Flawed, but Faithful

We laughed until we cried.  It was a real-life enactment of the perfectly crafted joke; have you heard the one about the attorney and the cradle catholics?  It all played out at my Friday morning book club; a meeting of four flawed, but faithful women; a small but mighty crew tackling the greater mysteries of life.  

This particular morning we were discussing the story of Noah and the ark; certainly one of the more well-known stories of all time.  Speaking with perfect confidence, my friend was reviewing the magnitude of the flood and was asking a question about the logistics of the resulting destruction.  The attorney among us, resolute and fearless in her questioning of all things-taking nothing at face value-quickly and politely (while smiling, mind you) challenged our lifelong understanding of the bible with her soft proclamation, “I don’t think God actually flooded the entire surface of the world.”

Pan to cradle Catholics, innocently believing in every detail of the bible since birth, faces blank, synapses sparking, eyes signaling the search for understanding.  Beloved attorney closes her argument with the simple conclusion, “two of every animal on a boat?  Ya, I’m not thinking that really happened.”  Pan back to cradle Catholics and witness the impact of her statement register across each face starting with the tiniest curvature of the mouth upward, then the ever so slight squinting of the eyes and the final expression of understanding pouring out in the form of uncontrolled laughter.

This moment was made all the more comical because, only a few months earlier, an almost identical scene played out among us, only the bible story brought into question at the time was the very story of creation-Adam and Eve-and the eating of the infamous apple.  While three of us got caught up in the details of the apple itself, our fact-checker deepened our entire understanding of the story by calling into question its very validity.

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as in fact  you are doing.”  Thessalonians 5:11

While one might think this would end poorly, in a battle of who’s right and who’s wrong, the four of us must have been hand-picked by God to learn from one another because differing opinions are met only with a desire to dig deeper, learn more and broaden our understanding in and through the context of one another’s experiences, questions and insights.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Once we pulled ourselves together from our laughing fit, we were once again left with the question of what to take literally and what to assume was portrayed in parable form for the sake of the message within.  In the end, we concluded that, whether the forbidden apple was red or green, whether the ark really did have two of every creature or was ever built at all, the message of the story is the truth we need to pay attention to; the message is God’s word.  With gratitude to the “questioner” among us, we were all gifted with a renewed and deeper appreciation for the call to build our own personal “arks” in order to shelter ourselves in God’s promised protection and allow Him to help us navigate the storms that we will face in life.

Surprisingly enough, the four of us haven’t been together for long at all, yet the comfort level in the group would surely hint otherwise.  Two of us are a product of your more typical rule following Catholics from childhood.  We made all of our sacraments, attended mass every Sunday and accepted what we were taught.  I believed because I knew it was the right thing to do, but my heart missed the lesson on exactly why.   One of us grew up among the rocky waters of poverty, forced to mature well beyond her years as she and her mother navigated a world that wouldn’t cut them a break.  She didn’t make it to mass every Sunday but she had, and still has, something I’ve always wanted-a real, no-holds-barred relationship with God-a sincere, back-and-forth, vulnerable, you’ve-got-a-friend connection that is not confined by the fear of having to do everything right.  And one of us is a learned woman, an old soul of sorts, constantly seeking answers and fighting against the current of logic that pulls at her understanding and belief of that which is unexplained in human terms.  And then, of course, there’s Arlo, the group mascot, an adorable, dark black poodle with the face of a stuffed animal; one lucky dog to be privy to our shared wisdom week after week.  We are a motley crew at best, but these sisters of mine have taught me much in our time together.

There is nothing more cathartic than sitting among friends with whom you are comfortable asking the questions you know there are no answers to, exposing the most vulnerable parts of your heart, revealing struggles with faith, trust and surrender and laying your flaws before one another, knowing you are loved despite them-and sometimes, maybe even because of them.  God never intended us to figure this life thing out on our own.  I am learning that it is through this kind of sharing that God’s word continues to be the living word.  Our own lives, our questions, our fears-unknowingly and unintentionally, we bring life to His word and He, in turn, continues to breathe life into each one of us through the messages hidden among the apple tree and the animals in the ark (two of each, of course).  Step out in faith and bring life to His word.  Flaws welcome.

The Work of His Hands

His name is Andy and he seems to find a seat behind my family at mass every week. He’s an older gentleman, always attends mass alone and leaves one to wonder about the “story” behind this quiet soul.  He was kind enough to introduce himself one morning after mass and handed me his business card of sorts that lists his name and education. It’s clear his is a learned man; perhaps your stereotypical genius introvert, a pensive thinker, seemingly withdrawn from the world yet carefully taking in his surroundings.

More than once after mass he has stopped my two sons to tell them how impressed he is with the way they care for their little sister.  A few weeks ago, he walked in and once again took his seat in the pew directly behind us.  He then proceeded to watch as our seven year old daughter, Mary-Rose, began to quietly climb up on her brother’s lap, then down again, face forward, then backward and hop from the lap of one brother to another multiple times.  Her movement is constant, yet her brothers take it all in stride, patiently picking her up, putting her down and doing their best to sneak in a snuggle when she sits long enough for a squeeze.

This particular day, once the final song had begun, I noticed Andy lean over to my husband, hand him a twenty dollar bill, then give him some important directions.  On our way back to the car, my husband explained that this kind and gentle man was once again taken with the selfless care her brothers afforded their sister.  The twenty dollars was for Mary-Rose to take her brothers out for an ice cream.  A “thank you”, if you will, for their love and patience.

Truth be told, it is hard to not be taken by the special relationship between Mary-Rose and her two brothers.  It’s something I thank God for each and every day.  What Andy doesn’t know, is that this mama’s heart was fearful this bond between our three children might never develop.  Our boys are twenty-three months apart and had seven years to develop an incredibly close relationship before their little sister entered the scene.  At seven and nine years of age, their world was turned upside down when we adopted Mary-Rose into our family; a two and a half month old angel, born with an extra chromosome and a long list of hearts to mold.

Literally overnight, there was this new little person in our lives that required mom and dad’s attention-and lots of it.  Our sons had every right to be resentful of this little lady. Things could have gone awry; I remain aware of that reality every day when I stand back in awe of how amazing things turned out.  These two boys of ours opened their hearts to their sister and haven’t looked back since.

“Yet you, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are our potter; we are the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

This simple, yet powerful gesture from Andy does much to ground me as we move into the new year.  The perspective of one who is all but a stranger places the beauty and intimacy of God’s work in our lives right before me, as clear as a memo from above. When I look at my sons and their selfless love for their sister, I am reminded that anything is possible if we open ourselves to His perfect plan and take our place on the potter’s wheel with expectant and malleable hearts.  

Of course, as I sit here on this snowy New England morning, wrapped in warmth, coffee cup in hand, and no need to head out into the storm, my strength in being molded seems easy, even exciting.  None of us truly know what the next 365 days will bring.  As with the start of any new year, we all have two choices.  We can fill our calendars with carefully thought-out plans and step into tomorrow cautiously hoping things will turn out the way we want, or, we can pray for the potter to mold us to adapt and cherish each day as it comes, to give us strength to weather the storms and grateful hearts to recognize and absorb the gifts that will surround us.

As we welcome the start of a new year, I picture Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus stepping out of the manger and into a life that was full of uncertainty.  My prayer is to walk into 2018 with the expectant and trusting hearts of the holy family, asking God to wrap us in His promised and unfailing love and inspire us with the courage to allow Him to mold us into the perfect work of His hands.         

Happy New Year

The Reality Of The Golden Ticket

Their excitement when they get the golden ticket is palpable.  You can’t help but share in the joy of these complete strangers, knowing the  years of hard work that led up to this moment.  The thing that kills me, is that it’s no secret to the viewers how hard the journey ahead will be for these dancers.  This reality show, “So You Think You Can Dance”, is certainly a harsh reality for every dancer but the one that makes it through literally hundreds of cuts to claim the top spot, board the “hot tamale train” and  celebrate what was once a far-off dream.

Our oldest is preparing to make his confirmation this year and, for some reason, this step in his faith all started to make sense to me in the context of this reality-tv world that has inundated our culture.  In receiving the sacrament of confirmation, my son is essentially completing what is required of him for his faith formation.  For years, he has studied the dance steps and he knows the routine to follow in order to live a life of faith.

In a sense, although a strange analogy, his confirmation is like the golden ticket.  It’s an honor for sure to be confirmed, and he’s certain to feel the excitement and pride of the gift of the Holy Spirit, but as a more seasoned adult, I’ve seen, lived and know the many roadblocks that could make that golden ticket feel more like a cross than a win.  Choosing to follow God rather than the more popular culture of “doing what feels good, when it feels good” is the more challenging path by far, but if he can keep his eye on the prize, it will all be worth it in the end.

And so, amid the joy I have for him to receive such an incredible blessing, the reality of the cross brings me to my knees and commits me once again to the only place I know to go as a parent-that of prayer.

I pray, my son, that the glare of the golden ticket does not blind you of the hard work that you must always put in to your faith, that once the blisters and sore muscles creep in, you push through the discomfort and persevere on the path God has laid for you.  I pray you have the courage and humility to let God lead the dance, hold on tight and enjoy the beauty and peace of moving in rhythm with that of your Creator.

I pray you are the survivor of every challenge life throws your way; that much like the men and women you love to watch on tv fighting for the title of sole survivor, you are able to withstand the storms, learn from moments when you are blindsided by the friend you trusted most and treasure those that are willing to lend you dry socks to get through the night.  I pray you remember in this game called life that “fire represents life; once your fire is gone, so are you.”  Of course in this analogy the fire is that of the Holy Spirit and the truth is one in which life only makes sense when you are guided by and living for something much bigger than yourself.

This life, my sweet boy, will run the full gamut of emotions so perfectly embodied by the ever-popular emoji s that too often do the talking for us. There is sure to be joy, laughter, and tears of both the latter.  My prayer is that these tears of happiness far outweigh any shed in sadness or fear.  There will be times you will feel certain and confident and others that are overshadowed with doubt and anxiety.  I pray your faith will be strong enough to feel deep gratitude in the times of joy and trust that the more challenging moments will pass.

You may experience chapters of life that cause you to question God’s presence and leave you searching for proof of His love for you.  And then later on in your own unique story, you will find yourself putting all the pieces together and even be able to thank God for preparing you and refining you in ways only He fully understood at the time.  Which, my special guy, brings us full circle with the comparison of your faith to the training of a dancer.  Your relationship with God will be a constant work in progress and it will never be perfection.  There will always be room for improvement and your level of commitment will directly correlate with the reward.  Know that your Dad and I will be in the audience for each and every performance, cheering you on and praying that, through it all, you hold tight to His hand and just keep on dancing.  

 

 

 

Have You Heard?

Have you heard the news?  There is a strange phenomenon occurring in Iceland.  Scientists, psychiatrists and behaviorists from all over the world are traveling to the country to observe, collect data and form their opinion on what is causing the alarming changes.

To date, data has proved challenging to collect and organize, as the phenomenon has permeated all areas of human behavior.  Looking at what is currently known, the following observations have been reported:

  • A spike in personal pride in one’s work with a correlating attitude of superiority and decrease in efforts to help one’s neighbor/co-worker/classmate meet the same level of achievement
  • An increase in the expectation that all citizens should contribute to their communities in a way that is quantifiable; the higher the level of output, the better
  • A significant decrease in patience toward anyone that can’t meet expectations with the number of individuals who are able to meet them becoming smaller every day
  • A lack of compassion, understanding and acceptance for citizens who struggle to perform at a certain level

Personal, one-on-one interviews with a randomly selected group of individuals show the following:

  • significant decrease in joy
  • Feelings of becoming easily frustrated and impatient with those who differ from them and their abilities
  • a deep and unfulfilled yearning for a connection to something bigger than themselves
  • emptiness

For the past several years, researchers have tried to make sense of it all and time and again, fall short of identifying the underlying cause to these negative, often debilitating effects on human behavior.  One behaviorist in particular devoted years of his life to studying the abnormalities, traveling back and forth between Iceland and the US, his own temperament often adapting, although unknowingly, to his change in location.  It wasn’t until one quiet morning at his favorite coffee shop in Iceland when reading the morning’s headlines that it all became crystal clear.  The headline read, “Down Syndrome nearly eradicated; close to 100% of women who receive a positive test for Down Syndrome terminate their pregnancy.”

“Of course”, he thought, questioning why the most obvious answers always prove to be the most elusive.  He had to laugh at the audacity of the world’s most brilliant minds coming together to study what is one of the oldest and most destructive downfalls of mankind-that of judgement-the thought that one individual has the right to decide the worth of another.  It’s like a deadly mold, eating away at the very fabric of human character until one is left with the feeling that choosing who gets to be treated with respect, who deserves a chance at survival and who gets to live are all decisions owed to us.  “When will we learn?”, he said out loud as he finished his coffee and headed back to his hotel to pack his things and call his wife and daughter to tell them he’s coming home.  All of a sudden, he was overcome with excitement to hold his sweet girl, to wrap her, extra chromosome and all, into his arms and hold on tight. He knows she will teach him much and hopes his larger community and world will learn a lesson that continually gets buried beneath human fear, weakness and a gross misrepresentation of what our role as God’s children really is.

Upon boarding the plane, he feels a genuine sense of sadness and sympathy for the residents of Iceland, knowing all that they are missing in not welcoming these special souls into their lives.  He looks down at his phone and is struck with the beautiful image of his daughter staring back at him.  He can’t wait to get home and wrap her in the love she so deserves.

Author’s Note: As the reader has probably discerned, 98% of this post is not based on any factual information.  The 2% that is unfortunately true is the statement that, in the country of Iceland, “Down Syndrome has basically been eradicated, as nearly 100% of women who receive a positive test for Down Syndrome terminate their pregnancy.”  While I took significant literary liberty with this post, I did so with very personal, non-fictional information and experience of the incredible blessing it is to share my life with someone who has Down Syndrome. 

The thought of living in a society that doesn’t see the value, potential, worthiness and joy of these amazing individuals is one that I simply can’t understand.  While I’m aware that my stance on the subject may be met with criticism, I don’t apologize for my belief that every life is worthy–not by my judgement but by the simple fact that every person is made in the image and in the likeness of God.   I do apologize if the words I have written are interpreted to mean that I don’t understand the level of fear and uncertainty that can envelope the heart of a couple learning their child will face significant challenges in their life.  I felt that fear when my husband and I decided to adopt our daughter and love this little girl with everything that we are and continue to feel it on a daily basis as I watch her struggle to find her way. 

I also don’t pretend that the decisions of those in Iceland are by any means easy or made without devastating sadness. In the end, what has haunted me since first reading this report is what those mothers and fathers in Iceland will never get to experience.  In accepting the lie that they are told about the life they can expect their children to live, they are robbed of the pure, boundless love that fills my heart every time I embrace my daughter.  They will miss the awe I feel in watching her persevere time and again against all odds and reach goals I never thought she would reach.  They will never know that their children have more to teach them than they could ever repay.  And their understanding of love in general will be forever marred, thinking that love is owed only to those that fit a certain mold.

As science continues to develop and testing during pregnancy becomes ever more specific, one is left to wonder what group of individuals will be eradicated  next.  At what point does it end?  How far will we let things go before we understand our world, our communities, will not be the same if we continue on this path?  At what point do we decide to cherish all life and let God sprinkle His beauty on this earth through individuals of all abilities, talents and gifts?      

 

My Kind of Sexy

It was a nine-seater, eighties GMC Suburban, red and tan, peppered with multiple areas of rust.  It was big enough to dwarf the 6′-1″ driver and loud enough to pass as a large delivery truck.  This was my carriage; my ride to our first date.  It was my Cinderella moment; not so much for the vehicle, but for my fairy tale behind the wheel. Looking back, I can see how this old clunker would define the character of the man I still swoon over twenty-three years later.

As the mother of two teenage boys, I am acutely aware of our world’s definition of sexy. Clothing found acceptable today is shorter, tighter and more see through than ever before.  Too often, body and looks trump character and people are rated by how much skin they show.  Whether it is a Victoria’s Secret ad popping up during our nightly t.v. show or the girl walking down the hallway at school, my boys are saturated with this distorted understanding of what sexy is.

Of course I’d be lying if I said I was first attracted to my husband because he was intelligent, honest and hardworking.  The truth is, I was taken with his dark hair, just long enough to have to be swept to the side, his deep brown eyes, perfect smile and confident, yet humble, way in which he carried himself.  Before learning his name, my college girlfriends and I used to refer to him as “Dead Poets Society” guy (in case you’ve never seen the movie, he looked just like one of the main characters).

As we prepare to celebrate our eighteenth wedding anniversary, I’ve been giving some thought to why it is I remain not only in love with this man, but so attracted to him.  The hair is all but gone and the little that remains is more white than black.  After all these years, all his secrets have been exposed. He is no longer this tall, dark and handsome mystery man that has me excited and curious to learn all the wonderful fairy tale things about him.  He is now this tall, dark and handsome man with flaws and imperfections, the start of wrinkles and an aged expression that shows the fatigue of being the hardworking man he is.

To me, however, this guy’s more sexy than ever before. He’s real, he’s without pretense and he’s vulnerable. He never hides behind the unrealistic strength men are often told they need to exhibit at all times. He identifies with his human weakness and continually puts his life in the hands of God.  There is nothing more attractive to me than seeing him on his knees in prayers, absorbed by a reality bigger than him, strong enough to live on faith rather than cling to some misconstrued belief that he should be able to control everything on his own merit.

His role as father and leader of our little family wins me over every day.  I am beguiled by the way he continually puts us first and himself last, by the way he submits himself to the truth that he doesn’t have all the answers and that he has just as much to learn from our children as he has to teach them, and the way he humbly shows that real leadership comes with the full gamete of emotions-fear-joy-humility-and it’s all ok.  And last, but not least, I am enchanted with the way he continually sacrifices his own “reputation” for the sake of a good laugh.

This is the kind of man I pray our boys will grow to be.  This is the kind of sexy I pray they will seek in a spouse and my future daughter-in-laws will appreciate.  I won’t pretend I can shelter my children from a society that encourages, rewards and celebrates anything and everything that has to do with indecency, promiscuity and the “do-whatever-feels-good” attitude.  We have plenty of inappropriate jokes flying around this household at any given time.  I do however, pray that our children will take note of the kind of man their father is, the joy and strength that comes from his faith and the way he treats their mother with selflessness, kindness and real compassion.

Truth be told, I’ve never been one to care for sports cars.  While I guess I can understand the thrill they seem to bring some people, to me, I see a pretense of sorts among the flashy parts and need for speed.  I’d take the man driving the old suburban any day — and 23 years later, I’m so grateful I did.

Happy Anniversary Babe…

 

My Mini Messenger

You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but it’s still a bit hard to take.  I had gone to my daughter’s classroom to pick her up and drive her to a field trip the class was having at a park nearby.  The rest of the class was walking through the woods from the school to the park but it was a bit too risky to expect Mary to walk the whole way.  This child has mastered the art of “the flop” creating a situation that makes it nearly impossible to lift her small frame from the ground when she has decided that that’s where she wants it.  A walk to the park would be the perfect opportunity to engage this special power of hers and I knew her aide was not up for the challenge.

Disrupting Mary’s normal schedule in any way is always a big deal.  She immediately became confused when she saw me enter the classroom and you could almost see the thoughts she was having scan across her her furrowed brow like the subtitles scrolling the screen of a foreign film.  Fortunately, after seven years of loving this sweet girl, none of this is foreign to me and her reaction was completely expected.

Her personal aide immediately responded to her look of concern, pulled out her picture board schedule and walked Mary through what the morning would hold.  I reached for Mary’s hand to lead her out of the classroom and she immediately let go and ran back over to her aide seeking the stability and comfort I wished I could provide.  Mary’s loving and patient aide assured her that once Mary got to the park, she would see her there. After a hug of reassurance, Mary conceded to the plan and, with some lingering hesitancy, took my hand to head for the car.  

From the moment we first learned of our daughter, she’s taught me more about the word surrender than I ever thought it was possible to absorb.  The scene that played out in her classroom that morning was just another assignment in the lesson on handing over control.  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I struggle with not being everything my daughter needs, but if I can’t be the one and only, I’m incredibly grateful for the bonds she forms with others.  

I’ll never forget my first meeting with Mary’s very first therapist.  She asked me what it is that I want for my daughter.  Without any hesitation I replied, “I want her to be happy.”  At the time I mistakenly and quite naively thought that I would be paramount in making that wish a reality.  I’m a piece of it for sure, but I’m constantly reminded where my place is.  I liken myself to the team manager.  I organize her schedule, chauffeur her where she needs to be, support and encourage her in all things and keep her world as peaceful and organized as possible.  But I’m one of many people in this little girl’s world that she counts on.

Mary’s loyalty to her relationships is fierce.  It takes a bit to win her over and prove yourself worthy of friendship, but once you do, her love never waivers.  She creates a space for you in her ginormous heart and catalogs you where you make sense in her world.  She doesn’t want to give me the time of day at school because I simply don’t belong there.  Much the same, if one of her aides from school came to our home for a visit, I’m guessing they wouldn’t get a very warm reception.

I’m beginning to understand that God programmed our little lady this way for a reason.  She’s a special soul, drawing attention to this paradoxical intersection of vulnerability and unmatched determination and strength, all wrapped in a painfully adorable package.  I’m noticing time and again what an important messenger she is for God, showering everyone blessed to know her with His amazing and selfless love.  She stretches people to limits they never knew they had and forces new perspective into the lives we thought we had figured out.

One of Mary’s favorite people to play with is a close friend of mine who has fallen under her spell of cuteness.  The difference in age spans over fifty years, but their connection is real.  This friendship of theirs often leaves me wondering who has more to teach the other.  More often than not, when they spend time just the two of them, Mary will bombard her way onto my friend’s lap and sit for a good long snuggle.  To know Mary is to know that sitting for any length of time, by choice no less, is uncommon.  God had a message to send to this friend, one that could only be delivered by the unconditional love of a child.  He needed her to know that the gift of motherhood has not escaped her and there is great need for the compassion and selflessness within her heart.  I love it.

The list of those this child of ours has touched is long.  Her impact on the people she draws close is a beautiful thing to witness.  Perhaps even more beautiful is that I am not left feeling jealous (ok, maybe a little) but rather extremely privileged that I can get this unique view into other’s perspectives.  She has this way of exposing the most vulnerable parts of your heart and squelching any of the negativity hidden in there.  

I often think of her birth mother and marvel at the message Mary emblazoned on her life, one of inner strength and courage that directly contradicts what she saw in herself prior to bringing Mary into this world.  I think of her big brothers and the message she has brought to them of the depth of joy loving someone selflessly can bring you.  Some messages are intimately tied to a specific person, others she almost wears as a banner for all to see, silently yet impactfully preaching the beauty of acceptance.  

I worry about my daughter.  The world will judge her harshly, assuming that her extra chromosome gives them the right to dismiss all she has to offer.  I guess I can’t be too critical.  If I’m going to be brutally transparent, before our daughter entered our lives, I was probably guilty of doing the same.  I wonder how many people walked by Jesus during His time on this earth and dismissed Him as a strange and fanatical prophet of sorts, someone not worth their time and attention.  How often do we continue to do that today?  God uses everything He’s got to pull us close.  He has pulled out every last trick with this young lady of ours, humanizing His message to all of us in a design that’s simply impossible to look past; I’m here.  I matter.  And if you would give me a second, I’ll bring you more joy than you ever thought your heart could handle.

Buddies

“Be Careful What You Pray For”

Ever heard the saying, “be careful what you pray for”?  A recent experience gave definition and perspective to these six simple words.  It was a lesson well learned, but a tough one at that.  

A few weeks ago when we were encroaching on the beginning of Holy Week, I was having a conversation with my son about the mass schedule for the Triduum.  He immediately responded that Holy Thursday and Good Friday are not holy days of obligation.  I actually wasn’t aware of that, but what surprised me most, and truthfully stopped me in my tracks, was the fact that he had taken the time to pit the wonders of the internet against me and Googled what he needed to bolster his argument that he shouldn’t have to attend these celebrations.  

In my more unfortunate and all-too-common humanity, I let fear control my response.  I looked right into his beautiful blue eyes and, instead of respecting the vulnerability that lay behind them, I asserted my best attempt at parental control and assured him that he would in fact be going to mass with his family as the these celebrations encompass the most holy days of the liturgical year.  That said, the conversation (the little I had allowed of one, that is) ended and I walked away angry and certain I was right in making this decision for him.

It never takes long for my fears as a mother to take hold and bring me to the point of visualizing the worst possible outcome from what is often an unfounded fear.  That simple encounter left me reeling with feelings of anger that my son wasn’t respecting the faith we work so hard to value as a family.  My frustration blocked any understanding of the many times my son has respected our wishes and dutifully attended Sunday mass, confession and the days the church does mark as obligatory.  I felt as though I had failed, I felt frightened and I selfishly and dramatically came to the conclusion that he was rejecting his faith entirely.  

Several months ago now, at the start of the new year, my small but mighty book club of six “flawed but faithful” women (as we often refer to ourselves) cracked open the title “My One Word” (by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen) and embarked on the challenge of choosing one single word to focus on throughout the year.  This one word can be anything, but the intention is to arrive at your word through prayerful self-inspection, asking God what it is He would like you to work on to grow into a more faithful son or daughter.  The word I have chosen for the year is prayer.   

So far, it’s working.  However, that’s not to say the journey has been entirely pleasant. This one word is changing the way I view tough situations, enriching the way I parent and opening my eyes to the countless gifts that surround me.  It’s also showing me the ways in which I am flawed.  And they are many.  And it stinks.  But I get it.  If I’m going to make any positive changes, I need my flaws to be laid before me.

When walking away from the “discussion” with my son, the one positive thing I did was turn to prayer.  I specifically asked God to help me defuse the situation, give me the wisdom and empower me with the right words to talk with my son about my concerns. God answered me, pretty quickly I might add, but most certainly not in the way I expected.

What God gently brought before me was exactly how UN-like Him I was being.  I was trying to force something on my son that God never forced on me.  I was placing judgment on my son that God has never placed on me.  I was placing expectations on my son to meet me where I was at with my faith, rather than selflessly meeting him where he is at.  I was making his faith about me and in doing so, was stripping my son from the gift of free will that God has entrusted to all of us.  The clarity with which I saw my “epic fail” was sobering.  God gave me words all right, but they were not at all what I was hoping for.  The answers I was receiving were in no way affirming of my actions and words, but rather humbling and challenging.

The following day, I found a quiet moment with my son and I apologized.  I told him I was sorry for my anger and explained that it is all rooted in fear; fear that perhaps his faith won’t mean as much to him as it does to me; fear that if he doesn’t open his heart to God, he will miss out on all the gifts, mercies and graces God has specifically chosen for him.  I explained how unfair it is of me to expect him to understand his faith at the young age of 13 in the same way I do at the more seasoned age of 41.  It’s a journey and it needs to be all his own.  As a parent, I can’t make him pack his bags any sooner than when he himself is ready to embark on this very personal adventure.

That’s not to say, of course, that as parents we are meant to just sit back and hope for the best.  We are called to live by example, to teach what we know to be true and to continually place our children in His loving and capable arms.  And prayer is perhaps the most critical piece of the puzzle, the one thing that will never fail to guide us the right way. The trick, I’ve found through experience, is praying with an open heart rather than a strict agenda with preconceived notions that we are already on the right path.  We have to be willing to have our weaknesses exposed, take hold of our humility and be ready to be surprised by what we might hear in response.

At the end of our conversation, when all apologies had be issued, my son looked at me and quietly said, “thanks”.  And there was my answer to prayer.

 

 

 

A Call For Help

It was, by all accounts, a normal Saturday morning.  With a one year old daughter, our day started early and by the time of the “incident”, we had already logged a few hours of playtime. We lived in a relatively quiet neighborhood on a road that didn’t see much traffic outside of the surrounding residents going about their normal daily business. That said, one might understand, in the midst of this more peaceful setting, how surprised I was when I glanced out the window and saw a police car cruising down the road at a speed that clearly spoke of an emergency somewhere nearby. My surprise turned to shock as I saw the car stop right in front of our house and then make a hard left into our little driveway.  My shock turned to dumbfoundment when no more than three seconds later, this exact scene was repeated with a second police car.  I stood at the window in my bathrobe with my pj-clad husband and children happily playing behind me and flatly gave a play-by-play of what I was witnessing; the pitch of my voice steadily increasing with each moment.

When my mind caught up to my eyes and I realized these guys were getting out of their cruisers and quickly heading for our front door, for some ridiculous reason, all I could think about was that I was in my pj’s.  I ran for the bedroom to throw on sweats while shouting to my husband to answer the door.  As my now totally flustered husband opened the front door, two very different worlds crashed into one.  Joe recalls how the officer, completely unknowing of what would greet him on the other side of the door, reached for his weapon and then quickly retracted his hand and visibly breathed a sigh of relief when he was greeted by my husband’s calm and gentle smile.  By the time I donned what I felt was more appropriate attire for the unexpected raid and made it back down the hallway, we had two very imposing officers standing in our entryway.  At first glance, nothing made sense. These men didn’t belong in our calm little world.  What the heck was going on?

Reading the confusion on our faces, one of the officers quickly explained that a 911 call had been placed from our home.  And in an instant, there was clarity in the chaos.  Joe and I looked at one another and both registered at the same time that our unknowing little one year old had been playing with the phone earlier that morning.  How on earth she managed to dial 911 by total chance remains a mystery.  The officer asked why no one had answered the phone when the dispatcher called back and we sheepishly explained that we assumed a call that early on a Saturday morning was a sales call and had ignored it.  Worried the officers might not be convinced of our plea of innocence, Joe offered them the opportunity to walk through the house and to come and meet our pint-sized culprit. They declined the offer, feeling comfortable with our explanation, and left as quickly as they came.

When the officers first reached our home that morning, they were working with very limited knowledge and had every right to assume they might be met with some sort of criminal scene within the walls of our small grey ranch.  Their understanding of the family behind the door was encased in this mistaken call for help and was, for all intents and purposes, drastically at odds with reality.  Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the misunderstanding to be sorted out or for their keen judge of character to rule out any need to investigate things further.

Reliving the events of that morning has brought me a new understanding of the current chaos that has recently enveloped this country and has everyone wondering if there is hope for stability and peace within our present political environment.  No worries; I realize I said the word political, but I can assure you my words are not an attempt at arguing sides or enforcing any personal agenda.  Quite the opposite, I myself am drowning in the division and negativity and am making a plea, simple in nature and complex in action, to refocus our judgement of character, hone our investigative skills and take our hands off our weapons.

To put it entirely too simply, none of us deserves to be judged, condemned or upheld solely on the basis of what box we filled in on voting day.  Rights and beliefs are a tricky thing.  Alone they mean nothing; they are like a puppet without a puppeteer.  Only when rights and beliefs are attached to a person, do they come alive with meaning.  And it’s at that moment that things get interesting, and entirely complex, for each and every person is made of diverse experiences, hopes, tragedies, successes and privileges.  Thinking in those terms, it starts to become clear that it is impossible and grossly unfair to judge someone without all the information that surrounds their individual understanding of this world.

Perhaps even more confusing is the division the election results has caused between friends and families.  These are people working with all the information and still their reactions are as if they no longer know the person behind the vote-the stance-the grip on whatever right they are holding strong to.  The only winner in the midst of this division is the devil himself.  While there is much yet to be revealed, I remain confident that God has this under control.  Yet, we, His sons and daughters remain His hands and feet, eyes and ears.  If we remain staunch in our resentment, paralyzed in our fear or resolute in our self-righteousness, He can’t work, plain and simple.

It’s a lesson I’m trying to absorb myself and my success in doing so has recently been tested. Several weeks ago I was driving to the store and was astounded to see a large billboard with a pro-life message.  Never have I seen anything like this in New England.  There was a large picture of two hands cradling a beautiful baby and the message read, “Cherish Life”.  I was thrilled to see this positive, gentle message and immediately wondered how long it would last before it was met with some sort of vandalism.  It didn’t take long.  The following week when I drove by I could tell someone had taken dirt and snow and thrown it at the billboard, doing a good job of tarnishing it.  It was only about a week or so later that I drove by and it was covered completely with large, black plastic sheeting. And that is how it now remains.

I’m not mad or resentful of this act of vandalism as much as I am just plain saddened by it. The person, or persons, who destroyed the billboard have no idea who I even am and most likely don’t care about my beliefs or my right to uphold the message written across the board.  They might be interested to know that I have the very same message tattooed across the back of my neck in honor and remembrance of my own three souls lost in miscarriage.  I bet if they were willing to listen to my story, they just might understand why I wish that billboard was still visible.  On the flip side, if I had the opportunity to listen to their story and get a glimpse into their life, their struggles, their fears, I just might understand what drove them to do what they did.

“Love your enemies.  Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:27-28, 31

It’s a tall order, for sure, but it’s time we all revisited the truth in these commands and remember the power of the prayer that can take us there.  God created each one of us uniquely for a reason. We aren’t meant to travel this world as robots, all co-existing among one another like nothing really matters.  Rather, we’ve all been given gifts through our own personal experiences that are meant to be shared, meant to be used to calm the fearful heart of a friend, gently whittle away the distrust and resentment that is unjustly attributed to the stranger among us and hopefully, bring us all closer to those sons and daughters God is proud to call His own.

While this country of ours will forever be wrapped in the beauty of the stars and stripes, we would all do good to remember that we are also wrapped in the arms of God.  We are nothing less than privileged to journey this life “under God” and through Him have the strength and wisdom to remain “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

That Which Is Unexpected

When Noah let out a scream, he surprised us all.  He was standing in our backyard at the top of a small hill; no one was around him, he hadn’t fallen, all seemed normal in his immediate environment.  “I’ve been shot!”, he shouted.  And the rest of us unknowing loiterers wondered what on earth he was talking about.  I mean, sure, he was standing about fifteen paces away from his grandfather, and his grandfather did happen to be shooting the boys bb gun at the time, but the possibility of those two facts adding up was nil to void…right? I mean, the target at which my father was shooting was a good 30 feet in front of him and Noah was standing behind my father, uphill from him no less.  What are the chances that the bb could have reached Noah?    

I ran over to my little guy (8 at the time) to try to calm him and realized when he lifted his shirt to reveal a perfectly bb-sized red mark on his stomach that he had in fact been shot.  Against all odds, the bb ricocheted off the intended target and made its way uphill and into the stomach of Mr innocent bystander standing off to what he thought was safety.  Myself, his older brother, my mother and my father-turned-assailant, albeit unintentional, were simply shocked.  While trying to process the inevitability of the situation, each one of us was slowly overcome with laughter and spent the next several minutes floundering between comforting this sweet child of mine and allowing the audacity of the scene to take hold.   

Noah Johnson Original

One might call this happenstance unbelievable, crazy or, at the very least, unexpected.  I certainly didn’t wake up that morning considering the possibility that my little guy would be hit with a bb.  For anyone with small children in school, you might have a renewed understanding of the word, “unexpected.”  Among the other trendy, re-purposed vocabulary used these days by teachers and therapists, I find the word unexpected attached to the more unfavorable behavior exhibited by students.  It has replaced more commonly accepted words like, bad, naughty, annoying or just plain not ok.  It limits the word to that which creates a poor or bad outcome.  For example, one day at speech therapy, Mary walked over and turned off the lights.  Her therapist calmly said, “Mary, that was unexpected!”  I didn’t feel like she had the same effect that I did when I ran over to her, grabbed her hand away from the light and shouted, “No!”, but I digress; to each his own.

Amid these meandering ponderings, I do believe I have stumbled upon a point.  When at the start of a new year, I always find myself struggling with the unknown.  My anxiety bubbles up a bit and I become overwhelmed with the immense possibilities that lay before me in the next 365 day period.  What will the year be like?  How can I best prepare for what lies ahead?  Will any of my children be accidentally shot with a bb gun by their loving grandfather?

What I wouldn’t do for a blue print, a detailed memo, a 2017 calendar that clearly outlined each day-anything to help me plan, prepare, be ready for whatever it is I need to be ready for.  If I am to be brutally honest with myself, the truth is, I am frightened of the unexpected.  Further thought leads me to realize that the unexpected is something that lives in the future, so it must be the future that I am fearful of.  And what does God say about the future?  In essence,  He tells me it doesn’t belong to me.  In fact, He tells us that He can’t be with us in the past or the future, only in the here and now, for the present is all that is promised us.  So why is it so hard for me to truly be in the  present?  Again, it brings me back to my fear of the unexpected that could be coming around the corner at any moment.  It’s a bit of a vicious cycle, but the moment I see God in the midst of all of it, life makes sense again.  And that is my quest for 2017; to be present, to pray for comfort in the unexpected, to accept it for what it is and to always find God in the moment.  

Of course the “unexpected” has a big range.  It can be the coffee cup that spills all over the counter or the child that calls from school needing stitches after an accident in science lab.  It can be the child throwing up in the car three minutes into a five-hour ride or news of a serious sickness of a family member.  The unexpected can have personal implications or global implications.  

On the flip side, despite the negativity now associated with the word, the unexpected can also be happy and joyous; a phone call from a friend you haven’t connected with in a while or a beautiful ring your husband hid in what you thought was a simple new coffee mug.  It could be test results showing all is well or the simple compliment that takes you by surprise.  

Good or bad, big or small, the “unexpected” is exactly that.  It is nothing we can plan for, nothing we can control. I often think about my efforts to control life in comparison to the way I pack for a trip.  You’ll find me the week before any trip in the travel-size aisle tossing items into my cart that are sure to solve any and all problems, or “unexpecteds”, that may arise.  Dry skin?  Got the cream.  Upset stomach?  Got the Pepto.  Not near a sink?  Got the Purell.  Hangnail?  A travel pair of nail clippers makes perfect sense.  Of course I don’t normally use any of it, but the peace of mind I feel in being prepared is worth every penny.

While you may not be able to buy it in the travel-size aisle, there is a tried and true remedy for every unexpected that life may bring.  By finding God in all the questions, we can be free to hand all the fear that surrounds the unknown over to the One that has it all under control.  And the beautiful thing is we also open ourselves up to receiving all the good and wonderful “unexpected” that God has planned for us.  Without that trust, without that friendship, we never know what we are missing out on.  With that trust and with that friendship we can be sure the “unexpected” will be defined in His terms and not by our own humanly imperfect reactions.

It’s a lesson I have to learn over and over again.  I give up control and hand over my fear, then slowly find myself trying to regain control and end up wondering why on earth I’m feeling so frightened and anxious.  If I happen to master this goal of mine for even a few days this year, I’ll be happy.  I’m a constant work-in-progress and I’m forever grateful that God remains patient and understanding.

Funny enough, an “unexpected” has been taking place over the past week as I’ve been struggling to finish this post.  My imperfect plan was to be done last Friday.  I thought, for the most part, my writing was complete.  I fully expected to spend a bit more time wrapping things up and be ready to post for Friday morning.  Try as I might however, I just couldn’t seem to bring all my thoughts together into what I felt was an appropriate conclusion.  Something was missing but I couldn’t figure out what so, quite unexpectedly, my own plan fell apart and I resigned myself to the fact that God had more to say and I needed to be patient and listen (never an easy thing for me).

Just yesterday I was listening to one of my new favorite Christian singers by the name of Francesca Battistelli.  I’ve enjoyed her album many times before, but yesterday one song, or more specifically, one phrase stuck out to me.  The song is titled, “Find Rest”.  The particular line that really caught my attention is, “nothing catches Him by surprise”.  “That’s it”, I thought.  That’s what I’ve been missing.  I love it.  Such a simple truth and one that I hope to absorb as the year goes on.  There is nothing “unexpected” in God’s eyes.  He knows it all, plans for it all and has got it all under control.  And in that truth we can all find rest.  I get it God, thank you.  2017, let’s do this…

Angels Among Us

How I would have loved a seat at our neighbor’s house, a window seat that is; the perfect viewing opportunity for the unorthodox scene that played out in our side yard at approximately 5:00 am that morning.  The cast of characters was but a few; a mom and her daughter.  The scene was set upon the early morning sunrise, just light enough for any prying eyes to wonder what on earth was unfolding in their normally conservative neighborhood.  The temperature was a frigid 26 degrees, accompanied by an unforgiving wind.  The ground was perfectly covered by a thin layer of snow, hiding a thick layer of slippery leaves beneath.  

Enter stage left a smiling, jubilant, feisty six-year old little lady.  She is running full speed across the yard, with no particular destination in mind, just the simple goal of remaining out of reach of her mother.  Ah, the mother.  That would be me, the lady clad in pj bottoms, a pink bathrobe and her son’s red soccer flats, thrown on in haste as I realized my pleas to my daughter to come inside were futile.  Once again I found myself in this all-too familiar place, lodged between the horror of what was unfolding in front of me and the hilarity of what was unfolding in front of me.  In one breath I was yelling for her to stop, in the next I was breaking into laughter, unable to deny the humor in the situation.

My day had begun at 3:00 am that morning.  Mary had decided she was done sleeping and promptly launched into her torture routine of singing loudly, jumping on the bed, swating at my face and whatever else she could think of to secure a first-class ticket downstairs to her favorite movie-viewing spot.  Upon making our way to the couch, I glanced out the front door and saw we had our first real snowfall of the season.  I was thankful my sidekick didn’t notice.  As excited as I was for her most ardent wish to have come true, I was in no mood to celebrate at three in the morning.

Fast forward a few hours and I granted my daughter permission to go upstairs to “snuggle with daddy”, as she requested.  I listened to her little feet pitter-patter away and then stop short of the stairs.  “Oh no”, I thought.  “She saw.”  No sooner had the thought run through my mind when her screams of joy rang through the house.  “Mama!  Snow!  Mama, look! Snow!”  And then she was off, running upstairs to spread the news to her dad and brothers.

I managed a few more minutes of rest before my husband made his way downstairs, all the while trying to explain to Mary that it was too early and too cold to go out and enjoy the snow.  Her excitement (and unbelievably stubborn will) prevented any acceptance of reason, and before we knew it, she was headed down to the mud room to get herself ready for some winter fun.  We both knew it would take her some time to dress on her own and decided to benefit from the opportunity to have a few moments to sit and rest our eyes.  Over the next several minutes we heard significant grunting as she talked her way through the donning of her hat and boots, snow pants and mittens.  We heard the door to the garage squeak open and ran downstairs to find this….

img_1129

While this picture may not do the following statement justice, this girl is so smart.  She knew she couldn’t get her footy-pj’ed feet into her boots, so the pj’s had to come off.  It took some effort, but we finally convinced her to let us get her fully dressed before she headed outside.  I offered what I thought was a fair compromise by telling her she could go out and enjoy the snow but had to stay on the back deck where I could watch her from the kitchen.  It was, after all, dark out, 26 degrees and windy and shortly after 5am in the morning.  One would think this offer would have been sufficient.  It worked for a while and then, sure enough, she migrated slowly over to the top stair and was just about to head down when I opened the door and reminded her she was to stay on the deck.  After a few more minutes of obedience, the same scene repeated again and, much to my surprise, she listened for a second time and chose to honor my request.  It was the third time when things simply became too much for her.  The draw to the rest of the snow just down the stairs of the deck was something she could no longer refuse.  Off she went and off I reluctantly followed.  

img_1131

Fortunately for me, once I finally caught up to my speedster, she gave in fairly easily and allowed me to escort her inside.  I got her wet clothes off, snuggled her up on the couch and went to pour a second cup of coffee in a desperate attempt to regroup and pull my scattered self together.  The intensity of this child is a continual lesson in both patience and wonderment.  The pure joy she finds in the simplest of pleasures is a perfect reminder that this is how life was always meant to be lived.  She is like a little flashing beacon, demanding we stop, look, and absorb the magnificence of what is around us.  In her own unique way, this little girl is setting our world right as she cherishes the gift of our first snowfall.

Warm coffee cup in hand,  I walked back over to the door looking out onto the deck and thanked God for His gentle reminders of all we have to be grateful for, not the least of which are the angels among us.

img_1135Happy Thanksgiving.