How Do We Wear Our Adversity

A post I wrote some time and a few kids ago – it was a reminder I needed recently.

9/15/02
I ran into an old friend at the store today.  We were both in a rush, so we couldn’t talk long, but we quickly reviewed how life was for each of us.  She told me about how hard things were, with just one income in their family and five kids.  And she related to me how crowded their house was and how they wished for a bigger place, but were afraid to move.  Five children in a three bedroom house can indeed feel like a crowd.
I told her that I knew exactly how she felt; we were in the same situation.  For a moment she looked a little surprised as she remembered that yes, we too have five children in a small three bedroom home and live on just one income.  We wished each other well and went about our shopping.  But it left me with a lot to think about.
It was very strange to have my own situation mirrored back to me like that, and it made me ask myself how I live my life for others to see.  Do I appear to others to be lugging a great weight, or do I appear to take joy in the little gifts to be found through living my vocation?  This friend seemed so wearied and disappointed by the way her life was going.  Do I sound like that too?
I am sure there are many days that I do.  There are days when it seems like the weight of the world has been set upon my shoulders, and anyone who comes near me might get an earful.  We all need to vent sometimes and we all must ask for and express our need for support, but I think there may be a time and place to do that.
As Catholic Christians we embrace a life that is unpopular at best and despised and persecuted at worst.  To the rest of the world, we need to show that while we have our difficulties and adversities, we are able to wiggle through by the Grace of God.  We can use these things as opportunities for growth and often find great moments of joy in the midst of our suffering.
As I go through my daily life, is it apparent that I find joy in the drudgery? Growth in the sorrow?  True, life changing happiness in the ordinary?  Or do I appear disappointed that my life does not have the glamour and ease that I expected it to?
Our very presence can be a ministry to those whose lives we are near.  We can touch their hearts simply by our thankfulness for all the blessings that our Father in Heaven showers on us.  Sure, some blessings are heavy and hard to carry.  Some are blessings in disguise and we can only see the blessing in them after they are long gone.  But an attitude of thankfulness can make all the difference as to whether our smile is weary or joyful to the next soul we meet.

Finding the Time to Pray

This summer, when the baseball bat of God started to beat into my head the importance of daily prayer, I was able to get a nice routine going with morning prayer.  Even if I didn’t get to any other focused prayer during the day, it was a great way to get my day going in the right direction and get myself focused on God and what was really important in my life.

And then school started.

My mornings begin now at 5:30am and we all have to hit the ground running to be out the door by 7:00.  There are breakfasts and lunches to make, hair to comb, backpacks to round up, diapers to change…

So I figured I would just get up an extra 10 minutes before the chaos begins.  Right.  Molly has vetoed that pretty well.  As soon as I roll out of bed she is searching for her human pacifier, and once she is up that early, she just needs to be held and bounced and is just not all that prayerful.

My morning prayer has not been happening now until around 2pm, which is totally not what I had in mind.

I wondered what a priest might do when the demands of life come at him so quickly.  I’d imagine that they have their crazy days just like me.  Ok, maybe not just like me.  I am pretty sure they never have their prayer time interrupted by an explosively poopy diaper – the kind of thing you just can NOT put off dealing with.  But then they may encounter similarly urgent calls away.

It struck me that a lot of a priest’s job is prayer – the mass, the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, and more…

Now I am no priest.  That much is obvious.  But I do my part in bridging the gap between Christ and others.  And maybe sometimes that is my prayer. 

This is no excuse not to have some focused time in prayer.  I have already posted twice that one cannot pray without ceasing without spending some time in prayer, consciously willing it.  But I am a mother, and God is the one who put me in this job (with the help of my husband) so He must know that there is some way this can bring me closer to Him.  Part of that is making it my prayer.

7 Quick Takes – Mass Behavior

This week I am going to focus on surviving mass with our little people.  Specifically those 5 and under.  Theoretically, those over 5 should only need gentle reminders to be good if you have been working with them through their lives to sit still and quiet during mass.  But some kids might take a bit longer…

People often tell me that I just got lucky and miraculously gave birth to quiet children.  This could not be further from the truth at all.  My children are natural musical and LOUD.  When people call my house they often ask me if there is a party going on.  No, it’s just normal life – and it tries to occur in mass as well.

So I work my butt off to teach my children how to behave in mass.  This means that any attention that I am able to pay in mass is an unexpected treat and that I normally use up any and all graces I would receive from attending mass before I ever leave it.

These tips and tricks will mostly fall into two categories: Closing the Crying Hole and Distraction.

1. Closing the Crying Hole Part 1: Drink
I breastfeed in mass.  Yes, I do.  I am discreet about it and you will probably see less of my breast than many of the women in the church on any given summer Sunday.  I figure it is far less distracting to anyone else than what my child would do if they were not currently nursing.  This offers the extra bonus of said child possibly falling asleep.  The other bonus is that, unlike sippy cups, it can’t be thrown on the floor (no matter how hard the child might try) and make a loud bang.  Some time after the age of 1 however, I try to transition to a sippy of water during mass.  And sometime between ages 2 and 3 I try to phase that out as well.

2. Closing the Crying Hole Part 2: Food
Another hotly debated topic – I decide this one on a case by case, kid by kid basis.  My current 2 year old couldn’t be trusted on any level to not throw things on the floor, so she doesn’t get anything.  In the past though, we have done small things like cheerios.  The trick is, mom hold the container and hands the child ONE AT A TIME.  We remove any trace of food from the church when we leave.

3. Distraction Part 1: Massage
With the child sitting in your lap or close beside you, hold their hand and trace around their fingers and the creases on their palms with feathery strokes.  My kids love this!

4. Distraction Part 2: Whispered Prayers
Whispering prayers into their ears or talking about parts of the mass or the church building are very helpful and even work to distract young babies… at least for a minute or two.  Although it can result in an exchange like this one:
Tessa (8) was doing her part to whisper to Lily and keep her quiet during the consecration. Tessa turned to Lily (2) and said, “That is Jesus’s blood.”  Lily said, “JESUS’S BUTT? That’s not Jesus’s butt!  It’s Jesus’s BLOOD!”

So whisper clearly.

5. Distraction Part 3: Drawing
Magna-doodle.  Enough said.

6. Distraction Part 4: Quiet Toys
Throw any toy that you might bring to mass with you on the floor.  Throw it on the table.  If it is any louder than a light tap, it stays home or in the car.  Although the above mentioned Magna-doodle breaks this rule, it is usually only used with kids who are old enough to know that throwing a toy is a Capital Offense.

7. Jumping Ship:
Sometimes you have tried everything and tried more as well and Kid is just not going to settle down.  If you have to make an exit, try not to make it rewarding to the child.  Leaving mass and letting Kid run around in the back of the church only teaches them how to get back there more often.  No, if kid has to be taken out, they get to sit in your lap, heavily restrained.  It’s no fun for anyone, most especially the parent.  But it is effective.

I’m not one to disregard kid noises, but a peep or a whisper or even a short lived cry are not reasons to leave.  There is going to be a low level of ruckuss in any pew with a family with small children.  For our family, it is only repeated misbehavior or a child who has bumped their head on the pew or something that gets us to make a run for it. (Hurt children do not get restrained, by the way.  I have to add this because one of my children manages to hurt themselves on a pew more often than one might expect.)

My kids aren’t perfect, but we seldom have to leave mass, and I have plenty of little old ladies who love to sit by my kids too.

All of this is only going to work if you are talking to your child early and often about what is expected from them, what mass is about.  And a little prayer to their guardian angel doesn’t hurt either.

Theme of the Month – Prayer

I hope to address a theme every month or so.  Since I am starting this one late I will take it through September and hopefully start the next theme in October.  This one deserves more of a focus anyway.

Do you ever have times in your life when it seems like God is really trying to teach you a very specific lesson?  Little messages seem to come at you from all directions and they all seem to say the same thing.  A friend of mine calls this God’s Baseball Bat.  He will just keep hitting us in the head with it until we get the idea through our thick skulls.

Lately, it seems like my lesson is prayer.  I tend to shoot up plenty of little arrow prayers through the day, “Help me, God,” “Ooh, thank you for that one Jesus!” “Please send a police car after that horrible driver,” and other things like that.

But recently, in reading “Grace Cafe” I hit a quote from the catechism that stated “We cannot pray at all times if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it.”  (And yes, it meant so much to me that this is the second time I have mentioned it during the short life of this blog.)

Then in last week’s homily, our priest added something that hit home as well, “What do you call a priest without a prayer life? A bitter, underpaid social worker who can’t get married.”  And it struck me that as a mother, I have an awful lot in common with a priest.  My work is demanding, rewarding, and definitely never-ending.  And yet I often find myself attempting to accomplish it without much of a real prayer life.  I may be married, but sometimes bitter and underpaid hit the nail right on the head.  And who wants to be either one of those?

My husband and I were talking the other day and realized that we would be absolute fools to try to get through our lives with this many kids without leaning on God and being in communication with Him always.  Yet we try to do it anyway.  Would we attempt to live without ever eating if we had a nutritionist cooking us the freshest organic food anytime we hungered?  Of course not!  But we deny ourselves the fuel to live our lives all the time.

Spend it or Save it?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt 6:21)

Sometimes it seems my treasure is not something that others would really consider a treasure in any form of the word.  Sure, I treasure my children, my husband, my church, and yes – I really admit I treasure my belongings too.  But I have noticed lately that I have been treasuring some unorthodox things.

As a mother, my memory has gone utterly down the tubes.  I can’t trust myself to remember anything these days.  My poor children have witnessed me forgetting things literally moments after they told me.  Recently though I have caught myself in  working hard to remember things that would best be forgotten.

Some bad event, usually minor in nature, will befall me – something like a diaper blow out that got all over my shirt, a nasty comment that someone maked about my family size, or some other perceived injury, and I will start to just put it away and move on.  I probably would have the incident forgotten in a few minutes.  But I stop myself, go back and rummage through the trash of my memories and dig it out.  I carefully polish the memory, marveling over how much it inconvenienced me/wrecked my day/hurt my feelings and tuck it safely away, purposefully saving it in my memory.

Then in conversations later on, I can trot it out to show it off – how much I have suffered, how mean people are, or how many excuses I have for not giving more of myself.  They can be entertaining stories!  We (especially women for the most part) love to one up each other in the game “My Day Sucks Worse Than Yours”.  We commiserate and have a good laugh over these things, and it does help to know that we are not alone.

But it can become a bad habit.  Especially when we find ourselves, as I realized I was doing, relishing these stories and events and saving them up.  I wondered last night, what would happen if I didn’t save up those memories?  What if I didn’t nurture them and tuck them away for the next time I needed to feel sorry for myself? What if I let go of that negativity?  What if I stopped treasuring these things?  If my heart is where my treasure is, and I treasure these negative things, then no wonder I feel so dragged down!

Oooh.  There’s a thought!  Would it just leave me with no war stories to swap?  Not at all.  There are some memories that will stick with us no matter what and stories that will come to mind.  Instead, as the situations come up – and they will – I can offer them up as a little prayer and then… dare I say it?

Let it go.

I might forget the event, or I might not.  It doesn’t matter either way, really.  What matters is that I am not focusing on and nourishing these hurts.  This is a time when spending truly is better than saving.  I can spend the turmoil by offering it up as opposed to saving it for a rainy day, letting it stink and fester in my heart.

I’d just like to point out that I am not discussing major events or hurts.  Those may need to have some time and discussion devoted to them to help us move on.  It is the little, minor daily hurts that act like little pebbles stuffed into our shoes.  We might be able to ignore one or two and shift around to make sure it isn’t causing us pain, but after a while, the shoe gets cramped and the pebbles poke too much.

So I think I am going to try letting things go a little more freely, and stop shoving pebbles in my shoes.

If I Can’t See You, You Can’t See Me

Today I was reading chapter 13 of Daniel, the story of Susanna, one of my favorites: Daniel 13

The verse that really struck me today was about the attitude of the men that accused Susanna:
vs. 8-9 When the old men saw her enter every day for her walk, they began to lust for her. They suppressed their consciences; they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven, and did not keep in mind just judgments.

They not only started to feel things that could lead them to sin, but they encouraged those feelings in themselves. Now lust is not what I am dealing with but I know that I have done this myself.

I remember once when my younger sister was about two. My mom told her not to play with something; I don’t remember what it was. But my sister took that toy and went and sat behind a folding chair and started to do just what my mom had told her not to do. The folding chair was blocking my sister’s view of my mom, but of course we could still see everything that she was doing. My mom pointed out to me that she thought we couldn’t see her because she couldn’t see us. Many toddlers behave this way. If you play hide and seek with a very young child, sometimes they will just close their eyes and think they are hiding. Only because they can’t see you.

I think we can be like this with God. The verse said “They would not allow their eyes to look to Heaven” Since these men were no longer looking to God (and couldn’t see Him) they behaved in a manner as if He couldn’t see them either. God is not the Celestial policeman, but He is looking out for us because he has better things in mind for us.

Lord, help me to keep my eyes on you and not direct them at other things intentionally or accidentally.  Amen.

Grace Cafe

With an in-the-trenches feel to it, this book is giving me practical ways (recipes for life) on how to live my vocation as a mother and still grow closer to God. 

I started it originally about a year ago and set it down about half way through.  I picked it up again the other day and with it, a pen.  Now that I am scribbling my own notes and underlining like crazy it is really beginning to sink in .  My first task has been to initiate a regular morning prayer time.  I was encouraged by her quote from the Catechism “But we cannot pray ‘at all times’ if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it.”  (CCC 2697).  This is a Catholic mother of 5 who has been there and managed to live the vocation of wife and mother while bringing God’s grace into her home.

Now, on to chapter 2!

Teenagers and the Pope

As I am cleaning up the house tonight and steaming a little bit on the inside about how stubborn and rude one of my teenagers is, my eyes fall across our new picture of the pope. It occurs to me that he has to put up with a lot of people moaning and whining about the way things are done and what is whose job and so on.

Poor Guy, he definitely needs our prayers.

The Waiting Room

Picture an average waiting room.  The chairs are comfortable enough to sit in for a little while – but not too long, the carpet is dirty, the magazines are dated, the art on the wall is cheesy.  I sit on the edge of my seat, trying not to make eye contact with my fellow prisoners, and, since I usually have my kids with me, I try to keep them from destroying the place or being too loud.  It’s a tolerable place;  I can even enjoy it a bit if I don’t have my kids along and have a moment of quiet to read a book without being interrupted after each sentence.  But it’s not somewhere I would want to stay for long.

This is the world we live in.

We are in the waiting room, the antechamber of our real life: Heaven.  That is why we can never feel totally at home here.

Over my lifetime, and especially the last several months, I have spent a good deal of my time in waiting rooms.  Some are nicer than others.  But there are none that I would want to stay in for longer than an hour, let alone live in. (Except maybe my dentist’s office.  His waiting room is really nice and the longer I am there the more I can procrastinate getting in the dentist chair.  He also has good magazines.)

Our citizenship is in Heaven and from it we also await our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil 3:20).

We are meant to be strangers here.  But we need this time to prepare to meet our Divine Physician.  We can’t still be filling out our paperwork when we are called back for that final appointment, right?  It’s hard to tell when your name will be called.  St Maximilian Kolbe said ” It is for us to become holy here and now, for we cannot be certain whether we will be here this evening.” 

So get comfortable in this worldly waiting room, but not too much.  Remember what we are here for.  Our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.  That restlessness is meant to be a constant reminder, like an itchy sweater for our soul, that there is comfort coming soon.

Use your time well, though, in the waiting room, and it becomes a much nicer experience for everyone there.  And don’t forget to fill out your paperwork.

But What Will *I* Eat?

From Summer 2009:

Yesterday’s Gospel was the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes from John 6. Our priest gave an excellent homily about faith, but later in the afternoon as I worked on our budget I meditated on a different aspect of the story. Andrew says, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” John 1:8-9.

I thought for a while about the boy. I am sure he was just as hungry as the rest of the crowd. What was he thinking as all this transpired? Had he offered his lunch so that Jesus wouldn’t go hungry and would continue to teach and heal? Had the disciples cajoled him out of it or had they just noticed him unwrapping it and sitting down to eat and not even requested it yet?

I feel pretty confident that whatever the situation, the boy gave his lunch willingly, but probably not knowing what was about to happen. And I have to wonder did he, even for the briefest moment wonder, “But I am hungry too, what will I eat now?”

He could have been a better person than I am and that would not have even crossed his mind. But I assure you it would have crossed mine, even if I was giving my lunch up willingly.

That was where I found myself yesterday. Wondering what was left, how the money that comes in will possibly cover all we need it too – it always looks like such a dire situation on paper, and yet we always get by. But my ability to have faith and hope that God had us in His hands faltered.

If we stop there in the story we miss the whole point. We are left with a hungry little boy who has volunteered his lunch. But if we continue we realize that while he had no idea what was about to happen, what did happen was more than he could have ever dreamed. Not only was he fed all he needed, but so was every one around – because he was willing to sacrifice his lunch that day.

As a mother, my energy and time sometimes feel like that boy’s lunch – not nearly enough to go around. But if I keep handing it over to Jesus, letting Him have it ALL, even when I wonder “but what about ME?” he can do more with it than I ever dream of doing.