When the Church Bulletin Made Me Cry

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I was newly pregnant with our ninth baby on the day I read that letter in the church bulletin, in a fragile and hormonal state, exhausted and overwhelmed. It didn’t take much to make me cry during those days. This new baby and his next older sibling were going to have the closest age gap we had ever had between siblings, following on the second closest age gap right above that. In short, I was contemplating how I was going to live everyday life that coming fall with a new baby, and almost two year old and a barely four year old, on top of a grueling school schedule for all the older kids.

It’s true, I was tackling too much in my mind then; trying to carry tomorrow’s cross. But that was my mindset when I picked up that bulletin and read about how not returning shopping carts in a grocery store parking lot was an example of the relativism in our culture.

The letter talked about how we, as a culture, tended to think only of ourselves and what was good or easy for us, and how that was an example of relativism. The priest had a point. I see these attitudes in myself and those around me more often than I care to admit.

In my own mind, however, I was walking through a shopping trip with a new baby, an almost two year old, and a four year old. I would strap the baby on my chest in a carrier, put the two year old in the shopping cart seat, and tell the four year old to hang on the cart at all times. In this way I could smoothly make it through at least a third of the store. At that point the baby would probably be getting fussy and the two year old would be starting to stand up in the seat. Even giving up on the shopping trip at this point wouldn’t be much help, because I would still have to navigate the checkout line and pay while bouncing the baby and trying to hold on to the toddler’s clothes so she wouldn’t tumble out of the cart and crack open her head. The four year old would be tired of riding the side of the cart and tired of walking and would be lagging behind by this time. Somehow we would make it to the car, groceries paid for and shabbily bagged and then would come the next big hurdle – loading. I would strap everyone securely in their car seats and turn on the air conditioner and then finally I would have two hands to throw the groceries in the car as fast as possible.

And then I would leave my cart right there by the parking space, because I believed that was the safest thing to do in that situation.

Does that make me relativistic? Was I planning to do what was best or easiest only for me? Maybe.

In my hormonal haze, I cried over this issue on and off for a couple of days. My husband pointed out that I could park near a cart corral, to which I relied, “BUT WHAT IF I CAN’T???”

As I began to calm down and remember that this scenario wasn’t one that would happen every time I shopped and that I had months before this exact thing would come to pass (and it did) I decided that no matter who pontificated over this particular issue, they were not dealing with what I was dealing with, nor were they fully aware if the tools and abilities I had at my disposal on any particular day. My priorities for a chaotic shopping trip ran like this:

  1. Safety of my children
  2. Acquiring groceries for my family
  3. Putting the cart in a cart corral

Most to the time, those priorities don’t conflict with one another. But when they do, I have to do the best I can.

This situation reminded me of another parking lot scenario: a friend of mine who deals with heart problems and has a handicapped placard for her car. She has been yelled at for taking up a handicapped space when she doesn’t look handicapped. The people who see her walk into the store assume that they know her whole story and what her abilities are. They don’t.

All this is not to say that we don’t have a responsibility to return our shopping carts. We do. But when we see someone who doesn’t (or who parks in a handicapped space in spite of not appearing handicapped) maybe it is best to assume that we don’t have the whole story. A better assumption is to give the person in question the benefit of the doubt.

This shopping cart temper tantrum and my friend’s experience helped me to remember to look at people and think about what their story might be. I only make guesses. That man who just cut me off in traffic – maybe his child is really sick. That grouchy lady at Target – maybe she just got a big unexpected bill and is trying to think how she is going to pay it. The lady who gave my kids a dirty look in the library – maybe she was just looking at them, and she didn’t realize what her expression was at the time. There are so many people, so many possibilities, it is a tiny exercise in charity to assume the best in people, even when they are behaving badly. Sure, some people are just jerks. But I would rather err on the side of understanding and forgiveness than to go around mad or annoyed at people all the time. It helps me be a happier person.

Feet: A Holy Week Post

Originally posted 5/24/11

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Little feet have brought me closer to God in many ways, chasing them around gives me patience and reminds me of the joy to be found even on the most stressful of days.  There are a couple ways though, that snuck up on me, and I thought I would share those with you.

Holy Week always finds me stressed and overwhelmed.  While I would like to participate in the many wonders and liturgies, having several very small children (and a husband in the choir) makes it nearly impossible to do without teaching my children by accident that Holy Week is more about getting yelled at than about appreciating the sacrifice of Jesus.  So we choose carefully which liturgies to attend.

~~~~~

Good Friday of 2010 found me at my wits end, as usual.  We had attended the live Stations of the Cross with the kids, and had intended to take them to the Good Friday liturgy as well.  But I felt like the small children needed a break and so did I.  It would have been a disaster in the making to try another long event in the same day.  So we stayed home.  At least our parish had their liturgy on television, so I was able to watch, holding my peacefully sleeping baby on the couch, while the other little ones played legos in the other room.

As the parishioners filed up, one by one, to venerate the cross and kiss the feet of Jesus, I looked down at the chubby little feet, so relaxed in my lap.  And I realized…  Mary must have kissed the feet of Jesus countless times.  She nibbled on his cute little toes as she cared for him.  And then she saw those feet lifted up before her on the cross.  She knew, she saw the physical effects of His sacrifice.  The body she had held so close was hurting.  I am sure that no one understands the veneration of the Cross like she does.

~~~~~

This year we were able to make it to Holy Thursday Mass.  I even came prepared with battery operated candles for the little ones to carry during the procession afterward.  (Although I also discovered just how far those battery operated candles can roll when dropped/thrown.  Next year I need to find square battery operated candles.)  I have to confess that I am a horrible listener in Mass, and only partly because of my kids.  I am just a distracted kind of person, so I always catch snippets here and there.  The part of the gospel that echoed out to me sitting in this particular wiggly, whiny pew was:

If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. (Jn 13:14-15)

And I tell you, I sat bolt upright and realized… I do this!

On a week when I had been feeling like there was no time for prayer and my going to mass was overwhelming, I was so relieved to realize that every day I do something that Jesus specifically asked us to do.  There is not a day that goes by when I don’t find myself down on my knees washing little feet at some point in the day.  (And I had to stop writing this post twice to wipe a little behind as well, that has to count for something.)

Jesus asked us to serve one another, and to meet each other at our grossest and help to clean each other up.  That sums up my job pretty well, I think.  Maybe I am learning something out of these trips around Jericho.

Psalm 34:5

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Psalm 34:5
Look to Him and be radiant, so your faces shall never be ashamed.

Radiant. Doesn’t that sound beautiful?

The dictionary says “radiating rays or reflecting beams of light.” Which is a good thing because I don’t feel very radiant on my own. I feel a little used up and dull. I worry that when I get to the grocery store my face will be frozen in a mom-face scowl since I just scolded my children for fighting.

That is not radiant.

I don’t have to generate my own radiance. What a relief! He is love and light and if my face is towards Him then I will reflect it to others.

I memorized this verse because 1. it’s very short, yay! and 2. it reminds me that I am not the source of light for my family, that is far too big a job for me. I can turn to Him, and he will shine His radiance in the dark places.

 

Jars: Part 2

I turned 40 last year.  It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but the importance of that is growing on me as the year passes.  (And oh, it’s passing too fast!)  I’m not what I once was.  I’m still me, don’t get me wrong, and a better me at that.  But in my younger years, it seemed like maintaining good health and more importantly, a healthy spirit, came so naturally.  I didn’t have to work to really take care of myself.  Maybe I should have done more then, but I didn’t and I could slide by okay.  Now it seems like I need a whole lot of maintenance.  I need to make sure I eat right and get some exercise, or I can barely drag myself out of bed. I need to journal my thoughts and feelings, read delightful books, create beautiful things, and talk about what is bothering me or I find myself getting bitter and depressed.

These certainly aren’t new activities for me.  But they have moved from things I do when I have time or a little extra energy to things that I can not live without – can not thrive without. Which brings me back to Jars.In part one of Jars, I shared the story of the Widow and the Oil and talked about how God will supply what I lack when I offer Him those things that are important to me and ask Him to fill me up through them.  I listed my children, my husband, my home, my toys.  But I’m pretty important to me too, although sometimes you wouldn’t know it from how I drag myself around.  God is using all those other things to fill me up, but it’s not just up to Him. The next passage I ran into with jars in it was the story of the 10 Virgins.

Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied, ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’ While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked.  Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

 

The foolish maidens ran out of oil.  I feel so often like I am out of oil. I scramble around on Sunday to get everyone ready for mass, only to arrive and realize that I forget to get myself ready – in spirit – for mass.  So all the grace that is poured out on me seems to just spill all over the floor since I wasn’t prepared to catch it. Some days the kids are whiny and needy.  It feels like I break up one fight or tantrum after another.  They need me to pour out God’s grace on them, into their little empty jars, but I am empty too.

The Widow was blessed for providing empty jars, and the foolish maidens were left out of the wedding feast because they ran out.  So how can I stock up on oil so that I am prepared for a long wait like the maidens had?  How can I be ready to recieve the oil that God provides?

The answer to the second question is the easiest – and the hardest.  How can I be ready to receive the oil that God provides? I need confession.  My sins fasten little lids to my jars.  My selfish attitudes, my carelessly spoken words, and my fallenness ensure that nothing gets into my jar.  No grace, no oil.  When I see myself for what I really am, just some crazy, messed up, fallen sinner, and remember that Jesus looked at me in that very state and decided to die for me and take all that on Himself it becomes a little easier to relinquish my strangle hold on how I think things should go. I reorient myself towards Him and reconcile with Him through His beautiful sacrament of confession. The lids on my jars are removed and I am ready for Him to pour the grace into them.  Confession itself is grace, but it also prepares us to store up more grace by being open to Jesus by reconciling with Him.

Now the first question: how can I stock up on oil so that I am prepared for a long wait like the maidens had? I started this post talking about that sort of thing.  I need to take care of myself.  I need to gather up the jars to be filled by journaling out bad thinking, getting some exercise, enjoying the beauty around me, and (the hard one!) getting enough rest. More important even than those is prayer.  I am still learning this and am quite the beginner in really understanding what it even means.

What that means for me right now it that I set aside a half hour in the first thing in the morning for prayer and bible study, and some time later in the day for some other spiritual reading and prayer.  On the few days that I have missed spending this time, I have regretted it most of the day.  I feel unsettled all day and often can’t put my finger on what is wrong with me.

The more I spend time listening, the more I really sense God speaking to me, guiding me, and filling my jars. I have a lot of work to do – or rather He has a lot to work on in me. But day by day He is reminding me that He is walking right with me.  “He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” And He helps me keep my jars full too.

Jars

Jars of Clay

I have mentioned before that this year has been a little overwhelming, although I am starting to think that this is just the new normal for us.  With nine children, that gives us eleven people worth of possible drama and crisis in the family. So even if only a few of them are doing their share of it, that keeps us hopping.

With the idea of just dealing with this as our normal life, I realized that I needed to build myself up a little, strengthen my coping muscles, and make sure I was ready to deal with a little extra – not just running on a nearly empty tank all the time. I wasn’t sure how to do that, or even how to start.  Then I hit what seemed to be a theme in my bible study: Jars.

Here’s my disclaimer again: I know I am no scripture scholar, and even my husband thinks I’m a little crazy to tie some of these particular scriptures together.  I think his exact words were, “You know, not every bible verse is speaking directly to YOU.”  Hmph. But I bounced these ideas off of a couple other moms and they seemed to understand. So take it all with a grain of salt and see if it makes any sense to you.

The first instance of jars I ran into was the Story of the Widow and the Oil. 2 Kings 4:1-7

A certain woman, the widow of one of the guild prophets, cried out to Elisha: “My husband, your servant, is dead. You know that he revered the LORD, yet now his creditor has come to take my two children into servitude.”Elisha answered her, “What am I to do for you? Tell me what you have in the house.” She replied, “This servant of yours has nothing in the house but a jug of oil.”  He said, “Go out, borrow vessels from all your neighbors—as many empty vessels as you can.  Then come back and close the door on yourself and your children; pour the oil into all the vessels, and as each is filled, set it aside.”  So she went out. She closed the door on herself and her children and, as they handed her the vessels, she would pour in oil.  When all the vessels were filled, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” He answered, “There is none left.” And then the oil stopped.  She went and told the man of God, who said, “Go sell the oil to pay off your creditor; with what remains, you and your children can live.”

At the time I read this I was feeling completely spent just about all the time. Just as I met an urgent need in one child, another would have an even greater need. I was bouncing from one thing to the next, with never quite enough time to plan ahead, rebuild my strength, or anticipate which direction I would be spinning off to next. I was reduced to pinball mothering. After reading this passage, this verse became my prayer, I even wrote it up above the changing table so I could read it multiple times a day:

She replied, “This servant of yours has nothing in the house but a jug of oil.”

She asked for help. Then she offered all that she had, (much like another little boy had done) the only thing of value she owned, one jug of olive oil.  And then what did Elisha tell her to do?  Get more jars!

God filled up as many jars as she could provide. All He asked of her was everything she had.

Now, I am not this widow, and I have plenty of olive oil.  My life is not a biblical miracle. This isn’t about my own importance in any way. Time and again in scripture, God asks for our all and when it is freely given, He blesses it and makes it more than we could ever dream.  What spoke to me here was the way that He multiplied her resources.  He required her to gather jars.

I was left with the question: what are my jars?  I knew I was pretty much on empty, but I wasn’t sure just what I was needing to be filled. I was willing to go and gather jars to be filled if I could just figure out what my jars were supposed to be.

The key to this was found in what that one jar was to the widow.  It was all she had of value.  Or, to flip that around for myself, it is all that I value. She freely offered that one jar, and I need to look at all the things I find important and offer those up as well. My children, my husband, my home, my toys (iPhone and kindle come to mind), my projects and plans, my hopes, my prayers, and most especially my time are all my jars.

One at a time, I am handing each one to Him and asking Him to fill them up.  Slowly, day by day, instead of being drained by the things I value, I find that I am more likely to have a little left over.  A little time, a little sanity, a little energy… never an excess, because it is still real life and God really isn’t interested in making me into some kind of non-sleep-needing superhero. But there is enough. And that is what I needed.

Distraction

Writing this has been a little ironic. Phones ringing, kids running back and forth, needing a drink of water, spilling water, peeing pants, give me a ride, Mom can I…, Mom he just…, {crash), {waahh}, or the worst – silence.

I have spent the spring trying to bring myself back to some normal level of bible study. I started in February with a 21 day study of women in the bible that I found on my kindle. If all goes as planned, I will finally finish it up this coming week. 21 day study… 4 months to finish it…

Anyway, one of the days was, of course, the story of Martha and Mary. Instead of skimming like I usually do with stories I know (why do I do that, I always still get something out of the story when I slow down… must be distraction), I slowed down and read it. Let’s read it now.

Luke 10:38-42 As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Wait, that’s not what I read… in my study I was reading an NIV version and the wording was just enough different to wake me up a little. In that v 40 says, ‘But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”’

Martha was distracted.

She was focused on all the preparations and lost track of who and what the preparations were for.

But for me, when the distractions pile up, how can I keep and kind of focus? I am Martha, resentful of Mary, burdened by all of the stuff to be done. Someone has to do it! When is there time for Martha to be with Jesus? It’s all very well to say that her work is her prayer, is her worship. But it still feels a little bit unfair.

So I jotted in my notebook: Focus on who I am doing the work for, not on the work itself.

Which is a nice idea in theory, putting it into practice is not as easy. I’m still distracted and little bit resentful. And so my days of pushing myself through this study continued until one day just this past week when I felt like my prayers were just bouncing off the ceiling. I thought, “I’m trying, Lord. Why aren’t I getting any closer to you through this?”

I took a deep breath. Prayer. Just what is prayer?

And I remembered the image of just lifting my heart to God. Maybe I am struggling too much over the words I am reading or in trying to find the right words to say here. What I need to do is just lift my heart to God.

Okay, so what is my heart?

The picture that came to mind here was the junk drawer in my kitchen. My heart is full of junk. If I picture lifting that messy box of stuff above my head… a box full of things I don’t even know what to do with anymore – broken bits of this and that, things I am not sure what their purpose is, not sure what is important to keep or what to toss, and so it’s all there, in the way, unusable…

These are my distractions.

If I lift the whole thing up over my head, I can ask God to pull out the useless garbage (worldly attachments), the broken items (bad thought processes and other sins), and put the rest in order. Because when I am looking down at this mess, I can’t look up to Him.

So I have to lift my heart / messy drawer to Him.

As is.

He can sort me out.

So back to Martha. “‘But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Martha made it possible for Mary to be there, for Jesus to sit and teach. Martha got stuff done. For me, maybe the distraction isn’t so much the exterior noise around me, but my interior reaction to it. By my resentment and jealousy I am creating a dust storm of distraction that can’t even be calmed down when I do have a quiet moment.

I remember another mom telling me that her mothering during mass was her prayer. “Mothering in the pew”. That simple idea changed mass going for me. It wasn’t about hearing the homily or readings anymore while hissing violently at my children to BE QUIET. It became about gently leading my children through the mass. (Not that it always works, but in general I am a little less stressed out by it.)

I’m sorry to say that I don’t have any grand advice to give about the distractions our family and the world throw at us during prayer. In my state of life there is very little I can do to calm those down, they are ever present, and if they aren’t, then I need to be sleeping, it’s as simple as that.

But I think we can all work towards calming down the internal distractions. The clutter and noise that we produce ourselves or allow in to our minds and hearts can be identified and cleared out. Some of it we can do, but I think it will take some help from God to find it all and clear it all out.

Dear Jesus,
Please show me what is distracting me from the inside.  I give you full permission to weed out the junk I carry around with me.  Heal me of the hurts and show me how to help the process of healing. Take away my attachments to broken ideas and habits and show me how to guard myself against them.  Put my heart in order to I can meet you there in peace, without extra noise or distraction.  Help me to find the things that keep me from focusing on you.

And help me, Lord, to make my daily work its own prayer to you.  You created me and gave me my vocation.  Let it mold me into who you mean for me to be.

 

Just Keep Swimming

I’d like to jump back in here without mentioning just how long I have been away, but I just can’t help myself.  When I pulled up the page and it told me the last post was in August… I just couldn’t believe how much time had slipped by.  To give myself a little credit, I did have a baby in that time and since then my days have been busy.  But I miss writing, and I miss really pulling my thoughts together to be able to post them here.

With the new year comes a new look for Circling Jericho, I hope you like it, and a goal of a post per week.  We’ll see how that goes. I still need to finish my series on Control and Surrender, and also get our Vasectomy Reversal Story posted.  So I have plenty to start with!

But what has been on my mind lately has been about seeking God.  2011 was a hard year for our family, and certainly taught me a lot about control and surrender, but it also left me floundering a little bit and wondering why I felt kind of alone in all my struggles.  I wondered – since God wants us to seek Him, why doesn’t He just show up when we decide to head His direction?  It would seem to make sense to reward us a little for figuring out which way we are supposed to be going, right?

The image of teaching my kids to swim came to me.  I spend hours in the pool with them in the summers, showing them, guiding them, training them in new skills.  There comes a time in learning to swim, however, when the child needs to transition from just swimming as far as they can hold their breath to being able to come up for air all on their own.  This is the crucial step in becoming an independent swimmer.

I tell them what they need to do and we practice the movements on the steps.  Then I have the child swim to me.  But instead of reaching out my arms to catch him like I always do, I take a step backwards.

The child can see my feet.  He knows his usual comfortable distance just got longer.  He feels the rising panic as his body calls out for air.  I can see him begin to get nervous and I step closer and catch him.  We go back to the steps and practice again.

The next time he knows that I am going to step back and that he has to lift his head, he really has to try this time.  It is so hard to watch a child at this point in learning to swim.  To see him struggle to combine the skill of swimming with a new one of lifting his head or turning over onto his back.

But he can’t learn it at all if I never take that step back.

That one moment of abandonment when I take a step backward and the child realizes that he has to do this is the only thing that will move him to the fun of swimming anywhere he wants to in the pool.  He has to take a breath and keep swimming.

I think this year has been like that for me.  I am swimming towards God.  I am going in the right direction, doing (mostly) what He wants me to do.  And He took that step backward, willing me to keep going, to push through and take that breath and swim the rest of the way.

I can’t say for sure if I have learned the new skill that He had planned for me.  But I know I haven’t drowned.

I’m still swimming!

Control and Surrender, Part 1

I gave a retreat this past weekend, my first, and my writing for this has been such a journey, it seemed worthy of including here.  It certainly has been a part of my wandering in circles around my personal Jericho.

I try to live my life in a prayer of Mary’s Fiat – Let it be done to me according to your will. But sometimes I feel like what God actually heard was something more along the lines of, “Bring it on.”

As mothers, we have so much to manage and keep going. Children to teach, the family to feed, a husband to keep up a relationship with, school and church work, our “real” jobs. Keeping control seems like the only logical way to do that. But leaning on our ability to control things is slippery and deceptive. The control we exercise can be taken from our hands at any moment. So we need to find a way to keep a responsible grip on the management of our families and jobs while balancing that with surrender to God’s guidance and will, and trust… that in one of those moments when control is taken away entirely – we are still securely in His hands.

Sundays are always my hardest day. Between Jay’s masses, and trying to get ready for another week while keeping everyone fed and cleaned up for mass I am left with little patience and always find myself thinking that if I just planned it well enough and executed it perfectly then the day would go smoothly. I grasp at control and scribble down a list of things to finish up that day and reminders for next Sunday. I berate myself and think that I could bring peace to my family if I just had enough control over the day. But in spite of any elaborate planning I do, Sundays slide from my grasp – sometimes its a sick child, a busy Saturday that leaves me playing catch up, my own exhaustion, or even just setting aside what needs to be done for time with family. I simply cannot control all of the variables and get a hold on Sunday.

I’m not sure if control brings peace or just the illusion of peace. Sometimes I think I would settle for an illusion of peace!

There are two moms I know: One is always in control. Her home runs like clockwork, her kids never eat sugar cereal while being rushed out the door in the morning. And yet her children are always shuffled out of the way to keep things running smoothly.

Another has told me smilingly that she never feels overwhelmed. She has several children, and she enjoys them all greatly, making time for them as much as possible. She is not what I would call out of control, but her grasp on it seems to be a little looser.

So it occurred to me one day, that maybe this overwhelmed, scrambled existence is where I am supposed to be right now. Maybe this, in itself, is the medicine my soul needs to teach me to really lean on God’s control instead of my own. Because really, when it comes down to it, how much do we really have control of? Our lives can change in a moment.

What is the difference between being out of control and living a life of surrender?

Surely there is a difference. We mothers have to do our due diligence in caring for our family and not just toss in the towel and quit trying. But I have to have that continual reminder that it is not my will but His that must be done. Frustration with this does not equal lack of surrender.

Preparing for this retreat has been an exercise in surrender in itself for me. Just as I began to work on it, I found myself in the throws of morning sickness, then Jay’s hand injury ( he lost a portion of a finger in a work accident) tossed our life into an uproar, then a series of sicknesses in my kids that kept my hands busy with laundry and my lap full at all times. Truly, my time was not my own and I couldn’t work on it at all. I had to chuckle and God’s sense of humor, and wished that maybe I had been led to a different topic for the retreat – then I wouldn’t be getting this tough lesson.

But it wasn’t until last weekend that it really came to a head in our household. For months, I have been diligently following Dave Ramsey’s financial principles, trying to get a working budget and get us out of debt and living within our means. Every penny is spent on paper before the month begins. I made progress for several months, even got some bills paid off. But the business Jay works for is struggling. The paychecks have been coming, but they have been getting later and later. Finally, this past week, we went a whole week without a paycheck. Between that and the mounting medical bills (For Jay’s hand injury and Molly’s hospitalization) I just completely fell apart. I had one of those moments of staring over a cliff, seeing the darkness that was out there without faith, but feeling like my best efforts had failed me entirely. I wasn’t chuckling at God’s sense of humor anymore. I was angry and tired and very tempted to despair.

If I had worked so hard to control all of our money, but it really wasn’t in my control at all anyway, what was the point? Just like cleaning the kitchen only to come back in and find it wrecked entirely… it seemed like it was all futile. Still, as we will go over in part 2, I remembered that really Holy people have just kept doing their jobs in the face of loss of control. But how is it possible to do that without falling over that cliff and succumbing to despair when over and over you see your hard work crumble like a sandcastle getting hit by a wave?

After much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, I realized that it really is the outcome that matters, but not the outcome I was looking at.

My work is to be a good steward of my money, to love and teach my children, to love and encourage my husband, to care for our belongings and fill our home with love.

But the outcome of those things – the real goal I am aiming for is not:

  • a balanced bank account
  • perfect children
  • a husband whose needs are always met
  • a clean home with dinner on the table, laundry in the drawers, and a place for everything.

My real goal is to love God and to bring my children and husband closer to Him as well. My real goal is Heaven and an eternity with Him. That is the outcome that matters. The rest of it is the means that will help me to get there.

This reminded me of the story of the Man and the Rock.  I found a version and want to share that with you now:

Pushing Against The Rock – Author Unknown

There once was a man who was asleep one night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light and the Saviour appeared to him.

The Lord told him He had a work for him to do, and showed him a large rock explaining that he was to push against the rock with all his might. This the man did, and for many days he toiled from sunup to sundown; his shoulder set squarely against the cold massive surface of the rock, pushing with all his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and worn out, feeling his whole day had been spent in vain.

Seeing that the man showed signs of discouragement, Satan decided to enter the picture – placing thoughts in the man’s mind, such as “Why kill yourself over this?, you’re never going to move it!” or “Boy, you’ve been at it a long time and you haven’t even scratched the surface!” etc. giving the man the impression the task was impossible and the man was an unworthy servant because he wasn’t moving the massive stone.

These thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man and he started to ease up in his efforts. “Why kill myself?” he thought. “I’ll just put in my time putting forth just the minimum of effort and that will be good enough.” And this he did or at least planned on doing until, one day, he decided to take his troubles to the Lord.

“Lord,” he said, “I have labored hard and long in Your service, putting forth all my strength to do that which You have asked of me. Yet after all this time, I have not even budged that rock even half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?”

To this the Lord responded compassionately, “My friend, when long ago I asked you to serve Me and you accepted, I told you to push against the rock with all your strength and that you have done. But never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. At least not by yourself. Your task was to push. And now you come to Me, your strength spent, thinking that you have failed, ready to quit. But is this really so? Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled; your back sinewed and brown. Your hands are calloused from constant pressure and your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you have grown much and your ability now far surpasses that which you used to have. Yet still, you haven’t succeeded in moving the rock; and you come to Me now with a heavy heart and your strength spent. I, my friend will move the rock. Your calling was to be obedient and push, and to exercise your faith and trust in My wisdom, and this you have done.”

Feet: A Belated Holy Week Post

Little feet have brought me closer to God in many ways, chasing them around gives me patience and reminds me of the joy to be found even on the most stressful of days.  There are a couple ways though, that snuck up on me, and I thought I would share those with you. I realize that Holy Week is long past now, but I hope they will lift you up anyway.

Holy Week always finds me stressed and overwhelmed.  While I would like to participate in the many wonders and liturgies, having several very small children (and a husband in the choir) makes it nearly impossible to do without teaching my children by accident that Holy Week is more about getting yelled at than about appreciating the sacrifice of Jesus.  So we choose carefully which liturgies to attend.

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Good Friday of 2010 found me at my wits end, as usual.  We had attended the live Stations of the Cross with the kids, and had intended to take them to the Good Friday liturgy as well.  But I felt like the small children needed a break and so did I.  It would have been a disaster in the making to try another long event in the same day.  So we stayed home.  At least our parish had their liturgy on television, so I was able to watch, holding my peacefully sleeping baby on the couch, while the other little ones played legos in the other room.

As the parishioners filed up, one by one, to venerate the cross and kiss the feet of Jesus, I looked down at the chubby little feet, so relaxed in my lap.  And I realized…  Mary must have kissed the feet of Jesus countless times.  She nibbled on his cute little toes as she cared for him.  And then she saw those feet lifted up before her on the cross.  She knew, she saw the physical effects of His sacrifice.  The body she had held so close was hurting.  I am sure that no one understands the veneration of the Cross like she does.

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This year we were able to make it to Holy Thursday Mass.  I even came prepared with battery operated candles for the little ones to carry during the procession afterward.  (Although I also discovered just how far those battery operated candles can roll when dropped/thrown.  Next year I need to find square battery operated candles.)  I have to confess that I am a horrible listener in Mass, and only partly because of my kids.  I am just a distracted kind of person, so I always catch snippets here and there.  The part of the gospel that echoed out to me sitting in this particular wiggly, whiny pew was:

If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. (Jn 13:14-15)

And I tell you, I sat bolt upright and realized… I do this!

On a week when I had been feeling like there was no time for prayer and my going to mass was overwhelming, I was so relieved to realize that every day I do something that Jesus specifically asked us to do.  There is not a day that goes by when I don’t find myself down on my knees washing little feet at some point in the day.  (And I had to stop writing this post twice to wipe a little behind as well, that has to count for something.)

Jesus asked us to serve one another, and to meet each other at our grossest and help to clean each other up.  That sums up my job pretty well, I think.  Maybe I am learning something out of these trips around Jericho.

Relax and Dance

The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.  Ex 14:14

This is one of my favorite verses.  I find it so comforting.  Keeping still is not my strong point.  Today it brought to mind two situations to help me to bring it into focus for myself.

The first is trying to get a 1 or 2 year old child dressed.  They have done this enough times that they know that they are supposed to put their hand in the hole in the shirt.  But they are not experienced enough yet to realize that they need to find the hole first before they go jabbing their hand in random parts of the shirt that are not sleeves.  Baby starts getting frustrated, I start getting frustrated.  If she would just be still and stop trying to help so much, then I could show her where the hole is and let baby push her own hand through, but she is so sure that this is where her hand goes she just pushes all the harder when I try to move her hand to the right place.

I know there are times when God is trying to get the attention of my bulldozer self and I am so sure that this is the direction I am supposed to be going to help Him.  If I could just take the time to be still, He could reorient me just a bit and I could get on the right track.

The second situation is a little different.  The other day our oldest daughter, who works in a restaurant/bar, was telling us about Salsa Night at her work.  She has seen some amazing Salsa Dancing on these nights.  She doesn’t know how to do the dances, but will occasionally dance with one of the more skilled dancers.  She told us how the really good dancers can lead so well that she doesn’t even have to know much about the dance herself.  During one dance she told one, “You make me feel like a pro at this, like I really know what I am doing!”  He told her that it was because she was so relaxed and was good at taking his cues and following.

Being a limp noodle wouldn’t help her to dance like that, she had to be relaxed but responsive.  She had to wait for his cues and act on them immediately and without thought.  That is what makes the dance.

If I could be so close to God that I feel His slightest cues…

If I could be relaxed, yet ready to respond without hesitation…

Then maybe this relationship with Him, this life He has given me, would be more like a dance and less like me fighting Him at every turn. Trying to get Him to understand what I think His will should be is a lot more work than being tuned into His will, and a lot more like a toddler insisting that the sleeve should be right in the middle of the shirt.