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.

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.

Remembering Ruth

One of the highlights of my publishing career occurred in 1998, when I had the privilege of being invited to the cabin home of Billy and Ruth Bell Graham. At the time Servant was publishing a gift book with Ruth and her daughter Gigi, and it was hard not to dissolve in a mushy pile of goo and fan-girl all over myself when I entered that peaceful retreat and was warmly welcomed by Ruth herself. (Billy was on a trip at the time, as he often was.)

https://billygrahamlibrary.org/from-the-collection-of-ruth-bell-graham-divine-service/Living room of Billy and Ruth Bell Graham near Montreat NC (Photo Credit: Billy Graham Library)

She served iced tea on that hot July day, and I admired the mantel of the large stone fireplace and thought about the august company whose privilege it had been, before me, to sit in this space. She struck me as a deeply prayerful woman who made it possible behind the scenes for her husband to carry out a very public ministry — including counseling a half-dozen American presidents.

As a parting gift, Ruth gave me a volume of her poetry, which has a pride of place on my “fire shelf.” Here is one poem that seems particularly apt today:

There will be less someday —

much less,

and there will be More:

less to distract

and amuse;

More, to adore;

less to burden

and confuse;

More, to undo

the cluttering of centuries,

that we might view

again, That which star

and angels

pointed to;

we shall be poorer–

and richer;

stripped — and free:

for always there will be a Gift,

always

a Tree!

Ruth Bell Graham’s Collected Poems, p.127.

The Long Good-Bye

My parents and I in 2016.

Today’s first reading, on the Feast of All Souls, is comforts me today. At a time when both my parents are experiencing the physical and mental frailties of old age, this beautiful passage is reassuring: Better days are ahead.

The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them.

They seemed … to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction,

and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are at peace.

For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet their hope full of immortality;

chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed

because God tried them an found them worthy of himself.

Wisdom 3:1-3

As a Catholic, I believe in the reality of purgatory. As a daughter who has walked with my mom through the slow goodbye that is dementia, I am confident that this life, too, can be a kind of refining fire. It took her more than seventy years for her eyes to be opened to the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith … but when at last she saw it, she embraced it of her own free will. And in that moment, a long-standing rift between us was healed.

So on this feast of All Souls, I am thankful to have experienced this miracle. And I am grateful that God saw fit, in the case of my family, to begin the healing in this life, rather than the next.

The Blessing of Witches

Joseph replied, “Do not fear. Can I take the place of God? Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve this present end, the survival of many people.” Gen 50:19-20

As I write this, the news reports that thousands of women are plotting to cast a “binding spell” on the President to prevent him from being elected to a second term.  (A #MagicResistance was also reported in 2017 – perhaps if you want to blame someone for 2020, you might look a little farther afield than the White House. Play with the devil, ya gotta pay.)

Image by SplitShire from Pixabay

Meanwhile all across social media, Christians have decided not to take this current darkness lying down. Prayer groups have sprung up all over. “Praying for Justice Barrett & Family” has more than 18K members.  “Prayers for President Trump” has more than 24K, while “The Presidential Prayer Team” has over 41K.

Now, I leave it up to God to sort out what happens on November 4. I’ve done my part, having stood in line for three hours with my daughter to vote. But this morning my eyes flew open just after 6:30, and would not close again. That never happens. So I decided it was a sign, went down to my office, grabbed my rosary, and turned on the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Mom stirred, and I set aside the beads and went to help her with her morning routine. As she got up off the bed,  she wrapped her arms around me and just held on to steady herself. We stood there for several minutes as the music continued to pray:

For the sake of his sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Over and over, the words repeated the soothing refrain. Technically I wasn’t praying the Chaplet – my rosary beads were on the other side of the room. But as I held my mother close, I thought about the words of the prayer – and about how our bodies at that moment reflected the spiritual posture of those who know they have no power to help themselves. Through the Chaplet, we confess our utter dependence on the Almighty to drive away the shadow that is encroaching over the nation, and to revive  us again.

Lord, you bring the sun to shine on the good and the wicked alike. Your mercy extends beyond our understanding, for you are Father to us all. Open the eyes of those blind to your goodness, the ears of those deaf to your truth, and make straight the paths of those who have lost their way. Jesus, we trust in you.

My Mite-y Morning Offering

Sometimes I think the movie Groundhog Day could have been written about my life. Every day at 7:00 my cell phone alarm goes off and I grope for the night table to slam it off. Gretta, nestled between my husband and me, shakes her head forcefully, her ear-flapping an urgent warning of the waterworks that are about to ensue if I don’t high-tail it out of bed and let her out for her morning constitutional. I let both dogs out and stand there in my pj’s (my very matronly, covered from neck to ankles two-piece flannels) and think about what I need to do that day. Then I go inside, get ready, come out and make breakfast for my mother or husband or both, then toddle downstairs to greet my computer.

Wedding day …. waltzing on the church steps

“Good morning, Lord.” My turquoise rosary beads are just where I left them, draped over my favorite picture of Craig and me on our honeymoon and beside my favorite Willowtree figurine of a weary mother rocking her toddler, both of them draped in a fleecy blanket. You cannot see either of their faces (this is Willowtree, after all), but somehow you know they are utterly contented. No one but them in the whole, wide world.

This is my favorite time of the day. Not because I’m a morning person — Lord knows I’d sleep till noon if I didn’t have dog duty. But when I first approach my computer, push the button, and wait for the desktop to fire up, there is a pause in the universe. The veil between heaven and earth parts for just a moment, an open invitation to spend those first few seconds … listening. Waiting. Sorting through the wheat and chaff in my mind and figuring out what needs to be done that day. Knowing that likely it WON’T all get done, but asking God to guide my steps to the most important things.

Is anybody listening to me as I rattle off my wish list? I believe so, but that’s not really why I do it. Nor is my “morning offering” particularly spectacular, more like the poor widow’s mite. (I do my best thinking after lunch.) Rather, it’s an important reminder that this is the day the Lord has made to do the things HE has for me to do. The rest can wait. The rest doesn’t matter.

I was recently invited to compile a special prayer book for moms, gathering the favorite prayers and prayer stories of the Catholic women from all walks of life, to bring to life the prayers we pray — classic and original, prayers of praise and contrition and thanks and beseeching. It’s already been a fun project, connecting with women I’ve never met — or haven’t spoken to for years. I know I’m going to learn so much from this … and I want to invite you to come along for the ride. (If you haven’t already signed up to get my posts in your mailbox, this might be a good time to do that.)

How does your day begin? Do you luxuriate in your dedicated prayer corner or (like one woman I know) compose your morning offering over the kitchen sink? What’s your prayer story?