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.

The Daze of Christmas

silent night (Christmas 2020)

Christmas Mass without carols. Christmas dinner without company (or even the whole family). Christmas Day without presents, spent in a cabin in the middle of a fifty acre wood.

okay, that last part was fun. But still, weird.

As we watched the priest fill the incense burner (having snagged what was supposed to be the last three seats at the 7:00 Christmas Eve Mass), it was so quiet …. the clank of the swinging thurible sounded just like cowbells. Kind of like the first Christmas, maybe.

Maybe that’s why the angels started singing.

But instead of complaining, I’d like to write about what went well this year. Craig is repairing the futon in the cabin after the seat cracked yesterday from a sudden, heavy load being dropped on the seat. The aroma of turkey noodle soup is still wafting around the living room. The fire is crackling. The dogs are snoring. So much to be thankful for.

Thank you, Lord, for my husband and all the good things he provides for our family.

My son is downstairs in his room, having sat up with us watching “The Commitments.” He dreams of the day when he has his own band.

Thank you, Lord, for his dreams. Use them to guide his way and help him find his purpose.

The snow has covered over the tracks of our vehicles. The dogs are reveling in their freedom. At home they are in a fenced in yard or on a leash. Here they run with joyful abandon.

Thank you, Lord, for all the freedoms we enjoy every day. Thank you for all the ways you have blessed us. Forgive me for all the ways I take these things for granted. Help me to do better next year.

Yesterday I got to visit with my extended family on Zoom, and sing carols badly but joyfully.

Thank you, Lord, for moments of spontaneous silliness. My Christmas wish: to have more of that in the year to come.

Amen

40 Day Challenge, Day 17: Leave and Cleave

AttachmentAs always, begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

Today’s theme is ‘leave and cleave.’  Children who have been traumatized through early childhood experiences of abuse and neglect often have relational difficulties that extend into adulthood. One of the most important tasks of a foster or adoptive parent, particularly of older children, is to intervene in this cycle of trauma by seeking help on behalf of the child as well as the rest of the family, and walking with that child patiently and with gentleness, to find the path of healing.

Of course there are no guarantees, no magic elixir of healing. Love does not always heal every trauma, every wound. On the other hand, the child will be far better off because of your willingness to try.

The same can be true of adults, too. For those traumatized by early childhood experiences, or wounded from early relationships, marriage can  be a healing place if the spouse understands the dynamics, and is willing to walk alongside us with patience and gentleness. And yet, we must be willing to “leave and cleave,” to be willing to take the steps necessary to unburden ourselves, to change the ‘inner narrative’ in order to seek authentic intimacy.

Are there any battles you find yourself repeating with your spouse, that could signal unresolved trauma? Consider talking to someone about it, so you might be able to find the healing God wants you to have.

As Advent Passes

From Malachi 3:3-4

This year is not like every other year, when we would pile in the car and wind our way north to St. Clare’s Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor for the annual Messiah Community Sing. At the center of the circular sanctuary, a volunteer ensemble would just be winding up their rehearsal as the crowd was admitted entrance, dog-eared choral manuscripts in hand, and made way to their respective sections: soprano, tenor, bass, and alto. When the kids were little we would generally slip out midway, to make the event more enjoyable for everyone. But gradually they came to recognize the familiar arias, eager to make it to the finish line and the smorgasbord of sweets that awaited good little children who made it all the way to “AL-Le-Lu-YAH!”

This year, as I said, is different. Mom is tucked away in her group home, which is buttoned down with COVID restrictions. Sarah is spending the holiday with her birth parents. The rest of us (including all three dogs) are hunkered down at the cabin in East Jordan, looking through the frosty woods and craning our necks to see Lake Charlevoix. Chris is watching Lord of the Rings. We just finished watching the video we made for Craig’s mom for her Christmas gift — pleased that we thought of something to give the lady who has everything she wants. Everything but us — this year there won’t be any ocean views. And yet, so much for which to be thankful. Up to and including the fact that I managed to snag the last three seats at Christmas Eve Mass tomorrow. Yeah, me.

This year the familiar chorus from the book of Malachi takes on new and somber tones, as the prophet cries like a voice in the wilderness: “and he will purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord.”

Generation after generation, we read of the painful purification of this priestly tribe of Levi, and think of the chastening God sends upon those marked for service. Including not just priests and church leaders, but all of us who name the name of Jesus. We have been stripped, our hearts laid bare and lives reduced to their simplest terms, so that we might be reminded of the things that matter most. So we might hear the words of the prophets calling us to “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the land with doom.”

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus. Your servants are listening.

“A gift we all need” Fr. John Riccardo on Sex and the Spiritual Life

New book from Ave Maria Press is the perfect gift for your favorite priest, deacon, or parish minister … or for anyone wanting to experience the joy of living a life of sexual integrity.

When I first asked Pat if she would tackle the subject of how sexuality informs and affects our spiritual growth, I never expected to find myself in Fr. John Riccardo’s office, listening to him tell the story of how he had been sexually abused as a young adult — and how that experience has informed his priesthood in beautiful and even miraculous ways. I never thought I would be moved to tears reading Eve Tushnet’s essay about the gift of spiritual friendship that she received from the gay community. And I was amazed to read about the gift that is celibacy both within the priesthood and religious life — not as a witness, but as a lived experience. Finally, and (for me) most importantly, I was deeply affected by the testimony of Tim and Karen Hogen, who spoke of the beautiful dance of intimacy that is married life, a dance that is experienced not only in the bedroom, but in the emotional and spiritual intimacy of daily life.

One of the reasons Fr. Riccardo and so many others who have endorsed the book recognize it for the gift that it is, is because it is such a rare and beautiful thing to find mature Catholic men and women who are willing to subject themselves to the scrutiny and criticism of the “uptight upright” about such an intimate part of their lives. (I particularly commend Tim and Karen Hogan for sharing their story as a married couple, which is one to which so many of us can relate). I am so grateful to each of them, for taking up the challenge … and I want to suggest to you to pick up a copy of this book — actually, two of them: One for you, and one for your priest or DRE, for whom this book will soon become a dog-eared treasure.

Thank you, Pat, for giving us such a beautiful testimony of truth, beauty, and goodness.

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.