Lent: on taking it one step at a time

Lent is here. It’s a time when many people choose to spend more time in reflection and prayer. It’s a time to come to grow on the inside. Like a bulb planted underground in the winter struggling through the cold dirt, we can struggle through the reality of our mistakes and imperfections, without losing hope. We can persevere like that little green shoot peeking out through the snow into the frosty air to find the sun. But all this requires patience, something our immediate-gratification-loving world is sorely lacking.

I got to thinking about patience this evening when I was trying to teach my daughter to draw a cube. She was trying again and again to make it look right, but it kept looking lopsided, like a tent.

“It’s all about getting the lines parallel,” I said. “You can’t draw it too fast, you have to go one line at a time focussing only on making it parallel to the one across from it. Then it looks straight.”

So she kept trying and filled pages with these 3-D boxes.

“Why can’t I get it right?” she asked. “I’ve done so many and they’re still not perfect!”

“It’s not about getting it perfect; it’s about practicing–building your drawing muscles so you can get better and better. And that’s why we do it with a pencil, so we can erase our mistakes, and readjust things to make it better.”

Isn’t it the same with our spiritual lives? We get easily frustrated with the time it takes to get things looking straight. We don’t want to be lopsided boxes, we just want to be that perfect cube right now! But that’s not how it works. We need to have the patience to make little strokes with our pencils, realizing we can erase our mistakes and readjust things every day. We can say sorry and begin again with new hope, that’s what Lent is all about.

Our lives are not written in stone, or even permanent ink, so we only need to humbly keep trying, while paying attention to the little things. Ultimately our lives are a picture made up of many tiny images. Every little line adds to this picture. So the only way to improve ourselves is by paying attention to the little things, readjusting day by day to try to make the picture that we want. Shaping our lives a little bit at a time, and trying to do so with patience, humour and love.

Of course, it helps if we know ahead of time what we want that picture to look like. This is where life goals come in, and knowing what kind of person we want to be helps us to take steps to get there. So having an ideal image to strive for—that perfect box, that amazing hero, that inspiring saint—can help us to break down that image into concrete pieces, and discover little positive habits that we can acquire to become not them, but the best version of ourselves.

“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! 

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.


I Want a Power Ranger Suit

The other night, literally as we were eating our Halloween candy, after having dressed up, done a candy hunt in the living room, danced to spooky kids music and painted our faces,
my seven year old daughter asked me, “When is the next holiday?”


That was the sound in my head.
Deep breath.

“Could we please just try to enjoy this moment before thinking about the next one? When I tell you you’ll start asking every day how many more days till…”

“I know, but is it Christmas? How long?”

Since then we have discussed at least three times what she wants for Christmas, as well as spent extensive time planning what to be next Halloween. So far a white cat, a ‘Spy Fairy,’ a princess with a sparkly but not hoopy dress, and a Power Ranger of unspecified colour. She told me with a sly smile on the bus, “Mommy, I want a Power Ranger suit.”

Sometimes I wonder if this it a bit what God feels like, being asked for stuff all the time, with little time for thank you’s in between the demands. Can you imagine the clamor of all our requests throughout the world:

Dear God, please gimme, gimme, gimme, and also why, why, why did you let this happen and not that….

One would imagine, if God were more like us, that it would be the source of an (al) mighty headache. Thank goodness for the infinite patience, mercy and generosity of God. Thank goodness that he loves each one of us, demanding as we are, having had us in his mind and heart from all eternity…as unique creations, singular expressions of his infinite beauty and diversity.

May he open my eyes to see my children with his loving eyes, especially on the days when they want so many things, and object to so many others. I guess it’s important to remember that they ask about the holidays a million times not to drive me crazy (-er) but because for them, the anticipation is half the fun.

There are other times when a sudden sweetness bursts through their busy little selves and makes me smile. The other day after mass I asked my five year old if she wanted to say a prayer together. “Let’s say the one we wrote for Great-Grandma.” It’s a song we wrote for her, to make her feel better in the hospital. We sent it to her with some lollipops. Cause that’s the part about going to the doctor that’s fun.
Here it is:

Love is love, and we love you.
Don’t you know it’s always true.
Don’t give up,
There’s always hope,
And we’ll love you forever.

Then she smiled at me with her big blue eyes and said, “Mommy, a heart is the shape of love.”

Today we stood at the bus stop in the chilly November air, munching some cheese and crackers as we waited. My daughter asked me for a cracker. It was the last one. I gave it to her, and after a brief moment she broke it and held it up, “Want half?” I couldn’t have been happier if she brought me roses. The little things…