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.

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.

Tapestry

  
There is the famous image of life
as a a tapestry which we view from behind—
all the messy bits and loose threads
funny bumps and rough edges—
until we reach Heaven
and see things as they really are.

But there is one thing I see already
even here below—
that the threads are not all mine,
that there are streaks of beauty and colour
which come from my friends.

That the fabric that holds me together
is woven from the love and courage
of women who have suffered
and hoped again,
who have lost everything and dared try again,
who have laughed and cried with me,
who have shared my deepest pain
and greatest joys. 

You make me strong.
You carry me forward.

You are forever woven
into the fabric of my heart.

Paradox

  

If you want to know true joy,

look to the one who has experienced deep sadness.

If you want to find strength,

look to the one who has been broken. 

If you want to know peace,

look to the one who has wrestled with despair. 

If you want to know laughter, 

look to the one who has wept. 

If you want to know loyalty,

look to the one who has been abandoned.

If you want to be truly human,

look to God.

A Father’s Gentle Strength

Being a father is being strong enough

to sacrifice everything for those you love…

constantly giving your all for your family,

bearing your little ones up with the gentleness

of someone powerful enough

to put others before himself.

Having a father is knowing you are never alone—

that there is always someone to hold your hand

and walk with you through the paths of this life

and into eternity.

How blessed are my children to have a father like this!

Thank you God for creating men who know how to love like you.

Help me always remember why I fell in love with the man

who is the father of my children,

whose love for me has become flesh

and walks among us.

If It’s Only By Crying…

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If it’s only by crying
that I can understand
the tears of others
then let me wear them like pearls

If it’s only by losing hope
that I can bring it to others
then let it fly away

If it’s only by breaking my heart
that it can become
big enough to hold everyone
break it

If it’s only by my desolation
that I can walk the valley of grief
with others
then strip me bare

Let my fragility bring others courage
my vulnerability, strength

And from my emptiness
let Your light burst forth
and shine

Lead us through the valley of grief
because if we walk it together
it will bring us Home

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I Will Walk With The Lion

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Each night the kids and I explore by flashlight
the enchanted world of Narnia
till my voice lulls the little ones to sleep
and the big girls beg for just one more chapter…

We’ve met brave children, witches, satyrs and fauns
but above all, the One who brings the deeper magic
who makes spring return and ends the
“Always winter but never Christmas,”
they say it with a hushed whisper
Aslan!

The Lion, the king,
the beautiful and terrible
the creator and saviour
whose velvet paws contain immense strength
whose immense heart
is crowned with gentleness

And so here on retreat in the woods
I’ve been imagining myself as one of the children
having stepped through the enchanted wardrobe
into the forest of Narnia

I will walk with the Lion
through days sweet and light
And though there be battle
darkness and pain
with the Lion I will remain
in triumph and hope
I will walk with the Lion

And when I am weary,
I’ll lean on his chest
feeling his strength
the warm rumble of his breath
on my neck

His heavy paws hold me close
and his claws keep me safe
The Lion’s embrace
is my fortress

Together we’ll mourn
for the lost and the suffering
the Lion’s great eyes
pools of sadness
that shimmer with love

Close to him hope unties each knot of doubt in my belly
My heart melts into his golden warmth
and deep purrs embrace me
in a cocoon of sound
I am safe

On Vulnerability

Lately I’ve become a little addicted to reading The Hunger Games Trilogy, despite my initial resistance. My husband wanted to watch the first movie one night, and I refused, claiming it was not my kind of movie, and that the idea of violent teenagers in an arena was enough to give me daymares. So he bought the books instead and got totally hooked, reading it tons while he was home sick for a few days. Then my husband, who loves to share, convinced me to read it too, and after this we’ll likely watch all the movies. That’s what I get for not watching one movie! 😉

But I’m glad, and it’s a lot more engrossing than I imagined. Certainly the ideas of media control, surveillance, and propaganda in their harsh society are politically relevant and spookily real at times. But honestly, what’s really grabbing me is the romance. Tortured teenage love triangle, which sounds cheesy but is actually quite beautifully done. I’m only half way through book two, but what interests me so far is the main character Katniss’ inability to authentically respond to love.

She craves the warmth and security of love a lot but fears it more. I think this is because to really open herself up to love would be the ultimate vulnerability. Her survival so far has been based on strength, grit, toughing it out, learning to lock away her emotions and overcome desperation to help her family survive. Her identity is the hunter, the provider, the one who doesn’t care about anyone but her family. The idea of letting her heart out of its cage frightens her, because she couldn’t defend it with violence, as she can her life. Her happiness would be out of her control.

As I said, love is the ultimate vulnerability; the more you love someone, the more their loss can hurt you, and in her precarious world this is a real danger. This is in a way the real tragedy in her world, that the freedom to love is choked by fear. But if we can’t love, are we really alive anyway?

When the baker’s son Peeta is repeatedly kind to her, she is suspicious. His willingness to repeatedly sacrifice himself for her causes confusion and shame; she can’t understand his actions. Only when he is severely wounded, and she can come to the rescue, does she allow herself to feel more. When he is strong, her pride rebels; when he is weak, she yearns to heal him.

It is similar with her best friend and hunting companion Gale; her strong attachment to him only becomes clearly romantic when he is flogged and near death. She only feels comfortable as the saviour, and gets evasive whenever love is expressed between equals. This changeable nature of her heart is extremely frustrating, and in a way, very realistic. After all, she’s a teenager!

Anyway, you can see what I’ve been doing in spare moments when feeding the baby, and what I’ve been obsessing over while doing the dishes. Yup, I’m hooked, and rooting for Peeta, the kind, generous, giving one who lays down his life again and again for Katniss. He reminds me of my husband. The nice guy whose strength lies in self-giving, as opposed to the dark, brooding hunter that is Gale.

But don’t tell me what happens; I’ll be crushed if my little crush is crushed…which given the awful nature of the world of The Hunger Games, is very likely.