I Am Not Fearless

This morning, I brought my two children to a large playground that is in a more urban setting than most of the playgrounds by our home.  Okay, it’s not like it was in the middle of downtown, but it’s right next to a large, busy intersection bordered on one side by a very upscale neighborhood and on the other side by less-than-upscale apartments.  It’s a playground that is frequented by families with children, people of various ages and races, runners and bikers, and…….the people who make you nervous.

You know what I mean when I say that.  And, I don’t say it to be mean, rude, or unloving.  It’s a reality that all of us are familiar with, especially if you have children.  Sometimes in public areas, there are people who put you a little on edge, who cause you to watch your children a little closer, who’s movements you watch out of the corner of your eye.

It happened twice today.  

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Guess what You’ve Won?!

635107935778714956This Yahoo! article came across my feed today:

Pakistani Game Show’s Baby Giveaway Sparks Controversy

Orphaned infants are being given away as prizes on a TV game show in Pakistan, prompting both condemnation and praise of the show and the organization behind the scheme.

Apparently the show, Aman Ramazan, is like Pakistan’s Price is Right, a TV game show where contestants answer questions about the Quran to win various prizes, stuff like motorcycles and dryers and … babies. The show, which broadcasts for seven hours a day during Ramadan, has given away two infant children to be adopted by the winners.

My initial gut reaction:  How can you possibly argue that giving a baby, a child, a human being made in the image and likeness of God as a prize upholds the dignity of the human person?

Dignity of babies

Well, the director of the welfare organization that provides (donates?) the babies for the game show answered my question:

Chhipa Welfare Association, which takes in abandoned babies and provides a safe haven for parents to drop off those they are unable or unwilling to care for, said it receives up to 15 infants a month.

“Our team finds babies abandoned on the street, in garbage bins—some of them dead, others mauled by animals. So why not ensure the baby is kept alive and gets a good home?” director Ramzan Chhipa told CNN. “We didn’t just give the baby away. We have our own vetting procedure. This couple was already registered with us and had four or five sessions with us.”

Hussain said the drive for ratings is not what’s behind the idea, and also said he disagrees with critics who feel the show is trivializing the issue of abandoned children. “These are the disenfranchised babies that grow up to be street kids and used for suicide bombing attacks. We have tried to show an alternative,” he told CNN. “Telling people to take these kids off the rubbish on the streets, raise them and make them a responsible citizen, not to destroy society through terrorism.”

He added, “We’ve created a symbol of peace and love, that’s our show’s theme—to spread love. I’m setting an example, giving a childless couple an abandoned child.”

What do you think?

“Mama” Mary

I don’t presume to think I am “cool”.

Any type of “coolness” I may have possessed in my younger years has most certainly gone flying out the window with motherhood.  I finally spoke this truth out loud to my still cool, unmarried, currently living in Nashville (the epitome of hipster/music/coolness) about to go to awesome music graduate school younger brother.  “Yeah, there’s pretty much nothing we do as moms that will become an ‘in’ thing.  In fact, if something becomes a trend for moms & kids, it is probably on it’s way out,” I said.

Good one, Catholic Memes.

Good one, Catholic Memes.

The reality of my motherly uncoolness became even more pronounced today as I was sitting in Barnes & Noble visiting with my pregnant friend while her son and my two kids played around with a group of other children (most of whom were accompanied, also, by moms of various ages and stages of pregnancy).  We chatted and laughed about potty training (yes, discussing poop), baby food, sleeping habits, toys & interests of our kids, pregnancy, and motherhood in general.  Probably the most boring conversation ever for my girlfriend’s unmarried friend who was with us, too.

Yes, motherhood is unglamorous and totally uncool when it really comes down to the nitty gritty of it.

On the ride home, this realization got me thinking about the Blessed Mother.  Our Most Holy Mother Mary, who is always depicted as beautiful, serene, demure, hair perfectly coiffed, the “coolest” woman who ever walked the face of the earth in all her holiness and Immaculate Conception-ness, was also a mom. Read More

The Weakness of God

To be brutally honest, I’ve been feeling very worn down lately.  Numerous things have happened in my life that have left me feeling a bit more broken than usual, and I had really come to the conclusion that I am under attack.  I was already feeling this way when a priest said to me “In your line of work, and with what you’re doing, you are going to be under attack.”  He went on though, “You need to do everything you can to be protecting yourself, spiritually.”

St. Michael the Archangel - Head of the Original Secret ServiceAnd the St. Michael Prayer has been readily on my lips and in my heart lately.  If you’re not familiar with it, here ya go:

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

It’s a daily prayer for protection and for knowing and embracing that this decision to live for Christ will come with struggles and challenges, and that we are targets.  We need help to endure – and lately, I’ve been feeling the need for more help than usual.

I’m blessed to work for Life Teen, a Catholic organization that calls for the entire staff to share in a Holy Hour every week at an appointed time.  This week during holy hour, I was lead to reading some of Paul’s writing to the Corinthians.  And I was drawn to praying over 1:25 – For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Cor 1:25)  I read further, but I kept being drawn back to that.

Though I may seem worm out, and though it may seem harder than ever to live for more than ourselves, I need to embrace the weakness that God is giving to me.  Because in that weakness, God’s strength is all the more evident.  That it seems especially difficult to live out this call to, but I am called to rely on Christ more and more and more.

Maybe I am under attack.  Maybe it is Christ teaching me that I need to rely on him even more than I already tried to.

I think it’s both – that in these attacks, I need to fully embrace that I am not strong enough to overcome alone.  But if I embrace this reliance on Christ – if I allow God to be God, His strength will come through more than I’ve imagined.

Checked Out & Distracted

This weekend, I was one of many, many Catholics we find in the pews at Mass: Distracted and Checked Out.

Some of it was because I am the mother of three kids who takes her kids to Mass.  This means that during various points of the Mass you may find me:

  • writing my three year old’s name for him over and over on the back of the worship aid just to keep him quiet.
  • shushing the 6 year old who keeps up a constant stream of chatter no matter the time or location (she even talks in her sleep).
  • elbowing my 8 year old and pointedly gesturing to the worship aid when he isn’t engaging in “full, active, conscious participation.”

Screaming-3-year-oldThis week, before communion, as I was trying to pray to prepare myself to receive the Eucharist, the 3 year old slipped off the kneeler and smacked his head on the pew and meditative prayer quickly took a back seat to kissing the injury and active pleading to God that he would quiet down so we wouldn’t have to sneak out the side door (He did and we didn’t).

As much as I’d like to blame it all on the kids – it’s not just their fault.  At various points during Mass, I caught my mind wandering in ways totally unrelated to their distratctions:

  • Did my husband take the fish we were planning to have for dinner out of the freezer to thaw?
  • Is it going to be warm enough to go out on the boat or to the pool?
  • I should talk to Father about how he could easily Tweet this homily.  Maybe I’ll just get him to give me a copy and I’ll Tweet it.
  • on and on and on….

After Mass I realized that there are a lot of times (not just during Mass) that I’m checked out of and distracted from my faith.

Today, I took some time to pray through the readings for today’s Liturgy of the Hours and found both comfort and challenge. (If you don’t know what Liturgy of the Hours is, that’s okay – I didn’t until a few years ago either!)

Today is the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, and in reading through the story of his birth, I realized that even some of the holiest, most church-going people in Scriptures shared in the struggle to pray well, to have faith, and to truly engage in that faith.

John the Baptist’s father Zechariah was a priest who knew the promises of Scripture inside and out.  While I’m sure he had faith, he also had moments of doubt, moments where he didn’t really believe with his whole heart.

Read his story in Luke 1:5-25, 57-80

Zechariah was like many of us – good people who occasionally check out and end up just going through the motions – so much so that he missed the miracle before him.  Zechariah learned to trust God the hard way – nine months of being deaf and dumb. But Zechariah’s 9-month “incarceration” in a prison of silence served a greater purpose: he was able to meditate deeply on Scriptures, and then filled with the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the beautiful canticle that shows what it means to truly believe with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength. B_US

I take comfort in knowing that even a faithful old priest like Zechariah could lose a little bit of his faith, become distracted, and check out.  I’m also challenged to make sure it doesn’t take an angel rendering me deaf and dumb for nine months to refocus my heart and bring me back to the joy of a relationship with a living, loving God who fulfills his promises.

The Canticle of Zechariah has been a reminder for me that while God’s faithfulness is not dependent upon my ability to see it, my own faith is.  Even if the words don’t always ring true, I pray them with hope that they’ll open my eyes so that I can remain checked in and focused on the victories – large and small – He has won, is winning, and will win for me.

Why We Need Dads

I’ve spent the last nearly four weeks husband-less.  Though this occurred by choice, it was a choice made out of necessity.  I know a month is a drop in the bucket for military families (God bless you all!) and an even smaller drop for those who have lost their spouses (God bless you even more).  But, it’s been a tough month for us.

il_fullxfull.222456628I could go on and on and on about how much I’ve missed my husband and how important it is to appreciate and recognize all he does for me on a daily basis; how we, as wives, need to treasure our other half and realize that, yes, without him, you really are incomplete and don’t function as well.

Those things are very true, but the hardest part about my husband being gone has not been because I miss him (though I have, terribly), but because I miss him being with our children.  I miss my other half, but I really miss the other half of our parenting team.
 
So, with Father’s Day on the horizon, I thought I’d take a minute to mention some of the things that Dad brings to the household – things that I’ve always known, but that have become glaringly obvious while the father of my children has been away.

(None of these are things that a Mom can’t and doesn’t bring to the family, too.  But, they are things that Dads really bring in a special way.)
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In the Garden of Souls

I recently read the book “Left to Tell” by Immaculée Ilibagiza.  It’s the incredible story of how she survived the Rwandan genocide in 1994 by hiding in a bathroom with several other women for 3 months.  During this ordeal, she had incredible experiences of the presence of God, of true meditation, and of miracles.  The book was totally wonderful and I couldn’t put it down.  I read the whole thing in less than 24 hours, including me staying up waaaaaay past my mommy bedtime because I just had to know what happened next.

Immaculée Ilibagiza

Immaculée Ilibagiza

The book has tremendous insights into forgiveness, trusting in God, and prayer and so many things spoke deeply to me. I was most amazed at how her faith could be so strong and deep and her prayer life so intense in a time when things were more horrible than anything she could’ve imagined in her life or than I could ever imagine having to experience.

I’ve used this book and what I’ve read as a reference point a lot lately.  When things have gotten challenging or difficult for me (which, incidentally, they have a lot lately as I am basically single-parenting for a month while my husband is away working), I try to find all the things in the situation that I can be thankful for.  I try to immerse myself in prayer or at least point my thoughts towards God when I am starting to wallow.  I try to be a woman of faith.

I recently had a really, really, REAAAAALLLLY rough night with my children.  And, being without my husband, it compounded the fact that I had no relief during that night and knew I wouldn’t have any the next day, either.  Anyone who has children can understand what a bad night with kids can be like.  You love your kids more than anything, but you reach a breaking point.  You start begging God to make the crying stop, to have mercy on you, for guardian angels to comfort the kids, to please let you have sleep so that you can parent well the next day.

I was pushed to my limits and beyond and I had a lot of not very friendly words with God  that night. I’m convinced I was wrestling with some demons, too.

But, eventually, the hours passed and the crying stopped and the children rested (though, I didn’t really).  And, as I laid awake with my thoughts, I cried at my weakness and lack of faith.  I thought of Immaculée and how strong she was during something that was truly from the devil and lasted for THREE MONTHS (not just 3 hours).  I thought to myself, “The Lord barely gives me trials in comparison to what Immaculée and so many people suffer.  How could I ever hope to attain heaven when I can’t even make it through a tough night of parenting?”

Suffice it to say, I was disappointed and ashamed of myself.

The next morning, I prayed in thanksgiving for the new day, for my beautiful children and their happy little faces, and I asked God to forgive me for all the unpleasant things I had thought (and, some which I spoke allowed) the night before.  I prayed for the grace to be a better parent and to somehow come to an understanding of how I could ever reach sainthood when my struggles, trials, and life seem so small in comparison to what so many others live through.

And, God in all His mercy and kindness, gave me some words of comfort and a reminder of how we are all called to sainthood.

I love a good flower garden!

I love a good flower garden!

“[Jesus] set before me the book of nature; I understood how all the flowers he created are beautiful, how the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy.  I understood that if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wild flowers.



And so it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden.  He willed to create great souls comparable to lilies and roses, but he has created smaller ones and these must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God’s glances when he looks down at his feet.  Perfection consists in doing his will, in being what he wills us to be.”  (St. Térese of Lisieux)



I will probably never be a rose or a lily in Jesus garden of souls.  I will never, God-willing, have to suffer something like Immaculée did that is so horrendous and agonizing that it must be shared so that others may learn and have their faith deepened.  But, being a less significant “flower” doesn’t make my life or my sufferings any less important to the God who created  and loves me.  He glances down at my small life and hears my prayers.

It comes down to this – God has willed my life and sufferings to be what they are and my perfection, my sainthood lies in being aligned with that reality.  It’s my job, now, to be the best little dandelion or daisy that I can be.  Because, the garden of souls currently growing on the earth would be incomplete without mine, even if it’s not the prettiest or most noticeable one growing there.

This little guy loves his dandelion mama!

This little guy loves his dandelion mama!

Sacrament of Love

8712117476_70c31dfe68_b

My son received his First Communion last week.  Amidst all the processions, bread sharings, Scapular inductions, white dresses and camera-wielding in laws – amidst all the hoopla – the parish photographer managed to snap this photo of my son at the moment he received Jesus for the first time.

I cannot get enough of this picture.  I look at it every day.  Not just because it’s my kid (but seriously, check it out – that’s my boy! – he and Jesus are tight now).   I also look at it every day because every time I do, the look on his face brings me to tears.

I know my son well enough to know that there are a thousand different thoughts that could have been running through his head at this moment:

Don’t drop it…don’t drop it…don’t drop it…don’t drop it.

I wonder if Mom will let me play Minecraft when we get home.

I hate tacos, why are we having tacos for my First Communion party.

I’m totally giving my load of bread to Zach.  He’s cool.

Cake…frosting…cookies…party!

Do I HAVE to take the cup?  It tastes nasty.

Father needs to cut his fingernails.

My eyes itch.

(Poor kid had nasty allergies all week – in some of the pictures he looks like he has two black eyes).

As much as I would like to believe he was having a Blessed Imelda Lambertini moment, I know it’s possible (ahem – likely) that’s far from the case.  After I saw the picture the next day, I asked him: “What were you thinking about right then?”  His response, complete with the dismissive shoulder shrug, was all 8 year old boy:  “Dunno.  Jesus, I guess.  Can I go play a video game now?”

But you know, it kind of doesn’t matter.  Because the look on his face in this moment speaks a thousand words.  They may not be his words, but I am certain that they are our words.  They are the words of the Bride to the Bridegroom – of the Church to Christ – of us to Our Lord.  They are the words of the deepest love.

The words of love visible on my son’s face in that moment are an echo of the words of Pope Benedict in his encyclical Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Love):

Receiving the Eucharist means adoring him whom we receive. Only in this way do we become one with him, and are given, as it were, a foretaste of the beauty of the heavenly liturgy.

Oh, would that our hearts, souls, minds, and faces would reflect this same look each and every time we receive this Sacrament of Love!

 

Eyes Wide Open

It’s been a rough 2 weeks.  I’m not looking for pity, and I know that others’ have crosses that are a lot bigger than mine, but the past few weeks have been one thing after another going wrong.  I feel like God’s putting me through a second Lent – a season of penance – but I don’t know why.  Didn’t I do Lent well enough the first time?  When do I get my Easter, damn it?

Again?  No!

Again? Please no!

That’s just part of an email I sent to a friend yesterday morning.  I was cranky and mildly depressed wondering why all of these little things kept going wrong.  Then, yesterday, I was reading through the letters to the Bishop written by the high school Juniors who will be receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation on May 19.  They write these letters to the bishop requesting the sacrament and telling him why they want it.  Even through they’re addressed to the bishop, I read each one.

This screening helps me discover who has slipped through the cracks in our Confirmation process and maybe isn’t ready for this Sacrament quite  yet:  “I’m really a practicing Buddhist, but my parents are making me do this.  I don’t believe in Jesus at all – but whatever.  Better safe than sorry, I guess.”  (Direct quote from a letter 3 years ago).

It also saves me the embarrassment of revealing the catechetical confusion that occasionally results from our faith formation classes: “I picked the name Jacob for my Confirmation name because he was Joseph’s dad. If Jacob done even one thing differently when he raised Joseph, Joseph might not have married Mary and become a father figure to Jesus.” (sigh)

See, Jacob's son Joseph was the one with the technicolor dreamcoat

See, Jacob’s son Joseph was the one with the technicolor dreamcoat…

Mary's husband Joseph lived thousands of years later and his father was...Oh nevermind.

…but Mary’s husband Joseph lived thousands of years later and his father was…

Awww hell, just forget it.

It’s not all weeping and banging my head on my desk though.  Often, I am privy to some deeply faithful insights.  Usually those make me beam with no small amount of pride, but I’m working on eradicating pride right now, so this year I read them asking God to reveal to me, through these teenagers, what I needed most to hear.  And then I read this:

“God plays a big role in everyone’s life.  You just have to open your eyes to see how. Sometimes He speaks in ways that seem little, but are really the most important.”

Bam. Read More

Don’t you know?

Have you seen the Dove Real Beauty Sketches video?  Dove’s statistic says that  only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful.

Who are you?  How would you describe yourself?  How would your friends describe you?  Your husband/boyfriend?

Here’s how God would describe you:

You shall be called “My Delight”… for the LORD delights in you…As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you. (Isaiah 62:4-5)

The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.
(1 Samuel 16:7)

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?
(1 Corinthians 3:16)

You are more beautiful than you think.