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.

Happy Birthday to an Extraordinary Friend

celebration colorful colourful cupcakes

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Today is the birthday of someone extraordinary. She is the Martha to my Mary, a farm girl turned IT pro from a small town in northern Michigan. My children call her “Aunt Katy” and her husband “Uncle Todd,” though we share no biological connection with either of them.

We met while both of us were single career gals — at the time she was also nursing her mom through the final leg of her earthly journey. We lost touch for a few months, then reconnected as part of a young adult group at church. We started getting together regularly with a handful of women from the group, praying with and for each other, asking God to reveal to each of us the next step.  Within a year, we were both engaged, and stood up at each other’s weddings.

Craig and I knew going into our marriage that we would likely not have children of our own. Katy and Todd soon found the same was true for them. And so, when we became foster parents, Katy was the first to show up and lend a hand. She became our son’s godmother when we were finally able to adopt them three years later. And about seven years after that, when we had to separate the children for a time while we navigated the court system, she and Todd stepped up as guardians for our son for nearly a year. In between that, they welcomed a half dozen exchange students into their home — something that I think takes a special kind of detached affection. This year Katy ran her first triathalon, having taught herself to swim. “I’m just glad I finished!” she laughed. (She did more than that, of course … but she’s not one to brag.)

Even when we moved several states away, she and Todd continued to stay involved in our lives, helping Chris to become the best version of himself — and to this day, my son lights up when his Uncle Todd walks into the room. He doesn’t say much, but what he does say goes straight to my son’s heart.

As the years have passed, we have both faced challenges with our families of origin, and Katy’s ability to face life square-on, without flinching, has given me courage when I needed it. When my mom was hospitalized in Georgia, Katy came and stayed with my dad after I had to return home. As her own family members have faced their own mortality, Katy was always there to help them weather the hard details — up to an including moving her aunt into the house that she and her husband built with their own two hands. Now that my mother is living with us, we see Katy a bit more often. It makes Mom happy, as she regards Katy as an honorary daughter. She never seems to have bad spells when Katy is around. She’s just happy to see my friend.

She would probably be embarrassed to read this, but Katy is my model of what a Catholic woman should be. She doesn’t wear her faith on her sleeve, but lets it ground her to do what she must. She works hard, loves deep, and makes tough choices and difficult sacrifices without seeming to give a whole lot of thought to herself. When you need her, she is there … without fanfare, without complaint, without conditions. She will paint walls, chase chickens, and share a bottle of wine or pot of tea with equal enthusiam. And when she faces her own challenges, she doesn’t demand anything remotely resembling payback. God help me, I forgot her birthday yesterday when we went shopping for a dress for our vow renewal in Rome. (Well, I shopped and she watched me try on dresses with mom.) When it finally clicked as I was driving back home, and I called her up to apologize for our lapse, she said, “Well, I thought about suggesting we get dessert at lunch, but we were all so full …”

This fall she and Todd are schedule to go with Craig and me to Rome to renew our vows, then get on the cruise ship and set sail for Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, and Israel. The trip of a lifetime. And now that we have paid for our fares and made our plans, there is a chance Katy may not be able to go. So … if you are still reading this, please do me a favor:  Ask God to give her a very special birthday present, as a reward for a life so well lived … and because we still need her particular brand of sunshine in our lives.

They say it takes a village … But sometimes, all you really need is one good friend. Thank you, Lord, for taking good care of my sister-friend.

Voices in the Night

Craig is gone this week on business, and Chris and I have been spending some quality time in the evenings. Around midnight last night we were watching Medium (the Hulu reruns are his new favorite program) when we heard a slow thump … thump … thump coming up the stairs.

(Now, this is exactly NOT the program you want to be watching at midnight when there is a thump, thump, thumping going on).

“I think it’s Mammy,” said Chris, peering over his blanket and not moving a muscle to investigate. (Man of the house, indeed.)

So I got up to check and, sure enough, my dear mother had crawled halfway up the staircase, pushing her box fan ahead of her. “Mom! What are you doing?” I chided.

fan“You told me to bring the fan up here,” she insisted. “I heard you.”

Now, of course I had done no such thing. But I have learned over the past two years not to argue with the voices. Gently I extracted the fan from her grip and put my arms around her, helping her up the last few steps. “Mom, let’s get you back in bed. It’s not safe for you to be climbing these stairs without your chair. Let me get it for you.”  And that is what we did.

Later that night, I got to thinking of the story of Samuel (1 Sam 3:1-11), who heard God’s voice and thought it was that of his guardian, Eli. The elderly priest was blind and had failed as a father with his own two godless sons, but he saw in this young, impressionable boy a chance at redemption. After Samuel awakened Eli twice, insisting that he had heard the priest call him twice in the night, the old man wisely advised the boy, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.'” (vs. 9).

And the boy did. And God spoke again. And when young Samuel heard what the Lord had to say, he was afraid to give his mentor the message: that the Lord had turned against the house of Eli, and was utterly condemning them. And yet, Eli’s unexpected response must have reassured him: “It is the Lord. What is pleasing in the Lord’s sight, the Lord will do” (vs. 18). And Samuel became a great prophet.

Now, I’m not sure exactly what it is God is trying to say to me through this incident with the fan. Maybe it’s something as simple as, “Make better media choices, both for yourself and as an example to your kids.” Maybe it’s a warning that Mom is going to need closer supervision at night (the progression of dementia can cause nighttime hazards). Or maybe it’s just a simple invitation to spend less time watching television and more time listening for that still, small voice in the night.

Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.

Thanks, Steubenville! We’ll be back!

Dorms like an Amazonian rainforest. Bad-boy priests. Horrible food. “Second-class citizens” with mobility issues forced to sit alone while their friends enjoyed the party. Worst of all, No Diet Coke.

I heard all these things ahead of time, and signed up as a chaperone with more than a little anxiety. Oh, and a fan, a cooler full of DC and enough Little Debbies to satisfy the juvenile cravings of a whole army of ravenous teens.

I’m returning with most of it, and the fan stayed in the van. Turns out St Thomas More Hall had both AC and a Coke machine. (And apparently most teens now eat Rice Kristy Treats. Who knew?)

To be sure, there are those whose FSU experience was memorable for the wrong reasons. You can’t have a light on a hill without evil trying to encroach, both from within and without, and social media gives that minority a powerful voice.

But there is often more to the story, and I found it here. Children with sensory issues offered earplugs and a quiet space outside to recover from sensory overload (and cots at first aid to lie down if needed). And about two dozen manly, fired-up priests and just as many beautiful women religious visibly present to the youth throughout the weekend.

Yes, the food was mass produced and … filling. Loads of carbs. But you could grab a sandwich or a latte at the food court. And interminable food lines were sweetened with snow cones.

Dorm rooms? Bathrooms clean, with separate rooms for chaperones and students. And next year leave the fan and cooler and bring a floor lamp, an extra battery pack, and a quilt.

Here is the most important thing. Anyone who doubts the future of the Church in America needs to sign up to chaperone next year. Yes, they were silly and loud. But they were also open to what the Spirit wanted to give them. Some of them must have been puzzled (or even unsettled) to see and hear the exuberant worship, and to witness the spectacle that is a FSU youth conference.

Was it a bit regimented? Absolutely…. you can’t host 2000+ teens plus chaperones for a weekend without some rules to keep kids where the action is, and to make sure everyone eats, sleeps, and gets the good seats at least once during the weekend. FSU has been hosting these things for 30+ years, I’m told. So when the rules pinched a bit, I rolled with it. Or tried.

And these kids surprised me. Offered a choice between a session on heaven, hell, and purgatory … outside in the heat; or Dating 101 in air conditioned comfort, all but 1 of our kids chose… purgatory. Wow!

Thanks, Steubenville. We will be back.

Notes for next year.

Bring a sweatshirt and hoodie for bed. Just in case.

Leave the snack bag.

Bring headphones. And a sense of humor.

Bring extra chargers. The kids never have one.

Don’t forget the bug spray.

Unhand the Cheerios…

cereals in basket

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Both kids were scheduled to work this morning, so we went as a family to the five o’clock Mass at St. Pius. It was the first time we’d gone there together — gorgeous church, lovely organ music, and the homily was short, sweet, and … a little crunchy.

The priest observed that every parish in America sweeps up at least a pound of Cheerios each weekend — a kind of divine detritus (my words) left behind by parents of small children who just want to be able to pray for five minutes. Then one day as he was watching his two-year-old nephew grow frustrated over trying to play with a truck with two fistfuls of Cheerios, he said, it made him realize that Cheerios are the perfect metaphor for human desire. “God holds out the truck, and we won’t let go of the Cheerios long enough to take it. But that’s what God is asking … he wants you to let go of the Cheerios,” he explained.

I looked at my mother, sitting so intently next to me. It has been only about three weeks since our priest gave her the anointing of the sick while she was in the hospital with pneumonia — for her, it was a sacramental windfall that included first confession, first Eucharist, confirmation, and last rights. Thank God, she recovered … and has been eager to go forward to receive Jesus each week. Her eyes just light up with so much joy, you never would have guessed what a miracle it is that she was standing there at all.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that I was brought up believing Catholics aren’t “really” Christians. So to see God work it out so that my mother goes forward to receive Jesus each week is a little … strange. I’d had two aunts (one on either side of the family) who had married Catholic boys, and it didn’t end well.  (Interestingly enough, one of them — my namesake — wound up tending to my grandmother in her later years. I so admire her.)

All I know is that, for the past two years, mom has been going to church with us each week … and remaining in the pew as the rest of us went up. She would say all the prayers, and sing along to all the hymns, and listen intently as our Nigerian priest would break open the Gospel. At night I would tuck mom in and read to her from some of the books I’m currently working on, and one day she pulled out one called Catholic and Christian by Dr. Alan Schreck … and we started reading THAT.

Next thing I know, she’s telling Fr. John that she wants to be a Catholic. I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe it’s because her Catholic daughter rescued her from memory care prison. Maybe it’s because I refused to give up praying with her for her marriage. Maybe it’s because … well, maybe it’s because we were both ready to let go of the Cheerios, and hold out our hands for whatever God wanted to give us.

And so we did. And you know what? It was even better than we thought.

If You Give a Mom a Cookie …

amazon-if-you-give-a-mouse-a-cookie(With a thankful nod to Laura Numeroff.)

If you give a mom a cookie, she will sit in a chair and try to eat it in peace.

As soon as she sits, she will look in the kitchen and see Ravenous Teen left the milk on the counter. Again. So she sets her cookie on the table and goes to the kitchen … Where for the next ten minutes she wipes counters, empties dishwasher, and puts dinner in the crock pot. And, yes, gets herself a glass of milk. With a shot of Bailey’s.

The scent of Bailey’s inexplicably reminds her that she left of load of laundry in the washer downstairs … yesterday. Hoping against hope that it has not turned, she goes downstairs to the laundry room and trips over eight piles of clothes that Messy Teen has transferred from the floor of his room to the floor of this one. Muttering darkly under her breath and rubbing her stubbed toe, she rotates the wash and calls Messy Teen to fold his own danged clothes and take them upstairs. Now it is his turn to mutter darkly under his breath. Mission accomplished.

Exiting the laundry room, her eye falls on her desk, the laptop hopefully poised for action. Sorry she left her cookie (and the Bailey’s milk) upstairs, she sits down and proceeds to grind out 27 email responses, 4 tip sheets, and a proposal review before her tummy rumbles so loudly it scares her. And she remembers she hasn’t had anything to eat today but a few cookie crumbs. And her granola bar stash was discovered by Ravenous Teen 2 last week, and she hasn’t had time to restock. So back upstairs she goes … in time to see her elderly mother’s daycare bus pull up to the drive. Rats. Rats. Rats.

Helping her mom inside, then to the bathroom and back to her chair for snack time, she narrowly escapes slugging her husband when he comes down and asks with great feeling, “What’s for lunch?” Desperately she looks around for a teen to take over sandwich making responsibilities, and sees that Sneaky Teens heard the sound of work and barricaded themselves in their rooms, playing music loud enough to shake the house and wake the dead. “Just a minute, dear.” And she spots a bit of reprieve on the table, which the dog appears to have nibbled around the edges. “Here … have a cookie.”

Thankfully, he did not get the Baileys.

The 25th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide: How to Forgive the Unforgiveable

Twenty-five years ago today, in the landlocked African country of Rwanda, over a million people — primarily Tutsi, including women and children — were slaughtered in just 100 days. In the “land of a thousand hills” the blood ran like rivers, as bodies piled up or were tossed into unmarked mass graves. In many cases, there was no one left to bury them. For Fr. Ubald, more than five years passed before he learned the fate of his mother and other extended family members — when the man who had given the order for their execution stepped forward to beg his forgiveness, then took him to the place they had been buried.

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Fr. Ubald at his family’s memorial

His family home was destroyed, obliterated by crops that his former neighbors had sown in an effort to eradicate the memory. “They could not look at us, could not speak to us,” remembers Fr. Ubald. “They had too much shame.” And yet, in time, they found peace. They discovered, as Fr. Ubald so often tells people, that Forgiveness Makes You Free.

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What is most remarkable about Fr. Ubald is not only the fact that survived, or that he was able to forgive and show mercy to those who had committed such unspeakable crimes. What is most remarkable is the spiritual legacy that he has built since then — a beautiful retreat center called the Center for the Secret of Peace.

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Since 2009, Fr. Ubald has expanded his ministry to the United States at the invitation of his friend Immaculée Imibagiza, author of the NYT bestseller Left to Tell. He travels all over the world, inviting people to open their hearts to Jesus, to let go of old burdens, and to receive the healing Jesus wants to give them. If you would like to experience this for yourself, you can find his speaking schedule here. Or you can get a copy of his new book here.

God bless you!

Day 28: Sacrifice

beautiful womanBegin with the Prayer of Abandonment

While Lent is a penitential season, the Christian life is an ongoing cycle of feasting and fasting, of letting loose and offering up. And so, we imitate most perfectly the love of God when the sacrifices we make willingly and joyfully, not reluctantly or resentfully. Even when the other person isn’t the least bit grateful, the little rat. Perhaps especially when he doesn’t even notice.

Does this sound unrealistic, even inhuman? Isn’t it only natural to want to be appreciated and thanked for the things we do? What about those times when your spouse sidles up to you after a L-O-N-G day of wrangling children, chores, and chow, and hints that he’s up for an extra helping of dessert? How does love respond?

Yes, you could ask HIM to make the sacrifice. There are two of you in the marriage, and you both need to make sacrifices for each other. Yes, you need your rest. Yes, his pitching in more would help the “frisk” level go up, perhaps.

Then again, you’re the one who signed up for the challenge, to “abandon yourself to love.” So . . . what about tonight? (If for some reason sex is off the table, what other little sacrificial gesture could you make to let him know how much you love him?)

Just be sure he knows it’s not an “April Fools.”