Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Missing Mom

artist Michael Meier
It's been almost a year since my mom died (Dec. 2 is the actual anniversary.) I didn't think it would hit me this hard, but all I really want to do right now is retreat into a cocoon of blankets, tea and a rosary.

Dear Husband and I were with our spiritual director last night, and I spoke of this. She said, "You know, my parents have both been gone for over 20 years, and I still have moments where I think, 'I wish you were here." And she went on to speak of the "body experience" (which is a very Franciscan thing) of missing loved ones: the longing for the touch, the voice.

I don't want Mom "back." I pray her soul is at peace with God. But her voice, her hug. Whenever I visited, she would stand at her door as I was leaving and wave. "Call me when you get home, so I know you're safe."  I'm 50 years old, and she still worried about sending her baby out into the world, where so many bad things can happen. How can I not miss that?

I'm surrounded by her things. I wear her engagement ring as my own now. My parents were married nearly 60 years; I hope Dear Husband and I enjoy at least that much time together. But it's not the ring. It's the story of how Dad met Mom, how he courted her and then asked her to marry him. Tell us again, Daddy...

A year ago, I was sleep-deprived, standing watch over her as she struggled so mightily to shed her mortal shell. She had stopped speaking, but would cry out in the night, "Thy will be done." My brother or I would pray the rosary aloud, and we would hear her voice, weak but firm: "pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."

My brother would arrive to "spell" me. I'd go grab a few hours of sleep, and then continue sorting through her things. Every item I touched required a decision. To whom should this go? Who will be the caretaker now? Should this be tossed? And then, I'd go back to Mom and hold the hand that had held each of these items.

I know that some people associate death with a body in a casket at a funeral home. The hushed tones. The boxes of Kleenex everywhere. Dimmed lights. But that's not death.

Death - like birth - is a privilege to behold, but is also so incredibly painful. That soul is lurching, as if in labor pains, to go back to whence it came: to be with God. For the ones standing by the bedside, you hold the hand, you wipe the brow, you feed ice chips. More than anything, you pray.

My birthday in 2015 was spent in exactly the same spot that my first birthday was celebrated: in the same hospital where I was born. This time, though, the roles were reversed: I was the caretaker, the one who tended to the cry.

I have this hurdle to clear on Friday. I will pray, as I do every day, that Mom and Dad have found eternal rest, and if not, that God may grant them that rest quickly. But still...

I am sure George MacDonald said it far better than I ever could, in his poem, A Prayer for the Past:

But were they dead in me, 
they live In Thee, Whose Parable is—Time, 
And Worlds, and Forms—all things that give 
Me thoughts, and this my rime. 

 Father, in joy our knees we bow: 
This earth is not a place of tombs: 
We are but in the nursery now; 
They in the upper rooms. 

 For are we not at home in Thee, 
And all this world a visioned show; 
That, knowing what Abroad is, we 
What Home is too may know?

Monday, November 28, 2016

Huh. Didn't see that comin'

If I were to write an autobiography, I believe it's title would be, Huh. Didn't See That Coming. A few examples:

  • A proper Catholic girl who fell in love with and married an agnostic. (He converted later.)
  • Infertility
  • Adopting 5 kids
  • Staying sane raising 5 kids
  • Speech therapy, psychological therapy, occupational therapy...
  • A parade of social workers who always knew better than I did
  • The incredible implosion that puberty had on my kids' brains.
I could go on. And I shall.

About 18 years ago, we bought a "dream house." A great place to raise kids. Lots of other kids in the neighborhood, on a quiet cul-de-sac. Perfect.

Until things went so completely, utterly and horribly sideways.

Eldest Son was far more troubled that we knew initially, and eventually was removed from our home. Our "perfect home" became haunted for me - I felt guilty for not seeing what was right under my nose. 

As our kids grew older, the chemicals that their birth mother had implanted in their brains in utero ran smack into the hormones of puberty and many, many things got broken: hearts, walls, appliances. For a long time, we lived in a war zone. 

About 8 years ago, my husband lost a job and the economy tanked. We clung to that house for dear life, but came within weeks of losing it. Our thinking was that losing the only house my kids knew would be one more devastating emotional blow. A friend stepped up and helped us out, and we stayed in the house.

This past year, we put a lot of money, time and energy into fixing the place up. It was finally becoming the house I really wanted - it was a new home and we were going to make so many new memories.

Then our friend decided it had taken far too long for us to get a new mortgage in our name. To be fair, it had. We actually had a new mortgage secured last summer, and then my husband became critically ill. We had to start the mortgage roulette all over again. So close...

An attorney wrote us a letter, and told us we were going to be evicted on January 1. Due to my health, we begged for another month. So, the eviction will take place on February 1.

We scrambled for a mortgage. And then - we stopped.

We found an apartment that "fits," for now. We are purging. We have too much stuff anyway. God is leading us somewhere, but we don't know where - yet. But we prayed, and talked, and this feels right.  We figured out (of course!) that "home" is wherever we are. 

Nope. Didn't see this comin'. But it will be fine. Really. Really fine. Because, after all, God's been in charge the whole way.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

My Constant Prayer Right Now

Crucifixion, artist Simon Bisley
Holy wound in the side of my Jesus, I adore Thee; I compassionate Thee, O Jesus, for the cruel insult Thou didst suffer. I thank Thee, my Jesus, for the love which suffered Thy side and Heart to be pierced, so that the last drops of blood and water might issue forth, making my redemption to overflow. I offer to the Eternal Father this outrage, and the love of Thy most holy humanity, that my soul may enter once for all into that most loving Heart, eager and ready to receive the greatest sinners, and never more depart. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Eight Years



Multiply that by eight years.

Eight years ago - 2008. The US elected a man I did not vote for nor like. His administration rammed a health care package down the throats of the American people that forced many of us to pay for birth control and abortion, which we find morally repugnant. He spoke of "freedom of worship" which is far different than "freedom of religion" - a fundamental right of Americans. His presidency will be remembered by some of us for going after the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns founded in 1839. They provide end of life care for the destitute. The president for the past 8 years believed these women should provide birth control and abortion for their employees, which is a direct violation of their religious freedom.

I could go on.

Eight years.

For the past eight years, I have fought like hell for a daughter with special needs. I have been told by "her" social worker, a state employee was charged with my daughter's care, "I haven't read her file, [laugh]. It's pretty long." The woman NEVER MET MY DAUGHTER, yet was responsible for making decisions regarding my daughter's care.

Another government employee told me and my husband as we were trying to get help for our daughter, help that was promised to us when we adopted her: "Oh, you're THOSE parents. You adopt a kid and then try and give her back to the state." That guy still has his teeth, which in itself is a miracle, because I damned near punched him.

When my daughter was viciously and repeatedly attacked, a police detective told me, "Your daughter is just a bad kid who got involved in stuff she didn't understand." This, despite the fact that my daughter identified her attackers; no one was ever arrested.

Eight years.

I've fought for my kids' education. I've raised 5 kids, some of whom have significant mental health issues.

I taught high school.

I lost both my parents, caring for them at the end of their life.

I've been in two horrific car accidents, both caused by distracted drivers.

I almost lost my husband to a rare complication following a "simple outpatient procedure."

I have depression. I'm still here.

I have a benign, inoperable spinal tumor that causes me pain every single day.

My kids have, at various times, found me stupid, irrelevant, overbearing, and difficult. Yet we still fight on for our family, in love, mercy and sheer stubbornness.

I've repaired a relationship with a sister.

I wrote a book, and in the process met some of the most amazing people who fight every day for victims of human trafficking. Some of those people are themselves survivors and are heroes just for getting out of bed every day, let alone fighting for other victims.

I was forced out of a job I loved and was damned good at, for reasons I still don't understand. I found a new job, only to be fired four days later. The guy who hired me told me I was an "embarrassment." I was still trying to remember where the break room was. I started another job in January of this year, and am pleased and relieved to say it is a joy to work here.

Eight years.

I'll bet if you look over the past eight years of  your life, you'll see joys and sorrows, triumphs and setbacks. Most of us are too damned busy to go out and protest against a politician. We have lunches to pack, laundry to wash and fold (and maybe put away), bills to pay. We have to get a teenager through geometry and a second-grader ready for First Communion. We have to help plan the parish bazaar, or makes meals for a neighbor who just had surgery.

Eight years. I have to say that - politically - I haven't been too damned thrilled with politicians in the past eight years, especially the President of the United States. But then again, I've never been too damned thrilled with politicians.

Here's the deal: every four years, one side wins and the other loses. And we Americans still have to get on with doing what we do. Right now, we need to decide: Is "what we do" tearing each other apart? Is that who Americans are now? Are we so politically divided that we will call each other "bigots" across the table at Thanksgiving? Do we divide our friends by whether or not they agree with us on every damn thing that comes down the pike?

I hope not.

I'm not too damned thrilled with the current President-Elect. But I've got bigger things on my mind. Am I being charitable? Am I doing what God's will is for me? Am I praying enough? Am I truly seeking what God wants? Am I serving my family and my friends.

In eight years, will I be a better person than I am today? Eight years.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post-election Blues

Actually, I'm not really all that upset about the election. I didn't care for either of the major party candidates and judging by FB today, we are just as divided a nation today as we were yesterday. No, my heart is heavy for a lot of different reasons, none of them political.

For those of us who struggle with depression, we know it is a constant battle with the beast. Some days, just getting out of bed is a monumental effort. Got dressed? Bonus! Went to work? Double-bonus! Did not put  your head on your desk and weep? You win a trip to Aruba!! (If only...)

We have instituted a "family dinner" once a month, but it's never the whole family. Got too many wounds, too much turbulence, too much mental illness. I cherish these days, but they hurt too.

I'm worried about a medical procedure I'm supposed to have done. It's kinda radical, but also hopeful. But will it work? I dunno. But it will require some down time, and this year, I've missed so much work due to pain. My boss and my company have been supportive and gracious, but it still worries me.

I've got a kiddo who is bound and determined to be the Prodigal, even when we've begged and pleaded with him not to go. I just hope he will be able to return, and not wind up dead out there in the world.

We've had financial stresses for the past 15 years, but nothing like this. Will we be able to remain in our home? Can we get financing for a different house? Will we end up in an apartment (and have to get rid of beloved pets?)?

I am literally sick with worry. I know: trust in the Lord. But the Lord is not always so great on keeping me informed. And my depression and anxiety are not about a lack of faith; they are no more under my control than someone's appendicitis or another person's astigmatism. I know that God is with us, but I truly feel like my whole life is being juggled by a creepy clown.

President Trump? Ok. Not thrilled but we will deal with it. But if you see me smiling when you ask me how I am ... ask again, and say, "I really want to know how you're doing."

Monday, November 7, 2016

Holding on to a kid for dear life

Maybe you know this. Maybe you've done it. But if you haven't...

As parents, we know that someday, we must let go of our kids. They have to grow up. You relish those moments of cuddling them after a bath, of snuggling on the couch on a rainy day, of watching them learn a new skill.

But that moment when  you have to let go? We'd rather not.

Maybe it happens when  you drop them off at college that first time. Or that first time you hand them the keys to the car. Or when they get their first real job.

Maybe it's when they tell you (in utter sincerity) that they've learned a lesson you've put before them all their life, but NOW, it finally makes sense.

Sometimes, the letting go is not a happy one. It is not because they have reached a new height, or have grown up, matured. No, this letting go is ugly and sad and harder than anything you've ever done.

This letting go is because your child has made horrible choices. It's drugs or alcohol or the addictive behavior that goes along with it. You have to let go because you cannot support them or their habit. You cannot drag the rest of the family down.

You have to give the child a choice: get clean, learn a new way of living or ... you have to go.

Other parents will tell you how despicable you are for not supporting your child. People will see your kid and thank God that they are not you - for you must be a terrible parent for having a kid that has turned out this way. As a parent, you are a pariah, an anathema. You are at fault. For the other parents, it is inconceivable that their child might choose the same path, so it must be the parents' fault. It is the only way they can justify their damning of you.

Your child is a mess. They lie and steal and deny. You no longer talk to them: you talk to the drugs or the alcohol. You offer food, but not money. You will buy them clothes, but won't give them cash. You know all too well what that money would go for.

Is it love to treat your child like this? Or is it love to not have turned them out? You will be judged. You will be seen as the worst of parents - you "don't support your child." You have to carry that weight.

Your child to will curse you. He will judge you, say hateful things to you. You must wipe the spittle from  your face.

You have to let go.

What no one sees, of course, is that you are holding that child so tightly in prayer. You do not turn them out - you turn them over to God. You beg our Blessed Mother to protect that child. Your knees bleed because you are on them so much. You know, in a very small way, the sword that has pierced Our Mother's heart.

No, you have not let that child go. You are clinging to them in prayer, in supplication, in petition. You will never let them go.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Happy Feast of All Souls', the Day of the Dead And Why You Should Celebrate

One great thing about being Catholic is that we are always celebrating something. Halloween? Yes, please! Feast of All Saints'? You betcha! Feast of All Souls? We are in!

A woman decorates her family "ofrenda" or Day of the Dead altar
One thing that nearly all world religions have in common is some sort of attention to ancestors. It's common for Buddhist to have an altar or shrine in the home,  with a scroll in place listing the family ancestors. Both the Chinese and Japanese have a time of year when ancestral graves are cleaned, decorated and there is food prepared - both for the living and dead.

As Catholics, we celebrate All Saints' and All Souls'. I kinda wish we had more attention paid to what we can do in our homes to celebrate - our celebrations are pretty much limited to church attendance, unless you're more of a zealot. (And I consider myself one, so I do not mean that in a pejorative sense.)

Now, if you want to see these celebrations done right, head to Catholic Mexico and the Day of the Dead. This is a marvelous example of how Catholicism takes an indigenous belief and "sanctifies" it by bringing the Light of Truth (Jesus) to it.

In most Indian villages, beautiful altars (ofrendas) are made in each home. They are decorated with candles, buckets of flowers (wild marigolds called cempasuchil & bright red cock's combs) mounds of fruit, peanuts, plates of turkey mole, stacks of tortillas and big Day-of-the-Dead breads called pan demuerto. The altar needs to have lots of food, bottles of soda, hot cocoa and water for the weary spirits. Toys and candies are left for the angelitos, and on Nov. 2, cigarettes and shots of mezcal are offered to the adult spirits. Little folk art skeletons and sugar skulls, purchased at open-air markets, provide the final touches.
Day of the Dead is a very expensive holiday for these self-sufficient, rural based, indigenous families. Many spend over two month's income to honor their dead relatives. They believe that happy spirits will provide protection, good luck and wisdom to their families. Ofrendabuilding keeps the family close.
On the afternoon of Nov. 2, the festivities are taken to the cemetery. People clean tombs, play cards, listen to the village band and reminisce about their loved ones. Tradition keeps the village close. Day of the Dead is becoming very popular in the U.S. ~ perhaps because we don't have a way to celebrate and honor our dead, or maybe it's because of our fascination with it's mysticism.
When was the last time you walked around a cemetery? Have you ever visited ancestral graves? "It's been awhile" and "No..." are the most common answers. Yet, as Catholics, we passionately believe that the righteous dead (saints) are more fully alive than we are, since they exist now in the presence of Almighty God. These "big brothers and sisters" in the faith are the most likely people for us to ask for intercessory prayer (No, we do not worship the dead. Neither do most religions. We honor them.)

Every Catholic family could use the month of November to talk about how the Catholic faith has been lived out in OUR family. Talk about Grandma and Grandpa's marriage. How did our ancestors bring the faith from the Old World to the New? Are any of our family members found a new parish? What sacrifices did they make to make sure we were raised and educated in the faith?

Happy Feast of All Souls'. May this month be a rich one for you and your family of faith!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Walking By Faith, Catholic Zombie Edition


We walk by faith, and not by sight: 
No gracious words we hear 
of him who spoke as none e'er spoke
yet we believe him near.

We may not touch his hands and side, 
nor follow where he trod; 
yet in his promise we rejoice, and cry, 
"My Lord and God! 

I'm running on less than 3 hours sleep. It's cold and rainy and dreary. My office is a bit nippy, so I'm typing with fingerless gloves on. And I've had it "up to here" with God.

(I am a firm believer that it's okay to get angry at God. I know the trials and tribulations in my life are not His fault, but I gotta unload on someone, and He's got very sturdy shoulders.)

The answer I thought I had for my chronic pain turned out to be a bust. That was a day of tears and anger. There is another possible solution, but I am afraid to hope. I'm sort of in a "I'll believe it when I see it" frame of mind.

Youngest Son has broken my trust and faith yet again, in an incredibly hurtful way. I am scrambling to pick up the pieces. I'll forgive him, but I won't trust him for a very long time, if ever - and I cannot imagine a more hurtful realization for a mother towards a child.

I'm just trying to put exhausted foot in front of the other here. There are no gracious words, no consolation of Christ's touch, no sense of direction.

Many years ago, my beloved sister-in-law helped me make my Consecration to Mary. This has been a lifesaver. There have been times - like now - that I cannot even pray. I merely finger the beads of my Rosary, and beg Mary to cover me with her mantle. I'll grab the end, tie a knot and hang on.

Zombies are so popular in our "culture" (I use that word advisedly). Sometimes, in our faith walk, we are zombies. We can't think, we don't pray, we just plod along, trying desperately to keep our soul on life support. Thanks be to God we have the sacraments, especially the Eucharist: truly life support! 

Lack of sleep, far too much stress (and don't anyone dare to tell me to light a scented candle and take a bath - I will come after you!), a broken relationship, and physical pain: there is not any clear path for me. Faith, and the Blessed Mother's guidance, are the only things keeping me plodding along. Like zombies, this is not a pretty part of the spiritual walk, but I'll keep going until God offers me a better path, if it be His will.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Love Me Some World Religions


A long, long time ago, I went to college. This was back in the olden days when a slightly naive but studious Catholic girl didn't have awesome choices like Magdalen College and St. Thomas More College. My parents dropped me off at Alma College, which was founded by the Presbyterian Church. A priest friend of theirs told them he felt confident that my faith life would be safer there than at any "Catholic" college available to me at the time, as most of them had joined in the post-Vatican II meltdown of the '70s.

I had planned to be an English major (and graduated with enough credits, but did not fulfill all the department requirements.) But I had a true epiphany as a freshman, in a class called "Religion in America." One of our readings was Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter From Birmingham Jail." It knocked the breath out of me. I had never heard the Gospel proclaimed in this way - the Word of God as a basis for justice. (Gentle reader: Yes, I know now that the Catholic faith has a rich history here, but keep in mind that I was only 18. A mere babe.)

I decided then I needed to delve into religion in a deep way. I declared my major: religious studies! (A family member was a bit worried about my faith, but - thanks be to God - I was protected against any desire to change teams. Likely this was due to my mother's prayers.)

Please know: a major in religious studies makes one a great candidate for:

A.) Graduate school
B.) Tending Bar
C.) Winning at Trivial Pursuit
D.) Boring people to death at parties

I chose A. Never regretted that either. I have always been and remain truly fascinated at how we humans view ourselves and God. I love the quirkiness of my own faith (Incorruptible bodies? Booze? Folk Masses? Come on: this is great stuff!) and the quirkiness of other faiths, along with the heady theological questions and answers of the heavy-duty life questions faith attempts to answer. Graduate school took me around the globe: Japan, Africa, India.

Which leads us to the picture that accompanies this blog post.
JERUSALEM, OCTOBER 10, 2016: An Orthodox Jewish man swings a chicken over his family as they perform the Kapparot ceremony in the ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem. The Jewish ritual is supposed to transfer the sins of the past year to the chicken, and is performed before the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, the most important day in the Jewish calendar. / AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA
When I see a picture like this, it stops me cold. I want to know more. I want to know this family, eat at their table, talk about our shared beliefs. I've never had a dead chicken swung over my head, but I see why it's done. Yes, I still love to learn about religion, and I (more than just a little) want to have a dead chicken swung over my head and celebrate Yom Kippur.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Feeling Smart and Stupid, all at the same time



It's an interesting time to be alive, isn't it? And American to boot. Thought I'd make a few notes because my brain is getting a bit scrambled....

What I Know:

I know that I am a card-carryin' member of the Catholic Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. (Presidential elections notwithstanding.)

I know how to cook. And I'm pretty good at it, when I do it.

I know I am loved by my siblings, and I love them in return.

I know I survived raising 5 kids with a lot of issues. And I'm really, really proud of them.

I know that the older I get, the more I like cats.

I know that big families are a big blessing.

I know that the saints are my friends. Deo gratias.

Now:

I don't know how I'm going to vote in the upcoming election. It's like a choice between food poisoning and a life-threatening allergic reaction.

I do not know how my kids managed to survive me as a mom.

I do not know how to keep my kids Catholic (but if I did, I'd be rich. I pray. A lot. And hope. A lot.)

I do not bake well. I have never successfully made a decent batch of chocolate chip cookies. (It pains me to write that.)

I do not know why I like winter. I just do. In Michigan of all places, where we do winter right.

I have absolutely no idea why bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. I trust God to sort it out.

I don't know how or when I am going to get this stupid tumor taken care of, but if tenacity and generally being a pest counts for anything, it will be soon. God willing.

So there you have it. I'm smart and stupid, all at the same time - as I imagine every human is. (I could fill entire football stadiums with what I DON'T know: how to tie a fly, engine repair, why small boys bring home dead mice, how scoring works in tennis [love??], how to do a smoky eye, why anyone would want to do a triathlon, etc. I could go on. Which is why we'd need those football stadiums.)

May all the saints pray for us.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

How to be a good mother when you just can't

I hesitate to give this piece any more advertisement than it has already received, but just so we are all on the same page, here goes.

Marie Claire magazine, which is pretty standard fashion/ads/young women in America stuff, recently printed an article about women who were miserable as moms. MISERABLE.

"The regret hit me when the grandmas went home and my husband went back to the office and I was on my own with him," she says. "I realized that this was my life now—and it was unbearable."
And:
"I wish I would never had kids [sic]. I realize I am not mother material, and I am terrified thinking how I am going to be forced to take care of it."
And:
She envies friends not for their spontaneous vacations and naps, but for the time and space they have to think. "I hold a lot of data in my head," Ananya says of constantly keeping on top of all the details that go with small children: doctor's appointments, weight, height, most recent allergies, toys they want, foods they will eat. "I long for a life without this mental clutter," she explains.
Dear heavens. I hope that somehow the children of these women don't stumble upon this someday and recognize their mothers.

Ann Landers (a syndicated advice column which ran for years) floated questions to her readers: "If you had it to do over again, would you marry the same person?" and "Would you have children, if you had it to do over?"

The results were overwhelmingly negative. I was in middle school at the time. I remember being so devastated that so many people would dump their spouse that I asked my mom, "Would you marry Dad again?" She said she absolutely would, that my dad was the best man she had ever known, save her own father. That gave me some peace of mind, but the whole thing still rattled me. (Please know, dear readers, that I grew up in a very small town, and our parish was the center of our lives. I truly didn't know anyone who was divorced until I was in college. It wasn't in my realm of experience.)

Back to parenthood. It seems that many folks stumble into parenthood rather casually. "We weren't really planning but now I'm pregnant so ..." or "Well, we'll have one kid and see how it goes. We really don't want to change our lives much ...."

I know people who put more forethought into adopting a dog than they do in bringing a new human being into the world.

In some ways, I can sympathize with the women in the magazine article above. Being a mom is nothing at all what I expected. It's hard. It's Marine bootcamp hard. And no one can really prepare you for it.

Dear Husband and I had our two oldest, both boys, for about a month (we were fostering, waiting for the adoption to be finalized.) The boys were 2 years and 10 months. We went from having no kids to having 2 toddlers. I woke up some morning and thought, "What the heck am I going to do with them all day???"

Then our oldest got sick. He was feverish and snotty and miserable. And of course, it was after office hours. So I put him, in his blue footy pajamas, and took over for urgent care. Which was packed. With a bunch of feverish, snotty, miserable people. The little boy in the blue footy pajamas played for a bit, then crawled into my lap, and dozed.

And I thought, "He NEEDS me."

Something flipped in me. I went from being this kid's non-stop babysitter to knowing that his very life depended on me. I became a mom. A mom of a feverish, snotty miserable toddler, who needed me.

To those moms out there who think they just can't be a mom to the baby, the toddler, the teen: you can. But you'll need help. Sometimes, you'll need girlfriends and wine help, sometimes you'll need husband help, and sometimes you'll need professional help. If you think you can't, you can. You won't love every minute of it. Some of it will be hard. Sometimes you'll dream about driving away, far away.

But that kid - your kid - needs you. Needs you right now. Will need you a billion times between now and forever. Step up. We other moms will help. Let us know what we can do to help. We can listen. But don't think for one second that you can skip out on this, or take your regrets out on your kid. You are needed.
 
 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Being faithful in the midst of pain

"The Prayer" - bubug, DeviantArt
When we are in pain, it seems as if the whole world revolves around us - or should. We only pay attention to our immediate situation.

When our kids were younger, Eldest Son had a lot of problems. There was a time - months and months - where his issues seems to need all of Dear Husband's and my attention. I clearly remember thinking one day, "Whoa - I have GOT to pay attention to the other kids." It's not like I was neglecting them ... no, I was. Maybe it was necessary; we were literally trying to save our son's future, but it didn't make the realization hurt any less. And I couldn't get the time with them back.

Maybe it's a job. Maybe it's a health issue. Maybe it's caring for a child or an elderly parent. Whatever it is, we get sucked into a situation where hurt is involved and we begin to act like an ER doctor - plugging holes, clearing airways, keeping the person alive. That's it. We are keeping the situation alive.

Then things quiet down. We look around and see a dead house plant. We forgot to water the darn thing. There is a pile of mail we have not even had a chance to glance at. There is a church bulletin buried in there - from 3 weeks ago. That was the last time we were able to get to Mass. Next to our favorite chair is a rosary we haven't picked up in a while.

I'm not really sure how this works. I know that God knows when we are in "ER mode" - just trying to keep someone alive. Often, our only prayers during this period are (according to Anne Lamott) are "Help!" "Thanks," and "Wow." And those prayers are enough during a time of pain and stress and keeping someone alive.

But maybe what makes those prayers work during those times is our attempts to be truly faithful when we aren't in that swamp of pain. "Help," "thanks," and "wow" are enough ONLY when we have sort of "banked" more prayers. And I am not suggesting that God counts our prayers like some miserly banker. No, it's that we've spent time with God, seeking His will for us, asking, probing, crying out, listening, listening, listening. Margaret Feinberg:
In our greatest moments of pain, loss and heartache, God wants to anchor us to the reality of His imminence. We do not serve a God who is far off, but One who is near and draws near to those shattered by life. God isn’t only with us in those moments, but also in ALL the moments.

Sometimes, holding on to a rosary is all we can do. Sometimes, the only prayer we can muster is "help!" Sometimes the pain is so great, we feel overwhelmed, crushed, forlorn. This is exactly when we most need to be faithful. And here's the ugly truth: that faithfulness does not always have a pay-off. We are not always going to get the cure, save our kid, undo the financial mess, bring a dead houseplant back to life. Yet no matter what we feel (pain, loss, abandonment, fear, shame) God is there. GOD IS THERE. He does not back away from us in disgust. He will not leave us alone in a hospital bed to fight the pain ourselves. He will not return to a castle in the sky and pull the drawbridge up behind Himself.

God is faithful in the midst of our pain, and we must be too. Not because of some reward, or thinking that God will punish us if we forget to say our prayers. No, we remain faithful because that is what is keeping us alive - that often tenuous reaching out for God. Be faithful today. Reach out to Him who is Love, is Faithfulness, is God.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Anointing of the Sick and a mission I didn't ask for

At Mass, this past Sunday, we celebrated the Anointing of the Sick. I've never figured out why more people don't avail themselves of this sacrament, especially since it's one where the recipient really doesn't have to DO anything (other than pray and receive the grace - easy peasy!)

Anyway, "K," our pastoral associate, asked if I'd like to receive, and I said yes. (Actually, I nearly shouted "yes" but we were in church right before Mass started. I contained my enthusiasm.) She told me there were two other people, and she would seat them next to me in the front pew. One was a older lady bent over from osteoporosis, who told me she was nervous - "I've never done this." I tried to assure her that it was not only painless and easy, but quite helpful.

Father began his sermon  by announcing that we were celebrating this sacrament following the homily. Then he said that the sick - whether it was an illness of mind, body or spirit - were those whom God was asking a special mission of.

Wha??? Huh? I don't remember that. There was no cassette telling me of a mission "if you should choose to accept it." No voice from above saying, "You are sent forth" or any other obvious announcement. Nope, I just know that I'm in pain.

And the pain has been ghastly these past few days. I'm finding it hard to walk, I'm only sleeping a few hours a night and the pain reaches from the middle of my back to my toes. My mission remains unclear. I feel like one of the Jews wandering in the desert: "Where are we? Aren't we supposed to have come across the Promised Land by now? What's going on???"

It seems as if, in the realm of superheroes and paperback protagonists, that they don't often set out with a specific mission in mind. They know they cannot stand injustice or that someone needs to stand up for the Average Joe or Jill, but a specific case? No; they either stumble into one or wait until the Bat signal or its equivalent draws them out.

These past few days I've been wondering what mission God could possibly have in mind for me that required so much pain on my part. Frankly, a big chunk of me is saying, "Mission?? I do't need no stinkin' mission!!" I'm just trying to stay healthy, holy, and live out my vocation of being a wife, a mother, and employee.

Yet there I was, with my face uplifted and my hands held out, allowing the healing oil to be placed on my body, soothing my spirit. I truly don't know why God is asking this of me, but I'll trudge along, holding His hand and clinging to Mary's mantle. I've received this sacrament 3 times in the past 2 months, so God clearly has a mission for me.

Whatever it is, I'll just show up. I figure God will take care of the details of the mission.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Suffering: Not about courage

"The Crucifixion" - el Greco
I was awake at 5 a.m. this morning. That netted me about 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep, which is pretty good for me these days. I was sleeping in the recliner in my office, a common deal for me now, as the recliner is more comfortable than a bed. (One weird sidebar of this whole "tumor on my spine" thing is that my leg and foot often fall asleep if I'm in bed. Who knew?)

Right across from my recliner is a crucifix, then an icon of the Nativity, and finally a print from Assisi showing four holy places of the life of St. Francis. If you're awake at 5 a.m., and you're not feeding a baby or getting ready for work, you have the luxury of talking to Jesus for a bit. Having a crucifix there is a good conversation starter.

I was talking to Jesus about how He managed to carry that cross. Just the physical trauma of it; I know He was God, but He was just walking around in human skin. He had no Superman powers. He stilled stubbed His toe and it hurt. He got headaches (can you imagine hanging around with the Apostles and NOT getting a tension headache??) He cried and got scared and angry. "How, Lord, did you carry that piece of wood that was weighed down by my sins? How did  you manage??"

And frankly, I was asking Him, "How can I manage? How can I keep going when I'm in so much pain?" I know how much surgery hurts. I know I'm going to be sick from the anesthesia. I know I'm going to be grouchy and uncooperative. So, Jesus, do I just muster up the courage and be a "good Marine," so to speak?

And then I got my answer. It was nicely done, I will give Jesus that. No cloud descending from on high. Nope, it was ... well.

I said my morning prayers in my Magnificat. And then I turned to the meditation of the day from Fr. Bernard Bro, OP.

Basically the mystery of the cross isn't a mystery of strength but a mystery of helplessness. It is a victory, to be sure, but a victory hidden even from the eyes of the victor, a victory having every appearance and all the taste of defeat, and experienced as a defeat.
The cross isn't a mystery of bravery but a mystery of love. It doesn't consist in suffering courageously nor merely in suffering, full-stop, but in being afraid of suffering; it doesn't consist in overcoming an obstacle but in being crushed by it; not in being strong and noble-hearted but in being small and absurd in one's own eyes; not in deploying virtue but in seeing all one's virtues routed and pulverized; and in accepting all this lovingly. And in accepting lovingly to be strengthless; strength is no use, love is what's needed.
[Hats off to Fr. Bro for the use of the semi-colon there, by the way.]

So there it was: the answer to my early morning chat with Jesus. It is not courage I need;  it is love. It is a willingness to sacrifice, not to be the strongest or bravest. It is a willingness to be crushed - not for no reason, but so that God may use that in however He chooses. It is time to stop gritting my teeth and being brave, and time to let go.

Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross. (Phil. 2: 6-8)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Sleeping on the floor with Jesus

artist C. Michael Dudash
I live the Franciscan life by choice - after all, Dear Husband and I are in formation with a Franciscan order of sisters, they've been our spiritual advisors and  have been for many years. I've said here before I'm not a very good Franciscan, as I own far too many shoes, but Franciscan spirituality is in the marrow of my bones.

Youngest Son and I were talking yesterday about Franciscans, and I told him about how "hard-core" the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal are. I told my son that when I went to the March for Life a few years back, I walked most of the way with some of these Friars. They were barefoot. In January. In DC. And singing joyfully the entire way.

They sleep on the floor. No pillows, no mattress. They truly don't own anything. They are in service to the poor in the radical way St. Francis was. My son thought this was crazy, and it is. Crazy in that it's radical love for Christ, and that always looks crazy to our sin-steeped world.

Little did I know while having this conversation that the same night, I'd be right there on the floor with these friars.

I had to spend a few hours in the car yesterday, and I was also feeling particularly stressed. By the time I got home, my back (which has been a source of pain for months now) was in a knot. Nothing seemed to help. By the time I was ready to go to bed, I was crying. I could not get comfortable. I finally laid down on the floor and fell asleep. (Ok, I had a body pillow propped under my left side, so I was a bit more comfortable than the dear friars.)

Flannery O'Connor, one of the greatest Catholic writers, said this: "What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe."

Given our own choice, we'd pick the electric blanket, a soft down comforter, breakfast in bed and heated towels after our shower. That's not the life of Christ, however. Nope, we get the floor.

And why shouldn't we? That's where our Savior began his life: in the dirt and animal waste, turned away from even the most rudimentary comforts of an inn two thousand years ago. He told us in the Gospel that he had no where to lay His head.

It would be nice to be able to become holier, more Christ-like, without having to actually be like Him. But there are no shortcuts. If we have the audacity to ask Him to make us more and more like Him, then we need to be prepared to sleep on the floor. Even if we don't really want to.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Learning from Mother Teresa


I admit: I never had much of a warm, fuzzy spot for Mother Teresa. I realize she's a holy woman, a saint, and I admired her work while on earth. But, you know how it is: just like we warm up to people here on earth and find our besties, we do the same with saints. I never considered Mother Teresa one of my heavenly besties.

Because of my job (which includes writing a blog post every day and finding good stuff for the company's social media), I've spent a lot of time reading about Mother Teresa, and learning from her directly via her letters and diary.

[Just let me step aside here for a moment and remind you of the world's most frightening prayer, from St. Ignatius of Loyola.]

I know in my head and in my gut that I'm supposed to do God's will. I know that if I choose this, my life will be better than any plans I could come up with. And yet ... I'd still rather do things MY way.

Heal me Lord! I'm in so much pain. Just heal me. I know you can.

Fix my kid, Jesus! He is in so much pain. Lead him to where he needs to go.

Really, God? REALLY? We finally get a little money saved up and the freakin' washing machine dies? Come on!! We are on the same team here!

Jesus, I've done everything you've asked. Could you give me a little something in return for being so good?

Clearly, I am no saint. I hope I'm a saint in progress but I still very much prefer my own plans, ideas and will to God's. There you have it.

Mother Teresa abandoned herself. She left everything behind for Christ. I'm not talking about her family or the Sisters of Loreto, where she had a reasonably comfortable life. No, she abandoned everything of herself. She made herself an empty vessel and begged God to inhabit her.

Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the cross. Today, I learned a good lesson. The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health. Then, the comfort of Loreto [her former congregation] came to tempt me. ‘You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again,’ the Tempter kept on saying … Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard. I did not let a single tear come.
I am certainly not at the point where I can wholly abandon myself, and I most certainly am not at the point where I won't shed a tear. I pray that Mother Teresa will make it a heavenly mission to pray for those of us who still want things our way and not God's.
Mother Teresa, pray for us!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

So close to Jesus

Solomon Kadavoor - artist
This past Sunday, at Mass, Dear Husband and I had the great good fortune of having a dad, toddler and infant sit next to us in the front pew.

"Good fortune?" you say. Sounds horrible. Kids are so distracting. Put 'em in the nursery.

Nope. We sit up in the front pew, and always invite parents with young kids to come and sit with us. Having raised 5 hyper kids, we can pretty much ignore anything, plus kids do much better when they can see what's going on.

I have to admit, I wanted the toddler to act up a bit so I could whisper to the dad, "I'll watch the baby if you have to take him out."

Instead, we saw something rather remarkable.

Oh, the toddler (not quite 2) was a toddler. He was a bit anty. He wasn't quite sure that he liked seeing his mommy in front, cantoring, where he couldn't get to her. He whined and fussed a bit.

But during the Consecration, his enormous blue eyes locked onto the priest. That baby boy saw Jesus up there. You could just tell. You know, those little souls are so close to Heaven; they remember more than we do. That boy couldn't tell you what he was seeing, but he knew. He knew.

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked them,but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” After he placed his hands on them, he went away. (Mt. 19: 13-15)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Can you be a wimp and a saint?


Hubby and I spent about 6 hours in the car yesterday to go see the neurosurgeon at the university hospital about this (non-cancerous) spinal tumor I have.

The appointment basically consisted of him telling us that, in the last 3 months, the tumor has not grown, and beyond that, he doesn't have a clue. He's sending me to another specialist.

The last week has been especially painful. I not only hurt, but it makes it difficult to make plans, because I simply don't know how I'm going to feel from day to day.

It seems as if all the stories of the saints and martyrs tell us that they are all very stoic and brave in the face of pain and death. Now, I know that can't be true. At least one or two of them must have been a LITTLE whiny or scared or bossy or short-tempered. I just can't seem to find any of those stories to bolster my own weakness.

For instance, I just learned that St. Gemma Galgani (who I confess I knew very little about) is the patron saint of those who suffer from back pain. (Actually, most of the websites say she is the patron of back pain, but I'm pretty sure pain doesn't get a patron saint.) One website told this about her:

And while Don Andrew Bartoloni was answering Gemma's questions, on his side he received, in compensation, great edification. He tells us this himself:
‘Through her illness she was, as it were, rigid. She could raise only her head and shoulders a little. She used to say to me: " See, I am crucified; I cannot move." But nevertheless she never uttered a word of complaint. She was always jovial, smiling and peaceful. It seemed to me that she had a most extraordinary resignation. She had her Rosary or a holy picture always in her hand or under her pillow. Even the family seemed peaceful, because Gemma was so calm. Sometimes when I was leaving the house, they said to me: "Isn't Gemma remarkably resigned?"

Oh. Dear. I have much work to do.

I'm sad and tired and worn out and grouchy. I want answers and I want to stop hurting. Yet, quite honestly, I don't know what God's will is for this entire situation. So I pray: "God, please heal me if that is your will. If it is not your will, then let me suffer well."

I'll keep you posted.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Fading Into Friday


It's been a long week. Monday was just ... bad. I ticked off our IT guy at work by opening up one of those d*%$ emails that as soon as you click on it, you think, "Oops." So I trotted over to his office, and he promptly yelled at me. Like I was a child. Or stupid. Or a stupid child.

This was after I found out that every imaginable driving route from my home to office and back home again is under construction. Can't get there from her. Orange barrels. Must as well sleep in the office.
This, combined with the fact that I am now the ONLY person on the planet who stills checks their blind spot before changing lanes, makes me want to quit my job and go live in a yurt.

Our health insurance company sent us these gloom and doom letters that Dear Hubby and I HAD to go online and fill out a health assessment NOW or OUR INSURANCE WOULD BE CANCELLED!!! They were SERIOUS! So, I went online Wednesday. Their system was down for maintenance.

Tried again yesterday. I swear I could not make heads or tails of the instructions in the letter compared to what I was seeing on the screen. Mind you, I spend about 8 hours a day on the computer. I know my way around. Finally gave up.

Another attempt today. In an act of desperation, I called their customer service - no waiting! Miracle! Angels singing! "Rachel" kindly explained that the "letter has a lot of people confused. It's outdated." And then she gave me a completely different set of instructions to get to the health assessment. I asked, "No one could figure this out on their own. And yet, if a customer doesn't figure this out, you're going to cancel their insurance?" She demurred to answer.

I failed the health assessment by  the way. I'm obese and I don't exercise enough. Of course, no where in the health assessment did it give me the opportunity to tell the insurer, "I have a freakin' tumor on my spine!" At the end of the assessment, I got some "helpful" suggestions to "Begin doing short walks, and increase the length of the walks slowly." Well, it'll be slow all right...

I got 5 freakin' lbs. of paper regarding a lawsuit we are involved in. I don't speak legalese, but I'm pretty sure the whole thing boiled down to the other party saying, "We are right and you are wrong. On top of that, you are really stupid."

I cracked my iPad.

My back is killing me. It just hurts. I'm trying to be a good Catholic girl and offer it all up, but I just want to cry every morning as I try to get out of bed.

I have two appointments in the next two weeks at UofM for more consultations regarding this tumor on my spine. I like Ann Arbor, but the hospital....not so much. Surgery has not yet been ruled out.

Last night, I tried to fall asleep but my back was just hurting. I decided to stretch. I got on the floor and did a child's pose (for those who don't know yoga, you basically curl up in a ball facing the floor and then stretch out your arms.) I fell asleep. I'm not sure how long I was asleep, but when I woke up, I was still in the child's pose, and my legs and feet were numb. But my back felt better.

Such is my life.

St. Gemma Galgani, patron saint of back pain sufferers, pray for us.
St. John Paul II the Great, pray for us.
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Learning to love and protect a little girl, a Child of the King


This little girl is five. She does not like the curls in hair, because it means sleeping in curlers, which are pokey and they hurt. She loves her new dress though, even though it's itchy. She's a little sad too, because her sisters both get to wear long yellow dresses that their grandma made for a wedding. They get to be in the wedding, but this little girl does not.

She's also happy that she has learned to read. All of a sudden, one Saturday morning, the letters on the page of "Little Red Riding Hood" suddenly made sense: they were words! And she could read them, not just recite what she knew from memory! It was the beginning of a love affair with words and language and books and writing and reading.

Her best friend is her sister. They are wild: they escape the house early in the morning and run and explore and create and imagine. When they finally must return home, their mother meets them outside, and pulls burrs and bugs from their hair before making them take a bath.

The only thing this little girl thinks about when it comes to her body is that it needs clothing, food and sleep.

But as the years pass, the girl's relationship with her body changes. She's too fat, and not very pretty. High school is hard. She doesn't really have any idea what to do with makeup, despite pouring over Seventeen every month.

When she marries, this girl has a husband who encourages her to try new things. So she walks, and rides a bike and learns that her body CAN do athletic things, just not the athletic things they wanted her to do in high school. Eventually, this little girl earns a bad ass third degree black belt in karate.

But middle age is tough. Genetics and hormones and a host of other circumstances take away much of her ability to be physically strong and to do whatever she wants her body to do. The little girl starts to hear very mean things that the woman she now sees in the mirror says to her: You are fat. You are ugly. How could anyone ever find you attractive? Fat. Fat. Ugly. Do you hear me?? YOU ARE UGLY!!! And the woman in the mirror - and the little girl - believe every single word.

One day, the woman -  you know, that fat and ugly woman - is going through photos. And she sees this little girl. This beautiful little girl. She remembers her.

The woman realizes she would never call this little girl ugly. Or fat. Or incapable. She would never look this little girl in the eye and say those horrible words to her.

But she does. Every single day.

The woman decides that from now on, no one - not even the woman - will call this girl names. The woman will protect this little girl. No one will be allowed to bully her, or make her feel as if she anything less than a Daughter of the King, blessed and beautiful, heir to a Kingdom beyond anything that this cruel world can offer. The woman will not allow any ugliness to harm this girl - she is far too precious, far too loved, far too priceless.

As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (Gal. 4:7)