Angelic Delivery

Bread, milk, fruit, eggs,

a family puzzle we stayed up till 11pm one night doing,

a stuffed animal for my toddler,

a sewing project for my 8 year old,

a kind word of encouragement,

a witty joke,

a reference to literature

a story from across the world

a promise to pray:

these are the things my friend of 14 years,

Sister Angela, has brought to my door

when she’s stopped by some evenings around 8 pm,

after a busy day of caring for migrants and the poor,

to leave groceries and an unassuming smile.

“It’s exactly what we needed!” I exclaim.

“God knew,” she answers with quiet confidence…

my angel, my messenger,

bearing so many little tokens

of God’s love.

Easter Accompanies the Suffering Heart with Hope

When I was in the depths of grief after losing my baby daughter Josephine five years ago, I found it was very hard to go through holidays that focus primarily on being joyful. The pressure to be happy was too much. Christmas is cosy and lovely and normally a huge favourite of mine, but not when the pain is still too raw. In times of struggle, I prefer Easter.

Why? Those of you who know me might be thinking of one thing: chocolate! All the chocolate without all the work of Christmas. I am definitely a believer chocolate’s ability to comfort and to express affection when given. I almost always include some chocolate in the grief baskets my friend Julia and I make for bereaved moms, along with my baby loss poetry book and other encouraging books and self-care items, but no, chocolate isn’t the reason.

Although these days, when things are extra stressful around the world, there are times when I’d like to simply bury my entire face in a Tuxedo chocolate layer cake, there is something chocolate cannot do: accompany me in my suffering. Share my grief. Give dignity to my tears, by saying, “I, too, have suffered. You are not alone.” This is something God can do. This is something Jesus does from the cross.

“There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us, and does not now bear with us. And on the far side of every cross we find the newness of life in the Holy Spirit, that new life which will reach its fulfillment in the resurrection. This is our faith. This is our witness before the world.” – St. John Paul II

Despite all the wild and crazy things that happen in a complex world where there is human freedom, and also the realities of pain and death, we can be consoled by knowing that we do not suffer alone, for we have a God who is compassionate. As I would tell my kids in homeschool, compassion comes from the Latin “cum” (with) “passio” (I suffer). But why would God want to enter our mess, instead of remaining “aloof in icy splendour,” as the archbishop of Toronto poetically asked yesterday?

Love. A personal love for each person ever created. A tender love for you and for me individually. A desire to accompany us in our hardest moments, and to help us bear them.

I have experienced this same desire myself. After losing Josephine, I had an intense desire to be with others who were in pain, to accompany them in their mourning, to hold their hands on the long road to recovery. I could not make their pain disappear, but I could feel it with them, and let them know their grief was valid–was in fact a beautiful sign of their immense love for those lost.

So if you are in mourning this Easter, I encourage you to reach out to the source of love through prayer. God truly cares about your struggles, and wants to help you carry your crosses, as once he carried his own: with blood, and sweat and tears, but also with the dignity of one who gave his life for others freely, out of love. By reaching out to console others in pain, you, too, share in the healing power of God’s generous love, a love stronger than death.

Loving Through the Fear: A Mortal Mission

It is strange how this virus has woken us up to a very obvious but often ignored fact: we are mortal. This reminder of our fragility has caused us to panic and scramble, as if it were possible to avoid this inevitable outcome of our lives–their ending. The ending has been there all along, but not in such a prevalent, “hiding around the corner” kind of way.

So how should we respond to this intense affirmation that our lives are a brief and precious gift?

With love. With love that is stronger than death. With love that connects us all. With love that can reach across the globe into every trembling heart. With many, many, concrete acts of love. It there were ever a time for “random acts of kindness,” it is now. Except they are not random; they are very much the point of our existence: to affirm the irreplaceable nature of every human life, and to honour each person with our little acts of affection and and kindness, to find in the face of the poor, the lonely and the stranger, the face of God.

Imagine for just a moment what might happen at this uniquely uncharted point in time if we all choose to set aside politics, agendas, finger pointing, conspiracies, and our own (very real & very different) fears.

What if we choose Right Now to take care of one another and put compassion, love, and service above all else? What if we turn our necessary distance into something even bigger than saving lives?

An Open Letter to Humanity

Everyone will do this in their own way, living with a sense of personal mission to serve their families, their friends and their communities with all the talents and passion they can muster. It is by loving that we mortal beings unite ourselves to the Immortal One, the fount of life and source of love, and come to share in a life beyond the fragile one we have here.

Let us burn our life’s candle brightly and share its light with those around us. Then, whenever its light is snuffed out, we will continue to glow in the hearts of people whom we have loved.

Compassion

Let it go, little mamma.

You have deeply entered their pain,

lived it with them,

prayed and suffered.

Their burden is not yours.

You can love

but you cannot hold the whole world

in your heart.

Don’t try to steal God’s job.

Only He, the eternal one,

can bear all the world’s suffering

without breaking to pieces…

Your call now,

is to go dig in your garden

and plant flowers of hope

in the simple brown earth.

Your call is to smile again

and find joy in the little gifts of each day.

Tears have washed you clean.

Now, little mama,

let it go,

trust more,

be silly and laugh again.

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.

Every “No” is also a “Yes”

Many people struggle with saying “no.” It is so hard to disappoint people, to imagine letting them down. It feels easier to take on added stress than to refuse someone and upset them. But this attitude can lead to burnout and resentment, and endanger the peace and well-being of the person giving. Boundaries are necessary to protect these things, and having healthy boundaries means being able to say “no” without excessive guilt or worry. 

Perhaps reframing things would be helpful to those who struggle with saying “no.” Within each situation where something is refused, another positive thing is chosen. Saying “no” to taking on an extra work project over the weekend means saying “yes” to quality time with your family. Saying “no” to joining an extra committee means saying “yes” to being able to take care of your own work and family, without getting so frazzled and stressed. Saying “no” to that late night movie means saying “yes” to gettting the rest you need. Every decision involves discerning and affirming your priorities. Decisions are a way to say “yes” to the life you wish to live…and that life requires the boundary of various “no’s” to maintain it. 

I think the key, which I am trying to learn myself, is to allow yourself to say “no” calmly, without the guilt or worry that can lead to harshness or sarcasm in order to protect the fragile boundaries around yourself. It is ok, and even necessary and good to take care of yourself and make sure that whatever you do give is given freely, with a cheerful and generous heart. We need to give this good example to our children and those around us. Love can only be given freely, and that means also having the freedom to say “no.”


Many of these helpful ideas are found in the book Boundaries: When to say Yes, How to say No, to take Control of your Life by psychologists Dr.’s Cloud and Townsend. I believe I have written about this book before because I found it so eye-opening and transformative. After discussing boundaries with various people– family, spouses, children, co-workers, etc– the book ends with various tips and questions to see how you are growing in your ability to maintain your boundaries. The best quick check for responding to a request was this: if you hesitate to say “yes,” the answer is “no.” You shouldn’t have to force yourself into things because of fear of disappointing others or appearing badly. 

Remember, every “no” is also a “yes”…a “yes” to what you are able to do, what you desire to do, what makes your life better, what helps you feel free. Of course we should practice generosity and strive to live affectionately with those around us, but in the security of knowing that their love for us doesn’t depend on our unconditional “yes” to every request. And hopefully by learning to say “no” with confidence, we will also greatly respect the “no’s” of others, and never receive them with bitterness or resentment. 

Happy Mother’s Day!

I was so touched to receive this thoughtful little gift, a bag of candies with this lovely quote from a friend of mine. She is very a unassuming and gentle person, but full of warmth and sweetness. She found time, while caring for and homeschooling her 10 kids, to make me this. I think her actions confirm the quote!
 
Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers out there, whether your children are big or small, clambering all over you like squirrels or calling long distance. 

A special hug and prayer for all mothers who have lost children, or who haven’t been able to have any…at least ones staying with them on earth. You desire to love and give yourself to others makes your heart just as much a mother’s heart as mine. May God bless you!  

Above all, let’s remember that with all its joys and challenges, motherhood is a gift…we have been entrusted with the care of amazing little people…may we rejoice in that and be confident that with grace, we can be the mothers we are meant to be, despite all our imperfections. So today let’s not compare ourselves or see how we measure up…let’s celebrate all mothers and encourage each other to keep loving our families with all our hearts! 

Ode to Gentle Hands

Gentle hands that touch

with a love strong and deep

know the body is no mere shell

for the soul,

but an outward expression of its being.

And when these hands soothe

calm and comfort,

when they restore dignity 

to the broken frailty of an aging body

by the gentleness of their touch,

they affirm with silent symphony 

that each person is precious,

body and soul.

For when the vessel is bent and broken,

light shines through the cracks

and love bursts forth in beauty.

  

Happy 1st Birthday in Heaven, Josephine!

  
Yesterday, September 30th, we celebrated the one year anniversary of my baby girl’s entrance into Heaven, on the day she was born. I thought it would be better to face the day in a spirit of celebration, as much as possible, rather than letting it pass by us acknowledged, quietly and painfully. 

The kids were totally excited, because a birthday is a birthday, and there will be cake. We had a potluck lunch, after gathering in the graveyard to pray and bring flowers, and my awesome friend Kate made the cake. And Thai Chicken Soup for dinner (so I wouldn’t have to cook), which my kids declared the best soup ever!

My husband James took the morning off so we could go to Mass together…and had the sweet idea of bringing along Josephine’s photo…Daddy’s affectionate heart…I entrusted the day to Our Lady, as I had entrusted her with Josephine, that she could cover her with kisses until I arrive to take over the job. 


A few days before the birthday, my 7 year old daughter was walking home holding hands with her toddler brother when I overheard this:

It’s almost Josephine’s birthday! And you’re invited!

Oh, birthday!

And there will be cake!

Mm, take!

And later, when we all get to Heaven, we will play with Josephine! She’s your little sister, and we will be all together. 

My five year old piped up, “And it’s ok if she is still small, and I’m bigger, because then I’ll be able to hold her better.” 

 

Just as at her funeral Mass and burial, we had many people come, and I think this meant a lot to the kids, to have their little sister honoured like this, and celebrated by people who only ever knew her while she was still kicking in my belly. A few kids made her cards, to go in her memory folder, and one gave a special rock. Never underestimate the value of a special smooth rock, given by a child. Such things are treasures. 

  

Once everyone arrived for lunch, we counted 24 kids at her birthday, not including babies, so it was likely closer to 30. Happily it was a gorgeous fall day, perfect for a picnic lunch outside. My friend Tajsha made the kids’ day by bringing hot chocolate mix and mini-marshmallows. Celebrating in style!

We moms enjoyed coffee and sitting chatting outside by the garden while the kids played. I was very happy for all the company and support of my dear and thoughtful friends in this day. I was surrounded by love, food and prayers, and all these things cushioned my heart so I can honestly say it was a beautiful day. Thank you to everyone who made it special. I’m sure Josephine is happy her family has so many good friends, and will sparkle a little stardust your way, if you ask her.