About heidihesssaxton

Heidi Hess Saxton is an acquisitions editor and founder of "A Mom on the Road Less Traveled," a resource for foster, adoptive, and special needs mothers.

When God’s Will Hurts

Today I am sitting at a desk that used to be my home-away-from-home three years ago, when I worked for this company full time. I’m here to attend a Christmas party before going to pick up my mom from her daycare facility.

nativity-447767About an hour ago, I was standing outside in the cold, unable to get into the building because — as a contract employee — I had no way to access the building. No keypad code. No card. For the first time, I felt the full weight of what it means to be a contract employee. This was reinforced when someone finally let me in — through the delivery door. (I should point out that this was doubtless not the intention — it was simply that everyone was gathered for the meeting. Most days, I really love the arrangement. It was just unfortunate timing!)

Sitting here at the desk, I ask myself why this bothers me so much. Last week when I found out my application to become an employee again had been passed over in favor of someone else, my immediate reaction (and my reaction for several days after that) was relief. This meant I could keep working from home, and could have a flexible schedule. I was confident that this was the hand of God, arranging everything in the best interest of all his children.

It was just today, standing out in the cold and waiting for someone to see me, that I felt another, darker side: as a contract worker, I don’t really belong, not like I used to. And in that moment, I realized something else: that sometimes following the will of God — even when you know in your head it is the right way — can sting. When Simeon saw Mary in the Temple, holding the infant Jesus, his words to her were a dire warning: “a sword shall pierce your heart.” She had surrendered unconditionally to the will of God.

Still, she had been warned, the way will not always be lined with palm branches and dancing shepherds. One day, that way will involve a cross. One day, she will feel like an outsider — out in the cold, people staring, judging, pitying. She will be the mother of a criminal executed in the most horrific way possible. She will be an outcast by association.

And so, my friends, will you. Because following God’s will always entails a cross. Jesus promised it: “If anyone comes after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me.”

That wood that once shaped a manger, is the same substance that shaped a cross. And the way that God calls us to follow from the moment of baptism, and again at confirmation … will entail the sufferings that are necessary for us to grow in perfect love.

Mary, Queen of Sorrows, pray for us.

 

 

 

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“Am I not your mother?” The pressing question of Our Lady of Guadalupe


This photo of Basilica de Santa Maria de Guadalupe is courtesy of TripAdvisor.

Today Catholics all over the world celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the appearances of the Blessed Mother to a poor Indian named Juan Diego shortly after the fall of the Aztec capitol city of Tenochtitlan to Cortez in 1521. Four times she appeared to him, dressed as a pregnant Aztec maiden, calling him her “son” and sending him to the bishop in Mexico City, where she wanted a shrine built.

“My dear little son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I am the Ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains its existence. He created all things. He is in all places. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth. I desire a church in this place where your people may experience my compassion…”

Reluctantly, he eventually went — but the bishop did not immediately believe him. Returning to the hill where he first met the Lady, he found her waiting for him. Her first words ring down to us through the ages …

“My little son, am I not your Mother? Do not fear.”

Instructing him to gather the roses that had suddenly sprung up on the hillside (out of season), she sent him back to the vision. And when the poor man opened his mantle, the roses had imprinted a miraculous image — and the original tilma with the image has survived centuries of devotion, still on display behind the altar, perfectly preserved, at the basilica.

“Am I not your mother?” This question has new meaning for me right now. I recently started caring for my elderly mother, whose mind is burdened with dementia. There are some times when we don’t know how to reach each other, even while looking right into each other’s eyes. It’s a question I find myself repeating, over and over: “Is this not my mother?”

She is. And yet, not the mother I’ve always known. In fact, some days I think that the mantle has passed from her shoulders to mine.

I wonder, Juan Diego, if you ever looked into the eyes of that Lady and wondered yourself. “Who is this person? And what does she want from me that I haven’t already done? When will she be satisfied?” I understand, more than ever, the desire to escape, to go around the other way. Then, in a flash, I see her again, and I feel a little ashamed of myself. How could I NOT see that she is, indeed, my own?

I will not fear. For she is with me. And so, my Lord, are you.

Cookie Chronicles

blueberry zucchiniThis year, with Mom helping with the baking, I decided to dig out the old family receipe files and mix things up a bit from the tried-and-true gingerbread and candy cane routine.

In addition to the traditional banana bread (to use up the sour cream from the sugar cookie recipe I usually use), we are making:

Almond sugar cookies (my Aunt Lolly’s recipe), with crushed almonds and almond flavoring in place of vanilla. The scent was so heady, Chris wandered out of his room just to find out what was going on!

Next up, peanut butter cookies, using the “natural peanut butter” Craig asked for, then decided wasn’t crunchy enough. I added some crushed peanuts, just to be safe. Then roll ’em in more crushed peanuts and sugar. Because … well, you just can’t get enough peanuts in a peanut butter cookie!

Finally, my grandmother’s (Dixie’s) oatmeal chip cookies. I remember making these with her when I was a little girl, measuring out the oats and dumping them in the bowl. I figured we need at least one kind of cookie that will satisfy the sweet tooth of someone with a nut allergy, right?

Tomorrow is Sarah’s first guitar concert. She’s only been playing a couple of months, but the teacher already has her in a group of girls playing Taylor Swift’s “Last Christmas.” Looking forward to the fun!

Resources for Those Who Grieve

DSCF0569When someone dies, and we are enveloped by our own grief, the thought of explaining what has happened to a child or grandchild can be truly overwhelming. Whether the death is sudden or is the culmination of an extended period of grieving, finding the right words is so, so hard.

A few years after our children came to us, our family pet — a much beloved border collie named Missy — was hit by a truck. Judging by the pile we found by the side of the road, she couldn’t have suffered. But the horror and shock quickly gave way to a kind of numbness that felt like swimming through mountains of batted grey cotton. Jut awful.

“I’ll bury her, if you tell the kids,” Craig offered. I’m not sure who got the harder task. All of us cried as I held the kids and waited for the initial tears to subside. “Why did Missy have to DIE?” Chris asked.

The simple answer was not the right answer. Missy died because she escaped the confines of our yard and wandered into a busy street. But this is not really what my son was asking. He had endured so much loss already — nearly his entire original family, except his sister. Why had God allowed so much pain to enter into one little life?

“When God sends a baby into the world,” I found myself saying, “He sends three things along: a gift to share, a burden to carry, and a job to do. When that job is done, if we stay close to God, he takes us back to heaven to be with him forever. Christopher, you have already been such a gift to us, and you have so much more to share. The burdens you have carried are so very big, and so very hard. I can only imagine that one day God is going to give you a VERY special job to do. Something that you could only do if you stayed very close to God. All that you have suffered, all that you have lost, can help you stay close to God if you choose. God does not cause our pain — he cries along with us, when he sees us suffer. And he always helps us carry it if we ask.”

I meant every word. And as the years went by, I realized that my son had heard me not just with his ears, but with his heart. He still feels the loss, but he trusts in the goodness of God. This, I think, is the best we can hope for when we explain death and grief to our children, that they understand that (1) death is a part of life and (2) suffering is never wasted when we offer it back to God.

In my last article, about starting the adventure of elder care with my mother, I mentioned that a woman named Jennifer Scott had sent me links to a couple of articles about coping with grief. These are not written specifically from a faith-based perspective. However, I think the information about what children are capable of handling at various developmental stages is useful, and so I wanted to offer it here as a resource for you.

Saying Goodbye: Talking to Kids About Death

Preparing for the Death of a Terminally-Ill Loved One: What to Expect, and How to Help the Entire Family Move Forward

Letting Children Share in Grief

The Bereaved Employee: Returning to Work

How to Create a Peaceful At-Home Hospice for Your Loved One

Keeping the Peace While Settling a Family Estate

5 Things You Must Know as the Executor of an Estate

How beautiful are your feet…?

saint teresaToday on Sunrise Morning Show, I’ll be chatting with the hosts about Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  The book consists of daily reflections from the first day of Advent through the season of Christmas, tying together themes from the daily readings to the life and witness of Mother Teresa.  You can order the book here.

The first reading today, from the book of Romans, quotes from the book of Isaiah: “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the Gospel of peace.” This automatically makes me think of St. Teresa, whose feet (as you see here) were twisted and misshapen from traveling through the slums of Calcutta and around the world, tending to the needs of those who need her. Her feet were beautiful, not for their appearance, but because they carried her where she needed to go to “spread the fragrance of Christ” everywhere she went.

As you bend over to tie on your own shoes today, why not take a moment to bless them, and to ask the Holy Spirit to guide your feet, that you too might spread the Gospel of peace?

When Mom Moves In: A Family Adventure

family 5“Congratulations! It’s a mother!” my sister joked when I told her that Craig and I had decided to extend Mom’s Thanksgiving visit indefinitely. Sandy is here to stay! Yeah!

Secretly I had hoped for this outcome, but wanted to give Mom a chance to acclimate to the reality of life Chez Saxton.  In reality, it went better than I’d ever dared to hope. The kids are happy, she is happy, and both Craig and I agree it’s the way things are supposed to be.

There was only one small hiccup, coming from my daughter. “But what if Mammy dies?” Sarah asked.

“Well, she will die one day — we all will, because it’s just part of life. We don’t know when Mammy will die, though — it could be months or even years. And that will be sad. But when her job on earth is done and it’s time for her to go to God, we will be so thankful for this time we had with her, won’t we?” She nodded. “And we will be happy that she spent that time with us, and not alone in that other place.” Another nod. “So … this is a good thing, right?”

A smile. “I’m going to go help Mammy with the jigsaw!” And she did. Then she went upstairs and shaved off her own hair. It seems her anxieties manifest themselves in hyper-sensitive hair follicles. That wig was a good investment!

I know that there are many people who are facing similar challenges with their own elderly parents, trying to decide how to care for them in their declining years. Financial issues, family dynamics, and diminished capacities all have to factor in to the decision.

And yet it’s also important to factor in the benefits: Another adult in the home can introduce a new, fresh dynamic to how a family operates. Old arguments and conflicts can be resolved in gentler, kinder ways with witnesses present (for both kids and adults)! As I listen to my mother interact with Sarah, patiently listening to her chatter away about makeup as she paints Mom’s nails a garish shade of gold, I breathe a sigh of thanks. I find myself slowing my pace, and noticing the moments. Mom’s dietary requirements mean healthier eating for all of us. And so it goes.

The question of “What if she dies?” still lingers. In my next article, I will post some suggestions from a woman who recently sent me some tips on helping kids with grief.  

The Thanksgiving Dwarfs

T’is the night before Thanksgiving, and all through the house,
The Bad Dwarfs are lurking — Grump, Grumble, and Grouse.
The kids are all hyper, the dog is in hiding,
Guilt-ridden and banished from pumpkin pie swiping.

I’m sitting here, trying to type to the beat
of the metronome by Dad on the piano seat.
“And ONE-two-three, FOUR-five-six” I urge him to play,
While he manfully tunes out each word that I say.

Then, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
the clock that chimes eight … the sight brings a tear.
It’s bedtime for wee ones and lessons for him,
the realization makes me not a bit grim.

The pies are a’chilling, the bird is at rest,
Cranberries are jelling, the table well-dressed.
My family will head out to morningtime Mass,
and come back to dig in to the festive repast.

So how did those Bad Dwarfs get in to the place?
How dare they show up, take Gratitude’s space?
Now, Grumpy; now Snarky; now Lonely and Sad;
Hey, Ugly; say, Tired, Disgusted and Mad …

In this season of thankfulness, why are you here?
What gives you the right to mess with my good cheer?
“You called us,” they told me. “You made us a place
at your Thanksgiving table, in your thoughts and your face.”

Oh, dear. I need a new guest list, and fast
Get Peace, Love, and Joy to this festive repast!
Make us grateful, dear Lord, even for the great pains,
for those difficult dwarfs, for the sorrows unnamed.

Ours is no Norman Rockwell-type tableau.
The cracks and dustbunnies are sure bound to show.
Still we offer to You our thanksgiving, sincere,
Secure in Your unfailing kindness each year.

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home.
All are safely gathered in,
e’re the winter storms begin.

God our maker doth provide
All our wants to be supplied.
Come, ye thankful people, come.
Raise the song of harvest home.

Copyright 2010, Extraordinary Moms Network