Gratitude: A Happy Habit to take up for Lent

At the beginning of Lent, I was chatting with a close friend on the phone and she told me that she and her husband planned to give up guilt for Lent, in favour of gratitude. By this they meant not guilt for actual wrongs done, the natural response to sin and hurting others, but rather shame—the feeling of unworthiness or unlovableness that we can sometimes fall prey to when we make a mistake or fail to prevent something out of our control.

Giving up such negative feelings, and looking for ways to turn difficult situations into opportunities to see the good and give thanks for it struck me as a great idea. So in the spirit of practicing gratitude, I will share a list of blessings I’m grateful for with you right now:

1. When my mother-in-law sent me birthday money this year, I decided to put it towards Kindle Unlimited, and have been enjoying reading lots of books on my iPad when I can’t sleep lately. Tonight I’m reading 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, and the first one they don’t do is indulge in pity parties! So I’ve put away the balloons and party hats, and brought out my gratitude list instead. 🥳

2. Various back aches and late pregnancy cramps made the midwives give me an ultimatum: no more vacuuming or carrying heavy things like the laundry basket to your outdoor laundry room under the stairs. What great things to give up for Lent! 🤣 I’m grateful my husband has taken over the laundry, and that he now has more first hand experience of this charming chore. “Is there more dirty laundry already? I feel like I just did a bunch!” Exactly honey. So it goes.

3. I had a nice outing to the dollar store with my daughter on the way home from ballet class, and bought cute socks for myself and the baby to put in our hospital bag. His have tiny blue stars, and mine say on the soles, “If you can see this, rub my feet.” Thought they might make the nurses laugh.

4. I’m also really grateful for Jenn Dean, a parenting coach from the Families Matter Most podcast. I first saw her speak at on online homeschool conference recently, and found her approach to fostering positive thinking though addressing core beliefs which influence our behaviour so compelling that I’ve started doing some coaching with her on Zoom. She’s great!

Jenn encouraged me to journal and keep track of my thought processes, especially when something goes wrong, so I can be aware of what core belief is affecting my response. Sometimes that belief could actually be a lie, such as “Such and such went wrong because I’m useless and mess up everything.” In this case, awareness of the lie is a necessary step to be freed from it and embrace the truth, which is simply that some days are harder than others, and tomorrow is a chance to try again. I liked this journal and got it for myself.

5. I’m also grateful for the sweet surprises my friends have brought me lately, which are such a tangible sign of their affection and support. Isabela and Claudio brought us pizza buns and homemade chocolate chip cookie dough, Lisa brought us tiny red velvet cupcakes made by a talented coworker, and tonight, Sister Corina brought us Purdy’s chocolates and a fruit topped cheesecake! Yes, this baby is destined to be chubby and cute, and everyone is ensuring their part in that! 🥰

6. I could just keep going, but this list is getting long, so the last one for tonight is my amazing neighbour Lorie, a retired nurse who does professional house cleaning part time. She has been a total Godsend, and has been helping us declutter and clean our house, one room at a time. First, we tackled the garage, and after hiring the great guys from Half-Price Rubbish Removal, we now have so much more space to store things in an organized way. Everything is being sorted and labelled, such a bins of clothes for various kids to grow into. We even strung up a rope in the garage to hang extra or off season coats, so I can see what we have before buying new ones.

Sometimes it’s a struggle emotionally to let someone else help me deal with my mess, but in those moments I’m trying to reframe things. Instead of thinking, “I’ll never get organized on my own cause I’m too sloppy,” I think, “Caring for all my kids and house is a big job, and I’m so grateful to have friends willing to pitch in and help.” Lorie does such and good job, and is so cheerful about it, that we call her our “Fairy Clean Mother,” whose super power is making things sparkle. The kids love her, too, and are inspired to help out more, which is a huge bonus!

Tiny super helper!

What is one thing you are grateful for today?

Just When

Just when the weight

became crushing

and I no longer knew what to do

to make anything better at all,

and the pain was becoming too much

for you to bear

and me to see,

it lifted.

Just when words failed me

and I was running out of songs to sing you

while I massaged your aching back

or gently washed your face,

a comforter came

who spoke such words of consolation

that he drew from your own aching heart

words of hope.

Just when I cried out that I could not carry on,

could no longer bear

these birth pangs of your transition

into a new and deeper life,

the pain ceased—

a gentle day came

and you slipped out of this world

sweetly, like a baby in sleep.

Just when I felt so inadequate

to bring you any closer to peace,

everyone’s prayers kicked in

and suddenly lifted you,

as I’d promised,

straight up to Heaven

in a hot air balloon

filled with love.

Early

Early in the morning,

in the delicious quiet

before anyone else is awake,

I leave aside my troubled dreams

and get up to feed the birds.

It’s a windy morning.

The kids’ toys in my yard are all tumbled about

and the crows feathers are ruffled

as the await their breakfast

on the telephone wires.

I open the window to throw them bread crusts.

The cool morning air

greets me like a brisk breeze from a boat,

fresh and hopeful

as if the day itself

was dreaming of adventure.

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.

Thoughts on Being Home

We all find ourselves at home, due to the need for social isolation right now. For me as a homeschooler, it’s not that different than usual, with the exception of no play dates and extra classes, but it’s still bizarre to not even be able to invite people into my home. Especially since I’m the kind of person who meets someone new almost every time I go out, and who loves to have potlucks. Even my wedding was a potluck, so everyone could come!

So I’ve been thinking about what it really means to be home. Here’s a few things to ponder as we all adjust:

Is our home merely a parking lot–a place we leave our car between activities, or is it a destination in itself?

Is our home merely a hotel, a place we rest before we go off to live during the day, or is it a place we are truly alive, and most able to be ourselves?

Each person is a universe unto themselves. How much we have to explore!

When you can’t go farther, go deeper. During this period of physical limitations, let yourself grow on the inside.

The plants lay hidden under the snow. And the farmer, the owner of the land, observed with satisfaction: ‘Now they are growing on the inside.’

I thought of you: of your forced inactivity…

Tell me: are you too growing ‘on the inside’? St Josemaria, The Way, 294

While it is strange to not be able to go out, do we realize how lucky we are to have homes to be in, unlike so many refugees around the world? Let’s all pray for each other in these difficult times.

If home is where the heart is…how healthy is your heart right now? What can you do to make it better? For a great and timely read, try Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home.

Home is where our children learn to love…can you learn to love being home with them, at least for now?

Children have such a beautiful way of seeing the world. Being home is a chance to re-enter the magic of childhood with them.

“Oh, look, here’s a big bee just tumbled out of an apple blossom. Just think what a lovely place to live–in an apple blossom! Fancy going to sleep in it when the wind was rocking it. If I wasn’t a human girl, I think I’d like to be a bee and live among the flowers.” Anne of Green Gables

How we can extend the warmth of our home to others when we can’t visit with them? A phone call just to check in, a text, meeting on FaceTime or Zoom, a little card or letter, a surprise parcel, a chat over the fence with a neighbour…these little acts of love make everyone happier. My generous eldest nephew really took the cake when he sent my kids a Nintendo Switch to brighten their days at home. Their old Wii had conked out, and this was, in this time of crisis, actually a solvable problem. Hurrah for those kinds!

Are we open to receiving help and love from others, and letting them be the hero for the day? The other day my younger kids made a surprise breakfast with Earl Grey Tea, my favourite.

Love to you all our there, and despite the struggles, may your homes be places of love and laughter.

Wild and Free

I grow my garden

wild and free

I do not expect

it bow to me

My joy it is

to watch it bloom

Nor do I wish

its beauty to consume

to cut and cull

alone preserve

no longer in the wind and sun

to dance and curve

Not for me it is

to choose the day

nor the colour it shall bloom

So many shades of beauty

wild and free

Though I was the one

to plant the seeds

my garden does not belong to me

Upstairs, Downstairs

This poem was written for my former downstairs neighbour and dear friend who has now returned home to Egypt with her husband and children. It was an honour and a joy to share our lives with them, and to find a warm connection that overcame any differences.

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms everywhere!! Peace be with you. May you always be supported, embraced and encouraged by your fellow moms all over the world! Go team! 🙂

 

Upstairs: a crazy crew of kids

six littles bouncing, dancing, singing, banging.

Downstairs: two small sweeties,

running, shouting, playing, laughing.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the mothers scold, cook, cuddle and caress.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the mothers mother

day and night.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women sing

in Arabic and English,

songs of faith and lullabies

unique yet universal,

of one heart.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women weep,

mourn lost babies–

precious ones snatched away too soon–

in each other’s arms

these mothers find warm comfort.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women pray,

observe Lent and Ramadan,

break their fasts and rejoice together

over homemade sweets.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women hope,

cherishing the new lives

nestled in their wombs…

little tiny babies

due at the same time.

May they be best friends!!

 

In the world there is hatred

but not in our house.

Upstairs, downstairs

there is love.

 

Moments of Glory

So many times

life in a large family

is like swimming in the ocean

tossed about by salty waves,

trying to catch your breath between tantrums.

Then there are those moments of glory

when your kids are all getting along

and the baby is sleeping while your eldest girls

do a duet on their ukuleles.

That moment is one of perfect rest,

like you’ve climbed upon a wooden raft,

the waveworn wood smooth against your skin,

the sun’s warm weight on your back.

At that moment you question nothing.

Self-doubt sinks below the waves

and you float there

–happy–

trusting for that moment

that everything is grace.

Twilight

That lonely hour

between the day and night

between the dark and light

that lonely hour is here

The darkness–not yet complete–

the day–bittersweet–flying away

What could have been or should have been

is over now

My heart’s afloat in this no man’s land

between hanging on, letting go and giving in

accepting that the day was enough

Evening falls on sleepy-eyed dreams of tomorrow

Solitude surrounds me

this lonely hour

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.