The Unnecessary Burden of Manufacturing Our Own Worth

We feel, in our society, a very strong pressure to prove ourselves. To show we are successful. Worth knowing. Accomplished. We define ourselves by our external achievements, and are in turn crushed by our external failures. Is this necessary?

Does our value indeed come solely from what we do? I don’t think so!

But before I explain, let’s consider what kind of world we create when we do think this way. When we determine human worth based on externals, we claim the right to judge others. What’s in their soul doesn’t matter, because it’s all about results. Did they succeed in this job interview? Did they obtain this degree? How much is their salary? Is it more than mine….because if so they must be better than me. 

See the trap we set for ourselves? Not only do we judge others harshly, which is a terrible thing, but we also do the same to ourselves, and risk falling into depression and despair. We feel we are not good enough–that we are failures. Well, you can’t be a failure, you can only be a person, a human being…perhaps one in challenging circumstances, but a human all the same. No one is a failure.

We are not defined by what we do, but who we are

So who are we anyway? We are children of God, called out of all eternity to love and be loved. Each one of us is precious and utterly irreplaceable. We all have unique talents we are called to generously share with the world…and this despite all our weaknesses and mistakes. God made us as we are, fragile and beautiful, so that when we are humble enough to acknowledge the cracks in our hearts, His light can shine through us. 

So when the sirens of the world lure you to the rocky reefs of self-doubt, remember He who made you is perfect, and has a plan for your life more beautiful that you can imagine. It is cooperating with this plan, with all its challenges and opportunities for interior growth, that makes everything worthwhile. 

At the end of our lives, we will be judged on love. St. John of the Cross

Selfishness, Responsibilty and a Blue Couch 


Selfishness is so easy. It’s so easy to focus on yourself and blame all your troubles on others. Doing so allows us to stay in a state of inaction: there is “nothing” we can do about our problems because they are “not our fault.” Someone else is to blame. But this attitude dooms us to shadow-boxing all our lives–flailing out our arms uselessly to hit the imaginary causers of our own difficulties. 

If we are honest with ourselves, we discover that the source of our brokenness is within. Even if we were isolated from all others in a tiny hermitage, we would still struggle. This is a sobering thought. It means we have to rise from our stupor and take responsibility for our lives. Only we can change them for the better. 

But while we can take positive steps towards small changes for the better, healing our brokenness is not something we can do alone. We can’t make ourselves never grumpy, annoyed, snappy, imprudent, lazy or selfish etc by our willpower alone. We are like broken light bulbs whose wires are not connected, so the electricity can’t flow through them. We need to reconnect those wires by joining our hands in prayer, so the grace of God can flow through us and help us to shine. 

In the bustle of daily life, it can be easy to forget this. We get wrapped up in our troubles and forget to ask for help. We forget to pray for our needs, and for the grace to bear hardships cheerfully. But God is just waiting to show us signs of His affection, if we open our hearts to receive it. Sometimes His generosity is very concrete. Recently my Dad and I went on a wild goose chase search for a second-hand dresser for my eldest daughter. We drove all over, even out of town, and checked three stores with no luck.  We saw a couch I liked which could replace our old beat-up red one, but I couldn’t get a-hold of my husband at work to ask his opinion. It was a hot, tiring day and nothing seemed to be quite working. 

But the next day, the reason for our fruitless search was made clear: there was something  better waiting for us. A block from our house, my Dad spotted an estate sale with gorgeous furniture. There was a beautiful maple dressed in perfect condition for $45. And even more lovely, an antique Coombs couch and matching armchair, with wooden finish and lovely blue upholstery for $250 together. I don’t know what their original price would have been, but the reupholstering alone would have cost $2000 in the ’80’s! Talk about score. Furthermore, they were willing to deliver the furniture to our house, which was another godsend, because some things are just too darn big for my double stroller (we don’t have a car). 


So this is just a little reminder, to myself as much as to anyone else, to take time to join my hands in prayer, reconnect with God and let His love flow through me. If we could all shine our little lights, instead of staying in the darkness of anger and blame, how gorgeous the world would be. Like a glowing Christmas tree, every little light sharing its warmth with the others. In a time of uncertainty and violence, I think the peacefulness of this image is one worth focusing on, hoping and praying for. God bless you all. 

“How do you do it?” An honest answer from a mom of 6. 


This is a question I get a lot as a mother of a large family. “Six kids! How do you do it?” And it’s hard to know exactly how to answer. People sometimes look at you like you’re some kind of rock star, or insane person…or both. It’s kind of embarrassing. Usually I just say something like: “Oh, you know…prayer,  chocolate, and great mom buddies.” 
You get answers like, “Well, better you than me. I couldn’t do it. I don’t have the patience.” 

As if I have a magic unending supply if it myself. 

So sometimes I feel like answering the “how you do it” question with something more like, “Terribly! My kids haven’t had matching socks in years… How about yourself?” But then…I’m already freaky enough…

So what is the real answer, and why? To get there let me tell you a story of a man who inspired me a lot. He was a Polish priest who was very humble, very gentle, and very brave. He was quiet, unassuming, and attentive to everyone he met. But above all, he loved to a heroic degree. He loved beyond the capacity of the human heart, because the love of God infused his life and broke it open. He loved, as my kids might say, “Up to the sky!” This man died when he offered his life in return for a stranger in the concentration camps, who was spared the torment of the starvation bunker. That young man he saved lived and was I believe reunited with his family, for whose sake he had pleaded to live. 

The man who saved him was St. Maximilian Kolbe, ands when I read his story I was so moved. “I want to love like that,” I thought, “but there’s no way I can on my own.” And that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. That’s where grace takes over and lifts our small efforts Heavenward. So every day, in the midst of all the small and large sacrifices of raising a family, I rely not on my own virtue, strength or talent, but on the ever present, merciful love of God. 

I can do all things in Him who strengthens me…

Each day I try, make mistakes, lose my cool, have moments of sweetness, little successes and big failures, but without giving up. Beginning again and again. Trying to pour out love from a heart cracked open…and from my open hands reaching out for grace. 

Family life is a beautiful crucible..a place to be purified and to grow in love. But then this is my goal, remember–to love to heroic degree. To love beyond my natural human capacity, because the love of God overflows from my imperfect, struggling heart–the heart of a mother who gives, and of a daughter who receives daily from God the strength to carry on.


PS Next time I’ll share a few of my practical survival tips to lighten the load, like ordering in groceries, hiring cleaners, having regular mommy dates and also the importance of smiling! 

It’s you, Dad

If there’s a reason 

I can understand

unconditional love,

it’s you, Dad.

If there’s a reason I feel 

that anything is possible

it’s you, Dad.

If there’s a reason I know

that understanding and compassion

matter far more than 

position or wealth,

it’s you, Dad.

If there’s a reason I know 

that gentleness and self-sacrifice

are the signs of true strength

it’s you, Dad.

If there’s a reason I can understand

that God is our merciful Father

who delights in being with us

it’s you, Dad.

Thank you for a life of tenderness.

Thank you for always cheering me on

and protecting my heart.

You will always be my father,

and I’m so glad it’s you, Dad.
  

coals of divine love

Do we realize our immense dignity

as children of God? 

That we are

with the coals of divine love 

burning in our souls

as walking tabernacles

of the Holy Spirit?

Every touch, every gesture

should be one of love

as done by one bearing an immense treasure,

a wealth of gleaming gold

inside a simple earthen vessel.

How then our work can be an act of worship

done in union with God within us

with the delicacy of one in love.

May we glow with this warmth

bringing affection to all we encounter

and the joy of being children of God

ever in His presence. 

  

Dance with me, daughter

  

“Little one arise,

get up from your corner;

unfold your sulking arms

and dance with me.

If you don’t know which way to go

stand on my feet

I will guide you.

Give me your arms

see my face

I am with you.

Listen for the music of grace

give in to the mystery of my rhythm 

I will guide you.

Don’t refuse to dance 

because you don’t know all the steps.

The music will guide you,

you will see

when you let go.”

“Father God, forgive me

for being afraid

for refusing to dance

with a light heart

and joyful feet.

I know you are leading me 

and yet I resist—

call out in fear when you dip me,

stiffen my arms when they should be supple 

for a twirl—

Let me instead be responsive to your guidance,

open to your plan,

a joyful partner

in this unexpected 

dance of life.”

  

How small I am, Lord

How small I am, Lord,

like a little toddler stumbling along 

and insisting on doing it “self.”

But when I get so exhausted that

I have to sit down and cry,

I find myself scooped up in Your loving arms.

You’ve made me this small so You can carry me

tenderly and cover my scrapes with kisses….

gestures of affection from all those around me,

whose warmth and wisdom protects me

from the silliness of trying

to travel this journey alone. 

I am tiny

so others can have the chance

to be messengers of Your mercy—

angels of Your love.

Help me always to trust

that every time I fall

You’ll be there to comfort me

with a love even sweeter than before.

  

Choosing Happiness

Recently my dear friend Natalie from Chicago came for a quick visit, as she was back home for her grandmother’s funeral. Her presence was like a sweet breeze from the Windy City. She brought a little pot of cheerful daffodils to brighten my table. I got florally spoiled! It was a gift to be able to see her, and have a heart-to-heart talk while the kids played at the park. A moment of happiness I will cherish for a long time.

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately, and how necessary it is to choose it. Not just as a lifetime hope, but moment to moment. Choosing to embrace each good moment that comes, choosing to smile, to dance with the kids, to laugh when they tell me funny little things, to savour each time they hug or play together well. Tonight we had homemade pizza. “We’re having a nice lifetime,” said my four year old,”This is the best pizza ever!”

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I have to see each of these moments as gifts, despite the underlying ache for my little lost daughter, who is busy painting Heaven’s clouds pink with her rosy cheeks. She would want me to be a happy mother who is present to her children, who is affectionate and fun, who is able to enjoy her children and to apologize when she loses her cool.

We can choose to see life as meaningful gift, painful but precious, or as a terrible burden, fraught with danger. But how would the latter help us? To be paralyzed by fear is to refuse to live. And we must live and love, even as the sun must rise, because that’s what we’re meant to do.

Who among us is without pain? We have all suffered in one way or another…
Yet we still have the ability to choose happiness. The longing in our hearts for truth, goodness and beauty is there because those things exist, and we are meant to possess them.

“The essence of greatness is having the heart of a child,” quoted James Stenson in a parenting talk. I think this is also a choice: to let sadness wither you up and go grey inside, letting yourself become even internally old, or to choose youth—hope, joy, simplicity, trust, laughter—for to embrace life is to be young.

This is not a choice we make only once, for we are so changeable, like the shadows of leaves dancing on a windy day…it is a choice we have to make again and again, every time an opportunity comes to enjoy life, to be silly, to dance, to relish a conversation with a dear friend, to bask in the sunlight that pours down on us.

If we refuse the joy of those moments, because the pain of deep old scars that still throb, we are being like the child who refuses to get over her tantrum because one toy broke, even when she is offered many others. It’s really easy to be that kind of child, but we have to remember the resilience of children who seek joy in each new day, who get excited about little things, who are easily pleased by small shows of affection.

All the daily blessings we receive, all of those good moments, are caresses from God’s hands, and a sign that He is with us, despite life’s struggles. Say yes to them. Say yes to Him. Say thank you. We are in bigger, better hands than our own, and only in them can we truly live as children who know how to trust and rejoice, despite the tears that also come.

As I’m trying to take my own advice, here’s some photo’s of me being a kid on my retreat at Loon Lake, climbing about in the woods and getting wet pulling a raft across the lake. Felt like I was 12 again. Was great!

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Some Things the Broken Heart Knows

There are some things the broken heart knows. It knows them in a way not unreasonable, but beyond reason, deeper than it. I know that love is not limited. We don’t run out. There are people who would say that because the baby I lost was my sixth, she didn’t matter as much. That it wasn’t such a terrible tragedy, because I have the others. That perhaps I didn’t need to love her all that much, because I already had enough.

But I can tell you something, from the depths of my soul, that each child is worth all the love the universe can contain. And they do not earn it. Do not need to. A mother’s heart loves her child because that’s what it was created to do, because that’s what it must do, the way we must breathe in order to live.

I love Josephine even though she never took a breath. I love Josephine even though she never once had the chance to smile at me. I love Josephine even though she will never say “Mama,”until I reach the pearly gates. I love her simply because she is my daughter and always will be.

And I want to share with you through my tears, what came to me in prayer: that each one of you, each one of us, myself included, is one of those precious children who is infinitely and unconditionally loved by God.

Perhaps many of us find this hard to except. We think we need to earn love, we think we need to deserve it. But our Father God loves each one of us with all the madness of the heart in love, with all the tender awe of a father holding his newborn child. He loves you simply because you exist. He loves you because he created you and you are his own, and he will love you forever. No matter what. Despite everything. Because the nature of Love is to love.

Every child is a universe unto themselves, it is said, and every child is a unique creation with a unique mission. We should have such reverence and respect for every single person. Created by God they are sacred; loved by God they are precious. In fact so precious that God, just like a human father, so willingly gives his life for each one of them.

I understand this better now. If there is anything I could have done to save my daughter, even at the cost of my own life, I would do it. A parent’s love doesn’t count the cost. God’s love doesn’t need to be earned because a parent’s love doesn’t need to be earned. All it wants is to be returned. And across time and space, from the throne of grace where she sits curled up on our Father God’s lap, my little daughter’s love reaches me.

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