Waiting… and Fuming

Sarah 2005Have you ever wondered what a speaker does in the hour or so before she gives her presentation? I don’t know about Pat Gohn or Lisa Hendey or Kelly Wahlquist . . . but I can tell you what I was doing last night.

Fuming. Because I couldn’t find a lipstick. Real spiritual, right?

I wear makeup about 12 times a year, usually a swipe of mascara and a dab of lipstick. My husband thinks I’m a natural beauty, so why mess with it? But like any gal, when it’s time to stand and deliver, I like to get a bit gussied up.

Only this time, my child-who-shall-be-nameless had swiped all THREE of my lipsticks along with a few other items. And frankly, it was the last boundary-related straw that week. I’ll draw a veil of privacy over the discussion that ensued (for both our sakes), but suffice it to say that I arrived at church feeling rather depleted. What made me think that I had anything worth sharing with these women, when I could barely get myself to the church without strangling my daughter?

I was happy to see another writer friend, Jeannie Ewing, in the audience. Several other special-needs moms as well. And as I shared my Lipstick Story with them, I heard warm and appreciative laughter. I guess I wasn’t the only mom in the room who ever had to put her makeup under lock and key.

Later, one of the women took me aside and told me the story of her struggles with her own teenager. She spoke of her anxiety in waiting, in wondering what the future would look like for her daughter. This, I understood. All of it. And in that moment, I was reminded of something: That being a speaker or teacher — or a parent — is not about handing out dazzling perfection from a pedestal on high. It’s about bearing witness to the mercy of God in my own life, despite (and sometimes because of) its imperfections, and helping others to see that same Providence at work in theirs.

Where is God calling you to witness?

Are you waiting and fuming, or waiting and worrying, this Advent? “Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you,” said St. Teresa of Avila. “All things pass away, but God never changes. Patience obtains all things, and those who possess God want for nothing. God alone suffices.”

It’s not too late to pick up a copy ofAdvent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta on Franciscan Media or Amazon.com.  Happy Advent!

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Prioritize Ruthlessly

Teresa-21For those who are unemployed or self-employed, figuring out how to spend time wisely can be a real challenge. There is always more to do than time to do it. And so, last week when my friend Jennifer Fulwiler had an online “web event” to launch the paperback edition of her memoir  “Something Other Than God, I logged on and asked Jen how she manages to do everything she does: She homeschools her kids, hosts her own radio show, writes books and keynotes at practically every major Catholic gathering across the country.

Her two-word response was deceptively simple: prioritize ruthlessly. “When I wanted to write a book, I had to set aside everything else except my family. I couldn’t attend every church function or do the other things I wanted to do, because there wasn’t time. I had to prioritize ruthlessly to get it done.”

I knew she was right. Door-testing takes time. Once people heard I was looking for work, I suddenly had a L-O-N-G list of invitations of (unpaid) things well worth doing (and likely couldn’t have done had I still been employed). This weekend, for instance, I helped to host the Franciscan profession of the Immaculate Conception Fraternity here in Mishawaka, whipping up large pans of my signature chicken and rice dish to feed nearly 200 people. I also baked enough gingerbread to make 10 houses with the YDisciple group at church. It was fun, and it got me out of the house. On the other hand, if I got in the habit of doing these kinds of grand-scale projects, what would it do to the job hunt?

This morning I was on Relevant Radio, talking with Kyle Heimann about my new book  Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  Servant’s publicity team, Kennedy-Brownrigg, has done a great job of lining up interviews for the book, and so I am talking about Mother Teresa a lot these days. This morning, I got to thinking about how she had to prioritize ruthlessly as well. With thousands of lepers lining the streets of Calcutta, how did she know which ones to help? How did she find the strength to EXPAND her work to other countries, given the level of need right where she was?

I found a nugget of insight in her book One Heart Full of Love, in which she describes what it was like to accept an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the University of Cambridge. At first she protested. “You know full well that I have not studied theology. I just simply try always to live it out.” And yet, ultimately she accepted the honor. Why?

In reality, the event was a gift from God. And it was not just for me personally but for you, for the sisters, and for our poor. We must appreciate and accept it with all humility of heart, so that we can offer it to Jesus. After all, it belongs to him. All glory and honor are his. We must let Jesus use us as he sees fit. In that way, every aspect of our life of prayer, of fundraising, and of feeding and clothing the poor complement each other. They cannot be separated. One cannot be done without the other. None of them can be done without prayer. Your generosity and your sacrifices must be the fruit of your prayer life. (p.67-68).

In good times and bad, the measure of what is to be done is the same: all is the fruit of prayer, done for love of Jesus. The harder tasks keep us humble and trusting. And the “fun” things need not be written off as distractions, so long as we can offer them to God (that keeps the true distractions at bay, such as the big-screen time-suck in the living room). It becomes easier to prioritize when I ask myself not, “What do I want to do today?” but “God, what do YOU want me to do today?”

Excuse me, now. A little angel is calling me to go clean the carpets, a little prelude to the Thanksgiving celebration ahead.

Filling up the “Love Banks”

Do you have a child who has sensory issues or who for other reasons does not always respond positively to hugs or other normal signs of parental affection? This is very common in foster and adoptive families as well. At the “Refresh” conference in Chicago this weekend, I shared one idea that has worked well for us — we call it “Filling up the Love Banks.” It allows the child to communicate the kind of touch (and the duration) he or she needs to the parent in a way that respects boundaries and makes the child feel safe and loved.

When I sense that Sarah (or Chris) is in need of a hug, I ask her, “Do you need your love banks filled?” This will generally produce an immediate, positive response. She strips off her socks and shoes and sits on the couch with me, her feet close to my lap. Gently I stroke or put gentle pressure on the instep, musing aloud, “Hmm… let’s check your hug bank first. Is your hug bank full?” If she wants a hug, she says, “No, I think it’s empty.” Then she cuddles up to me and we hug for ten seconds or so. Then I touch the same spot on the foot again. “Is the hug bank full yet? No? Let’s try again.” We hug again, a little longer this time. Then back to the foot rub… until she says the bank is full.

Next, it’s the “kiss bank,” on the other side of the foot. We give butterfly kisses and raspberries, “Mommy kisses” (on the forehead) and fairy kisses (blowing the bangs from the forehead). Buffalo kisses, in which I swish a lock of my hair across her cheek, seem to be a favorite, with “baby buffalo,” “mommy buffalo” and “daddy buffalo” (bigger bunches of hair) each taking a turn. Each time, we check the foot to see if the “Kiss Bank” is full.

The ball of the foot is where the “tickle bank” resides. We like “rub tickles” at our house, gentle pressure on the arms and calves. If your child has a history of abuse, you may want to skip this one at first if you think it will create a trigger. Or you might let your child tickle YOU. Always check every couple of seconds to see if the “tickle bank” is full.

Finally, the “face trace bank.” The child closes her eyes as with one finger the parent traces the eyebrows, eye lashes, nose, lips, and ears. Finish by swooping the whole face in an oval, just beneath the hairline to under the chin.

Feel free to improvise as you discover the kind of affection, respectful touch your child responds to the best. At first you might start with a simple foot massage or scalp massage. Put on some relaxing music. Choose a time of day when you are most wanting the child to relax and “wind down.” This can be a great way for parent and child to bond in a loving, appropriate way that teaches the child to establish and practice healthy boundaries while still getting the love he or she needs to feel happy and connected.love-banks

 

Blessed Imperfection

confirmationTonight we celebrated our daughter’s confirmation — an event that, until fairly recently, I wasn’t sure would take place. The small details — who would be the sponsor, when we didn’t know many people at this parish was near the top of the list — were overwhelming, not to mention the thought that the bishop would actually be looking at her. It was all too much.

But we found the perfect dress, and we pierced her ears, and we worked on her workbook, and her brother agreed to be her sponsor … and somehow, miracle of miracles, it all came together. She chose Mary, wanting the Blessed Mother herself to be her friend for life. What’s not to love about that?

There were still a few blips. At the last minute her best friend couldn’t come, and her favorite sitter didn’t remember, and all our family lives far away. And so it was just me and Craig sitting in the pew, beaming proudly as our kids walked up the aisle. And just as we got to the front of the line where we were going to have our picture taken with the bishop, we were told that he had taken his last family picture – only confirmandi and sponsors. I’ll admit, it stung a little. But as we watched the picture snap, and Sarah’s eyes lit up, I realized these little bits of imperfection really don’t matter that much. The point is, those confirmation graces could start flowing in earnest.

A bit later, a friend of mine and I were talking about our “bucket list,” and when I said I always wanted to walk the Camino, she heartily agreed. That is, until I told her that I’d do it on a moped, if necessary. “Oh, no!” she was horrified. “Do it right, or not at all!”

I had to chuckle. If I’ve learned nothing else as a parent, it’s that life is filled with blessed imperfections. That if you wait for everything to be perfect, you miss it. Sometimes, in fact, the blessedness is IN the tiny, little flaws that wear away the patina of perfection. It’s what we remember, what we celebrate.

Because in our hearts, we know we are imperfect, too.

Happy Confirmation, dear Mary. We love you!

 

Coming Home (Finally!)

10350 Royal Oak CtToday we officially begin a new chapter in our lives, having closed on our first home here in Indiana. We put off buying a place until we were sure we were staying put, having taken a total bath when we sold our last home in Michigan. Although moving is never fun, there were some bright spots. One of the brightest was meeting the former owner, a preacher’s wife with a fifty-year-old son with special needs. Her husband had died of Alzheimer’s disease several years ago, and it was clear she needed to sell the home because it had become too much for her. It was equally clear that she regretted having to leave.

She graciously allowed us to come in to the house to paint Christopher’s new bathroom, turning it from cotton-candy pink to Legend of Zelda green. She offered us some of the things she and her husband had collected in their missionary travels, things she couldn’t bear to send to Salvation Army but could not keep herself. I looked at her and recognized a kindred spirit, someone who had lived through difficult circumstances, yet remained confident in the benevolent providence of the Almighty (at times despite all appearances to the contrary). I suspect our paths will cross again.

Even so, I felt (perhaps “hoped” is a better word) as though in meeting Donna, I had been given a glimpse into the future. Her children grown and gone, for the most part, she could look around her and see in every room signs of a life well lived, icons of memories past. Once she had an offer, she set to the work of detaching herself from these things, paring her life down to the essentials. And yet she exuded love and kindness, for her identity was not in “stuff.” They were means to an end, not the end in itself.

That’s the kind of person I aspire to be as I grow older. Even if we were to stay here twenty years or more, I aspire to be the kind of person who can detach so easily, and give so generously. “You never see a U-Haul behind a hearse,” the saying goes. Thanks, Donna, for the reminder. We promise to take good care of our house. Come and see us soon. We’ll leave the light on for you.

 

Yes . . . I guess. #GraceofYesDay

graceofyescover  Do you have trouble with “Yes”? Not the oh-my-goodness-gracious-if-I-try-to-fit-ONE-MORE-THING-in-this-week-I’m-gonna-blow kind of yes, but the

Really, God? Was that TOTALLY necessary on your part? *sigh* okay. And with a deep breath, we leap like a goldfish out of a martini glass . . . and into something infinitely less inviting and comfortable.

At times like that, “fiat” can sound like something of a four-letter word. An uncomfortable, inevitable, unending . . . pain. And yet, even at times like this, there is room to learn, room to grow in love. The sweetest rose is the product of a mound of fertilizer, after all.

I see you nodding. Can you relate to that idea? Well, take heart. Today people all over cyberspace are blogging, pinging, and podcasting about it … thanks to Lisa Hendey and her The Grace of Yes.

In my line of work, editing Catholic books on spirituality, I often get to read people’s conjecture about Mary and what she would and wouldn’t have done in a given situation. For Catholics, it’s all about WWMD? And yet, if you think about it, it’s kind of hard to extrapolate, based on our own experiences exactly what she would have done.

Let’s set aside the basic differences of iPods and indoor plumbing and early dismissals. After all, she was the one perfect mom, with one perfect kid. We can’t claim that kind of blessedness. Yet over and over, we get told to . . .

Just. Say. Yes. Just. Like. Mary. To be humble. To be generous. To be … believing . . . and to be … Wait. What’s that on p.107? To be willing to say no.

Because the one thing we know for sure about Mary is . . . she was a mother. And mothers sometimes have to say no. No to the good, to make room for the best. No to the possible, to make room for the most important. No to the anger, to grow stronger in love. And no to my own agenda, to make room for infinite possibilities.

Today I will make a little more room in my life for the Grace . . . of Yes.

When the Caged Bird Stops Singing

Today cyberspace was abuzz with news of the death of poet Maya Angelou, whose fearless prose, particularly I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a work of autobiographical fiction, was a bright spot in my high school career.

When I heard about Maya’s death, remembering the title of her book immediately made me think of my mother, whom I saw last weekend at a mental hospital in Atlanta. The only thing harder than seeing her there, it turns out, was leaving her there, knowing that there is a better-than-average chance it was the last time. Her carotenoid artery 90% blocked on her right sidJohn and Sandy=201250e, she is not in her right mind, yet her doctor refuses to do surgery because she is a “surgical risk.” And so, while we seek a second and even a third opinion, she waits in a ward with her “people,” a group of similarly old and confused patients.

Almost everything has been stripped away. Hospital policy prevents her from having her hardbound study Bible (only paperbacks allowed), or anything on the walls. Her life has been reduced to a few changes of clothing, a hospital bed, and one-hour visits from up to two family members a couple of times each week. She has lost 30 pounds, and there is no telling from one day to the next whether she will lash out, or reach out in a hug.

The one bright spot in the ward is a nurse I will call “Queen Winnie.” Magnificent and matronly, her close-cropped hair silvery against her ebony skin, she is kindness personified as she gently directs my mother to wherever she next needs to be. “She’s a good singer, your mother,” she told me on Sunday. “We were singing the old church hymns together before you go there.” Mom smiled and nodded.

At that moment, she wasn’t singing. “I want out of here,” she said plaintively. I want that, too.

Sometimes, though, no matter how much you want something, you have to let her go.

On the way home, I raged — feeling a little ashamed about the likelihood that I was adding to my father’s burden, but unable to contain the sense of injustice, that a woman who had spent her life in the service of others, was spending the last days so confined. And equally mad that the love of her life had been robbed of her presence long before her breath left her body.

A detachment of a most powerful and terrible kind.  It is, in the words of Sheldon Vanauken, a “severe mercy,” the moment in an adult child’s life when you realize that you cannot fix what is wrong, and you cannot save them both. All you can do is hold on, and hope.

In the words of Ms. Angelou: “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”

Keep singing, Momma. And when it comes time to leap that fence, know you take a piece of me with you.