I am blessed to have the opportunity to speak this weekend at a women’s retreat at our parish. The topic is, “how I see Jesus in my daily life.” For those of you attending the event, don’t read!! For all others, please enjoy:)
In preparing my talk for today, I am left to marvel at our Lord’s generosity. Its funny, and beautiful, how God works. Several months ago when my good friend asked me to speak today, I was surprised and immediately questioned what it was of value that I would have to share. When I found out that the context of my words would focus on how it is that I see Jesus in my daily life, I began to understand that I did in fact have a lot to share. And as the school year began for my children and I had more time to ponder and pray about the message I was meant to send, God knew exactly where I was at, He knew the depth of my restless heart and the questions that weighed on me. Never to be outdone in generosity, He has used my small “yes” to speak today as an opportunity to teach me and gift me with the affirmation that I am in fact right where He wants me. Although our phases in life and our vocations may be different, my prayer is that each one of you will, in some way, hidden among my words today, feel God’s affirmation and love for you.
Perhaps the best way for me to illustrate how I see Jesus in my daily life is to pull you into my world for a short time and take you through what is a typical day for Mama Johnson. In my world these days, there is no such thing as waking up slowly or peacefully. Every morning begins in a startled manner when my subconscious slowly becomes aware enough to realize my daughter is crawling toward the end of the bed and, within mere seconds, will be into any number of things. Both my husband and I shoot up in bed, and without even thinking, grab for one of her arms in an attempt to pull her back toward the pillow where her little head belongs. We repeat the same words every morning, with the slightest of hopes remaining that this morning will be the one when she heeds our request and snuggles up next to us to sleep soundly for another few hours. True to form, she manages, once again, to wiggle her way to the floor. I jump out of bed, afraid to look at the clock for fear of what numbers I might see glowing back at me. This particular morning, it is 3:30am, unfortunately not uncommon for her. My heart sinks and I immediately become frazzled at the thought of having to once again be up before the sun.
I bring my little one to the bathroom, in hopes that it was simply a full bladder that woke her at this absurd hour. She is already smiling and waking up to a point of which I fully realize there is no return. I can be stubborn too however, and drag her back over to the bed to make one last futile attempt at singing her back to sleep. After a short time with her singing cheerily right back to me, I concede to the inevitable, get back out of bed and head downstairs to begin my day. I get her set up with her goldfish, water and what I find to be hauntingly terrible YouTube children’s videos and make my way over to the coffee pot. And it is there, in the aroma of those glorious ground beans, that I first meet Him, Jesus, that is. I finally greet Him and remember to say, “thank you” for the blessing of a new day.
Before I let myself pick up my phone and see all the “important” events that have taken place overnight, I begin my day with a few short prayers. I pour my coffee and think about the events planned and the “to-do” list for the day. As much as I hate to admit it, there is a small element of peace in the stillness of the world before it is wakened by the sun.
The early mornings usually mean that by 6am, when I need to be in the kitchen getting everyone’s lunch ready for the day, Mary has already played with everything she owns and is now pacing the house causing as much trouble as she possibly can. This particular morning, she locked herself in the pantry demanding chips for breakfast and then made her way over to her brother’s computer stylus and decided to try it out on the wall, marking it up quite nicely. The funny thing is that I took it all in stride, for as long as I could that is. We all have our breaking point. Mine, that day anyway, happened to be about ice packs.
I went to pack my boys lunches into their bags and realized they hadn’t emptied them from the day before like they are supposed to. That meant their ice packs were not frozen and ready for the new day. Well, that didn’t sit well with me and this mama got tipped right over the edge of the ledge I had been balancing on since 3:30am. I think my words went something like this, “Guys! You didn’t unpack your bags yesterday and now the ice packs aren’t frozen. You are so lazy; I can’t be doing these things for you all the time.” Yup, I said the “L” word. I actually hate that word and knew as it slipped on out of my mouth that I would regret it. I loaded my boys in the car to drive them down to the bus stop and met Jesus once again in the understanding and forgiving children my sons are.
“Sorry guys”, I said. “Looks like Mama reached her breaking point. Ice packs, huh?” And, by God’s grace and mercy, we laughed a bit and I’m pretty sure they still believed me when I told them I loved them and sent them on their way. As I drive back up the hill to our house, I place my boys in God’s arms and ask for Him to blanket our schools with His protection. I pick up my little co-pilot and when I feel her in my arms, I am reminded that she is in fact so much more than the early hours and the gremlin-like trouble she loves to cause. I get in a quick squish, take a deep breath and thank God for His remarkable gifts.
I’m back inside just in time to kiss my husband goodbye, and as he walks out the door, I thank God for blessing me with a husband that works so hard to provide for his family and serves as a true example of selfless love. I ask God to once again wrap him tight in his embrace and keep him safe in his travels and his work. I then get busy preparing my little one for her school day and, after a decent wrestle session to get her shoes on and buckled into her seat, I am back in the car driving her to drop off.
To give those of you who do not know my daughter some perspective, she is five years old and has Down Syndrome. She has apraxia of speech which means her ability to communicate with her classmates, teachers and those who care for her throughout the day is limited at best. That said, do not be fooled, this little girl is a fighter and has more determination than anyone I’ve ever known. She is tiny in stature, but her spirit is huge. Every morning when I drop her off and watch her walk into school, a big part of my heart leaves with her. I am all at once overwhelmed with the vulnerability and innocence of this sweet being and, at the same time, feel exceptionally proud of the way she handles every new challenge that comes her way. I drive away and thank God for the multitude of blessings that surround her; the incredible school system we are a part of, the aides and therapists that work with Mary to ensure her success in the inclusive classroom and the careful attention to Mary’s specific needs.
When I turn the car back on to make my way home, I am met with the blasting music that my daughter insists on listening to each morning. Thankfully, what she most often asks to hear is one of my favorite christian CDs. The third song on the CD always comes on right after I send my little one on her way and begin my drive back to the house. The refrain is, “Lord, I need you, every hour I need you.” Ahhh, how true this is. I fall into a place of peace and comfort with the words and thank God for the reminder that I am nothing without Him, but I can do anything with Him.
By 8:15 in the morning, my whole family is out of the house and I am alone. This is new and I find it liberating, unsettling and overwhelming all at the same time. For the past thirteen years, my job has been to care for my three children. Now I have six hours each day when no one needs me. The liberating parts include doing groceries without anyone trying to escape from the cart or anyone convincing me to buy things we don’t need, doing laundry and cleaning without being interrupted several times and even the luxury of using the bathroom when I want and all by myself. Perhaps the most unsettling part is the calm and the quiet. I don’t deal well with quiet and don’t know how to enjoy the calm. I thrive on being busy and love the company of others, especially my three kiddos. The overwhelming part is the world of opportunities that lay out there and not knowing what more, if anything, God would like me to be doing. I feel myself floundering a bit with the question looming over me…what next Lord?
I’ll be honest in confessing that I find the monotony of my current place in life exhausting at times. One day mirrors the next and my routines become draining and downright boring. My negative attitude toward my work can quickly lead me to feel as though there is little value in what I do when I am not doing the hands on work of caring for my kids. I’ve mastered the art of loading the dishwasher to maximize the space allotted, my counters are cleared and my toilet bowls shine and I am left to question, there must be more for me Lord?
So what is it that helps to turn my seemingly ordinary days to extraordinary? Very simply, it’s gratitude. When I thank God for the coffee I get to brew each morning, for the hot shower that refreshes me, for the money to afford the groceries I buy for my family and the gas I need to shuffle my kids around, suddenly what feels so ordinary and of little value now feels extraordinary. I am reminded that, without God’s grace and providence, none of these luxuries would be there for me. When I thank God for the incredible miracles of our children and for the priceless blessing of my husband, suddenly it no longer matters that my boys forgot to empty their lunch bags or my daughter drew on the wall or even that my husband can’t seem to find what rests directly in front of his face. My heart is changed and I can more clearly see the value and importance in all of my duties to care for my family. I am reminded that the little ordinary things are what glues our busy family life together.
In the midst of preparing my talk for today, God sent me the words of another stay-at-home mom that beautifully summed up the message I was hoping to share. In the words of Amanda Evinger, from her article titled, “Answering Christ’s Cry of Thirst as a Homeschooling Mom”, she describes her work in this way, “It is often less conspicuous, less immediately rewarding, and less noticeable by others. However, this doesn’t mean that I satiate His thirst any less as a mother than if I were doing something that reveals the call of the Gospel in a clearly radical way.” She goes on to say, “By living out the vocation God has given each one of us with all our hearts, we quench His thirst for our love.” Her words do much to affirm my vocation and help me to understand that when I wash and fold my kids clothes, when I make muffins before school in the morning, when I take every opportunity to squish them with hugs and remind them how much I love them, I am in fact giving Christ “a drink”.
What I’m hearing from God is that I am not meant to sit idle in wondering what His will is for me. I need to live each day saturated in gratitude for His selfless and unconditional love, focused always on giving thanks in any and all situations, whether I’m hugging my child who has fallen or scrubbing the toilet. In his book, “He Leadeth Me”, Father Walter Ciszek describes his search for God’s will in the following way, “Each of us has no need to wonder about what God’s will must be for us; his will for us is clearly revealed in every situation of everyday, if only we could learn to view all things as he sees them and sends them to us. The temptation is to overlook these things as God’s will. The temptation is to look beyond these things precisely because they are so constant, so petty, so humdrum and routine, and to seek to discover instead some other and nobler “will of God”. And yet to grasp this divine truth, simple as it sounds, and work at it, to labor day in and day out to make it the sole principle by which our every action is guided and toward which we aim, is to come to know at last true joy and peace of heart.”
My world is that of a stay-at-home mom. However, the lesson here is certainly not limited or specific to vocation. If you stop and think about the happiest people you know in your life and could choose one word to describe them, I am willing to bet the word “grateful” would top the list. In a world that continues to breed selfishness and feelings of entitlement, we are becoming truly lost among our desire for bigger and better, the promise of more equating to joy rather than gratitude filling us with joy. With gratitude comes a true understanding of God’s work in your life, the value of his vocation specifically designed for you and constant perspective that we can and should live with a thankful heart for all that God provides.
In his visit to the United States, Pope Francis proclaimed that gratitude and hard work are the two pillars of spiritual life. He went on to say that our vocation is to be lived in joy. Of course I understand that living with a grateful heart will some days be stacked against seemingly insurmountable odds. I’m learning that there are times when all I can do is ask God to give me a thankful heart and rest in His unconditional love until I feel refreshed and ready to recognize the blessings around me. The journey of life is surrounded in mystery and we are all going to have those days when the ice packs aren’t frozen. My prayer is that we don’t lose hope and we continue to look for God in all things. Because, one thing is certain. Even when we can’t see Him, we can be sure He is walking beside us.