My (Wonderfully) Clueless Husband

My husband is clueless. He has absolutely no idea how wonderful he is. He works day and night (literally) to support our family, and even though he is exhausted, makes a point of spending time with me…even if it’s just watching a stupid show in the wee hours so we can laugh together. Relationships matter to him. There’s nothing more precious than his family (ok, his books come a close second, but still).

Despite all this he often feels inadequate, because he can’t be the magical dad who is home at 5 pm helping cook dinner and then wrangling all the kids into bed. His work to-do list never ever ends, but without it, I couldn’t be home with the kids. I couldn’t be there for all the first steps and first words, for my five year old’s funny science questions (What if tongues didn’t stop growing?), for the impromptu ballet performances and puppet shows, for the discussions about novels and movies and what life is all about. All these things, my husband primarily has to miss so I can be there for them.

Thank you, honey. It’s crazy hard….your work, my work…but it’s a gift. Our family is a gift. I’m so grateful.

Right now, on the midst of all this business, you’ve taken a week off so I can have a break. So I can go on workshop to feed my mind and recharge my soul. Because even imperfect moms deserve a break. That means we all do. It’s hard to go away when I feel like there’s a million things I should be doing at home, but with your love and support I’m going. Sailing off to be a kid in school again for a week and study philosophical anthropology–what it is to be human and live a fulfilling life–and honestly, I can’t wait! 😉 As a homeschooling mom, it’s nice to take a turn being the student!

While there’s always so much to do, sometimes the best way to move forward is to step back and let go for a bit. So cheers to that, and thanks, honey for being amazing.

Thanksgiving: on gratitude and perfectionism

Perfectionism is a happiness trap. It blocks happiness because it prevents us from accepting things as they are.

I can’t be happy because I’m not good enough yet. Once I’m better at everything I’ll let myself be happy. Until then I don’t deserve to be.

This is such a dangerous lie. We can’t be grateful for our lives if we don’t believe we should be happy. If we don’t accept ourselves, we can’t accept our reality either. We will be like drops of water trying to strain against the river’s flow–always frustrated.

A huge part of gratitude is acceptance: I accept my life, all that is good and bad, all that is challenging and beautiful, and I am grateful for it. I receive it and give thanks. I am comfortable in my own skin.

Yes, Mum, I tried to eat a Christmas decoration I found under the bookshelf. Don’t I look lovely?

My friend Monique reminded me of all this. I was fussing a bit about my lack of Thanksgiving plans, as my husband and daughter are on a special father-daughter trip out of town. I told her I’d probably just come home from church and put on my pjs, make a dinner the kids actually like (butter chicken, rice and naan bread), have homemade pumpkin pie and watch a bedtime movie together. I worried it maybe wasn’t good enough. Not the big family dinner of the movies…and then she reminded me of what Thanksgiving is all about: gratitude.

Maybe you should just be grateful you don’t have to cook a huge meal the kids don’t really like. Maybe you can be grateful for getting to just have a relaxing holiday instead of doing tons of work.

And it’s true…it was fine. We had a busy day on Saturday with ballet, then having friends for pizza and a movie. Then Sunday was packed with Mass, socializing over lunch, First Communion and Confirmation classes until mid afternoon. By then I was ready for down-time and so were the kids. So the worry was for nothing. I’m grateful for how the day went.

So my Thanksgiving take-home is this: let go a little of your ideas about how things should be in the perfect world. Embrace your imperfect life. Accept your imperfect self. Be grateful for all the people who love you anyway. Love them back. Focus on the good. Don’t wait to be happy. Happiness is accepting your now.

Happy 4th Birthday, Josephine!

Thank you to everyone for making this day special! Your kind words, hugs, prayers, and thoughtful gifts meant so much! I was really happy to see many of you today.

I was especially touched by this beautiful piece commissioned by my friend Rachel and painted by my talented babysitter and art student Michelle. It captures so perfectly the essence of the first poem I wrote for Josephine after she passed away:

Josephine flashed before us

with the brightness and beauty

of a shooting star

Our hearts are broken by the briefness

of her visit with us

She has climbed onto our Father God’s lap

and is whispering to him our secrets

with sweet confidence

Speak to her in your hearts

the only language she will ever know is love

Gratitude (in thanks for a hard-working husband)

Quarter-end crunch

and you’re working round the clock

like a donkey round the threshing mill–

sacrifice in each step.

Working like your dad,

but long hours away instead of long weeks at camp.

At home,

we celebrate our eldest daughter’s 12th birthday–

a dozen years of parenthood–

building a life together bit by bit.

I think of the early days of motherhood,

pregnancy and giving birth for the first time,

and those inexpressibly precious baby snuggles.

Remembering I rejoice

and celebrate having made it thus far.

The day, says my classy and clever friend Laura,

calls for champagne.

And although it takes two,

often moms get all the credit

for building their children’s bodies,

knitting them together in their wombs.

But I think of you, honey

working away in the office each day

so I can order in groceries–

paying for each apple, cake and curry I prepare.

And I realize our children’s cells

are built upon your sacrifice.

They are nourished by your love,

strengthened by your resolve,

encouraged by your perseverance

to believe that anything is possible.

So thank you…for working so hard

so I can be with our little ones

and celebrate with them

all the mess and glory

of being alive.

Eternal Song

Have you stopped to listen to the evening birdsong?

The same song since you were a child…

this eternal song, performed over and over

against the mellow backdrop of the light blue sky.

The clouds are smudged with charcoal

but their edges glow.

Does it capture you? Hold your gaze up and out

to the peaceful grandeur of the reclining day?

Are you torn away from the endless hunt

down the dark halls of your brain

where you relentlessly seek childhood secrets

and broken pieces of yourself?

Deep in this maze of self-analysis

the batteries of your flashlight may run out.

There’s only so much you can understand

alone.

Look to the source of light and beauty.

Listen to that bird who trills again and again:

“Life’s good, very very good. Life’s good, very very good.”

Remember you are only a tiny piece

of creation and a recipient

of this gorgeous gift that is life.

Put anxious internal wanderings

and the pursuit of your own perfection

in their place.

Live and love your now.

On fighting discouragement

The other day I was reading a little book of Lenten meditations by Pope emeritus Benedict about the true meaning of fasting. He describes how Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fighting the temptations he was offered…to the world’s power, to enslavement to the physical world (bread), and to spiritual pride. It made me think…what temptations do I need to fight to be more free? And I don’t just mean the temptations to scarf boxes of chocolates…but deeper things.

Are we tempted by discouragement? By anger? By sulking and blame? These are the kinds of demons we can fight off during Lent, so as to become more happy and free. So how about instead of giving up something we like, or maybe as well as that, taking up arms to fight harder against what we don’t like…what drags us down and brings misery and isolation.

It is amazing how these demons of discouragement prey on our weakness. We recently watched the excellent movie “A Man For All Seasons” as a family. What struck me most this time, because I have seen it before, was what great destruction came through a weak man. Richie Rich, poor and soft man, is corrupted by bribery and the lure of wealth and power. He becomes a powerful man externally, but inside is still incredibly weak and can no longer follow his conscience when tempted, and ends up perjuring himself. St. Thomas Moore is killed because of Rich’s lies in court. It is very sad to see how Rich destroys himself and others…perhaps after certain point he no longer believed it would be possible to reform. It is so important to be both humble enough to receive mercy and forgiveness and strong enough to persevere in the truth when times are tough.

So why do we fail, make mistakes, commit sins? Many times out of weakness. Why do we yell when tired? Weakness. Why do we slam drawers when too hungry? Weakness. Why do we fall into discouragement when the house is exploding with mess and the floor seems a distant memory? Weakness. But if there is one thing we must always hang onto despite our weakness, it is hope, and the knowledge that we are loved. Discouragement comes when we look only at ourselves and all our failures, all at once. Then the amount we need to change and then improve becomes utterly overwhelming.

Can you imagine a baby looking ahead and envisioning all the things they would have to do and learn as one giant, looming to do list? Learn to walk, run, jump, speak thousands of words, dress themselves, read, write, learn sports, to cook, get a job, change careers, etc. It’s exhausting to think about all at once. But why aren’t babies stressed like the rest of us? Because they live in the moment and in trust: “Mommy and Daddy are here and they will teach me.”

What we adults have to do is spend less time looking at ourselves and more time looking at God, who is perfect love, who is infinite mercy, who is glorious king and wise and loving Father. It is he who will give us the strength and grace to improve. It is he who will teach us. Of course it won’t be all at once, but a little bit at a time, each day hanging on to hope despite our failures. Babies are so delighted with life…it would serve us well as adults to spend more time marvelling at the beauty of life as well, practising gratitude and making a point of savouring the good little memories each day provides.

Ultimately, Lent is about learning to love better, and we have opportunities to do so every moment of each day. St Josemaria said to be a true friend is to honour the image of God in others…”as you do to the least one of my brothers so you do unto me.” No matter how long our to-do list, we can always afford time for a smile. May God give us all the strength to love well, and the hope to grow each day, seeing self-knowledge as an opportunity to improve, rather than a cause for discouragement.

Bittersweet Because

Little darling

how my heart is bursting

with the beauteous warmth of you,

your cuddly down-softness

snuggling in my arms,

fluffy dark hair caressing my cheek as I cradle you.

And yet in all this glory

a bittersweet strain of music

tugs at my heart,

because you are so much like her,

your big sister who was born asleep,

eyes closed forever,

motionless,

and here you are

—thank God!—

alive.

I want to cry grateful tears of sorrow

when you squeak and grumble like a little bear

because your sister was so silent.

And when I smell the milky scent on your neck

because your sister never tasted milk.

I was left bursting but alone…

my arms like edges of an empty cradle

with only myself to rock.

I get choked up by your little hands

which look exactly like hers–

long slim fingers and grandma’s double jointed thumbs.

They’re curled up in tiny fists above your head

in the abandon of sleep,

yet warm and ever ready to grasp my finger

instead is still, pale, and cold.

In this bittersweet place

I love you both

and want to give you everything:

all the affection and tenderness

I wished to give her

but also want to give you for yourself.

I drink deeply both of sorrow and of joy.

How life and death are woven together

–intertwined–

in this strange tapestry where all the shadows

make the colours brighter.

What is painful

and what is precious

have become inseparable

and love runs through it all.

Christmas and the fragile gift of life

It’s easy at Christmas to feel as though you should write something joyful and sparkly…like a glimmering Christmas ball…round, perfect and whole. We yearn for such happiness, particularly at Christmas, when it seems possible to snatch down a little piece of a Heaven and bask in its glow in our very homes…but for how many is this image a real reflection of Christmas?

For many people, their Christmas balls have been cracked, chipped, or even shattered. Somehow the imperfections of this life, of our particular family or health situations, stand out more strongly when we compare them with the cosy images on Christmas cards. The innocence of a child, face glowing with anticipation of the ‘perfect’ happiness to be found in the toy shop window trimmed with sparkling snow, has been robbed from many of us as life’s tougher trials have set in.

For myself and many friends, one of these trials is the suffering of seeing aging parents struggling with their health. The ones who have meant our stability and safety in the world are now often clinging to life as to a very fragile gift, one we can’t guarantee won’t break. As we grow, we realize just how many things are out of our control. Like how major surgery will go for a beloved parent on Christmas Eve. And -thank goodness!-it went well, which was the best Christmas present by far this year.

In this age of instant gratification and micromanaging, Christmas is a powerful reminder that the things that matter most–life, love, family and friends–are beyond our control–in fact are complete and utter gifts. Ones we should give thanks for every day. Ones we should never take for granted. Life is vulnerable and precious, and it is made sweeter by those who are willing to experience it with us, suffering and all.

One of them is a baby, one who chose to leave the perfect safely and joy of Heaven to lay down on straw with us, to experience cold, hunger, loneliness and fear with us. The “I am Who am” became the “I am Who am with you.” Emmanuel. God with us, every step of the way.

Comforted by this divine tenderness, let’s stir up our hearts to look forward to the new year with trust and joy, because despite all our struggles, we are always loved, and never really alone. These are my thoughts as I anticipate meeting my new baby daughter next week, 3 weeks early because my pregnancy liver condition means that sooner is safer. Little one, you are a precious, fragile gift, and I can’t wait to hold you with great joy!

Merry Christmas, everyone, and peace be with you and yours in 2018.