to shape my days into something they aren’t. I’m “teaching,” sure, but it is so much more personally rewarding longterm than classroom teaching, and so much less rewarding on the daily level. They are similar, but not the same.

On this second Sunday of Advent, I can’t help but think how the Church calendar has influenced my spiritual walk and my writing. Both Advent and Lent create this mysterious space that opens me up to inspiration. This year, my inspiration is taking the form of moments of candle-lighting, hat-knitting, and a slow movement toward rest. Again, a year spent with the Sacred Ordinary journal, and the short daily reflections coupled with more extensive searching in the weekly Examine are allowing me to tap into that part of me that used to commune with God in the quiet, but now communes with Him in the bustle and loud of a home taken up with others.

Time is always on my mind. As a mystery and as a bringer of death. As an agent for healing and as a vehicle for change. How to mark it? Should I mark it? What would happen if I didn’t?

September used to mark the beginning of a new academic year. September of 2021 flowed from August and into October in a seamless wave of walks, diapers, coffee dates, middle-of-the-night wakings, and endless dishes and laundry.

December used to mark the beginning of Advent. December of 2021 still marks the beginning of Advent. When I cracked open my blue Sacred Ordinary and looked at the wheel of the Church calendar, I wondered at the consistency, at the shared experience across time. We will light the second candle of Advent today in our living room and across the globe. I’ll read the Scripture reading, and Evangeline will want to light all the candles at once because who wouldn’t?

I may not be teaching, but it is still Advent. Christ is still coming. Christ has still come.

Fire in Her Belly

It was a simple print hung on the wall of a house I hardly knew. I was fourteen, I think, maybe fifteen, and I saw it as I was leaving. The black ink outline of a woman’s full, pregnant body, the orange flame of fire inside. I must have looked confused, or maybe I asked outright: “What is this?” because the woman who lived there tried to explain.

Mary, human body filled with fire, Jesus, Holy Spirit, pregnant with fire, flesh.

I wasn’t much older than fifteen because I was unable to understand. Art — like life — was still two-dimensional, and the idea that an image that wasn’t real could represent the true was too hard for me to comprehend.

I still see that image every Advent, burned into my memory like the fire in her belly.

Last Advent, I, too, was expecting my first child. I basked in the joy of sharing that time with the Church calendar, and I loved that we had much to wonder about. Many of our questions have been answered (she has Gabe’s eyes, my smile, and her own sense of rhythm), but there are still so many. Every morning, she wakes up new, and just when I think I have mastered this parenting thing, she changes the rules. I am grateful that we have been able to make her life beautiful and comfortable, even while so many parents struggle to fill their children’s tummies.

Last Advent, I sang in a stretched-thin gold dress for three nights. I ran out of breath on nearly every musical line, but my voice felt strong. The baby liked the music. I was happy to squeeze a six-month belly into my old concert dress.

This Advent, I had a dream of her sitting in the concert, her eyes wide with delight. I thought she would love it. Gabe, even, thought it was doable. So he dressed her in a plaid Christmas dress and tights and sweater.

She made it through the first song. She didn’t want to listen to us, she wanted to sing with us.

That’s the problem with a baby who’s used to singing: she doesn’t know when to stop.

I use the term “singing” lightly. She scream-sings, shout-sings, utters every single emotion she experiences with her voice. She doesn’t know how not to interact with people — how to just let them be — and so she is apparently a difficult concert baby (which is to be expected at nine months, I suppose).

I was sad to see them get up and leave the room, but also relieved.

Did you hear that baby in the back? Ruined every single cadence.

After Gabe took her out (they paced the entryway for a bit, went downstairs, listened through the floors), we sang a set about flowers, the idea of Mary as a Rose, Christ as a Rose. The lines flooded over me.

There is no rose of such virtue
As is the rose that bare Jesu,

For in this rose contained was
Heaven and earth in little space,
Res miranda.

Here it was again: “For in this rose contained was Heaven and earth in little space.”

Fire in her belly.

Res miranda — marvelous thing!

As Madeleine L’Engle says, “I do not understand the incarnation. I rejoice in it.”

This is beyond my understanding. It is beyond my reason. I remember feeling the baby move inside me and wondering who this baby would become. How much harder would it have been to allow Jesus to become who he was? Just as I wrote last spring, she is her own, and Mary must have wrestled with the same feelings I have: This is my baby, and yet he is not. He was the fire in my belly, and yet…

I often think what a terrifying honor to hold the Son of God in your womb. Then I think what a terrifying honor to hold any human in your womb. I think of the women who desire a child but aren’t able to carry one. I think of the babies who aren’t wanted. I think of my own mother, the exhaustion, the stress, the deep ache of love. I yearn for a world where hearts are not broken.

Maybe we all have fire in our bellies.



I haven’t sat down to write in I don’t know how long. My journal is a picture that seems to say my life is empty and not worth documenting. My blog is a snapshot of nothingness.

We had this idea to do “LoDe” (Local December Writing Month) because we thought there’d be time during the holidays to write that whatever-we’ve-been-meaning-to-write.


Two more grad school classes down, and I’m feeling a little closer to the goal. I wrote a unit on The Odyssey because somehow I graduated with a B.A. in English and never once read it in class. I read it on my own sometime in high school, but I’ve gotta say: Classical literature is not really my jam. It’s so verbose. It’s so formulaic.

I do love the mythology, though. And I love the themes. I’m hoping on this second read-through I’ll be more appreciative of the artistry that went into crafting this epic.

I wrote a unit on it so I’d be better at teaching it, because if there’s one thing students pick up on right away, it’s if you love your subject or not.

We’re singing Veni, Veni in Latin since it’s the last week before break. We talk about the difference between Classical Latin and Ecclesiastical Latin, how Classical Latin is what was spoken during the Roman Empire and Ecclesiastical Latin is what developed during the medieval period and what was (is) used by the Catholic Church. Then, we attempt to sing, with a little processional thrown in for good measure.

There’s such a disconnect between middle school and high school when it comes to singing; my high schoolers look like I’m asking them to chop their arms off when really all I want is a little melody. I always show this video because I love the harmonies and the beautiful vowels and the hilarious way the men contort their faces to make these beautiful vowels.

We finished up our voice lessons for the semester. Two of my voice students sang in the recital, and all six of them sang in the Christmas concerts. I told them I’d better see them open their mouths on the high notes. We still have some “fig-leaf” positions to address, but overall, I was pleased.

My ivy plant still hasn’t died.

I’ve consumed a decent number of cookies this week.

I’ve attended two Christmas concerts and one middle school play in four days.

I realized — last night, in the middle of the Upper School Christmas concert — that I was so out of it, I didn’t even KNOW I hadn’t bought Christmas presents. Wait. I’m supposed to be doing this. Or at least, I’m supposed to be upset that I’m not yet doing this.

I have three Christmas gifts.

I have a lot more people.

Phone calls with distant friends and letters from Philly and an island in Maine help to hide the fact that we’re far away and spread thin.

I ran into my dear friend I haven’t seen since July, and suddenly her baby is five months old and the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen. Suddenly, time has passed and I haven’t changed much but look at this little human. 


Every day in December, I have kept my promise to read the Advent devotional from the local seminary. Haven’t missed a day, and that’s rare around these parts. Granted, they’re short. One step at a time.

I’m still working on my dad’s sweater. Yep. The same one I started last fall. It’s like I can’t finish a project in under a year. In my defense, it is a sweater that will fit my dad, not an infant. And it is hunter green covered in cables.

So, that’s what’s been going on in my neck of the woods. As friends busy about applying for grad school, raising babies, settling into newlywed life, teaching various subjects, I find myself orbiting my little sector, hoping soon to slow down enough to create what I feel bubbling.

Good Things #26: A Smattering of Things

Friends who don’t twist your arm but somehow always get it out of you. I’d been holding it in the whole time. That’s something I’m not particularly good at, but there are some things better off left to stew for awhile. I’d been smiling and laughing and whatever else the moment called for, but finally, on the phone in the dark, I spilled my guts.

They weren’t pretty.

I didn’t do it because she begged me, and I didn’t do it because I felt an obligation. It was like a letting go, a release of all that I’d been holding onto for far too long.

And what did my city-friend say, miles away in her apartment?

She reminded me that every week I write about something good, and I should remember that.

Exactly what I needed on a Sunday night in December.

My bedroom at Christmas. There are few things more delightful than a cozy bedroom, and while I can’t fit a tree in here, I do have a balsam candle that’s almost as good. I strung lights around the window and made an attempt at a garland (gingerbread cookies and cranberries – the logistics are harder than you’d think).

photo 1I also set out the Christmas dolls my mom bought me when I was little (I think they may have partly been for her, but I hold on to them nonetheless).

Set them out on my new bookshelf, made for me by a friend. Yes, you read that right. Seems the stacks of books surrounding my bed was an abomination that couldn’t wait. Pretty pleased with how it turned out.

photo 3

Aladdin. The musical is over. It was so much work. The kids were wonderful, and I laughed through the whole show. My father chided me, saying it wasn’t nice, but they know me. They’ve been listening to me laugh for two months now. They know it’s for love.

Surprise packages. I don’t remember the last time I got a package in the mail. Okay, I do. I bought some cds with an Amazon gift card last year. But you know what I mean. Yesterday, I came home to a little white package on the island. I didn’t recognize the address. Out came a paperback of flash fiction with a card from my uncle. I don’t even think he knows I have an affinity for flash fiction, but there it was in my kitchen. I stuck it in my bag and carried it around all day, but it looks like it’ll have to wait for evening and a glass of wine.

Sippican[Also, not quite sure about this character. Sippican Cottage? That can’t be his real name. And his blog is hilarious. More to come.]

Music. I rediscovered this classic from my friend’s blog last week. Nothing like a good, melancholy Christmas song.

Only one week left, guys. Buckle up. Today’s my shopping day. Watch out.

Good Things #25: The Season of Waiting

Because this is the truth: if we were perfectly put together; if the world wasn’t full of disappointments and betrayals; if we didn’t spend weeks and weeks waiting for someone to stop hurting us…if we weren’t having our hearts broken right and left by this broken world – we wouldn’t need a savior. –Lindsay

I got this in my inbox this Sunday and it was oddly positioned to hit me at the worst (best?) moment possible.

Waiting is often harder than I expect. I can be quite good at it…when I am absolutely sure what I am waiting for. I can wait for 70% dark chocolate when I know I have some at my house instead of pounding back the milk variety at work. I can wait to get gas at Prime because I know it’ll be a good ten cents cheaper.

I’m even pretty good at waiting for Christmas, because I know that on that day my whole family will be here and the food will be amazing and hopefully this year it’ll be white.

But I haven’t been so good at waiting for other things.

Advent, the season of waiting. I pretend to listen for truth, but mostly I like my ears tickled.

What’s that? I don’t have to be kind? Yes! I knew it.

I can take that thing from that person because they don’t need whatever it is as much as I do.

And my favorite: I’ve got it all figured out.

This season of Advent, I’ve been re-realizing that I do not have it all figured out. To be honest, those moments of AHA! are rare, but I could feel myself settling into them nonetheless. My second year teaching, my junior year of adulthood, and surrounded by people I love.

But this Advent things have been topsy-turvy and un-beautiful and not quite as I want them.

What promises are true?

What am I waiting for again? LIke I wrote in this essay on sex and waiting, I’m not always sure. And it’s not only sex, it’s every good and perfect gift. Maybe I’ll own a cozy home with farm-like qualities one day. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll want to pull my hair out over my children’s myriad annoyances, or maybe I’ll never have children, and I’ll pour myself into my church and my community.

It’s not as easy as it has been, this waiting, especially because I’m not sure what’s coming.

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31

The truth is, I’m pretty weary, and try as I might to squash this inner anger, I can’t seem to.

So what is this Good Thing #25, anyway? Cause it all seems a little bit less than good to me.

The Good Thing is this:

My mother saying, “It hurts, time passes, and good things happen.”

This is what I cling to. Time passes, good things happen. Even though I still try to shape what those things look like, I’m given renewed faith.

We do not know how to praise God because we do not know all that He has saved us from.

I look back at past relationships, and only now can I say Thank you. Only now do I see our butting heads, our squirming with uncertainty and un-compatibleness, the un-meeting of our strengths.

I don’t know all He has saved me from, but I rejoice. And I wait.

Advent and Narrative

My Advent-morning ritual is elongated today. All the fifth and sixth graders are off on various field trips, leaving me with only my high school class before noon. The coffee’s steeping (brewing? I know what we say for tea, but what does coffee do in a French press?!), candles are burning, and the tree is lit. Attempting for a moment to slow down and think.


A friend told me the other day that she’s afraid of blogging because of how personal it is. She’s written a few posts (to which I am privy), but she said she felt hindered because she didn’t want people to know things about her. [this is where I’m tempted to post a link to her blog, but I’d rather not die today]

She’s right, though. There is this strange reality that I haven’t really dealt with yet: personal histories being read by strangers.

Growing up, I was intensely private. I remember having a crush on one of the boys in town, and I didn’t tell a living soul. My sister begged me, pleaded, said she didn’t understand why I didn’t trust her. But there was no way I was letting anyone in on that secret part of my life. I thought it was foolish to open up to people, because you never knew when they would use that information against you. (I guess I was a cynical nine-year-old…)


Things have changed in the last decade or more. I think college had a lot to do with it. Living in such close proximity with peers, getting to know the ins and outs of roommates, friends, classmates, sometimes to the point of really not wanting to know ANYMORE. (I’m just kidding, guys. Bring me your woes, your fears, your strivings!) I came in as a freshman with no desire to open myself to the possibilities.

I was scared.

But I’ve realized that there isn’t much more to life than opening up to the possibilities. Isn’t that what God asks of us? Open yourself up to the possibility of being loved. Open yourself up to knowing Me. Open yourself up to the fullness of My blessings.

~     ~     ~

The best literature is honest. The best writing is the writing that gets at the core of it. I’ve read a lot of good writing, but the stuff that sticks in my mind, the words that have burned themselves into my consciousness, are the ones that spoke from the writer’s soul. That is what connects us.

I’m reading Wild, a memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. The author, Cheryl Strayed, gets lost and attempts to find out where she is by using the graphs and maps and calculations in her guidebook. It doesn’t work. She’s not very mathematical: “I see things in narrative,” she says.

While I certainly value math and science, and even enjoy them sometimes, I come from Strayed’s view. I see things in narrative. I look back on the things that have happened in my life, the people I have known, and I see stories.

Now, blogging may not be for my friend. It does require a certain openness, a certain letting-go of oneself. I told her there were many ways to blog – to write. If she’d rather stick with the less-personal, she should!

But the stories are what connect us. They are what show us the brokenness in each other, but they are also what deliver salvation.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 


Scrooge at a Christmas Concert

Last weekend, my sister and I went to our college’s Christmas concert. We met up with some friends of mine – my roommate and her boyfriend – and we sat on the side of the sanctuary, eager to see what our Alma Mater sounded like without us.

For four years I performed on that stage, up on rickety risers, in dresses of varying attractiveness (the black sacks they made us wear in Women’s Choir were pretty hideous). I sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “On This Day Earth Shall Ring,” “Tomorrow Shall be My Dancing Day,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and every year I remember the lights on my face and the full crowd of Christmas-ready people.

I was so excited to be back, to be watching. Lanterns hung from the ceiling over the stage, punched through with holes so when the room got dark, the lights inside would bounce off the walls. My roommate and I hadn’t seen each other in a few weeks (okay, not that long, I know), but we had a lot to talk about. Music, old friends, the concert, our lives. We laughed and whispered and talked. My sister joined in, too, all three of us chatting away in anticipation of the music.

Some prelude music began, soft and low. No conductor, no dimming of the lights, just simple mood-setting music. I laughed again, and the man in front of me turned around. Not just with his head. Not just with his upper body. He pushed away from the pew and rotated his ENTIRE BODY so he could look at us, and he said:

“Could you talk somewhere else?”

His tone was so demeaning, I was shocked. And embarrassed. I had certainly been enjoying myself, and that often entails a little loudness. We weren’t the only ones talking, though; everyone around us was chatting.

“The concert hasn’t started,” I said. I know I said it kindly because I can still feel the slightly scared smile on my face.

“Well, I hear music,” he said back.

My roommate quickly diffused the situation: “We were going to stop talking when the concert started, but we’ll stop right now.”

I was fuming inside. It would be one thing if he’d asked us kindly, assumed we didn’t realize we were disturbing him. But his body language and gruffness made it obvious that he thought we were stupid.

I kept thinking about the incident, thinking, Don’t let that ruin this, Catherine. Let it go.

I don’t remember the first few pieces, though, because I was consumed. I kept trying to let it go, but it filled my head and made me self-conscious, even when I shifted my body or rustled the program.

When the time came for the audience to sing (which I’d been doing internally since the concert began), I leaned over to my roommate and whispered, “Let’s blow this guy’s ears off.”

And we belted those Christmas harmonies like it was the last time we’d ever sing them.

He and his wife didn’t sing a word, just stood there silent and motionless. I would go so far as to say e-motionless.

So, I didn’t really stand up for myself. At the same time, I didn’t conquer him with an un-ruffled Christian spirit.

But I did sing his ears off.


(The concert was absolutely lovely, and I left proud of my school, lonely for music, and filled with joy. Take that, Scrooge.)

Christmas Joy at 6:28am

I woke up far too early for a Sunday morning. I was mad.

My alarm was set for 8:00 – the perfect amount of time to shower and get ready for a 9:30 church service. But the clock said 6:28, and there was no hope of falling back to sleep.

So I spent the first moments of Sunday, December 9th, realizing that I am entirely and completely not ready for Christmas.

Yes, our tree is up. Yes, I went to the Christmas concert at my Alma Mater this weekend, and yes, it was “aesthetically pleasing in every way.”

Yes, I went to the first Christmas party of the season last night. Yes, I have already eaten too many cookies.

But did I decorate the tree? No, I was at work.

Did I sing in the concert? Yes, but it annoyed everyone around me. (Just kidding. I contained myself.)

Did I bake the cookies? No, I just consumed them.

Today will be the day I regain some holiday spirit.


First step: coffee. I am not addicted. It’s half-caff.

Church. I am not really in the mood. But I will say, every time I have dragged myself there, every time I have prayed that God would open my eyes, it has been worth it. (It doesn’t seem worth it now, in my cozy pajamas with the candles burning and the tree lit…)

String popcorn and cranberries. Unnecessary, you say? I think not.

FIGURE OUT WHAT I’M GIVING TO PEOPLE. Oh. my. gosh. I have no idea what I’m gonna do. My little brother is leagues better than I am at gifts – he’s been done for weeks. So annoying. The only gift I have is a sweater I made my other brother (that thing counts as so many gifts, I’m set for years.)

Lesson planning. NOOOOOO!!! But I’m thinking of working mostly on Christmas songs in Latin. The grammar school kids have been begging me, and I have a sneaky idea of making my high schoolers carol around the school. (What’s the point of power if you don’t use it?!)

Music. I’ve had enough of this everyday music junk I’ve been listening to. Bring on Messiah.

Prayer. Scripture. How can I be surprised things feel so harried and “un-Christmas-y” if I haven’t taken the time to soak up the moments?

And, last but not least, family. Working six days a week is okay when you like your job, but that doesn’t mean other things don’t suffer. I can’t wait to sit on the couch with my family and watch a Christmas movie. Maybe a little Bananagrams, if they think they’re up for the challenge.

Is it hard for everyone to take a breather and enjoy this time of year? People have told me for years that it “goes so fast,” they can’t believe it’s Christmas, etc. etc. I just hope I can grab a little bit of the calm and joy.