On Long Hair and Banishing Dementors

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It’s always hard to get pack to posting when I have been neglecting the blog for a while. Not really neglecting… we had some stuff going on and I needed to process out of the public eye so to speak. And I have done a lot of processing and made a few changes while I was at it.

I have started a lot of diets over the years, I probably begin at least a few times a year in fact, but I haven’t actually been able to do anything about this “baby weight” for the last few babies. The last time I got serious about exercise and diet, all I succeeded in doing was exhausting myself.

At the beginning of August, I hit one of those points when I had to either lose a few pounds or buy a bigger size. So I fired up MyFitnessPal again and began half heartedly tracking my food. Even that was enough to knock a couple pounds off. After a couple weeks of doing that, I had a day when I actually did my hair.

My hair lives in a bun of sorts most of the summer. It is hot out and I will likely be in the pool at least once a day, so why bother styling it when it will just be wet again in a few hours? But on this day my hair was dry and clean and I knew I wouldn’t be swimming, so I got out my straightener and Did My Hair for real.

My hair has gotten pretty long lately, probably as long as I have ever had it. Straightening and slightly curling the ends made it look so pretty and shiny, I pulled out my phone to take a picture…

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… and I was kind of shocked at what I saw. It’s amazing that you can look in the mirror every day and refuse to really see yourself, but that is just what I had been doing. On that day I saw myself, and I didn’t look like myself.

(Disclaimer because this is the internet and someone will get bent out of shape: I am not making a statement about anyone’s body but my own. I know the shape of my frame and my body was not reflecting that.)

I went ahead and took the rest of my “before” pictures and I began to buckle down and really get serious about my diet. I also dusted off my fitbit and started walking. I couldn’t handle anything else right then, that was my starting point and for the first time in a long time, the changes stuck and I began to lose weight.

I started feeling better right away and the pounds started really dropping. I’m not losing super fast, just about a pound a week on average, but I am now within spitting distance of 20 pounds lost. I’ll post those before, during, and finally some after pictures in some other post.

Feeling better physically rippled out into other areas of my life and I began placing a higher priority on my self care. I actively sought out time to journal or just be alone for a while (hard core introvert here) and I took a close look at my cluttered home and started working on that as well. I also started running again.

I love running. And I can’t believe I just said that. I was the least athletic kid in school – the slowest runner, the last to be picked for teams in P.E. classes, I didn’t even know how to play most sports. (I once volunteered to be the catcher in a baseball game, thinking that would keep me out of the way of the ball. See? I was clueless.) But running is like a brain cleanse for me. I am slow, and I still take lots of walk breaks, but it turns down the noise in my brain for a while and makes me a happier person.

So here I was – exercising, eating right (mostly), journalling, getting better rest, and other things to take better care of me. And then came my birthday.

My 45th Birthday.

Gosh, how did I get so OLD?

On the morning of my birthday I went for a run. Since it was later than I usually would go, I took a different route – one that I hadn’t wanted to take in the pitch black morning. This route took me through a tunnel under the street.

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Does that remind you of anything? It’s a little bit different, but it looked (and felt) very much like the tunnel in Harry Potter where Dudley and Harry meet up with the Dementors. I realized in that moment that I have been fighting some pretty serious Dementors and right now, I am winning.

I am winning. The thought very nearly took my breath away. While I have my bad days, for the first time in a long time (I can’t even remember how long!) my depression symptoms are at a very low point. That tunnel was such a gift on my birthday!

I have a long way to go, both in terms of my physical and mental health. I am figuring out what kind of maintenance needs to happen and when to help me stay here and even keep making progress. I know there are setbacks ahead of me and I am trying to have some contingency plans in place when those happen.

Through all this, the grace of God has sustained me in both the good and the tougher days, and my husband’s unfailing support (including  inconveniences on many work days) has made it possible for me to get to where I am now. With their help, I will keep going!

If you want support or to follow my journey you can find me on MyfitnessPal as NineLivesAZ and on Fitbit as jengroft at gmail (etc. You know how to write an email address).

Small Graces in Hard Times

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It seems every time I make a resolution to get serious about my writing things get really intense around my home. I’m not sure if God is telling me to be quiet or if it is just that life just gets really intense a lot. I suspect it is the latter, so here I go.

Recently one of our children had a very near brush with death and spent some time critically ill, including more than two weeks at various levels of hospitalization. This was, of course, an intensely difficult time for our family. So much so that I am not ready to share much more about it so publicly.

But as always, there are little gifts that God gives in these times. I thought I would share a couple of them with you.

About a week before the beginning of the crisis, I sat at Sunday mass wrestling with a very wiggly, noisy baby. At 11 months old, Gwendolyn was starting to understand how pointing works so it was a little easier to point out things in the church to distract her. Each time I would ask her, “Where is Jesus?” she would look up at the crucifix and be silent and still for a few seconds. It occurred to me that this was a simple prayer I could use in the chaos of my life.

I little knew how I would rely on it just a few short days later when a prayer of words seemed to be more than I could do. In those wild hospital days, I could think, “Where is Jesus?” and know immediately that He was right there with me. It helped me to refocus on Him, to incline my heart toward Him even when I was so overcome with concern, worry, and fear that I could barely think. It really felt like that little moment with my wiggly baby in mass had been a gift. God had given me the tool I would need to use days later, watching my child cry and suffer in a hospital room.

While our child was in the hospital, my husband Jay stayed with her during the nights and I stayed with her during the days. Friends and family swarmed around us with love and care. Two friends in particular spent hours sitting with me at the hospital. They were long, lonely hours and I would have crumbled without their presence. They had busy lives of their own, but they moved things around to be there for our family. (As did many others who brought food, watched our other kids, and provided spiritual support.) At one point when Jay and I were actually in the same room for a little bit he mentioned a text message he had gotten from his brother. He said, “Yesterday’s homily was about carrying our crosses. One of the saints was quoted as saying that Jesus gives the heaviest weight to His dearest friends.”

I realized for the first time what that phrase might mean. In the past it had just made me think, Why does anyone stay close to God? If this is how He treats His friends… It seemed like a cruel sort of relationship. But in that moment I thought about how hard we had been leaning on our friends. We brought them (and they came willingly) into our suffering in a very intimate way. They saw through our eyes, they felt with our hearts. We let them do that because we love them. We did not do this to cause them pain, but because there is a certain unity in our friendship.

God does not need us in the same way we needed our friends through this crisis. But He loves us with the fiercest of loves. In our relationship with Him we find a unity beyond our relationships with people. For the first time I could see why there is pain that can come with that love and intimacy. Instead of feeling picked on, I realized just how much He loves us.

We are past the hospital days now, and are working our way back toward normal. It has been such a stressful time, but God has shown us His love and presence in so many ways. Thank you, friends who helped us and prayed us through this. We couldn’t have made it without you.

Why Am I Not Better at This Yet?

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I have been a mother for 26+ years now. I have ten children. Other mothers look at me and ask me how I do it all. But they are usually only the ones who don’t know me well yet. They don’t know that I have still not completely cleaned up after last night’s dinner and it’s 2pm. They haven’t seen that my floors haven’t been vacuumed in over a week, nor has the floor been swept in days. They don’t see that I am so tired that I find myself unable to sympathize with a child who was walking backward in Target and nearly impaled himself on a shelf.

When I ask for help, whether advice or physical assistance, some of the responses I get are:

“Your older kids should be doing more around the house!”

“You have ten children, you should know!”

“You need to just lower your standards a little, you have a large family.”

“You need to make time for yourself, get away for a while.”

“Just call me anytime, I can take {one child’s name here} to play for an hour or so…”

Let me address those one at a time, and maybe you can see how I can still be such a novice mother after 10 children and 26 years.

“Your older kid should be doing more around the house!”

You know what? They do help a whole lot. But once they are older there are other things to keep in mind as well. They have homework. A ton of homework. They have jobs. And, the bottom line is, they are still kids. So while they have jobs to do, I am still the one who has to follow up on every. last. one. What is that saying? Kids will do what you INSPECT, not what you EXPECT. Very true. And to my kids, if you are reading this? Thank you for the help you give, you know instinctively that loving on the little ones is higher priority than a clean bathroom, and I am grateful for that. But I do still need help with the dishes and bathrooms and stuff.

“You have ten children, you should know!”

Yes, I do. I know an awful lot. But here is a funny thing, I am so tired from trying to stay up late to make sure the computer gets turned off when the older kids are done with their homework, being up with the baby off and on all night, and then up at the crack of dawn with the younger kids, I start to doubt my own mind. I can’t remember things. I wonder sometimes if I am making mountains out of molehills because the only thought I can fully form is “Should I have another cup of coffee and try to be functional or should I stumble around half asleep and hope that I will get to close my eyes and take a nap?” And another thing… there are a lot of new things coming out, being discovered every day. Maybe someone has come up with a sure-thing cure for diaper rash and I am too busy to have heard of it. So I ask a fellow mom, “Hey, what do you do for this kind of rash?” Remember, since each child is different, we are a first time parent to that child.

“You need to just lower your standards a little, you have a large family.”

Oh. my. goodness. If I lower my standards any more the neighbors may complain. My standards are low. But even in houses with low standards the floor must be swept sometime.

“You need to make time for yourself, get away for a while.”

Yes I do. My kids are an overwhelming bunch. But if I ask you to babysit…

“Just call me anytime, I can take {one child’s name here} to play for an hour or so…”

I’d love that! It would be really nice for {one child} to have a play date. I do appreciate when they get that opportunity. And I’ll love it even more if you are the one to drive. But unless you are taking one of the kids who is really too young for a play date (and classifies more as highly focused aerobic babysitting) then my load isn’t really any lighter. In fact, if you are hosting one of my kids who is 8 and up, my job will become a little harder for that time because I have fewer hands around to help out. That’s okay, they need their breaks and social time too.

So here are some facts:

1. I am a mother with several small children. That is a lot of work. They make constant messes and still have “fussy days” when they just need a lot of holding. They aren’t fond of sleep.

2. I am the mother of a few middle grade kids. They can help a bit and yet still need a lot of help. They are hard to keep track of and try to negotiate out of bedtime.

3. I am the mother of some teenagers. They are a lot of emotional work. They need guidance making decisions that will impact their whole lives. They also sometimes need supervision somewhat like toddlers. They don’t sleep either.

4. I am the mother of some adult children. They help out, they need help. The help they need is often of the more expensive variety. They are a lot of worry because I am not the one in charge anymore. I don’t have to worry about their sleep unless they are doing it in my living room.

5. Each of the above groups are both delightful and hard work. All of them generate a lot of dishes and eat a lot of food. And the paper! Some days I am afraid I actually growl at the 4th or 5th child who comes home and hands me more paper.

6. I make a dinner for 8-12 people almost every night. And when I don’t cook it, it is still my job to figure out what it is going to be and how much it is going to cost. That is a major job.

7. I can have the laundry caught up OR the kitchen running smoothly. Not both. Never both. Sometimes neither.

8. If you have fewer kids than I do, I do not think you have it easy. Parenting (if you’re doing it right) is always hard work. I do not wonder why you have however many children. I can barely manage my own life, it wouldn’t cross my mind to manage yours.

I realized the other day that one of the reasons I am not more adept at this is that I start completely from scratch every two years or so. Each time a baby comes, I have to take time to physically recover and then I step back into running my home, but it is different after each baby. The family has grown, the kids are going through their own adjustments, the bedroom assignments have shifted. The youngest has been dethroned and is generally not happy about it. And I have to restart or refigure all my routines and plans, only this time with a tiny baby in one arm and a toddler hanging off the other one. Then… then a new school year starts and we shift who is going to which school and we have to get the routine down again – the snacks, the driving, the money, it’s a whole new plan.

I guess what it boils down to is that I am good at this. It just changes so quickly that adapting is difficult. For any plan I make to manage our lives, there are so many possibilities for variation (and disaster, lets just say it) that I often forget that I ever had a plan in the first place, which makes me feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants and wondering why I haven’t figured this all out yet.

The Privilege of a Wide Age Spread

When my fourth baby was born, my first child had only recently turned 7. What followed was a year of unparalleled turmoil and chaos in our home. I honestly have very few memories of that time, it was just so intense and so much work. Bedtime stretched on for hours every night. Going places was difficult. I’m afraid I yelled at that poor little 7 year old, a first grader, to make her own lunch for school. For that year, the only pictures I have of our children they were either sleeping or in the bathtub because that was the only time I could look at them with fresh eyes and see their loveliness and joy. We spent that year just trying to white knuckle it through, constantly holding on to the mantra that “This, too, shall pass.”

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It wasn’t all terror and tears, but it was a hard, intense year. That year each of the kids had a fun birthday party. Our Christmas was beautiful – with snow flurries on Christmas Eve, in Phoenix! We had lots of great times with friends and family. It was just a very hard working year with all those little bodies to care for plus trying to keep up with what I assumed were everyone’s expectations of me.

Now, 18 years later, I find myself in a similar situation. I have four children under 8 years old. Things are busier now, with older children come larger concerns – college applications, dating and other social drama, and car insurance, just to name a few. But now with these little ones, I find myself saying not “This, too, shall pass.” but “Oh no, this is passing too quickly!” As I rock our two week old baby in the fussy evenings, while listening to the older kids race around the house with the occasional crash of something falling or tears from a collision with a sibling I think back to that endless year when we had those first four children and wonder where the time went.

That baby (baby number 4) will be a senior in high school this year. He still never goes to bed on time, but if he is tired the next day it is his own fault, and not something I have to lose (much) sleep over. I lived through that tough year, and it really didn’t last all that long, even though the minutes within it could drag on forever.

I have been gifted with a do over. Not with the same children, of course. No, the mistakes I made with them that year will stand in their memories or a therapist’s notebook. But as a mother, I get to do this again – a closely spaced group of small children, school days, bedtimes, parks and games and activities.

I am not trying to romanticize this phase. I am just as overwhelmed as the next mom. Last night I heartily congratulated myself for being able to get some of the laundry done and folded when the 5 year old came up and said, “Yay! Clean panties!” My kitchen has a giant pot of mostly gone macaroni and cheese (the boxed kind, nothing pinterest approved) that has been sitting on the stove for no less than three days. But the plates made it into the dishwasher! So that’s a win, too! When the call for volunteers went out from school yesterday, I humbly turned it down. I was looking forward to working the back to school days – it’s so fun to see people again and to feel useful. But I know I wouldn’t actually BE useful, because I would be nursing the baby in a corner the whole time I was supposed to be working. Maybe next year. With my husband out of town for the past few days, a trip to Target is the only time we have made it out of the house and that was purely a rookie mistake on my part, to say I wasn’t prepared for a shopping trip with four small children so soon postpartum is an understatement. The cabin fever is at an epidemic level these hot summer days.

That first time with all the little ones, I felt like I had to keep up with the pace of life in the general population. I don’t feel that way anymore. I have watched other mothers who have had the gumption and the brains to slow down when the kids were young and not try to be all things to all people. There is a blissful freedom there, and those are some of the best mothers I know.

The perfectionist in me cries, “There are still things that have to be done! The rest of the world doesn’t go away because I slow down.” But now I know that I can only do what I can do, not one bit more. So that will have to be good enough. I’m stronger than my inner perfectionist now, and while she can sometimes break out and cause anxiety, I mostly make her sit in a disorganized closet.

In this wild and loud, hush-the baby’s-sleeping time of our lives, I will be ticking off minutes slowly and seeing the weeks go by in a flash, trying to cram it all into my brain: the tiny baby who still feels like a bean bag whose sighs sound like heaven itself, the dimpled knuckles on my 3 year old’s hands and how he looks like such a big boy unless he is peacefully sleeping, the 5 year old who reads so slowly and is so proud of herself, the 7 year old who always does her best to help out and always dances when she goes down the hall. All of this will be gone – sometime between a minute from now and an eternity. Then they will be driving their own cars away, living their own lives that I only know snippets of.

But for now there is this:

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Laundry waiting for hangers. It will be all over the floor the first time someone goes for something at the bottom of the pile.

And this:

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“After” the dishes were “done.”

And this:

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(I rounded them up from all corners of the house and begged them to smile.)

And a whole lot of this:
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I’ll leave you now with a trite but wise poem. I’m sure we have all read it many times but it fits here so well:

Song for a Fifth Child
by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton

Mother, oh Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.

Oh, I’ve grown shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).

The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.

Holding Me Back

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I don’t try to hide the fact that I have a larger than average family, but I don’t usually volunteer the information, either. It’s not that I am ashamed. I am just tired of having to either defend my choice or explain personal details of my life to an openly hostile or friendly but overly-curious public.

I am also not usually offended when people ask questions, even those they would never ask someone with one or two children, because in general I think people are just curious and want to know how others live.

This is a good thing because it builds our empathy as a society. It is my job to be kind to people and decide on my own personal boundaries for what I will and will not share.

This week I had an unusually negative encounter. I helped to chaperone a field trip for my 5-year-old’s kindergarten class. After touring the museum, we went to a park with the kids to eat lunch and let them play a while. A few of the parents and grandparents were talking around a picnic table when the conversation turned to pregnancy. I let slip that I was expecting our tenth child. I’m not sure why I did that, but it came tumbling out of my mouth. After clarifying that I did, indeed say “tenth” an older man told me, “You know, the Pope said you don’t have to breed like bunnies.”

I confess that I have been expecting this “helpful” advice since the Pope made those statements and have read some well done blog posts about the context of them in preparation. I still wasn’t ready. All I could stammer out was, “Those remarks were made in a much larger context.” He replied, “I don’t even know what that means.”

My cheeks were feeling hot, and I wasn’t thinking all that well. I just told him that there was a lot more that the Pope said about families during that conversation and the ones that came before it in the Philippines. And then I just waited and hoped that the subject would die there.

Maybe I should have been more ready to evangelize, especially since this man had just been talking about sending his granddaughter to a Catholic school next year. But I was tired, slightly nauseated, and had just spent two hours helping to keep track of a group of 5 year olds in a crowded museum.

The conversation didn’t die there. It got much worse. He then asked me something I have never been asked by a stranger before, “But don’t they hold you back?”

My mind reeled. Hold me back? How dare he suggest such a thing! I said, “Of course they don’t. My family is my life.” And I could almost feel him thinking, Silly girl, children have to grow up sometime, and you have to do other things besides raise children. Or maybe that was just the echo of my own thoughts. I excused myself from the conversation then, and went to help round up the children.

The problem with what he said wasn’t just that it was rude and intrusive, it was that I had that exact thought when I found out I was pregnant this time. Everyone was potty trained. Outings usually didn’t need any kind of stroller or special gear. Bedtime was a constant thing and I could expect a time every night when the little kids were all in bed, giving me time to read or unwind.

I had several mornings a week when everyone was in school and I could work on writing, shopping, or catching up with the general work that needed to be done. I didn’t have to pay for babysitting when I went to the women’s group at a local parish. My family is big and complicated, but suddenly I was finding a little space for myself to breathe and to get caught up on sleep. Not being sleep deprived is a wonderful feeling!

As I stared at those two pink lines that morning, I saw all that slipping through my fingers. My plans to spend the coming year writing and building my Etsy shop began to evaporate. I would wait a little longer to lose the baby weight. I was being held back.

I spent some time pouting about this and praying for a better attitude. Mixed into all this was the fear of another miscarriage. I knew I didn’t want that at all. A baby may be complicated, but it is not a time of physical and emotional suffering like a miscarriage. It was all tangled in my heart and mind.

The idea of “Holding Me Back” became like a rock in my shoe. It poked me, it irritated me. It was always present, and I didn’t like it. Finally as I began to revise the goals I had for the upcoming year, I decided it was time to let it go.

My family is indeed my life here, my marriage is my vocation. They have been my path to God and to the discovery of what I was put here to do. How could I then say that was holding me back? Could that possibly mean that these other ideas were holding me back from truly serving my family wholeheartedly?

This isn’t a new lesson for me. It seems I need to be retaught this one every few years. My heart gets restless and the mundane, repetitive parts of my life begin to drain my energy. I start to look around for ways to use my talents that can be seen by others, that are worthwhile to talk about among adults who have jobs. Then I am reminded that those others aren’t the ones I was put here to serve or impress.

This time my lesson came in the form of a beautiful book that has been instrumental in changing my heart: Into Your Hands, Father by Wilfred Stinessen. This book has been helpful in pointing out when my thinking starts going in circles.

For example, when I start trying to figure out exactly how something is God’s will and what He intends to use it for in my life. It is not my job to figure those things out. I can look into the past and see how He has used other events, both positive and negative, to bless me and guide me closer to Him.

That conversation threw me back into turmoil for a few hours, but I was able to remember why it wasn’t a problem. I will still pursue outlets for my talents and interests, but I will be more careful now of letting them hold me back from my family, especially from delighting in this precious new baby who is truly a gift.

My family does hold me back, mostly from my own very selfish heart. I hope that I can learn to not hold myself back from them.

 

Originally published 2/5/15 at CatholicStand.com
Photo by G. O’Beirne courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Little Fingers Pray the Rosary

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To use polite words about it, praying the rosary with the kids has always been something of an interesting occasion. Who am I kidding, everything is an “interesting occasion” with a passel of little kids around. Still, we keep trying. We give up and shelve it from time to time but we always go back to trying to teach them to pray the rosary.

Why do we do this?

I think my primary reason I want to put this prayer method deeply into their hearts and minds is that it contains the primary parts of the Gospel. If, for some reason, my children find themselves isolated from the faith in some way, (desert island, lost in space, difficult peer group, war torn country with renewed persecution of Christians, or many other possibilities) I want them to have a basis of faith to fall back on.

Of course they have the grace of God with them always. But the Mysteries of the Rosary contain the most important points of the Gospel. If this is all they have someday, they will be well equipped.

I’ll save a full explanation of the Rosary for another day, but this is my reasoning for imparting this to my children.

In a renewed effort to bring the rosary to their hearts, I started saying one decade with them sometimes at bedtimes. We don’t do it every night. I make a note of which mystery we are on with Google Calendar, since that is where the details of everything else go too.

Rather than round up rosaries, pass them out, endure the swinging around, fighting over who got which one, dropping them, and the constant asking of which bead we are on, I did something different. It was a spur of the moment idea, but it is working really well. I told them the mystery like a story, including as much detail and wonder as I could. We prayed the Our Father. Then I held up my hands so they could see them, fingers extended, and put down one finger for each Hail Mary. To my surprise, they did the same and followed along easily.

I’m sure this isn’t a revolutionary idea, but it is changing how we can pray together.

One story. Ten fingers. Engaged children. Family prayer.

Thank you, Jesus!

This Post is Brought to you in participation with Sunday Snippets – a question is asked every week and this week’s question was: Do you have any suggestions regarding the Rosary? Books? Audios? Ways to pray it?

Find others’ answers at This That and the Other Thing.

A Finger in the Dam

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I’ve been told a few times that I am honest. That I say the things that others are afraid to say, the things that isolate us come dribbling out of my mouth because I just can’t stand it – that feeling like I am the only one. When I see someone who thinks I have it together, I have to take myself down a notch in their eyes and show them what I am wrestling with. So often I find that they are wrestling with the same things. Only no one talks about these things. Shiny, happy posts on facebook never tell the inner hurts, we feel like we should have our act together about these things by now. But we don’t so we just stay silent in shame. I try to inevitably blab about those things.

But lately the shape of my life has left me feeling like it was time to keep my mouth shut. The issues that weigh the most on my heart have to do with my older kids, and I fear sharing details about their lives in my writings. And so it eats away at me. I feel like such a failure as a parent to these young adults that I dare not offer anyone another parental opinion on anything at all.

Brick by brick, I build this dam. holding all the ugly truths of my life back from here, from everyone. Until I can’t even write anymore because there is so much left unsaid that I don’t know where to begin.

Certain signs have told me that this is not working. There are cracks and fissures in my dam. I have kept my finger there, plugging the leak for too long. I am tired. I am lonely. Worse yet, I know that if I feel like this there have to be others who feel the same way. They need, I need, to know we are not alone. We may have failures as a parent, but if we let those paralyze us, we will be useless to our other children and to each other. We will be isolated and neutralized in the good we can do. That sounds like it is exactly where Satan wants us.

So I am taking my finger out of the dam. There is a lot being held back, and I don’t know how it will all come out, but I need to share and reach out.

To begin with, I have to say that my two older children are not practicing their faith. at least one doesn’t attend church at all. Another goes to church at times and even carries a rosary, but also wears a sack of crystal rocks around his neck, thinks hallucinogens are the way to clarity and talks about how Arabic is how we should be communicating.

What is a momma to do with these things? Confrontation has yielded accusations that I am just stuck in the mud, a slave to the old beliefs of a corrupt patriarchal system. I say my piece and try to love them anyway, wondering all the time if I am enabling their behavior more than I realize.

This letting go thing is so much harder than the months of colicky crying. This pain reaches deep into the pit of my stomach and won’t let go. It’s like seeing your child about to grab a cactus or touch a stove, times a thousand. There is that tense slow motion here too – trying to pick the words and realizing that they have been left unsaid while the child has marched off to do what he will.

I remember vividly some decisions I made that probably put my parents through the same feelings. I try to love my children the way they loved me. Condemnation closes doors, respectful honesty (and then shutting up) keeps them at least open a crack or so it seems. But is that enough?

My son leaves in less than three weeks for a new adventure. He says for right now that he doesn’t plan to come back. I look at the outdated pictures on my wall and wonder when there will be time to take more pictures together. Less than a year ago, my whole family lived under one roof, now we are scattered (and will be even more so soon) thousands of miles apart. And I don’t know how to do this part.

I feel like so much of my family is missing now – the two babies lost this past winter, the adult children going all over and doing whatever suits their fancy, the adolescents who openly disdain me at times, some without regard for the right and wrong we tried to teach them.

I am not a perfect parent. I do not have perfect children. I’m often not even sure what on earth I am doing wrong or if doing everything right would have given any different results. Should we have home schooled longer, been more strict, been less strict, ate more organic foods?

The hope that I hold is that their story is not finished yet. Things can change for them next week or ten or even fifty years from now, it is not for me to know. It is for me to pray. It is for me to learn to live with this hole in my heart and not let the anxiety overcome me and steal away my joy in life.

I see other older moms who have carried this cross. They never talk about it – no one wants to complain and bring down their own children. And maybe they are feeling just as lost as I am in this; this deep reservoir of hurt and shame and dashed hopes.

I’m taking my finger out of the dam. There may be a trickle or there may be a flood, but there is room for us to talk about these unspoken things, to pray for each other and our children, to try to find our way.

My Lazy Conversion

It is my delight each year to not only assist during the RCIA classes and get to know the people making the journey into the Church, but to be at the Easter Vigil and witness that final, powerful step into the sacraments and the heart of the Church.

This year when the converts from other ecclesial communities made their profession of faith, “Do you believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God?” I realized that I had said  “I do.” to those words, so long ago, without even knowing what I was saying.

My own initial conversion to the faith was unenlightened and distracted.

It was the early 90’s and I was a young Baptist girl married to a young Catholic boy. When we first got married, we tried to attend each other’s church at least some of the time. My husband sang in the choir at his church, so he could make it to mine less often. One time when he came we were having a communion service that involved goldfish crackers (because the fish is a Christian symbol!) and grape juice. I don’t think he ever was very willing to come to my church after that.

Neither of us were very good at really living in our faith at the time. We were fresh out of the party scene, newly married and new parents. Going to church just felt like the right thing to do.

Our families were each religious in their way, so attending church came naturally. We each had a yearning for a relationship with God in our own way, but letting it reflect into the rest of our lives did not come naturally yet.

I remember asking my husband at one time if we could just make some kind of compromise on a church – like Lutheran or Episcopalian. He said no, so we just kept doing what we were doing.

All I knew about the Catholic Church had been learned from my church and my parents, who told me all about the worshipping of Mary and the Saints, and the few times I went to mass I was just sure that someone had to be laughing at me because I didn’t now what I was doing — when to stand or sit, or the songs they sang that weren’t even projected on the walls or announced by page number.

There came a day when my mother-in-law asked me if I was interested in learning more about the Catholic Church; I casually said yes. If she had asked me a month before, a week before, a week after that day I probably would have said, “No, I’m fine, thanks.” But she (or the Holy Spirit) caught me at the right time. She had the director of the RCIA call me, which is good because I never would have called.

I had one thing going for me as a pre-Catholic: I was already using Natural Family Planning. I had discovered it when I was attending La Leche League in one of the natural-mama type of books that emphasized not using chemicals. I knew that this was somehow a Catholic thing, so going into the classes I thought I had one hurdle already jumped.

But they never talked about that at all. There were probably 50 of us in the class, and we sat in the parish hall, in a giant circle of folding chairs. I don’t remember much of what we talked about. I remember one couple who came and talked about how they decided on the vocation of marriage instead of the wife becoming a nun. But I didn’t understand what they meant by “vocation.” That was never explained.

I remember our priest coming and talking to us a few times and fielding questions. Those were my favorite sessions, and that priest will always hold a special place in my heart for those answers he gave. They didn’t clear everything up for me, but it was enough for me to think, This really isn’t all that different, I could go to church here.

I remember our retreat, when we made a timeline of our life, and then made a sculpture of what prayer meant for us – and I remember thinking that it was a colossal waste of my time.

I didn’t hear anything about big-T Tradition, NFP, or even transubstantiation or the Real Pressence. I missed our opportunity for confession the morning before the Easter Vigil because I had been sick the day before. It wasn’t until we lined up for communion that I realized I didn’t even know what to do or how to receive properly. I had to ask the girl in front of me. Yet at some point in that mass I had answered the words, “Do you believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God?” with “I do.”

My life was pretty much unchanged by the experience, we settled into a nice pattern of attending the same church. We had friends there. We found a slightly more wholesome party scene. Our kids started school at the parish school. Everything was coming together nicely. As members of our social circle hit 3 or 4 children, they would go and get a vasectomy, and after my fourth excruciatingly sick pregnancy, we did the same.

Looking back, I can see the soft outline of grace on our lives until that point, I know that God was present in every part of our lives – the good and the bad. But within a year or so of that decision, He seemed to have decided that He was really intent on getting our attention.

About a year and a half later, we found ourselves living far from family, jobless, depressed, and grasping for the One who we knew could help us. I began to teeter on the edge of returning to my evangelical roots and to wonder if I really believed much of that Catholic stuff at all.

Through a friend I stumbled upon Scott Hahn’s conversion story. I had never heard anything like it in my life. The most important thing about it for me was that it crystalized the idea that I had lingering questions about the Church that I had never asked, and that I should ask them and not stop asking until I had answers. For the first time I saw that there might just be answers.

I began to ask those questions, to read, and most importantly to pray and go to confession. Then, finally, the floodgates of Grace opened and splashed all over us, drenching our souls in what we had been missing all that time.

Finally we we Catholic on purpose, not just because that was where we found ourselves. My husband went through it all with me, side by side. It is not lost on me what an incredible gift that was and is.

Six full years after being received into the Catholic Church, I received the Church as the gift from God that it is.

I sometimes share my story or a part of it as part of the RCIA classes, and I am always a little embarrassed that it took me so long to figure out what I was doing as a Catholic. I’m a bit of a bad example in that way. It is a humbling reminder to me that even our imperfect contrition, our faith-for-the-wrong-reasons are enough to open our hearts to let God’s grace come streaming in.

Our RCIA program is no longer a circle of folding chairs, and we certainly don’t make sculptures to express what we think “prayer” means. Those days are long past, and I am confident that the catechumens and candidates going through our classes know what they are saying when they make their Profession of Faith. When our group made their profession this year, I said it with them, and I meant every word of it.

First posted @ CatholicStand.com 5.1.14

Accidentally Sacrificial

I want to be more faithful (1) copy

I was holding all the water bottles and I didn’t even realize it until another mom pointed out that the kids had left me with all their stuff.

We were at a stargazing event for my son’s class. A local astronomy club had come out to share their telescopes with the kids and parents.  It was a generous gesture on their part, but I had other things I wanted to do with my Friday night. Still, I was able to leave the two youngest kids at home, so even I  had a chance to look into the telescopes myself.

But at that moment I was standing by myself in a crowd of people who were all chatting with each other, holding 4 water bottles and a homemade telescope. When that mom elbowed me and laughed that I was stuck with the stuff, I realized that for that moment I didn’t really care. It didn’t even bother me at all. The real kicker is that I had been doing it for quite awhile before I realized that this was really different.

I’m usually not one to sacrifice very easily, and if I can do it, it usually comes with a lot of whining. But as I watched my children flit from telescope to telescope and then run up and down the field, there wasn’t even a bit of resentment, and I thought, I can do this! I have it in me to be that patient parent who lets their kids do something even if it means they have to hold all the water bottles.

I realize this is no great sacrifice, this is just one of those things that is expected as a parent. There are no gold stars for standing and holding your child’s water while they have a learning opportunity. But I caught a glimpse of myself as a person who could make bigger, more meaningful sacrifices. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but someday. I lost track of worrying about myself for those moments, and it felt so good.

Of course, being the imperfect person that I am, it only took getting in the car and having a child throw an “empty” water bottle my way which then spilled on my leg for me to be decidedly un-sacrificial and focused on myself.

There are many ways that every parent sacrifices themselves for their children, spouse, and family. What I am finding is that the big ways are often easier times to forget myself and think only of another person; having a baby, going through health struggles with a child, helping my husband with a hard job, are all ways that living in a sacrificial manner is so obvious that it comes a little easier – there is no other way to go through those kinds of things without leaving yourself behind a little, it just comes with the territory. It’s the tiny ways that trip me up; the water bottles to carry, the spills at dinner, the lost shoe, all these are times when my sacrifice of my own will seems like so small a thing that I can moan about having to step out of my own plans. Those are the times I usually find myself reacting before I even know I have a choice in the matter.

Matthew 25:23  – His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”

One by one, I hope that finding these small victories (and the defeats too) can help me make further steps in dying to self. I want to be more faithful, even in the small things.

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.