About heidihesssaxton

Heidi Hess Saxton is an acquisitions editor and founder of "A Writer's Life" and "Life on the Road Less Traveled," resources for Catholic writers, caregivers, and parents of adoptive, foster, and special needs children.

Thanks Giving and Taking

Like most things about 2020, Thanksgiving has become an ongoing exercise in detachment. Sarah and I are encamped with our three canine companions (including Dad’s sidekick Gracie) at our family cabin in East Jordan.

Mom is spending it with her new friends in her group home. Craig is putting out fires at work in southern Michigan, having (predictably enough) been alerted to another work emergency in lieu of a family vacation. Chris went with him late last night to prevent his father from falling asleep at the wheel … and now is spending Thanksgiving dinner with relative strangers while Craig works. My sister and father are spending their day trying to get Dad discharged from the hospital (again) in Cartersville.

So here I am, keeping vigil with a 23 pound turkey in the oven. Sarah is downstairs, headphones firmly in place. Pies are made, our traditional pistachio salad and cranberries in the cooler, roasted veggies and stuffing ready for the oven. There will be no festive conversation, no furtive feedings under the table, no clinking of cutlery or glasses full of cranberry ginger ale. Just a few quiet moments to reflect about the giving, and the taking, of thanks.

“Some luck lies,” noted Garrison Keillor in his arguably greatest novel, Lake Woebegon, “not in getting what you wanted, but in wanting what you have … Which, if you are smart enough, you will discover is what you would have wanted all along, had you only known.”

However you are spending Thanksgiving this year … may your day be as full of thanksgiving as thanks-taking. God bless.

Love is a Funny Thing

Author’s Note: The other day I came across a dozen “drafted” posts that I’d written on the fly over the past few years (this one from late April, 2018), and I decided to finish them up and send them out into cyberspace for your enjoyment. So if they seem a bit … I think the word I’m looking for is “anachronistic,” you’re right! But sometimes the Life Less Traveled takes a detour, and that, too, has made all the difference.

To say that my life has changed drastically in the past six months since my mother has joined our household would be putting it mildly. Adding an elderly dementia patient to a house like ours, with two work-from-home parents and two special-needs teens and a couple of VERY spoiled dogs (one of whom cannot sleep at night unless her butt is planted firmly in my armpit) has been a real eye opener.

Sarah, circa 2007

But it’s also had some real bright spots. And that is the truth. Not just the “You’ll be so glad that you had this time with her when she dies” variety. Though there is that. But there are other perks as well.

I’ve discovered love is a funny thing. The same fashion-forward teen who can’t look in my direction without a snarky comment about my appearance will ooh and aah over her “Mammie’s” new hairdo. It lets me see a kindler, gentler side of her I’ve been missing.

Another member of the household (who shall remain nameless) who emerges from his room (oops) only for Doritos refills will make his way to her little apartment in the basement, just to make sure she is up from her nap in time for dinner.

What I’ve loved most, though, is that having mom with us has given me a fresh appreciation for my mother’s gift for friendship. Her church friends in Georgia haven’t written her off since she’s crossed the Mason-Dixon line to go live in the frozen winterland of northern Indiana. Even though she doesn’t write, doesn’t call, doesn’t send cookies anymore … they continue to love on her in every way possible: on the special Facebook group I’ve set up for her, where we’ve heard from people from my childhood who had passed out of my world years ago. In cards and notes and care packages. And yes, through the occasional phone call on my cell that makes my mother’s face light up when she hears a familiar voice on the other end.

It makes me wonder who will still be calling me thirty or forty years from now … How about you?

#PrayerStories Home Is Where You Are

Yesterday was Mom’s 80th birthday. She requested pepperoni lasagna and angel food cake with strawberries … a rather convoluted menu, to be sure, but she dug in with relish to the pasta and had two slices of the cake. Diabetes be damned.

My favorite part of the evening, however, was when she sat down in her chair and my father’s dog, Gracie, came upstairs to find her there. Gracie came to stay with us on Saturday — I drove down to Tennessee to meet up with my sister, who did not want Dad to come home from the hospital with a house full of hyperactive crotch sniffers. So, Gracie has joined our pack up here in Indiana until Dad is fully functional again.

Reunited… Mom and Gracie

Now, Gracie has not seen my mother for nearly six years. My mother has not set foot in the home she shared with Dad since her first hospitalization. But there was no mistaking the fact that Gracie remembered her. She (the *dog*) jumped up and whined, then crouched down in her signature “play” stance. Gracie didn’t know where my father had gone, or why she was suddenly part of a new pack. But she remembered Mammy.

For Gracie, Mammy was home.

Watching them together, I thought about how many times I’ve moved from place to place, picking up roots and setting new ones. In my single days, when I moved to a new place the first thing I would do is find a parish. For me, church was home. It was an oasis of familiarity and comfort, a place where — even if no one knew my name — I belonged.

As the years have passed, that sense of home is harder and harder to find. Especially these past six months, I’ve often thought of the church of my childhood, and the women who held court in the kitchen and the picnics, ladling food and organizing food lines for potluck dinners and sunrise service breakfasts. I’ve come to realize that the “home-iness” of a parish is dependent upon the collective efforts of its community. Yes, Jesus is there in the tabernacle. Yes, the liturgy is largely the same from one parish to the next.

But if home is what I’m seeking … there comes a time when I need to step up, to be the Mammy. The one who invests, who nurtures, who welcomes, who stays. In a generation of movers and takers, there needs to be those who hunker down and anchor the community. So that the next generation can experience that sense of home.

Where do you find “home” in your life?

Beautiful Endings

A busy week. My father’s heart surgery had complications, we are moving mom into a group home, and I’ve had back-to-back meetings at work, “launching” next fall’s new titles. Including a new prayerbook I’m compiling for them. Oh, and Craig is heading to Michigan this week. So … yeah. It’s been busy.

Then a friend sent out a notice that Annie had died. Annie was an influential figure for me in the early 80s when I was going to Bible school and living in a Christian community in Bloomington, MN. Annie was in charge of the cleaning crew, one of the work assignments frequently handed out to freshman. Every day before doling out assignments she would gather us girls around (it was always girls who did the cleaning) and talk to us about how to clean for Christ. She never used the words #femininegenius; many years would pass before I heard them on the lips of John Paul II. But she lived them. Lord, how she lived them.

One day I was in the library and spotted some old yearbooks from the earliest days of the community. As I looked through the pictures of the early community, going back to the fifties, I was amazed at how the homely young women in the pictures had transformed. Like the proverbial Ugly Ducklings, they had grown into beautiful swans. The reason was clear: each of them had lived with heaven in view. They had worked and sacrificed to accomplish a singular mission … and love had transformed them from the inside out.

Living in community presents real challenges, and they were not immune to the vagaries of human weakness. But seeing Annie’s face again, emblazoned on that memorial card, I was reminded of something she would often say to us before releasing the Bucket Brigade:

Only one life, will soon be past.

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Rest In Peace, Annie Flack.

Happy Birthday, Dorothy Day!

These sober words were recorded by Dorothy’s granddaughter in a 2017 issue of America magazine, recounting how difficult it was for Dorothy to see her dear daughter walk away from the Catholic faith — the daughter whose birth had lured Dorothy into its fold.

Whether the crisis of faith is that of a loved one or our own, it is seldom experienced in a vacuum. And whether the source of that disillusionment is from a temporary setback or the culmination of a season of unspoken angst, Dorothy reminds us that the solution is the same: solidarity, compassion, and intercession.

St. Dorothy, pray for us.

Mommy Monster Grows Up

Sarah, circa 2007

This week as I relaunch my personal blog “Life on the Road Less Traveled,” I’ve been wandering down a virtual memory lane and looking at the first posts I sent into cyberspace. I wish I could talk some sense into the woman who began that first mommy blog, “Mommy Monsters,” in 2004, first on Blogspot and then, in 2005, on WordPress as “The Extraordinary Moms Network.” The second one fizzled around 2007 for reasons I’d rather not dredge up again except to say that adoption is a complicated pathway, and that no matter what path you take to expand your family — domestic or international adoption, foster care, kinship adoption, or open adoption — there are no guarantees. It’s a bit like biological parenting that way, but with the extra layers of interested parties who, at the worst of times, give a level of credence to your teenager’s heated contention that “You are not my REAL mom!!!”

Nearly two decades after venturing into the wonderful world of foster-adoption, I look back on the road my husband and I have taken, shake my head, and give thanks that we really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I don’t have THAT much courage. It was a bit like our recent trip to Acadia National Park, when my husband made me heave myself over boulders the size of refrigerators in order to get to the reward at the top of the mountain: “You think THIS is hard? Just you wait!”

Here … take a look at the first post.

One morning when you least expect it, you’ll look in the mirror and find it looking back at you. The phantasm bears a slight resemblance to your familiar self, except… Is it possible that your husband installed a trick mirror while you were dozing, just for kicks? You see ...

* Eyes bloodshot from getting up every two hours with one toddler’s night terrors and the other’s asthma attacks.

* Stomach rumbling (this is more hearing than seeing) from not eating a decent meal since… What is this? May?

* Throat is raw from screaming like a fishwife, just to hear yourself above the din

* In the same set of sweats you’ve worn all week, sans bra. Even to the doctor’s office.

And as the bathroom door reverberates with the pounding of three insistent sets of little fists [Editor’s note: For the first year we had their older sister, too], you pray the lock will hold long enough for you to sit down for five seconds and have one coherent thought.

Suddenly, it hits you:

This is not what I signed up for. I don’t recognize that ghoulish figure in the mirror. She’s grouchy. She’s wrinkled and rumpled, and so are her clothes. She smells like baby barf. Make her go away.

Easier said than done. But if you watch my back, and I watch yours, maybe we can figure this out together. We’ll get those Mommy Monsters.

#PrayerStory A Matter of Trust

Trusting God for three generations… My mother and daughter and me, four years ago.

Like many women my age, I am a “sandwich mom,” constantly struggling to juggle the demands of a vocation with more layers than an onion. One day my husband looked at me and said, “I feel bad about this, and I know it’s crazy, but some days I see you cutting up your mother’s dinner and wonder, ‘What about me?'”

I understood exactly what he meant, and it broke my heart. My husband and children have not had my undivided attention, and have dealt with the associated stress of caregiving, for going on four years now. I am so grateful to Craig, in particular, for shouldering his part of her care without complaint. But I understood his feelings of neglect.

He wasn’t the only one feeling that way. My kids were also letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that this was stressful on them as well. But I couldn’t bear the thought of a nursing home for my mother. I had taken her out of a place in Georgia that was run-down and depressing, where residents were simply marking time until death. I wanted better for her.

Now I wanted more for the rest of us.

Shortly after Mom arrived at our house, we enrolled her in a local daycare program for adult Medicaid patients, St. Joseph PACE. They provide medical care, daycare services, social services, transportation, and other services that allow seniors to live at home for as long as possible. This week, Mom’s social worker Ashley recommended to us an alternative to a nursing home: a group home run by a local couple from Rwanda. Nervously we went to look at the place … and it was beautiful. Warm. Friendly. Clean. And Mom was laughing and chatting with the other residents in no time.

We move her in next weekend. Mom will have the quiet and independence she craves. And I can start caring for the other parts of my life I’ve been neglecting. Including the prayerbook for mothers I’m compiling for Ave Maria Press for Fall 2021 — nearly 100 women sharing their favorite (or original) prayers and prayer stories. At times like these, it’s important to share all the ways God is at work in our homes and in our world.

If you don’t already, please sign up to get my updates delivered to you by email. Lots of us are avoiding social media these days … but it’s also a great way to share messages of faith!

#GodIsInControl. #PrayerStories. #SoThankful

Calvary Love

“Amma” Amy Carmichael (image public domain/Wikipedia)

If when an answer I did not expect comes to a prayer which I believed I truly meant,

and I shrink back from it;

If the burden my Lord asks me to bear be not the burden of my heart’s choice,

and I fret inwardly and do not welcome His will,

then I know nothing of Calvary love.

(If, by Amy Carmichael, p.48).

A prolific writer and missionary to India, Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) founded Dohnavur Fellowship, where she served for 56 years, rescuing dozens of “temple children” to know and love Christ. Elisabeth Elliot’s biography of “Amma,” A Chance to Die, was such a profound influence on my own spiritual journey that I took Amy’s name at confirmation.

What I love most about Amy — in addition to her beautiful hymns, her legacy of service, and her breathtaking faith in God — is how she (like Mother Teresa) never waivered in her trust in Jesus, or in her confidence that he had called her to this place in the southernmost tip of India, where she would live and die without ever returning to her homeland.

It is this trust — even in the face of harrowing and faith-shaking circumstances — that we all need a little more of these days. Listen, and take to heart, as this “hidden saint” recounts the words of Jesus to her.

Trust Me with a humbler heart and a fuller abandon to My will than ever thou didst before. Trust Me to pour My love through thee, as minute succeeds minute. And if thou shouldst be conscious of anything hindering the flow, do not hurt My love by going away from Me in discouragement, for nothing can hurt love so much as that. Draw all the closer to Me; come, flee unto Me to hide thee, even from thyself. Tell Me about the trouble. rust Me to turn My hand upon thee and thoroughly to remove the boulder that has choked thy riverbed, and take away all the sand that has silted up the channel. I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. I will perfect that which concerneth thee. Fear thou not, O child of My love, fear not.”

If, p. 69

St. Amy Carmichael, pray for us.