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. 

Exactly As You Are: Loving Your Spouse Unconditionally 

Yesterday I wrote a guest post for my friend Bonnie Way on her blog The Koala Mom called “Exactly as you are: Loving your spouse unconditionally.”

Here is her intro and the link in case you’d like to check it out!

Today, contributing writer Anna Eastland is sharing what she learned in a late-night chat with her husband about loving your spouse unconditionally.

No matter how well you know your spouse, every now and then you learn something new, like a new skylight opened and illumined a corner of their soul you hadn’t seen before. You have one of those unexpected midnight conversations where you are allowed to enter an unexplored recess of their heart. How do you respond to this intimate revelation? With love.

Loving Your Spouse Unconditionally
  

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.

  

Do we treat our husbands as well as our friends?

Sometimes we wives and moms can be having a hard day, and are perhaps very tired or stressed, but when a friend calls we perk up and feel much better. And when a friend is in need emotionally, we find the time and strength to be present to them, offering a listening ear, encouraging words, and understanding heart…We are able to give the best of ourselves to friends, even when we are drained.

We wouldn’t imagine saying, “I’ve had a rough day, so I’m going to blast a heap of bitterness into the first available ear, even if it’s my dear friend.” Or “I think I’ll sting my friend with repeated sarcasm if she attempts to make me feel better. What does she know?”

Why then, do we women often do exactly that with our husband, as if our every struggle was his personal fault? As if he should cower under our mood, and be culpable if he doesn’t read our mind and fan us with palm branches before we mention being hot…

We’ve been taught to be very self-righteous as women, and very suspicious of men, but I ask you, is this prickly attitude making us happy? Does it not foster division in our marriages, and dissatisfaction in ourselves?

I grew up with three brothers, whom I love a lot, so I have a hard time buying the “evil men” stereotype. Personally I think we human beings are all fairly imperfect, but still kind of wonderful.

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Ultimately we are the ones who have to make ourselves happy, who with the help of grace have to choose happiness despite life’s challenges. Blaming someone else for all our troubles only traps us in the cage of our own weakness. We wouldn’t blame all our challenges on our friends, so why would we choose (even subconsciously) to blame them on our husbands, who are supposed to be our best friends?

The role of a best friend is to love us no matter what and to walk with us through life, always by our side. It isn’t to carry us so we don’t even have to use our legs. It’s to support us in happy and sad times, but not to provide a godlike dose of happiness and protection from all sadness. You can be vulnerable and honest with your husband without expecting him to be able to fix everything. Don’t deify your spouse. Accept and love him as a human being who is worthy of your respect and tenderness, even if he’s not a superhero. Remember inside there is still a little boy who needs your love.

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Perhaps you and I are never grumpy or sarcastic with our spouses (ahem!), but for those mortals who are, I think this is good advice: try to treat your husband with the same kindness and understanding you do your friends. And of course all this advice applies to men as well, in how lovingly they should treat their wives.

This year let’s take responsibility for our happiness by trying to be our best selves, not just with our friends, but with our spouse. In doing so we will become better people, and give him a chance to do the same. And it is in this striving to become the best version of ourselves that we will find peace and happiness.

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