As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Buck Stops Here

It's been pretty hard to escape the reaction to Miley Cyrus' controversial performance at the VMA's this year.  I don't have network TV and I don't listen to the radio, but the next day facebook was a buzz about the whole thing.  With good reason.  It is shocking.

People are understandably upset.  We blame the media, blame society's appetite for such garbage.  If we didn't let our kids watch this stuff, it wouldn't be on, I thought. We rally behind the battle cry of "parents, take the media back!"  But you know what?  I don't think it's that simple.  I think there will always be things like this in the world, that if it wasn't Miley it would have been someone else.  We can't live with the mindset of changing this culture, because inevitably it leads to hopelessness and despair over the evil in this world.  Christ himself said, "my kingdom is not of this world; if it were, my people would fight to prevent me from being handed over."  This is not a new problem that we face, it has existed ever since sin entered the world.  We have to live with a view of changing ourselves, our own hearts.  Of knowing Christ personally and radically in our own lives, because the world won't do it.  

I can hear the objections now.  "Are you saying we shouldn't care about anyone else?  What about the other poor souls? Aren't we meant to be in the world and not of the world?"  Absolutely.  If these recent events move you to pray for Miley Cyrus, do it.  If you have friends that love the VMAs (or Miley for that matter), don't shun them.  Don't take your kids into hiding, never to see the light of day.  But don't let that stuff into your home, with the intention of watching so you can pray (or so that you can be part of the world, and thinking you'll be different). I've read that people think the networks should do a better job of setting channel ratings, which they probably should.  People are also calling on networks to let them pick and choose the channels they want, so that they aren't forced to watch a station they wouldn't otherwise simply because it's in a bundle (or catch their kids sneaking it).  That's well and good, but I still don't think that's the real problem.  At the end of the day, we control the reach of the media into our own homes.  Networks don't stomp in on our doorsteps, we allow them in.  I'm not saying don't watch TV, don't buy bundles, or anything like that.  But we can use parental controls.  We can set limits on our TV watching habits (ours and our children's).  We can't control whether they see it outside our home.  But we don't have to sit idle while this whole culture breaks our front door down either. 

Most of my kids' knowledge of pop culture arrives to them second hand.  Which isn't to say it doesn't still terrify me, it does.  But some of the best advice I read was to fill their cup with good things, so that when someone comes by and offers them garbage, they will be less likely to take it in (they still may, and you can't help that.  That's where their freedom comes into play.)  For me, this means keeping my cup filled with good things too, and keeping garbage out.  I don't watch network TV, and I'm really picky about the music I listen to and the garbage I read online (a longtime vice for me).  The media has very little reach in my home, and that's a good thing.  So when things like this controversy take place, it's shocking.  But none of us saw it.  And I aim to keep it that way.  Something to make you gasp, and carry on with your day.  Because the buck doesn't stop with MTV, or even network cable - it stops with parents.  We are not slaves to the media, we have the final say in our households.  And we need to take control.

"My kingdom is not of this world".  When we try to make the world something it is not, we run the risk of trying to blend two worlds - and losing in the process.  Let us never be confused about where we come from, or where we are headed.  It is not here.

Coming Home

Jeff, the kids and I just got home from a whirlwind vacation to PEI.  The kids and I went up with his parents (who take the older kids on vacation every summer) bright and early Thursday morning, and Jeff met us on Friday after work.  It was one of those trips that was so jam-packed with surprises and unplanned adventures that although we had planned on staying until Monday or Tuesday, by the time Sunday afternoon rolled around we both felt like we just needed to get home.  It was a really great vacation, but we were all tired and some of the littler ones don't handle that with as much grace as the rest of us.  So we left our friends' home around supper time, spent a few final hours doing touristy things, and hit the road very late Sunday night, homeward bound.

Ten years ago (plus a couple weeks) we were doing the very same thing.  On our honeymoon, spent and eager to get home to the new life that awaited us (and maybe even terrified us just a bit) we cut our vacation short and headed home.  I thought of that trip a lot on the late evening drive from PEI Sunday night, of how we felt on our honeymoon.  Neither of us had ever lived away from home, and we were swirling in all of the emotions of getting married, the culmination of all of our life's events to date was somehow over and we were left with just the two of us, ready to start this life we had longed for so very long.  And it was really scary.  I cried a lot and Jeff cried a little bit, and while the vacation was lovely and exciting, we knew it wasn't where we were meant to be.  Life, real life, was waiting back home.

Sunday evening I had a different feeling of coming home.  Ten years of marriage and family life make you a little less scared (or maybe just better able to handle your fear?)  Jeff is on vacation this week, and at one time that meant touristy things, going away (if we could afford to) spending lots of money and doing lots of things.  But this week, it just means being home.  Doing some things around the yard, getting the house in order, getting ready for school to start next week.  And there is so much comfort in that.  

I love what we have built up in the first ten years of our marriage.  I love these children that keep us running non-stop.  I love this little house and this little property, that is just enough to hold us, that is not in complete disrepair but needs enough work to keep us on our toes.  What I love mostly is the comfort of our routine, for the busyness that is life with six small (and not-so-small) children, that constantly draws us out of ourselves and closer to the Lord. For a home and a life that is worth cutting vacation short for, we are truly thankful.

May the Lord continue to bless this little life and draw us ever closer to Himself.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


My ten-month-old loves hair.  Whenever I (or anyone else) pick her up, she is always reaching for their hair. And if the other person is a baby of the same age, and that baby happens to have a lot of hair, look out!  She'll make a beeline for it (and probably freak out the other baby in the process!)  It is especially noticeable to me when I'm nursing her.  She immediately reaches up, takes a handful, and strokes it until she falls asleep.

A friend of mine mentioned a reflection she read recently about how baby Jesus is always clinging to Mary's veil in holy images, and it made me think of the way babies reach so instinctively to that which brings them comfort.  That is what I want for my kids.  That as they grow older, the Lord will be that comfort, that anchor they instinctively reach for. 

As I was writing this, as is often the case, my littlest ones began acting up. Being at the computer, it seems, is a recipe for disaster. They choose that moment to be needy,whiny, fighting, or get into something while I'm not watching. And I, being so focused on something else, am quick to snap.  It is especially convicting when it happens while I'm trying to write a post about family life, how great it is, what the Lord is teaching me.  I have my hard days, and I have my weaknesses, and the Lord doesn't leave me there.  He challenges me to grow beyond them. 

And so, I snapped at my dear little one, who has been whiny since he woke up (what was I thinking trying to write something while he was in such a mood?) I started, as so often happens, into the downward spiral of yelling and gritting my teeth.  The more he cried, the angrier I got.  Why can't you just stop crying? I said, as if he can make any more sense of his emotions than I can.  And I remembered that imagery, that even Jesus clings to His mother.  And I looked my crying boy in the eye, and in a moment of desperation reached for Mary's veil.  I began saying the words of the Hail Mary aloud, and immediately my boy was quiet.  He looked deep in my eyes and peace was restored, not through my own efforts, but through Mary, the vessel of peace pointing my way to her son.  Christ was indeed in this moment, as He is in every moment.  When I have trouble finding Him, may I rely on His blessed mother to point the way.

Jesus, teach me to cling to your mother as you did for comfort, and that in doing so visibly and often, may my children learn to do the same.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Constructive Drama

My girl, she can be a bit dramatic.  And at times, it is a little much.  At 4 1/2 years old, I feel like I've turned a corner with her where it's easier for me to appreciate her and meet her where she is than when she was say, three years old, and completely incapable of reasoning.  At both ages of course, I am called to be a loving and patient parent, something I fall so short of so often.  But I'm trying.  And the Lord never ceases to teach me through this precious girl.

Her thing these days is that she fixates on crying.  And if I happen to talk her down from whatever causes her to start crying in the first place (you can't have a cookie, for example), she'll make other small things bigger in order to justify her crying.  She doesn't do it intentionally, since kids her age are not capable of thinking beyond their current situation (my favorite parenting expert talks about how destructive it can be to mislable a child as being manipulative, which assumes she thinking ahead to a desired outcome and tries to make that happen through deliberate deception.)  But she is, I think, just trying to make sense of her situation.  I'm crying.  Mom said I can't cry about this cookie.  But I can cry about this cut I just noticed on my arm that I haven't noticed for three days but clearly is a cut, and therefore it must hurt, and OWWWWWW I need a bandaid, it hurts sooooooo bad!  Try as I can to reason her out of this, she is lost in her moment.  And I am frustrated (so frustrated!) and exhausted with the influx of emotion on both our parts.

So I tell her the story of the boy who cried wolf (and thank the genius who came up with that in the first place!)  This girl loves stories, and is engaged from the start.  I make it as grand as I can, and she giggles and laughs right to the end, until the father doesn't come back, and it's like a dagger to her heart.  "Why?" she wonders, near tears.  And I explain to my sad girl the problem of making small problems seem like big ones all the time.  And then again that problem I was trying so hard to get away from, her incessant crying, starts all over again.  Oh dear, this wasn't what I was going for.

And yet, there is an opportunity to meet her.  She is trying to make sense of this hard lesson, that I imagine hits home for her.  When she is hurt, she wants her Daddy to be right there.  If he's at work, she wants me to go get him.  If I can't, she wants me to call him.  Daddy makes things better.  So the idea that a Daddy wouldn't be there, that crushes her.  I scoop her up in my arms, and gently try to explain that it wasn't the Daddy's fault, that the boy shouldn't have tricked him, and that he probably went in the house away from the wolf (but that maybe he couldn't play outside for the rest of the day, and that the wolf probably killed a few of their sheep.  I know I made that part up, but I figured the version I knew was more than she could handle!)  I told her that if she always made a big deal over small things, that sometime when she was hurt really badly we might not believe her.  Katie always makes a big deal over everything, we might say.  And of course, neither of us want that to happen.

Still, she was not appeased. She had so many questions about what would happen if she ever got hurt and Mommy and Daddy weren't there?  And I wanted so bad to just stop her crying, and to assure her that we'd always be there, and that we'd always come, and that no, we'd never ignore her.  But the truth is, we won't.  As much as parents always want to be there for their children, we can't guarantee that we will.  But we can teach them to turn to the One who always is there.

Immediately I recognized something beautiful about my daughter.  This dramatic side she has, this need for comfort and over-the-top search for a hero, is not meant for her parents.  It is the cry of her heart that only God can fill.  She searches in the only way she knows how, by screaming and crying, and finding that nothing satisfies it, crying some more.  And instead of getting frustrated with her, I embraced her and told her about God who loves her so much, who is always there even when Mommy and Daddy can't be, and who always will be.  "But Jesus lives in Heaven," she responded, after I told her that Jesus is always in her heart.  "Yes He is," I replied, "but He's also with you.  He is everywhere always, taking care of you."  And while I don't know if that made any bit of difference to her, it did help me to see my daughter with new eyes.

One of the best bits of encouragement I ever got about my children was from a pediatrician, who said that sometimes the traits we find most challenging in our children tend to be the ones that serve them the best when they get older.  Jesus, help me to embrace every unique quirk that my children have, seeing it not as a detriment to me, but instead as an opportunity to turn them to You, who are the greatest of all the desires of their heart.

"When you look at any of the children wonder at their destiny.  Think on who God created them to be."  
(Jeff Mazerolle, paraphrasing Enzo Piccinini, paraphrasing Msgr. Luigi Giussani)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

People are Watching

On two occasions recently, I have been in the rather awkward situation of having people brag me up in my presence.  It's awkward only because I know the things they're saying just aren't true. "You're always so patient."  "Nothing gets to you."  "I don't know how you do it."  And my response to them is always the same - that's because you see me when people are around.

There's something to be said for that, I think.  Everyone is different around people, it's true, and sometimes we can feel bad about that.  We feel like somehow we're putting on a show, and not being a true and honest person.  But I think it's a good thing that being around people draws goodness out of us, and I think that's the biggest blessing of community.  At home we're different.  We're not accountable to anyone, really.  The kids maybe, but I can still pull out the old, "I'm your mother and I still know best" line.  But in public, our friends are watching, strangers are watching.  People who will make their own judgements if you have a meltdown at your kids in the grocery store, who won't care one little bit that you've had a really rough morning and getting six kids reading to go anywhere is hard!  People who know that, no matter what, it's never okay to yell at your kids that way.  And, conscious of that, you'll probably try harder not to yell.  And that's a very good thing.

Being out for a day is hard.  But I always find that when I get home at the end of a long day out, I feel happy.  Taking my kids out and doing things with them is fun.   And more often than not, I reach the end of the day not having freaked out at them, which always makes me feel good.  Of course if I did that every day, I'd burn myself out.  But staying home every day carries it's own risks too, at least for me.  It isolates me, puts me in a position where I am more likely to get frustrated and see my circumstances differently than they are.  People draw me out of myself, give me a reason to dig deep and try harder.  They help me enjoy my family life despite the challenges, to look at my kids with new eyes and enjoy them that much more.

My favorite blogger wrote a post one time about pretending her kids were not her kids.  She was getting her six kids ready to go somewhere, and (as is often the case) everything spiralled out of control in the ten minutes prior.  She wrote about how as she buckled her very irate two-year-old into her seat, she tried to look at that little girl as if she was someone else's little girl.  We have so much patience with other people's children, don't we?  We see the Mom with the screaming baby and think, "Oh isn't that little girl precious?"  Or the precocious preschooler hopping around the pew at mass and think, "What a sweet little boy."  And she channeled that for her own darling girl, buckled her in with such gentleness and compassion and tried to meet her where she was.  "There there sweetheart," I imagine her saying, "I know you don't like the car seat.  We'll be on the road soon."  Instead of the flustered, frustrated, "Let's just get out of here and would you please stop screaming!" that is all too often on my lips.

If someone affirms something good in you, take it for what it is.  Acknowledgement that, in this moment, you are trying (and probably succeeding).  Encouragement for the journey, that is sometimes so difficult.  Don't hide away from the hard things, don't stop taking your kids out, and don't feel bad when someone tells you you're doing a great job. Be thankful for the community God has put in your life, and take that home with you when things get rough, an encouragement that you are indeed capable of choosing the good.  If all else fails, pretend there are people watching at home too.  Or pretend their someone else's kids.  Seeing what others see in your family life might be just what you need to draw yourself out of the occasion of sin, and see your life as it really is - big, full, and beautiful.  And yes, even a little bit crazy.          

Monday, August 12, 2013

Bye Bye Birdie

One farming lesson I didn't expect to teach my kids is that we don't actually live on a farm.  We live in a subdivision.  And while we are doing our best to make do with the space we have, there are some things we just can't make work.  Case in point - our rooster.

I first began thinking of finding him a new home when I noticed patches of feathers missing from some of our hens' backs.  When I visited a local petting zoo and noticed that despite sharing space with a rooster none of their hens were missing feathers, I felt even more sorry for our girls.  But the final straw was when it came to our attention that some of our neighbors have not been able to sleep through his early (very early) morning crow for quite some time.  So we began the process of finding him a new home.

When I told the kids about it, my second son had a hard time.  I should tell you two things about him:  1, he is very sensitive.  And 2, he never (never!) played with that rooster.  When my grumpy childhood cat who hated the kids and lurked in the shadows never to be seen by them lest he hiss at them, had to be put down a few years ago, we sat all the kids down and told them.  Two months after he had gone we were sitting in our living room when out of nowhere my boy asks, "Where's Samson?"  He proceeded to weep bitterly for the cat who never liked him.  He has a soft heart.

So it was tough telling him about the rooster.  He was crushed.  For a split second I thought, "Maybe I should keep him," or "Maybe I should have the neighbors tell him why we have to get rid of his rooster."  But I knew the reality was this - we don't live on a farm with acres and acres of space.  We live in a subdivision, with neighbors close by.  And I did my best to explain to him (and all the kids, who all wanted to keep him) about being responsible to the people around us, that it matters that he's waking people at 4 am and how we don't want to be the cause of that for someone else.  It was a hard conversation, because I saw the hurt in my boy's eyes and more than anything wanted to spare him from that, to just keep the rooster.  But I couldn't.

The kids helped me put up posters around our neighborhood, not really expecting anyone to take him (because it's really, really hard to give away a rooster!) We asked the intercession of St. Francis of Assisi (patron of animals) and St. Isidore the farmer (patron of farmers) to help us find a home for our rooster. We talked about slaughtering him if nobody was able to take him, but in the end decided that was possibly a little too harsh (he can't help being a rooster after all).  Still every morning since then I sat in my house, listening to his crow and praying someone wasn't laying in their bed cursing me for it.  Then bright and early this morning, our phone rang.  A nice couple stopped on their way by to pick him up.  They had seen one of our posters, and had raised chickens before.  They were kind and gentle and called him by name, and while the kids were all still asleep took our rooster away to what I hope will be a happy home for him.

My sensitive boy was the first to get up.  I braced myself for the worst, and gave him the news straight off the bat.  And you know what?  He was okay with it.  He didn't cry at all.  And I was able to see what a good thing had come from working through this problem with him.  I wanted to keep this rooster, this animal that he never played with, because I wanted to spare him the pain he was feeling in that moment of loss.  But when the loss actually came to be, it didn't make a difference to him.  What did, I hope, was the fact that the people around you are important too, and that sometimes we have to give up something we love in order to not be a burden on those around us.  They are all still a bit sad, but they understand.  And I hope they are better for having done this with us.

I never want to hide these kinds of things from my kids, or do them in secret.  And when I see them handle what for them is a big deal with such strength, it makes me proud.  We sat down to breakfast thankful that the Lord had answered our prayers, and I am so proud of the way my boy surrendered in the end to this situation. When we force our kids to confront things they are afraid of, they surprise us.

I'll miss that rooster and his crow.  But tomorrow morning, I will breathe a little easier knowing that some of our neighbors are resting a little more soundly.

Hope you're in greener pastures Chester, we'll miss you!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

She's asleep

Tonight, as every night, I nursed the baby to sleep.  It was later than I expected, because the first time I tried to put her to sleep she nursed for five minutes and then was wide awake and playful, no sign of sleep on the horizon despite the fact that she hardly slept throughout the day.  Turns out she needed to have a bowel movement.  Which she did, about twenty minutes later (this girl can't sleep if she needs to poop!)  After that I nursed her again, and within minutes she was fast asleep.  In no time at all she broke her latch, and laid her soft little face in the crook of my arm, mouth closed in a peaceful, satisfied smile.

She's asleep, and I'm just going to sit here for a minute.

Sometimes life is crazy.  I want to say that's just life in a big family but you know what?  I think it's everyone's life sometimes.  Life is good, and crazy, and busy, and calm all at once, and sometimes that leaves you feeling anxious for no apparent reason, and that's okay.  Because right now, there's a sleeping baby in your arms. 

She's asleep, and I'm just going to sit here for a minute.

Sometimes I lose my temper for no good reason.  Sometimes, even though I've had a great day and life is just peachy, I yell all too easily at a poor unsuspecting (and maybe slightly tempermental) preschooler.  Sometimes that makes her cry.  And though she is quick to forgive me, I am rarely so quick to forgive myself.  I shower her with love and assure her that she is a good girl, and that I am going to try harder not to yell so much.  

She's asleep, and I'm just going to sit here for a minute.

Sometimes life is busy, and without meaning to you lose some of the routines that define you as a family, that keep your gaze on God.  And sometimes you realize that it's not so hard to get those back, if you just make a decision to do that.  And then you drink in that beautiful time at the end of the day, when no matter how crazy things got, you all are together as a family - quiet, peaceful, praying.  Making a conscious decision to stop everything, just for ten minutes, and pray.  What a blessing it is.

She's asleep, and I'm just going to sit here for a minute.

I'm just going to sit here, and look at her little face, and think of all the times I did that for each of her five siblings before her.  And thank God that despite my many limitations, He sees fit to bless me with each of them.  That there is hope for me, for them, and in fact the whole world.  Because the truth is they are not just mine, they belong to all of humanity.  This world that can be so scary and dangerous, where evil is around every corner and there is so much outside our walls (and sometimes within them) that we just can't protect them from.   There is hope, new babies are born each day, because God believes in us.

She's asleep, and I'm just going to sit here for a minute.

I'm just going to sit, and thank God for every moment of my life.  To take in this moment is easy.  Many are not.  Jesus, please help me to contemplate your face with as much love as I do my own babies.  To see You before me in each moment, to walk where you lead me with love.

She's asleep, and I'm just going to sit here for a minute.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Laundry Therapy

Last week was an emotionally overwhelming one for me.  In the wake of that, I find myself in the stillness of this Monday feeling antsy and unsettled.  Every quiet moment since the weekend brings with it a feelings of unrest.  And yet, life around me continues.

And so it is that this afternoon, despite my feelings of restlessness, I had (as I always do) work in front of me.  Laundry.  Which, in a family of eight can be pretty overwhelming at the best of times.  Today however, it was strangely healing.  My boys played outside, my oldest girl helped and my baby crawled at my feet.  And for the first time in the past few days, I felt peaceful.  

It reminded me of a dear friend and mother of seven, who used to talk about using laundry as a prayer time.  She would talk about how as mothers, it's hard to carve out dedicated prayer time, but that we can find the Lord in the middle of our everyday tasks.  She said she would pray while she was doing the laundry, trying to focus on whoever's article of clothing happened to be in her hand.  It continues to be such a beautiful witness to me.

There is a Steve Bell song, In Billy's Wake, that also talks about the simple task of laundry. It was inspired by a woman who, like my friend, always made laundry her prayer.  In the midst of a great family tragedy, the suicide of a dear cousin, this woman did the only thing she knew how to do - she set about the work that was in front of her, and offered that as her prayer.  

We're not alone
Laundry awash in the midmorning sun
You can see angels dance as they try trousers on
There is good work to do

There is always good work to do.  Regardless of our problems, or how we're feeling, whether we can make sense of it or whether we can't is irrelevant to our present moment - the work before us.  And oh, how good it is when a seemingly meaningless (itself often overwhelming) task like laundry is the gateway to a few quiet, peaceful moments.  Exactly what you need to get out of yourself, away from the negativity that can build up, sometimes that we nurture within ourselves, pulling us further and further away from reality.  This is real life.  How sweet it is.

There is good work to do.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Family Room

Jeff and I bought our little house as a two-bedroom with an unfinished basement.  As a newly-married coupled, we had so much fun dreaming up what we would do with that space.  And it wasn't long before our  situation required just that - the addition of rooms to accomodate our growing brood.  How fun it was to see our ideas transfer from paper to real life, and to design a space from scratch, make it all shiny and new.

We added two bedrooms and a family room, plenty of space at the time.  I decided that our oldest two could share a room in the basement, and we could keep the other as a guest room.  The family room would be our "grown-up" space.  It was so cozy with its clean, unblemished walls and its white trim.  A stark contrast to the upstairs space that was dinged up and cluttered with toys.  It wasn't long before our spare room was converted to a room for our three oldest boys as we welcomed babies 4, 5 and 6 but the family room - that was still our space.

And yet, as the kids continued to get older and bigger, their need for extra space became clear.  I couldn't keep them all upstairs all day in the dead of winter when the days were short and they couldn't be outside all the time, and I couldn't cram all of them into their rooms all day.  And so the furniture, which was arranged in a cozy U-shape with a beautiful glass-top coffee table in the middle of the room got pushed to the side walls, to accomodate riding toys.  We dismantled our coffee table and put it away for later use, and I mourned the loss of my "space" (which, to be honest, I only sat in once or twice a year maybe).  Not long after we moved the toy boxes out of the older boys' room to give them more space and put them - you guessed it - in the family room.  That's where all the toys end up anyway, at least if we have their storage down there it's easier to clean up.

As I cleaned up yesterday, I couldn't help but think that it's more of a family room now than it ever has been. Our house had children in it, and every room reflects that.  The day will come when my children are grown, my house is empty, and then I can make the rooms look grown up.  But for now while my home is still bursting at the seams with babies, it's okay for my rooms to look like that.

And do you know what?  It's still my favorite room in the whole house.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Choose Wisely

The post-baby body.  Natural family planning.  Breastfeeding. These are all issues that have been coming up in my newsfeed for the past week, thanks to the new royal baby, and awareness weeks for both NFP and breastfeeding.  In the case of all three, I've read the same arguments all surrounding the idea of not being judged by other people for what you choose.

Kate Middleton's post-baby body has been a hot topic of conversation for not trying to hide her post-baby figure following the birth of her baby prince, and I have to say that endears me to her.  As a woman, it is nice to see someone in the spotlight actually look like a real person does.  But in the aftermath of that, so many women are throwing themselves in the opposite direction, rallying being the "tiger-stripes" of pregnancy, celebrating each change that happens to a woman's body following birth, and "how-dare-you-try-to-fix-any-of-it-lest-you-be-ashamed-of-motherhood".  Do you seen what we're doing?  We're not relieving a burden, we're just shifting it.  Instead of accepting the breath of fresh air that is a royal going against the pressures of modern celebrity, we are placing that as the new norm.  If you don't do like Kate, you're a superficial, celebrity loving, ashamed-of-motherhood Mom.

NFP is another one.  A friend and I talked about pressure that comes with practicing NFP as a young couple, specifically if you are trying to postpone pregnancy.  We get so excited about babies (which is a good thing, don't get me wrong) that sometimes when we encounter a couple who had discerned it's not the Lord's timing, we treat them as though they are not open to God's will because they are not trying to have a baby right now.  We forget that God speaks to each couple individually, that sometimes He does ask them to wait, sometimes that's because a baby is not in His timing, and sometimes it's because it is but He wants to deepen their trust in them.  Because He loves their freedom and wants them to make a decision so personal to them on their own.  Who are we to pretend we know the Lord's will for someone else's life better than they do?

A friend posted this great article about breastfeeding, and supporting mothers regardless of their feeding choice.  It was a great conversation starter, but I'll admit a bit sad in a way, that we have come to a place in society where we need to be told not to judge others for their decisions.  We look to the approval of others so much (or at least I do), and technology has grown our inner circle from a small group of family and close friends (who are likely more understanding and less difficult to impress) to millions and millions, as far and as deep as we care to delve.  It's so easy to be so opinionated when you write something that you're not actually sharing face-to-face, and even easier for someone to read it and take it to heart.  And our opinions become so shaped by these, that we tend to take them as absolute truth, forgetting the fact that despite all the best (and not-so-best) information available, everyone's life is unique, everyone's decision personal, and that most parents take these things very, very seriously.  They have not arrived at the decisions they've made by accident.

All this taking things too personally can be a dangerous thing for a society that never wants anyone to feel bad.  When I was expecting my first child, a dear friend and mentor of mine mentioned that she believed God intends for mothers to be home with their babies.  She was not wrong in what she said, and yet I took it sooooo much to heart!  I carried it with me all the years I was a working mother, wishing I could be home and resenting her (or anyone else) for saying it.  Looking back now, I can see that she wasn't wrong.  She wasn't saying I was a bad mother for choosing to work, and we should not be stifled from speaking what we believe to be true.  Of course we don't live in a perfect world.  Of course there are reasons (good and legitimate) to make sacrifices, to do things differently than the way God intended.

I believe God intended for families to be free from financial debt, but I'm not.  So I do the best I can with what I'm living.  I believe God intended for mothers to nurse their babies, but some Moms can't, so they do the best they can with the life they have in front of them.  I believe bodies are meant to change with childbirth, and that you can celebrate your body either by going with the flow, or even by trying to fix up some of less-desirable side effects.  I believe you can be open to life and trying to postpone pregnancy simultaneously, and that you can be affirmed in your desires either by being successful in your attempts or in being surprised by a new baby. But mostly, I believe we need to free ourselves from this desire we have to make everyone happy.  No matter what we discern, there will always be someone who thinks we're wrong (and will probably tell us so).  The answer is not to keep people from speaking what they believe is the truth, but learning to properly discern it ourselves. To look to the Church and her teachings, to pray, and having done so, to walk with confidence on whatever path the Lord lays before us.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Being a Burden

A friend of mine posted a link to the litany of humility a few days ago.  It is a beautiful, powerful prayer that I first began praying as a member of a youth ministry team I was part of fifteen years ago.  I didn't follow the link, but thought of the words that held a fond place in my heart.

And then yesterday happened.  I believe the Lord stirred those memories for just such a day.  A day that began like any other, and ended in two situations occurring simultaneously that reflected both how much of a burden I can be on people, and that I have no control over it.  In one, what I thought was a small favor turned out to be a major (major) inconvenience with resulting loss for the person helping me.  The other, a situation brought to my attention by friend that has been going on for some time, which has been bothering a few people who had not spoken to me directly about it.  Both situations left me feeling awful - that I had put someone out so much, that I had offended people without knowing it for so long.  

I tried to work both situations out, but as I sat in my house at the end of the day, my husband still at work finishing a 15-hour shift I realized that there was nothing I could do.  I had to accept the fact that I am a burden sometimes.  I followed my friend's link, and read those words:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I,
provided that I may become as holy as I should…

They took on such a different meaning back then.  I was a teenager, and preparing to enter into youth groups and confirmation classes doing skits, playing music and giving talks. Oh, I hope they don't think I'm too great, I thought in my youth.  But today, oh today - I really felt them.  I want to be esteemed.  I want to be praised.  I want to be honoured.  I certainly did not want to be the subject of grumblings or the cause of annoyance.  I don't want to cause anyone to loose anything.  All I want is to be a good person, I thought in my self-pity last night.  But that's not the whole truth.  I do want to be a good person, but I want other people to think I'm a good person as well.  And when you try your hardest to do your best, and still come out looking like you're inconsiderate and unrealistic, everything inside of you wants to scream, "I wouldn't have asked if I had known it was going to be so hard!" or "I would have done something sooner if I knew!"  And maybe (like I did) you do.  But it doesn't make a difference.  It doesn't undo the fact that the situation is what it is, and you have your role to play in it - the burden.

The Lord uses burdens in peoples' lives for His own purpose.  We may never know what they are.  I sure as one never want to be one. And yet, here I find myself.  And I suspect it won't be the last time.  I think about people who are ill, people who are old, people who have been hit with tragedy - all of who, like it or not, must accept the role of burden.  When it's a burden you can prepare for, say labor and delivery or a surgery (both of which I have been blessed to have so many people help me through) that's one thing.  But when it happens unexpectedly, despite your best intentions, and when you never wanted it - that's tough.  That's where I am.  A big, old, burden.

From the desire to be liked by everyone, deliver me Jesus.
From the desire to be right, deliver me Jesus.
From the desire to be understood, deliver me Jesus.
From the desire of never making life hard for anyone, deliver me Jesus.

Grant that through this I may know you more deeply, and if my discomfort serves a greater purpose in the lives of those around me, Jesus grant me the grace to desire it.