Picked Last for Gym Class

One of the themes of Don’t You Forget About Me is the long-term effects of bullying.  When Allison Gingras interviewed me recently for her show A Seeking Heart, I talked about how DYFAM grew out of how much I have learned about forgiveness and that had I attempted to write that book even ten, fifteen years ago, it would have come out as a nanni-nanni-boo-boo vengeance novel.  Now, it is true:  I have long forgiven anyone who hurt me in grade school.

However, I just this morning noticed something that has stuck with me, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

We are preparing to move.  We hope.  That’s another topic for another day, though.  We’ve lived out here in the Middle of Nowhere for nearly nine years now.  It’s been a rough nine years.  It’s really hard for me to connect with people to begin with.  I’ve always been “weird,” for lack of a better term.  Now, some of you might want to dismiss that with, “Heyyyy, everybody should be their own kind of weird.” Or, “Thank GOD you’re weird! You’re just better than all those normal people,” or whatever our supercali-individualistic society tells us to tell ourselves when we don’t “fit in.”  That’s fine.  That’s all good.  I have no regrets about who I am.  I’ve come to see that the very characteristics that make me a terrible BFF girl friend are making me an awesome wife and a formidable parent.

However.  I may be bad at being a friend.  That doesn’t mean I don’t want friends.  So what I’ve done is join things.  Clubs.  Bible studies.  Service projects.  And if there’s nothing to join, I start something (out here, that happens a lot).  As a result, people find themselves working alongside me sometimes.

However, they don’t pick me.  They choose the activity, but they don’t choose me.

I don’t go to playgrounds or libraries or whatever and start chatting up people,  because my life experience has taught me that those same people wouldn’t pick me. Given the choice, anyway.  That experience started early.  I was always picked last for gym class.  Now I am pretty sure that nothing would have changed that unless some grownup had noticed that I’m dyspraxic and could have used some early intervention OT & PT.  Whatever.  The fact remains that I was always picked last.  “Pick a partner” was the worst thing I ever heard in my schooling career, even through high school, where my experience was markedly better.  I even broke out in cold sweats over it.  I think the most precious gift anyone ever gave me was in Acting I in college.  Our professor assigned us our first two-person scene project, and before the slightest icy bead could form on my spine, a classmate turned around and said, “Erin, you wanna work with me?”  I couldn’t have been more shocked.  Had there been another Erin in the class, I would’ve assumed he meant her.  I still think I said, “Who, me?”

Anyway, these days, I organize activities and programs and events and join various formal groups… and today I realized that’s because I know nobody will pick me.  It’s a hard realization to make, honest and hard.

As I said to Allison in the radio interview mentioned above, I know the poison of self-pity.  I know its danger.  Thankfully I also know that Jesus sends this kind of pain to those He loves because He trusts us with it:  He wants us to know how much it hurts not to be picked.  How often do we not pick Him?

It’s okay to be lonely as long as you’re free.

That’s the only reason I can think of that this kind of pain keeps coming to me, over and over again. Today I have to admit that, no matter how many things I join or form or organize, I will have this pain until I am picked.  I want to be chosen.  And that, my friends, is just another sign that is supposed to point us away from this passing world and towards heaven.  Doubt that?  Go read John 15: 16.  It’s all about the love that is, was, and ever will be.  Love for you.  And, I think, love for me.

Have you had this pain, too?  How have you compensated for it?  Is that working out for you or not so much?  What is one thing, one scary thing, you can do differently to live a life of someone who has been chosen?  

Conversion to Catholicism

Easter Vigil, 11 Years Later

Conversion to Catholicism

DH & myself at Philly’s Cathedral of Sts Peter & Paul, 2004.

“What do you think about going to Easter Vigil Mass at the Cathedral?”

I’m pretty sure I didn’t just laugh:  I outright snorted in derision.  It was in the very late 1990s, maybe very early 2000s.  My husband, my “practicing agnostic physicist,” my skeptical partner was driving us around our old neighborhood in Philadelphia.  I don’t even remember where we were going, but I’m pretty sure it was not a day we were not driving to one of our many doctor appointments.

“Oh,” he answered my snort.  “I thought you might be into that kind of thing.”

“Look,” I said.  “The Easter Vigil Mass is the longest Mass in a whole world of long Masses.  The only way to get me to one of those things would be if you were converting and I were your sponsor.  You convert and pick someone else to be your sponsor, that’s fine.  I’ll still love you.  But that is the only way you could get me to go to that Mass:  if I absolutely had to.

The subject dropped–for years, really.  It’s not hard to imagine why, given my response to his question.  Those were also the years of trying to find help for our infertility and getting nowhere with the traditional medical establishment. We came to marriage, two broken people from two broken homes.  The odds were so against us.  But from the moment I met the man who would become my husband, I saw in him a certain humility and tenacity that I’d never found before in another human soul. So while he might not have had any faith in any god besides science and provable truths, I knew I had faith in him.

But those years were hard and surely tested that humility and tenacity in ways we never could have expected.  Empty arms are a heavy burden.  We set our sights on adopting from China, a dream I’d had since the time I was in third grade, but I was not yet 30, the age China required of their adoptive parents.  We waited.

During that wait, for our fifth wedding anniversary, we decided to take a road trip.  We drove in our little red car up to Montreal.  At a little hole in the wall Greek place, we had the best sangria and tzatziki we’ve ever tasted and watched the sun set.  The next day we did some walking and checked out the Shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre.  We didn’t do the traditional pilgrimage, but we picked up a holy card and we attended Mass together in French.  He understood neither the Mass nor the French, but as with many other things that have happened in our shared life, I could follow along well enough to keep us both from embarrassing ourselves.

That was September.  I prayed for an easy wait for our adoption, for enough money to make it happen, for patience.  We could start the process as early as six months before my thirtieth birthday.  That would be the following May.  We waited.

The first weekend of May, 2003, I was taking half of Thursday and all of Friday weekend off, first to go to a dentist appointment and then to prepare for a writers conference that Saturday… or so I told my office mates.  It wasn’t a lie, per se, because I did have a dentist appointment, and I was going to prepare for a conference, but I also was going to spend most of Friday putting in our orders for our birth certificates and setting up appointments with a social worker so we could get our application together and submitted exactly on my half birthday at the end of the month.

There was one problem, though, with the dentist appointment.  My period was missing.   I was certainly no stranger to long cycles (see above, re: infertility), and I’d been having my usual spotting and “warning cramps.” So in the wee hours of that Thursday, I woke up with a full bladder and took a pregnancy test, just so I could reassure my dentist that there was no chance I was pregnant and they could go to town on my X-rays.

Alas, that reassurance wouldn’t be happening.

I tiptoed back into our bedroom, test in hand, and gently shook my husband’s shoulder. He woke up.

“You’re either going to be really irritated that I woke you up,” I said, “or really happy.”

Shock mingled with joy.  The next day on my lunch break, first I cancelled my dentist appointment then called my regular doctor.  I said I had a positive home pregnancy test, but I was having some bleeding and cramping.  They called me in for a blood test just to get a better idea of what was happening.  The next day, when they called with my results, they said my HcG levels were 17,655, which was nice and high and indicative of a healthy pregnancy.

“So do I need to worry about the spotting and cramping?”

Pause.  “Let me talk to your doctor.  Can you hold?”

I did.  The nurse came back.  “Erin, you need to go the ER.”

“What?!”

Calmly, she explained, “With your medical history, it sounds like you may be having an ectopic pregnancy.”

Okay, I knew what that meant, but I still had a moment of stupidity.  “Can’t I just wait until Monday and see if it goes away?”

The stunned nurse was silent in the face of my moment.  “Um, no, you really can’t.”

I drove down to the hospital where my husband worked and he met me in the ER shortly after I was brought back.  We waited.  They wheeled us up for an ultrasound.

“Have you had your HcG level checked?” the technologist asked.

“Yeah.  It’s 17,655.”

Pause.  “17,655.” Pause.  “Any incidence of twins in the family?”

“Yes,” my husband said.  “On my side.”

“On your side!” I shouted.  “Why am I just finding this out now?”

Everybody laughed, then I added that I had twins on both sides of my family as well.  Nothing more was said about that.  The exam began.  Minutes later, the technologist marked one dark spot on the screen “1” and another right next to it “2.”  I remember looking at the screen and (another moment of stupidity) thinking, “Wow, I didn’t know my ovaries were that close together.”

The exam ended.  They wheeled me back down to the ER.  We waited.

The wait was relatively short for an urban ER.  The resident came back and said, “Well, you’re the fastest ‘bleeding and pregnant’ case I’ve ever had.”

“Um, okay?” I replied.

He took a deep breath.  “Well, you’re definitely pregnant.”

I nodded, relieved, overjoyed.  “Okay.”

“The pregnancy is definitely not ectopic.”

“Okay.”

“You’re about five weeks along–”

“Okay.”

“–and ultrasound found two egg sacs.”

I blinked at the resident.  “Okay?”

He waited for me to get it. Apparently it was my third moment of stupidity for the day.  When my face didn’t change, he finally said, “That means a twin pregnancy.”

It’s not like the hints hadn’t been dropped in abundance by this point, but I still just gawked at him.  And guess what I said. I was too shocked to do anything but say, “Okay.”

The resident gave me–not my but our discharge papers.  As I got dressed to leave, I heard my husband, my practicing agnostic physicist, my skeptical partner say, “Well, I guess God called my bluff.”

I turned slowly to face him.  “Your–God–your what?”

“Around the time of our anniversary, I told God that if we got pregnant, I would go to RCIA.”

I just stared at him for what felt like a month before I sputtered out, “Does this mean you have to go twice now?”

We laughed.  Then we went and got hoagies for dinner.  I was, after all, eating for three.

St. Anne de Beaupre, whose shrine we had visited on our anniversary trip, is a title for the mother of Mary. The grandmother of Jesus herself experienced the long wait for a child, the heavy burden of empty arms. Through her intercession, barely requested, God brought not one soul but three into the Body of Christ.

Apparently Jesus loves to give His Grammy stuff, too.

I often think of this story and how God worked a miracle to open the heart of my husband to the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith.  However, for the first time I’m appreciating how my own heart has been stretched as well.  I am writing this in the minutes before we all go down for an afternoon nap so that we can attend Easter Vigil Mass:  all five of us plus my long time BFF, another convert to Catholicism.  It’s going to be the longest Mass in a whole world of long Masses.  And we’re taking three kids, one of whom is a very wiggly, chatty five year-old.  If we get through this, it’ll be a miracle.

That’s okay.  It won’t be our first.

From our family to yours, a Blessed Easter.

Lent 2013 Challenge Day 34: Inaugural Feast

Erin McCole Cupp:

PaPastaFagioliPinsta Fagioli: It’s what’s for dinner!

Originally posted on Mrs. Mackerelsnapper, OP:

Yesterday was the inauguration of Pope Francis, on the Feast of St. Joseph, which is my husband’s feast day as well. We usually have some sort of meat on St. Joseph’s Day, because traditionally in our diocese, the bishops lift the Lenten restrictions so we, especially our area’s large Italian community, can feast instead of fast. I had a moment of thinking we’d be justified in breaking the rules on this very special day and getting some actual steak. I mean, Pope Francis is from Argentina, the Land of Beef. What better way to celebrate, right? However, given that the man asked his countrypeople to stay home and give the money they would’ve spent on plane tickets to the poor, buying a steak didn’t really fit the spirit of the day.

So, vegetarian recipes from a country of cattle farmers? We made baked cheese empanadas to go with a slow…

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It Is All About the Fiat

Erin McCole Cupp:

In honor of the Feast of the Annunciation, I’m reblogging this guest post over at Melanie Jean Juneau’s Joy of 9. What do the infertile/subfertile need from moms of many? Read to find out.

Originally posted on joy of nine9:

This warm, poignant post is written by Erin McCole Cupp, as part of a blog book tour for her new novel. Erin writes just enough of an introduction to engage your heart and your perk curiosity about her story.  Don’t You Forget About Me. This novel is a MUST read!

It Is All About the Fiat

I have a friend with ten kids. Okay, I’m a homeschooling Catholic mom, so I now have several friends with ten kids (give or take), but this one has been my friend since before we started homeschooling. She’s a friend who knows how I take my coffee, for whom I don’t need to clean before she comes over, and who gets my Simpsons references.

 Actually, that friend has eleven kids. One of them is now in heaven. I was one of the only people she told when she found herself expecting her eleventh…

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Evangelizing people who don’t trust beauty.

Gen X and the New EvangelizationI received a bit of a baffling email after I posted, of all seemingly innocuous things, my review of a Catholic gardening book.  In the review, I mentioned:

I’m also a true member of Generation X, and as a rule, we don’t trust beauty.

In a roundabout way, someone sort of, well, not challenged that statement, but expressed bafflement.  The gist was that evangelizers seem to be told nowadays that beauty will solve everything and evangelize the hardest of hearts, etc.  Then I came along and casually mentioned that, well, no.  Some of us don’t trust beauty.  Sorry, we just don’t.

Here’s what I wrote in response.  What do you think?

Painting with a broad brush, we’re a generation of cynics.  We are the first generation to only know a world of airbrushed photos and special effects.  “The beauty of traditional marriage” rings false to ears that grew up in broken homes, listening to our parents marry again and again and again.  “The beauty of Christianity” runs in black rivulets down the face of the Tammy Faye Baker of our early memories.  “The beauty of the Church” rings false to ears that can’t remember a time when priests weren’t considered pedophiles by the culture around us.
“The beauty of liturgical art” sounds like a waste of money that should be spent on the poor.  Arguments that the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world fall flat on ears who’ve only ever heard the liberal media’s point of view, pouring ceaslessly out of the TVs our parents kept on in the living room, morning to night.
We’ve only ever known a world with birth control, abortion, and 24/7 news radio that turned into 24/7 cable news.  We were told that birth control and abortion would set us free.  Now, in our aging bones we know that’s not true, but saying so is taboo and would jeopardize the sexyfuntimez we’ve been taught to worship, sex being the closest thing we’ve had to intimacy.
“Life–what a beautiful choice,” sounds laughable to us.  Life isn’t beautiful when comfort and ease are the best things we’ve been taught to expect.
And don’t get me started on, “The beauty of feminine genius.”  To people who grew up being told that women and men are the same and no different, and you’re a sexist brute for thinking otherwise, “feminine genius” sounds patronizing at best.
So how on earth to do you go about evangelizing a generation of Fox Mulders, who Trust No One?
By having integrity, again and again and again, until integrity becomes beautiful. 
Truth is what we crave. Truth is the only beauty we can trust.
On the nose? Too on the nose?  Brushstrokes are too broad?  I’m curious.
CGSA Cover

Interview with Margaret Rose Realy, Oblate

CGSA CoverWe have a lovely book to enjoy today, dear readers!

Not only that, but all you writerly types get to learn a little bit about the flexibility, patience, and Providence that are part of the successful writer’s life.  Read on to learn more about Margaret Rose Realy and her latest book, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac.

Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB, is a contemplative lay hermit. She grew up just outside Detroit, sharing a home with her maternal grandmother where the love of gardening flourished. Margaret reveals her love of nature, learning about the Creator through his creation, with a Benedictine spirituality, in her books, columns, and presentations. 

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Because my blog is about the writing life, I asked Margaret to share a little bit about what went into the making of this book.  She kindly obliges.  Read on!

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EMC: How did you get the initial idea for this book?  

MRR: The first publisher I worked with, Circle Press, had started production on my first book, A Garden of Visible Prayer; Creating a Personal Sacred Space One Step at a Time,(now a  2nd Edition). In a meeting Fr. John Bartunek and Claudia Volkman discussed the need for a book that looked at the traditions of the Church as revealed in nature. Father wanted a book that was grounded in our faith, and took away all the new-agey-bunk that detracted from knowing the Creator through his creation. It was at his suggestion six years ago that gave direction to my writing. Circle Press eventually closed down that division.

leaf logoEMC: As so often happens in the publishing world, alas.  But that wasn’t the end, was it?  Tell us what happened when you pitched the idea for this book.  

MRR: It seems that the concept for this book (A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac) was out of my hands. The second publisher for A Garden of Visible Prayer, FAITH Catholic, had discussed with me a book of the same nature that Father had suggested. FAITH was a very small book publisher and after much prayer, I felt they weren’t the right ones for the title. So rather than say no out-right, I waited. Good thing I did. They, too, closed down their book division.

Claudia, then with Franciscan Media/Servant Books, still had an interest in my manuscript and asked that I pitch it to her at Catholic Writers Guild Live conference. Having worked with her before, it felt more like tea with a friend—who just happened to be an acquisition editor. Franciscan Media decided the manuscript wasn’t a good fit for their house and I moved on.

The manuscript was pitched a year later to Ave Maria Press. Thanks to Lisa Hendey, who had reviewed the manuscript for CWG’s SoA several years back, and recommended it to AMP.

leaf logoEMC:  Can you tell us a little bit about the process for getting the contract to write your latest book?  

MRR: Bob Hamma of Ave Maria Press wanted me to rework the book and gear it towards Catholic moms…you know, because, Lisa Hendey. Since I do not have family and never had children, I knew I couldn’t produce the book he wanted—readers would know I wasn’t all that—and turned him down, twice. We finally agreed to meet at CMN in Texas (2012) to discuss what I could produce that would meet Ave Maria Press’ market needs. It was there that we agreed on the layout for an expanded manuscript that combined sections from other manuscripts into one book.

leaf logoEMC: How long did you wait from time of pitch to when you signed your contract?  What happened with this project in that time?

MRR: After the meeting in August 2012, we discussed the outline and the contract and advance, which were settled upon by April 2013. I was given one year to produce the new manuscript.

leaf logoEMC: How long was it from the time you signed your contract to actual publication?  What were some of the highlights and challenges you encountered during that time?

MRR: I began researching and compiling materials immediately after our August 2012 meeting, assembling chapter folders through the winter. Every year I offer several spring presentations, gardening and Lenten, and the spring of 2013 was no different. The rewriting began later that summer. My manuscript was to be submitted the end of April 2014, and much to my editor’s delight—and AMP’s graphics department—it was sent the first week in January 2014. That gave the publisher a good year to work it through production for edits and design. It was here that the work changed in perspective. It was no longer MY book but OUR book—a sentiment important to all authors.

 My greatest challenge was—and still is—that I am just a gardener. I failed and had to repeat English courses in college. When I realized being called to write I was dumbfounded. I had to set aside my fear—and being totally clueless—and remain attentive to the task placed before me. Our Lord has provided beautiful people along my journey, skilled at critiquing and editing my writing—like you, Erin—to help me keep moving forward.

 What delighted me most in the writing of this book was sharing my love of gardening and God. Each section of each chapter brought some level of joy. I often felt that I was doing an odd sort of evangelization by offering some of what our church teaches in a way that brings to light the Bible parables that were related to nature. It was fun researching and then correlating spiritual themes and then to actualize them in a garden setting. I pray that those who read my book might apply some of the gardening themes to their own outdoor prayer space and in doing so draw closer to Our Lord.

leaf logoEMC: If you could sum up your mission for this book in three sentences, what would you say?

MRR: I need just one: It’s the first book to offer gardeners spiritual resources and creative projects that connect a love of gardening with their Catholic faith.

leaf logoEMC: Count me as one of your readers who is getting connected to a love of gardening through the Catholic faith, thanks to your warmly detailed book!  Any parting advice for aspiring writers?  

MRR: This is the hardest question of all. I never aspired to be a writer or author. I had to discern in the call to write, what it was that made me come alive, what—besides prayer and my love of God—brought me joy, and then translate that into words. I was happiest gardening and sharing my love of it with others. I drew great peace, with the help of many volunteers, creating gardens of prayer and memorial. This is what I knew, this is what I loved, so that is what I wrote.

We’re told to write what we know, and you write about what you love.  The fruit of that is clear to the many of us who love your work!  Thank you for stopping by, Margaret.  Readers, it’s spring, and it’s Passiontide.  I can’t think of a better time or better reasons to get yourself a copy of A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac.  This will be a book you keep as a reference.  I already plan on getting clear Contac Paper for the cover to keep it from getting all raggedy.

Homeschoolers, also, take note:  my oldest read this through before I could finish it, and she loved it.  If you use gardening in your curriculum so you don’t have to spend so much time weeding, your older children (5th grade and up) might enjoy this book as well!

Review: A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac

CGSA CoverEven I want to garden now!

I’m one of those people who gardens because I have to stretch the food budget, not because I enjoy spending time covered in dirt, dripping with sweat, and being bitten by bugs. I’m also a true member of Generation X, and as a rule, we don’t trust beauty. We do, however, crave meaning, and A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac shines light on the meaning that lies in the dirt, sweat, and bug-bite side of gardening as well as the beauty of human touches added to the ever-changing landscape of nature.

Full of low-pressure options, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac takes all the heaviness out of the manual labor of gardening and infuses it with the lighthearted joy that can only be found in prayer. In my little world, I’d give this one six stars.

Look here tomorrow for an interview with Margaret Rose Realy, the author of this gem.  It’s spring and it’s Passiontide, so go get your copy.  Go on, now!  Get with the clicky and buy it!