Uncategorized

Lenten Family Traditions in the Home

Living liturgically gives a rhythm to the daily life of a catholic family. It is no mistake that mother nature corresponds her seasons to that of the church. I love the peaceful anticipation of Advent and the white calming snow that accompanies it. Just as necessary is the rain and grey skies of Lent while looking forward to green grass and blooming flowers of an Eastertide. As a mom of many, tying traditions to these liturgical seasons helps my family enter into the season with a prayerful spirit and also helps draw us closer together as a domestic church.  Here is a list of some we have practiced over the years.

  1. Burying the Hallelujah: The word Hallelujah is not used once during the season of Lent. It is not even used on Sundays. Hallelujah comes from a Hebrew expression which means praise the Lord. It is a term of joy and celebration. Burying or hiding the Hallelujah is a type of fasting of celebration and builds the anticipation for that first Easter shout!
  2. Crown of Thorns: We take a circular grapevine wreath and fill it with toothpicks. Every time a member of the family does a good deed or a sacrifice, they get to remove one of the toothpicks with the goal of all the thorns being removed by Easter.
  3. Family Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet: An increased focus on family prayer.
  4.  Cleaning out the pantry: Our week of Mardi Gras is usually when we use up all the snacks and treats to prepare for a dryer period of food in the house during Lent.
  5. Stations of the Cross at our table: A dear friend of ours made us a long thin board that we place upon our dining room table. Upon it we place 15 small candles. We have a book we have used for 18 years called The Story of the Cross by Mary Joslin. The book used to be read by Dad but is now passed around the table as we now have a table of readers. We turn off the lights and read a station, light a candle and sing the Stabat Mater. As the kids have gotten older, we have added in the Latin. This tradition is my favorite.
  6. Amon’s Adventure by Arnold Ytreeide is another story that we have read throughout our Lent. We use it as an Advent calendar except the treat is the quality family time.
  7. The decorations in our home for Easter do not go up till Easter. It is always joyful to decorate on Easter Sunday with flowers and linens and decorations that remind us of the triumph of the cross and that Easter is celebrated longer than just a day.
  8. The Passion of the Christ directed by Mel Gibson: As our kids have gotten older, this has become a rite of passage. This movie we usually wait till confirmation, as the content is not new, but the imagery adds depth to the strong themes of this movie.

Family traditions plant seeds of faith within the hearts of our children. From Mardi gras to meatless Fridays there is much we can do within the walls of our homes to enter into the Lenten season.  I once had a vision of my son as a young adult hearing about stations of the cross and being mentally drawn back to our dining room table where he attended stations every Friday during Lent as a child. His hand lit held the flame to light the candle and he remembered. I hope and pray that none of my children fall away from the church as they grow into adulthood but the gift of knowing that each tradition we establish within the walls of our home forms a positive memory of Christ’s love and presence makes it worth every bit of effort.

Uncategorized

Want a grateful family? Take time to look for Jesus

Image credit: Flickr.com (2012), CC BY 2.0

Last night, I sat by the fire with a friend and marveled at God’s provision. This necessary pause infused my soul with breath and joy. I’m finding it necessary to take this pause and remind myself of the presence of God in everything. I sat back and reflected on how the year unfolded for us and prayed for the vision of seeing God in it all. From a new position with increased travel, outsourcing some school classes, mom’s new opportunities, a graduation, walking through our last-ever surgery, finding a new trail to walk as a family, growing new friendships, a renewed focus on marriage, taking more self-care opportunities, and the opportunity to teach again, there is a recognition that God was with us through it all. Wherever we were, God was and is now. That is so powerful for me. To know that the Lord of hosts, the King of Kings, humbles himself to sit beside me in all my minutes is incredulous and marvelous in the fullness of the meaning of those words. For he is mighty. He is wisdom incarnate. He is hope. He is love. He is mercy … and he sits with me in the joy and in the dark and in the tears and in the peace. He is the ever-faithful counselor of our soul.

Now if you know me, you know that I always take these moments and apply them to those around me; my family, friends, and even the cashier at the local Kroger. For who can contain that moment when you realize how loved you are? What a true friend we have in Jesus! There are moments when the re-realization of this causes us to come aflame for and with Him.

So I sat with my smalls (our affectionate nickname for the younger block of kids in our family) and asked them to list out what they remembered about this past year: a new friend, a lost friend, a scored goal, a huge ice-cream sundae, running with the dog, playing a piano piece, three drama performances in one day, swimming in the pool, bonfires. We took time to quietly look for Jesus in all those moments. Friends, it was so powerful and I could just feel the heart of Jesus gladdened by this recognition. For with this recognition hearts and eyes were opened again to His presence. I could see the love and peace settle upon their souls. It was incredibly beautiful.

Similarly, my older kids feel the presence of God in forming more solid friendships, feeling a calling that won’t go away, relationships ended and relationships grown, trust built, goals achieved, late-night runs to Taco Bell and Chipotle, lunches squeezed into an orthodontist visit because we squeeze every minute out of our time together. Encouraging them to take the time to see how the Lord has always been present is a reminder of the bonds of this everlasting friendship.

It’s a simple thing to do. Quiet time with the family. An easel or notepads and just writing down memories. Where do you see Jesus in those moments? The discussion that comes forth is worth it. It changes and forms us all. My husband and I try to ask each other where we saw Jesus in our day every night before we put our heads down on our pillows. A reminder of His presence and the joy that comes from knowing He is with us.

Family

Finding Balance in Family Life

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with your mind racing; filled with disorder? Or find yourself standing in the middle of your kitchen/sitting in your car… wondering how am I going to take care of all of this? If you are like me, and that is probably not the best thing to be right now:), you get overwhelmed. You see yourself plowing through the everyday not ever getting to the little extras you have at the bottom of your list.  Those extras.. the things on my list that never get crossed off because I am always taking care of others… and then I crash.

But I am on a mission this Lent. A mission to restore myself.  To be honest, this will probably take longer than 40 days, but it is a beginning. Things on the bottom of my list have been: read a book, take a walk, go to Adoration, sit and pray, date night with my husband. They never happen or very rarely because I let the other things have priority. It is coming to me lately that I make the list. I get to state the importance of each action item, and I need to reclaim that authority over my life.

I need to take care of me so that I can take care of others. There are all kinds of slogans like that: Live simply so that others can simply live. Do less so that others can do more. etc. But seriously if my cup is empty I have nothing left to give.

I listened to a podcast the other day at Messy Parenting and learned a lot about reordering the priorities into my life.  A pyramid of sorts with Prayer at the bottom of the triangle. Next comes personal care, then taking care of my partner, then peripheral… And it is shocking to me how much I can put in the peripheral.  I am thinking about this. It is making sense to me.

Prayer is the foundation for everything listed above. When I take time to pray I am listening to God as He balances my day. He lays out a plan. He brings to my heart those I need to lift up. He lifts me up! How often I am looking to others to affirm me when my Dear Jesus is right there waiting to shower His love upon me? A routine that has worked for me in the past is to set my alarm a half-hour early and have a place for prayer. Accents are important and do not need to be elaborate: a soft light, a warm blanket, a candle. I have a spot in my den where I have all the images of my family’s patron saints. I like to think of them as friends who are with me. I light the candle, sip my cocoa or tea, wrap myself in a blanket and read my devotionals. A couple of favorites right now are Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, Roses among Thornsby St. Francis de Sales, I have my highlighter and I highlight all the passages that span to me form my devotionals. Our parish is also doing a program called Alpha.  I have a Bible in a Year app on my phone and I use that as well to read my scripture.  I love the Psalms as well and sometimes I will grab the music book and sing myself a psalm or two. They are so comforting and having them memorized form being in the choir as a child has brought great comfort to me through the years.

Personal is the next level on the pyramid. Here it is: the taking care of oneself. Here is where I can give myself the time for a walk, the time to make that salad or a fresh pot of soup. The time to read a chapter of a book, and/ or grab a cup of tea with a friend. Things that used to be for others I am now opening up into my world. They are not extravagant! It is crazy to realize this!  I also am putting the time for me to do my paperwork; my thank you notes, my quick bill paying, etc. So I am making a plan. I pencil in a walk with a friend, schedule a cup of tea with a friend, schedule something each day to refuel me. So far I have read Pride and Prejudice and watched the movie! ( So good! I even shared the movie with my family and had some good family time as well!) I have gone to daily Mass a few times and shared a 2 1/2 half hour cup of tea with a friend at a local Panera. Oh! And I am trying to eat my food when it is warm:). I’m aiming for a date night coming up and have lunch scheduled with a good friend tomorrow. So the future looks bright!

Taking care of my partner; in this case, my handsome husband is pretty important to me. Getting myself and this man to heaven is my priority.  Being married almost 23 years we can get caught up with the lives of our kids and the running of our house. By taking time for myself, doing some reading, taking a walk, discussing the latest whatever with someone else gives me something else to bring to our table of discussion instead of how was the kids’ school day? I can make him a special meal. I can write him a note. Looking at my life this way is helping me to be more intentional. I was at the dollar store the other day and I picked up some cards that I can leave on his desk every once in a while with a note. We used to do that when we were younger. How fun it will be to revisit that tradition.  Love.. it has to be fanned to keep the flame alive. We are blessed with church family whom our children call aunties and uncles, grandmas and grandpas and we trust them. Their kindness allows us to grab a date night out here and there. All we have to do is make it a priority. Put it on the calendar. Be intentional. Take care of the one you love.

Peripheral is the smallest one, yet the one where I placed most of my energy. The doctors’ appointments, sports teams, music lessons, therapy appointments, friends visits, youth groups, house cleaning, laundry, etc. It’s all peripheral; It’s all in the background. I am creating a structure for laundry, chores, etc so that they flow more smoothly and are not the focus of my day. I am letting go of the crumbs on the floor and the toothpaste in the sink and taking time to recharge. I am delegating more to my kids. Surprisingly it is easiest for my smaller kids to embrace this change as my bigs have grown up with me doing more, but they are coming along.

It is my prayer that this new structure that I am trying to add into my life will make still my mind and bring it peace and balance. I pray that by seeking to find God’s will for myself and my family in all these areas, we will continue to draw closer to one another. I seek constantly the example of the saints in the church. Struggling mother issue? St. Monica. Lost Something? St. Anthony. Small stuff weighing you down? St. Therese of Lisieux is the answer. The Holy Family has always been an inspiration to me in the model of caring for self and others and how to live a life close to God our Father. May the Holy Family pray for us all

Uncategorized

Advice to my Son: Go to Nineveh!

Image credit: By Lukas Rykvalsky (2016), Pexels.com, CC0/PD

I’m often heard saying that I am a professional at the younger years of parenting. Give me a baby to rock, a diaper to change, a toddler to play puzzles with, a book to read. These I can do with my eyes shut. The older years, though: Phew! They are not for the faint of heart! I am so grateful to be home, walking alongside them during these formative years before they step out as adults. A recent late-night conversation with one left me with words on my heart. I felt the need to share them and he approved.

Dear Son,

I see the fear in your eyes. You have been called, sent, and the destination seems to offer no relief. You wonder at the Lord’s request. Has he not seen where you have been? Does he not know the sin and suffering you’ve brought upon yourself; the weight of the world’s temptations you’ve let settle on your soul? How can he be asking you? And yet you feel the truth. The reality of the emptiness you feel is glaring back at you and the call becomes more persistent. Go to Nineveh.

I know you know the story of Jonah, where God asks him to go and preach to the Assyrians in Nineveh. Jonah goes the complete opposite direction to Tarshish, and on the way, a storm hits his ship and all craziness breaks out. Jonah figures it out that it is because he is running from the Lord and saves the rest of the passengers on his boat by jumping off the ship. The storm stops and Jonah gets swallowed up by a whale. He sits in the belly of the whale for a wee bit and figures things out. Whale spits him out. He heads to Nineveh. God takes care of him the whole way there.

I’ve always wondered if it really wasn’t about Nineveh at all, but rather what it represented to Jonah. Nineveh was an abandonment to Gods will over Jonah’s, to faith over fear.

As we spoke tonight, I was humbled by your honesty and blown away by your maturity. To walk through darkness and pursue the light requires courage, strength and a quest for truth. You, son, are seeking truth and He is leading you. You are right to be wary, for the path will not be smooth. You will have to slay many demons along the way. You will have to let go of that which seems so safe and familiar. But the call in your heart will lead you and He who calls will always be with you. Remember that! There is no place you can go where the Lord will not be with you. There is no place you have been, no situation, no moment at all, that you have ever been without Him. Once you recognize that momentous gift, your next step should be one of gratitude and trust for you are not alone.

But as you travel, remember what happened in Nineveh when Jonah got there: revival! God brought a complete revival to Nineveh. A whole city, probably about hundreds of thousands of people were converted from paganism to worshiping God and all it took was Jonah’s yes. Think about that! Jonah’s yes had magnitudes of impact.

There’s one more aspect to this story that you need to know. While Nineveh was an actual place the Lord called Jonah too, it also has a further meaning for us today. Nineveh of old had all its power and beauty but also greed and brutality. We too are surrounded by this. We live in Nineveh. We work in Nineveh. We cannot escape Nineveh. But you hear God’s calling deep in your heart and you are afraid. Maybe you are afraid because you see yourself in the people of Nineveh. Maybe you are afraid because you see yourself not worthy nor ready to be called to this task. None of us are ever ready, son. But I am sure this is not the first time you have heard me say “ If God calls you to it, He’s going to see you through it.” Look back on your life and see the truth of that.

You are going to move mountains, son.

Your yes will soften the heart of many a hard sinner.

Each day with every step and every yes, the you that longs to break free of the chains of this world will grow stronger and one day you will look up to the heavens and praise the Lord and those chains will just fall to the ground. Imagine that freedom!

Let that fear that sits in the pit of your stomach make you hungry for change; for new life. Don’t dismiss it. Take this chance and give it everything you’ve got and go, son. Go to Nineveh! Whom you find there may surprise you.

Uncategorized

A Mother’s Prayer

Image credit: Pexels.com (2016), CC0/PD

The prayer of a mother runs like a constant flow between her heart and the Lord. It is like blood streaming through the ventricles of the heart, so does a mother’s prayer connect her to the heart of Jesus. It’s a deep and profound prayer; one of surrender and supplication. We ask not for ourselves but for His will in the lives of those we love. Because we are in a constant relationship with the Lord, and we feel the freedom that brings, we so desperately want others to know the Lord; especially our family. And yet sometimes, they don’t.

Sometimes they run from Him. If they’ve been raised in His light, they might have eyes to see or ears to hear, but a heart that is closed, frightened or wounded by the temptations and worries of this world. They might know that a yes to the Lord requires a change. Has any yes to Him ever not? With Abraham, Peter and Paul as examples, I might not even have the same name by the time Jesus is done with me!

I often ponder how deep Mary’s prayer life must have been. As gruesome as the crucifixion was, there must have been the temptation for such deep worry. The late-night mothering of an older child brings me to this reflection often. Throughout the entirety of Jesus’s life, Mary was there beside him. She ushered him into ministry and was with him to the last. Yet she pondered so very much in her heart.

We hear the word ponder quite frequently in Scripture. The thesaurus shows meditate and reflect as the most frequently used synonyms alongside it. Ponder, meditate and reflect. This is the breath of a mother’s prayer life even in the fast pace of everyday life. There are times however for me, that, like the major negotiator, communicator, organizer, and relationship builder that I try to be, I try to control a situation. I believe I am doing God’s will by moving pieces in a fashion that I think will make for the best outcome for what God desires. I try to set the stage for him to work!

I imagine the Lord sitting next to me, with His head to the side, one eyebrow raised, silently asking me if I am done yet. Seeing that I am clearly unable to turn off this mission of mine, He waits patiently, moments, days, sometimes years, until I finally surrender and say I can’t do this. I can’t solve this. Will you please help me?

He swiftly answers of course, I’ve been waiting for this moment.

It is in that surrender as a mother, when we lay out our heart’s desire for those we love. We pray boldly and trust greatly that we regain the true freedom of being in a relationship with the Lord. Through prayer, I have been convicted to pray hard and let that be my doing. This is so hard for us mothers.

And yet we have been given such an example! My family is in the middle of so many possibilities and choices for our older children right now, and I am challenging myself to pray fervently to the Lord for Him to light, to guide, whisper, shout, and make clear the next steps for my them. With a thankful heart, I am praising Him for the gift of being a mother and the treasures of these children. I am asking for the fortitude to stay constant in prayer and let that fulfill my tendency to do. This is not a test for the Lord to see if things will go my way, but rather it is a test for me to learn to grow in prayer and trust.

I am laying my way down. Padre Pio is known for his simple breath of a prayer, “Pray and don’t worry.” May we all learn to trust in this way.

Life, Reflections

Singing Out Loud: How the hymns of my youth became the rhythm of my life

Image credit: By Zach Smith (2019), Unsplash.com, CC0/PD

My relationship with Jesus has always been a constant even from my early years. I was always mothering someone or something. I remember as a little girl dressing up as a nun. I’d pack my missal given to me at my first Communion into my purse or backpack and read it in my free time. A few years later at the sweet age of eight, I traded that in for the hymnal. I still have that same hymnal on my nightstand, such was its impact on my life.

Saint Augustine is often quoted as saying “Singing to the Lord is praying twice.” For me, it is the very focus of my prayer life. Often the melody of a psalm or the words from a hymn are my first response in times of joy and need. Of my time spent in church as a youth, this is one of the greatest gifts bestowed upon me.

As a youth, I grew up in a home where family life was tumultuous and broken. I spent a great deal of time at our church, which was built in the center of our neighborhood. I would walk there from my house. Meetings happened all around me, from parish council meetings to PSR to Pre Cana. I sat and studied in the kitchen or sat in the church and did my homework with Jesus. A little grown-up girl at the age of 8, I pretended that everything was normal at home and asked if it would be OK if I did my schoolwork here. Our wise priest, who knew his flock well, paved the way I am sure, and a plate of donuts and a bowl with apples was usually left on the table in the kitchen. He will never know how huge this act of kindness was.

The choir director noticed my constant humming and singing and asked if I wanted to join the choir. Wrapped in the arms of love by this group of prayerful people, who one day would all sing at my wedding, I attended weekly practices and became a cantor. One of the members built me a stepstool so that I could reach the microphone! I attended every Mass, every prayer service, many funerals — always singing. I would walk home after practice, sometimes in the  dark of night, and sing at the top of my lungs with my heart wide open to the Lord.

As I started home, I would begin with a “Glory and Praise to Our God,” and when I passed the house with the cavernous ditch in the back of their yard, out came the “Be With Me Lord When I am in Trouble,” as my little feet walked faster. “Bless the Lord My Soul” followed my supplication with praise. As weird as it sounds, I had songs for all the pivotal moments in my youth.

When things were scary and unknown: “Shepherd me O God, beyond my wants, Beyond my fears, from death into life. God is my shepherd so nothing shall I want. I rest in the shadows of faithfulness and trust. I walk by the quiet waters of peace.”

Watching my friends discern college and figure out what they were going to study? “Abba, Father” was a core favorite. “Abba, Father, You are the Potter. We are the clay. Mold us, Mold us and fashion us into the image of Jesus your Son.”

Loud, dangerous or scary times at home: Psalm 91. “Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble, be with me, Lord, I pray.” I knew every word, and the melody calmed my fears.

The death of a loved one: “I know that my Redeemer lives, the one who calls me home. I long to see God face to face, to see with my own eyes”: such comfort these songs brought me.

I smile with nostalgia at youthful moments as well, where these songs poured from my heart with all the drama a 13- to 17-year-old girl’s heart could hold …

The high school betrayal of those whom I thought were friends: Psalm 22: “My God, my God, oh why have you abandoned me?” I would sing that psalm and cry out the words. I would throw a stuffed animal, flop on my bed and bang it out on my keyboard.

The ache of a first heartbreak: I was the nerd who sobbed into her stuffed animal. “I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have called you and you are mine.” Now granted, I totally had the theology of this misplaced, but I think it actually was healthy and good because it showed me how much the Lord loved me and how constant He is.

Flash forward thirty years.  I am a joyfully married mother of eight children who have grown up with these songs as the backbone of their childhood. Many nights have I sat at the top of the stairs praying with them. My repertoire has changed these days.

Seeing the need for humility and servant hearts in my children: “The Servant Song.” “Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? Pray that I may have the grace … to let you be my servant too.”

God’s steadfast love: “The King of Love, my shepherd is whose goodness fails me never. I nothing lack if I am his and he is mine forever.”

Bedtime: “Hail Mary, Gentle Woman” is a family favorite and is known in my book to have special graces to even calm down after daddy piggyback rides with younger kids and dad jokes shared in the older boys’ rooms. An eyebrow raised, a knowing smile, and the songs begin.

Some might grumble as they get a little older, but I hear them hum the “Lourdes Ave” as they nestle into bed. Even my older son whose bedroom is now in the basement will sometimes sit on the staircase with me when he comes home and finds us in the middle of bedtime, and hum along.

These are the cadences of our family’s heart, the melody that drives our days. I am so grateful for the gift of music to aid me in my prayer life as a youth and my vocation as a mother.

St Cecilia, pray for us. St Augustine, thank you. Jesus, I trust in you.

Reflections

He more than me…

Image credit: iStockPhoto.com. Licensed for use by Holy Cross Family Ministries.

I love to be loved. I love knowing my husband loves me, my children love me and my friends love me. I love the feeling of intimacy and security being loved brings.

Lately, I have noticed myself needing that love a little too much. I have noticed when the love that I am giving is rejected, the hurt I feel wounds deeply. Words that teenagers say in the heat of the moment sting sharply and cut at the heart of who I am as a mother. The fluidity of our daily life, the constant coming and going, has kept me on edge and I am feeling stretched in a way that mandates me calling on the Lord for realignment and focus.

I’m re-evaluating things there in my heart. I’ve always been about relationships. I seek them, form them, share them. I’m wondering if perhaps my focus should be more on the relationship my children have with Jesus than the relationship they have with me.

If my children are in a relationship with Jesus then they are in a relationship with me because if you are in a relationship with Jesus then you know love and not only know how to give and receive love but you desire to do it because you know the joy it brings. If my friends are in a relationship with Jesus, then they too shine with joy and love. Sometimes we all need reminders that we are in a relationship with Jesus. Relationships take work. Investment is key.

But how? Of course, there are the usual ways to introduce Jesus to your children, family, and friends. We go to mass, read stories of saints, share fellowship with others who know and love Him. But it goes deeper than that.

My son once said as he and I spoke about discernment. “Mom, I know who Jesus is, I just don’t know Him.” That struck me because I had thought that was what we had been doing; knowing him. I thought all the rosaries, camps, prayers, novenas, etc were raising our kids in the faith. I am sure all these experiences are beneficial, but what they really need is to learn to take time to be with Jesus. It is in the stillness and the quiet remembrance that there is so much more than me and my desires in this world. That sometimes my desires, even if holy and good, can cloud the path to relationship with too much doing and not enough being.

Relationship begins with an invitation. If I want you to meet a friend of mine, I tell you about them. We go and visit them. In the beginning, its a constant back and forth of phone calls or texts as funny new things are shared. Relationship requires vulnerability. As the relationship builds, we might share a struggle, ask how we can help, show a random act of kindness that says this relationship is worth investing in. This can be built between our children and the Lord. We spend a great deal of time in my church on evangelization. I’ve been asking myself am I building these relationships within my family? within my friends? Heck, do I desire it for all whom I encounter? DO I desire that others have more of a relationship with Jesus than they do with me? The answer is yes. From Dave the Facebook friend to my sleeping daughter upstairs to even the person I am most struggling to be in relationship with, I desire them to be in relationship with Jesus more than me because I know that that is an eternal relationship. I know that time here is fleeting and that our time in heaven is eternal. I have a vision of a relationship right now that is very broken here on Earth and that I cannot fix being ever so well in Heaven; of embracing that person in the kingdom and us knowing that Christ made it well.

I’m on a journey. There is more to ponder, write and flesh out as I seek to bring about this in my relationships. For now, I’m putting it out there as a thought, maybe a challenge and a prayer that this brings healing.

Pray for me as I pray for you..

Much Peace,

MaryBeth

Family

Give Up the Seat

Image credit: Pixabay.com (2013), CC0/PD

It’s an endless battle; the mad rush to sit “shotgun” in the front passenger seat in our car. With so many bodies to fill that coveted seat, the prerequisites seem mind-boggling: Is it defined by weight? Size? Age? I am reminded often that there are so many benefits to sitting in this beloved seat. You are navigator, DJ, and can have a quality conversation with the driver of the vehicle. (The seat warmer is just a bonus.)

Today, as I drove four of my children to morning appointments, the arguing began. My husband is out of the country for a few weeks, and I have been flying solo. I took a deep breath and silently asked for guidance. Immediately, an image came to mind of the parable Jesus tells us in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 14:7), where Jesus reminds us to not sit at the head of the table lest we are told that seat is reserved for someone else. Rather, it is best to take the seat at the end and be asked to come sit in the place of honor.

I explained to my children that what they needed to seek was humility and develop gratitude. The constant assuming that the seat belongs to you can transfer to so many other aspects of their lives. That part in the school play should have been mine. All my friends have nicer cars than the one I can afford. He has the next version of whatever technological gadget is this year’s craze … and then it hit me. I fall victim to this too.

I fall into this same trap. I have had periods of wondering why I wasn’t chosen. Why I was left out. I have thought that I should have been recognized for a certain achievement and not received it. Corrie ten Boom, a World War Two Holocaust survivor and author, is quoted as saying “Comparison is the thief of joy.” When I reflect upon who God created me to be and the gifts He bestowed so generously upon me to get there, I am laid low by my own humanity. It is so human to value place, recognition, accolades. Yet that is our own destruction because, as I reminded my children, our dignity as a person is not defined by where we sit. (Or what we have, or what school we go to, what paper we write for or how many books we have published.) Rather, our dignity as a person is defined by the simple recognition as being a child of God. It’s so simple and yet so easy to whitewash.

I think we need to be careful of this because failing to rest in the simple reality that God created us in His image, and that His cross opens the gates of heaven for us all, denies us this very inheritance. So, my dear children, give up the seat. It was never yours to begin with. If it is offered to you, say “thank you” because the One who loves you is offering it. But please, take no offense, for your worth in my heart and in the Father’s heart is not seen in where you sit but in rather who you are becoming with each selfless act of charity.

Parenthood, Reflections

This Mom is Strong

The hours tick slowly by as I knew they would. No one remembers this day as I do. How could they? It is mine to experience. I remember the protest outfit of sunglasses, a black skull cap, and his black clothes. He was nervous and done with having this be part of his life; this was his voice. It is an odd feeling helping someone prepare for something they do not want to go through; being both their strength and the one walking him back to the operating room. We had sat through countless surgeries. It was sadly an old routine for us.  10-12 hours: go get breakfast, pray a rosary, take a walk, try to read, check in with the other kids, get an update from the doctors, repeat… But this one was different. We kept getting called back in: sign for blood transfusion, (if necessary), need to do one more procedure (2x). It just felt different. The what if’s were palpable between my husband and me, yet we stayed trusting in the process and the knowledge that we have one of the best orthopedic surgeons for Gabe’s condition in the world. He has known Gabriel since he was 4 weeks old! Deep breath… We met Gabe in the ICU after the surgery. He was sleeping, medicine was being administered; finally, we were on to the next stage where we could be a part. I sent Ryan back to the Ronald McDonald House to get some sleep. I would take this night shift.

I’ve often wondered what he dreams of when he asleep for so long; when the pain is so strong that medicine is being tag teamed and the necessity of not falling behind is incredibly real. There is nothing quite like chasing pain. Time is not your friend. I remember sitting down in my chair next to his bed, next to the hum of the pumps and the intermittent vitals being taken. Restless, I got up. The nurse came in to give him medicine. As I stroked his soft curls, I heard a choking sound. The nurse turned her head and looked at Gabe, then at me. She began to call out his name. Stats began dropping on screens. Alarms went off. She yelled,  “Gabe! Gabe!” She began CPR as I held my son who had stopped breathing.  Nurses rushed in. Doctors came flying through the door just waking up from grabbing a few hours of sleep themselves. “Mom, you are going to need to step out,” said one of the nurses to me. The doctor looked up. We have a relationship he and I. I am Mom. He knows my face; this part of my story too well. “No. She can stay. This mom is strong,” he says.  So I stay. I stay as they call out my son’s name. I stay as they pump repeatedly across his chest. Carts come flying in. People. It’s a whirl of activity and I stay and hold my son. With no response from Gabe coming, they go to intubate. Now I am asked to step out. (all this takes so little time and yet I can replay it over in slow motion.)

The ICU is a fishbowl. All the rooms have glass doors. Our room is on the corner. It’s bigger.  I sat outside the open room on the floor. My Mary medallion hugged close to my chest. Gasping for breath, I called Ryan. Turn around, I cried. He’s not breathing. Ryan began his journey back to the hospital; not knowing if his son would be alive when he arrived. Such different experiences the two have… To this day I am not sure why I called the people I did in those moments. “Gabe has stopped breathing. Please pray.”  I remember calling my oldest son and our dearest friend who is Gabe’s Children’s Hospital nurse. She stayed with the kids at home in Columbus. How helpless she must have felt as I heaved and sobbed, reading stats only she understood, choking, gasping for breath and all the time wondering what was going on?

During the surgery, in one of our activities to pass the time, we sat in the parent waiting room. We met a new family whose child has arthrogryposis as well. We were relaxed and spoke about the many surgeries and recoveries with an easeful reassurance and experience. We looked at pictures of each other’s kids and smiled at all the stories. I remember myself slumped against the door frame of the ICU and this family whose child’s room was next to Gabe’s. I remember seeing them with tears streaming down their face. Would this be their plight as well? The fear and the reality of every family who walks the suffering path of a child is always there. It is an unseen yet always felt shadow upon our souls.

“What’s happening?” I remember asking as nurses rushed in and out. Praying, tears streaming down my face, wondering in shock truly, after everything he has been through, all the struggles, all his successes, this? THIS was how it was going to end? Incredulous, shock, frozen in time I sat. 

Strength is a word that is overused. It is one that, when referenced, one might visualize bulging muscles or a particular number one can carry. It’s funny how small trivial that definition is when one experiences physically the need for inner strength. “This mom is strong.” Or “ What a strong young man.”  Inner strength defines you in a way that forms your core.  When you tap into the reserves of inner strength, your body doesn’t ask why, how, or where. It holds strong to that which has shaped it over time. For us, for Gabe, that is a strong faith. The knowledge that everything has a purpose to form us into the best version of ourselves; and that journey, is overflowing with joy and wracked with pain. It must contain both for us to attain that fullness.  Pain and fear, not understood, produce anxiety and unnecessary worry.  Acknowledged, they can be released and hope and trust step in. Hope and faith are where strength pulls from. We have faith and hope in what is to come.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God. Romans: 8: 38-398

“He’s got air!” were the words that shook me out of my surreal moment of shock. Voices changed. There was clapping. A nurse stuck her head out and said, “Mom, He’s gonna be alright.”  I still weep as I mentally walk through it all; how I slept with the lights on for weeks next to his bed, how every surgery now became different. Procedures were no longer procedures. An event like this changed you, your child, and the hospital’s routine ease with which they handle cases like Gabe’s.  I stop cold when I hear a code blue called over the intercom in the hospital. I stop because it transports me. I visualize that child’s momma. I feel her mental and physical gasp and I whisper a silent prayer to her heart. “Be strong momma. Know from whom and where your strength comes.”

Tonight and tomorrow, Gabe is on stage. Three of my amazing kids are. They have been working together for months on these productions.  I am so proud of them. I have seen them reach within themselves rehearsal after rehearsal when fatigue sets in with the demands of schoolwork and other commitments. These are virtues honed over time and Gabe is no stranger to self-discipline.  These next two days on stage, Gabe will make people laugh. He will inspire people with his joy. They will not know that one year ago, his time here was so near to an end. But I will. I will remember and appreciate every laugh, every tear, every breath for I know where true strength comes from.

Marriage, Reflections

A Love Like This

He saw me before I saw him, but once I heard his voice my eyes lit up, my smile grew wide and my heart lifted. I ran across the airport into his arms and we embraced as if this were a young love.  His arms are my shelter. His scent is balm to my soul. His heart, so giving and joyful, I feel blessed every day to be his bride. “His bride,” that is what he calls me still. We have been married 21 years and I am still his bride. We have 8 children together and I am still his “Bright Eyes.” We dance in the kitchen. We snuggle on the couch. We laugh long, cry often, and love deeply. We lift up each other to the Lord with every glance. “Thank you, Lord,” is a breathable prayer uttered constantly throughout our days.

When I first met this man, he was a boy. I first loved his goodness.  Yes, his eyes were amazing and his laugh was contagious, (Just thinking about it makes me giggle.)  but what truly touched me first was his goodness; his ethic of life.  He recognizes the inherent dignity of each individual he encounters. He has a vulnerability that breaks down walls and mends fences. From the little things in life to the big moral choices, he will always choose the right. These are hard standards to live with sometimes, but they have formed all of us in this family to be better humans and a stronger family.

He’s a listener, my husband. Wrapping his arms around me, he takes the time to hear me and support me from near or far. He’s learned to not solve problems for me but listens as I process through my options, always guiding, always loving.  Knowing that environment is key, he takes each of our children away to connect with them. He builds relationships through experiences and conversation and they remember. They turn to him. We all do. He is our rock.

This rock has been traveling often and working longer and harder lately as a new job position has mandated lots of changes in our family. We prayed deeply over this new change and recognized what it would ask of each of us within this marriage and family.  Sacrifice and fortitude are not new to us and we are weathering the new challenges with grateful hearts and a recognition that like shells found upon the sands brought in from the ocean tide, we will be made smooth through these sacrifices and trials.  I am so proud of him.

More and more I am recognizing all he has given and continues to give. I have prayed for eyes to see and love more deeply. I am privileged to have his office at home, so I hear his conversations with his coworkers. He praises and laughs and shares stories with them like he does with the clerk at the grocery store! I always say it’s the Ohio in him, as I am from NY, but truly it’s just a reflection of the true goodness within his soul. He works long hours, balancing being present when he is home as much as possible, tag-teaming a therapy appointment or a play practice and yet always making time to keep our marriage a priority. While he is at work and away, I am holding down the home front, schooling the kids, forming souls, managing the house, taking to therapies, doctors’ appointments, and outside activities and continuing to welcome in the stranger and bear witness to God’s mission for our family: to live and love openly.

We raise our children to recognize how blessed they are to be children created from a love like this. We tell them never to compromise; that to be able to love truly and deeply, to be able to weather trials and tribulations, you must recognize the unity between each other and draw from that source. For us, that source will always be Jesus Christ; His spirit rising up, intertwining our hearts, guiding our actions and mending our wounds together.

As I quiet my heart this Christmas season, I am continually thinking of this special love I have with my husband and it has grown quite dear these past few weeks. Pondering why my love for this husband of mine has become my Advent reflection, I hear the words “A love like this.”

That is it! That is where my Advent was this year! A recognition of the infant child Jesus born so that I may have eternal life. This love, modeled throughout his human life, is an example to all of how to live and how to love. This season I am drawn to that recognition through the actions and love of my husband. How blessed I am to have a love like this.