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Dreams of Faith

The other night I had a dream about attending an emotional support group. In my dream, it was right before the holidays (a busy time for support groups), and people streamed into the room filling the large circle of chairs. In my dream, I knew most of them, and as each person took his or her seat, I felt the warmth of being surrounded by friends and familiarity.

Then, a stranger came in – a man and his special needs child. She was about 10 and a bit disruptive, making noise as he tried to take a seat and settle her down in front of him. No one said anything, but you could feel what everyone was thinking:

“I came here for help during a difficult time of year, and this stranger and his kid are ruining it for me.”

As the meeting was about to start, one person got up and left quietly. Then more followed. I, too, had felt uncomfortable and disappointed when my precious support group had been disrupted by this awkward little girl, but I was even more disappointed and embarrassed by the rudeness displayed by people who claimed to care about each other, people I loved and leaned on and trusted. I was angry, and I expressed my righteous indignation at those leaving but still within hearing distance.

“What do you people think you came here for? To feel better? The only thing that will make any of us actually GET better will be our unconditional love and acceptance of each other. How can you be so selfish?”

At this point there were only a handful of us left. I noticed the faces were those whom I trusted most, and I was glad to see them. But the man and his daughter had disappeared.

I woke up realizing my attempt to shame the ones who left did not create an atmosphere of love for this man, nor would it change their attitudes. The better thing to have done would have been to quietly accept and love the leavers just as much as I loved the ones who stayed. My dream-time righteous indignation gave me a glimpse of my real-life pride and ego that lives under the surface.

It was a powerful, humbling dream, coming at a time when I most need it. It’s election season, and there’s a lot of righteous indignation floating around, on all sides of the proverbial aisle, and in my heart, too. Righteous indignation about our choices. Righteous indignation about government control. Righteous indignation about injustice. Righteous indignation about private personal conduct and public deception. And sadly, a lot of it is justified. What’s not justified is my friends and family shaking their proverbial (and sometimes literal) fists at one another in our futile attempts to shame one another, to change our circumstances, to change the state of the world, as if we really had any power at all.

I try to keep my righteous indignation between me and God. I don’t want my anger, however justified, to poison my relationships. I know how my friends’ righteous indignation, however well-intentioned, makes me feel, which is the other reason I turn to God.

“How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord.”

I read these words upon waking up from my dream, because it was Sunday morning and I wanted to review the scriptures before I got to Mass. These complaints of the prophet Habakkuk could have been written today, and God’s response is just as contemporary, urging patience and giving his prophet a vision of the justice to come. “The rash one has no integrity;” God says, “but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”

The next reading was from Paul’s letter to Timothy. Again, the Word of God seemed to speak directly to me: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control . . . bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” Am I conducting myself with love and self-control and being patient and tolerant?

Finally, I came to the Gospel account of the apostles asking Jesus to give them faith. Since scripture links faith with life and survival, it only makes sense that we’d want more of it. To me, “having faith” means having peace in my heart about the future. Most of us attempt to increase our peace of mind by having more income than expenses, a healthy savings account and retirement plan, investing in our children’s future college education, buying a home in a neighborhood with “good” schools, having a reliable car to drive – practical peace. There’s an emotional component to peace, as well. We believe we will have happiness when all our friends and family are also happy and peaceful, so we do everything we can to ensure that. And because we are such social creatures, we link our peace to the conditions of our greater society, believing we can only have peace about the future when society is living up to an enforced set of ideals. Sadly, this conditional peace is ever-elusive. We strive but always fall short, we hang our hope on the external, and fall back on righteous indignation when our conditions aren’t met.

The apostles were no different than us, and they were living in a very unstable period of history. No wonder they asked for faith. They, too, wanted peace for themselves and their children. They wanted an end to the tyranny of Roman rule and the corruption of the Jewish religious elite. They wanted the power to change the world.

Jesus’ response was an analogy with which many Christians are familiar, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” This response has always puzzled me. Jesus answered a request for greater faith with a statement about power; there’s nothing more powerful than being able to control nature. But then he followed up with an analogy about the powerlessness we are called to as servants of God. To put it in modern mom terms, I’ve taken some liberties with his parable:

What mother tells her child who gets off the bus after school to throw her book bag in the house and go immediately to play with friends? Would she not rather say, “Do your homework first, then practice the piano. You can go play when you are finished.” So should it be with you. When you have done everything your higher power has directed, say, “We are simply children, and we’ve done what we were told.”

On the surface, I don’t see anything about faith or the power of faith in that parable. But faith is less about power and more about being faithful. If we want to be filled with faith (and all the hope and divine power that comes with it), we have to be faithful to become faith-full. Being faithful means doing the humble, everyday tasks of living, not receiving the power to change the world. In fact, it’s be acting faithfully in our small, seemingly insignificant obligations that we do actually change the world, one small step at a time.

Most of us want “comprehensive reform,” whether it’s global and political or closer to home in our own families, but God says no. God’s Word last weekend instructed me that reform is the result of incremental steps in favor of personal integrity, not rashly forcing solutions because I believe I’m right and have God on my side to back me up. God is the one in charge of forming and reforming the world; my part is to simply do my homework.

Righteous indignation is not a show of my faith; it’s a show of my ego. Like uprooting a mulberry tree and telling it to be planted in the sea, it is a useless show of power that does nothing to profit anyone, and probably poisons my relationships. Real faith is knowing God’s power is more than enough to settle all the scores and bring justice in the end. Real faith is trusting God to do his part in his time. My task is to love patiently while I’m waiting.

Uncategorized

Prepper Mom

Judging from the posts on Facebook I know I’m not the only one. I don’t like making the kids’ lunches. My first year as a single mom, I was unemployed and I qualified for my school’s free lunch program. It spoiled me; I made almost no bag lunches that year.

Fortunately my finances have improved. And I’d be happy to pay full price for school lunches for three children every day. Ecstatic, actually. They are supposedly nutritious, modestly priced, and well worth the time and stress they save me.

But alas, my kids don’t like school lunches. They would rather send their poor, sleep-deprived mother over the edge every morning by forcing me to pack lunch while at the same time dress them, feed them, make sure they don’t smell, brush their hair, inspect their feet for socks, and ensure they don’t miss the bus at 7:25.

Did I mention I happen to be friends with the now-famous “napkin notes dad?” He is one of the most inspiring people I know, and I wish some of his example could rub off on me, but I routinely forget to include napkins, much less write notes on them.

40 minutes is not enough time for me to get my kids ready for school and pack lunches. So I sometimes just postpone the lunch making for the two younger ones until after they’ve left, with the intention of taking them to the school office on my way into work. More than once this school year (that’s less than three weeks at the time of this writing) I’ve forgotten to take the lunches. Thank goodness for the hot lunch backup. Still, I have to face shaming from the 10 year old family dictator when she gets home.

More than once I’ve heard the advice, “Make lunch the night before.” That sounds great, but I’m even less motivated to make lunches at 8:30 pm than I am at 7 am.

One of the main reasons I dread lunch packing is the same reason I struggle with all meals – lack of preparation. Sometimes I’m missing the all-important protein. Other times I’m all out of chips or snack crackers, or a fresh fruit or veggie. The thermos and plastic containers need washing. Then there’s the worst of all – I have all the necessary foods but no plastic baggies.

Yesterday I did something new. I went to the store and spent $75 on lunch supplies. Including plastic baggies. And when I got home, I set everything on the kitchen table and prepackaged baggies of goldfish, teddy grahams, cheezits, veggie sticks, and triscuits. I pulled out three small baskets from the pantry and filled them with tuna packets, granola bars, lance cracker packs, etc. I filled the fridge with mini pepperoni, baby bells, carrot sticks, apple sauce and pudding cups, yogurt tubes, and juice pouches.

This morning, lunch was a breeze.

I’m curious to see how long the supplies will last. I’ll be guarding the pantry and the fridge like a hawk, lest the locusts descend for an after school snack. No! Water and ritz crackers for you! No ruining your dinner and depleting my store of sanity, little ruffians!

Family On Friday, Uncategorized

. . . and It Gets Easier

Yesterday I received a wonderful email from my brother, not only wishing me a happy birthday, but responding to my most recent blog post, “It Gets Harder.” If I were to copy and paste his entire eloquent email here, the title would be, “It Gets Easier.” But instead of copying all his words and private experiences, I’m just going to share some of them and write the flip side of Wednesday’s reflection.

“Truth and acceptance. It’s a concept I have seen you study in the deep, analytical way a scientist dissects molecules to understand how atomic elements combine to create some totally new form of matter,” my brother said. “It’s elusive and in our unique human experience as relative as it is absolute. I would never dare lecture anyone on truth. As the saying goes, ‘Only God knows…’ But I will offer one tiny, yet impactful observation: there is a light side and dark side to every truth. It is my belief that how we choose to accept the truth will in turn reflect either the light or the dark. Let’s choose the light, as it is our divine duty and human right.”

How we choose to accept the truth. How. That one word makes all the difference, doesn’t it? In my spiritual practices, “HOW” is not only a word, but an acronym for “Honest Open and Willing.” Embracing those qualities is “how” I can keep my focus on the light side of truths that are sometimes hard to swallow.

My brother was born with some physical limitations. I often overlook this fact because in my home, we never focused on it. Ever. To me, he was just an annoying little baby who became an annoying little toddler who followed me around, and then an enjoyable little playmate, schoolmate, friend, and confidant. My parents and my brother never let his limitations define what he could do or not do. Yes, he had casts on his legs. There was a surgery, some physical therapy in his puberty years, and some kind of leg brace he wore at night when he was a little older. Although I never saw it, apparently there was a little bit of teasing in school. But from my perspective, my brother was no different than anyone else.

No, that’s not quite right. From my perspective, my brother was better than anyone else. He was an exceptional baseball and tennis player, a multi-talented musician, and a social butterfly who was liked and respected by every clique in high school. He made good grades without even trying, excelling at math, science, and foreign language. Things that came hard to me came easy to him. I was never jealous of this, but I did marvel at it.

In his email, my brother shared, “I could drown in the sorrow of what will not or cannot be. But in doing so, I miss the point on how easy life is. It is in never having the ability to straighten my legs fully that I gained this perspective. When you face something that is so hard all your life, the rest of life is icing on the cake.”

I never knew his physical defect was hard for him; that thought never even occurred to me, because my brother approaches life with such a positive attitude without any apparent effort. He shared other things in his email about what has been “hard” for him, especially in more recent years. Yes, getting older throws every one of us curve balls, in our careers, families, and physical health. No one is immune, and everyone carries a hidden burden. And yet, throwing my words back at me with a twist, he said, “In my thirties, I had to make hard choices about which opportunities I’d pursue, and which ones I would set aside as the demands of survival and the responsibilities of adulthood increased. This year, I’ve been celebrating the wins. Easy. (See what I did there?)”

Have I been letting my defects define me? My defects are not physical; they are emotional and they are just as real as my brother’s neurophysical defect, even if they are not visible. But are they even defects at all? I once heard a speaker talk about the difference between a “shortcoming” and a “defect.” He said, a shortcoming is like being a baseball player who isn’t very good at sprinting. He can’t control it. A defect of character is being a baseball player who isn’t a sprinter, yet tries to steal a base.

A baseball player who isn’t a sprinter need not resign herself from them team. Maybe her batting average is enviable. Maybe she’s one hell of a pitcher. Maybe her team appreciates her gifts and overlooks her shortcoming as long as she doesn’t try to be something she’s not.

What are my wins? When I was pregnant with my second child, I had anxiety about becoming a parent of two; I felt like I could barely handle being a parent of one. But within a few hours of her birth, I had showered, dressed, ate breakfast, and asked the nurses if I could drive us home now. (They said no.) My nipples never got sore and cracked. My body felt better than it had in a year, and when I did finally get home, I packed up all my belongings and a newborn baby and moved my family to a brand new house without a single anxiety attack. Everything about being a parent was surprisingly easier with two because I’d done this before. Taking care of a newborn without a learning curve gave me a confidence that carried over into taking care of a preschooler, which was uncharted territory.

Life does get harder. But it also gets easier. It gets easier because I’ve learned the hard way what I can reasonably expect from myself and other people. It gets easier because I’ve gotten better at communicating, and I know when to keep my mouth shut. It gets easier because I’ve practiced saying “no” and “enough.” It gets easier because my kids are becoming partners in their own choices and beginning to take responsibility for their own destiny. It gets easier because as I let go, I carry less. I don’t care less, but I do worry less, because I’ve had enough experience to trust things to work themselves out, usually in ways my imagination could never conceive. It gets easier because I get out of the way. I don’t bang my head against walls like I used to. I strive for contentment and practice gratitude, instead of striving for things beyond my reach and feeling like a victim. It gets easier because I have faith that meets every fear head on.

I could echo the closing words of my brother’s email, because they are as much mine as his:

“What I have learned most, though, is who I am not – and it is in this knowledge that life truly sets sail. So with 40 years in your rear view mirror, take comfort in knowing all of what you are, and just as importantly all of what you are not. I admire how true to self you have become. It gives confidence that for so many years I’ve seen you grasp for but could not always grip. You have it now. Truth and acceptance. I leave you with an oldie but goodie from the Church of John Leonard, ‘Faith is the emptiness of not knowing and the fullness of not needing to know.’”

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It Gets Harder

When I first became a mom, the first few postpartum days and weeks were hard. Really hard. Cracked nipples, swollen bottom, and sleep deprivation took its toll on me physically. The magnitude of caring for a being who was often inconsolable for long stretches of time quickly drained any emotional reserves I had left. The joy of new life was there too, but it was overshadowed most of the time by the ever-present anxiety of being in uncharted territory.

I got myself through those first few weeks the same way I’d gotten myself through many other challenging stages in my life – by telling myself it will get easier. This is what grown ups tell their children who are learning new skills like tying their shoes or reading or navigating the social waters of puberty, and they can say it with confidence because it’s true. With practice, many things do become easier.

But life itself is not one of those things.

I remember the moment this first dawned on me. My son was two months old, and I was bouncing him while walking around the kitchen at about three in the afternoon, hoping he would stop crying and fall asleep deeply enough that I could lay him in the crib without waking him, get some rest, and get dinner started by the time my husband came home at 5:30. So far that wasn’t looking likely. And with tears streaming down my face, my inner voice acknowledged to myself the truth – it does not get easier. It freaking gets harder. And as it gets harder, the skills I mastered yesterday get tested in new ways today. My skills continually improve. My cracked nipples and swollen bottom heal. But motherhood? That just keeps getting harder.

I’m glad I came to this realization early on. Knowing this truth has not made each progressively difficult stage of parenthood any easier, but it has kept my expectations a little more realistic. Imagine how much harder motherhood would be if I had clung to the fantasy of things getting easier?

More recently, I’ve learned it’s not just parenting that gets harder, not easier. Tomorrow I turn 41, and as I pass out of the milestone midpoint year, I do so with a new set of physical limitations. I have some subtle joint pain. My muscles ache after doing yard work. My eyes strain when I read. If I cross my legs, my feet get numb and tingly. “Old” people for years have been saying, “Just wait until you get older,” and “Growing old sucks.” They have been forthcoming about it. They may have said it with a chuckle, or they may have said it heartbroken, but they haven’t kept it a secret. Why is it I’m so surprised?

When I was a child, the world was a great unknown waiting to be explored, and the only limitations were my size, my skills, my age, and my parents’ rules. My teens and twenties were spent consciously overcoming those limitations, and still believing in a promise of limitless opportunity. In my thirties, I had to make hard choices about which opportunities I’d pursue, and which ones I would set aside as the demands of survival and the responsibilities of adulthood increased. This year, I’ve been mourning the losses. Hard.

Grief is simultaneously crippling and healing. Crippling because the weight of it makes me want to not get out of bed in the morning. I’ve had memory loss and a lot of careless mistakes. Anxiety and depression have all but overtaken me at times this year. Healing because every ugly cry feels cleansing. In letting go of misplaced hopes, I’ve opened my hands to receive new gifts.

The end result of the grieving process is acceptance, especially acceptance of myself and my limitations. Acceptance of life on life’s terms gives me new choices, especially the choice to change my attitude, to forgive, to show mercy, to focus on what is essential, and to ask for help when I need it.

Life may not get easier, but it can get healthier as I practice acceptance.

The difficulties give me gratitude for the brief moments of respite – the sunset, the spontaneous hug from my child, the early morning writing, the exhilaration of singing at church.

Happiness may be elusive, but joy is not. Joy is the sweet in every bitter moment. I need only open my eyes and my heart and grab hold of it for comfort.

Family On Friday, Uncategorized

First Family Vacation, Check

Last week, I took my kids on our first family vacation. This probably comes as a surprise to most everyone; after all, I’ve been a parent for 13 years, and you’ve seen me post pictures of my travels with the kids for the last eight years I’ve been on Facebook. Some of those photos were even taken at Disney World! How could this possibly be our first family vacation?

Well, for starters, I don’t count the Disney trip in 2013 as a “vacation.” I was traveling with my three kids and two parents in one minivan for 10 days without even one hour of solitude (even sleeping)! It was an amazing voyage filled with highs, lows, and everything in between. Also, it was made financially possible by the generosity of my parents, so, no, I don’t count the Disney trip.

But what about the other travels? Believe it or not, I’ve never had all three kids with me on any of our overnights in D.C. or Yorktown or camping. The only exception to this was a weekend beach trip five years ago, and again, my mom and dad footed the bill and provided the additional adult presence necessary for taking three young kids anywhere more than an hour or two.

Surely, you say, I must have gone on a vacation when I was married, right? Not really. Our extended families were all local, so we didn’t have to go far to visit anyone. We did mostly day trips. The only time my ex and I went away from home for more than one night was a long weekend when we left our then two children with grandparents. And when our son was four years old we took a train ride to D.C. to see the zoo and stayed overnight. Those little trips don’t, in my mind, “qualify” as a legitimate vacation.

I could probably fill whole journals with my explanations and excuses for not taking family vacations. When I was married I was pretty sure it was because my ex was some kind of workaholic who couldn’t leave his job at home for more than a day without freaking out. It turns out if I point a finger at someone else, it leaves three pointing back at me; I’m just as much a workaholic as he ever was. In recent years as a single mom, my excuses boil down to lack of money, lack of time, and lack of confidence at being able to handle three kids alone away from the familiar.

It embarrasses me to write this, but there are times I’ve felt like a complete failure as a parent because of my inability, whatever the reason, to give my children a proper family vacation. Social media hasn’t helped. My friends and even my brother have taken their families to some pretty exotic locales, including Thailand, Key West, Maine, and places in South America that I can’t pronounce. The ex took them on a Disney cruise last year. Not that I’m comparing myself to you, but . . . yeah, I’m comparing myself, and I come up short.

I haven’t just been comparing myself to you. I’ve been comparing myself to my parents. The family in which I grew up travelled to Pennsylvania for a week to visit grandparents at least twice a year, and we almost always made visits to historic side trips like Gettysburg and D.C. and even New York one year. We took occasional “big” trips to Florida and California, and we went to Disney World two times, Disneyland one time, and the beach for a week pretty much every year from the time I was a tween until I graduated from high school. To me, this is what normal “modest” families did, and this has been my expectation for myself.

(I realize the last several paragraphs of whining should be followed with the hashtag #firstworldproblems. If you’ve made it this far, you’re a real friend, and I thank you for putting up with me.)

This year I made a commitment to take my kids somewhere. I considered renting a beach condo for a week (too expensive), taking us camping (too hot and buggy and stressful), taking us to a luxury resort for a short stay (too little appreciation for the finer things). One friend offered her river house, but I didn’t want to impose a specific time, as there was only one week I could easily take off work. So, I opted for the most “basic” vacation I could fathom – a two night stay in a cheap hotel in Williamsburg with side trips to Virginia Beach, Colonial Williamsburg, and Water Country.

2016-08-03 19.09.23

Although there was a little sunburn on all our shoulders, there were no meltdowns and everyone had a good time. I felt gratitude at being able to financially provide a good time for everyone. I had a 13-year-old son who could keep an eye on his littlest sister while me and the daredevil redhead took in a more adventurous waterslide. My three mild-mannered kids didn’t want to do anything at the water park except float in the lazy river and the wave pool, so it was actually pretty relaxing. The boy caught Pokemon everywhere we went, and we were lucky enough to get a room with a king-sized bed and a sleeper sofa, so no one had to sleep on the floor.

As I was driving home, it occurred to me we don’t have to be gone for a week to feel like we’ve been gone for a week. Although I still very much want to take my kids for a relaxing week at a big beach house one day, I’m no longer feeling guilty that I can’t take them for a week to Florida amusement park heaven. Our brief time away from the break-neck pace of summer day camps and evening dance classes put the whole vacation thing in perspective for me. My parents may have given me trips to Pennsylvania, but it was out of necessity (visiting grandparents); my kids get to have a relationship with their grandparents every day. My parents may have rented beach condos, but not until we were teenagers; before that, our experience with the beach was limited to long weekends and modest hotels planned around times when my dad had to go to Virginia Beach for work. Our pilgrimages to Florida and California were not just trips to expensive theme parks, but marathon visits with the many uncles, aunts, and cousins who lived along the route there; I now have Facebook to stay in daily contact with distant relatives. My ex may be able to take the kids on Disney cruises, but I get to wake up to their faces almost every morning.

Rather than focus on the glass half empty, as I’m inclined to do when I compare myself to others, I now see the glass as more than half full, and I realize how lucky I am. In preparing to write this reflection, I thought of a famous quote from Mother Teresa: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

As a mother, especially a single mother, I need to remember it’s the small things I do with great love that will make a difference for our family. They usually don’t ask for big things anyway. It’s my big ego that insists on setting unattainable goals.

My Life In 10 Minutes (short pieces written in about 10 minutes), Uncategorized

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

Right now I am sitting on a wrought iron bed in a cozy front bedroom in a country cottage, windows open, the Alleghenies, a light cool breeze blowing through, the scent of bacon wafting through the house. It is beautiful here, from the scenery to the rustic yet luxurious furnishings. Last night I slept with the windows open to the sound of raindrops on the tin porch roof. This is the kind of place in which I’d like to live, a perpetual vacation surrounded by woods and mountain views.

IMG_3625

But if I lived in vacation accommodations year round, it wouldn’t feel like a vacation, would it? I know that. It is the change of venue that makes it a vacation, and the change of routine. Right now I have no particular demands on my time, but even when I’m home, I’m mostly in charge of my schedule. My deadlines are self-imposed, the result of my choice to support my kids’ various activities, to take on a particular freelance project. Even my day job allows me flexibility. The fact that I don’t have to maintain this lovely home on the hill is exactly what makes it a vacation. Maintenance, no matter how lovely the setting, is the drudgery.

I suppose even if I were paying someone to keep my house and make my meals, there would be other activities of maintenance that would drag me down. The “ladies that lunch” who frequent the nearby Homestead Resort in posh style probably complain about the drudgery of their demanding social lives. For them, and maybe even occasionally for me, the folding of clothes and washing of dishes could be a vacation if it is out of the regular routine.

I have a deep longing to live life as if it were a vacation, yet I know this would be a life of perpetual discontent as “vacation” becomes its own routine. Escape from routine is what I crave, simultaneously knowing that it’s routine that keeps my life from going completely off the rails.

The obvious solution is to travel more frequently (but not too frequently), to give myself breaks from routine, even if I don’t know what to do with myself when I take them. Did I mention the bed I’m sitting on is perfectly made, pillows fluffed and throw blanket carefully replaced at my feet? I made my bed on vacation.

Holey Heart, Uncategorized

Daily

My ex-husband got remarried a few years ago, and last week their first child was born. Needless to say, I’ve experienced a smorgasbord of emotions about my children’s new baby brother, but the most striking are my recollections of when my own first child was born, and my earliest days of motherhood. On one hand, that first week as a new mom was one of the hardest of my life. On the other hand, it was just a drop in the bucket.

I remember looking at my nipples, cracked and blistered from breastfeeding, and telling myself it would get better (it did). Being utterly exhausted from the night waking and the anxiety of every sound that baby made, and telling myself it wouldn’t last forever (it didn’t). Standing in my kitchen with tears streaming down my face, bouncing a screaming newborn and feeling completely overwhelmed and inadequate to the task of motherhood, and telling myself in time it would get easier.

But it didn’t. It got harder. It was as if each difficult stage of being a mother has just toughened me up for the next slightly more difficult stage.

It doesn’t get easier. It gets harder.

My son was eight weeks old when this realization dawned on me. Followed first by the words, “Oh God,” then a strange peace as I took a deep breath and thought, “Oh well.” The “oh God oh well” is a frequent mantra even after 13 years; it’s like a morning prayer as I open my eyes and an evening oblation as I haul myself into bed. Does postpartum depression last into the teen years, I sometimes wonder. The mental exhaustion of being responsible for another human being – make that three human beings – takes a tremendous toll. A daily toll.

That word “daily” jumped out at me from this weekend’s Gospel. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Most of the time when I think of “crosses,” I think of the temporary crisis, like an illness in the family, or a job loss, or a difficult relationship. “This too shall pass,” we say. The crucifixion, after all, was a one-time event, followed by a glorious resurrection after only three days. Would that all our crosses could pass so quickly.

But Jesus used that word daily. The cross is not one and done. It waits for me every morning. Like the laundry.

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

It’s helpful to keep Jesus’ words in context, especially when my all-too-human instincts for self-preservation rise. This weekend’s passage begins with Jesus asking his disciples, “Who do you think I am?” And they answered rightly when they recognized him as the Messiah. But instead of giving the disciples a verbal gold star for recognizing God in their midst, Jesus rebuked them. This has always confused me. Why would Jesus rebuke them for recognizing Him for who He was?

Jesus was not rebuking them, but their illusions and fantasies about what “messiah” really meant. The Jews were hoping for a savior who would literally be a king, who would deliver them from Roman occupation. The reality, as we know in hindsight, was to be much different.

Jesus may as well have asked me, “What do you think having a family is?” When I was young, my one desire was to get married and start a family. It feels so long ago I can hardly remember what my fantasies were, but I suppose I imagined the trip to Disney World, fresh cooked meals together every night, reading to my children before bedtime, and spending evenings with the quiet affection of a husband who took joy in being a partner and didn’t have to be asked to pick up his socks. I thought having a family would save me from loneliness. Although my reality has given me a certain fulfillment of those hopes, it has not been without an equal part of suffering, rejection, and sacrifice. Daily. Unrelenting.

Oh God oh well, I pray as I surrender the illusion.

The divine promise is that in willingly losing my life, I will find it. If my crosses are not one-time events, then neither are my resurrections. They, too, are daily, and in my experience they do not often come in three days’ time, but are fleeting moments of connection to my source of life, my Father who cares for me, not Christy the exhausted mother, but Christy His beloved child. And He never gets tired. He never feels resentful or bitter when I reject Him or fail. He doesn’t love me any more or any less than any of His other children (including the ones to which I gave birth). His love is the great equalizer, as St. Paul so eloquently wrote in Sunday’s letter to the Galatians. We are one in Christ, even if we are not always one around the dinner table.

In my darkest moments of motherhood, I feel as if I have lost my life, and if I stay mired in that attitude, I miss out on recognizing the blessings. This was not what I expected; I certainly never imagined being a single parent. I didn’t picture the constant feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and failure that linger in every pile of clutter, every moment I lose my temper, every time I’m running late. The inner critic taunts me, saying, “Hey lady, you are the one who wanted this.” And it’s all I can do not to crumble.

When I hear those words ringing in the space between my ears, I consider how Jesus literally carried His cross. He fell multiple times under its weight. Already beaten and abused, He was not strong enough to carry it without help. There was no hiding the cross and suffering privately; His pain was mercilessly on display for all to see and judge, from His weeping and powerless mother to the cruel Roman soldiers to the judgmental haters who sentenced Him in the first place. He must have felt like a failure, and in at least one account He felt abandoned even by God. It is a comfort to know that my Savior understands when I falter under the weight of my daily crosses. It’s ok that I feel overwhelmed. That’s the whole point of the cross.

Jesus also said to follow Him daily. He knows the cross leads to resurrection, and if I follow Jesus’ example of grace, if I can find it in my heart to say the words, “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do,” I may feel pain but I will also experience the exhilaration of birth. Those early days of motherhood with each of my babies may have been exhausting, but I never felt more alive than in the moment I first looked into each of their eyes. There is no intimacy that rivals holding them in their first days, weeks, and months of life, before they have words.

In my spiritual journey as a mother and a woman, I am the helpless newborn without words who embraces the chance to be born again every time I embrace the cross, to be cradled in the arms of my Father. Daily.

Uncategorized

Pool Season

Right now I am thinking about my shaved legs. Yesterday, the neighborhood pool opened, and of course the girls wanted to go. Fortunately it was hot and sunny, but I had things to do around the house and was in no hurry to put on a bathing suit. I promised them if I got everything done by 5, we would go then, so they promptly suited up in their matching one-pieces at 2.

I took a break from yard work and cleaning to take a shower, my second that day. I’d neglected to shave my legs the first time, and as I lathered up my calf, not without a twinge of resentment, I thought to myself that this is Tori’s last summer to suit up for the pool with reckless confidence. She is ten.

The summer I was ten was the summer my mother said I had to shave my armpits. My strawberry blond is not there yet, and I’m deeply grateful, because you can never go back once you cross that threshold. By the time I was 12 I started shaving my calves, and the next summer, my thighs. Finally at 14 I tackled the bikini line after being thoroughly disgusted at the beach seeing a woman who did not take that care.

While I continued to love the beach and its anonymity through my teenage years and beyond, I stopped going to the neighborhood pool at 13. Why give the assholes on my school bus any more ammunition than they already had? Yes, I knew we all had insecurities about our bodies, but that was little consolation, because the more insecure they were, the more likely they’d verbally abuse and belittle me to feel better about themselves.

About ten minutes before venturing to the pool, Tori asked if she could wear her bra (which she doesn’t need but insists on wearing) under her bathing suit. Something inside me died. Insecurity starts early, I guess. I told her no.

“But it feels weird!”

“But no one wears a bra under their bathing suit,” I said. “That’s kind of the whole point.” I was in my tankini (chosen to cover my less than toned mom belly) and I puffed out my chest to display my size A half-rack, which will probably be surpassed by hers in another two years thanks to modern agricultural practices and her dad’s genes.

She complied and did indeed get used to it once she was in the pool, doing water acrobatics and behaving once again like a little girl who doesn’t notice body hair, who still yells, “Watch me!” instead of hiding under a towel on the deck chair.

Uncategorized

Just Another “Epic” Rant

I’m tired of all the damn soap boxes.

Yet here I am, mounting one myself, writing a rant in a sea of rants about bathrooms or Trump or the Constitution or the gender pay gap or millennial mentality or addiction or #whoselivesmattermore or the micro-aggression du jour.

I’m tired of it.

When I first got on Facebook nine years ago, I loved connecting with old friends and acquaintances and family I never see. Especially as a introvert who loves people but needs socializing in baby steps, the bite-sized intimacy of social media was perfect.

That is, until everyone started force feeding each other their opinions as if they alone had been appointed the moral authority for the universe.

The thing is, a lot of my friends are highly intelligent and articulate and make really good arguments. You’d make great lawyers, or preachers, or tv pundits.

But I don’t want a lawyer or a preacher or a talking head. I want a friend. I want to see your beautiful children as they grow. I want to laugh with you and grumpy cat. I want to be inspired by how you handle life’s big challenges, like cancer, and humbled by how you handle life’s little annoyances, like the dishes and the laundry.

I want to learn with you, about technology, and eating organic, and nature, and theology. I want us to encourage each other through all of life’s seasons.

I want to share myself with you. And increasingly, I can’t. Because I’ve seen how you treat other voices that dissent from your worldview. My brilliant, well-spoken friends can verbally slash someone’s throat in disagreement. I suppose I could too, but I don’t want to. I’m not interested in being right and making sure everyone knows it.

Being right means nothing. #relationshipsmatter

I will always have opinions, and I will probably always be tempted to share them. But my opinion doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. What matters is how I treat people, especially the people who see the world differently than I do. We are all Samaritans to each other, and we need to care for each other.

I’m so tired of the soap boxes. I just want to love the people standing on them. I want to be loved back.

I’m not dropping any mic. I kinda hope we can keep talking.

Holey Heart, Uncategorized

What One Sheep Hears

I had a conversation with my best friend the other day. I’d just read an extremely disturbing article in Time magazine about war atrocities against women in the Sudan. It is unspeakable, almost unwriteable, and I had to vent my feelings lest they poison me. (You can read it here, but I’ll warn you, I had to stop reading about midway through.)

“Sometimes I think we should just eradicate these barbaric demons. They are barely even human. I know the women and girls would probably be collateral damage, and that would be terrible, but right now what they are living with is worse than death. Some of them would probably welcome death as mercy.”

My friend, who is the epitome of non-judgment, kindness, and unconditional love, replied to me with deep compassion, “That may be, but it would also be genocide.”

He was right, of course, and I sighed, grateful that he could listen to me without actually calling me Hitler. But my argumentativeness wouldn’t let go.

“But isn’t it the moral equivalent of justifying abortion when the fetus has a genetic problem or abnormality that would cause them great suffering, or would be born into poverty to a mom with a bunch of kids and no way to feed them?

“I think you know the answer to that question,” he said.

I paused, then continued. “But even God destroyed whole cities of people because of their depravity. Heck, He sent the flood to destroy the whole damn sinful world!”

“And you can see how well that worked.” My best friend can be as snarky as he is kind. “Let me ask you something,” he said. “If God Almighty Himself couldn’t eradicate the existence of evil in the world, what makes you think human beings could do any better?”

My friend then went on to give examples of how God actually did address the problem of saving the world from itself. Of course, they were familiar to me; I shared these very same with my third graders this year in religious ed. First, God made a promise to Noah never to destroy the world by flood. Then He befriended Abraham and made a covenant with him to make his descendants His chosen people. Then God saved His chosen people from the cruelty of slavery to the murderous Egyptians. He disciplined them for 40 years in the desert, but provided for their basic needs, and finally, He settled them in a land He designated as their permanent home.

God gave them laws – LAWS! – when the rest of the world was made up of lawless barbarians who were little more than animals, and God’s laws set limits – LIMITS! – on punishment and retribution. It was revolutionary to seek only an eye for an eye. Vengeance is mine, said the Lord. And even though these chosen people continually turned their back on God and suffered the natural consequences like misbehaving children, God never turned His back on them, and the whole world could see these people were unique and their solitary God was unlike the panoply of idols and beasts they worshiped.

The barbarism of humanity continued, admitted my friend, but God tended His chosen flock. Finally, He was ready to bring them to a new level of spiritual maturity. No longer was eye for eye enough, but turning the other cheek and forgiving 70 times seven times. God gave a new law to complete what He had begun in Genesis and Exodus. He donned flesh and lived not just in spirit but in body with them.

“And they killed him,” I interrupted obstinately. “At the end of the story the chosen people were no better than all the pagan hoards they thought they were so superior to.”

“Did you read this Sunday’s readings?” my friend asked. It was a rhetorical question; he knew I had. He started quoting Paul from the passage in Acts:

“It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first,
but since you reject it
and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life,
we now turn to the Gentiles.

For so the Lord has commanded us,
I have made you a light to the Gentiles,
that you may be an instrument of salvation
to the ends of the earth.”

“God’s plan was never just for the Hebrews,” he said. “It was always intended for anyone who wanted an alternative to the evil ways of the world.”

I thought about all non-Hebrews in the Bible whom God had blessed – Ruth, the widow whose son Isaiah brought back to life, Naaman the Syrian who was healed of leprosy, the woman at the well, and many others.

“The Jews were jealous,” he continued, “they didn’t want to share, and they barely understood what a gift they’d been given in the first place. Their vision was so distorted they couldn’t even recognize their own God standing right in front of them when he quoted their own scripture! And sadly, they denied their blindness. But Jesus hand-picked a few friends and opened their eyes and their hearts. He made a new covenant with them and gave new commandments. He mirrored everything his Father had done in Genesis and Exodus, because He and the Father are one. Only this time, he told them to share it with the world. He showed them what love truly looks like when he died, and he proved to them there is more to living than just earthly existence when he rose from the dead and went before them to Heaven.”

“It’s a shame human beings have so corrupted the church Jesus started,” I said. “Christians have been no different than the Jews who had Christ crucified. They’ve done terrible things in God’s name.”

“Human nature is what it is, and even God won’t violate the rules he set up in the Garden of Eden,” said my friend. “Love is not possible without free will, and love was always more important to the Father than obedience, control, earthly perfection, or even peace. After all, He already has perfection in Heaven and within Himself, and the peace He gives surpasses earthly circumstances.”

I let it all sink in. My friend has so much wisdom, which is why I love spending time with him. An added bonus is, he’s one of the few people I know who never tires of my questioning and debating. This nut actually encourages me! I think he knows this is how I learn, and that I’m being teachable, not obstinate.

“I can tell you’re not fully satisfied,” he said, inviting me to continue our conversation long past the point where most courteous friends would have set the topic aside and moved on to the kids or the weather or the great new restaurant they tried last week.

“Well,” I started,” “All this salvation history stuff sounds great, but what difference does it make to the women and children who are raped to the point of death in the Sudan? Christianity doesn’t seem to be doing them a whole lot of good. It’s not doing Christians any favors in Iraq or Syria either, for that matter. Even Christians in the U.S. face first world problems like ridicule and disrespect from an increasingly secular society.”

“You need to hear the Sunday readings again,” He said. And then He read them to me. In the voices of two lectors and a priest, I heard His voice at Sunday evening mass.

“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

“For this reason they stand before God’s throne
and worship him day and night in his temple.
The one who sits on the throne will shelter them.
They will not hunger or thirst anymore,
nor will the sun or any heat strike them.
For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne
will shepherd them
and lead them to springs of life-giving water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

I imagined all the women, old and young, in Sudan who’d been raped, sodomized, left for dead only to survive carrying scars that few of us could ever understand, being washed in a heavenly river and restored. I could see them in my mind’s eye, at peace.

“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one.”

By the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, this sheep hears His voice. This is the relationship I have with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is why I can sing at mass every week, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again,” and believe it. Christ comes again to me, personally, whenever I want to be with Him, and sometimes even when I don’t. He is the reason I’m rarely lonely when I’m alone, and the reason I’m frequently lonely when I let other people, places and things crowd Him out. He is the reason I write these words and the reason I wake up in the morning.

He is my best friend, and I feed our friendship whenever I eat his body and drink his blood in the Eucharist. I repair it whenever I go to Reconciliation. This friendship began before my memories, in the waters of baptism, which is why I had my children baptized, in the hope they would one day know Him like I do. I took him with me into adulthood at Confirmation. I experienced a deeper understanding of His sacrifice when I entered into the sacrament of marriage, a marriage that taught me unconditional love can look an awful lot like failure from the outside, and being born again can happen if I surrender my fantasies of how I think things “should” be, and let my ego and pride accept whatever cross will bring new life.

It is the most intimate relationship I’ve ever had or ever will have, and sharing it with others scares me. What if you make fun of me, or think I’m crazy? What if you judge my very human mistakes and call me a hypocrite? I’d hate for someone to reject friendship with God because of my failings to live up to the person He calls me to be.

I wonder if the disciples had these fears when they went out to spread the good news. Paul and Barnabas, it says, just shook the dust from their sandals and moved one when they faced rejection. Their focus was not on the ones who rejected them, but on the Gentiles who welcomed them. I need to remember that whenever I’m worried about what other people think of me.

I asked my friend how I should end this reflection, and he reminded be of a woman whose story I heard a few years ago. She had been gang raped in her twenties. She is now a recovering alcoholic, and her journey in recovery had taken her into prison to share the message of hope with some of the male inmates there who went to 12 step meetings. She told her story to them, and a few of the men came up to her afterward in tears. They had gang raped someone, and had found deep remorse for their behavior, and expressed their deep contrition to her. They begged for forgiveness. And she gave it, not only to these strangers, but to the men who had hurt her so deeply. When I heard her story I was moved to tears.

“You live in a world where not only can that happen, it actually did,” says my best friend. “Don’t ever forget that.”