Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Piano Recital 2014 *or* I'm Such a Proud Mama Right Now! *or* Holy cow! My girls are so incredibly gifted and brave and stunning! Did you see them? My girls? How awesome are they?!

The title says it all.

Our older 3 completely showing their personalities (Olive, Mable, and Lily)
with their amazing piano teacher, Ms. Avery.

Did I mention I was a proud mama?

In Which I am Received Into the Church

*Note: It took me forever to post this because I was beyond stressed I didn't convey what I was feeling, retell the night, etc "right". I'm posting it now because enough time has passed that I simply don't care anymore. Here it is. Here's my honest take. There are gaps because who can possibly remember every last detail and convey every last emotion? But it's as much here as it can be. I thought about editing it but I want it to remain as raw and intact as it can, especially as the memory is already fading...

During this past Easter Vigil I was received into the church undergoing the sacraments of initiation with a group of others I have gotten to know over the past few months. And that is really all I know of what I am going to say. Really. I have spent the past few days trying to form words around the experience. All I can mange is a big smile and a very literal play-by-play of the events.

In other words: I am speechless. This doesn't happen to me often at all so hopefully you can appreciate how awestruck I have been feeling for the past while. I have so much I am thinking and feeling but not much I can actually manage to articulate. Here, let me try:

Oh my goodness!
This finally happened. 
How great. 
Christ and His church are so amazing. Seriously.

That's all I really have right now. But here is that literal play-by-play for you:

Saturday evening came and went incredibly quickly. I woke up, headed off for rehearsal, came home
and napped a bit before preparing our early Easter dinner (Rob had to work on Easter Sunday, sadly) and getting my hair done by my bro. At 5pm my aunt and uncle showed to have dinner with us. 5:30pm Rob's wonderful aunt showed to join in (with presents for the girls). We ate, we laughed, we realized it was already 6-something and I needed to get into my white outfit.

On the way to the church I snapped a handful of selfies to keep myself occupied. I realized I should have probably been praying the Rosary but I was too giddy to be thinking clearly at all. We arrived at the church an hour before the vigil (as we were instructed) and I sat in a room with all the others and just chatted and waited.

It was the smell of the incense outside before the fire that snapped me into it. "This is happening. This is real." I don't think I will ever forget that scent mingled with that feeling. We followed the Priest and the Paschal candle into the church lighting the congregation's own candles with the flame as we walked by. That was beautiful. Like really beautiful.

I sat in the wrong pew, mistakenly switching places with another catechumen. This is where I had to give myself a pep talk: "You will not stress about this the whole time, Margaret. This is so not a big deal." After a good 5 or 10 minutes of that I started to believe it. Sort of. Enough, anyway. On the bright side this meant I was sitting next to my husband if by sitting next to him one means I was sitting in the opposite pew to him separated only by the aisle. That helped me to stay calm and focused as his presence so often does. 

The rest is more or less a blur. I was ecstatic and surprisingly calm. My family says I was "glowing". I remember smiling a lot, like a fool. I was baptized (see grainy cell phone image my husband couldn't help but take above) and was happy to see that the water didn't sizzle when it touched my forehead. Whew! That would have been embarrassing, for sure. More bluriness. My sponsor accidentally poured hot wax all over my hand. That I remember clearly. I thought my husband and his aunt were going to die laughing and that my sponsor was going to die from the humiliation of it all*. 

* (between my selfies and the laughing over the hot wax incident I know what you all must be thinking: "what a group of pious and holy people. Not!". I assure you, these are only excerpts of a wonderful evening not the overall tone of it). 

The part I remember the most clearly is the Eucharist. It was the part I was most eager to get to, unsurprisingly. My husband had been telling me for weeks how jealous he was I got to "go first" (he will be confirmed and receive his First Communion in June). In recent weeks I had begun to understand his jealously. I simply could not wait! I had gone into Catholicism not being able to wrap my head around the literalness of the Eucharist but somewhere along the line had settled into a spiritual understanding of it. How? No idea. it just happened. And with that newfound understanding came such a strong desire for it that in those last minutes I thought I was going to fall out of my seat. Everything else up to this point seemed to go by so quickly but watching the preparations made me feel like time had really slowed, I was just so eager to get up there. I prayed a lot here. I prayed prayers of thanksgiving the whole time. "This is happening. Thank you so much! I can't believe this is happening. Thank you, thank you, thank you!" That was the general tone of it all (I wasn't being very poetic through all of this, I know. I was being clumsy and raw which I generally hate being but allowed myself without scrutiny just this once). Once up there I repeated to myself over and over "Don't choke. Genuflect!" I managed both though the former was harder than it should have been (at this point I had next to no saliva in my mouth (hence my rather unspiritual worry over choking). Note to future catechumens: bring a bottle of water!). And then came the wine. Now, I could certainly describe how this happened: he offered me the cup, I drank, it was red wine, etc etc. But that doesn't actually convey what happened. For one, it wasn't red wine at all. The realization that I had, in fact, just taken in the body and blood of Christ was so real in that moment... words simply escape me. I paused. No idea for how long but I do remember only being able to stand there. The only thing that snapped me back into reality was the Deacon's smile and loving "Congratulations." to which my brain finally started to work "walk back to your seat, Margaret". I kneeled in prayer repeating my rather clumsy "thank you, thank you thank you..." I didn't cry (how did I manage to escape that?!) I just oozed this gratitude from every corner of my being. It poured out of me, much to my surprise, and even when I was back sitting in the pew and listening to the Priest my body and mind were still humming "thank you, thank you thank you..."

It was over, then. Pictures, hugs, laughing together. I got to see my good friend, Amanda, whose conversation in the park one day made me rethink my deep dislike of Catholicism and set my husband firmly into his conversion/reversion. We headed home and I threw together the Easter baskets with some help from my bro, thankfully. Then off to bed. 

Two hours later I was woken up with a violent illness completely out of the blue. I will spare you details but suffice it to say it was not fun. By the morning I felt much better (no more meat grinder in my stomach, heart in my throat) but I felt incredibly weak. And yet I also felt so happy. Not obnoxiously so, but that gentle peace and joy that can overtake a person. Still the "thank you, thank you thank you..." played joined by the reflective Wow and painfully simplistic Oh. Easter was spent in bed the entire day. I had wanted to sneak away for an Easter service but I couldn't even manage to get up to make my kids a decent breakfast (they had an Easter basket breakfast. Parenting fail.) My bro and a friend joked it was the demons being purged from me. Judging by how it felt they could be totally right. 

And that brings us about up to date. The past few days I have been wondering around in a bit of a haze getting accustomed to my new home, my new state of being (is it odd I feel this way? Could other converts chime in? What was your experience?). I wasn't expecting this but I am loving it. 

There were thousands upon thousands of us that entered into the church this past Easter Vigil. Please pray for us!

Friday, April 18, 2014

My Conversion Story

"Catholicism is the last religion I'd ever join." If I had a nickel for every time I said that I'd actually be able to afford Catholic school for all 5 kids. Of course I don't blame me, the ideas I had about Catholicism then would make any reasonable person take that stance. Obviously, I've since learned better.

I was born into the LDS church, albeit my family was not nearly as Mormon as they could have been, meaning I didn't have the most Mormon of upbringings. Mormon-lite, perhaps? Still, I grew to love the faith in my teens, then hate it, then love it again after I was married with a kid and one on the way at 20. My husband converted, I reverted, and the rest was history. Or so we thought.

I swear, leaving Mormonism was like going through a divorce. It had the heartache, the paperwork, the awkward running into friends you use to share and wondering which side they chose... Honestly, there was a while there I didn't think I'd ever get over it. "You weren't meant for each other, Margaret" I'd think. "BUT I DON'T WANT TO DIE ALONE!" I'd reply in hysterics as if that was somehow suppose to make sense.

Our dissatisfaction started with politics shortly after our conversion/reversion but quickly shifted into doctrinal issues. For a long time we tried to make it work by adopting things and abandoning others but it just wasn't to be. No hard feelings, such is life. Finally deciding we weren't going to identify as LDS anymore sort of opened up the floodgates "Well," I remember thinking "what now?" Though at first we were firm in the "we don't need religion" camp that changed pretty quickly as we began to value faith and tradition far more. We sought out many different faiths, mostly of the progressive variety, and to our surprise didn't "feel" them as much as we thought we would. We both came to the conclusion at the same time (this happens a lot with us) that we didn't want a religion that pandered to our beliefs about how life and the world "should" be but rather one guided us to the truth of these things- God's truth, not our own (thus, most modern religions were off the table at that point). For my husband that turned out to be Catholicism. He had been baptized as an infant and attended church from time to time with his grandparents but had as positive feelings about the church as I did. Still, with him it was always easier. Back in our Mormon days when the question of authority from God would come up he'd always freely offer, much to my embarrassment, "If anyone has the right to claim authority it's the Catholics". I won't get into his story, he can tell it if he so chooses, but suffice it to say things fell into place for him. He was given a rosary and started praying it daily, he scoured the internet for information, and one evening we decided to buy Catholicism for Dummies- him to learn more about his faith and me to learn more about his faith. Notice the emphasis here- his. My faith journey had taken me someplace else entirely: Islam.

At this point I had settled into wanting to be a part of an Abrahamic religion which, although still totally indecisive, felt really good. I was narrowing it down! But, more to the point, I was starting to have faith again in something. I was to this point in my life where I was so spiritually broken down that feeling anything was such a big deal. I remember when I decided I did, in fact, believe in the God of Abraham. Big smile on my face, tears, sigh of relief. I remember breaking down a lot then, crying and praying "Please God, what would you have me do?!" and even a bit of "Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret." So much inner turmoil and frustration in those days. Pleading and doubt.

Those months were a bit tense between the husband and I, too. It wasn't that either of us were upset with the other for their newfound exploration but more that we simply weren't use to not being together in something. Spiritually speaking we were no longer a couple but roommates that use to share so much more bumping into each other at the fridge. "So... Islam..." he'd start, awkwardly. "Yeah." I'd look down and shift my feet a bit "Things going well with Catholicism?" Because I wanted to be a part of my husband's journey I was slowly reading Catholicism for Dummies myself and asking Rob questions. Who am I kidding? Being who I am I was full-on initiating debates, issuing challenges: "But why did Mary have to remain a virgin? That makes like no sense!" "'Incorruptibles'? Pft. Looks like advanced preservation to me." Guys, I'm a bit of a PITA and I am definitely set in my ways. I'm also super skeptical (and cynical. Don't those just go hand-in-hand?). 99% of the time if you tell me something I'm going to respond with "Prove it." or "Source?" and, when applicable, "Picture or it didn't happen." On the plus side my husband scrambling to answer all of my pushing has made him even more knowledgable in the faith. You're welcome, honey!

I was softening up to Catholicism, though, thanks near 100% to the guys of Catholic Stuff You Should Know (seriously, love these guys). Plus, there were things I really valued in it- history, tradition, etc. Turns out my husband wasn't wrong with his authority comments. My husband took advantage of my growing soft-spot one afternoon when he said to me via instant message "Have you prayed the Rosary yet? Stop what you are doing and go pray it." He had been asking me to for some time and, knowing my husband as well as I do, I knew he wasn't going to drop it. So I employed our babysitter (the TV), sat on our bed, took a few deep breaths a talked myself into taking this seriously, and started praying the Rosary with the help of a handy printable. That, friends, was my conversion moment. I like to think of it as God, in His infinite wisdom knowing just how to handle a girl like me, saying "Shut up for a second- here's your proof, here I am." but it could have just as easily been His Mother gently taking my hand and walking me through it like a child (in the best way possible). Whatever it was my reaction was "Oh." and by that I meant "Oh, this is what I have been looking for." and "Oh, home." That subtle shift that moves mountains. "I want to be Catholic" I told my husband. He wasn't surprised in the least.

I was still skeptical (because it's how I roll) but that didn't stop me. I listened to Catholic Stuff... more intently, poured over Catholicism for Dummies instead of just skimming for debate material, read up on the internet (blogs, blogs, and more blogs), listened to YouTube conversion stories, etc. More and more I felt at home but I also wondered if someone like me could ever truly be faithful. And then it happened, a homily just for me. It was the first Mass I had been to since taking Catholicism seriously and "doubting Thomas" (aka St. Thomas the Apostle) was the subject, him and doubt. My dear husband sat by my side making sure I was listening to every word with his helpful elbow nudges while I, being totally irreverent, sat there and laughed to myself as the Priest more or less described me. "Well played, God. Well played." I have to hand it to Him, He really does get me. He got me there and then He laid it on me in that homily- doubt is not a deal breaker. Thomas, the doubter, was still an Apostle, still faithful. We all doubt. We all challenge. Don't let it stop you.

Since then things have been a bit of a whirlwind. We moved, started RCIA, got more involved with the faith on our own, etc. And now, tomorrow night at Easter Vigil, I'm going to officially enter into the church. What can I say to that? I'm still dumbfounded, still only have that "Oh".

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Mixed Bag of Kids: FAQ About Our Family

We are a very diverse looking family. Diverse, young, and with kids aplenty. Naturally, people are curious about us. Each time we venture out together we get stopped and asked one thing or another. It occurs to me that we may get asked the same sorts of questions here we do in public all too often. As such I've decided to form and answer an FAQ just in case.

First, a bit of background: I am biracial and my husband's family hails from Eastern Europe (the former Yugoslavia/Croatia, to be exact). Surprisingly to us, as it seems to be to many others, this gave us a mixed bag of kids. Oh genetics, you're so fun! On top of this we started having kids in our teens and had them all close together. We're not exactly your modern standard American family.

1) "Are they all yours?" / "Are they adopted?"

Yes they are all mine. No, I carried and birthed all 5 of them.

2) "Do they all have the same father?"

Yes. They are all, every last one of them, biologically my husband's.

3) "But you look so young!" / "How old are you?"

We are. We started at 17 and had all 5 by the time we were 23/24. We're currently 28.

4) "Are they twins?"

Mable and Olive? No. But they are close in age- 14 months apart. Birdie and Poppy? Yes. Bi/multiracial couples can have what some refer to as black-white twins or mixed twins. Birdie and Poppy are similar to some other twins out there that pulled from different sides of the genetic soup.

And no, they aren't identical (yes, we actually get asked this. Twin moms, you know what I'm talking about). 

5) "You have a lot of kids! You do know what causes that, right?"

Oh yes! We're quite good at it, actually, and very much enjoy it.

6) "Are you done?" / "Will you try for a boy?"

As far as we can tell we are done. But, of course, it's not just up to us. The last time we tried for a boy we got twin girls. Message received.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Marriage Blessing

Rob and I. Luckiest girl in existence, I promise you that!
This past week we had our marriage blessed in preparation for my entrance into the church this coming Easter (when the blessing will become a Sacrament). Originally it was just going to be us- meaning Rob, me, and the 5 kiddos but my mother and brother* came down to stay with us for a few days and were able to attend purely by coincidence.

I will admit to being a bit torn up about this whole thing. Confused emotionally, maybe? This was the third time Rob and I had stood before someone and had our marriage initiated/blessed/sealed/etc. The first time was in jeans at a courthouse a few months after Lily was born and a year to the day after we had started dating (also Rob's 18th birthday). We have no pictures of that day and I remember it mostly as being that time I had to stand up and declare to the government I wanted to enter into a union with the love of my life all whilst pretending to be coherent when I was running a high fever and drenched in cold sweat (the flu always comes at the best times, doesn't it?). The second time was when we were sealed in the Redlands LDS temple. That was a wonderful experience and we do have pictures thanks to some awesome friends.

And now, of course, this.

I kind of feel like I am cheating, like I have had my chance to do the whole ceremony thing a few times now and "Come on, Maggie, it's getting old", etc. That kid that keeps getting in line for seconds annoying family and friends in the process. I didn't want to make a fuss so I didn't invite anyone, didn't even tell anyone, as is often just how I do things. But as I stood up there staving off emotion like the pro I am at it it occurred to me looking into Rob's eyes with a silly grin on my face that wait a second, I did want to make a fuss out of it! Because, yes, it was worth a fuss. Oh well, what's done is done. And the reality is that just the right amount of fuss was made by just the right people- Rob and I. Lost in each other standing before God and family, giddy like the 17 year olds we were when we first met.

The running joke now is that we'll meet again in a few years to sustain this marriage in some new religion as seems to be our style. I'm in the planning stages now for an extravagant ceremony this next go of it, one we "missed out" on all these other times. Only joking, of course. Although I do really want an excuse to wear a really nice dress and eat really nice food...

But in all seriousness the experience was a great one. Anytime I get to stare into my husband's eyes and declare my love and devotion to him before witnesses is a great experience. Anytime we are before God is a great experience. It was wonderful, it was moving (Lukas cried, the sap that he is, and I wanted to but am really great at not, especially when I really do), it filled my heart with joy even though I thought it couldn't be filled anymore by this marriage of mine. What more could a girl ask for?

So without further ado here are some of the pictures we took:

All of our ladies!

Favorite picture of Lukas and Mom.
The three eldest girls: Mable (8), Lilith (10), and Olive (6).

Poppy and Birdie, the twinsies (4).

Beautiful spot just outside St. Theresa's.

* some readers may be confused by this knowing me for some time and therefore knowing that I only have one sister and no brothers. My sister, Martha, is in the process of transitioning from female to male. Pronouns and names have been changed- he is now known as Lukas, something that I am still trying to get use to and so may slip up on here. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Here I Am

Blogging... it's been a while. This blog as a Phillips family blog has been around for some number of years. Its name has changed, its layout, and it has definitely had to expand more than once to accommodate new babies (and yes, I'm envious that blogs don't get stretch marks) but it has always been around in one way or another as I tried to get a handle on the whole "mommy blog" thing. That really never happened and a year or so ago I pulled the plug, put it all in the back of my mind, and fled near all forms of social media. I did have the intention of keeping this blog up to date for family and friends who would miss the girls' growing up since we were no longer on Facebook but those plans fell through as near all other plans in our life did.

So what have we been up to this past year-ish? A lot. Like a lot a lot.

  • We lost a dear loved one and found out we had to move in the same week.
  • We tried to buy a house, decided against it, moved across the valley (around 45 minutes away for those non-desert natives) to a town I went to for the first time to sign the paperwork for our new home.
  • We have had the privilege of becoming even closer to family during this time while becoming less close to others.
  • We officially resigned from the LDS church; a loss in and of itself but a relief*.
  • We started the process of conversion into the Catholic faith.
  • I changed my last name (finally) in a big push to leave my past behind me (and after 10 years of marriage to a wonderful man it was beyond time).
  • We became far more reserved, far more conservative (yes, that means what you think it means), and just overall... quieter.

In short, we shifted. A lot. Like a lot a lot.

It was a big year, a transformative year, and all things considered we loved it. We let go of a lot of things that were weighing us down and suddenly the sun started to shine brighter, life started to have meaning again. We spent so long trying to make things work that wouldn't (because they shouldn't! Lesson learned) that we hadn't realized we were frayed and miserable. Or, at least, hadn't realized just how frayed and miserable we were.

I decided to start blogging again for me, mostly. Of course I will include the kiddos and the husband but in reading some of my new favorite "Mommy blogs" (I'm looking at you, Haley!) I realized I actually missed the whole sharing part of blogging. Social media is limited, it's like being in the middle of the mall catching your friends as they pass by; blogging is far more personal, like an invitation to sit with you in your living room and have a nice chat. Being the semi shut-in that I am this has served for a nice outlet in the past and hopefully can again. So consider this my invitation to you to come over and have some tea/coffee/rum/wine with me while we go on and on about what's on our minds.


* I refuse to be that former Mormon; the one that leaves the church but can't leave it alone. A relief, yes, I'd be lying if I said otherwise; but I hold no animosity towards Mormonism as a whole or the mainstream church. Don't fish for a bash-fest because you won't get it. Don't think you can't talk to us anymore because we're filled with hurt and hate because we're not. It just didn't work out. Of course we have deeper reasons than that but that is the only reason that really matters here and now.