Tag Archives: love

Parables In Parenting

Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.

These lines always seemed particularly beautiful to me, even as a child.  They are so intimate, so feminine.  When I became a mother myself they became even more powerful because they reveal the heart of a mother, pondering the mystery of her child, her heart welling with love.  Of course, when the Blessed Mother considered her child she was also contemplating her God.  Yet, I think every mother learns new things about the Father’s relationship to his children through her relationship to her own.  They are unique and unrepeatable gifts from Him, made in His image.  Jesus was adored first as an infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  And, He promised that the kingdom of heaven belonged to such as these.  So, here are a few things I have learned about God’s love as I ponder my children.

The Parable of the Self-Sufficient Child

Once there were two brothers.  The first went to his mother with everything.  He ran to her when he was hurt, he asked her for help when he could not do something, he told her his hopes, and he asked her every question that came to his mind.  He was happiest when they were together.  The mother loved this child and was glad to be needed.  The son showed his love by making his mother rest while he cleaned when she seemed very tired.  They understood each other always.  The second son was self-sufficient.  One of his earliest sentences was “Leave Gus Gus alone” and he would often politely ask his mother to “please go away”.  This independence was mostly a good thing.  He would lie for hours in a quiet place with a cat, whispering to it.  He could be very brave in the face of pain and illness.  He could lead other children.  But sometimes his willfullness led him into trouble.  When he built a tower and it fell he would weep bitter tears of frustration but if his mother tried to help him he would only become more upset.  When he was very ill her would fight away any comfort, insisting that there was nothing wrong.  His mother loved this strong son.  She obliged him when he asked her to “please go away”, but from a distance she wished he would reach out to her more.  Every night, when she tucked in the two children, the mother blessed them the same way and left them to sleep.  And many nights, in the wee hours, the younger son, who had spent all his day wanting to be alone, would creep into her room and climb into bed.  She would ask him if he had had a bad dream and he would say “I don’t want to talk about it”.  And she would wrap her arms around him, joyful for a chance to hug him, and they would sleep.  He told her he came to her room at night because “you are never asleep”, and she didn’t enlighten him.  Surely, if a mother is always ready to welcome us into her arms no matter how we have pushed her away, our Father, who truly never sleeps, is always waiting to embrace us when we finally turn to him even if we have insisted we can do without Him.

The Parable of the Favourite Child

Once there was a woman who bore a son.  She loved him dearly from the moment she knew him.  She treasured up every new milestone in his life as if her was the first child to ever learn to walk, the first child to eat with a spoon.  She was certain the way he said “duck duck duck” was uniquely brilliant.  When the boy was less than a year old the mother discovered she would soon have another child.  She wondered how she could ever love anyone as much as her firstborn child.  Yet the second child arrived and soon a third and a fourth.  Everyday the mother would look at her child and think “this is my favourite person in all the world.  No one has ever been so special.” But the strange thing was, the child was a different one every time.  For she soon realized that she loved each child differently, distinctly and absolutely.  No child smiled exactly like her youngest daughter.  No child walked lightly on tiptoe like a tiny ballerina as her older daughter did.  No child was as inventive and witty as her second son.  No child as gentle and studious as her first.  Surely if our mothers, who loved us as we grew inside them, love us each uniquely and entirely, our Father, who knew us before He formed us in the womb, loves us each individually and utterly.  Surely if a mother’s love is not diminished or drained but grows to encompass as many children as she has, the love of the Father, who is love, is infinite.

The Parable of the Dwindling Punishment

Once there was a child who rarely misbehaved, but when he did he could not bring himself to apologize.  Often it seemed as if he himself was saddened that he could not overcome his own stubborness.  He would cry, not only that he was punished but that he could not utter the words I’m sorry.  Once he was sent to his room and remained there for three hours because he would not say he was sorry.  As the hours went by his parents, who would come to visit him every five minutes, devised more and more ways to offer him an opportunity to reconcile with them.  Would he say sorry? “No” would he say please? “No.” Would he just consent to say Mama? “No.”  Finally his father jokingly suggested that he simply say no on demand.  The little boy pursed his lips and shook his head silently.  Finally the little boy fell asleep.  His parents were stymied by his stubborness and decided that if he woke up cheerful and polite they would consider his punishment over.  From then on they would continue to be firm with the child, insisting that when he was naughty he must make amends, but they took every opportunity to invent consequences the boy could not help but observe.  Surely if our parents punish us regretfully only because they must for our good, and seek above all things to be reconciled with us, giving us every opportunity to make peace, then our Father, who sent his Son to reconcile us through his passion and death, is always eagerly awaiting any excuse to forgive our sins if we but grant him the smallest opening for His grace.

The Parable of the Pew Gymnast

Once there was a little girl who loved to balance in church. She would totter along the pew, leap over to the kneeler, and walk precariously along it. Sometimes she would attempt to stand on the book rack too. Occasionally she believed she could even stand on the back of the pew ahead. In all of this she believed she was invincible. If anyone tried to help she would flail angrily to shoe them away. These gestures were so violent that her parents realized she was in more danger from her displays of independence than from her gymnastic routine. So they would surreptitiously hover just out of her eye-line, arms outstretched, waiting to catch her in the inevitable fall. And, when she began her tumble her confident little face would crumble into fear but those unseen arms, rejected so often, were always there, ready to scoop her up into a hug when she realized she needed them.

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Filed under Motherhood, Religious Ramblings, The Continuing Adventures of JD and The Fierce Bad Rabbit

Between Good Fridays

This is a story for Mommies.  It may not seem that way at first because it’s also just my own personal story, but if you can stick it out ‘til the end I think it might encourage plural Mommies, not just this one.  It is the story of one year, but before I begin you need to remember this one quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  It’ll make sense later.

A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions…. (Virtues) make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life.

Generally when we think of our spiritual life we think of the great triumphs or the great failures.  This definition of virtue though, reminds us that virtues are good habits.  The more habitual an act, the less we notice ourselves performing it.  So one possesses the virtue more thoroughly when it’s something we do without thinking, not when it’s something we pull off one time with great effort.  Not to knock those accomplishments!  Since I think I possess very few virtues in any sort of fullness, I sure want credit for that one time I didn’t gossip, that week I didn’t get snappy at all, and so on.  You’ll see where I’m going with this eventually.  For now just keep it in mind while I tell the story of the year between two Good Fridays.

Good Friday last year could be used to mark the beginning of a very difficult time.  Mike had just left for three months away.  A week after he left I found out we were expecting, so I had a lovely first trimester of illness all alone with three other children to look forward to.  As daunting as that was, I had just gone through a scary few days where it looked like we might lose this newest baby.  It turned out the cause of the problems was a large cyst that might require surgery in the middle of the pregnancy.  Meanwhile, two of my children caught a charming little virus called hand, foot and mouth disease.  This little character causes ugly lesions on the face and extremities, fever and vomiting, and best of all, it’s contagious for about a month.  So where were we last Good Friday?  Thoroughly, thoroughly homebound.

I should say that Good Friday is perhaps my favourite day of the liturgical year.  It’s the day I most fully “feel” my religion.  The symbols and readings are powerful, and the music s the best.   If I could have found a way to tie O Sacred Head Surrounded into a wedding, I would have sung it at mine.  So it was with a heavy heart that I decided I could not go to church that day and bring our icky germs to share with everyone.  We missed the Easter Vigil, the other highlight of my year, and even Easter Sunday.  No mass for us for a couple of weeks in fact, the longest I’d ever gone without entering a church.  The Easter bunny did manage to show up but I didn’t have the heart, or the energy, for a big Easter feast that only I would eat.

I didn’t know it at the time but that was to be the beginning of a full year’s worth of struggle.  Another result of the pregnancy was an end to my anti-depression medication.  It never really occurred to me that that might be why I was feeling uninspired, exhausted, and blue.  After all I had plenty of legitimate reasons on my plate.  Did you know your kids’ fingernails peel a few weeks after Hand Foot and Mouth disease?  They do.  Did you know a kid can regress from potty training a whole year after he learned?  Or that childhood abdominal migraines are a thing?  My grandfather died and yet again I couldn’t go to a family funeral.  Even if I hadn’t been pregnant, Mike wasn’t there and how was I going to get myself and three kids to Canada?  And speaking of pregnancy, for someone who has spent an awful lot of time being with child, and loves the kids I get out of it, I sure do loathe being pregnant.  What’s this “glow” everybody is talking about it?  Can I get some of that?  I do get so pale and haggard I may shed some kind of eerie greenish-white luminescence but it ain’t pretty. All these were sensible, regular person reasons to feel run down.

When Mike got home we had a few months of semi-normalcy and then moved the family from Oklahoma to Louisiana.  The move was exciting.  We found a great house and everything was green!  I still stare out drinking in all the green with a stupid, happy, Pacific Northwesterner in exile smile on my face.  With room to spread out we all looked healthier.  Even the doggie lost weight and the kids were outside exploring every day.  Still, we left good friends behind in Enid, and it was lonely starting out again in a place we knew no one.  Seven months into pregnancy is not the easiest time to make friends.  Actually, it’s a good time, compared to how much harder it is when the baby shows up and you’re learning to be a busy Mom of four.  Here was another sensible, regular person reason to feel run down.

By January, we had settled in well to our new place.  The baby, Miss Dulcie, which means sweet, was aptly named.  She was a dream baby.  Mike was home way more than he had been in years.  He made dinner almost every night and I also almost never had to clean the kitchen.  The kiddos were all in perfect health, behaving very well, and amazing me with their unique wonderful qualities every day.  We belonged to a great parish where I could feel my spiritual life blossoming as I was fed with inspiring sermons, reverent liturgy, beautiful art and music, and vibrant community.  So why could I feel myself sinking into a deep sadness all the time?  Every time something would make me laugh or smile (which happened often! Like I said, life was good!) I could almost physically feel this weight lift for a moment only to fall back down heavily.  I started looking for reasons, which turned into an exercise in finding things to worry over.  Was I a good enough wife?  Was I a good enough mother?  Did I really know anything about my faith?  I woke up worrying, and went to bed worrying.  I also wanted to sleep.  All. The. Time.  I would wake up and calculate what time we could do naptime.  Then after naptime I would count up the hours ‘til bed.  I dragged myself through the day in a fog of exhaustion and stress.  Luckily, with kids around, I had to get up and get going and do it with a smile on my face.  Somebody always needed something, which did keep me from just quitting, still I felt like I had a certain amount I could give and at the end of each day it was used up to the very last drop.  When poor Mike would come home from work I would think, where am I going to find any energy left to care for him?  It was like trying to operate on a budget that just can’t quite cover everything, like slowly going into emotional debt.  Still I didn’t think the cause was what I now recognize as treatable depression.  I knew the cause, the cause was me.  I WAS a lousy mom, a lousy wife, a lousy Catholic.  Of course I was upset, anybody that lousy would be!

Proof positive of my lousiness came with the arrival of Lent.  You know you‘re in trouble when someone posts a funny about hair shirts and scourges and you think it looks easier than going without chocolate for a day.  Honestly, by this time it felt pretty penitential just to get up every day.  School was going well, kids were getting fed and loved, chores were being done, but underneath it all was this vast weight, this feeling of being all used up.  Instead of any serious Lenten sacrifices I did some vague work on my personal foibles and kept planning to give up candy… tomorrow.  The only thing that salvaged the season was the drama in Rome.  I decided to read some of Pope Benedict’s writings, and then also enjoyed getting to know Pope Francis through his words as well.  I was most struck by how tangible his language is, or, because I can’t think of quite the right word, how incarnational.  His focus on faith in practice comes out in his words too.  We are a sacramental religion, a religion where the physical world—already a great gift from God—is made sacred by His entrance into history, His union of divinity and humanity.  Pope Francis’ preaching is full of imagery and adjectives that appeal to all our senses.  After reading his words I would see everything through this prism, and was reminded that every action is good or evil.

So that’s about where I was as this year’s Good Friday approached.  My head was full of a huge soup of thoughts all boiling along together: The regular joys and sorrows of life, the burden of my unrecognized depression, the spiritual awakening from the events in my church both local and global.  This Holy Week I was determined that after a mediocre Lent I would finish strong.  I arranged to meet Mike for Holy Thursday Mass after he finished work.  Preparing to load up the kids, I set them in a row on our kitchen stools so I could tie all the little pairs of church shoe laces.  They had been playing outside all day and their feet were filthy.  I was struck by this very appropriate moment on a Holy Thursday.  How full every day as a mother is with little acts of service similar to Christ’s washing of the apostle’s feet.  How many times we kneel before our children and serve them.  I think it was this last thought that set me up for the realization I had the next day.

On Good Friday, the service is in the afternoon and Mike never has the day off; but remembering my sadness the year before when I couldn’t go, I decided to brave the two hours alone with all four kids.  As anyone who has tried it knows, church with kids is a full body workout.  It began before we even entered the building: lugging an infant car seat with an impressively chunky four month old in it, holding a cranky, freshly awoken toddler by the hand, and trying to marshal the boys through the parking lot without getting anyone run over.  Inside Gina performed her usual hair-raising gymnastic routine.  She is very quiet in church.  She quietly stands on the pew, quietly flings her upper body forward to catch the pew in front creating a bridge, and then quietly inches her toes forward until her legs swing out into space to land neatly on the kneeler.  This is even more exciting when the kneeler is in the up position.  Meanwhile Dulcie, the ever growing baby, needed to be nursed.  The nursing shawl would snag on my chapel veil, which I had foolishly decided to start wearing just this week.  Thank goodness the boys were reasonably well behaved.  Then came the veneration of the cross.  Dulcie in one arm, Gina’s hand in mine, that hand on JD’s shoulder, and Gus holding JD’s hand, I headed up to kiss the cross.  Suddenly I thought of something I haven’t before.

Good Friday is a day where we put ourselves into the Passion narrative.  We speak as the crowd.  We relate to Peter’s bitter tears after he denies Our Lord.  What I have never done, out of a sense that it would be presumptuous, is to put myself in Christ’s place.  After all, who am I to compare my sufferings to his?  I have a fabulous life.  We have enough money, I have a loving marriage, and we are all healthy and happy.  We have a life almost untouched by tragedy.  Yet somehow, at that moment in the aisle of the cathedral, chapel veil askew over tangled hair, arms aching from holding kids, head full of worries, it felt like the road to Calvary to me.  Which is when I was struck by this thought about motherhood:  it’s a shortcut to the Way of the Cross

Alright patient reader, remember way back when I quoted the Catechism on virtue?  Here’s where it comes in.  Suddenly I noticed not all the big triumphs and failures of my life but all the day to day habitual things I’ve done.  Kids got fed and clothed and educated.  Husband got cared for.  House got cleaned.  Laundry got done.  I got out of bed every day and did something for the people I love.  I did it without thinking because we are hard wired to care for our children.  Look at Jesus’ Passion.  It wasn’t pretty.  He begged His Father to spare him.  He stumbled and needed the help of Simon of Cyrene.  Yet we know that “greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  The catechism goes on to say about virtues that they “are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts.”  If we say yes to motherhood, the virtue of love is a gift that comes with it. Without even a thought we are naturally disposed to lay down our life for our children.  It sure isn’t pretty.  We’re tired.  We’re cranky.  We need help and we cry out for relief.  But it never occurs to us to stop.  Not only that but, this cross is a joy to bear.  From the moment you find out there’s a baby on the way that baby demands that you lay down your life, yes even your body.  Yet you love this new little person so much that you smile at the ultrasound even while you struggle with morning sickness.  The thought of losing your little crosses is unbearable.  We cling to those tiny, lovely, unique crosses entrusted to us with fierce love.  Nothing would separate us from them.  It would not be easier to lay them down, it would be impossible.  Those kids kept me going when nothing else would.  They put a smile on my face with their funny sayings, with their interesting thoughts, with their beautiful faces.  Of course I took care of them.  I was happy to.  Not happy to be tired, not happy to be lonely, but happy to be their Mom?  Yes, every day.  So on those days where every moment seems a desperate struggle to stay afloat, be encouraged.  You are close to Jesus in those times.  You may be struggling with the virtue of patience, or trust, or generosity, but even then you are habitually, unthinkingly, practicing the virtue of charity. Your love for your children will help them to know God’s love for them.  You may not have every virtue, but you’ve got one and you’re doing a good job.  Hang tough.

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Filed under Depression, Motherhood, Religious Ramblings